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Easy Game. Making Sense of No Limit Hold em. Vol. 2 – PDF Free Download



2 Easy Game Making Sense of No Limit Hold em Vol. 2 Easy Game Vol. 2 is 2009 Andrew Seidman, except Taking Down the Shorties, which is 2009 Steve Cesaro, and Advanced Heads up No Limit Hold em, which is 2009 Matt Colletta 2

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3 Table of Contents Introduction… 5 Chapter Seventeen: Image, Preflop and Postflop… 6 Chapter Eighteen: Polarization and Responses to 3-betting… 8 Chapter Nineteen: Hand Categorization, True Hand Values, and Playing Postflop Chapter Twenty: The Great Debate Bet or Check? Chapter Twenty-One: Balancing and Equity Chapter Twenty-Two: Leverage Chapter Twenty-Three: Dual Mentalities Chapter Twenty-Four: Dead Money Chapter Twenty-Five: Deepstacked Play Chapter Twenty-Six: Game Theory Optimal Vs. Practically Optimal Chapter Twenty-Seven: Game Dynamics Chapter Twenty-Eight: Creativity, Bet Sizing, and Pseudo-Thin Value Chapter Twenty-Nine: Advanced Handreading Chapter Thirty: Advanced Showdown Theory Chapter Thirty-One: The Squeeze Chapter Thirty-Two: Ego and the Tilt Cycle Chapter Thirty-Three: Beating Shortstackers Chapter Thirty-Four: Advanced Heads Up Play Chapter Thirty-Five: The Theory of Donking Chapter Thirty-Six: The Diminishing Medium Value Category Chapter Thirty-Seven: 4-betting and Depth OOP Chapter Thirty-Eight: Adjusting 3-Bet Sizes what do you Want? Chapter Thirty-Nine: Total Game Strategy and Calling from the Blinds

4 Chapter Forty: The Mini Stop n Go Chapter Forty-One: Putting It All Together

5 Introduction With a basic understanding of poker fundamentals, a person can make a lot of money. Most people I know would absolutely love to make $100/hr doing something they found enjoyable or fun. However, most successful poker players are motivated first and foremost by the challenge. We understand that if we ever get to be as good as we desire, $100/hour is pocket change. The problem that we encounter is that our skill advantage gets smaller and smaller as we move along. Beating 25nl for six big blinds per hundred hands ($1.50/100) is a pretty meager winrate, yet beating 2000nl for six big blinds per hundred hands (120/100) is wildly difficult and the sign of a real poker expert. The few players who make it to the nosebleed stakes of $10,000nl or higher need to beat the games at even smaller winrates to make incredible money. The smaller our skill advantage, the smaller our winrate. The smaller our winrate, the higher our variance. Our goal in playing higher stakes games should be to utilize advanced concepts to get as much of an edge on good, regular players as possible, while still exploiting bad players to the maximum possible amount. This will keep variance as low as possible, our winrate as high as possible, and our wallets as full as possible. These concepts are difficult to fully grasp, but they offer a glimpse at the deep-running patterns that define poker and that show us exactly how much more we have to learn. When you start seeing the patterns yourself, running through preflop, flop, turn, and river, you ll realize what it means to be one of the best of the best. 5

6 Chapter Seventeen: Image, Preflop and Postflop A lot of players get so comfortable with their A-B-C games that they assume such a simple understanding of poker will allow them to keep winning as they move to higher and higher stakes. Unfortunately for them, as players get better, A-B-C makes less money. Unfortunately for us, A-B-C doesn t lose much money either. I can recall a famous story of a guy who s been grinding 200nl forever. He plays as straight-laced as possible pure A-B-C. He makes a little bit of money from fish. He loses a little bit of money to regular players. In the long run he breaks even. His hypothesis? Luck is all that matters in poker, and the only ones who win are the ones who are consistently luckier. Meanwhile, all around him, people are flying up limits and strong players are winning huge amounts of money over large sample sizes of hands! We don t want to be that guy. So, obviously, in order to make money at higher stakes, A- B-C isn t going to cut it. So what s the answer? It s called image. Image is the manipulation of game environment to make our opponents make mistakes. When someone is playing a tight, A-B-C game, the only way to make them make mistakes is put them in uncomfortable situations. Make them feel like they can t play A-B-C any longer. It s one thing if you 3-bet a player once every three orbits. But what if you start 3-betting him once every orbit? What if you show him Q5s after he folds? What if he calls you and you stack his JJ with your T4s? At a certain point, he s going to leave his comfort zone and put himself in situations that confuse him. And that s when we ve got him. Most people who play poker can recall times when a good run of cards has led our opponents into doing ridiculous, down-right stupid things. I can recall one particular time when I picked up KK, 3-bet a guy, and he folded. The very next hand, I picked up AK, so I 3-bet him again, and he folded. The very next hand, I picked up AA! I 3-bet him once more, and he shoved all in with K6s. I remember thinking to myself, My image was so crazy, and I made that happen! Then I realized the first two times, he folded. I could ve had A6o or K5s! It didn t matter whether I had two great hands or two lousy ones, the effect would ve been the same an agitated opponent who s ready to make mistakes. My image this time was incidental; could I make it intentional in the future? I realized then that we can start building our image the moment we sit down at a table. Once we realize the importance of image in tighter, more aggressive games, we need to further classify exactly how to create and manipulate image in order to avoid making mistakes. A common mistake would be to 3-bet T9s on the button; while 3-betting is certainly okay with any two cards for image, it is a shame to waste the strong post-flop value of playing T9s in position. Another misconception is that preflop is the only time we can really focus on image building. In fact, there are two kinds of image: 1) Preflop Image: This refers to our ability to appear out of line before the flop. This may mean 3-betting loosely, 4-betting loosely, or simply open raising loosely from time to time. Preflop image is the easiest to construct, as it occurs before the flop adds countless variables. People often respond poorly to preflop image by associating our loose preflop play with out-of-line postflop play. Another poor 6

