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.

BRM and Shot-Taking

A huge factor in being able to successfully move up the limits is understanding the correct approach to bankroll-management and shot-taking. If our BRM is wired too tight it can take years to make any significant progress, while if our BRM is overly loose we greatly increase our risk of ruin.

Understanding when and how to take a shot is also crucial. If we shoot the next limit with too many buyins, shoot the next limit in the wrong way, or have a bad mental state when we take the shot, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Let’s consider a few of the basic principles we need in order to make a success of moving up the limits.

Basic BRM

Let’s start with the absolute basics. This should not come as a surprise to us in any way. If we don’t already have our precise bankroll management strategy mapped out neatly in a text document, then we should do this immediately. Otherwise it’s essentially like trying to run a business on a day to day basis without seeing the overall picture.

This doesn’t need to be a complicated document, it simply needs the following.

1) How many $ do I need in my roll before I shoot the next limit?
2) How many buyin shot will I take before moving back down?
3) When will I move to the limit after?
4) At what stage will I move back down a further limit if my shot fails and I swing down?

So for example, we are a 10nl player, our notepad document is going to look something like this…..

Shoot 25nl at $875
Take a 5 buyin shot (if it fails rebuild at 10nl)
If bankroll drops to $225, rebuild at 5nl

Shoot 50nl at $2000
Take a 5 buyin shot (if it fails rebuild at 25nl)
If bankroll drops to $750, rebuild at 10nl

It’s amazing how many players don’t do the last step. It’s probably somewhat normal to just assume that if our shot fails that we will not go on an extended downswing and have to move down an additional limit. It’s still a possibility though and we need a contingency plan for this scenario. It’s usually at this stage that plays have a tendency to self-destruct and tilt off their remaining roll. They never had a concrete plan for a scenario they assumed would never happen and have a difficult time keeping their cool.

Feel free to make the plan even more detailed. We can think about including further limits on the way up and further limits on the way down.

Approach to Shot Taking

Shot taking is not typically something we see players having deep strategic conversations about. The current advice is more along the lines of “It’s your roll, so shoot as many buyins as you feel comfortable with”. Well, naturally this is true, but it’s not overly useful advice. There should be some strategic pointers we can use in order to maximise our long-run EV. We already mentioned one of the pitfalls at the outset, which was following too stringent of a BRM plan.

1. Short shots are best

Let’s think about 2 different approaches to shot taking. From our sample bankroll management plan above we can see that upon arriving at $875 our plan is to take a 5 buyin shot at nl25. Our threshold for moving back down to 10nl is therefore $750. Let’s compare this with someone who has the same moving-down threshold but likes to take a 20buyin shot at the next limit.

Player 1 – Moves up at $875, takes 5buyin shot.
Player 2 – Moves up at $1250, takes 20 buyin shot.

So why is player 2 taking a 20 buyin shot? Usually players rationalise as follows – “I really hate it when my shots fail, I’d much rather save up and have a really good shot at the limit so it’s less likely I’ll need to move down” Perhaps this rings a bell on an emotional level, but is it actually strategically sound?

Well imagine for a minute that we only drop 1 buyin on our 25nl shot before going on a huge upswing. It wouldn’t have actually made any difference to us whether we were taking a 5-buyin shot or a 20-buyin shot. The main difference is that in order to take a 20-buyin shot we have to spend countless hours grinding at the lower limit, even though our roll is already in ok shape to take the shot.

Some might contest that the 20 buyin shot is still better because if we were to drop over 5 buyins on our shot we’d be forced to move down and grind the lower limit. But even if our shot fails twice and succeeds on our third attempt, we will have still spent less time grinding the lower limit compared to the scenario where we shoot 20 buyins all at once. It should be somewhat obvious that strategically, the shorter shot is significantly better than the bigger shot.

2. Abandon the “Do or Die” approach

Players have a real tendency to screw themselves over before they have even begun. They have saved up a ridiculous amount of buyins for the shot and have thoughts of “This is it!”¸ “I’m either gonna make it big or go down in flames!”. If we ever think like this then there is a very reasonable chance the outcome will be going down in flames.

The approach to shot taking (while short and aggressive), should be a little bit more gradual than most players imagine. The first time we sit down at the next limit we should think of it more as a scouting mission than an attempt to make real money. We should play tighter than usual and set our main goal as simply becoming established at the limit. We should show a tendency towards avoiding coinflip situations. Remember that even if something is break-even or marginally profitable in terms of chip-EV does not mean that we have to take it. There is another factor at work here: given the choice we’d prefer not to move down limits since there is a time cost associated with this.

That time cost should be assigned a real value. It’s a little similar to considering an ICM model in a poker tournament. A decision may be clearly profitable in terms of chip-EV but not necessarily the correct decision in terms of $EV. Shot taking with a limited amount of shots should be viewed in a similar way; we don’t always want to purely look at chip-EV as cash game players are typically inclined to do. We won’t assign any formal maths to the situation, but just keep in mind there are other factors at work when shot-taking, not just the outright profitability of the decisions we make.

Some players will also consider mixing tables in the early stages of shot taking. So rather than jumping immediately from 4 tables of fast 10nl poker to 4 tables of fast 25nl poker, we can consider playing 3 tables of 10nl and mixing a 25nl table. This can help us not to get stressed about moving up limits, and our profits at 10nl will help us to offset any losses at 25nl until we become established at the limit.

3. The next limit is not that much harder

It’s common for players to have a real mental hangup when thinking about their projected profits at the next limit. They will say stuff like  “Well, I’m making 5bb/100 at 5nl so I should probably expect to make less than 2.5bb/100 at 10nl”.

There seems to be an unwritten assumption that if we double the stakes we also double the skill level of our opponents. If each limit really was twice as hard, then we’d all be in big trouble. The truth is that the skill gap between one limit and the next is not even close to as wide as the average player thinks. We can say this another way – micro-stakes games are lot harder than most people think, and small or mid-stakes games are a lot easier than most people think.

So if we have a winrate of 6bb/100 at 5nl, we probably also have a similar winrate at 10nl, perhaps slightly lower. If our winrate is significantly lower over a large sample, then this is often a mindset problem. This is why sometimes we see guys who are beating 2nl at 10bb/100, and then losing at 5nl for -4bb/100, both over a reasonable sample. There is absolutely no way that a 10bb/100 crusher at 2nl can be losing at 5nl unless he has some kind of serious mindset problem.

In other words if we have any kind of positive winrate at our current limit, and we have the roll to move up, we should think about doing it immediately. Sometimes people make the mistake of “waiting until their winrate improves before moving up”. This is usually going to be a mistake for the following 2 reasons.

