You should always try to find the best line in every situation with‐ out settling too easily on a merely mediocre or standard line. There are a few traits to battle here – fear, greed and laziness. Fear comes into play because the line that makes the most amount of money for you might be a tricky line that requires tough decisions on later streets. Or it could be fear that you will look silly and foolish for playing a hand in a different way. Greed comes into play because you could quickly see a line that will make money and want to jump on it right away. This greed will only prevent you from rationally thinking about the hand in progress and actually making even more money. And finally there is simple mental laziness – not thinking about the best line and just playing standard poker – and that costs a lot of money too.
If you make a nice play and win a pot don’t be too happy with your‐ self – analyze the hand and see if you could have played it even bet‐ ter. For example, maybe in a $25/50 live game a quiet kid who is not up to much opens in EP with $125 and I look down and see any two cards and raise to $450. Bet sizes tell a lot, and in this situation it tells me that the kid wants to see a flop cheaply with a mediocre holding. With his $125 bet he’s trying to block people up. So I have 5♣-8♣ and raise to $450 expecting to take it down. If he calls I will use my posi‐ tion and superior playing skills to beat him. I reraised pre‐flop so there are a lot of high cards like aces, kings or queens I can use to bluff him out. The only difficulty is if he has the hand I am repre‐ senting, but nonetheless I will use my position to feel him out, figure what he has and bluff him if I can on the scare cards. If I hit my hand is quite disguised. As always this has the benefit of guaranteeing ac‐ tion when I do get a big hand.
So anyway he makes an unexpected call and the flop is K♣‐Q♣‐8♥. He checks. It’s unclear at this point where he’s at. If I bet and he raises we’re going all‐in and probably running some sort of 50/50 situation, or he could fold straight away. So if I bet the two ways the hand could go are that we gamble in a big pot where I don’t have a big edge or he folds on the flop because he is weak and I take down the small pot. Note, if he is weak and folds to my flop bet, my hand is probably good as it is, so there is no need to even bet on the flop and get him out of the pot.
The other option is to play deceptively and check behind on the flop and try and wait until I hit a big hand and get all the money in at that point. So since I have position on him, I check and the turn is the 9♣. He bets out $700, and if I raise he’s going to have a hard time putting me on a real hand. Aces bet the flop, and kings and queens that are sets bet the flop too because there are so many cards to come off and slow the action. Plus if my opponent has a draw he might put in a raise and it’s best to get the money in on the flop. Also if I bet the flop and he flat called, and the turn comes a flush card and I bet big again, it’s a lot easier to put me on a flush since most people will semi‐bluff the flush draw on the flop.
So here I am in a reraised pot looking at a wonderfully disguised hand and raise to $2,400. It seems like some of my most likely hands are any hand with one club in it that is semi‐bluffing (e.g. A♣-Jo or 10‐J) or maybe top pair. Sometimes I’ll get tricky with K‐Jo for in‐ stance on that flop because my hand isn’t that strong, so weaker hands aren’t going to call much unless I add deception by checking. So maybe I have that K‐Jo and am raising the turn to freeze him up, value bet vs. any weaker hands he has with a draw and take a free showdown – that’s what my medium‐sized raise was intended to represent anyway. On the other hand I wanted to make my raise big enough to commit him for a big river bet. He calls, the river comes a rag, and he checks. So I bet $4,500, just picking the biggest number I think I can get called. He mulls over it a long time and eventually calls and loses with his set of eights.
Now let’s look at another hand. The game is $10/$25 three‐handed; I raise with A‐Qo on the button to $85 and the BB calls. We have $2,500 each. The flop is A‐5‐3 and he check‐calls a $165 bet. The turn comes a 5, and he checks so I check behind. This is about pot con‐ trol – I think I am ahead here and I think that there is a good chance I can get more value out of him, but only one bet not two. My hand isn’t strong enough (i.e. he can’t have a strong enough but worse hand) to call a turn bet and a river bet. The strength of our hands makes it so it’s possible to get maybe one bet out of him, and it’s more likely I will get that bet on the river not the turn. Betting on the river not the turn is more suspicious to him and also he gets to see my cards immediately – on the turn he has to worry about a future river bet. Also it’s a very dry board so getting outdrawn isn’t a worry so all those factors make it a perfect situation to check the turn and try and get value on the river.
