You are in a $5/$10 no-limit cash game that is 7-handed. You are loose, passive, and you generally play badly. You and the tight player in the BB both have $3000 stacks. It is folded to you on the button, where you hold As-6s. You make a standard $40 raise and the BB calls. The flop is Ac-6d-Jh. The BB leads out for $80. You call. The turn is the 7s. The BB bets $200 and you raise to $400. The BB re-raises to $800. You call. The river is the 2s. The BB moves all-in for his last $1900. What should you do?
Focusing on EV [Expected Value] is the single most important difference between an advantage gambler and a recreational gambler; and is even more important than experience or mastery of specific poker skills.” –Collin Moshman & Douglas Zare The Math of Holdem
Poker is chockfull of bad beats, coolers, and variance. This happens to you, it happens to me, it happens to everyone. I don’t care if your name is Danny Negreanu or Danny Nobody—you will lose hands. Lots and lots of hands.
Separating actual bad play and decisions (that you control) from just the variance of the game (that you can’t control) can be challenging for a new player. But it’s something you need to work on. You can lose and whine, or you can lose and learn. Let me explain…
Are you better off now than you were twelve months ago? Did you achieve everything you intended to in 2017? Anything you intended? In life, love, work… and poker? If not, why not?
One probable answer to falling short of last year’s New Years goals is simply due to the fact that you’re not SMART. Or more accurately, you’re not S.M.A.R.T. At least not in the right way. And, no, this is not one of those generic Specific, Measurable, Achievable Blah-Blah-Blah SMART blog posts. Well, sorta. Uh, let me explain…
Limping is not an option for me… Limping is not an option for me… Limping is not an option for me. When I’m first in the pot, I always raise, no exceptions. If I’m going to be the first to commit chips to the pot, I am going to raise or fold. End of story.” –Phil Gordon, Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No-Limit Texas Hold’em
There’s usually only one moment in a Hold’em hand when A-A is the nuts, and that’s preflop. After the three flop cards are dealt, and unless you hit top set or better on a dry and disconnected board, your pocket rockets are rarely the best possible hand anymore. Accept this fact now and be willing to fold. Don’t get married to big pairs postflop. Be willing to get divorced. Think of the children.
[Note: this is an excerpt from my upcoming book on poker hand reading.]
“When the opponent expands, I contract; and when he contracts, I expand.” —Bruce Lee
Most good poker players understand the adage that to win at poker you have to “play the player” and not just your own cards. They also understand that you can’t bluff a bad player.
To make another player fold a better hand than yours, the villain first has to be aware that they might be beaten. This means that they actually have to be putting you on a hand range themselves, or they will be oblivious to your bluff and can/will blithely call you down with weak made hands. This is why value betting is so important at the low-stakes games; the opponents at these stakes are typically playing only the absolute strength of their own cards, and are unaware of what cards their opponents are holding. Trying to convince them that they’re beaten with a bluff bet is usually fruitless—and costly.
The same type of logic applies to hand reading.
There is no need for you to worry about what hand range a villain is putting us on, or how that might affect his or her play (and therefore their range) if that villain is not actually hand reading themselves. In fact, it’s counterproductive to do so. Let’s see why this is so…
“There are two types of pain you will suffer in life: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tonnes.” —Jim Rohn
This quote resonates with me for a number of reasons. It’s applicable to many aspects of life, including health, work, relationships— and of course poker. I was reminded of this fact a while ago when I heard from an old poker-playing friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in months. My friend sent an email congratulating me on something I had done in my career that was big and noteworthy. But then my friend went on about his own “plans” for the future. I had inspired him, he said, and now he was going to do something with his own life.
Sounds good, right?
I wish. Let me explain…
“If you suspect your opponent is bluffing more than one-third of the time [on the river], you should call every time. If you think your opponent is bluffing less than one-third of the time, you should fold every time.” —Ed Miller, The Course
This breakeven percentage value of one-third that Miller cites for villain bluffing frequency derives from an assumption that the villain has made a full pot-size bet into you on the river. For example, let’s say you flopped a set, but now the board has four-flushed on the river. Unfortunately, you don’t have the flush, so you’re either way ahead or way behind (WAWB). The villain’s bet is representative of a strong made flush–or he’s bluffing. You’ve seen the villain play mostly straightforwardly for the past few hours at the table, but you’ve also seen him make a few bluffs, too. So, should you call?
Well, like most things in poker, it depends. In this case, it depends on how likely you think it is your opponent is bluffing in this situation. If it’s greater than a third of the time, you should call. If it’s less, you should fold.
So this means you should almost always fold. Let me explain…
I remember a hand from a $25NL online game I played a few years ago. I was on the button and was dealt a pair of fives. A villain in the UTG+1 seat opened for a standard raise, and the cut-off cold called. Stacks were quite deep (over 150bb) and both players were bad, so I called with good implied odds as a set-mining play. Both blinds folded and we were three-way to a flop. What happened next can only be described as terrible play on my part…