7 response would be assuming that just because our 3-bet range is wide that our 4-bet and 5-bet ranges are equally wide. 2) Postflop Image: This refers to our ability to play out of line after the flop. This may mean flop raising, check-raising, floating, and turn and river raising. Postflop image is more difficult to create, as board texture has a massive effect on our ability to bluff. For example, an AAK board is very difficult to bluff, but an 876 board is very easy to bluff. People respond poorly to postflop image in a number of ways, including paying off check-raises too lightly, folding too often to flop raises, or committing too much of a stack against a polarized range. More on this later. In essence, image will be the backdrop of our strategy for beating difficult games. Our ability to show up with a wider range of hands in any given spot makes us more difficult to read. For example, when most players raise a Q 7 6 board, their range is limited to 77, 66, 76s, and some combo draws like 9 8. When I raise that board, my range also includes those same sets, two pairs, and combo draws. However, it also includes AQ, KQ, KK+, the nut flush draw, and all kinds of pure bluffs like AJ, JT or 33. The fact that my range is so much wider than your average player s makes me far more difficult to play against and causes many of my opponents to make mistakes against me. It s going to be important to understand image in this context as we move on towards the theory pieces that make up successful advanced poker. 7

8 Chapter Eighteen: Polarization and Responses to 3-betting Polarization is a nifty word I hear thrown about a lot these days. A classic example would be a 4-bet preflop when effective stacks are 100bb. When somebody 4-bets, committing a quarter of their stack, they re either planning on calling a shove or folding to one. In short, their range is polarized between very strong hands and very weak hands. So, should we decide we want to polarize our range we want to be playing either very strong hands or pure bluffs. Or, should we decide to depolarize our range, we want to be playing pure bluffs, medium strength hands, and very strong hands. Some situations call for polarization and some call for depolarization. For example, let s say we decide we want to start creating some preflop image. Let s get even more specific, and say we decide to start 3-betting from the button (i.e. in position). What types of cards should we choose? Well, first let s consider player types. Against a bad player (whether passive or aggressive), 3-betting is quite simply always for value. We don t really need to mix it up by 3-betting a lot against this type of player, as they re likely to call us and pay off our big hands (against this type of player, we can feel comfortable widening our 3-betting range to include more hands like KJ or AT that we can 3-bet for value). However, against a good player, things are different. Let s consider the three possible responses to being 3-bet when OOP: 1) The Passive/Bad Approach. This approach is very common a player raises, gets 3- bet OOP, and decides to call. He then plays fit-or-fold on the flop, check-folding the vast majority of the time. This approach is exploitable by 3-betting a lot and c-betting a lot. This is the most common approach that bad players take. However, there is still an increased likelihood of this type of player calling us down lightly postflop, so we don t want to be 3-betting with just any two cards. Instead, we can widen our value range to include all big cards, then one big/one little suited (like A8s), and slowly work our way down (K7s, Q6s, etc.) counting on our opponent to check-fold so often that 3-betting these hands is profitable just for that, and our added ability to win the pot postflop simply helps make the play that much more +EV. 2) The Tight Approach. Essentially, all this approach entails is folding to an opponent s 3-bets with everything but the strongest of hands (this often means TT and AQ, too). In general, players either A) don t 3-bet often enough, or B) 3-bet often enough but pay off too lightly in 3-bet situations. The Tight Response takes advantage of both mistakes in that we re tight against players who have strong ranges (good) and have strong hands against players who pay off light (also good). The approach works well, both in the aggressive games found at higher stakes and in the generally passive games found at lower stakes. In aggressive games, playing very tightly against a 3- bet when OOP is good because people are generally playing so loosely that they ll pay off your big hands. In lower stakes games, playing generally tight against passive players is good as a passive player 3-betting usually holds a massive hand. We can exploit the tight approach by 3-betting a lot and folding to further aggression. 3) The Aggressive Approach. This approach works well in aggressive games. It consists mostly of 4-betting light when OOP, but can include calling OOP and c/r flops without a strong hand (this is far more rare). In 2007 and 2008 this approach has become increasingly popular, especially in mid-stakes games from 400nl to 8