1. It’s almost impossible to define accurately what our winrate is. By the time we have a large enough sample to accurately state our winrate, our winrate will probably have changed.

2. Not all styles of poker will have a decreased winrate when moving up. Some may even increase in profitability.

It’s this second point which is often never considered and is somewhat fascinating. Some poker styles will actually work better at higher limits than lower limits because they naturally exploit the player pool better. We should also remember that the higher up in limits we go, the lower the associated rake cost of each hand we play.

So even if our winrate is low, if we have the roll, we should frequently just take a shot and see what happens. This will be the highest EV strategy in the long run.

4. Fix Your Mindset

We mentioned earlier about the grinder who moves up one limit and experiences a huge and dramatic drop in winrate. There are 2 main mindset issues players face, although there are certainly a range of additional mindset issues that we will not cover.

1. Scared Money – The new stakes feel so large and we are feeling nervous. This extra nervous energy has the ability to shut down our rational thought processes. It is impossible to simply shut out fear, but there are steps we can take to improve our mental state. Treating the first shot as simply a scouting mission and/or gradually introducing the higher limit tables, should help to keep our mental state much more manageable.

2. Rapid Adjustments – So imagine we suddenly start getting 3-bet a lot at our current limit. Do we automatically assume that everyone has become more aggressive overnight? No, this would be illogical, we just assume that we are running into a patch of variance. But when players move up a limit and suddenly go through a patch where they face a ton of 3bets, what do they assume? Often they assume something along the lines of “ I guess everyone is a lot more aggressive at this limit, I should start playing back”. This is not a statement we can make until we have played at least 10k hands at the limit. Assuming that we know something about the limit after playing a mere few hundred hands can be very dangerous. Perhaps we start stacking off lighter and wonder why we run into AA every time. It’s because the new limit is not really that different at all, but we need to play a decent sample before we understand which adjustments to make. In most cases we should stick to our current game as we move up to the next limit – if we find ourselves making sudden huge adjustments to our strategy then this is one reason why it seems impossible for us to ever crack the next limit up.

Summary

Armed with the suggestions in this article we should be able to take our shot-taking strategy to a higher level. One of the biggest losses in future potential which players suffer from is not taking shots aggressively enough. Naturally we do not want to advise playing outside of reasonable bankroll management rules, this is very important. But the highest long-term EV strategy is always to take shots as frequently and as aggressively as possible.

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.

2-7 Triple Draw Rules

Origins

2-7 Triple Draw is still a relatively new poker variant, making it’s WSOP debut in 2004. Prior to this it’s origins can be traced through similar low-ball draw games. In 2002 A-5 Triple Draw was offered at the WSOP, the same year that triple draw games were first offered online by Ultimate Bet.

Prior to 2002, triple draw games were rare and most commonly were offered as part of mixed games at ultra high-limits rather than as stand-alone games.

A precursor of the 2-7 Triple Draw was offered during Amarillo Slim’s “Super Bowl of Poker” tournaments which ran from 1979 to 1984. The name of the variant was “Ten-Handed Triple-Draw Lowball”. It was clearly different from the modern 2-7 triple-draw since players started the hand with 10-cards, but we can see that the origins of lowball draw games stretch back several decades at the very least.

2-7 Triple Draw Objective

2-7 Triple Draw is a lowball draw game which involves 3 rounds of drawing and 4 rounds of betting. The objective of the game is to win our opponent’s chips which typically have a monetary value. In a tournament game the objective is to be the last player left standing with all of the chips.

Structure

2-7 triple draw is a positional game meaning it makes use of a dealer button similar to hold’em. Pre-draw (first round of betting before any drawing takes place), the blinds act last. The blinds must also make a mandatory payment of the small-blind and big-blind. Post-draw (after the drawing rounds have begun), the button acts last on every street while the player directly to the left of the button acts first on every street.

2-7 triple draw can be played with any betting structure, I.e limit, no-limit or pot-limit, although it is most commonly played as a fixed limit game.

The action proceeds as follows

– Dealer deals 5-cards to each player
– First Round of betting
– Players draw cards
– Second Round of betting
– Players draw cards
– Third Round of betting
– Players draw cards
– Final Round of betting
– Showdown

Drawing

On each round players have the option to discard as many of their cards as they wish up to a total of 5. These should be replaced with fresh cards from the desk. Assuming a player is happy with their hand they have the option to “stand pat”, which means they don’t discard or draw any additional cards.

Watching how many cards our opponents draw is an important part of hand-reading in 2-7 triple draw.

It is possible to run out of cards when playing draw variants. In such an occurrence the discard pile is shuffled and players continue by drawing from other players’ discards.

Hand-Rankings

It’s important to take note of the hand-rankings in 2-7 Triple Draw as they are different from other lowball variants. In the majority of low-ball variants Aces are low and flushes/straights are ignored, but this is not the case in 2-7 Triple-Draw. Flushes and straights (and any pair+) count against our hand and Aces are always high. And we mean always – A,2,3,4,5 does not make a straight in 2-7 Triple Draw.

So rather than other low-ball variants where A,2,3,4,5 is the nuts, the nuts in 2-7 Triple Draw is actually 2,3,4,5,7. Note that 2,3,4,5,6 would make a straight and would actually be a very weak hand. Essentially, when compared to hold’em we are simply trying to make the absolute worse hand possible while remembering that Aces are always high. When analysed like this some might even find hand-reading in 2-7 triple draw easier than the standard low-ball method of reading hands where straights and flushes are ignored.

Basic Strategy – The Draw

The first concept to master is understanding how many cards to discard and draw based on our hand-strength.

As a rough guide

5 cards 9 or below(no pair or straight or flush etc) – Stand Pat
4 cards 8 or below and a higher card – Draw 1
3 cards 8 or below and 2 higher card – Draw 2
2 cards 7 or below and 3 higher cards – Draw 3

Hands weaker than this should be discarded in most situations. It’s generally recommended to play hands that hold a 2, but to be cautions when playing hands that hold a 6. The 6 is needed for all low straights, so without the 6 we don’t need to worry as much about making a straight and losing. It’s also recommended to start out with low cards and draw to higher cards rather than the other way round. So it’s better to hold 2,3,4,8 and draw to the 5,6 or 7 rather than hold the 8,7,6,3 and draw to the 4,5,or 2.

Basic Strategy – Position

Similar to other positional variants of poker, our standard hand criteria is going to be dependent on our position. We might fold something like 2,7,A,K,Q in early position yet this hand might be fine to open-raise on the BTN or the SB.