The river comes a K, and he leads out for $200. What I did here and what I expect most poker players who are vastly inferior to me would do here is be a little upset, maybe a little hopeful that they’re still going to win and just quickly call. However, that’s missing a big opportunity. Let’s do some hand reading to see why – first, the pre‐ flop action actually tells us quite a bit. He put money into the pot so he thinks his hand is good. The higher the cards are in a hand, the better the hand is, and the more likely it is the player will play a pot with them. Which means that the most likely card for him to have in his hand is an ace, the second most likely a king, and so on.
His bet size on the river also shows he doesn’t have a five in his hand because if he did he would want more value, which means betting bigger or going for a check‐raise. A final reason he probably doesn’t have a five in his hand is because now there is not just one five on the board but two fives, which means there are now only two fives in the deck for him to have and not three. He clearly is telegraphing a pair of aces, and here an aces up hand isn’t a worry – he can’t A‐K as he would reraise pre‐flop. So we are very sure here our hand is either best or more likely tied.
The winning play here is to raise big and make it scary for him and try to make him fold to scoop 100% of the pot, not 50% of the pot with almost no risk to us. In the hand I called and got shown A‐10. Maybe he’d call my big scary raise because he’s smart and reasoned it out, but maybe he wouldn’t. And even if he does it’s good for us and our image, making us look scary and unpredictable and letting him know we don’t need to have the nuts to raise big.
One note on the metagame there. For me it’s good that he thinks I don’t need the nuts to raise big because my personal strategy in poker (although this can change depending on the opponent) is to normally have a big hand when I raise big, so I want him to think the opposite of me. However, there is nothing inherently good about that – for some people maybe they would want to cultivate the op‐ posite image of being tight and only raising big when they have a good hand and then play the opposite and take advantage of that by bluffing.
It depends on what style you like to play, and it also depends on the natural style of the opponent. For instance if the opponent is natu‐ rally a loose crazy player then he already makes the error of playing too many big pots. It would be a lot of work to make this player re‐ verse his tendencies completely and try and make money from him by developing a tight image and bluffing him. It makes a lot more sense to take advantage of his natural weakness and develop a wild bluffing image, and then in reality play tight and solid and make money when he calls and you have a good hand. In poker it’s im‐ portant not just to find a play that makes us money. The key is al‐ ways to compare all the different options and find which has the highest EV. So even if one play has an EV of $200, don’t immediately make that play – consider if another option yields a higher $EV.
Brunson also said that the flop is where he makes all his decisions on the hand but this is also not an optimal strategy. The basic idea is that he was aggressive and that was his system. This might work sometimes – for instance if playing $50/$100 an opponent raises to $350, I call with 8♦-9♦ and it’s HU. The flop is A♦‐8♣‐4♦, and he leads out $750. Now I could go all‐in for $9,000 more and maybe take it down and win the $1,500 in the pot or race it vs. A‐K. Or I could call and try to outplay him on the following streets. Against a good player you can’t out‐play them so be more aggressive, but when playing a bad player where you can play as many streets as you can, get as much information as you can, and give yourself as many chances as you can to out‐play them.
So I called, the turn came the 2♥ and he quickly led out for $2,500, which indicates a strong hand for him. So without thinking much about it I figured he probably has a strong ace like A‐K. This is a close decision but I’m getting 2:1 pot odds with probably 13 outs from 44 cards and then I also have implied odds. He is a player who calls a lot so I think he’d probably call an all‐in with A‐K. Remember, just because you have a strong draw doesn’t mean you need to raise – a strong draw is still a lot weaker than A‐K. Its strength lies in the fact that it is never dominated, whereas A‐K can easily be dominated. However, if the opponent calls a lot draws aren’t worth much, so wait to hit them and wait for strong made hands.
So I called, the river came the 10♦ and he thought for a second and led out all‐in, I called, and he had 44. In retrospect this player is so bad that his instant pot bet on the turn might not even have been A‐K – there’s a decent chance it’s A‐A, 8‐8, 4‐4, A‐8, or A‐4. Out of position even against a bad opponent it might have been correct to fold here. Since I have position though, things become much harder for him, especially since I’ve been floating with a lot of hands to steal it later. As it is, the way I played it turned out to be pretty good. Even though he had a set on the turn I had 9/44 outs, or 4:1, I’m get‐ ting 2:1 immediate pot odds and he has another $5,500 behind so I’m getting about 4:1 with implied odds which is even money. Then if either of the eights come I can’t fold and lose my stack. If a 9 comes and he checks I obviously go all‐in, and if he bets all‐in it’s a tough fold that I may not make in the game but if I had a chance to think it through I probably would since he’s a bad player and I might be able to read what he has since when he bets strong he normally has something big.