9 1000nl. The idea is to run over your table when people try to be aggressive by 3- betting you light, you get more aggressive and 4-bet them light. This approach is difficult to exploit at first it seems that we can only either play back light and make big calls (i.e. getting it in preflop with AJ), or not 3-bet loosely at all. However, there is another way polarization. Bad players choose the passive/bad approach almost unanimously, so our mission is simple against them either 3-bet/c-bet if they check-fold a lot, or 3-bet more tightly if they call down a lot. Either way, we re always 3-betting for value. Easy game. Good players choose either the tight approach or the aggressive approach (it should be noted that the tight approach is also usually aggressive, and the aggressive approach is usually loose). This all boils down to one thing, though good players 4-bet (or fold) when they re OOP, and they rarely (if ever) call. How does that change what we do? Let s consider AQ on the button in a 6-handed game. A good player raises in MP and it is folded to us. Against a bad player, this is an easy 3-bet for value we d never get 4-bet light, so we could always fold to aggression, and he can definitely call with worse and pay off with all kinds of worse hands (think KQ or TT on a Q high board). Against a good player, though, 3-betting shouldn t be automatic. Let s assume a few constants. First, while he may 4-bet us light from time to time, we don t think our hand is strong enough to get all-in preflop. So, we re going to fold to a 4-bet. Second, we assume he never calls OOP and always either 4-bets or folds. Now think is AQ any different than 72o? In fact, given these assumptions, 72o is theoretically better than AQ, as every time he folds to our 3-bet he s making a bigger mistake if we hold 72o than if we hold AQ (it should be noted that AQ is still better in general for doing this than 72o, as something unexpected could happen, like the big blind cold-calling). However, the small mistakes he makes by folding too often to our 3-bets are insignificant compared to the large mistakes he d make if he continued with a worse hand postflop. So, unless I have a specific reason to 3-bet AQ for value, I call and let my opponent make his big mistakes postflop. I usually fold 72o but sometimes I d 3-bet. Against a good player (i.e. one who is playing either the tight or aggressive strategies), we can 3-bet any two cards profitably in position (though with many hands it s more profitable to just call). However, we can t suddenly 3-bet 100% of the time, as our opponents will quickly adjust and 4-bet with proper frequencies to defeat us. Against a bad player (i.e. one who plays the first strategy), we can 3-bet all kinds of hands for value and take advantage of the added dead money. The overall point is that hands have different values depending on how our opponents play. We ll continue on this concept in the next chapter. 9

10 Chapter Nineteen: Hand Categorization, True Hand Values, and Playing Postflop We ve already established that AQ on the button is an easy 3-bet for value against a bad player who is likely to call us with worse hands. We ve also established that AQ on the button is often an easy call against a good player who s likely to 4-bet or fold against us. Let s explore this further. Imagine three categories of hand strength: 1) Premium Value. We have enough equity to raise for value and/or get stacks in the pot comfortably. Holding AA preflop is an easy example of this, but in an aggressive game AK can usually be considered premium value. 2) Medium Value. We have enough equity/odds/strength to continue with our hand, but we can t get stacks in. A great example of this is AQ preflop on the button we re certainly not folding to a raise, but exposing ourselves to a 4-bet usually means we have to fold our hand preflop. 3) Low Value. We don t have enough value to continue with our hand. However, we can be aggressive with these hands in order to balance our ranges because we don t lose any value when we have to fold. A good example of this is 3-betting J4s on the button my hand didn t have enough value to call a raise preflop, and if I get 4-bet I can comfortably fold. The following diagram illustrates the hand categorization spectrum of a common preflop scenario. A good regular has raised in MP, and we re trying to decide which hands we want to raise, call, and fold on the button. It s generally somewhat easy to fit our hands into these categories if we re paying attention to the people we re playing against. For example, AJ would be considered premium value against somebody who s shoving all-in preflop with any two cards. AJ would also be considered premium value against a player who calls a reraise with 100% of his hands. However, AJ is almost certainly a medium value-type hand against a good player 3-betting and folding to a 4-bet is an unfortunate waste of a hand with a lot of postflop value. 10

11 Against a player who either folds far too often or calls far too often postflop, a hand like 95s in position may be considered a medium value hand, as we could either bluff often or play for a strong hand with implied odds. However, against somebody who plays more solidly postflop, 95s might be too weak to call with and thus slips into the low value zone. However, a hand like 95s has far more value than a hand like 72o, so if I had to choose a low value hand to balance my range with, I d choose one that has more value, so long as that hand still didn t have enough value to be playable or to be considered as part of the medium value category. Essentially, all similarly categorized hands are not created equally A6o is much better than 72o, just like QJs is much better than 87s, just like AA is much better than QQ. So what factors influence the value of our hand? Many of the concepts we covered in the Basics come back into play. 1) Card Advantage. Obviously we play AA every time and we fold 72o pretty much every time. 2) Skill Advantage. We want to play more hands against players we re better than and fewer hands against players who are better than us. 3) Table Dynamics. If we have AA on the button, we might be inclined to 3-bet due to our card advantage, but a super-active shortstack in the blinds might change that. If we call instead of 3-betting, and the short-stack shoves, the original raiser might 4-bet to isolate and then we ve got him. This adds value to our call, maybe enough value to make it better than 3-betting. On the other hand, maybe a hand like 96s has enough value to call in position, but with the possibility of the shortstacker shoving all in preflop, its value decreases to the point of making it a 3-bet or fold type of hand. Maybe an extremely good player raises UTG and we have 74s on the button. This hand might not be good enough to play against this particular player, but if the blinds are extremely loose and passive, it might gain enough value to call because of the likelihood of playing a multiway pot in position against bad players. 4) Position. This factor is extremely important and it will be covered additionally in later chapters. The better our position, the stronger our hand is. For example, against a particular player I might play KTo every time on the button, but I d never call with it OOP. Position either adds value or diminishes value and is a critical and active deciding component in how to evaluate a hand. 5) Image. If we ve been bluff-raising every flop for the last five orbits and it seems like our opponents are getting ready to play back, a hand like 85s might not have the proper value to play postflop and thus should be folded to a raise. We should also be inclined to call with KK in that spot and raise the flop. On the other hand, if we have been card dead or have been folding a lot of flops, perhaps calling 85s and making moves postflop has enough value to make the hand playable. Once we understand that these factors influence the evaluation of our hand s true value, we can begin to understand how to use the same patterns to play postflop. Let s say that a good regular raised in MP and we called on the button with T9s (I would only consider 3-betting here if deep-stacked). Consider several flops: The first is T 9 5. Villain c-bets. Easy raise, right? Premium Value. How about if the board comes down 11

