Deep Stack Poker

This guide is designed to give us some basic pointers when playing NLHE with a stack considerably above the starting BSS of 100bbs.

To Play Deep or Not to Play Deep?

The first question we should ask is whether we actually want to play deep in the first place. 200bb poker is almost like a different game to 100bb poker. If we take our 100bb strategy into a 200bb+ game then we are not going to be getting the best of it. If we want to excel at deep poker we need to learn different strategies.

So if we spend most of our time analysing how to make decisions with 100bb stacks (as many players do), we are not necessarily going to be well equipped for crushing deep games. For many this can be a valid reason to avoid deep games. If we spend most of our time training with 100bb stacks then why spend a decent chunk of our playing time with 200bb+ stacks? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So many players employ a strategy (especially at fast-fold formats), where they rebuy once their stack gets over 150bb.

However assuming that we have the time to invest in improving our 200bb+ game there are good reasons to do so. Essentially, the deeper the stacks in NLHE the more skill is required. This means that it is possible to achieve significantly higher winrates when deep, compared to 100bb play. We will also find that the average player is worse at deep play than they are at 100bb play. If players make more mistakes while deep we can naturally use this to our advantage and make some additional money.

The Differences

We will talk about three main factors, hand-type, position and action. All of these things have slightly different effects on the game as the stack sizes change.

Hand-Type – The first adjustment we need to make is to re-define how we evaluate the strength of our preflop holding. To help us do this we can refer to concept known as “Stack-to-Pot” ratios (SPR). An SPR is a ratio describing how much money there is in the middle compared to the effective stacks. So if there is an SPR of 4 it means that there is 4 times as much money in the effective stacks as there is in the pot. So if there is $1 in the middle, we have an SPR of 4 if we have a $4 stack.

With deeper stacks the SPR is going to be higher on average. Different types of hands benefit from different SPRs. Generally speculative and drawing hands benefit from high SPRs, while hands which frequently make TPTK/TPGK benefit from a much lower stack to pot-ratio, ideally around 4.

The problem with deep play is that we are only very rarely going to set up a postflop SPR of 4. We should immediately be able to conclude that hands that make TPTK or TPGK go down in value. So while something like AKo is a monster with 50bb effective stacks, it’s nowhere near as strong when sitting 250bb deep. If we flop an Ace or King with 50bb we are clearly committed, whereas if we flop an A or K 250bb deep, we still need to pot-control and make sure too much money doesn’t go into the pot before showdown.

So the hands that benefit from a high SPR i.e 20+ are the hands that start to excel when playing deep and hence go up in value. These are specifically speculative hands that have nut potential. Stuff like Axs and high PP’s are great hands when deep since they have the potential to make the nut-flush or top set. With the additional stack depth these hands can be played in nearly all preflop situations.

Position

Position should especially be taken into consideration when deep. It will confer a huge advantage to the player with position and a huge disadvantage to the player out-of-position. The deeper the stacks the bigger this effect will be.

As such there are many sources that even suggest that when playing 200bb deep OOP we should not actually have any 3betting range. We want to keep the pot as small as possible when playing with a huge disadvantage.

When we have position deep we can apply large amounts of pressure on our opponents and 3bet aggressively. In reality we will probably still want a 3betting range OOP against bad opponents because we can partly neutralise the positional advantage a weak player has. But a good player can make our life extremely difficult with position and deep stacks and so we need to be cautious about putting ourself in that situation.

So the name of the game when playing deep is to play hands that make the nuts frequently and to ensure we have position as much as possible.

Action

It’s not recommended to have a 5-bet bluff range when 100bb deep. This is because it’s not theoretically correct to be 5-bet/folding any hands given the price we get facing a jam, so we may aswell jam ourselves and deny our opponents their equity realisation.

This all changes when playing 200bb+ deep. 5bet bluffs, even 6bet bluffs with the intention of folding against a jam are possibilities. However just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that we should incorporate it into our game. Especially at lower limits – by the time a weak player 4bets us with a deep stack, we are often dead in the water with our bluffs and 5bet bluffing is suicide. So we’d generally really only consider these advanced moves at higher limits vs aggressive opponents. In many scenarios it might be better to slow down the action and just call against one of our opponents raises, especially if we have position. Seeing a flop with a reasonably high SPR allows us to utilise our skill edge more effectively.

Leverage and Postflop Tendencies

If we take a more mathematical approach to playing with deep stacks it’s correct to say that we should be bluffing more frequently, especially on the flop. Our deep stacks allow us to put considerably more pressure on our opponent than we would be able to if we had a shallower stack.
If we want to excel while deep we need to therefore use our large stack for this purpose and force our opponent to deal with some difficult situations he is perhaps not used to, especially if he is normally a 100bb reg.

However it’s useful to also note that while this is mathematically correct, it doesn’t necessarily feel intuitively correct, and as a result the average player with a deep stack is potentially going to do the opposite. Rather than expand their bluffing range while deep, they may potentially even tighten it. They are scared of building a pot because they have so much more money to lose. Naturally there are exceptions to this – there are certain fish who don’t understand that their postflop stacking range should tighten based on the stack depth. In other words if they generally stack TPGK for 100bb they are not going to think twice about stacking it for 300bb. But as a rough guide we should generally treat aggression with a ton of respect, but assume we have more fold-equity than we should.

Postflop Sizings

Remember that most of the default postflop sizings we use are assuming 100bb stacks. So in a 4bet we typically bet 33% of the pot on the flop because it sets up a pot-sized turn shove with 100bb stacks. However assuming we are 300bb deep in the same 4bet pot, we don’t need to use 33% pot as our default sizing anymore. We can go significantly larger and focus on setting up decent stack sizes for the later streets. This applies to any situation when deep, it’s ok to increase the sizings if it confers us an advantage.

If we imagine a situation where we have top-set on a two-tone board and are planning a check/raise, our default check/raise sizing will often be about 3 times our opponent’s bet when 100bb deep. However keep in mind that when we are 300bb deep he has far better implied odds to try and hit his flush draw. This means that we can potentially get a much larger raise paid off. Even if he has nothing and is considering floating, the increased stack depth may lead him to feel that he can outplay us on later streets.

It’s also interesting to note the effect of the deeper stacks on the strength of our opponent’s continuing range even if he faces exactly the same size flop raise. His top-pair type hands are going to feel the heat a lot more, fearing action on later streets. His nut-draws are going to feel the heat a lot less. He knows that he nearly always has a profitable call with his good draws because he has a much better chance of making back the money afterwards from our deeper stack. Just from this simple example we can see the relevance of preferring a hand like A5s over a hand like AJo when the stacks are deep.

Reverse Implied Odds

A big mistake players make in general is to consider pot-odds preflop. This is not to say that they are not relevant at all, but their importance is over-emphasised. Imagine we face a $1 preflop decision and we have $2000 to play with postflop. Can you see the irony of deliberating over whether we have exactly the right amount of equity to make that $1 preflop call based on our pot-odds? So much of our preflop decision is going to be based on how the hand plays postflop, i.e our implied odds.

A common adjustment is to look at the preflop pot-odds we get and then consider our equity realisation as a percentage of the total. This is slightly better than just considering our raw pot-odds and equity, but still falls short of the mark. We need to mentally simulate how our hand might play postflop on various different board textures.

The result is that we may find situations that we clearly have the direct preflop pot-odds to call (assuming we knew our exact equity), yet we should make the fold preflop, because our postflop playability is poor. Why protect the $1 in the middle when we stand to lose $2000 postflop? It doesn’t make any sense. This will usually occur in situations where we are dominated. For example we hold something like KQ and our opponent has a ton of hands like TT+/AQ/KQ. What we generally find here is that if we flop the best hand we only get a small payout. If we flop a second best hand we will be frequently dominated yet still find it somewhat tricky to get away from our holdings postflop, meaning we lose a much larger pot. The effect of this will increase considerably if we also find ourselves out of position.

Stacking Range

Hopefully by now this is somewhat obvious, but it’s still important to mention. The deeper the stacks get, the tighter our stacking off range should be both postflop and preflop. This is one of the biggest mistakes players make if they are not used to playing deep stacked. In some extreme cases I have fixed a student’s winrate by simply telling him to not play deep. We ran filters and all of his negative winrate was occurring when the stacks were over 150bb.

Once we start to get above about 140bb even KK starts to become very dicey as a preflop stack-off. So readless we should probably be stacking AA only at 150bb+. There are exceptions to this, for example a player shoving any 2 cards while deep. We should obviously feel comfortable calling considerably wider when we know our opponent can show up with garbage as a result of history.

Naturally this kind of approach can increase our variance dramatically even if we are getting all-in with good equity. Losing a 300bb pot can feel like a big hit, so it can be harder to deal with the suckouts. We should also keep in mind that we should likely use a bigger bankroll if we want to play deep since we can lose a much larger chunk of our money in a single hand even if we play perfectly.

The same rules for stacking off tighter occur postflop aswell as preflop. Understanding what our current SPR is will help us to know which hands we should be stacking off with. For example an SPR of 4 is considered good for TPTK hands, an SPR of 6 is considered good for overpairs, maybe 8 for 2pair etc. Since the SPR will be higher on average when deep, then naturally our stacking range will be tighter also.

