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.

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

Th9h5d4d2s

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.

Balance and Range Protection in Poker

Balance and Range Protection

Balance. It’s a concept we hear discussed frequently by coaches and good players, but how important is it really? We’ve probably heard from other good players and coaches that balance is a complete waste of time, and all we really care about is exploiting our opponents. So which viewpoint is correct?

Balance in Poker and Partial Balance

One issue is that players sometimes mean different things when they talk about balance. Players are not always referring to true theoretical optimal balance. Sometimes they may be referring to more partial type of balance.

For example, imagine every single time we fire 3 barrels we show up with a strong value hand. That’s something that our opponents might pick up on very frequently. We could be exploited for this. So is the solution to revert to a GTO strategy where we bluff the river 33% of the time or so? Not necessarily. In fact, even if we just bluff very occasionally in this spot we make ourself significantly tougher to play against.

It’s easy to identify when someone shows up with a value-hand with 100% frequency. Add one or two bluffs and it’s much harder for our opponent to get a read. They might mistakenly assume that we are changing our strategy and are now actually bluff-heavy.

Imagine every single time we fire 3 barrels we show up with a strong value hand. That’s something that our opponents might pick up on very frequently.

Even if they don’t make this assumption they now need a considerably bigger sample to work out our exact frequencies. That small measure of balance is enough to throw a spanner into the works of what would otherwise be an easy decision for our opponent.

Range Protection in Poker

Range protection really involves the even distribution of different holdings across our overall strategy and the various lines we take. If some of the lines we take do not contain enough value hands, then we are exposing a hole in our game which our opponents can exploit.

For example, imagine a spot where we open-raise in the SB and the BB decides to call. Many players may show a strong tendency to cbet all of their nutted hands, especially if the board texture is drawy. This means our cbetting range is well protected. However what about our checking range?

Naturally if we’ve used all of our strong hands in our c-betting range, we have none left over to use for our checking range. We need to distribute our monsters across the different lines we take. If we ever take a line which doesn’t contain any value hands (simply checking as PFR in this case), then we become vulnerable to exploits. Our opponent can simply bet any 2 cards vs our unprotected range.

The same might happen IP to an extent. Perhaps we have a tendency to cbet all of our strong hands in position and never check back. An astute opponent can lead the turn recklessly against us, knowing that our range is essentially unprotected. It’s slightly less problematic IP since that turn card may improve some of our range even if we check back the flop with primarily weak holdings. OOP if we have an unprotected checking range we won’t even get to see a turn card most of the time.

An astute opponent can lead the turn recklessly against us, knowing that our range is essentially unprotected.

Air is important for balance in poker, too!

This is a commonly misunderstood concept. Many players simply believe range-protection is about having enough strong hands in our range so that our opponents cannot bluff recklessly. Having a range which is too strong can also be considered and unprotected range however. Pretty much all ranges need some nutted hands and some air type hands.

The only hands which are not a vital necessity to a balanced range are the mid-strength hands. But naturally we want to play these, and assuming we do play them we need to protect them with some nuts and some air.

So how exactly do we protect our range with air? Wouldn’t we prefer to not have any air?

Let’s imagine we 3-bet SB vs BTN and the flop comes

K72.

Which type of hands should we be protecting our x/c range with. We mentioned earlier that it is not correct to cbet all of our strong holdings.

Most of us probably realise it is a good idea to x/c hands like TT-QQ or weak Kx. Maybe some of us would even protect these mid-strength hands with some monsters like KK/AK/AA.

Unfortunately for the majority of us, this is as far as it goes. But why is this a problem? True, we have some medium hands but they are well protected by our slowplays, so what’s the big deal?

So imagine, we x/c the flop with some Kx and TT-QQ. Turn is a blank 2 and goes check/check. River is a blank 5. How should we play on the river in this situation?

Doubtless we should lead our nutted hands for value. In fact, we should even potentially value-bet QQ-TT on this runout. Assuming we felt value-betting was not profitable then we would put QQ-TT in either our check/call bluffcatch range or our check/fold range. Returning to our earlier concept of balance however – we are aware that we can’t always be value-betting in a certain situation.