12 J T 5? Villain c-bets. Easy call, right? Medium Value. What about if the board comes down 6 5 3? Villain c-bets. Easy fold or raise, right? Low Value. However, in some situations people raise without a very good reason and run the risk of wasting their hand s value. A classic example: With 100bb stacks, we call a raise on the button with J T. The flop comes down Q 5 4. Villain c-bets, and we raise. This is a bad raise. The best possible outcome is that we make a hand like TT fold, but anybody who plays in aggressive games knows that that rarely happens. Additionally, we open the door for a worse draw to reraise, forcing us to fold. We spoil implied odds against his strong hands (like sets or overpairs) as we have to fold when he reraises those. What about reason #3 for betting? Can t we capitalize on dead money because he folds too often to our flop raises? Let s dissect these questions. 1) The fact that he folds too often to our flop raises is a good reason to raise a hand regardless of its value on the flop, NOT specifically a good reason to raise a hand with some value on the flop. 2) If he has a dead hand that will fold to a flop raise (22 for example), he s very unlikely to draw out on the turn and thus will fold to aggression there. Basically, floating that flop has all the benefits of raising (we make him fold his air and capitalize on dead money on the turn) and none of the drawbacks (we don t ruin our implied odds, no risk of having to fold a hand with strong equity). Some complications occur when the opponent is aggressive and is likely to bet the turn as a bluff. Suddenly, it s no longer as easy to capitalize on dead money as when he was just checkfolding all of his air. However, despite that drawback, an aggressive, 2-barreling opponent provides advantages for our call as well we now have increased implied odds, as we win money from both his good hands and his bad hands as opposed to just his good hands. Also, if we are confident that the opponent is bluffing a very high percentage of the time, we can shove the turn over his bet and collect a lot of dead money. Obviously it s a very high-risk/high-reward play, but it s an appropriate response to a player who 2-barrels with a high frequency. In general, it s not terribly difficult to decide which hands constitute premium, medium, and low value when playing in position. Premium hands are pretty much always easy to spot. Medium hands obviously vary in strength, but generally refer to anything you want to play but can t stack off with on the flop. Low value hands simply don t have enough value to call a flop bet with. This leads us towards another question when do we raise the flop with a low value hand? Hands in the low value category vary in strength, just like hands in the medium or premium value categories. Just as 87 is better than 66 on a T96 flop (but they re both premium), AJ is better than 22 on a T96 flop. If we raise 22 and get called, we re drawing to a 2 to make the best hand. If we raise AJ, on the other hand, we have two overcards and a few back-door straight draws. We re far more likely to win by making the best hand than 22 is. So, if I decide to make a raise to bluff/collect dead money, I m far more likely to choose AJ than 22. Similarly, it s better to bluff raise a 985 board with KQ than it is with A4. 12