Putting it Together

Don’t feel bad if you decide deep play is not for you at this stage. We want to spend most of our time becoming proficient at one discipline (i.e 100bb) before we move on to another. So essentially if you still feel your 100bb game needs a ton of work maybe it’s better that you focus on this for now rather than attempting to include additional variables in your decision-making such as stack-depth.

If you feel reasonably confident in your 100bb game and have a positive winrate, perhaps it is time to expand your approach and look to capitalize on situations where the stacks are deeper. The average regular is a lot worse at 200bb+ poker and we can significantly increase our overall winrate by learning to play better deep-stack poker than our opponents.

LAG Poker Style

What is LAG?

Perhaps LAG is one of those words we have seen floating around the poker forums. What does it really mean though?

LAG stands for “loose aggressive” and describes a poker playing style.

The average LAG will have a VPIP of above 20% and a PFR of above 25%. When The VPIP starts getting above 30% and the PFR above 35% then it might be more common to refer to such a player as a “maniac”.

Is LAG a decent style?

The answer to this question really depends. LAG can potentially be the best style, but not always.

It’s not a big secret, but the majority of winning online players are TAGs (tight-aggressive). TAGs play a much tighter more conservative game. TAG style is easier to master and overall entails a lower amount of variance.

However LAG style has the potential to make much more money in certain situations. The downside is that LAG requires more skill and is a higher variance strategy.

Types of LAGs

It’s not necessarily true that all LAGs play the same type of game. There are typically good LAGs and bad LAGs.

The bad LAGs play a loose aggressive style but have problems folding the fold button when they are clearly beat.

The good LAGs play loose aggressive but are capable of making big laydowns when they are clearly behind.

Depending on which of the two we face, we frequently need to make adjustments to our strategy.

Play the Player

The idea of adjusting to our opponents should tell us something. The best style for us to have in any given situation is a style that is selected in response to our opponents’ tendencies.

So it’s usually not correct for us to identify with and stick to any one given style. If a player says something along the lines of “I’m a LAG” or “I’m a TAG”, then ironically he is likely not thinking about the game on the best possible level. We want to be poker chameleons, ever ready to adapt to our surroundings.

If a player insisted on always playing a LAG style, he would do very well against certain opponents but then run into difficulty against other types of player.

A good LAG plays loose-aggressive poker because his opponents have a tendency to play too tight and too face-up in certain spots. For example, the average TAG will have a tendency to always play aggressively with his premium holdings and never slowplay. So when he starts taking passive actions such as checking, it’s possible for a good LAG to deduce he is weak and start playing aggressively.

When LAG is Not Good

Let’s think of two examples where a good LAG would have to adjust to a different style as a result of his opponents tendencies.

The first scenario is when facing a calling station.

LAGs can easily lose money in this scenario since they will bluff overly aggressively only to watch in dismay as their calling station opponent hero-calls them down with an underpair to the board. So what should a good LAG do in this example? He should tighten up his ranges and value-bet relentlessly. He still might be going reasonably wide for value as a result of villain’s tendencies, but the idea is that he might look a little closer to a loose TAG as opposed to a LAG.

The second scenario is playing an aggressive but bad LAG, who cannot fold to aggression.

The typical LAG strategy of bluffing in good spots is not going to help that much here either because villain is not folding. We could naturally follow a similar strategy to before and use a tight-aggressive approach: this would work reasonably well.

However it’s worth noting that there is now an additional component to this player’s strategy which we can also exploit. He is overly aggressive and will attack perceived weakness with aggression. The way we can exploit this is by slowplaying: appearing weak when we are actually strong. So against this particular opponent a tight-passive approach may work extremely well.

It’s interesting that passive play for the most part, is discouraged. However as an exploitative response to our opponents’ aggression, passivity can be an extremely potent weapon in our arsenal.

Decent LAG – Look for Weakness

If we could name a fundamental difference in terms of the mindset of a TAG compared to the mindset of a LAG, perhaps it would be the following.

– TAGs looks at the strength of their hand
– LAGs care less about the strength of their hand and more about the strength of their opponent’s hand.

This is just a rough approximation however, and we don’t want to do discredit to the TAG style in any way. There are many strong and competent TAG players who think deeply about their opponents’ ranges and are capable of making exploitative adjustments. But if we approximate the average difference we might say that TAG style is a little bit more about making hands while LAG style is a little bit more about bluffing.

One of the most important skills a good LAG has is the ability to spot when his opponent is not overly strong and may be willing to give up on the pot without too much of a fight.

To give a couple of examples –

1) Any time a player skips his cbet

The truth is that the majority of players do not give enough thought regarding protecting their checking ranges. What this essentially means is that as soon as aplayer decides to skip his cbet on any street, in-position or out-of-position, he likely has a range that contains many more weak hands than premiums.

LAG players are always looking for spots like this to exploit weak and capped ranges.

2) Any time a player checks twice

A good LAG knows that it is extremely rare for a player to check twice with a strong holding. This means that a good LAG will be bluffing a lot with delayed cbets, and also river bluffs when villain has checked across two consecutive streets.

Should I Try LAG Style?

This is probably a function of our level of experience. It’s recommended that new players follow a tight-aggressive approach. The game is easier to play when we start out with a tighter range. We will have a stronger hand postflop more frequently.

Some poker schools will disagree though and say that it is better to jump right in at the deep end. Sure, LAG is tougher and involves more variance, but we will learn poker and hand reading a hell of a lot faster too.

So ultimately, we have to make a choice regarding what type of poker style we would like to pursue. But it’s also important not to identify too strongly with any particular style, since the best players have no real default style at all. They simply look for the exploitative style with the highest expectation based on their opponents.

Guide For Improving Your Poker Game

It’s very common for players to feel that off-the-table analysis is necessary to become a strong winning player in today’s online environment. Some players may even set aside the necessary time for such work, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

The problem is that often the quality of this time is very poor. It often may include passively watching poker training videos or reviewing hands from their database without any clear purpose. In themselves these are great tools for improvement, but they need to be used with a clear objective in mind.

Have a Clear Focus

The number one issue many have is that the work they do is simply too vague and lacking focus. Think about how many different spots come up in the average session-review training video. We jump from one topic to the other, generally following no kind of logical progression unless the coach has made significant effort for this to be the case.

Similar with hand history reviews, we jump from topic to topic, unlikely spending more than a few minutes on a given topic. Now imagine every hand marked involves a situation where we cold-call from the blinds, or face a 2nd barrel in 3bet a pot. To really maximise the efficiency of our time spent we have to break the game down into segments and focus on a specific area for a measure of time, maybe even a week or more.

Finding a Focus

We all have to start somewhere, and likely some of us won’t have a specific area to focus on unless we have already given the topic of this article some thought previously. So we should make it our initial goal to come up with a list of areas to focus on. Perhaps a list of 10 areas would be a good place to start, with the intention to spend at least a few days (potentially much longer) working on each of them. We will generally find that as we work on a particular topic, other areas will come to light which we can add to our list.

We will focus the majority of our work around the chosen topic without deviating. Even if we are engaging in a general activity such as watching a training video, we will pay special attention to anything which involves the topic we are considering. For example, if we are focusing on 3bet pots with initiative, we’ll pay special attention any time the coach gets into that situation. Perhaps we will pause and take notes, run through some of our own ranges in that spot.

We want to keep focusing on the topic until a measure of clarity comes to us. Notice that no topic is likely to become completely clear, since poker is not a game that is possible to master at this stage. But we should feel the topic in focus has become significantly clearer before moving on to the next topic on our list. Once any topic is covered, it is by no means complete. We can simply archive that topic for the next time we revisit it, in greater detail.

Methods/Tools

Once we know exactly where we are going to be focusing our efforts, there are various tools we can make use of which will greatly increase our efficiency. In no particular order…

The Forums – Search for your particular topic on the forums and join in the discussion. Posting troll comments such as “cool story bro” does not constitute learning. Try and make an intelligent contribution to the thread. If you can’t find your topic, start a new thread, and document all the questions you would like answers to.

Buddies/Skype-Group – It’s always good to have people we can bounce ideas off. If we don’t know someone personally in real life it’s possible to create a group conversation on skype where we can discuss strategy with players playing similar games and limits. The power of a group is often larger than the power of one alone. We might find a member of our group has an angle on a certain topic that has never occurred to us.

HH-Reviews – It’s good to mark hands during a session for review. But rather than randomly marking hands that cause you trouble, why not mark every single hand where a specific line is taken? Perhaps we are working on 4bet pots for example. We could mark every 4bet pot and review it after the session. We will find analysing in this method considerably more effective than reviewing trouble-hands at random. Reviewing trouble-hands at random may be a good method for finding an initial area to focus on however. We may spot a trend: perhaps we are making similar mistakes in a certain situation.