We should also keep in mind that it’s better to raise-first-in if we want to play a hand rather than to open limp. There are exceptions to this however, we might be able to limp if several other players have already limped before us or if the action is on us unopened and we are in the SB. It’s also fine to check-back the BB if our hand is not strong enough for an iso-raise.

Basic Strategy – Hand Reading

There are 2 main ways that we can hand-read in 2-7 Triple Draw. The first is observing our opponents betting patterns. The second is looking at how many cards he draws. As a guide for hand reading, the strength of a player’s holding is roughly proportional to the amount of cards they draw. If they draw 1 card they are likely reasonably strong while if they draw 5-cards they likely had total garbage. Assuming someone stands pat they usually have a decent made low hand, probably 10-low or better at the very least.

For the most part 9-low and 10-low hands are considered bluffcatchers while 8-low and better are considered the value hands.

Basic Strategy – Betting Structure

Whether the game is played no-limit or fixed-limit will have a big effect on the correct strategy. There are 2 main differences with the fixed-limit variety of the game. Firstly we will have less fold-equity on any given street since we can only bet in accordance with the allowed fixed bet-sizing. Secondly we will have less implied odds in any situation since it is not possible to get all of the remaining stacks in at any given time.

This will often have an effect on the types of hands we can play profitably pre-draw. Certain weak draws we might be able to play profitably in no-limit while we can’t make them profitable in fixed-limit. In a no-limit game we might pick up a big payout if we hit our draw, and we also might be able to bluff our opponent post-draw if he shows weakness. This is a lot harder to do in fixed-limit. We won’t get a big enough payout if we hit to justify our pre-draw investment, and it’s overall less likely that we will be able to successfully bluff our opponent post-draw.

Why You Should Play 2-7 Triple Draw

If you like draw games, especially lowball games that generate a ton of action then maybe 2-7 Triple Draw is for you.

Since 2-7 Triple Draw is less studied and understood by the average person it can be easy to find soft games and make money with less effort than in more popular variants such as Hold’em.

Advanced Cbetting – Part 3

In the previous two parts of this series we have looked specifically at c-betting situations where we are in position. Cbetting OOP is a slightly different. Here is why

a) We should cbet less OOP
b) We should focus more on defending our checking range OOP

Statement (b) will also apply to in-position situations. We want to occasionally check back both strong hands and air for protection. The reason why defending our checking range OOP is more important is simply that if we check/fold OOP the hand will be over for us. We won’t get to see a free turn card unless our opponent decides to check back. In position however, we will always get to see a free turn card. So even if our flop checking-back range IP is extremely weak, it will improve on the turn card with some frequency giving us a little extra defense.

The Most Common Problem

The most common issue is that players are not defending their checking range as the PFR. This is not to be confused with checking our defending range in general which is completely different. For example, BTN opens, we defend out of the blinds by cold-calling. Many players are checking their entire range on the flop – and consquently they are doing a reasonable job of defending their checking range.

Defending our checking range as the PFR is a completely different ball-game since we are often going to start out by firing a continuation bet rather than checking our entire range. If we decide to cbet all of our high-potential hands it means our checking range will be completely undefended.

We should be making use of the following stats within our tracking software. “After skip cbet flop…..check/call…..check/fold…..check/raise”. It’s not uncommon to see extremely high values for check/fold in this scenario, because many players are cbetting most of their continuing range.

Lets look at an example to help us understand correct range construction –

Flop Texture Ks7h2d

Let’s imagine that we open the SB and BB calls. What kind of hands is the average player cbetting here? What kind of hand are they check/calling? Most players are cbetting their strongest holdings for value. Sets, Kx, etc. Many players are also taking a nice selection of high-potential backdoor hands with the intention of barreling good turn and river cards. All is well so far. So check/calling range? Here is where the average player runs into a little bit of difficulty. Most players are purely check/calling with mid showdown value. So PP’s below QQ, 7x hands, maybe even a weak Kx.

The first problem we need to solve –
We must protect our flop check/calling range with some strong hands.

This is actually a very simple issue to fix. It doesn’t require a huge amount of thought, we just need to make sure we actually implement it to some degree. We simply take some of our absolute strongest hands such as sets, 2pairs, and good Kx hands and check/call rather than cbet.

This means our opponent can no longer assume that if we check/call the flop we purely have mid-strength showdown hands. If he tries to barrel us off what he perceives to be a weak range he is going to be in for a nasty surprise when we show up with top set after he 3barrels.

Some players have even gone so far as to make this specific adjustment in their game which is commendable. It’s the following step which is widely misunderstood by the poker community in general and even many professional players.

This is best illustrated by taking our current check/calling range and playing the situation out in our heads until the river. Currently we have our mid-strength showdown hands which we have carefully protected with some slow-played premiums. We check/call the flop. Turn is a blank. We check again, our opponent checks back. Now the action is on us OOP on a blank river and we have the option to lead.

How should we play in this spot?

First thing to notice is that turn and river cards are blank for the purposes of this example. In other words, the relative hand strengths of both players’ hands has not really changed. We still have at this stage some mid-strength showdown holdings and some premium slow-plays. Doubtless we want to value-bet a decent chunk of what we are holding. We will value-bet most of the slow-plays and maybe even a few of the mid-strength showdown value hands if we feel our opponents range is wide enough and that he would pay us off with worse hands frequently enough.

However as poker players one principle we are hopefully familiar with is the idea that any time we have a value-range we should also have some sort of bluffing range if we don’t want to become hugely readable. So what kind of bluff-range should we select? When we think about our range we should realise somewhat quickly that we don’t actually have any sort of decent bluffing range here. We have value-hands and we have ok mid-strength bluff-catchers which we should probably check. We could of course attempt to turn some of our mid-strength showdown hands into bluffs, but this would usually be a suboptimal approach.

So how do we solve this problem? Interestingly the problem is not caused by bad river play in the slightest. Which adjustment could we make on an earlier street to ensure that we have some decent river-bluffs in our range?

If we look back to the flop we should realise that there is a third type of holding that is mandatory to be included into our flop check/calliing range. Without this we have absolutely no hope of being able to create balanced ranges on later streets. We need some of these high-potential air type hands which we can use as bluffs assuming we miss.