13 Let s recap. An average-good player raises in MP. We hold A 5 on the button. Our hand definitely has value, so we can eliminate the low-value category. Our hand doesn t have enough value to 3-bet for value, so we can eliminate the premium value category. We quickly check the blinds to make sure nobody squeezes super light nope, the big blind is a loose passive player and the small blind plays extremely tight and straight-forward. So now we can comfortably call, content to play a heads up pot against the original PFR or to play a multiway pot on the button with the fish in the big blind. We call, and the blinds both fold. The flop comes down PFR bets. We can raise here, as we have enough equity to comfortably get all in. Our hand has premium value. Let s change the flop slightly PFR bets again. Now we can t comfortably get all in, but we certainly don t want to fold with a gutshot and overcards. This is a medium value hand, so we call. Let s change the flop one more time 8 6 T. PFR bets this is a good board to raise a low-value hand like our A 5. If he has a hand like QQ, he may call our raise and hope for a safe turn. Unfortunately for him, any club, any 7, any 9, any A, or any heart all make it very difficult for him to play against us. Most of the time, though, he ll just fold his KJ or 33 and we ll collect the dead money. Obviously, board texture has enormous effect on whether or not we can make aggressive moves on the flop. It s interesting, though, that board texture works in conjunction with our opponent s player type. I ll explain. 1) Poor-to-average thinking player. This player is aggressive but is more comfortable playing fit-or-fold. He knows to c-bet many flops, but will quickly fold air anytime he is raised. Dry boards like K72r are great to raise against this player, because he s just going to fold all of his air. Seeing how he s c-betting 100% of his air there, and that he has air an extremely high percentage of the time, this is extremely profitable. 2) Average-to-good thinking player. Against this player, raising the dry flop with air is not as good, simply because he knows that we can t have a good hand very often either. There s just not much to represent. In short, against a good player, we need to balance our range on both wet and dry boards. On a dry board, since we can only value-raise occasionally, we can only bluff occasionally as well. On a wet board, since we can value-raise often (including strong draws), we can bluff often. Against a worse player, we don t need to worry about balancing as much, and we can raise dry boards at an uneven bluff-to-value frequency. It s also likely that a worse player will have a poor understanding of equity and won t fold relatively weak hands on wet boards where good players would, so it s worse to bluff on wet boards against bad players. Good Players Bad Players Wet more, balanced less, unbalanced Dry less, balanced more, unbalanced 13

14 Hand categorization helps us make the most +EV play all the time. I ll give you an example of a really common mistake that I see often. An aggressive regular raises on the cutoff, and we re on the button with either 98s or A6o. With 98s it s +EV to 3-bet, but it s more +EV to call. With A6o, it s +EV to 3-bet, -EV to call, and 0EV to fold. Often, I see players 3-bet the 98s because it is +EV and fold the A6o. To avoid excessive 3-betting, players don t usually feel comfortable 3-betting both. So, instead of two +EV opportunities, we re reduced to one, and it s the least +EV opportunity we had in the first place! This is how the top players in the world play so loosely they maximize EV out of every possible hand, allowing them to 3-bet more junk and cold-call more medium value hands. The same example applies postflop. Consider 7 6 or KJo on a Q 3 2 board. Players often raise the 76 and fold the KJo. Instead, they should be calling the 76 and raising the KJ. One of the most common misunderstandings of hand categorization comes when a player raises AK on the button and is 3-bet from the blinds by a good regular. The inclination is to push our hand into the premium value category and raise. This is almost certainly the correct play if we think he s capable of continuing with worse hands after a 4-bet (5-bet shoving AQ, for example, or spazzing out and shoving a random bluff). However, if he s not, AK actually usually rests in the top of our medium value range. It becomes a great time to call. Then, on almost any A or K high flop, our hand becomes premium and we can raise for value. Or, on any low flop, our hand finds itself often in the medium value category and we can call. One of the reasons that AK still has medium value, even when it misses the flop, is the value of its equity. Not only would turning an A or K almost certainly be enough to win the pot, but against an aggressive opponent, a turned A or K almost always earns us another big bet. Whether our opponent holds a hand like AJ and is value-owning himself, or whether he holds a hand like QJ and is bluffing it off, turning an A or K is incredibly profitable. This keeps us high in the medium value category even when we completely miss the flop. In 3-bet pots, the only types of flops where AK isn t in either the medium or high value categories are usually Queen-high. The Q often reduces our equity just enough to put us into the low value category. Understanding how to evaluate your hand is the single most important concept in poker. This chapter has broken down the method of hand categorization in a simple, easy to use way. So, when you re playing, simply ask yourself, What category is my hand in? The answer will almost always be extremely apparent. If it s close, you get to make the tough choices sometimes top-pair top-kicker will be premium. Other times, it will be medium. Sometimes, a gutshot will be medium, whereas if the board were slightly different (add a flush card, for example), it becomes low. Categorize your hand every hand, on every street, on every action, and you ll find that poker really can be quite simple. 14

15 Chapter Twenty: The Great Debate Bet or Check? In Matt s HU section in the first volume, he recommends only c-betting a polarized range on the flop and checking behind with a wide range of weak to medium strength hands. He s not necessarily wrong, but I happen to disagree with him. In fact, this very issue should we be checking hands back on the flop or should we bet them? is hotly contested and debated among high stakes players. Matt finds himself on the check side of this debate, while I am on the bet side. Let s first describe the scenario: We ve raised preflop and an aggressive-good player has called us from the blinds. The pot is HU and we re in position. We flop a hand that is likely good but that is difficult to get value from. Some examples might include holding AT on a Q32 board or J9 on a Q94 board. In either case, our hand is likely to be best, but it s going to be difficult to get called by worse hands. Our opponent in the blinds checks to us, and now we have a decision. Do we bet, even though we know it s unlikely for our opponent to call with a worse hand? Do we check, knowing that our opponent is likely to check-raise us with a wide range? Let s consider the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Positives of Checking: 1) We get a free card and a chance to improve when behind. 2) We can possibly induce bluffs on later streets. 3) We don t have to deal with a check-raise and the possibility that we ll make a big mistake (either calling too much or folding too much in a large pot). Certainly, each of these reasons is fair and logical. Let s now consider the negatives of checking: Negatives of Checking: 1) We give our opponent a free card and a chance to improve when we are ahead. 2) We give a perceptive opponent a good idea of the strength of our hand, allowing him to value bet us (or bluff us) effectively on later streets. This occurs because we re never checking our strong hands or our air hands. 3) We miss out on value when our opponent check-raises us with a worse hand and we don t fold. Now, let s consider the benefits and drawbacks of betting: Positives of Betting: 1) We make our opponent fold his equity share when he has a hand like 55 or A6s and collect dead money. 2) We maintain aggression, giving ourselves a chance to make more effective bluffs or value bets on later streets. 3) We induce bluff check-raises (assuming our opponent is aggressive-good and is capable of this move). 15