Stat-Analysis – Unfortunately the vast majority of players, even winning players, have no clue how to effectively use tracking software to spot leaks. The relevance of stat analysis should become more apparent now that we’ve started breaking our game down into different categories. Perhaps we are focusing on flop check-raises. In which case we can construct filters to show with which frequency we are check-raising and which type of hands we are using. We can perhaps see also with which frequency we fire turn and river after we check-raise the flop. Don’t know how to do this? Open your tracking software and start figuring it out.

HUD-creation – This is actually a method of improvement in itself. Creating an awesomeHUD. Thinking about which stats are the most useful/relevant in a game situation and why. It also gets us to think a little about what the average values of these stats should be for a winning player. If we are not aware whether certain stats are higher/lower than normal it can become difficult trying to use these stats for exploitation. Working on our HUD is an excellent thing to do if our chosen focus is learning to play exploitatively. Working on our HUD is a focus in itself however. It’s always good to be up to date with the latest technologies that increase our edge at the table.

Training Videos – These come in various formats. Arguably the most valuable of these if we already have a topic in mind are the theory videos. They focus on a specific topic and use hand-history examples to illustrate concepts. Live session videos can still be useful if we are focusing on something such as gameflow, or if we are searching for a new topic to focus on.

Articles/Books – Somewhat self-explanatory. Remember to question everything and take most things that you read with a pinch of salt. Always consider who the author is and whether that author is considered a credible source. For every piece of good advice online there are likely 5 pieces of bad advice. Analytical skills are required to sort the bad advice from the good. As with the other training methods it’s preferable to have an area of focus rather than reading books/articles at random.

Poker-Software – There are some excellent poker tools available that can help us with equity calculations or help us to construct ranges. Without going into detail, we will simply list some of the main useful pieces of software. If you’ve never heard of or used any of these, your next task should be to google them and find out what they do.

• Flopzilla
• Equilab
• PokerSnowie
• PokerRanger
• HM2/PT4
• Table-Ninja
• Notecaddy
• CardRunnersEV
• StarsHelper
• TablescanTurbo

Check out PokerVIP store for a selection of great poker software and much more!

Private-Coaching – The fastest way to get accurate information (provided we have found a credible coach) is to book some private poker coaching sessions. We will find we often receive the very latest strategy advice with this method. By the time new concepts reach a training video, book, or strategy article, 6months or even years may have sometimes passed.

Coaching – One way of working on our game is by coaching others. It causes us to really think about the reasons for certain things we do. As a general guide, if we can’t explain a particular concept accurately and simply to another player, we can generally assume we don’t understand the concept well ourselves.

If you are a newer player you can perhaps teach your friends to play. If you are an advanced player you can offer paid coaching to players playing lower limits than yours.

Range-Construction/Simulations – Once we have a reasonable background in game theory we can think about the various different board runouts and how we will play our entire range on these runouts. There are over 20 different types of flop categories. On each of these flop categories we’d play our range slightly differently. We’d also adjust our strategy depending on the preflop/flop action and the positions of the players involved. The variables are practically endless.

We won’t automatically know how we should be playing our ranges on every board runout. The way we can get a feel for how our ranges should look is by calculating precise ranges for each of the various situations. Next time we face a similar situation at the table we will then have a feel for what our continuing ranges will look like.

Given the huge permutations of the different variables, bet-sizing, positions, flop texture, effective stacks etc , we will find that we need to break the work down into categories as much as possible. We can make various assumptions to aid us with this. For example, if we calculate our defending ranges on a K72r board, we probably don’t need to do the exact same calculations for a K82r or K62r board. Our strategy will be extremely similar.

Facing a Flop Raise

It’s a common situation, we fire a bet on the flop and get raised. Should we continue or should we give our opponent credit and fold? In some cases, especially at the lower limits it may feel like we are folding all of the time and have a leak. But is this really the case?

The Situation

Initially we need to establish the exact situation we are facing because not all flop raises are the same.

1. Positions

The first relevant factor are the positions of the players involved. Assuming we are the open-raiser, the earlier the position we are in, the tighter our opponents cold-calling range is likely to be. We are perceived as stronger when we open in early and are less likely to be raised or check/raised.

It’s not impossible we will be bluff-raised on the flop after opening from EP or MP, but most players have a tendency to bluff more when we open from BTN, CO, SB. Our opening range is wider which often leads to more aggression from our opponent.

2. Number of Players

This is absolutely crucial, especially at the lower limits. As soon as there are 3 or more players on the flop, the chances of bluff-raises occurring dramatically decrease. It can actually be good to throw out some flop-raises multi-way for this reason, we represent much more strength than in the heads-up situation. Players at slightly higher limits understand this and will have a default flop bluff-raising range in multi-way pots. In lower limits we can likely automatically fold any non-premium when facing a raise multi-way.

Assuming we hold some type of draw, facing a raise in multi-way pots can be advantageous. Perhaps we don’t quite get the right price in a HU situation to continue, but with the extra player/s in the pot we now have a pretty comfortable call. Naturally in such situations we also need to consider if we are closing the action after we face a raise. We only know our true price for drawing if we are the last to act on a certain round. If we call a flop-raise and there are still players to act behind us, we may face additional action and get blown off our draw.

3. Preflop Action

So far we have primarily been referring to single-raised pots. Bluff-raises can occur in any situation though. 3bet pots, 4bet pots etc. For the most part it seems the average player is less inclined to have a bluff-raising range in 3bet or 4bet pots compared to their propensity to bluff in single-raised or limped pots. For the majority of players there is a point where the pot is large enough that they will start to play the game honestly based on the strength of their holding. As a rough guide, the more bloated the pot preflop, the less we should expect bluff-raises postflop. This rule wont apply to all players though, as soon as we have specific reads we can start making a judgement on a player-by-player basis.

4. Initiative

A player does not necessarily have to be the cold-caller preflop and face a flop c-bet in order to bluff-raise the flop. They might actually be the preflop aggressor, decide to skip their cbet OOP and go for a check/raise. In reality good players should be doing this almost as often as they check/raise as the cold-caller. In practice this simply doesn’t happen. The vast majority of players are not at the level where they think about check/raise bluffing as the PFR. If they want to bluff in this situation they will generally just fire a cbet. So check/raises from the PFR are rare overall and generally represent nutted holdings. Players are often far more creative with strong value-hands than they are with bluffs. So usually if we see a player taking a strange unorthodox line, it’s slightly more likely they are getting tricky with a value-hand as opposed to bluffing.

5. Stack Sizes

It’s hopefully easy to see why this could have a large impact on the correct decision when facing a raise. If our opponent has a very shallow stack it might be impossible to continue with certain draws which we have the correct implied-odds to call if our opponent had a deep stack. Conversely it might be reasonably straight-forward to continue with an overpair vs a shallow-stacked opponent, which we might consider folding if our opponent was deep and we hence suffered from reverse implied-odds.

We need to weigh up all of these factors simultaneously if we want to gauge the strength of a flop raise from an unknown.

For example imagine UTG opens, MP 3bets, CO calls, UTG calls, the rest fold. UTG checks, MP bets, CO calls, UTG check/raises. UTG ticks a ton of the boxes for being super strong here. He opens in early, it’s a 3bet pot, the flop is multi-way. We should be able to make some big laydowns in this situation.

Now imagine BTN opens, BB calls. BTN cbets and BB check/raises. We have no reason to necessarily think an unknown is super strong (more on this later). We are probably continuing with at least top-pair+ maybe even some back-door draws depending on our exact estimation of villain’s range.

Exploitative Play

The best decisions in any NLHE situation are going to be the exploitative ones. We should be making use of our opponents “flop-raise-vs-cbet” stat. It’s recommended that this is actually one of the stats included in our main HUD window and not buried in a popup somewhere. Inside the popup we can break it down in the following ways

raise-vs-cbet-IP
raise-vs-cbet-OOP (check/raise)
raise-vs-cbet-TOTAL
Overall flop-raise TOTAL (independent of initiative)
Overall flop-raise IP
Overall flop-raise OOP
X/r after skip flop cbet (we can potentially place this in our cbet popup if preferred)
The above stats for 3bet/4bet pots.

It’s estimated that we hit the flop hard about 10% of the time. So anything below a 10% check/raise could be considered strong. However we also need to factor in that many players are aware that it is not considered correct strategy to raise premium holdings on a dry texture, only the drawy ones. So we should discount slightly our idea of which flop-raise % constitutes a nutted range. Let’s say

6% is probably the stone-cold nuts.
6-11% reasonably strong
12-17% good/aggressive (more bluffs than value, but this is correct strategy)
18% + You are probably being bluffed

However it’s important to keep in mind that these numbers can’t be considered in isolation. We first need to know what type of range our opponent gets to the flop with. Imagine our opponent cold-calls 100% of hands preflop. Should we assume that because he is only raising the flop 6% of the time that he has the nuts? Not at all, that’s actually loose/aggressive given that he gets to the flop with such a wide range. Or imagine a guy who only calls PP’s preflop. Should we assume that he is good/aggressive/balanced if he raises flop 12% of the time. Not at all, remember that we flop a set 12.5% of the time. He can easily reach 12% without ever bluffing if he doesn’t understand how to play his sets on different board textures.

We should also make use of the following advanced statistics to help us with our flop decision.