We need to balance out this river line with some bluffs. So which bluffs should we choose? Hold on….do we even have any bluffs? We’ve put ourself in that situation were every single time we bet the river it is for value. This is super easy to exploit. Our opponent can pretty much safely fold anything that is not a premium, and we are getting exploited hard.
Returning to our earlier concept of balance however – we are aware that we can’t always be value-betting in a certain situation.
This is clearly not a mistake with our river strategy. It’s not our fault that we don’t have any good hands to use as bluffs. Or is it? Let’s think back to the flop situation. How can we redesign our flop strategy so that we have some decent hands to use as river bluffs?

It means we are going to need to start check/calling some air hands on the flop. Ideally those with some good backdoor potential. We should obviously use these in our cbetting range also – in fact decent back-door hands are primarily cbets. But if we don’t check/call them with some frequency our river leading range becomes super unbalanced.

And not just our river lead frequency – pretty much any other line in the hand we might take – whether it be check-raising the turn or even donk-betting is going to be unbalanced towards value.

This is something that is still common misunderstood by the vast majority of players. If we ask them what the necessary criteria to check/call a hand as the PFR is, they’ll generally tell us that we should have some type of showdown value. They would likely dismiss the idea of check/calling some type of speculative hand as horrible – the showdown value is too low. But we saw the huge issue with the hand in the river situation was that we had too much showdown value!
Let’s think back to the flop situation. How can we redesign our flop strategy so that we have some decent hands to use as river bluffs?

Balance in Poker: Equal Distribution of Air

Seeing as we have relatively few strong made hands, and large amount of air hands in general (most times we miss the flop), our goal should be to distribute our air hands evenly across the different lines we take.

If we use too much of our air in one particular line we create a vulnerability in our game, where that particular line simply does not have enough strong hands to protect the large amount of air hands.

Imagine a situation where we call a 3-bet preflop and then call a cbet on a J107 board. The turn card is a blank 3 and our opponent checks to us. Stats analysis would generally indicate that we can profitably bet any 2 cards vs most opponents after he misses his turn cbet. It’s theoretically correct however to check back some of our air hands until the river. Firing all of our air hands on the turn would create an uneven distribution.

This is a problem for 2 reasons.

1.it makes us vulnerable to turn check/raises since we have so many air hands
2.if we fire all of our air on the turn and check back mid-showdown holdings we have no decent hands to use as bluffs on the river.

In other words our turn betting range is air heavy, while our turn check back range is mid-showdown heavy. Ideally we check back a decent chunk of our air to balance our river betting range and also to ensure our turning betting range is not vulnerable to turn check-raises.

It’s important to understand that we are not necessarily saying a strategy where we bet 100% of our air hands on the turn shouldn’t be used in practice. It’s a great exploitative strategy in some instances. But we can say for certain that it’s an unbalanced strategy and can be exploited by a good opponent.

Balance and range protection in poker can be a complex topic, but remember our goal is not necessarily perfect game theory optimal balance. No-one even fully understands what that looks like at this stage. However, even bringing a partial amount of balance to our game can make us significantly tougher to play against.

Check-Raising Strategy

Check-raising is often considered a deceptive line, because we take a passive action followed by an aggressive action. It should be a standard part of a poker player’s toolbox however. It makes us tougher to play against and can frequently be more profitable than being the initial aggressor because it causes our opponent to invest additional money first, perhaps overextending himself.

Effect of Initiative

The majority of players choose to check-raise only when they don’t have the initiative. This is because donk-betting is still considered a relatively non-standard part of poker strategy, and hence it’s very common to check to the player with initiative by default and see if he continuation bets.

Assuming a player is the initial preflop aggressor, it’s often very rare to see him check-raise. This is because it is reasonably standard for him to simply cbet assuming he wants to continue with the hand.

Check-raising without initiative may come more naturally to us, but good players are going to make use of both strategies in their game.

Playing as the cold-caller

Assuming we call out of position against a preflop open-raise it is correct to have a check-raising range against our opponents cbet. In the majority of cases we should actually be check-raise bluffing more than we check raise for value. It is expected that a good 6-max regular will have around a 15% raise-vs-flop-cbet.

A common mistake is to assume that we should only be check-raising flops against late position open-raisers. Many players will never check/raise bluff a flop when the initial opener was in MP or UTG. This is not correct in theory because presumably we are going to be check/raising our sets for value. It’s true that the opener starts out with a stronger range, but we also as the cold-caller have a strong range, and can represent sets quite easily with a check-raise. A common misconception is that when UTG opens and one of the blinds calls, that UTG has a range advantage on most flops. This is not the case. Cold-calling ranges are usually noticeably tighter than opening ranges, and the equity distribution on many flops is going to be around 50/50 if not slightly in the cold-callers favour.