16 4) We take an action that is consistent with both strong and weak hands, disguising the strength of our hand in the midst of our entire range. This is often referred to using aejones terminology, range merging. What about the negatives? Negatives of Betting: 1) We create dead money by betting without a strong hand, making our opponent s bluffs more profitable. 2) We re playing incorrectly theory-wise (not betting for either of reasons #1 or #2), assuming our opponent is capable of bluffing on a later street. This is an important caveat, though, as some opponents will be aware enough (or passive enough) to never bluff us once we check back the flop. Against these opponents, checking back the flop is a disaster. However, many opponents will bet the turn regardless of their holding once the flop is checked through. Against these people, checking is theoretically better than betting. 3) We put ourselves in the position of having to deal with a check-raise. If this makes us particularly uncomfortable, it may drive us towards making a larger mistake. Either strategy can work, but it s important to explain why I prefer betting. In order to make checking behind work well, we need to be able to have both a balanced betting range and a balanced checking range. In order to create a balanced checking range, we have to check back some strong hands that we could certainly bet for value on the flop. In other words, to make this strategy work, we have to forgo a +EV flop opportunity in order to create more +EV opportunities later in the hand and with other hands in our range. If we don t do this, our hand is too easy to read and our opponents will play close to perfectly against us. However, I d rather just take the +EV opportunity at the flop and deal with the checkraise when it comes. I often hear my students saying, I can t bet here, because he s going to check-raise bluff me so often. If you think he s bluffing you often, then simply don t fold. Whether or not you want to rebluff with Ace-high or call down with 2 nd pair, that s your decision. In this sense, we can bet for value. I want you to reread the section in Volume I called The Reasons for Betting. Value-betting isn t just betting to get called by a worse hand, it s betting to get called or raised by a worse hand. In short, the more our opponent check-raise bluffs us, the more we can bet for thin value with a hand like Ace-high or 2 nd pair. There is only one time when I often check back the flop. I d make that choice based on two reasons: 1) My opponent is going to check-raise extremely often. 2) I don t have enough equity to play back effectively. For example, I raise 7 6 and the flop comes down J 9 3. My opponent is extremely checkraise happy and is unlikely to fold on this flop. I might check it back here. Clearly, I m just giving up. 16

17 There are other extremely specific times when checking back might be better. Let s say you check back an air hand, and our opponent bets 2x pot on the turn (a move I often pull). Suddenly, this adds more EV to checking back a stronger hand. Certainly, there are many successful players who check back the flop a lot. Matt is one of them. Personally, I believe that betting with my entire range is more effective. Like most things in poker, though, it s more important that you understand why you re doing something than just to know what to do. This chapter should provide you with enough information to make your own decision as to what is better, given the table dynamic scenario. Understanding both sides of this debate will make the flop seem a million times easier to play. 17

18 Chapter Twenty-One: Balancing and Equity Let s quickly turn back to our A 5 hand. We called a raise on the button, and the flop came down I previously said that we should raise the PFR s c-bet in this situation. Why? While we could potentially get the money in against a worse draw, most of the time that we get the money all in it will be a coin flip usually somewhere between 40 and 45% equity against a composite range. So why would we want to get all-in with a hand that s neither a big favorite nor a big underdog? 1) Dead money. Capitalizing on dead money more than makes up for the slight equity deficit when our opponent reraises and we re forced to get all-in. 2) Balancing and depolarization. Being able to raise more hands that we re comfortable getting all-in with means we can raise more hands as a bluff. Let s explore this now. Only really good players and really bad players raise with top pair on the flop. Bad players raise because they see top pair and they raise just because it looks pretty, not because they re intending to get called by worse hands. Average players don t raise top pair because it s too thin they can t raise and get called by worse hands. For example, a bad player might make a raise with KQ on a Q 8 7 flop, but an average player would always just call a bet in that scenario. An average player doesn t raise the flop all that often, so he can t really expect the PFR to call a raise with a hand like JJ. So why does a good player raise that flop sometimes? Balancing. A good player is raising sets and two-pair hands on the flop no surprise there, so is everyone. However, a good player is also raising a wide range of strong equity hands on the flop T 9, 7 6, J T, 9 6, A 5, 7 5, J 9, 6 5, etc. So now, when the good player raises, his range isn t polarized to hands that either have huge equity (sets/two-pair) or low equity (bluffs), but is filled in with many hands with medium equity. Since there are so many medium-equity hands, somebody betting the flop with JJ may not be able to fold to a flop raise, choosing instead to call and hope for a safe turn. Voila, suddenly raising the flop with KQ works. To continue one step further, once our range gets wider and stronger (we include top pair and slowplayed overpairs into our flop raising range), we can add even more pure bluffs because they are balanced with our good hands. If we re balancing our range postflop, we can literally show up with any hand at any time. A decent player raises preflop, and I call on the button. The flop comes down J 9 7. He c-bets, I raise. I can have a straight, a set, a slowplayed overpair, two-pair, the nut flush draw, any number of combo draws, and pure bluffs. It s nearly impossible for my opponent to read me. The only things I won t be showing up with there are hands like 5 4, because I don t want to get blown off my hand. The beauty is simply this whether I raise or I call, I can have a flush draw. If I call, I can have a strong hand like AJ or a weak hand like 88. Most of the time, though, I m raising my wide, strong, balanced range, and my opponents are left guessing what to do. 18