Barrel-turn-after-raise-flop
Barrel-river-after-raise-flop-bet-turn
Raise-fold-flop-IP-OOP-TOTAL

The first two stats here consider future play and help us to make an exploitative decision based on this. If our opponent’s have a tendency to continue firing after they raise the flop we should generally be continuing with a tighter range on the flop. If they have tendency to check turn after they raise the flop we can often defend with a wider range knowing that we are either going to get a free card more often or the opportunity to take down the pot more often after our opponent checks.

The final stat there shows how often our opponent folds to 3bets. If this is sufficiently high we can consider turning some of our draws/back-door-draws into 3bet bluffs.

Population Reads

Ideally we shouldn’t be folding more than about 50% of the time to a regular-sized flop-raise. However population tendencies can influence the correct value of this stat. As a rough trend players are less inclined to bluff flops the lower in limits we go. At higher limits the majority of the population is aware that we should be bluffing flops aggressively. At micro-limits there are plenty of players who never bluff-raise flops and only raise with something decent.

If we know our opponent is never bluffing then we’d obviously play quite tightly facing a raise. Our fold-cbet-to-raise could end up being in the 60% region. We described a situation earlier where we opened on the BTN and got check/raised. We mentioned that we have no reason to believe our opponent is that strong. We should still approach the situation with a measure of caution at lower limits however, perhaps he is one of these players that simply does not bluff-raise flops.

Bet Sizing

So far we have mentioned nothing about bet-sizing and this should obviously influence our continuing range.

The standard sizing for a flop-raise will be about 3x in singe-raised-pot and about 2.2x in a 3bet pot. Deviations from these sizings can often give us a clue about our opponents holdings.

Way larger than standard – First thing we can establish when facing any non-standard bet is that our opponent is probably not a regular and doesn’t necessarily show up with standard ranges in most situations.

Large flop-raises are generally an indication that our opponent is not bluffing. It doesn’t make sense to bet so large as a bluff – the risk/reward ratio is very poor. Our opponent is not necessarily thinking in these terms however – but generally we should give more credit to unusually large flop-raises.

Way smaller than standard – For example, perhaps we face a min-raise in a single-raised-pot. This usually won’t be a bluff either but will be considerably weaker and more merged than the regular sized flop-raise. As a rule-of-thumb it’s recommended never to fold any top-pair to a flop min-raise.

Defending vs Aggressive Opponents

So we have run into a player who appears to be raising flops aggressively with a balanced range. What will our continuing range look like.

1.Calling

We call with some mid-strength hands not strong enough to 3bet
We slowplay some premiums that are strong enough to 3bet
We defend with some back-door draws and regular draws which we will us as bluffs on later streets

2. Raising

We 3bet our premiums for value (apart from those we slowplay)
We 3bet some nutted draws to stack off with
We 3bet some backdoor draws and weak draws which we can fold to a 4bet but will continue bluffing with if just called and we turn equity

At higher limits we can jump straight into this defending mode by default. At lower limits we can essentially just cut out all back-door draws without a decent read that our opponent is playing aggressively. 3bet bluffing is also going to be less effective in general at lower limits since the average flop-raising range is much stronger.

HUD Stats You Are Not Using

Notecaddy/Advanced-HUD-stats

Most players who play regularly make use of a HUD. However, in some cases we may be using the same HUD/popups that we created several years ago and have not kept up to date with some of the more advanced features that are available for use. This article is written with HM2 in mind, although we should be able to find similar stats in PT4. While there is additional tracking software available, we will often find these programs limited in terms of the tools/stats they offer. They simply do not have the support that HM2/PT4 have.

Notecaddy

The biggest upgrade in recent times is Notecaddy. There is an equivalent note-tracker for PT4 although this is arguably much less powerful. However, this comes free with PT4 while it is a paid upgrade for HM2. PT4 is a great choice if we are on a budget or have a computer which runs slowly. If money is no object and we have a fast computer, HM2 is superior software in many ways.

Notecaddy takes automated notes on our opponents and displays this information in a popup. This helps to augment and complete the information we already have via means of a statistic. Imagine our opponent 3bets us with a frequency of 10%. This is useful information but by no means complete. Is this is a polarized 10% range or a merged 10% range? Even if we know that it is polarized does our opponent favour offsuit broadways in his bluffing range or speculative hands? How wide will he go for value? If we open up our note-caddy popup we can see the specific type of hands our opponent has 3bet in the past providing a more complete picture.

Notecaddy – Custom Stats

An excellent feature of Notecaddy is the ability to create our own custom stats using a simple scripting system. This many not be the easiest thing to grasp quickly but has the potential to be extremely useful.

For example, imagine the situation where we’d like to know how wide we should open in a standard BTN steal attempt. The ideal stat for this situation might be “fold blinds to BTN steal”. At the time of writing this article, HM2 has “fold SB to BTN steal”, and “fold BB to BTN steal”, but no “fold blinds to BTN steal”.

We can also create custom stats that involve bet-sizing information, something that could not be done previously with the power of tracking software alone. Imagine we face a 4x open from the BTN. We are aware that this is a non-standard sizing, and we are aware that according to our HM2 stats our opponent has a 50% opening range from the BTN. But does he necessarily open a 50% range with this 4x sizing, or does he reserve this sizing for a much stronger range? Using custom stats it is possible to break our opponents raise-first-in range into the various sizings he uses and see which frequency he uses the 2x, 3x, or 4x open raises. Perhaps he rarely raises to 4x in which case we can make some exploitative folds.

Notecaddy Packages

It’s a good point to mention that getting to grips with notecaddy can involve a learning curve which isn’t super easy. It’s well worth the time invested – but there is still a reasonable chance that some of us a) don’t have the time to invest figuring it out or b) honestly just find scripting custom stats too tricky.

Not to worry, there are people out there prepared to do all the hard work…..for a price. There are companies out there who have decided to create what is known as a “coaching package” for notecaddy. This is a file that you import into notecaddy that involves a complete HUD and a selection of advanced custom stats along with custom badges that allow us to easily identify certain traits in our opponents.

We will not mention any specific packages so as not to advertise, but a quick google search should allow us to find the available coaching packages without too much difficulty. Be prepared to pay in the region of $70-$200 for this kind of tool. Everything included in a package will be something you could code yourself if you have the time and the ability, so it’s definitely not mandatory you pay anything at all once you have purchased the initial notecaddy software.

Notecaddy – Scattergraphs

Very likely one of the most useful tools of notecaddy is the scattergraph. Imagine we are facing a pot-sized bet on the river. Perhaps we know the frequency with which our opponent fires the river, but we are not sure how his river sizing affects his frequencies.

The scattergraph which can be found in the notecaddy popup gives us information regarding how strong our opponent is when he uses various sizings. We have strength on one axis and bet sizing on another axis. We might find that when our opponent bets pot he is frequently bluffing, whereas the smaller sizings are weighted toward value. This is easily one of the best tools for river situations, but has application on the earlier streets too. In pretty much any situation it is possible to see a graph of how our opponent’s bet-sizing relates to the strength of his hand.

Notecaddy – Clock

One of the newer features at the time of writing is the notecaddy clock which incorporates timing-tell information into the automated note taking system. Perhaps our opponent has a tendency to act quickly when he is weak. We can use the note-caddy clock to pick up reads.

Vs Hero Stats

This is something that should be available within the tracking software itself. We might know how often a player is 3betting at the table, but perhaps it seems like he is 3betting specifically against us way more often than average.

It is now possibly to quantify this information with the “vs-hero-3bet” stat. We can see how often our opponent is 3betting (or a whole range of other actions) specifically against us without having to closely follow the action on that table.
Other Advanced Stats

In general the average player is simply not aware of many of the stats that are available for use. We will consider one example, but it’s highly recommended at some point to work through the list of available stats in our tracking software. We may find there is a certain stat that is extremely useful; one that most players have never considered using.

Perhaps we have on our HUD the “fold-cbet-to-raise” stat. Many players do; it’s an extremely useful stat. But have we ever considered that having that stat in isolation is not maximising its effectiveness? Imagine our opponent has an extremely low “fold-cbet-to-raise” stat. Our natural inclination is to avoid bluffing this guy; what’s the point of bluffing if he rarely folds?

Ironically we may find that we are missing on an excellent bluff situation. Imagine we now add the more advanced stat “fold to turn barrel after cbet-cal flop”, and we see that it is over 80%. How do we feel about raising the flop now? Hopefully we can see that despite not generating instant profit on the flop it should be a clearly profitable bluff-raise since we can barrel the vast majority of turns and expect to win the pot.

By extension, just because the “fold to turn barrel after cbet-call” is really low doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t profitably fire the turn. We’d want to check out “fold to river barrel after cbet-call flop, call turn barrel”. The point is that stats are rarely at their maximum effectiveness when used in isolation

This same situation works in reverse too. Many players have the “raise-vs-flop-cbet” stat on their HUD. But this is not necessarily a complete picture that allows us to establish how often we should call vs raises on the flop. Imagine we check our opponents “barrel turn after raise vs flop cbet” stat and we see he rarely fires the turn. It may indicate that we can call wider expecting to see free cards on river, perhaps including some profitable bluff opportunities. By extension would could add an additional stat that shows how often our opponent will fire the river after he fires the turn.