The main difference that will occur in terms of check-raising flops against a late-position open as opposed to an early position open is simply the type of hands that we will select. When we cold-call from the blinds against an EP open we will often have a PP and broadway heavy range. Naturally our sets go in our check-raise for value range and the unimproved pocket pairs go into our calling or folding range. Usually this means we will be selecting our check-raise bluff range specifically from the hands which have overcards and a backdoor flush.

When cold-calling against a late-position open our range will be wider, and we have a whole number of different types of draw that we can consider check-raising.

Hand Selection

One of the important skills we will need to develop is establishing whether a certain hand is a defend OOP when facing a cbet from our opponent. There are a number of factors to take into consideration such as our opponent’s cbetting range and the sizing he uses. There should typically be a relationship between our opponent’s cbet sizing and the range we defend. The larger he makes it, the tighter we defend.

The exact type of holdings we choose to defend are going to depend heavily on the board texture so it is not possible to create an exhaustive list here. As a rough guide anything that can…..

i) Make the nuts by the river
ii) Has both 3-cards to a flush and 3-cards to a straight

is worthy of our consideration for a defend.

To be more specific regarding our exact defending range on a various board texture it’s recommended we make use of equity calculation software such as power equilab.

Once we have established a certain hand is in our defending range we still need to make a differentiation between check/calling and check/raising. The rough guideline to follow is this –

If our draw/backdoor-draw can make the nuts by the river then consider check-raising. If we are drawing to something dominated, consider check/calling instead and looking to bluff on a later street. The exception is bone-dry board textures where it is acceptable for us to defend our entire range by check/calling, barring any specific reads.

Sizing

So assuming we decide to check-raise, what kind of sizing should we use?

Check-raising the flop is a little bit like 3betting preflop. We usually bet around 3 times the size of our opponent’s cbet. Assuming we get check-raised and are interested in 3betting the flop, it’s a little bit like 4-betting preflop; we usually make it just over a min-raise. Any deviations from these sizings can often indicate that we are playing against a weaker opponent.

Turn Play

Many players shy away from check/raising the flop as a bluff, because the feeling of having to check/fold the turn ultra frequently feels all too familiar.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind –

a) It’s correct for us to check/fold some hands at least, we can’t be barrelling everything.

b) Sometimes the turn problems are caused by a misunderstanding regarding flop play. If we are playing the flop correctly we should have some relatively strong draws in our flop check/raising range which can fire any turn regardless of the card. Examples would include nut-flush-draws, or oesds. See the PokerVIP.com training video advanced check-raising for more information on this topic.

Assuming we check/raise the flop and get called, we should typically be barrelling the following as a semi-bluff.

1. Nut-flush-draws (including turned nut-flush-draws. Remember that non-nut-draws will not be raising the flop in most cases).

2. Oesds. (Remember that FDs and OESDs are strong enough to barrel on almost all turn cards, regardless of whether the board pairs or a flush-draw completes.)

3. Nut gutshots with at least one over. (Gutshots weaker than this can go into our turn check/folding range).

Note that this is actually pretty simple. In most games there is no need to barrel turn cards for contrived or complicated reasons. “This is a scare card”, or “my perceived range is strong”, or “this turn card connects with my range harder than his”. If you’ve ever said any of the following when deciding to barrel the turn then you are probably levelling yourself or making it harder than it needs to be. 10 points for sounding intelligent though.

Check-Raising with Initiative

The idea here is that we make use of a tricky play which helps us to defend our checking range. The majority of players will be check/folding way too frequently after they skip their cbet OOP. This is because any time they have a hand they would like to continue with they put it into their cbetting range. So skipping cbet OOP as the PFR is like holding up a white flag that says “you can bet, I’m definitely folding”.

This is naturally quite exploitable, and the theoretically correct way to defend against this is to make sure that we are actually checking some hands that we intend to continue with. So while something like a back-door nut draw, or a nut flush-draw is a great hand to cbet with, we should occasionally be checking for deception and going for a check-raise.

A good regular in a low-limit game will be stabbing extremely frequently when we skip our cbet OOP and is actually very vulnerable to facing a check-raise. In many cases this is a lot better than cbetting because

a) Our opponent continues with a well constructed range assuming we cbet, but fires too frequently if we check.

b) Our opponent puts additional chips in to the pot which we can win assuming we check.

