In both chess and poker, every decision is made in a vacuum. Each choice acts independently— when it’s your turn, nothing and nobody can pre-empt your action. The environment cannot change mid- decision. The game exists, though, beyond each decision. In chess, these are called game trees or decision trees. Each decision leads to a series of possible (and predictable) outcomes. In chess, the total number of possible moves and counter-moves makes it extremely difficult to predict even a short distance into the future.
In poker, we are often tricked into thinking about decisions in terms of their immediate results. It’s incredibly common to view each street in a vacuum. I hear students say this a lot: “If I bet the flop as
a bluff, he doesn’t fold a pair or even Ace-high, so it’s not good to bluff”. In fact, I’ve been guilty of saying it many times myself, especially in the past—before I understood street projection. However, this is an unsophisticated way of looking at poker; intuitively we know that sometimes barreling or raising on later streets might be an effective bluff but we don’t have a great framework to project into the future and determine which lines will be effective and which ones won’t.
Before we discuss that framework, though, let’s return to our chess-poker contrast. In comparison, poker is significantly less complex (as far as decision trees go). Unlike in chess, where moves can have multi-faceted effects, in poker our opponents are only capable of either bluffing or value- betting. And, they only ever have a maximum of three options (call, raise, or fold). Of course, we only have the same options and the same motivations. To top it all off, there are only four streets in no-limit hold’em (preflop, flop, turn, and river) and stack sizes are defined to start each hand. This means that there are clear, limited parameters for both time and depth. So, the poker decision tree looks simpler:
However, despite the reduced possibilities, it’s usually still too complex to fully consider every possibility on every street in a thirty-second window at a poker table. So we need a framework to help us move through this quickly and smoothly (clearly, we’ll lose some detail as we streamline our thought process but that will generally be a necessary sacrifice). The most important tool I use in street projection is something called the Very Best Fold.
The Very Best Fold (VBF) is the strongest hand you expect your opponent to fold when you take any given line. I generally start by considering how my opponent will respond to facing three barrels postflop. What’s the best thing I can get him to fold by the river? For a passive fish, this might be ace- high. Against a player who folds a lot, this might even include a strong top pair.
VBF comes in two types that depend on changes in board texture:
- 1) Static VBF: If the board doesn’t change in a way that increases my fold equity, what is his VBF? (See Advanced Fold Equity Evaluation to make sure that you’re not misreading how board texture affects fold equity against regulars)
- 2) Dynamic VBF: If the board does change in a way that increases my fold equity, what is his VBF?
- If the board is likely to get scarier (986, for example) the increase in Dynamic VBF might incline
us to make a multi-street bluff, whereas a board like J84 might be difficult to run a lot of bluffs (our opponent’s VBF is generally static and unlikely to get stronger). I’ll explain this more:
Your opponent raises and you call. The board is 9♣8♣6♦. He bets. 55 is roughly the best hand we expect him to immediately fold if we raise the flop. So, his static VBF is 55. However, if the turn card is the 7♣, we could get him to fold AA. So, his dynamic VBF is much stronger than his static VBF due to the board texture. This is a good indicator that we could run multi-street bluffs.
Your opponent raises and you call. The board is J♣8♦4♠. He bets. To a flop raise, we expect 33 to be his static VBF. Unfortunately, there are no turn cards that we expect will get him to fold a hand like AA. So, in this case, his dynamic VBF isn’t much different from his static VBF and we shouldn’t plan on running too many multi-street bluffs.
Along with board texture, VBF depends on the same fold-equity-evaluators that we’ve been using all along: player types, number of players, stack sizes, and history. With a lot of history, your opponent’s VBF might be king-high; this means that he’s going to call you all the way down with Ace-high. A fishy player might never fold bottom pair—thus, he has a weak VBF and shouldn’t be multi-street bluffed.