So let’s assume we hold a hand like 8s9s on the Ks7h2d. We should sometimes be putting this into our check/call range. If you have a bad reaction to this statement there is a reasonable chance that you have been moulded by the general consensus of the average poker player. If we suggest such a line on a forum we may often be told the following –

“This is a really bad check/call. We have no showdown value whatsoever. If we do want to check/call we should be using something like AQo at the absolute weakest so that we beat some of our opponents range”

And to this day it’s likely that well over 90% of players actually believe this. (It’s difficult to quantify the exact frequency with an estimate seeing as there are a decent amount of players who have never even thought about the topic of defending checking ranges as the PFR). But we’ve seen the problem upon reaching the river is very clearly that we have too much showdown value. We don’t want to complicate this further by adding more showdown value hands into our check/call range.

It’s not just on the river that we run into difficulties. It’s essentially any point later in the hand where we decide we want to bet for value – we have no bluffs that we can balance this out with. So imagine that after check/calling our KK on the K72r we decide that we will check/raise a drawy turn for value – unless we have some speculative hands in our flop range we have no decent bluffs we can balance this line out with.

Thinking in Frequencies

It’s important to understand that we are not saying the 8s9s is a bad cbet on the Ks7h2d texture. It’s actually recommended to cbet this type of hand most of the time, because it has great potential on later streets. But we have to be mindful of protecting our checking range, and we need to check/call this hand some frequency having the intention of bluffing turn or river if the opportunity presents itself.

We will often make a breakthrough in our understanding of c-betting theory if we stop thinking in terms of “I will cbet X type of hands but check/call Y type of hands”. With a hand like 8s9s we should probably be thinking along the lines of “I will cbet here 80% of the time and then check/call 20% of the time”. The exact frequencies are not important – they are not based on any specific calculation and are estimates. However the above statement carries the idea of “I will cbet this hand most of the time, but I will occasionally check/call”.

Flop Texture Ks7h2d

KcKd – Here is a situation where we have the board completely locked up. It’s actually going to be correct to slowplay here a decent amount of time for a couple of reasons

a) it’s unlikely our opponent has anything, especially when we block most of his Kx combos
b) our hand is extremely non-vulnerable so we are safe to give free cards.

However we don’t want to cut out cbets entirely with this hand. It won’t be unprofitable to cbet, especially if our opponent has a tendency toward floating flops very wide. We could consider cbetting the flop to extract value from floats and then setting a trap by checking the turn.

We could estimate that we should bet cbetting this hand around 20% of the and check/call it about 80% of the time.

AsAc – This hand is a little more vulnerable than the KK. We also block less Kx combos so extracting value is easier. We should tend towards mainly cbetting as a result and occasionally using as a check/call. We could say 90% cbet and 10% check/call.

8c9c – Notice that we don’t hold the backdoor flush here. It’s perfectly reasonable to put this 89s into our our check/fold range and purely defend the 89s combos that have a backdoor. Assuming our opponent has a very high fold-to-flop-cbet we should cbet with 100% frequency regardless.

AcQc – This hand clearly has a reasonable amount of potential but reduced barreling opportunities with no back-door flush. It can be perfectly reasonable to primarily defend this hand by check/calling with the occasional cbet. Assuming opponent had an exploitably high fold-to-flop cbet we could include it purely in our cbetting range.

Flop Texture – Jc7h8h

KcQc – Things get a little more complex on this texture since now after we check as the PFR we also will have the option to check-raise. So assuming we take a frequency-based approach we need to split up our options between cbet, check/call, check/fold and check/raise.

KcQc is a very versatile hand and can be put in all three of the defending lines, cbet, check/call, check/raise. The only thing we need to establish is with which frequency we would do this. Hands like this will still primarily appear in the cbetting category and least of all in the check/raising category. So if were to estimate frequencies we might come up with something along the lines of –

Cbet – 65%
Check/call – 25%
Check/raise – 10%

Note that these are not be taken as optimal frequencies for defending as the PFR in general, just recommended frequencies for this specific hand. Some types of holding may still appear exclusively in one of the three lines only.

As for general defense when checking as the PFR we should be looking at something along the lines of

Cbet 50%
Check/call 17.5%
Check/raise 7.5%
Check/fold 25%

So with these numbers our overall check/fold after skipping flop cbet would be around 50%. This is enough to give our opponent a small amount of automatic profit, but this is to be expected when we have a positional disadvantage.

Ah5h – Once again flush-draws are very versatile hands and can certainly be played profitably in all of the lines. This doesn’t mean that we should put all flush-draws into each of the defending categories with equal weighting when compared to each other.

Generally we want to employ a check-raising strategy which incoporates the following.

a) Check-raise backdoor potential hands which are an easy fold vs a 3bet
b) Check-raise monster draws which are an easy continue vs a 3bet
c) Tend towards not check raising anything in the middle which will be very awkward when facing a 3bet. (I.e we might have the direct pot-odds but are unsure about our reverse-implied-odds with

Ah5h is likely at the top of the mid-strength draws. It’s a nut-flush draw but lacks the additional firepower something like AhQh or AhTh would have. We should likely tend towards putting Ah5h into our cbetting or check/calling range and only check/raise with a very specific reason. The AhQh or AhTh we can tend towards check/calling considerably less and tending towards either cbetting or check/raising.

JdJs – Most of us would probably cbet this hand with 100% frequency. This can be fine in practice at the lower limits but is an unbalanced strategy. If we cbet all of our strong holdings, even on a drawy texture, our checking range will start to become undefended.

It’s necessary therefore to sometimes mix up our lines and check/raise this holding. This can also be a good exploitative line if our opponent has a very high bet-vs-missed cbet. In such an instance we could resort to checking our sets with 100% frequency and going for a check/raise. We don’t need to be scared about giving a free card if our opponent will nearly always bet if we check.

We should also theoretically check/call some slowplays even on a drawy texture. Any combos of 9Ts or JJ can ocasionally be check/called to ensure that we don’t have a capped range on a blank turn after we check/call the flop. Again this might not be necessary in practice, but it is correct as part of a balanced strategy and exploitatively might be stronger than cbetting vs certain opponents.

5s6s – On first glance it seems we have a mid-strength draw and mix our lines up between check/calling and cbetting primarily. However if we look carefully we will see that our draw is heavily dominated and our holding is not so strong. If we spike our 9 there is a higher 4-to-straight possible making our straight very weak. There is also the available heart draw which taints many of our straight outs. Even if we hit an offsuit 4 on the turn our opponent may have some redraw possibilities and may even simply have us drawing dead with the flopped higher straight. It would actually be a pretty reasonable decision to put this hand into our check/folding range with 100% frequency.

Advanced Cbetting – Part 2

In this article we will consider our analysis of various c-betting spots and the thought processes that should accompany them. Please read part 1 first to give the article some context.

We were considering hands on the Ks7h2d texture.

