Avoid Tough Decisions

Once upon a time, No Limit Holdem was a postflop game. A bunch of players would limp along, and the ones who played the best after the flop would get the money. Sometimes someone would make a little raise, there would be a few callers, and they would all see a flop.

Along came Dolly.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson started raising it up to five or 10 blinds before the flop and putting pressure on everyone. Pressure he knew they wouldn’t stand up to. He was still playing the postflop game, but made more money than anyone else because he was juicing up the pots before he took them down.

Somewhere along the line someone saw guys like Doyle making all these aggressive preflop raises and thought to themselves, “Hey, I could throw in a bunch of re-raises and put the pressure back on him.” At its core, this is a solid idea. When someone’s making big raises with a wide range before the flop, you can often steal a lot of money by 3-betting aggressively. Re-bullying the bully can be a profitable venture.

In today’s 100 big-blind games, loose and aggressive open raising is the norm. You’d be hard pressed to find an online game with a gaggle of limpers ahead of you each hand. Instead, there will typically be an open raise and a bunch of folds.

Once everyone realized that everyone else was opening these wide ranges, 3-betting light came into vogue. Now it’s old hat. There’s so much 3-betting going on that people have started to cold 4-bet air. There was a time when putting in the third raise meant aces or kings, so a 4-bet had a lot of credibility. Now that we all know the 4-bet can be a bluff, the next step is to shove all in against the cold 4-bets. The whole preflop street has developed into a high stakes game of chicken.

That’s a lot of aggression without the cards to back it up. It was developed with the best intentions, and it can take courage to pull the trigger on these big bets without much of a hand. Instead, the motivation is often fear.

What sort of fear would cause such aggression? Fear of the unknown. Fear of making embarrassing mistakes. Fear of being challenged.

Players see a chance to end the hand early by getting it in with decent equity and jump all over it. They’re trying to avoid tough postflop decisions.

Poker is a game of decisions. Players who consistently make good decisions win money. Players who consistently make poor decisions lose money.

When you make a good decision that your opponent would have made, you don’t gain much. There’s no edge there. Your edge comes from making a better decision than your opponent would have made.

You don’t see hugely successful businesses doing the same thing everyone else is doing and following the trend. As Warren Buffet would say, “First come the innovators, then the imitators, and finally the idiots.”

You might not innovate something completely original, but don’t be an idiot. Don’t be the thousandth company trying to design a better search engine. Don’t be the millionth person trying to outwit everyone before the flop. Learn the fundamentals, but once you’ve done that, spend the majority of your study time looking for new areas to find an advantage. Unless you find a truly innovative approach, there’s little to be reaped from over-tilled land.

When everyone gets into the 3-bet, 4-bet, 5-bet game, No Limit Holdem becomes a fairly simple one-street game. This was not what Doyle had in mind when he called it “The Cadillac Of Poker.”

You need to embrace tough decisions.

While everyone else is trying to get it in quick and “not that bad,” you should be finding ways to see flops. Find ways to see turns. Find ways to see showdowns for the right price or to push your opponent off a hand when you have zero equity.

Don’t get us wrong. There is merit to a lot of these aggressive preflop plays. There are spots where they are clearly profitable. But many times you have the choice of making a slightly profitable play before the flop, or giving yourself a chance to find a hugely profitable play on the turn or river. Would you rather make a little now or a lot later?

Why try to get all of your value out of one street? There are three more streets after the flop. Every time you end a hand before the flop, you deprive yourself of three opportunities to outplay someone postflop.

Trying to squeeze all of your value out of preflop play is lazy and shortsighted. Don’t be the guy looking for the quickest, easiest, shortest-term profit.

Embrace tough decisions. You’ll get some of them wrong. But as long as you get more right than your opponents do, you’ll come out on top. Have faith in your ability to outplay your opponents on the later streets. Put them to tough decisions after the flop. That’s where the biggest edges come from. If you don’t have the skills yet, keep reading. Later chapters will show you exactly how to make these hugely profitable plays.

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