19 Chapter Twenty-Two: Leverage So now we know how to raise a wide range of hands on the flop. We know which hands to use. However, we still need to understand the concept of leverage; otherwise, raising a wide range will not be profitable, even if we re choosing our spots wisely. What is leverage? Leverage is risking the minimum possible amount to make your opponent risk the maximum possible amount. It relies on something called leverage points. A leverage point is the amount of money required to force your opponent into a decision. In No-Limit Hold em, there is always a maximum amount in play the effective stack. Let s address some common mistakes with leverage points and effective stacks. I m playing in a 5/10 game where the effective stacks are $1000. I raise to $35 in the CO with A4s. The Button, a loose aggressive player and a light 3-better, makes it $130 to go. I decide that now is a good time to 4-bet bluff and collect dead money. A lot of players will just reraise the size of the pot, to roughly $320. This is a leverage mistake. When we 4-bet, our opponent s only two options are to 5-bet shove or to fold (some players will call, but this is uncommon and unlikely to be a winning strategy). If, instead of $320, we make the 4-bet to $250, our opponent s decision is essentially the same (calling just improved slightly, but not enough to make it a viable option). Thus, we just risked $70 less to put our opponent to the exact same decision. Essentially, that extra money is just wasted it counteracts the dead money we re trying to win by adding dead money of our own. Additionally, because we risk more money we can t bluff as often. The extra money we save by 4-betting smaller actually gives us license to 4-bet bluff at a higher frequency. Always ask yourself: what is my money buying? If the extra money isn t buying you anything new, you probably don t need it. This lends itself to smaller 4-bets preflop and smaller raises postflop. A counter-point that is often made (and correctly so) is that, if we lower our bet size to a certain point, we offer our opponent sufficient odds to start calling. Obviously it s not good to give great odds to our opponent (i.e. minreraising preflop or something similar). On the other hand, it s also not good to create too much dead money by making our bet sizes too large. There is always a point, though, where any raise from our opponent commits his stack. This is called a leverage point. If we re betting, several things occur in reaching a leverage point: 1) Our opponent is limited to two options bet/raise or fold. This is good because we know exactly what to expect. However, it s not inherently profitable for us if our opponent raises and folds at proper frequencies. A good example is when we 3-bet a good player on the button. He is stuck in a 4-bet or fold spot, and thus we are partway to achieving a leverage point. 2) Our opponent DOES call. This isn t the end of the world. Preflop, flop, and turn each provide new opportunities to reach a leverage point. (The river is somewhat different because an opponent can end the hand by calling. We are often forced into a spot where we have to shove or c/f. This is okay, though, so long as we bet and c/f at proper frequencies don t bluff too much, don t c/f too much, etc.) At a 10/20 game with 100bb stacks, let s say that a player raises to $70. I 3-bet on the button to $210, and to my surprise, that player calls. The flop is now about $460, and he checks. I m not about to sacrifice leverage, so I m going to bet something like $280. If he calls, 19