The last piece of the street projection puzzle relies on the idea that people’s VBFs will depend on what line you take. This is where we really open Pandora’s Box. Let’s say that we expect our opponent to fold middle pair to three barrels, but that he’ll call with top pair. What happens to his VBF if we overbet the river? What if we overbet the turn? What if, instead of betting the river, we went for a check- raise on the river? Or on the turn? How do those things affect his VBF?
There is one more piece to advanced fold equity evaluation that I decided to save for this chapter—against regulars (possibly against all player types, but definitely regulars), your ability to get strong hands to fold increases from street to street. Nobody ever folds an overpair to a flop raise. Sometimes, people fold overpairs to turn raises. People usually fold overpairs to river raises. So, if I’m projecting my opponents VBF, I’ll often consider lines that include me raising the turn or river on a bluff. Here’s a good (if not overly crazy) example: A regular raises and I call on the button with 9♠8♠. The flop is 7♣5♠5♦. He bets and I call (this is a standard float—if he checks the turn I will bet as a bluff against queen-high, king-high, etc.). The turn card is a Q♦. He bets again. At this point, I’d project his VBF if I raise turn, or more likely, if I raise river. I might decide that his VBF on the turn is JJ, but that his VBF on the river is AA. So, I’ll call again with the intention of shoving over any river bet on any card. This has the side benefit of also successfully bluffing things like KJ that decide to fire three-barrels.
Pretty crazy, yes, but very effective.
Of course, you can use somebody’s VBF to determine how to value-bet them. If I have 77 on the
755Q board, it might be better to raise the turn (if I think he doesn’t 3-barrel very often and that he’ll fold AA on the river but not on the turn). This draws heavily on Either/Or Philosophy. So, if I have 77 on a 755Q board but I expect my opponent to 3-barrel a wide range, it’s still better for me to flat the turn (as previously discussed).
Understanding street projection opens a much larger world of poker thought. Rather than making your plan street-by-street, you could be preparing for your turn and river play before preflop action has finished. Before you make a flop c-bet you could anticipate your opponents Dynamic VBF and know exactly which cards you’re barreling, which cards you’re giving up on, and which hands you’re going to get him to fold or call with.
There is only one last caveat—never try to get somebody to fold a hand that he simply doesn’t have. If you expect your opponent to fold midpairs on the turn, don’t fire the river to get him to fold a midpair—he doesn’t have it anymore, so you can’t bluff him off of it. Keeping all of that in mind, you can start thinking across the length of a full hand without limiting yourself to street-by-street play. Opening your mind to creative new lines and efficient multi-street bluffs will take you one giant step closer to mastery over the poker landscape.
If we consider the implications of street projection, we’ll see a lot of times when our value lines and bluff lines overlap. As we discussed before, sometimes it can be a good idea to take the same line with either a value hand or a bluff. However, sometimes with one hand you can be simultaneously value- betting and bluffing. This is called a two-way bet. It’s not supposed to exist—with one hand, you are supposed to either value-bet or bluff. Two-way bets shouldn’t exist… but they do.
A Two-Way Bet is a bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time. How is this possible?
- 1) Equity. We hold As8s and we c-bet a Ks9s3c flop. 7s6s is going to call (value) and 44 is going to fold (bluff).
- 2) Street Projection. We can value-bet the flop and bluff the flop if we expect our opponent to fold on a later street. We bet 99 on a J85 board and get called by a both a pair of eights (value) and a pair of jacks (bluffing). Then, when we fire three barrels, he folds his pair of jacks on the river. Our flop bet was designed to both get value from eights and to bluff jacks.
- 3) The new definition of bluffing. It can be very difficult to bet and make both worse hands call and better hands folds. But, it’s much more common to make some worse hands call and some worse hands fold incorrectly. So, in our old way of thinking, two-way bets were incredibly rare as better hands would rarely fold when worse hands call and vice versa. With the new definition we see two-way bets occurring all the time.
So, whereas the phrase “two-way bet” used to be banned from my vocabulary, I now use it regularly to justify bets that have both short-term and long-term effects (value now, bluffing later). Joined together with street projection, we can start to break from the rigid rules of basic poker and more accurately define our reasons for betting.