Players actually chuckled when they saw me min raise preflop. And they rolled their eyes when I overbet bombed the turn. But I picked up pots in both those spots more than a few times.
Many folks have a set strategy for playing poker and consider themselves winners when they play their strategy against others who have a less superior strategy. This may work for them in soft games, but even in the softest game this way of playing isn’t the most profitable… and when you’re not playing most profitably, you’re making a mistake.
This phenomenon has been noted before (by Ed Miller, I believe) but there becomes a sort of “table norm” for bet sizing, especially preflop, as the time at the table unfolds. When this happens preflop raise sizing is determined more by courtesy than the eagerness to exploit. And doing something because everyone does, without thinking of if it’s the right course of action for the situation, is (while perhaps our human nature) illogical.
If you cannot succinctly answer the question “why” to taking an action, you are making a mistake. Why are you raising 3x preflop? Why are you calling a pfr instead of 3betting? And the answer to these questions is never “because I had X hand.” The answer to the why question should first and foremost be “to best exploit my opponent’s range.”
For example, I typically hear this: “So-And-So raised from MP, so I called on the cutoff because I had AJs” when I should be hearing this: “I called with AJs in this spot because I believed my opponent would fold worse to a 3bet and only call or 4bet better. So I called because I believed I was keeping in a dominated range of worse aces, etc. that would make large mistakes postflop against me. Plus I can rep a wider range postflop and I believe my opponent will lay down many hands if the board runs conducive to the wide range I can rep.”
The answer to the “why” question should be a precise explanation of how you plan on exploiting your opponent(s) in the given situation. “I had X hand” just isn’t good enough.
There are too many hole card combinations, board combinations, player combinations, image combinations, table dynamic combinations, etc. for any action to ever be considered “standard” in no limit hold ‘em.
Failing To Understand Range As the Hand Progresses
As players begin to understand range, they begin to think of what their opponents are up to preflop. Understanding preflop hand ranges is critical to hand reading (which is why I think my HUD is so valuable – because it displays the preflop hand ranges your opponents have shown). But many hand reading beginners fail to understand how an opponent’s postflop actions shape, shave, and narrow this preflop range.
Let’s say you understand a mostly-passive fit-or-fold opponent’s preflop range. This range connects with a particular flop to make air, top pair, or a set. The opponent XCs the flop. Then they XC a blank turn. The river makes 2 pair for some of the top pair range. The opponent donks big on the river.
How many times do I see TPTK or an overpair pay off this river donk in this spot versus this villain! And then the hero complains that they got coolered when they pay it off. And the hero justifies their actions to themselves by commenting on how the opponent had a wide range and had to pay it off.
The question the hero must ask himself is this: “Are my opponent’s actions conducive to X part of their range given what I know about their playing tendencies?” If the actions are not conducive, you can begin to narrow the range, and truly understand where your opponent is at in the hand.
Every player at every table I sat at in the Rio let me know to what degree they thought about the game.
Inversely, I said nothing about the game or my knowledge of it. My opponents did not explicitly know what level I was thinking on, but I knew exactly at what level they were at, and could easily “level” them.
For example, I can take really bluffy looking lines (with hands that beat bluff-catchers) against players who have literally said to another player at the table they love to snap off bluffy lines. Or any time a player says the words “rep,” or “rep nothing,” or “bluffy,” or something similar, I now know they look out for these things.
So when I bomb the river with second pair and they call with a worse hand as bluff catcher, they simply don’t understand what has just happened to them, and how their words from 6 hours ago put them in that spot. Instead, they simply say, “What a donkey! Betting that much with second pair!”
I now never say anything about poker, or that could be applied to my poker game while at the table (this goes for live play as well as in the chatbox). When someone asks what I had, I just stare at them. When someone asks what I would have done if they X instead of Y… I just stare at them. When someone asks what I’m drinking, I just stare at them. When someone asks where I’m from, I just stare at them. (The exception to the rule is when I have a fish to my right who wants to be social, I’ll often indulge them in as polite and discreet a way as possible.)
The truth is, everyone thinks they are better than they are and that they can afford to give up a small edge by being chatty at the table. In fact, many players think they gain an edge by talking. Here’s my last case for keeping mum about poker at the table:
You make better decisions when your mind is clear. Too often in my chatty days I would say something, then later in a hand I would think, “Is my opponent taking this action because of what I said earlier? Or does he just have it? Or does he want me to think he’s doing this because of what I said earlier…” Etc.
Clear your mind of a whole layer of muck. Stay mum.
Flatting 3Bets Out of Position Often, Marginally
This mistake gets the top spot, because it is just so bad, so costly, and I saw it so often.
Here’s a hand I saw a “tournament pro” play in the $1500 NLHE Event 56. The Pro raises to 6% effective stack from UTG. A Nit with a very low VPIP who is also mostly passive (though that’s been hard to gauge since he’s played so few hands and never gone to show down) 3bets to 15% effective stack (The Nit has not 3bet at the table yet in 4 hours). The Pro calls the 3bet out of position.
The Pro XCs another 15% of the starting effective stack on a 442 rainbow flop. On a 9 turn, the Pro checks, the Nit bets 25% of the effective starting stack, and the Pro shoves all in for the remaining 45%. The Nit tanks and calls with QQ. The Pro shows 99.
So in effect, the Pro committed 30% of his stack in order to hit a 2 outer on the turn and double up.
Had the Pro even considered his opponent’s “pf 3bet of an UTG open range” he had a quick and easy muck of his hand preflop. But not only did he make a large preflop mistake, he was going to compound that mistake by most likely stacking off or at least shedding a lot of chips postflop.
These players are making such huge mistakes I almost don’t want to talk about it, because they are large source of profit for me.
If I believe a player will flat my 3bet OOP with a dominated range, I am 3betting for value anything that dominates their opening range and I am hoping to be called. For some players this can be a hand like KJo+. Or A9s+.
In a cash game at the WSOP, I 3bet ATo and was flatted by A4o and was able to work in 3 streets of value with top pair in a 3bet pot. That’s a huge profit for me and huge loss for them.
Folding or 4betting is almost always preferable when facing a 3bet and you are out of position. Ask yourself how you expect to exploit your opponent by calling out of position in an inflated pot representing a weaker range than your opponent. If you’re calling to trap with a hand where you know where you stand versus your opponent’s range, fine. But most make the mistake of calling whenever they can’t figure out what to do. “Well, my hand’s not good enough to raise, but it seems too good to fold… so I’ll just call” is the worst logic because it is not designed to exploit your opponent in any way. In fact, by calling with a marginal hand OOP, you are being exploited.
If you see yourself making these mistakes and you want to make a conscious effort to improve your game, then stop! Ask, “why.” Ask “how can I best exploit my opponent and protect myself from being exploited.” With every action every player takes on every hand, a flood of questions should be pouring through your head.
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