Notice that the biggest problem here is not necessarily that our checking range is under-defended if we cbet our entire continuing range. A far larger problem is that we are routinely missing out on an exploitative opportunity to win additional chips.

It’s useful at this stage to check our stats for Skip flop cbet and check-raise + Skip flop cbet and check-call.

If either of these stats are super low then we are missing out on good exploitative opportunities in the majority of cases. It’s not uncommon to see a player with a Skip flop cbet and check-raise stat of 2 or 3% (it should be 15%). Skip flop cbet and check-call should be 35% but is often considerably lower.

Putting it Together

Naturally this is not even close to an exhaustive guide, and instead really just constitutes general guidelines for check-raising. If we truly want to master check-raising it is necessary to break the situation down into all the possible scenarios where we have the opportunity to check-raise. There are many different variables to be factored in such as –

– our opponent’s tendencies
– the effective stacks
– our position
– our opponents position
– whether we have initiative
– the size of our opponents bet

Given there are so many variables, it’s rare we will be able to know exactly what we should be check-raising – but it’s something that will improve with time and deliberate practice.

Bet Sizing in Poker Part 2

Our Perceived Range

If we really want to become masters of bet-sizing it’s important for us to be able to analyse the strength of own perceived range – not just the strength of our opponents range.

Generally speaking the stronger our range is perceived to be the smaller we can get away with betting. We can bluff more cheaply when perceived to be strong, and we also will want to bet smaller to help our value-bets get paid off.

The idea of betting small with both our bluffs and our value-bets may seem counter-intuitive at first but is an important principle for when we begin to think about balancing our ranges. If we pick two different sizings for our value-bets and bluffs then our game will become readable if we are facing a decent opponent.

If it’s not necessary to be balanced we shouldn’t though and we can use different sizings depending on whether we are bluffing or value-betting. The sizings we pick should be smaller than average though when we are representing a strong range.

When we are perceived to be weak then it naturally follows that we should use larger sizings. Our opponent will be more inclined to call so we can counteract this by betting larger for value. If we want to bluff we will also need to make it larger to generate the required fold-equity. Again this may seem counter-intuitive and is to do with balance. Exploitatively we may be able to use different sizings for our value/bluff range – but on average these sizings will be larger than standard when our range is perceived to be weak.

Implications on Sizing

In order to effectively use this concept it’s important for us to first be able to recognize situations where we are perceived to be either weak or strong.

One great example of this is cbetting/betting in multi-way situations. Since we are betting vs multiple opponents, even without any history we are often perceived to be strong. The natural tendency in multi-way situation is for players to bet large because a) their bluff needs to get through multiple opponents and b) there are more players that can potentially call their value-bet.

In reality it’s the opposite. Smaller than average bets are optimal here because a) we look very strong and can get a better risk/reward on our bluff and b) we want to encourage calls from worse hands since players may respond tighter when we are perceived to be strong.

The common situations where we are perceived to be weak occur primarily in late position and as a result of history. For example if we are cbetting very frequently over a reasonable sample then we are going to be perceived as weak. We can think about increasing our bet-sizing. We can also think about weighting our range towards value as an exploitative measure. (Often if perceived as weak it can be good idea to weight our range towards value while when perceived as strong weight towards bluffs. This particular concept is outside the scope of our discussion however).

Villain’s Range

Whether this is more important than our own perceived range really depends on how decent our opponent is. If our opponent is a poor hand reader then we should primarily focus on his range rather than our own perceived range. If our opponent is strong and is aware of the range we represent than our perceived range can often become the most important factor. As a rough guide at stakes of 200nl+ we should be focusing heavily on our own perceived range while 100nl and below our opponent’s range is likely more important.

The general premise is similar: if villain has a weak range we can get away with small sizings while if his range is strong we can use larger sizings. This should be treated as a rough guide only however.

Implications on Sizing

In order to effectively use this concept we need to be able to identify situations in which our opponent is very weak. One of the most common situations is when our opponent checks as the preflop raiser. Most players cbet their best holdings and we may find that we can win the pot very frequently in these situations since our opponent has a capped range.

Or perhaps a situation where opponent passively calls down on a drawy texture where we know he would check-raise his premiums on an earlier street. We may have the nuts, but betting large could be a mistake.

Our perceived range for 3barreling is strong while our opponents range is weak. We should be able to conclude that a small bet-sizing with the nuts is much more effective than a large bet sizing. The natural inclination for many players is to size their bet based on the strength of their hand which is often a mistake.

The Formula

We can summarise everything that we have mentioned in the following rough guide.

Our perceived rage weak + opponents range strong = large sizing
Our perceived range strong + opponents range strong = average sizing
Our perceived range weak + opponents range weak = average sizing
Our perceived range strong + opponents range weak = small sizing

This should be taken as a starting point however and not a definitive guide to sizing in all situations. It’s important we take into account our opponent’s tendencies. He may have a weak range but simply not be folding that weak range to regular or small size bets. This is why we frequently would consider overbetting vs a range that is capped. Our fold-equity may drastically increase when compared to a regular sized bet.

Levels and Balance

In terms of game-theory principles the more bluffs we have in our range compared to value-hands the larger our sizing can be. For this reason it can be correct to bet very large in situations where we are representing an extremely narrow range.

EG 100bb effective stacks. BTN opens to 3bb. Hero calls in BB.

Flop is Kh2s2d. Hero checks. Villain checks.

Let’s assume the average villain is cbetting all his Kx hands and better. If he’s balanced he should theoretically check back a reasonable amount of made hands, but the average player doesn’t do this meaning their turn range is very capped. We are looking primarily at holdings such as A-high and pocket-pairs.

Turn is the 3c

Opponent has a lot of decent bluffcatchers in his range at this point. It’s not actually that likely he folds something like pocket tens to two regular size bets here. Let’s also think of the value-range we are representing if we two barrel. It’s extremely narrow. The occasional 2x hand, pocket threes, some Kx (although discounted because we may 3bet stuff like KQ/AK preflop).

Our range is frequently going to end up weighted towards bluffs here so it’s logical for us to consider overbetting the turn and river. It makes it significantly harder for opponent to call down with any bluffcatchers and hence allows us to bluff more frequently in the long run. Exploitatively the main advantage to this line is simply that our opponent is capped and we can get him to fold the majority of his holdings.

However, let’s for a minute think from our opponents point of view. If we really held something like KJo (perfectly legitimate) and we knew our opponents range is capped, would we really overbet two streets here for value? It doesn’t make sense. We’d be more likely to bet regular sizings to encourage him to call with his bluffcatchers.

As a result, while mainly players are going to see the larger sizing and fold 100% of their range, a very strong opponent is going to realise we don’t represent value very well with the overbet turn + river line and call with his bluffcatchers anyway; which can be catastrophic if we only have bluffs in our range.

This is exactly why we can think about overbetting turn and river for value here despite the dry texture. Whether we purely take this line as a bluff or choose to balance it with value combos really depends on our opponent. What we can categorically state though is since we representing a very narrow value range it can be correct to bet large from a game theory perspective.

Bet Sizing in Poker Part 1

Why is it Important?

Imagine two opponents engaged in a heads up battle. They play identical ranges; in fact every aspect of their game is identical apart from one key factor – bet sizing. Player 1 is sizing his bets intelligently based on his opponents’ range, while player 2 sticks to standard sizings across all situations.

Player one will destroy player two.

Bet-sizing can easily be considered the most underestimated principle that applies to strong NLHE play. It could even be considered the number one thing that sets an average player apart from an elite professional.

We will start with the basics then in the second part of this series we will consider some more advanced principles in relation to effective bet-sizing

Bluffing

The idea behind bluffing is very simple, get the best risk to reward ratio on a bluff. In many cases this means making our bluffs as small as possible, but not always.

There is a very simple method for calculating how often a bluff needs to work in order to be profitable. We simply need to look at the percentage of the total pot we invest including our bluff.

Eg – There is 10bb in the pot. Hero bets 7bb.

Total pot is 17bb including hero’s bet. Hero is investing 7 out of the 17bb in the pot. Therefore his bluff needs to work 7/17 = 41% of the time.

It should be reasonably straightforward to establish that the smaller our bluff sizing the less our bluff needs to work. So doesn’t this mean that the smaller our bluff the better?
Not necessarily.

The reason for this is that as we change the sizing of our bluff we are also affecting the frequency with which our opponent folds. We might find with our 7bb bet our opponent only folds 20% of the time whereas if we were to overbet our opponent may fold close to 100% of the time. It depends on our opponent, his tendencies, and his range.

One key difference between average players and strong professional players is that they understand when to underbet bluff, when to bet a regular sizing and when to overbet. The average player in NLHE never underbets or overbets, they stick to standard sizings, perhaps 2/3rds pot on the flop. If you are never overbetting/underbetting as a bluff then it’s possible to categorically state that you are not reaching your full potential as a poker player.

Value-Betting

Naturally, the idea behind value-betting is to make the most money possible when we have a strong made hand. Often this may mean betting larger but certainly not always. We also need to consider the frequency with which our opponent calls. Sometimes smaller value-bets will make us more money in the long run.

EG. We have the nuts on the river. There is 50bb in the pot. Would we rather
a) Overbet 100bb and get called 5% of the time
b) Bet 30bb and get called 40% of the time
c) bet 15bb and get called 90% of the time

We simply multiply our sizing by our frequency we get called. (We need to express the percentage as a decimal to do this, i.e 40% becomes 0.4 etc)

Therefore
a) 100bb * 0.05 = 5bb
b) 30bb * 0.4 = 12bb
c) 15bb * 0.9 = 13.5bb

So in this particular case underbetting actually makes us the most money because it gets paid off so much more frequently. This is just an example however, overbetting could easily be the best if it gets paid off more frequently.

Common Misconceptions

One of the most destructive pieces of advice that originated in the dark ages of poker – “Bet big on drawy textures, bet small on dry textures”. It’s not too difficult to see how the advice originated but it’s a horrible over-simplification of bet-sizing principles and may cause more harm to our game than good. Here are some reasons why.

Exploiting Inelastic Ranges – We may find on a drawy texture that our opponents calling range does not vary based on our sizing. The technical term for this is an “inelastic” calling range. I.e if opponent has a decent draw he will call, if he doesn’t he will fold -regardless of what sizing we make it (within reason). If we bet big in these instances we are simply not getting the best risk:reward ratio on our bluff.

Iso-ing vs Better – When betting for thin value we need to be careful about betting too large and causing our opponent to continue with a range that primarily has us beaten. This means if we have a thin value hand on a drawy texture betting large can easily be a mistake. Keep in mind that it’s not always a big deal if opponent continues with a really wide range against us. It just means his calling frequency is higher and we are potentially extracting more value from him in the long-run

Exploiting Calling Stations – If we have the nuts on a dry texture and we are playing vs a calling station there really isn’t that much benefit to betting small purely because we’ve heard that we should bet small on dry textures. If villain will call an overbet on a dry texture because he never folds, then we should overbet for value.

Opponent is Capped – We might be able to define our opponents range as relatively weak. In such instances our opponent may call down small bets on a dry texture whereas he may fold close to 100% of the time when facing an overbet. This is also pretty useful in situations where we are repping a narrow value-range (as is often the case on dry textures), but we will discuss this a little further in part 2 of the series.

Standard Sizings

While we’ve spent most of the article discussing why weshould not always stick to standard-sizings, it wouldn’t be a complete discussion on bet-sizing if we did not acknowledge what the standard sizings are in common situations. It’s important because a) we want to know what we are deviating from and b) it can help us to identify weaker players at the table even when we don’t have a large sample of stats.

Preflop Sizings
3bet – 3 times the opponents open raise size
4bet – 2.2 times the opponents 3bet size (weaker players make it 3x sometimes)
5b – All-in

Postflop Sizings

cbet in single-raised pot – 2/3rds pot as standard
cbet in 3bet pot – 1/2 pot as standard
cbet in 4b pot – 1/3rd pot as standard (you will see weaker players just making the standard 2/3rds pot cbet here oblivious to the fact they are in a 4b pot)

check/raise on flop – 3 times the cbet (assuming cbet is regular sizing)
3bet on flop – 2.2 times the flop check-raise (a little bit like 4betting preflop)

In part 2 we will look at some more advanced techniques for sizing our bets

A common mistake players make sizing their bets based on the strength of their hand rather than their opponents potential calling range.

Postflop Play in 4bet Pots

Postflop Play in 4bet pots

Many players have not spent specific time working on optimal play in 4bet pots. This is partly because they happen less frequently than other situations. It is also because in the past it was not considered correct strategy to flat vs 4bets, so we’d mainly find ourself in 4bet pots vs fish. Seeing as flatting vs 4bets is much more prevalent than it used to be, understanding how to gain an edge in 4bet pots will be beneficial to our winrate.

Two Situations

There are two main situations that we will discuss here. The first situation is that we face a 4bet and decide to call. See the article “Defending vs 4bets preflop” for more information on when it is correct to flat a 4bet as opposed to 5betting or folding. The second situation is where we are the preflop aggressor and our opponent decides to flat our 4bet.

Playing as the Aggressor

In most cases against decent opponents we should get to the flop in a 4bet pot with a somewhat balanced ranges. There are exceptions, but generally we will have our strong value hands and we will have a selection of high equity bluffs such as Axs and offsuit broadways.

With our value hands we will want to play aggressively and start out by betting, although balanced strategy involves occasionally checking these hands for deception and also to protect our checking range. We don’t want to be capped any time we don’t cbet in a 4bet pot.

For value we will typically have 2 options when we hold 100bb stacks. We can either use a 3 street plan or a 2 street plan. Many players will often use a 2 street plan but are not aware that it is possible to utilise a 3 street plan in 4bet pots. It’s reasonable with no calculation to assume that 3barreling in a 4bet pot is not possible due to the low stack-to-pot ratio.

Two Street Plan

Most regulars are familiar with the two street plan in 4bet pots and will use this line by default with their value hands. The line involves firstly understanding the correct c-bet sizing in 4bet pots. While in single raised pots we may typically use a c-bet sizing of 2/3rds pot it is correct in a 4bet pot to use a sizing closer to 1/3 pot as our default sizing. This should set up roughly a pot-sized shove for the turn we can use to both value-bet and bluff with.

The two street plan is especially effective on drawy textures. Our opponent will only get to see one additional card before he is all-in. He will need to put his entire stack at risk if he wants to fully realise his equity.

Naturally if we are going to plan our value-hands this way then we should think about bluffing this way also. This is only necessary against good opponents however. If our opponent is a calling station then 2barreling as a bluff purely for the sake of balance is a good way to donate our chips.
One of the reasons we like hands such as Axs and Kxs hands as preflop 4bet-bluffs is that they are reasonably playable as bluffs postflop. Usually we can cbet in most cases where we have some type of backdoor draw. Assuming we turn our draw we can use this hand as a bluff shove on the turn. If we miss our draw we can check, but we should be ever alert to possible river opportunities. If our opponent checks to us again OOP on the river there is a reasonable chance he is capped and we can consider turning our busted-draw into a pot-sized river bluff.

Three Street Plan

The three street plan is used less commonly but this is because many regulars are unaware that it’s possible. If we want to split our stack into three chunks we need to bet very small on the flop and turn. We want to leave a river stack which is large enough to accomplish both value-betting and bluffing. If we have less than about 35% pot-sized bet left on the river we are really going to struggle to pull off convincing bluffs. Our opponent may decide that he is simply priced in to calling.

If we bet around 30% of the pot on flop and turn we are left with around 40-50% pot sized third barrel on the river. This is enough to generate some fold equity.

The three street plan is especially effective on dry board textures where we don’t mind giving our opponent cheap turn and river cards. We are more likely to keep our opponent in the pot for longer and extract the most value. Similar to before we want to think about including some three barrel bluffs in this line against competent opponents. We can adjust our bluff:value weighting if we discover our opponent is calling down too much or folding too much to the river bet. Backdoor draws are effective for this. If we don’t like the turn card and need to check back, we still retain the option of a river overbet which we can use to bluff if we decide our opponent is capped.

Unorthodox bet sizings

These two lines are considered the most standard and it’s unlikely necessary to include additional sizing plans. A common mistake is to not consider what type of stack we are setting up for the next street. In the majority of cases we want to leave a stack for later streets that can generate some fold-equity. It’s common for players to simply bet in accordance with the pot and then face a difficult decision on the river when they have something like 20% pot size bet left and villain jams after a co-ordinated river card hits.

Being able to make tough decisions like this is what separates good players from great players, but there is also no need to put ourselves in impossible situations in the first place unless we have no choice.

Keep in mind that the sizing plans discussed apply to 100bb effective stacks. So assuming we are 150bb deep we will need to generate different sizing plans. It’s perfectly fine to consider a larger cbet sizing in such cases to help set up stacks by the river. If someone c-bets 2/3rds pot in a 4bet pot  with 100bb effective, they are probably a recreational player. If someone cbets 2/3rds pot in a 4bet pot with 150bb effective, they might be a recreational player, or they might be a regular making adjustments to their sizing plan as a result of the deeper stacks.