This is just one example. There should be countless other available stats that allow us to make more effective use of the current stats. Since many of the new stats we find will be considered secondary stats, they will generally do better as part of a popup rather than on the main HUD.

Is Online Poker Rigged?

It doesn’t exactly take a large amount of google searching to find countless discussions and comments detailing how and why certain sites are rigged. Is there any truth to these claims? After all, we don’t want to be investing valuable time and money on an event that is already a foregone conclusion.

While there seems to be a rather unanimous conclusion that various sites are rigged amongst certain posters, we’ll often find that there is general disagreement regarding exactly how and why the site is rigged. Such discussions will also usually be tempered by a few brave individuals who are there to tell everyone else they are stupid because “of course online poker is not rigged”.

Let’s think about both sides of the argument before drawing a conclusion. Perhaps the conclusion may even surprise you if you are here to read another standard “poker is not rigged article”.

The Standard Arguments for Riggedness

Let’s regurgitate a few of the bog-standard arguments that will be floating around pretty much every poker-is-rigged thread that has ever been created.

Action Flops – The site deliberately deals out flops that create huge action. Perhaps one guy gets top set while the other guy has an up-and-down-straight-flush draw. Obviously the money is going in and the site owners take a holiday in the Seychelles with all of that extra rake money.

Babysitting the Fish – The sites don’t want recreational players to go broke too fast and have a bad experience, otherwise they might not redeposit. The regs will probably keep playing anyway. So it makes sense for the site to bad-beat the regs when they play against the fish to keep the player pool as large as possible.

Suckouts, Just Because – This is my favourite. The site has no specific reason for the river suckouts, they do it just because they can. They must profit somehow from this, but no-one in the thread knows exactly how.

Cashout-Curse – This one has destroyed hundreds, no….thousand of bankrolls in it’s time. The dreaded cash-out-curse. You have tried to take some money from the site and as a result it’s necessary that you be punished with a never ending downswing until you start depositing again.

House Bots – A large amount of our opponents are secretly undercover house bots who work for the site. They know our hole-cards and skim a little extra money off the top every now and then as an additional way for the site to make money.

They can get away with it – This one is sadly undoubtedly true. A site could likely easily get away with rigging the games and make extra money as a result. There is a very good chance no-one would ever be able to prove this. And seeing as the objective of most money making enterprises is to well…..make more money – morality is the only thing that stands between most poker sites and the extra money they can make by subtly rigging the games.

The Standard Arguments for Non-Riggedness

Not in their interest – If anyone found out that the site was rigged, then pretty much no-one would ever play there again.

RNG Audits – All sites with a gaming license must undergo an RNG (random-number-generator) audit. If the results of this RNG test are not sufficiently random then the gaming license can be revoked.

Someone would know – A standard argument we see in “poker is rigged threads”. If poker was rigged, then surely someone would have realised by now. The problem is….they probably wouldn’t. Variance is so huge that crazy things can happen over big samples. Besides, we get hundreds of people daily posting somewhere in a thread that poker is rigged because this one time two weeks ago their Aces got cracked by Quad-Kings. And no-one takes a blind bit of notice of them.

The Argument for Agnosticism

Agnosticism is basically the belief that the truth cannot be knowable. Here are the reasons why I feel agnosticism is the correct stance on this topic.

Variance is very big. RNG audits can be faked. So, the first issue is that no one person on their own is likely to ever have a sample size large enough to prove that poker is rigged. This decreases greatly the likelihood that anyone is ever going to be able to categorically prove that a certain site is rigged. We need an infinite sample to prove anything. Even RNG audits have to use a finite (albeit very large) sample. And those audits don’t prove beyond a doubt that the RNG isn’t rigged, they simply specify that it’s within a certain number of standard deviations from the norm and hence “probably not rigged”.

There is a website online that does independent audits. While most sites pass with flying colours, there is at least one major poker site that was noticeably outside what was expected. Does this prove that it’s rigged? No, we can’t prove anything as we have mentioned, but it’s certainly worrying. It seems as if there is nothing to stop a site using a good RNG when it is being audited and then modifying that RNG once the audit is complete.

Depends on our definition of “rigged” – If 5 of our opponents at the table are working together against us and all sharing hole-card information via skype, does that count as a rigged game? It might not even be anything to do with the poker site itself. This kind of thing does happen at the table. If by rigged we mean that we are playing with an unfair disadvantage, then there are absolutely a number of rigged games online, and we should be very careful that we don’t get cheated.

Dishonest Employees – It’s just a sad fact that poker still has strong connections with shady underground business dealings. It’s consistently emerging into a more regulated and open environment, but essentially it is still gangsters that are running many of the games. The difference now is that these gangsters are a new breed who wear suits and make millions of dollars.

The semi-recent “Black Friday” Full Tilt Poker scandal should tell us that the poker companies we put our trust in our not quite as honest as we’d like to think they are. If a respected company is capable of spending the money that they have promised us is segregated – what’s to stop them making subtle alterations to the way the cards fall at the table in an attempt to increase their profits further?

Hole-Card Cheaters – We can no longer really say that a site would never secretly use our hole-card information against us. Why? Because it already happened in the Absolute Poker scandal. It seems as if a disgruntled employee used access to hole card information to print money at the tables. If it can happen once, we’d be foolish to say it could never happen again.

This can also happen on an individual level if we are not careful who we let see our hole-cards. Someone might pretend to be a friend who is sweating us, but they are actually sitting at all of our tables taking money from us.

Conclusion

Maybe this is not the conclusion you were expecting, but here we go. Poker might be rigged and certainly can be in some instances.

If we are talking purely about the integrity of poker sites and not cheating that occurs on an individual basis then poker is probably not rigged. But this is not something we can really prove, so it’s not right for us to claim that we know for certain that poker isn’t rigged. That’s ironically why guys who post in “poker is rigged” threads to say “poker is definitely not rigged” are basically as ignorant as the guys who post there saying it’s definitely rigged. There is not enough information to prove anything either way.

We must remember that we shouldn’t tar all poker-sites with the same brush either. Different companies obviously operate at different levels of ethics and morality. Some sites definitely might be rigged – I’ve played at a rigged site before and lost some of my roll when the site owner was taken to prison and the site promptly shut down with no cashouts for anyone.

So it’s the responsibility of the player to make a good appraisal of a site before depositing. Check to see if there has been any legitimate problems in the site’s past. We want to know as much as we can that the site we are depositing on has good integrity.

A final thing to mention is, that even if we knew for certain that poker is rigged, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a non-profitable enterprise. It might easily still be possible to make consistent money despite the fact that we might not be making as much as we could in a fair environment.

Hand Reading Tricks

How can I improve my hand-reading? I often get asked this question. It’s an interesting question because in a way it’s the same as asking How can I get better at poker? Hand reading is such an integral part of the game, that there is unlikely be a simple answer to this simple question. Hand reading is something that improves slowly and is the product of a large amount of experience and practice. Nevertheless, we will attempt to accelerate that progress with a few tips and tricks.

1. Understanding Ranges

We often refer to a range in percentage format. For example, “our opponent has a 3bet range of 10%”. On it’s own this statement has extremely limited meaning. Logic tells us that these 10% of hands are probably reasonably strong. But that idea is not conferred in a frequency or percentage. Our opponent could be 3betting the worst 10% of hands.

In other words there has to be more to a range than just a frequency. Sure, the frequency is extremely useful, but we also need to assign a type to that range.

Merged/Depolarized/Linear – Ideally this is the easiest type of range to understand. The three terms here can be used interchangeably. The notion of “linear” suggests that we are referring to only the top hands. The irony is that there is no way of knowing which the top hands are, it really depends on how we rank them. Hands have no equity in the absolute sense, they only have equity when compared to another hand or range. So some hands might have good equity vs certain ranges but not so good equity vs other ranges. We may not even choose to rank hands in terms of equity. In fact, the deeper the stacks get in general the less we care about equity as opposed to playbility.

So there is no “correct” or “absolute” version of a linear range, it will be partly subjective. Most people would agree that AA is the best hand in NLHE, but would they choose A9o or 9Ts as part of their linear range if they had to make a choice? A9o has noticeably better equity vs any 2 cards but 9Ts has a playbility advantage in most situations. Even if we identify our opponent’s range as linear 10% (which is a great start), we still want to observe if he shows a preference or leaning to any specific types of holdings over others.

Polarized – Generally considered the opposite type of range to that described above. Players generally have a value-range and a bluff-range but not so much of the stuff in between. For example a player decides to fire 3 big barrels on flop, turn, and river. He is unlikely to have a mid-strength hand here, it doesn’t make any sense. He either has something really strong, or he is bluffing.

