11-27-07 - 4

Poker notes

I want to write some poker thoughts before I forget them because I haven't been playing hardly at all in the past 4 months and I'm losing my edge. These are generally overall play frequency and style notes. This is for someone who can already play solid 2+2 TAG poker. If I'm reading this to get back up to speed I need to take it slow and just play good basic poker first; read hands and make the right play and don't force things.

The more randomly an opponent plays, the more you must take risks against them. This goes for both good and bad opponents and doesn't necessarilly affect EV, but it does affect variance. For example, against a really horrible player, you might not really know what they have, you can't read them because they have no idea what they're doing - you just need to go with decent hands that you might not normally play, stuff like top pair for big pots. Similarly for good players with well randomized ranges who can be making a lot of bluffs - you need to repop them a lot and accept the variance or you will get beaten up.

Any time you would never do a certain move with a certain hand, that's a leak and there's a way to exploit it. It might be a tiny leak that's very hard or rare to exploit, but it's still a leak. You can identify these in other people who play standard style. For example, most people will only check-raise the flop with very big hands or bluffs (often with draws, which is kind of a bad play), they never do it with decent made hands like top pair. That's a leak and if you know they have that pattern you can use it.

Good technical play is almost impossible to beat. "Technical" play is about getting your frequencies and ranges right. One technical issue I ran into at higher levels is cbetting too much. At lower levels you can almost cbet 100% of the time. At higher levels you need to check more, and then sometimes check-fold and sometimes check-raise. Also when you do decide to cbet, then you need to have good frequencies on the turn. Again on the turn you want to be value betting some percent, second barrel bluffing sometimes, sometimes check-fold, sometimes check-call to catch bluffs and sometimes check-shove. All those options should have a reasonably balanced frequency. In theory you want to keep balancing ranges on the river, but it's harder to do on each street and I never really got a good balanced frequency of river actions.

Playing too nitty in small pots is a very very very small leak. When in doubt, fold early. Playing too nitty in big pots is bad. In general I want to just give up on the tiny pots but I want to win the big pots. Similarly an opponent who folds too much in small pots is indeed slightly exploitable, but only barely, and you need to be careful not to give up your EV against them when you choose not to fold.

Somebody who plays a lot of hands aggressively from position is very hard to deal with. You may think they're often playing junk and it's a leak and you can exploit it by playing tighter. That is true, but don't kid yourself - their leak is very small, and if you try too hard to get them you can easily spew. You will also have to accept a lot of variance to get after them, reraising a lot preflop and check-raising flops.

Any time somebody's ranges aren't balanced across streets or actions, that's a leak. For example, say you open a lot of hands preflop - that means you need to be willing to bet and bluff with a lot of hands postflop. If not, opponents can easily take you off the hand postflop. A lot of people have this un-spread aggression - they're very active preflop and on the flop, but then get scared on the turn and river, and in particular very rarely make big river bluffs. If you try to bluff raise these guys on the flop they will call, but if you wait to the river, they fold. To be unexploitable, you need to have a balanced activity level on every street. One example that's come up a lot recently is preflop 3-betting - if you are 3-betting a ton preflop, you also need to potentially call a lot of 4-bets or shoves. If you 3-bet a wide range, and then call 4-bets with a tight range, that's a leak.

You never want to make moves that you wouldn't make with very good hands. My goal when playing my tight/solid/aggressive game is to ALWAYS be making moves that I could make with a monster, or just fold. For example, say I just call a raise from the big blind, then I check-call the flop, I check-call the turn, I check the river. NO NO NO. I would never do that with a big hand, so I just won't do that ever. Instead, I will either check-raise the flop or just fold. (this is just an example). You also want to make a wider range of moves with your good hands sometimes, but you don't want to make certain types of plays (leading the betting) with good hands, and other plays (passive) with weak hands. I want my hand to never be defined, I want to always be representing a monster. Any time you do show weakness, it's intentional to induce a bluff or just fold. For example, say I raise preflop, I cbet the flop, now I just check the turn. I'm showing weakness on the turn. I do that on purpose because I'm just going to fold, or to call a bluff on the river.

Your bluffing and value betting should be balanced. Are you thinking of value betting top pair on the river? Do you ever tripple barrel bluff? The more you bluff, the more you can value bet. If you rarely bluff, you shouldn't value bet so thin. If you're playing very nitty, as I sometimes do in wild games, then you need to stop thin value betting so much. On the other hand, if you are bluffing a lot, as I was doing in the high stakes games, then you can go ahead and value bet top-pair-no-kicker (especially if you hit top pair after the flop). For example, you raise AT in position, get called. Flop blanks, you cbet, get called. Turn is a Q, you decide to rep it and bet again, get called. Okay, now you're giving up and won't bet again, but the river is an A. Go ahead and value bet if you would ever bluff.

One of the ways you can make a lot of money is by having an image that is different from how you actually play. Any time your actual range doesn't match your perceived range, that is a value opportunity for you. For me this usually means that people think I steal and bluff way more than I really do. I play a lot of hands from the CO and Button when I can be the first raiser, but that doesn't really equal "looseness". I will bet and tripple barrel when I think people are weak and my line is consistent with a monster, but I'm really not wildly bluffing. But people think you're wilder than you really are. That means they call too much and keep paying you off and that's how you make money. Once in a while you can find people who think you're nittier than you really are - or even that you wouldn't bluff in a certain situation - they think your range is very tight, which means you can profit by opening your range and bluffing more. For example playing against someone who really respects your game you have lots of bluff opportunities, eg. if you are nearly all in and push for $400 into a $1200 pot, they will think you can't be bluffing and will fold a lot of hands.