QdQh – This hand should have a similar feel to one of the situations we considered in the previous article. Of all the situations so far, which hand would you say QdQh is the most similar too in terms of vunerability and playability?

It would have to be the Kc3c. There is only one over-card we fear with QQ similar to holding the Kc3c. Also the texture still holds no possible flush or straight draws meaning the hand is distinctly non-vulnerable.

However does this mean Kc3c and QdQh are equivalent on this texture? There are a number of differences. Firstly which of the two hands is most likely to improve to a strong hand by the river? QQ actually has only 2 outs with which it can improve while the Kc3c has 5. Also it’s slightly less likely our opponent holds a Kx hand when we hold the Kc3c since we block some of the possible Kx combos he can have.

So what is the main difference in terms of our plan for later streets? We would start the hand in a similar way by checking back the flop as default. Assuming our opponent checks the turn we’d likely start betting with both the Kc3c and the QdQh for value. However assuming our opponent leads the turn we should definitely think about calling at least once with both hands. The main difference will occur on the river. In many games we should call facing a double barrel with the Kc3c and fold facing a double-barrel with the QdQh.

This will naturally depend on the opponent’s bluffing frequencies. Vs some opponents we could likely call two streets with the QQ, while vs other opponents even calling twice with the K3 could be very close and end up being a fold. However it’s nice to draw a line to help us with our default decision when facing 2 barrels after we decide to miss our cbet and check back the flop. Here is where we can draw our default line – weak top pair we call with twice, underpair we call turn and proceed to fold river.

Drawy Textures

All the examples thus far have been on a dry texture. Let’s consider a few examples on a drawy texture and elabourate on some of the principles discussed in article 1.

Flop Texture – 7s9sTh

7c7d – On the dry texture we briefly discussed the merits of checking back this hand. We mentioned that either would probably be reasonable as a default, but betting is slightly better. Now the situation is different and betting is mandatory regardless of our opponent’s fold-to-cbet.

But what changed? Our hand is now considerably more vulnerable than it was on the K72r board. There are a number of possible straight and fush draws that could hit on the turn. Also given the drawy nature of the texture, it’s simply more likely that our opponent has something that he would want to continue with.

So regardless of our opponents tendencies, the sheer vulnerability of our holding should make us tend towards betting every time.

It’s also useful to think about default play on a bad turn card after we cbet. Let’s imagine we cbet and the turn comes the Jc putting a 4-to-straight on the board. Many players are unsure what to do in this situation. Betting is obviously risky because we could so easily be dominated by this stage. However checking is not great either because we are aware that our opponent can still have some worse hands in his range and we really do not want to give a free card to these holdings.

The best option is pretty clear when we allow ourself to think slightly outside the box. Many people have a binary decision occurring in their brain at this stage. Either bet 2/3rds pot, or check. Neither seem that attractive, and hence a difficult decision ensues. But this really arises because many players are simply not considering all of the available options here. We are not picking between two static options, we have a whole range of different bet sizings we can potentially pick from.

So lets outline our goals – the best option will hopefully become apparent.

a) Avoid giving opponent a free card. We don’t want him to realise equity with his draws for free.
b) Avoid isolating ourself vs his straights.

Can you see the solution? Checking fails to accomplish goal (a). Betting 2/3rds fails to accomplish goal (b). So here is an excellent situation to go for an underbet of around 1/3rd pot.

As2s – Here we have a flush-draw. Easy bet right? It’s certainly true that betting is a profitable option but to suggest that we should cbet every time is an over-simplification. There are at least two reasons for us making this statement.

Firstly, as we saw earlier, the thing that makes semi-bluffing profitable is the fold-equity. With zero fold equity, betting with a flush-draw will likely not be profitable unless some future occurrence makes up for it. In isolation it will be a losing play. So imagine we are against a calling station who will never fold on any street – betting serves little purpose. The correct way to play flush draws against calling stations is to play passively and try to hit. Once we have hit, we can get large amounts of the stack in even if there is little in the middle already, since our opponent has a big disinclination to fold.

The second situation has application to higher level games. What do you think would happen if we were to cbet our flush-draws with 100% frequency against a very strong opponent? Our betting range wouldn’t necessarily be overly exploitable because flush-draws are reasonably high-equity hands. The main issue would usually occur in situations where we didn’t cbet. Imagine we check back the 7s9sTh and the turn comes a spade. What can a good opponent deduce about our range? We pretty much never have a flush-draw – we cbet those with 100% frequency. Our opponent can identify that our range is capped and make our life very difficult.

We can get away with cbetting most of our flush-draws – but if we want a varied and tough strategy to use against decent opponents, it involves occasionally checking back some of our draws to help protect our turn range.

QcTc – Judging by the sheer vulnerability of this hand it should be a relatively straight-forward cbet. Checking would generally be pretty bad since there are so many turn cards which can make the situation awkward and cause us to have to give up by the river.

We have included this hand here to help dispel a common myth associated with c-betting. The myth goes something like this –

“Always bet small on dry board and always bet big on drawy boards”

We should associate these kind of statements with being a product of the darker ages of poker. Similar to the old advice of “always cbetting dry textures”, we should take this with a grain of salt and understand that in essence the advice is completely useless and a horrible oversimplification of c-betting principles. There are spots where we should bet large on a dry texture and very small on a drawy texture.

The problem with betting large with a weak top pair like QcTc on a drawy texture is that we can isolate ourself against high-equity hands if we bet too big. We also should keep in mind that we may get check-raised with a reasonable frequency and have to ditch our marginal holding. In other words we are in another situation where we want to protect our hand but without putting too many of our chips at risk. Logic leads us to cbet in this example, but with a relatively small sizing.

Flop Texture – JsTd5s

AcTc – Hopefully we can see the similarities here between this hand and the last one. We have a decent 2nd pair and the board texture is drawy.

We follow similar principles here and make a small c-bet for value and protection. Our opponent check/calls OOP and the turn card is a blank 4c. Our opponent checks again. What should we do here? We are actually in a very similar situation to the flop. We can go for a relatively small sizing for protection and to ensure we get called by worse hands.

Our opponent calls again and the river is a blank paired 4h. What should we do here? Now we are in a situation where checking is correct. Betting for value would usually be a mistake. Remember that a lot of our value on the flop and turn came from draws and the fact that we were protecting our equity. Neither of these concepts apply on the river. If we fire the third barrel villain will usually either fold his busted draw or check-call with a stronger hand. We should check back the river and hope to see a busted draw.