True polarization only occurs on the river (or at least it should if we are playing optimally). On the river we fire our best hands for value and our worst hands as a bluff. On any other street while there are still further cards to come, we do not bluff with our worst possible holdings, simply hands weaker than those we opt to play passively with. For example preflop we’d have something like AA in our value-range and maybe something like Q9s in our bluff range. Q9s is a reasonable hand and has some equity/playability. We wouldn’t generally use something like 23o which would be true polarization. The same applies on the flop and turn. We don’t generally bluff with zero-equity holdings, we pick those with some equity/potential.

Generally we recognize a polarized range when someone is playing aggressively across multiple streets, especially facing a three-barrel. Any time our opponent is essentially representing a super strong hand which is not made frequently he can be considered polarized.

Condensed – Players often overlook this type of range, but it is nonetheless very important. It’s common to mistakenly assume that there are only 2 main types of range, polarized and depolarized. Condensed is similar to a merged range except it doesn’t contain super strong holdings. So imagine something like a J78ss texture and our opponent decides to check/call. He is unlikely to check/call garbage here. He is also unlikely to check/call any super strong hand like straights or sets. These need protection on such a drawy texture and would likely get check/raised. So our opponent has a range that consists of mid-strength hands and draws, but no air, and no nuts.

As a rough guide someone who is passively calling down is more likely to have a condensed range while someone who is being aggressive is more likely to have a polarized range.

Capped – Very similar to a condensed range. The main difference is that a capped range could consist entirely of air hands while a condensed range has some showdown hands. In the example above on the J78ss we could say that our opponent is capped if the turn card is blank. If the turn card completes possible draws then our opponent is no longer capped. Identifying capped ranges is a crucial part of increasing our non-showdown winnings (red-line).

Weighted – Ranges can have different weightings. Even if we know our opponent has a 10% polarized range it’s good to be able to specify which percentage of that range is for value and which percentage of that range is a bluff. It makes a big difference whether our opponent is “weighted towards value”, or “weighted towards bluffs”.

2. Thinking Backwards

Hopefully if you are reading this article you already get the basic idea of hand-reading. Our opponent starts out with all possible combinations of hands. Based on his actions we remove combinations of hands that don’t make sense and his range gets progressively narrower. By the river we have hopefully narrowed his range down to one of a few possible holdings and can make the best decision vs that range.

Sometimes this is not the best way to do things however. The human brain is not really wired to keep track of hundreds of different hand combinations at the same time. Sometimes it is significantly easier to focus on what our opponent does not have rather than what he has. So if he’s representing something strong on the river and we know he would have raised it on an earlier street then it’s not necessary to visualise his entire range in order to understand that we have a call.

So depending on the exact situation it might be easier to think about what our opponent has or it might be easier to think about what he does not have. Experiment with both depending on the situation.

3. Combinatorics

We at least need a vague idea of how to employ combinatorics. This is not easy to calculate mid-hand, but even having a rough idea of how many combinations of certain hands are possible can increase our decision-making efficiency. See the article here at pokervip.com on combinatorics for more information.

4. Reverse Hand Reading

This is a very effective technique when playing against regulars. Reading the hand of a good regular can be difficult – their hand strength might often be disguised. However we do know what our own possible range might look like. Reverse hand reading is a technique where we read our own range from villain’s perspective and base our play off this.

In other words if we take a super strong line and we still get raised, it’s generally safe to say that we can be folding some big hands. However if we take a line where we look weak, we should be more inclined to continue with our bluff-catchers when we face aggression.

5. Recognizing Capped Ranges

This is an important technique that allows us to make zero-equity plays and generate automatic profit. It essentially revolves around understanding when opponent would have done something different on earlier streets with his monsters.

So on the J78ss, when our opponent check/calls and the turn card is a blank we can typically assume that he is very unlikely to have anything strong. This is a good situation to keep the pressure on. In the same situation if the board comes J55 rainbow, our opponent would often slowplay his premiums so we can’t automatically assume that he is capped if he takes a passive line.

Other situations where many opponents are capped involve any situation where our opponent misses a continuation bet on flop turn or river. Naturally we should skip cbets with strong hands for range protection purposes, but the fact is, most players don’t do this enough. Check out the article “Common Bluff Spots” for more information on this topic.

6. Understanding Tendencies

This is absolutely crucial and essentially comes with experience. We could be very strong at putting our opponents on specific ranges and keeping track of individual combinations, but if our assumptions about our opponents’ tendencies are incorrect, then it is all for nothing.

This kind of thing can often vary from network to network and from stake to stake. It’s often the case that we will not maximise our full potential winrate until we have played at least 10k hands at a certain limit and started to gauge the general tendencies of the games.

Even if our assumptions about our opponents range are perfect, we can still end up losing if our expectations regarding his tendencies are not accurate. Imagine we’ve narrowed our opponents range down to one specific hand, a mid-pair hand. (Probably impossible in practice). We assume this player would fold his mid pair facing a large bet on the river. He doesn’t. We’ve correctly identified his holdings but still lost money.

One reason why players have difficulty moving up limits is that don’t allow for that 10k hands or so worth of adjustment. For example they might play a few hundred hands or so and then say something like “Wow, players 3bet a lot more aggressively at this limit”. Could be true, might not be. The point is, we are not qualified to make such a judgement after only a few hundred hands at the current limit. There is a reasonable chance our opponents have similar 3betting frequencies to the other limit but are running good over a small sample. If we start responding with aggression and keep running into AA/KK, we shouldn’t always be surprised. Perhaps we tried to adjust too quickly.

7. Thinking Deeply

With the invention of fast-fold poker formats, it’s easy to get into the habit of making decisions quickly. It’s easy to forget that poker is a game of strategy and requires a deep level of thought, similar to chess.

We need to give ourself a fighting chance by slowing down our decisions and thinking as deeply as time permits about our opponents’ holdings. Don’t be afraid to use your time bank. It doesn’t cost us any additional chips and gives us a big advantage, especially if our opponents are making decisions in 2-3 seconds without really thinking.

Often quick decisions can be a result of poor mindset. So while we might ordinarily be reasonably strong hand readers, tilt has the ability to shut-down our rational thinking processes and make our hand-reading non-existent. It’s amazing how this can happen subtly without us realising.

As mentioned at the outset, hand-reading ability is something that we develop through playing large volume and deliberate study off the table. Don’t be discourage if you feel it’s taking longer than you imagined to develop strong hand-reading fundamentals. The 7 suggestions in this article should help to accelerate you along the way.

Common Bluff Lines in Poker

In NLHE there are certain situations that will often allow for a profitable bluff with any two cards.
Understanding these situations is important for developing a strong exploitative game and improving our red-line (non showdown-winnings).

One way we can simplify the concept is to think about certain bluff lines while completely ignoring the board texture and our hole-cards. In the vast majority of games it is possible to identify good bluffing situations vs the average opponent even if all cards are dealt face-down. As such, we will not discuss any hole-cards or board textures in this two part series, we will simply consider lines.

Common Bluff Spot 1: Bet-vs-Missed-Cbet-IP

If we don’t have information pertaining to how often our opponent folds after he misses his cbet in our HUD popups we are missing out on a crucial exploitative tactic.

The facts are simple. 90%+ of opponents are capped when they miss their cbet OOP, regardless of which street they are on. We should assume vs an unknown opponent that we have significant fold equity, enough to generate automatic profit. Our bet-vs-missed-cbet on the flop should likely be above 70% unless we are playing in very tough games.

To take a simple example – imagine SB opens and we cold-call in the BB. SB checks. There is pretty conclusive evidence to show that we can profitable fire any 2 cards. If we couldn’t see our hole-cards we should fire with 100% frequency. We should only think about ditching this approach when more information regarding our opponent comes to light.

If he’s taking a balanced approach where he defends his checking range with check/calls and check/raises we’d then proceed by only betting hands with good playability on later streets and checking back a chunk of our air-range with the intention of giving up.

In other words, we should pretty much always bet vs a missed flop cbet in a HU pot when we have position. The only time we will check back is when we are slowplaying or have some type of mid-showdown value which can’t extract value like 2nd pair on a safe texture. This is naturally an unbalanced strategy, but we design it this way since the average opponent has a x/f stat of over 60% when he misses his flop cbet.

Even if our opponent does manage to x/c the flop we should usually assume that his x/c range is not well constructed and that he will likely be folding to pressure on turn and river. We can include in our popups stats such as “x/f turn after skip flop cbet and x/c flop” or “x/f river after skip flop cbet and x/c flop + x/c turn”.
We should pretty much always bet vs a missed flop cbet in a HU pot when we have position. The only time we will check back is when we are slowplaying or have some type of mid-showdown value

These stats are generally under-utilised but can be brutally effective. It’s likely that vs the majority of opponents we will show a clear profit by 3barreling every time they x/c the flop as the preflop-raiser.

Common Bluff Spot 2: Bet-vs-Missed-Cbet-IP-Turn+River

This strategy does not just apply to the flop. Assuming we call the flop IP and face a turn check from our opponent, we have automatic profit with a bet vs most opponents. We likely also have automatic profit with a double-barrel assuming we get called.