Related to that, any time that your opponents peg you on a certain style, such as the "typical 2+2 solid TAG style" you can make money by slightly deviating. For example, if the flop is drawy and you bet-3bet shove, they will put you on a combo draw. You can use this knowledge of how they think you play.

If someone is really bad and lets you, you can maximize EV by waiting for later streets. Think of it this way - say your opponent turns his cards face up and you see he has a draw. Why bet the flop when he still has a good chance to improve? Just wait for the river until you know you are winning and then let him bluff. Generally, preflop your edges are very small (eg. if you have AT vs KJ or 88 vs QJ). On the flop, people can easily still have a 30-40% equity with bad hands, on the river if you are ahead you have 100% equity. You can only do this against people who are very bad and let you do this, but if they do let you then you should go ahead and do it because it greatly reduces variance. In general you want to put money in when you get as much value on it as possible.

Design your play to make them define their hand, even if that means losing the pot. eg. if you bet and they raise, but they would only raise with hands that beat you - that was a great outcome. Generally this is done by playing aggressive, especially against people who will only raise with the goods. You bet bet bet and apply pressure and they only continue with good hands, so you know exactly what they have.

People tend to chase way too much preflop and on the flop, they just love to see more cards, which makes it a bit of a bad spot for bluffing. You want to bluff when people can't call, which means bluffing the river, bluff-raising. Dry flops (drawless) are the best to bluff; when you bluff wet flops, people will put you on the draw if they have a made hand, or they might well have the draw and shove it.

Don't make big bluffs that win small pots, make small bluffs that are likely to win big pots. For example, if someone 3bets preflop and you shove, you're risking 100BB to win like 24BB , that's retarded. In some cases you can make very small bluffs into big pots and that's awesome because they don't have to work very often to be +EV. Part of why this works is people are so retarded about pot odds. One thing people don't do correctly is count the bets already put in as part of the pot. For example, the pot is $50, somebody bets $30, someone calls, now you raise to $100. That's not a huge raise cuz there was $110 in the pot, but people think of it as a $100 raise into a $30 bet and they fold, in fact you bet less than pot size which is a good bluff. Another awesome situation is when someone is almost all in, they will often fold because they don't want to reload. In some cases you can bluff the river for like $20 into a $100 pot and they will fold stuff like bottom pair or ace high if they would be all in.

Part of the awesomeness of being aggressive early is that you are always threatening to build a big pot and it lets you make big river bets. The bigger the bets are the more you profit. Maybe you only have a 1% edge in each pot, if you play small pots you never make any money, but if you are always jamming it up you play big pots and you then get to either make a big bet on the river, or check-call a big bluff - generally taking your edge but on a bigger bet, hence more profit. If you're 2nd barreling and even 3rd barreling a lot, you can value bet thinner and start winning some really big pots with only decent hands. Of course you know this with the obvious semibluff hands like a flush draw, but those are actually more obvious. A hand like AK overs is also an awesome hand, because if you spike an A or K on the river you can value bet it and take a big profit.

Against better players you need to jam more when you have an edge or to build pots because they don't pay off as much once they're beat. Against bad players you don't need to do that. With draws against bad players you can just take cheap cards and try to hit. Against good players you need to keep your ranges balanced and always be playing like you have a monster.

If you have good equity but don't know your spot - just jam. This is something I really like but don't see it discussed much. This applies mainly againt good players, or bad players who are hard to read. In the situation that you know you have very good total equity, but you don't know if you're drawing or not - go ahead and jam now. If you know that you are ahead or know that you are drawing, then you can make different decisions, like maybe jamming now or maybe just calling or whatever. Getting all in is protection against not knowing your situation on later streets. Getting all in is also protection against the disadvantage of being out of position on later streets. If you have good equity and are out of position, you want to jam as soon as possible in the hand. In particular I'm talking about spots where your hand might be best or you might be drawing. One example is if you have an ace high flush draw. There's a good chance your ace high might be the best hand, he might have a worse flush draw or just random whatever. If you can't read his action well, just try to get all in. Another would be something like if you have a weak pair + a draw. Maybe you have like 88 and the board is 679 , so you have a pair + straight draw. The wilder your opponent is, especially if you're OOP, the more you just want to get all in and jam it now in these spots because you don't know if you're drawing or not.

In terms of playing profitably at low levels, none of these things are as important as tilt control, focus, game selection, etc. You really need to just stay basic and play solid. "Solid" doesn't necessarilly mean nitty/weak though, it just means stick to basic +EV decisions, mainly playing value because people call and bluff way too much and don't fold enough. That leak is far more important than any other leak.

One of the hardest things for me in practice is getting into the right mental state. You need to be active and engaged and always going after +EV spots - but not too active, not bored, not pushing, you still have to just be patient and see it as a long grind and you need to wait for your spots - but don't let yourself just go into a trance and start playing just by some "rules". It's obvious when you're frustrated and bored and just pushing too much. One of the lazy things you do when you're grinding and sort of turning off your brain is you start thinking about hands in only one way. eg. I have a flush draw, I'll see if I hit, okay I missed I give up. When you're playing right you reevaluate based on each card and each action. It's exhausting really grinding right. The best way for me was to play 1-2 hours then take a break for 1-2 hours, then play another 1-2, etc. Ideally the break is exercise as that really freshens the brain.

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old rants