Protecting Ranges

It’s necessary for us to occasionally check some strong hands on the flop also. Assuming we are IP this is relatively straightfoward. If our opponent leads the turn we call down two streets or raise for value. If he checks twice we can use our two street plan sizings on the turn and river. If we do have a raising range on the turn (which would typically be an all-in), it’s reasonable to assume that we can also check back the turn with some backdoor potential hands and use them as turn bluff-jams.

OOP it’s a little more complicated because we have the option to go for a check/raise. Again we just about have the stack depth to go for a small check/raise and set up a turn jam or directly check/jam ourselves. Assuming we check/raise with the intention to set up a turn shove it will generally be very close to a min-raise. Whether the min-raise is possible will be dependent on the size of the 4bet preflop and the effective stacks.

We also have the option of check/calling down. This makes the most sense on dry textures where we do not need a check/raising range. Assuming our opponent checks back we can use our two street plan on the turn and river involving a nice mixture of bluffs and value hands. If we assume that after we check/call the flop and opponent checks back the turn that we will be shoving our value hands OOP on the river, logic suggests that it is also ok to use some backdoor potential hands in our check/calling range rather than always cbetting these. This way we still get to the river with a nice mixture of value hands and potential bluffs.

So to put everything together (including the mid-strength hands)

IP – Double barrel value hands and some bluffs
        Check back some strong hands, and some backdoor bluffs to protect checking range
Check back mid-strength hands to use as turn bluffcatchers probably calling one street

OOP – Double barrel value hands and some bluffs
Check/call some value hands and some backdoor hands on dry textures
Consider check/raising some value hands and some bluffs on drawier textures
Check/call mid-strength hands and consider folding to the second barrel

If we don’t occasionally defend our checking ranges like this we will have purely mid-strength hands and air hands when we skip our cbet. We are not striving for perfect GTO balance here, so slowplaying should occur with a much lower frequency than fastplaying. We also only need to worry about protecting our checking ranges vs competent opponents.

Playing as the Defender

So we have called a 4bet, now what? Again we have the situation where we are IP and the situation where we are OOP.

On a dry texture we will typically be calling as opposed to raising so play is a little more straightfoward. If we have a premium holding (TPTK+) then we should usually be calling down 2 or 3 streets with 100bb stacks without a specific read on our opponent.

On a drawy texture we now have the opportunity to raise or check/raise. We should still consider including some strong hands and some backdoor potential hands in our calling range however because we want to protect our mid-strength hands with premiums and protect our premium holdings with air.

Depending on the exact size of the 4bet we have 2 main options with 100bb stacks as discussed previously.

a) Min-raise a selection of value hands and back-door potential hands with the intention of firing decent turns.

b) Go directly for a jam with our value hands and our draws.

The predominant deciding factor will generally be the stack-to-pot ratio. As we mentioned earlier we don’t want to be setting up an underbet for the turn unless necessary. We’d rather be able to leave ourselves at least 50% pot bet or higher for the turn where possible. If the preflop 4bet was somewhat large our only option will be to jam if we want to incorporate a raising range on drawy textures.

Villain Skips Cbet

In most cases we will steal the initiative from our opponent if he does not cbet the flop. OOP we can now use a 2 street plan where possible unless our holding is total garbage and we prefer to check/fold. If our opponent checks twice, even our garbage hands should typically be firing the river. Since we are now using a 1 street plan with this hand our sizing does not need to set up stacks for a later street and can be significantly larger than 1/3rd pot. Exploitatively this would be whichever sizing gives us the best risk-reward ratio on our bluff, or the highest long-run payout if we are value-betting.

In many cases we will have auto-profit if we double-barrel our garbage hands on the turn and river even if this is not theoretically correct. This is because many players are not protecting their checking back range and will be capped after skipping a flop cbet.

Theoretically we should also check ourselves on the turn with some premiums after villain checks back flop to help defend the garbage holdings in our range. In practice this is generally not necessary however.

Assuming we are in position we have the option now to play similarly to how we would if we had the initiative. We can choose between a two street plan or a three street plan depending on the board texture. We should theoretically check back our garbage, some slowplays and some back-door potential hands. In practice this may again not be necessary since the average opponent is possibly capped when they skip their flop cbet OOP.