River can often be the most effective bluff spot if reached. Let’s assume villain fires two continuation bets OOP on the flop and turn and then decides to check river. There are guys out there who have 80-100% x/f after missing river cbet OOP. Why? Very simply because if they had something strong they would fire that third-barrel for value.
There are guys out there who have 80-100% x/f after missing river cbet OOP

Probe Bets

Probe bets are the OOP version of bet-vs-missed cbets and are almost as effective as their IP counterparts. For example imagine we cold-call in the BB vs a BTN open. We check to the PFR on the flop and he checks back. If we lead OOP on the turn this is commonly referred to as a “turn probe-bet”.

The vast majority of players are capped when they miss their cbet IP. We likely have a profitable turn probe-bet with any two cards. As such our turn probe stat should be above 70% unless we are playing in very tough games. We have to be a little more cautious seeing as we now need to evaluate whether the turn card has connected with our opponents range. We don’t get to see him act before us, so we get no additional information as to whether he likes the turn card.

If the turn card is blank which is very unlikely to connect with villain’s range it can also be an excellent spot to consider incorporating an overbet-bluff range. It allows us to fold out our opponents second-pair and showdown type hands with which he may have checked the flop for pot-control.

Our turn probe stat should be above 70% unless we are playing in very tough games

The probe bet is also very effective in river situations. For example, our opponent fires a continuation-bet IP on the flop and we x/c. We check the turn and he then checks back. In most cases if he had a super strong holding he would be continuing to fire on the turn for value. His river range is likely capped (unless river card connects with his range), and we have a profitable bet or overbet.

Assuming we have our opponents’ fold-to-river-probe stat on our HUD, it’s often surprising how high this number can be, especially if we are routinely overbetting. As such our river probe bet should often be above 70%.

Common Bluff Spot 3: Delayed Cbetting

Pretty much any situation where our opponent decides to check twice OOP will indicate that he has a capped range.

For example if we skip our flop cbet IP and our opponent does not lead the turn we should be able to profitably fire a delayed cbet with any two cards.

As a result our delayed cbet stat should be above 70% if we are exploiting our opponents.

Identifying Capped Ranges

The key to the exercise is identifying whether our opponent is capped. This involves numerous other situations other than just the ones described.

For example, imagine we are the PFR and we cbet the flop IP. Our opponent calls. We don’t like the turn card and decide not to double barrel. Once we reach the river it’s very common for our opponent to lead two types of holdings:

1. Air hands such as busted draws. After all it’s the only way for these hands to win the pot, not to mention we showed weakness with our flop check.

2. Value-hands. We checked back the turn so our opponent will likely not assume that a river bet from us is likely. If he wants to extract value he needs to bet himself.

Which hands does this leave in our opponents range? Very specifically mid-showdown value-hands which are not strong enough to lead for value but are too strong to bluff with. This is an excellent spot to overbet. Assuming we bet a regular sizing we may end up getting looked-up by our opponents range. Assuming we overbet we may literally fold out everything.

It’s important to make a differentiation between capped ranges that:

1. Have a bunch of air in them but also some mid-strength showdown
2. Have purely mid-strength showdown and rarely any air

A regular sized bet would likely be profitable against the first type of range whereas an overbet may be vastly superior vs the second type of range.

Triple Barrel Bluff Situations

Most of us don’t like to risk huge amounts of money on a bluff, at least, not until we train ourselves to. True, there are some of us who appear to have the “gambling gene” and love to risk money on a bluff, but for many of us, triple barrel bluffing is not a tool we use frequently, if ever.

This is not to say it can’t be a strong tool, in fact it can be very powerful. Even holdings as strong as top-pair-top-kicker can give us a really hard time when facing a 3-barrel from an average unknown. The truth is, most players are simply never bluffing like this, and usually not value-betting worse than our holding either.

Dealing with a 3-barrel is a topic for another day – right now we are interested in how we can reverse the scenario and be the one putting pressure on our opponents.

Bluffing is Correct

Before we go into any specifics, it’s useful to know that triple barrel bluffing is a theoretically correct part of poker strategy.

How frequently we should bluff is usually related to the bet-sizing we use. In general the larger we bet on the river, the more frequently it is correct to bluff. It’s very simple to calculate theoretical value:bluff ratio by simply looking at the pot-odds our opponent is getting on the river.

So assuming we bet pot-size on the river our opponent will be getting 2:1 or 33% on a call. He needs to be good 33% of the time, so we should be bluffing about 33%. Assuming we bluff less than this he is theoretically able to fold all of his bluff-catchers, while if we bluff more than this he can call all his bluffcatchers. Betting exactly 33%, keeps him indifferent to calling or folding.

The majority of opponents will be bluffing more like 5-10% when they fire the third barrel. This means we can exploit them by making big laydowns and giving them huge credit when they triple.

5 Pointers for Triple Barrel Bluffs

So how do we know when it’s a good situation to fire that third barrel? There are 5 things we should be looking out for.

1. Opponent folds too much to River Cbets

Admittedly we are not going to have the luxury of having a big sample size of hands on river situations for the most part. In some cases we will pick up enough of sample to recognize that our opponent is folding too much on the river. Assuming we make a 2/3rds pot sized bet, if our opponent is folding over 40% of the time, we are actually generating automatic profit. By the time our opponent is folding over 60% to river cbets we should typically be firing any air holding we reach the river with.

2. No Showdown Value

The best hands for river bluffs are those which have zero shot of ever winning at showdown. If a hand has even a small chance of winning at showdown then the EV of checking will be above zero. This means that our bluff doesn’t just need to be profitable in order to be correct. The EV of our bluff needs to be higher than the EV of checking in order for it to be the best choice. The more showdown value we have, the higher the EV of a check, and the less likely our holding is to be a consideration for a 3-barrel bluff.

Depending on our opponent, even some relatively strong hands may have a higher expectation as a bluff than a check. This is why we occasionally see professional players turning hands as strong as top pair into a bluff. From an exploitative point of view we can bluff anything so long as we feel the EV of bluffing is higher than that of checking.

From a theoretical point of view though, it would be incorrect to bluff with everything, because then we’d be bluffing the river too frequently, which is something an adept opponent might be able to exploit. So seeing as we can’t fire every time as a bluff when following a balanced strategy, it makes sense to check the hands that have the highest expectation as checks, and then bluff the hands that have a low or zero expectation as checks.

3. Blockers

In many cases blockers are over-rated. Many situations are simply not close enough that the blockers actually make a difference. The stronger our opponent is the more relevant this particular facet of our 3-barrel bluffing strategy becomes.

The idea is that we can learn a little about the potential fold-equity we have by considering our own holdings. Imagine we are triple barrel bluffing on a board texture where a heart draw completed on the river. It’s usually beneficial if we hold something like the Ace of Hearts. Naturally when we bluff on a texture where a flush completes we are a little concerned our opponent is going to snap call and turn over the flush. By holding one of those flush cards ourselves, especially the Ace, we reduce the likelihood our opponent has that flush. We can say that we have “good blockers” and expect to generate more fold equity as a result.

It works in the opposite way too. If we imagine a board runout where a heart flush-draw was possible, but the turn and river bricked off – do we prefer to hold a heart in our hand or not? In this case we prefer not to hold the heart. It means our opponent will have a larger amount of busted heart draws in his range which he can be folding the river with.

4. Capped Range

3barreling as a bluff is always more profitable when we can infer that our opponent might be capped.

By “capped” we mean that there is a limit to how strong he can be as a result of the line he has taken. For example our opponent decides to call us down on a

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texture. He is usually capped. This is because if he has any holding 2pair or stronger he is likely to raise one of our cbets. It’s dangerous for him to give us free cards on such a drawy runout assuming he is holding a monster. As such he is usually capped to Tx holdings (i.e Tx is his strongest hand), and his range also contains a number of busted straight and flush draws. Bluffing will often be extra profitable in this scenario.

5. Barrel the Turn with Equity

Bluffing the river with the right range can be a delicate balance. If we get to the river with a bad range in the first place: there will often be nothing we can do to fully rectify the situation.

It’s important that we are selective about the type of hands we semi-bluff the turn with.

If we bluff the turn too frequently, our river range will be too wide and we will be forced to bluff too frequently (or check/fold a bunch of weak holdings).

If we never bluff the turn and only value-bet, our river range will be far too strong, and a good opponent will simply be able to fold any mid-strength holding every single time we 3-barrel.

Putting it Together

The best recommendation is to simply put ourselves in a position where we try out some three-barrel bluffs. It can be daunting at first, but it shouldn’t be a big deal to us if we end up losing money, so long as we learn something in the process. This is essentially one of the ways poker players “pay” for their education. They make mistakes which cost them money, but then learn from these mistakes, resulting in a stronger strategy which makes back the lost money and more.

Another tactic we can use when trying out a new line for the first time, is to simply take that line for value, so we feel the pressure a little less. Sometimes when we three barrel for value we don’t really take note of the times we get folds. Our goal when scouting the possibility of improving of our 3-barrel bluff game is to watch our opponents intently, even when we are firing 3-barrels for value. We should see how many folds we get, in which situations and against which opponents.

Omaha – Hi/Lo Split – Rules

Omaha Hi/Lo Split is a variant of Omaha poker. See the article on “Omaha Rules” for more information.