8h9h – This hand will be heavily situational, and we definitely shouldn’t assume that it is always a cbet. Cbetting can be reasonable, especially if villain has a high fold-to-cbet but there are one or two convincing arguments that indicate that checking is the strongest option.

We mentioned in article one that we should always ask how many streets of value our hand is worth. This is no exception here even when we hold a drawing type hand. Assuming we actually hit one of our outs, how often is our hand going to be worth three streets of value. There will be some situations where it is – specifically when the turn is a non-spade 7 and the river is a not a spade or any card which puts a higher straight out there.

Most of the time when we make our draw it will be dominated. There will be a spade out there or we won’t have the nut straight. Getting paid off three streets can actually end up being problematic with this hand. It’s similar if we hold something like the 6s7s. If we make our flush, three-barrel and get called, we are very often going to be running into a higher straight.

This is not to say that c-betting the hand is incorrect, but we can certainly see there is some logic in checking back the flop and playing a 2-street pot with a hand that is generally worth 2 streets of value if it hits.

QsKs – This may seem like a very strong draw, but in reality it’s more than that. This draw is so strong that we can practically consider it a made hand. It’s debatable whether we should consider this as a semi-bluff as opposed to betting for pure value. This hand actually has a huge 65% equity vs AJ and can also generate action from many worse draws.

Assuming we Check the Flop

So we opt to check back the flop with a certain holding. What should we do on the turn?

The first scenario is that villain checks OOP.

This is actually pretty easy to deal with. Unless our opponent is advanced and tricky we should tend towards simply betting every time.

The second scenario is that villain leads turn OOP.

Keep in mind that if we have constructed our flop checking range properly we will have the following types of hand still in our range.

a) Air – We can bluff/raise this if it picks up equity, or fold.

b) Draws – We occasionally check back draws with the intention of raising them vs a turn lead.

c) Slowplays – This will formulate our value-raising range which we raise along-side our bluffs. We will also sometimes continue our slowplay on the turn by just calling.

d) Midstrength-Hands – These we will typically call with although may become value-raises if we improve dramatically on the turn.

For more information on the second scenario listed here. Check out the article – Playing vs Turn Probes.

In part 3 of this series we will consider OOP play, in particular scenarios where we decide to check as the PFR.

Advanced Cbetting

Cbetting is considered a basic concept in NLHE, but it is nonetheless constantly evolving. It’s also common to hear a large range of different opinions on whether it is correct to cbet in certain spots. Some rely heavily on board texture while others base their decision more on their hole-cards, or their opponents stats. So which is the correct approach in today’s games?

How the games have changed

If you consulted a strategy guide on cbetting from 5 years ago it would be common to see the following advice. “Cbet very frequently on dry boards but be more cautious on drawy boards”. The result was that most regulars would nearly always fire a continuation bet on any type of A72r, or K72r texture. The idea was that the drier the board texture, the less often our opponents will have connected with it and the more they will be folding to continuation bets.

It shouldn’t be too hard to see how this can be exploited. If we were playing against an opponent who fired a continuation bet with 100% frequency on a K72r board, how would we adjust? We’d obviously stop folding just because we hadn’t connected hard with the board. We’d take a chunk of our air hands with good potential and consider floating them.

So does this mean that cbetting any monotone high-card texture with 100% frequency will not be profitable anymore? In many situations yes, but naturally it depends. The reason why the strategy was initially profitable is that our opponents would play a fit-or-fold strategy. On a dry texture they would fold more frequently as a result. But better players undrestand that we have not hit dry textures either, and won’t necessarily be more inclined to fold just because they haven’t hit the board. In fact, if they perceive that we will be c-betting a certain texture with a high frequency, they may even be less inclined to fold.

Caution

So vs some opponents the old strategies may still apply. But attempting to use them by default at any limit above 25nl could be considered ambitious. It’s not purely a case of being exploited on the flop. If we shift all of our air hands to one part of our range (I.e cbetting), our opponent will be able to perceive that we don’t have these hands when we take another line. For example if we go for a delayed cbet it will clearly be for thin value or a slowplay – since we are perceived to put all of our air hands into our flop cbetting range.

It’s necessary to take a slightly more balanced approach by default. We are not talking about game theory perfect balance here by any means, we should still focus on playing exploitably. But certain things we could get away with 5-years ago are no longer as viable as they once used to be. We are going to need to take a more dynamic approach to cbetting if we want to survive in today’s games.

The Basic Principles

Rather than auto-firing on any particular flop texture – consider these 3 principles.

Stats – This is one thing that hasn’t changed from 5 years ago. How much is opponent folding to cbets? It’s also extremely important to understand that opponent’s stats on later streets are entirely relevant in our flop decision. So if we purely check our opponents fold-to-flop cbet without consulting his fold-to-turn-cbet stat, there s no guarantee that we are making the correct decision on the flop. See the 2 part series Postflop Planning, for more information on this.

Backdoor Potential – For many years players have made the mistake of thinking that 100bb poker is about pot-equity. It’s not. It’s about playability and potential on later streets in the vast majority of cases. There are certain high equity hands that make very poor cbets. (For example some type of Axo hand with little backdoor potential). And some of the lower equity hands actually make excellent cbets. (Imagine some type of mid-high suited-connector with all possible backdoor flushes and straights available). Before we cbet any hand we should consider the playability of the hand on the turn and river. If we have a value-hand we should also consider how many streets of value we think it is worth.

Vulnerability – This is possibly the most important and most overlooked concept regarding cbetting. The vulnerability of our hand. We should tend towards cbetting vulnerable hands, whereas with non-vulnerable hands we have the luxury of being able to check back.

It’s important to understand what vulnerability is and what vulnerability is not. For example, look at the following hands.

Board Texture Ks7h2d

Ah2h
Kc3c

Which of these would you say are vulnerable? Some might say both, because Kc3c could easily be beaten by a higher Kx. However vulnerability has absolutely nothing to do with how likely our hand is to be beaten. Vulnerability can be defined as –

“If we assume our hand is good. How likely is it to be sucked out on?”

So now we should be able to see that the Kc3c is actually very non-vulnerable. The only card we are scared of is an Ace. There are no possible flush or straight draws on the board. However if we look at the Ah2h on this texture we should be able to see that it is extremely vulnerable. It’s true that the board is very dry, but most of the possible turn cards will be overcards to our pair. Some might mistakenly check back this type of hand (in certain situations) claiming that we have “showdown value”. A common mistake is to over-value weak showdown hands. Asking ourselves the following question should help us to more objectively evaluate our showdown holdings –

“If I check back IP how would I feel about calling a bet on the next street?”