20 the pot is about $1000. He checks again, and now if I decide to continue my aggression, I m STILL not going to sacrifice leverage, so I will bet somewhere between $350-$500. As the pot size increases relative to stacks, less money is required to reach a leverage point. For example, if we open-raise preflop to $500 at a 10/20 game, we ve achieved a leverage point. (However, that s obviously bad because our opponents are going to play perfectly. He s just going to shove or fold in that scenario, and 25bb is a lot of dead money to create in the event that we ever fold after opening that large.) The first time I played 10/20, I got crushed because I didn t understand leverage. I was good at identifying the mistakes people were making in general game dynamics, and one of the first I noticed was that people were playing too aggressively c-betting too often especially. So, I decided to start raising a lot of flops. It was a pretty good plan. The only problem with my plan was that I was raising to abnormally large sizes. I d have A T, and I d decide to bluff raise on an board. PFR bet $120 into $150, and instead of choosing a size that gives me good leverage ($360 let s say), I would choose a size like $480. That extra $120 of dead money that I m putting in directly counterbalances the $120 in dead money from his c-bet. Additionally, the extra dead money encouraged people to both A) go along with their hands and B) rebluff me more often. At one point, I was playing with an extremely good player, Ariel, on my left. I raised to 35 at 5/10, he 3-bet, I 4-bet bluffed to 320 (bad leverage again), and he shoved. I folded. The next orbit, the exact same thing happened. The next orbit, it happened again. An orbit later, I picked up AA, 4-bet, and stacked him when he shoved with JJ. I quit and triumphantly looked back at my session, only to realize that I hadn t actually made any money off him. If I had only chosen a good leverage size, I would ve actually made some money off the exchange. Many players never learn about leverage at small stakes because they re simply never bluffing. If you re only raising the flop with a set, you can usually raise as large as you want because it really doesn t matter your opponent either has a hand or he doesn t. On the other hand, once you want to start bluffing, you can t bluff-raise the flop small and yet value raise the flop large. You ve got to find a leverage point that can be used efficiently for both bluffing and value betting. The point is this raising to a larger amount doesn t make you any scarier. Somebody s not going to fold his overpair because you raised to 30bb instead of 15bb. If 15bb is the optimal leverage point, then it s the correct play in a vacuum. However, seeing as we don t play in a vacuum, it s important to acknowledge that leverage is most important against good players the type of players against whom we ll need to balance and less important against bad players. This is self-explanatory as we re rarely, if ever, bluffing fish, and thus we rarely have any need to balance. So, in theory, we could raise larger against fish because balancing isn t an issue. Like many things in poker, we can visualize leverage as a spectrum. On one end, when we undershoot a leverage point, we offer our opponent excellent odds. On the other end, when we overshoot a leverage point, we create dead money that doesn t achieve any purpose. The graphic below displays the way leverage works in a common situation at a $5/$10 game; with 20

21 100bb effective stacks, a good regular has raised to $35 in MP, and we re trying to decide how big to 3-bet him. We could change the numbers around and replicate this exact same spectrum for any situation, whether a preflop open-raise, a 3-bet, a 4-bet, a 5-bet, a flop raise, a flop check-raise, or anything else. The leverage spectrum exists in all aspects of poker. The last comment to be made about leverage points relates to c-bets. In general, a leverage point attempts to find the cheapest number to put your opponent into a raise-or-fold situation. However, when A) our opponent is likely to call a bet instead of playing raise-or-fold, and B) there are later streets to play, we actually don t mind betting larger. This is because, so long as our opponent calls often (and doesn t play raise-or-fold often), he s creating passive dead money. Basically, we will be able to make effective value bets and bluffs on later streets, winning back the extra dead money that we created with our larger flop c-bet. Personally, I was completely on the small c-bets bandwagon until I saw a top high stakes player potting or nearpotting many flops. When one of the best players in the world does something, there s usually a good reason. So, I experimented with betting larger on the flop and using my knowledge of equity to stay aggressive. Sure enough, the dead money that we create when c-betting usually swings back into our profit column when we stay properly aggressive. 21

22 Chapter Twenty-Three: Dual Mentalities A student once asked me, when do I play A5s against a raise? What type of player has to raise for me to call A5s, and what type of player does it take for me to fold? I thought about it for a few minutes, and I realized that I d play A5s against ANY type of player. How could that be? Obviously when there is an input change (the player making the raise changes) there has to be an output change (the way we play changes). It was at this point that I came to the realization that there is more than one way to cook a turkey. It turns out that there are two different mindsets we can take into any given hand, and that those mindsets depend on what type of player we re up against. In fact, we re always up against one of two types of players: 1) A player who is likely to have a strong hand, and thus will rarely fold postflop. And 2) A player who is unlikely to have a strong hand, and thus will usually fold postflop. When people first begin in poker, they hear the expression Don t play fit or fold. Sometimes, this advice is good. Other times it s unbelievably stupid. If you KNOW the other guy has pocket Aces and that he ll NEVER fold them postflop, your mission is to beat AA postflop. Given this information and sufficiently deep stacks, you should play 100% of your hands preflop and play for the chance to stack his Aces. However, against somebody who has a wide range of hands (of which AA is a tiny portion), playing fit-or-fold is a recipe for disaster. That doesn t mean, though, that playing loose against that type of player is bad. It just depends on what mentality you take to the hand. 1) Nuts Mentality. This means that you enter the hand intending to flop a big hand (usually two-pair or better) in order to stack the preflop raiser. You re unlikely to put very much money in the pot without a big hand. This is against a player who is likely to pay you off. This might mean somebody who plays unbelievably tight preflop (a super nit whose range is only premium hands) or somebody who plays very passive preflop (somebody who would limp his average hands and only raise very strong hands). The latter is likely to pay you off anyway because his passive style indicates that he s probably very bad. 2) Air Mentality. This means that you enter the hand intending to play back at the opponent without a strong hand. This may mean raising with air, floating with a weak hand or draw, or making several calls with a weak pair. This mentality is used against a player who is relatively unlikely to pay you off based on the width of his preflop range. And, if he s unlikely to pay you off, that means he s a prime candidate to be bluffed. Against this type of player, look at flopping two-pair or better as a bonus you ll still win a lot of big pots with strong hands against this player, but you ll also win a lot of small pots by playing aggressively. The moral of the Dual Mentalities story is that you need to change your thought process depending on which villain(s) are involved in the hand. Sometimes, you ll play a pot with two different villains and you ll have a different mentality against each of them. For example, let s 22

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