Omaha Hi/Lo split is sometimes referred to as Omaha Eight-or-Better or FLO8/PLO8/NLO8 (depending on the betting structure). O8 is a split pot game meaning that all players compete for two pots at the same time, a high pot and a low pot. For the most part O8 is played as a pot-limit game like it’s counterpart Pot-Limit-Omaha. However it was initially most commonly played with a fixed-limit betting structure. In more recent years it has also appeared and some networks with a no-limit betting structure.

Objective

The objective of Omaha Hi/Lo is the same as most other poker variants. In a cash game the objective is to win our opponents chips which can be exchanged for real money after the game is over. In a tournament setting the objective is to be the last player remaining with all of the chips.

Playing a Hand of Omaha Hi/Lo

For the most part the betting structure is exactly the same as other games which involve community card such as regular Omaha, and Texas Hold’em.

Positions are exactly the same as on an Omaha table also, and mandatory blind payments must be placed in the pot before the hand can begin. If any of this is unfamiliar then check out the article on “Omaha Rules” to see a more detailed explanation of how this works.

Preflop – After the blinds have been paid each player receives 4 hole-cards which he does not show to any other player. A street of betting takes place referred to as “pre-flop”. Betting takes place in a clockwise direction starting with Under-The-Gun (UTG) and finishing with the Button (BTN).

Flop – Once all betting is complete, three community cards are placed in the centre of the table which each player may use to help create a 5-card hand along with exactly 2 of their hole-cards. (More on this later.) Another round of betting takes place starting with the Small-Blind (SB) (or whichever remaining position is earliest) and finishing with the BTN (or whichever remaining position is latest).

Turn – One additional card is dealt face up on the table alongside the flop. This is referred to as the “turn” card. Another round of betting takes place.

River – Another card is dealt face up on the table next to the turn card. This is referred to as the “river” card. Another round of betting takes place.

Showdown – The remaining players expose the strength of their hand. Half of the pot goes to player with the strongest hi-card hand. Half of the pot goes to the player with the strongest lo-card hand. If a player has both the strongest hi-card and the strongest lo-card hand he wins (or scoops) the entire pot. This is referred to as “scooping”. It’s possible for a player to have the best hi-card hand and then tie for the best lo-card hand. In this case he will win half of the pot with his hi-card hand and half of the lo-card pot for a total of 75% of the pot. His opponent will now receive 25% of the total pot. This is referred to as being “quartered”.

Hand Rankings

It’s necessary to split up our hand rankings into two parts here. The hi-card hands and the lo-card hands. The hi-hands are exactly the same as in Omaha-hi and are as follows.

Omaha High-Hands

Royal Flush – T, J, Q, K, A all of the same suit. This is the strongest hand in Omaha-8 and is made somewhat rarely. It will generally be made less frequently than in Omaha-hi due to the different types of starting hands that are generally considered premiums.

Straight Flush – 5 cards in a row, all of the same suit. For example 7,8,9,T,J all of hearts.

Four-of-a-Kind – 4 cards of the same value. For example QQQQ, or 8888. Usually referred to as “Quads”

Full-House – 3 cards of the same value along with 2 cards of the same value. QQQ44, or KKKJJ. Often referred to as a “boat”.

Flush – Any 5 cards of the same suit.

Straight – Any 5 cards in ascending order. For example 7,8,9,T,J but not all of the same suit.

Three-of-a-Kind – Three cards of the same value, for example KKK, or QQQ. Since all hands are 5 card hands the other two cards are referred to as “kickers”. KKKT7 loses to KKKAT for example. Commonly referred to as “trips” when made with one hole-card and a “set” when made with both hole-cards as in the case of holding a “pocket-pair” such as KK72.

Two-Pair – 2 cards of the same value along with 2 other cards of the same value. For example KKQQ5 or JJ447.

One-Pair – 2 cards of the same value. For example TT523, or QQ764.

High-Card – Assuming no player has a made hand then the highest card wins. Assuming both players share the same high card, then the second highest card wins, etc.

Important – Remember that unlike Hold’em, in Omaha we must use exactly 2 of our hole-cards to make a 5 card hand. We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that we have the nut flush when we hold the Ah in our hand and there are 4 hearts on the board. Only a player holding at least 2 hearts would have a flush on this texture.

We don’t want to make the opposite mistake either of trying to use more than 2 of our hole cards. If we get dealt QQQQ we do NOT have four of a kind. We have a pair of queens. Being dealt 4 of a kind is actually one of the worst possible starting hands in Omaha. We now know that it is impossible for us to improve by hitting another Q since we have all 4 of them.

Omaha Low Hands

The low hands are read in a similar way to other lo-card variants. There is some variation in how lo-hands are ready depending on the exact game so here are the rules.

– Flushes and straights do not count against our hand. The nut lo-hand is therefore A,2,3,4,5. Remember that we must use exactly two of our hole-cards for the lo-hand also. These don’t have to be the same 2-cards that we use for the hi-hand however. So if we hold AQJK, and the board is 2,3,4,5,Q we do not have the nut-low and we do not have a straight for a decent hi-hand. We actually have pair of Queens and no low-hand.

– Aces are always low unlike in other variants such as 2-7 triple draw. If we struggle to read lo-hands, we simply should think of them as a number. For example it’s a common beginners mistake to assume that A,2,3,4,7 is a better hand than 2,3,4,5,6. If we read them backwards as numbers – I.e 74,321 and 65,432 it should be pretty easy to see that the second hand is lower and therefore stronger. We can refer to the first hand as a 7-low and the second hand as a 6-low. The nuts, A,2,3,4,5 is referred to as the “nut low”.

– Suits are not relevant to the strength of our hand unlike other variants such as Stud. Equivalent hi-hands will chop the high pot regardless of the suits contained.

– Low hands must “qualify”. In order for a low hand to “qualify” it needs to contain 5 cards below an 8. Remember that only two of these can be from our hole-cards. This means that it is impossible for anyone to have a qualifying low hand if there are not at least 3 cards below an 8 on the board. In such situations Omaha-hi/lo plays like the regular Omaha-hi. There is no low pot awarded and the best hi-hand scoops the entire pot.

Betting Structure

While initially Omaha-8 was primarily played with a fixed-limit betting structure, PLO8 has rapidly become more popular and is the most common format of the game played. In recent years NLO8 tables have begun to spring up on certain networks.

For information on how the pot-limit betting structure works and how to calculate a pot-sized raise, see the “Omaha Rules Article”

Why Play Omaha-8

– Omaha-8 is hugely challenging, even when it comes to simple things like understanding the strength of our hand. This can be complicated enough in the Omaha-hi variant when we have a wrap and flush-draws going on at the same. Now imagine this situation but we are also at the same time calculating what our current low-hand is or our percentage chance we will hit our low-draw. Initially we may even feel that playing a single-table of this variant takes our full focus and concentration.

– Due to the challenging nature of Omaha-8 games, the competition is relatively soft. Very few players understand good strategy – and many do not even understand fully how to read the strength of their hand. Some are even surprised that they have chopped the pot with someone since they thought they were playing Omaha-hi.

– Omaha-8 is a lot lower variance than hold’em or Omaha. This is to do with the split-pot nature of the game. In the majority of showdown situations we are not going to be losing the entire pot. We will often end up splitting or quartering the pot. This means that going on prolonged downswings is less likely assuming that we have a winning strategy. As a result we can get away with lighter bankroll requirements and play higher stakes. Low variance, soft-games, a fun challenge. What more could we want!

Omaha-8 Pointers

Play to Scoop! – The number one beginner mistake in this game is that players are aiming to win only one of the two pots. They’ll typically decide each round whether they are trying to make a hi-card hand or a lo-card hand. This is not going to be a winning strategy in the long run. Our objective is to scoop both pots as much as possible.

Starting Hands – Some of the hands that are decent starting hands in Omaha-hi are actually not decent starting hands in Omaha-8. Firstly we are looking to play hands that contain an Ace and a Two in most cases, to maximise our chances of making the nut-low. Something like As2sAd3d would be an excellent starting hand. Notice how we have nut-flush potential in 2 suits and also excellent nut-low potential.

Avoid Mid-Rundowns – Rundowns are excellent starting hands in Omaha-hi. For example 6s7s8d9d. These are horrible hands in Omaha-8. In many cases to make a decent straight with this hand it means that there is likely to be a qualifying low available. So we can basically never win the entire pot. Even though such a hand can qualify for a low-hand it’s rarely going to be the best low-hand since it will usually be an Seven-Six-low.

Counterfeiting – It’s useful to be aware of this concept since we can get into trouble if not. Let’s say we hold A2 and the board texture is 8,7,5. We have the absolute best nut-low. A,2,5,7,8. However let’s the say the turn card comes a 2. We have now been counterfeited. Why is this? Our absolute hand-strength has not changed, but our relative hand-strength has changed. If opponent has A3 he now has A,2,3,5,7 for Seven-low which will beat our A,2,5,7,8 for Eight-low. Holding A23x on the 8,7,5 board gives us counterfeit protection, because if that 2 falls we still hold the nut-low.