– What does the opponent’s hand range look like going into the flop? If your opponent is open folding 30% of hands, you can safely assume that weaker hands such as 42, 52, 62, 72, 82, 73, 83 are not open raising. This will automatically narrow your opponent’s range of hands down before you even see the flop.
– How does that hand range line up with the board? You want to identify habits above such as “limps K-rag, Q-rag, A-rag hands” so that you can look at the flop and get a general idea not only of the types of hands in your opponent’s range, but how well they did (or did not) connect with the flop.
Intermediate/Advanced Note – I left out the variable of “how often does your hand range hit this flop.” I don’t consider it particularly important unless you’re playing against an opponent that can hand read good/well. If you’re unsure of your opponent’s caliber and you don’t play $50+ levels, assume they are not a good hand reader.
That’s not fully correlated (good hand reader/ability to realize you didn’t likely hit a flop you’re bluffing) but it’s an assumption that won’t likely hurt you (and over time you will notice how often players rebluff you versus how often they have a rare value hand on dry boards that miss most of their hand range and you can adapt by default without reads accordingly once you have that experience to reach from).
For a lot of you, the above was rather obvious. If it wasn’t, you’ve already learned something important.
So what are some other common things to look out for when deciding whether or not to check raise bluff? Here are some more things to think about that build upon the two basic tips above:
– Continuation bet range. There are many ways you can take advantage of opponents that offer severely unbalanced continuation betting ranges. A common c-bet “leak” would be opponents that cbet most boards with a range similar to: any good middle pair or better, any good draw and any air except high cards with showdown value. In many cases, this represents a c-bet range that is much too weak, and thus should often be check raise bluffed frequently.
Another common c-bet “leak” is from players that check back dry boards with most pairs; the strong pairs they can consider won’t get enough value on the dry board and the weaker pairs are “only called by better.” If an opponent is checking back A92 rainbow boards with any pair, what does that tell you about the times that they c-bet? How should you react?
– Bet sizing. This one comes up a little less frequently, but is still valuable. You can dissect bet sizing “leaks” the same way as c- bet leaks, though it can be a bit more complicated. For example, many opponents like to bet a little bit smaller with their bluffs on a drawy heavy/”scary” board; to try to get a cheap fold. Similarly, many opponents like to bet a bit larger on those same boards, to maximize value from any potential pairs or draws that rarely fold, even to larger bets. In that simple example, even though you might not normally bluff a 50% open raiser that cbets a QJT board, if they c-bet to a large size for value and like to make cheap bluffs when they miss, you would be throwing away money not bluff raising often when they bet small.
I don’t often consider these leaks (it’s situational), as I do it myself at times and believe it is correct against a lot of opponents (fit or fold, for example, especially coupled with loose preflop). Which leads me to…
At the end of the day, you’ll find that even the best players will have ranges that are not balanced in many areas. Over thousands of games of experience, great players will realize that
balance in of itself is not the best way to win the most money. Properly building a strategy that exploits your opponent’s tendencies and frequencies is the best way to win. As such, great players will often present to you ranges that (at least for a brief time) can be exploited. Pay attention, good players constantly adapt their hand ranges based on how their opponent is responding.
But many players (including some winning players) have more set in stone or rigid hand ranges. Many players will not recognize that you are exploiting them. So learn how to recognize and exploit a leak, often times you’ll find a consistent stream of added edge in your games that will translate into profit sooner or later.
Afterthoughts (and ABC Poker)
The above, even if you weren’t fully aware or thinking about it previously, probably seems quite simple, basic and obvious in hindsight. But that doesn’t mean it is not helpful.
Many a time in threads, videos or every day conversations, players lament “ugh, ABC poker, this is so boring, running bad.” More often than not, when insight is available, I’ll find that these players are not taking full advantage of what is being given to them by their opponents, even in the most basic of ways. ABC poker is not check folding when you miss, check raising with strong hands and keeping the pot small with weak pairs and high cards. ABC poker is a sound strategy to beat the average opponent whom you have no real reads on. Ask yourself how long that lasts for. How long do you have no meaningful information about your opponent? The answer, in my mind, is not very long.
Next time you’re feeling uncreative, or feel like you’re playing a boring button crunching game, quit your session. If you can’t get yourself to do that, at least pay attention to your opponent, because you’re certainly not being honest about what your opponent is actually doing, and how you can counter that in a way that maximizes your edge in the match. And if you’re not actively looking to make the best decisions, you’re not actively
looking to win, nor should you expect to profit as fast as you would probably like to.