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…
“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…
You’re in a $5/$10 NL full-ring 9-handed cash game. Everyone has about $1000 stacks. You raise UTG with Js-Jh. It is folded to an expert player in the SB, who calls. The BB folds, and you see a flop heads up, which is: 2s-2c-Td. The SB leads for $80. You raise to $250, and the SB re-raises you to $650. Your image is tight-aggressive, very tight in EP, and you rarely bluff. What should you do?
- Raise all-in
- Call and fold the turn if he bets again
- Call and get all-in on the turn if no overcard hits
- Call and get all-in on the turn regardless of the turn card
A few years ago I was showing a family friend how to play online poker. My friend dabbles occasionally at poker, but he doesn’t believe that the online games are beatable. It’s rigged, he says. It’s filled with ‘bots. And any kind of poker–live or online–is all about hot streaks and lucky runs, anyway. You can’t beat a random chance game in the long-term. So why study and read about the game? Worse, why write a damn blog about it?
My friend is so sure of himself, that he basically calls me a liar whenever I point out that I make a decent hourly wage at this online “hobby,” and thereby fund the occasional large discretionary purchase in my personal life through my winnings at the tables. Well, he doesn’t actually use the word “liar,” instead choosing the less inflammatory, “You’re so full of sh!t” term of endearment.
Anyway, in my long-running effort to convince him that he’s the one who is full of sh!t, I opened a couple of micro-stakes fast-fold “Zone” poker games when he had stopped by to visit with his wife. Here’s what happened:
You’re in the big blind of a cash game. The blinds are $1/$2 and everyone at the table has $50,000 in front of them. It’s folded to the button, who raises to $7. He accidentally exposes his cards in the process and you see that he holds Ac-Ad. He knows that you saw his hole cards. He did not see your cards. What range of hands should you call with? Which hands should you re-raise with?
- Fold all hands
- Call with any two cards (ATC), and re-raise with KK, QQ, and JJ
- Call with any pair or suited connector, fold everything else
- Call with ATC, do not re-raise with anything
- Call with ATC, and re-raise only with KK
- Call with ATC, and re-raise only with AA
The first step of the REDi system to thinking through a poker hand is Reading, and the first step to hand reading is, well, to actually begin paying attention. You can’t figure out what the bad guy is holding unless you are looking for clues and watching what’s going on at the table.
Okay, fine, this isn’t earth-shattering news, right? We all know that we have watch the action before we can decide what the villain is betting into us with. Ah, yes, but you also have to pay attention even when you’re not involved in a hand. In fact, I’d argue it’s even more important to ensure you’re paying attention after you’ve folded your hand. Let me explain…
You’re in a multi-table tournament. Blinds are 100/200. A novice calling station raises UTG to T500. An unknown player flat-calls in MP. Everyone, including you, has about T20K in chips. You are in the cut-off seat with Ah-Ad. What should you do?
- Raise to T1000
- Raise to T1600
- Raise to T800
- Raise to T2300
Jim Rohn once famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Think about this for a minute. It applies to so many different aspects of life and work, often for the worst. I know family members and friends that struggle in life, almost entirely because of the people they hang around, people who drag them down and/or don’t offer any positivity or examples of goodness, people who promote bad behavior and/or want company on their race to the bottom.
I’ve also seen the opposite, where people become better and/or more successful because they’ve actively changed their environment and have found better role models to have around with. Want to be a winner? Hang around with winners and try to emulate what they do.
At its fundamental core, poker is a game of decision making. He who makes the best decisions makes the most money. And there is nothing more important than the decision whether to play your hand or not. Preflop decision making is the foundation upon which postflop profits are built. And integral to good preflop decisions are the holy trinity of Position, Aggression, and Caution, or PAC for short. Let me explain: