Leveling The Opposition

Out-thinking your opponents by moving up a level higher in thought...

A year or so ago, I was working with a fairly advanced student who wanted a tune-up to their game. In this session, we were playing a full ring $100NL cash game online, with me sweating the action on Skype. Effective stack sizes were relatively deep at 200bb. For a variety of reasons, we were playing very snug and had an ABC/nitty-TAg image, and in fact hadn’t played a hand in a couple of orbits. There was a lot of good, solid players at this table, with good hand reading apparent in most the players, and light 3betting in position and lots of aggression by the bad guys. Overall, the table was bad enough that we decided that we were going to wait for the big blind to come around and then we were going to leave this table in search of softer action elsewhere.

In one of the last hands dealt to us, the action folded to us in the HiJack seat. We looked down to Qs-Th and we open-raised to $3. We got called by both the CO and Button. The blinds folded and we went 3-way to the flop, with us out of position against two good players. The flop came out A-5-3 rainbow. My student C-bet to $6.75, which felt a little small to me, but otherwise I liked the play, with him obviously representing an Ace in our range. The first villain folded, but the second villain, who was a TAGgy/thinking/tricky L2 player, then 3bet us to $23. What’s the right play here?

4-Bet Bluffing

The short answer is my student pregnant-paused a beat–and then 4bet to $65, stating aloud to me on our Skype connection that he planned to fold to a 5bet re-shove. I love this play. Let me explain.

At these levels, if the villain had a big hand, such as two pair or a set, he’d probably just smooth and let us fire again on the turn before making his move; i.e., try to get us little more pot committed before raising it up. Instead, with his raise, he was repping an Ace, but we can assume it’s not a very strong one, and it was likely he’d fold to serious aggression by us right now if we pushed hard enough. Here’s why:

Reads (preflop): We can rule out A-A, K-K, A-K from his range. Why? Because multi-way, he would have most likely reraised preflop. Same is true for hands like T-T and J-J. We hold a Q and T, so we block a portion of the combos of Q-Q, T-T, A-Q and A-T hand that could also be in villain’s range. Weaker offsuit Ace hands like A-9o and lower by villain would have likely been re-raised preflop to squeeze us out, or, perhaps, just folded. He might be cold calling with suited A-X hands. All pairs nine and below are in his range, as are some of the weaker broadways and suited connectors. Worst case, we can assume his range might be something like the following:

Note that this range is significantly ahead of us on the A-5-3 rainbow board. If we were playing L2 poker, we’d note this fact and just fold. But because our opponent is a tricky/thinking L2 player, we have to elevate our own game to L3 poker. What this means in practice is that we can represent a big hand that will be hard for the villain to continue with unless he has a very strong hand, which is a small fraction of his range. Remember, he’s a solid L2 player, putting us on a preflop range, which probably looks something like the following to him (again, worst case):

When we 4-bet him on this A-5-3 board, he has to put us on either monsters, very big single Aces, or complete air. Given our image at the table, it has to be weighted toward the former end of things, not the latter. And given that we’re 200bb deep, our re-raise puts a ton of pressure on a large part of villains range, especially all those weak aces. Unless he’s crazy (and we have no reason to believe he is) he really can’t continue against us unless he smashed this flop, which as we said is a relatively small part of his range.

Level It Up…And Win

For those of you interested in the results (which is a bad practice), the villain tanked down his clock and then folded to us, typing something snarky in the chatbox about how he wasn’t going to pay off a rock with a just a pair. We did leave the table when the big blind came around, and we ended up finding a nice soft $50NL table with lots of L1 players, which allowed us to drop back down to L2 thought.

If you’re at a tough table, the villains are likely putting you on accurate ranges and lines, just like you’re doing to them. The key is recognizing this fact and then using it to your advantage. To beat these players, you have to step it up one level of thought. Read their range, but also the range they’re putting you on. Then decide on a line that takes advantage of your knowledge of villain’s thought and intended line. Remember, an important key to winning at poker–regardless of stakes or thinking ability of your opponents–is to figure out what the villain wants to do, and then deny it to them….
…or just leave the table and find someplace easier to make your money.

Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.

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