If the answer is that we’d probably end up folding then we are generally in better shape if we take an aggressive line and turn our hand into a semi-bluff. At least we get some fold equity this way, and our aggression may buy as an additional street to improve. The question above revolves around being in position but can serve a similar function when we miss our cbet OOP. If I check here how would I feel about check-calling? We will often find that the more vunerable of our showdown value hands make better semi-bluffs than check calls. By taking the betting lead we also reduce the frequency with which our opponent gets to see a card on the next street.

Cbetting Examples

We will now consider a range of examples where we illustrate in more detail the basic concepts discussed above.

In each example, we have open raised on the BTN and get a call from the blinds. Our opponent checks to us and we are faced with a cbet decision. The first texture we will consider is the one discussed above i.e.

Board Texture Ks7h2d

8s9s – It should be evident that we have a decent amount of backdoor potential with this type of holding despite it being a low equity hand in terms of raw-equity. In many cases it makes sense to list our barrel cards before cbetting. We know that we improve on any spade, any T and any 6. We will generally be barreling these cards against most opponents. Any 5 or J will give us a gutshot which can be considered and will often be situational.

It’s important to keep in mind any exceptions based on stats however. It’s very common for players to make mistakes by rigidly sticking to a default strategy where they cbet high-potential hands and always barrel on improved equity. Here are 2 scenarios where we should deviate.

a) Opponent is a calling station – Seems pretty obvious, but you might be surprised at the number of players who end up cbetting and barreling anyway. The main reason we cbet a hand like 89s and potentially barrel the turn is our fold-equity. If we don’t have any fold-equity when we bet we are simply building a pot in a situation where we are unlikely to have the best hand because we have 9-high.

b) Opponent is extremely tight on the flop – This is obviously great for firing flop cbets. However – the fact that opponent is so tight on the flop means that by the time he gets to the turn he is frequently going to have an extremely strong range. What does this do to our fold-equity? It drastically reduces it in most cases. So we have a valid reason to not barrel despite the fact that we pick up equity.

7d7c- This type of hand will often divide opinions, and for good reason. Both options here are pretty legitimate. We can cbet, or we can check. Cbetting should usually be considered standard however. We mentioned that we should always consider how many streets of value our hand is worth. A set is going to be worth three streets here – by checking the flop we are potentially missing value. Sometimes we will recover that value (and even more) by taking a deceptive line, but not always.

The situation where checking is clearly better is if
a) villain has an extremely high fold-to-flop cbet
b) he will play aggressively as a bluff when he senses weakness after we check

If neither of these are true then checking can be a signicant mistake despite the dry texture.

Kc3c – We considered this hand earlier and decided it was distinctly non-vulnerable. Both checking and betting should be considered as options in this case. How many streets of value is our hand worth here? In most cases a weak top pair will be worth 2 streets of value. If we attempt to fire 3 streets we will likely get a bunch of folds, or calls from better hands. Naturally it depends on our opponents however. We may be able to extract 3 streets of value from a calling station but may only be able to extract one street of value from a nit.

Since our hand is only worth 2 streets of value anyway, we don’t really have too much to risk by checking back a non-vulnerable hand. We may increase our expectation by doing so. Firstly we represent weakness by checking back instead of cbetting, and secondly we give our opponent an opportunity to lead the turn with certain bluffs that he might be check-folding if we were to cbet the flop.

Ah2h – We also considered this hand earlier and decided that this was an extremely vunerable holding. Cbetting is generally going to be best. We can treat this hand as a pure semi-bluff and barrel on cards that improve us. (Either flush cards or cards that give us two-pair/trips).

Sometimes players have a hard time understanding this. They might reason along the following lines
“Do we really fold out any better hands? Do we really get calls from worse?”

It’s generally important to discard this type of thinking as being a product of strategy content from a much earlier time where the game was less understood than it is now. It’s actually the case that we might fold out some better hands (33 perhaps) and that we might get called by some worse hands (high potential floats). This is not the point however, even though it adds significantly to our expectation.

The important thing to understand is that we actually benefit from folding out a worse hand, which is something that more traditional theorists have a tendency to ignore. Imagine for a minute that our opponent has something trashy like T8o on the K72r texture. Is it better for us to check just because our opponent has a worse hand? If we could see his hole-cards perhaps it might be, because we’d be brutally effective at picking off huge bluffs on the later streets.

In reality we don’t see his cards though. So let’s imagine that he has T8o but we don’t know that he holds it. Would we still rather he folded it or would we still rather that we check back and give him an opportunity to bluff? In reality it will be the first option, we actually want our opponent to fold his worse hand here, and we benefit significantly when he does. This will be for two main reasons
a) He still has significant equity. By checking we are potentially giving him up to roughly 25% free equity. It’s true that he is still not a favourite to win, but that 25% free equity is really going to add up in the long run.

b) We will be forced to fold if he bluffs. This is perhaps the more important factor. If our opponent leads on the turn we will often be forced to fold in the majority of cases unless we spike one of our outs. This effect is less severe when we also have the backdoor flush. Without it we’d likely be folding on any turn card which wasn’t an Ace or a Two. Remember we mentioned earlier that we should always ask how comfortable we would be defending on the next street if we decide to check back for “pot-control”. We are actually giving our opponent the opportunity to win the pot with a huge frequency if he is suitably aggressive on the turn and river. Betting the flop is also a good idea because it protects us from getting bluffed on later streets.

While these are the main two reasons why betting is much superior there are other reasons also. We have a hand with good nut potential by the river and we build a pot by cbetting which will help insure we get a big payout if we hit something decent.

In part 2 we will continue by making application of the discussed principles to various examples.

Badugi Rules

    Badugi Rules

The exact origins of the card game “Badugi” are unclear, although the general consensus is that it originated in South Korea in the 1960s. There is some speculation that the game is named after the Korean word for “spotted dog” although this is unlikely to be true since no such word exists in the Korean language. There was a South Korean cartoon which contained a spotted dog by the name of “Paldugi” which could be where some have got the idea that the game was named after a dog.

Overall it seems a somewhat unlikely theory and possibly simply a misconception that has arisen as a result of the various different ways of pronouncing the word “Badugi”. (It sounds a bit like “Paldugi” when you think about it). While most people pronounce the word as bah-doo-gee, there are a variety of different acceptable pronunciations. Many claim that the first sound in the word is actually “pah” while the last sound in the word is “kee”, so some pronounce the game as “pah-doo-kee”.

Objective

Badugi is a draw game where the objective is to make a 4-card hand known as a “badugi”. A badugi is essentially any 4 cards of different suits (excluding pairs). Badugi is a low-ball game and so badugis are ranked in order from high to low. A,2,3,4 is the strongest available badugi (assuming all cards of different suits).

Similar to the majority of variants the objective is to win our opponent’s chips. Assuming we play Badugi in a tournament setting, the objective is to be the last player remaining with all the chips. There are 2 ways to win –

a) Make the best hand or badugi at showdown
b) Get our opponents to fold


Structure

Badugi is most commonly offered as a fixed-limit game although there is no reason why the game would not work with a pot-limit or no-limit betting structure.

Badugi is a positional variant like no-limit holdem and hence there is a dealer button which moves clockwise around the table. Before players are dealt cards the blinds must make a mandatory blind payment (along with any antes assuming an ante game). The positional system works exactly the same as in Hold’em. Pre-draw the blinds act last, while on subsequent rounds after the first draw has taken place the blinds now act first with the BTN acting last.

Drawing

Badugi is a “triple draw” game which means 3 rounds of drawing take place. The action proceeds as follows –

1. Cards are Dealt
2. Round of Betting
3. Draw 1
4. Round of Betting
5. Draw 2
6. Round of Betting
7. Draw 3
8. Round of Betting
9. Showdown

Players may draw up to 4 cards on each drawing round. They also have the option to “stand pat” which means they wish to stick with their current hand and draw no additional cards.

Hand Rankings

The best hands in this game are those which are “badugi” hands. This means that all 4 cards are of a different suit. Any badugi hand will beat another hand which has 2 or more cards of the same suit. Let’s start by ranking the 4-card badugi hands.

Since badugi is a lowball game the best possible badugi is A,2,3,4 of different suits. (Ace is low).
The worst possible badugi is K,Q,J,T.

Note that it is the highest card that determines the value of the hand. So a 5,4,3,2 badugi will beat a 6,3,2,A badugi. We can refer to the first as a “five-high-badugi” and the second hand as a “six-high-badugi”. A common mistake is to assume the badugi with the Ace is better since it holds the lowest card. A useful trick to reading low-hands for the first time is to read them as a number. 5,342 is a lower number than 6,321 so 5,4,3,2 is the stronger hand when using a lowball ranking system.

However not all hands make badugis, and we can further categorise hands into 3-card hands, 2-card-hands, and 1-card hands.

So for example, Ad,5d,4c,3s has 3 cards of unique suits, but is not a “badugi” hand since it contains two diamonds. We can refer to this hand as a “three-card-four”. It’s a three card hand and the highest card is a four. Also note that if our hand contains a pair, it does not qualify as a badugi even if all the cards are of different suits. So if we have 5,5,4,3 of different suits we again have a three card hand. We can refer to this specific holding as a “three-card-five”.

It’s also possible to make 2-card and 1-card hands. A 2-card hand would be made when we have 2 cards of one suit and 2 cards or another suit or 3-cards of 1 suit and 1 card of another suit. We select the two lowest of different suits to make a 2-card hand. 1-card hands are possible also assuming that we are dealt 4-cards of the same suit. We simply select the lowest of these to make our 1-card hand. 1-card hands are pretty rare after all the draws have taken place and are essentially garbage, but it would not be a complete discussion of hand-rankings if we did not include these. So the weakest hand in badugi is a “one-card-King” where we hold 4-cards of the same suit and one of these is a King.

Why Play Badugi?

Being a draw game learning the rules of Badugi is somewhat simple. On sites like Pokerstars it is also possible to play tournaments and take a nice payout while playing against a softer field. Despite Badugi being very simple many players do not follow a decent strategy so there is money to be made.

The downside is that Badugi often has lower traffic than other variants making it a little harder to play professionally, but when played alongside other variants it can be a good way to supplement our poker income.

Since it’s very easy to teach the rules of badugi to others it can be a nice choice for a home-game.

Badugi Tips

Hand Reading – Hand reading does not occur in the same sense it occurs in Hold’em because there are no community cards that each player can use to create a hand. However we can learn more about what our opponents are holding from the amount of cards they draw each round.

This is potentially a little more transparent than other draw games because we know that everyone at the table is specifically attempting to make a badugi hand. As such the amount of cards players draw will usually be an indication of how many unique cards they are currently holding. If we see a player repeatedly drawing 1 card it’s likely that they already have a 3-card hand and are looking to pick up that fourth suit to make a badugi. If they draw two it’s likely that they already have 2-unique suits and are looking to pick up another 2. This does not always follow since it makes sense that players would be trying to get rid of cards higher than a Jack in an attempt to make a stronger badugi, even if some of those cards were of unique suits. However our main focus in the game is to make a badugi hand regardless of how strong or weak it is. So if we have a 3-card hand and need one more unique suit to create a badugi, we should usually be going immediately for the badugi even if our 3-card hand is K-high meaning we can never make a badugi stronger than K-high.

Breaking Hands – So long as our opponent continues to draw cards then we know that our weak badugi is the best hand. However if our opponent now starts to stand pat and we have a weak badugi such as K-high or Q-high, there is now a pretty strong chance that our opponent’s badugi is going to beat ours. So while we may previously have been standing pat with our made badugi it can become necessary to “break” our badugi by getting rid of our high-card and shooting for a stronger badugi. But unless our opponents are standing pat we can generally assume that any badugi is the nuts.

Raise First In – Like most variants of poker the default strategy involves raising-first-in if the action is on us in an unopened pot and we have a decent starting hand. We don’t want to raise just any hand and are looking for hands with the highest potential. This will usually be hands that either already have a badugi or are one card away from a badugi. As such we can keep in mind that if we see any of our opponents drawing 3 or 4 cards in the first draw round they are likely recreational players. The exception to this is if our opponents are in a free-play situation (I.e they checked behind in the BB).

Aggression – This is not overly complicated but we want to play our badugi hands as aggressively as possible while our opponents continue to draw. Assuming we have a badugi and our opponents are still drawing it’s a pretty clear indication that our badugi is good unless our opponent specifically hits his draw. We should apply maximum pressure in these situations.

Position – Hopefully this is obvious to anyone that has played other variants seriously. Acting last after the draw is an advantage and should allow us to make better decisions. As such we can play weaker hands if we are likely to have a positional advantage post-draw. Our pre-draw decisions should reflect this and our raise-first-in range from UTG should consist of stronger hands than our BTN raise-first-in range. We can sometimes raise very weak holdings from the BTN and SB if we know our opponents are folding too much pre-draw. As in most draw games however (especially fixed-limit) many players are not folding that much pre-draw and drawing as many cards as they think they need in order to make a badugi.