Facing the river bet is as tricky as conducting a triple barrel. You’re left sitting there having to sift through separate preflop, flop, and turn ranges, deciding how they all fit together. These guidelines can help you see hands more clearly.

Considering all Three Streets

To begin our analysis of whether or not we should have called a river bet or not let’s start with finding a hand where we called three streets. We can do this by going to the tab “More Filters” in Hold’em Manager 2, clicking on it, and filling out “Advanced Action Filters” (Figure 141).

We then need to select the word “Call” at the top of all these scrolling wheels. It will add the action to the right under “Applied Filters” when you have done it correctly. I have the hero position as the big blind but you can do this from any spot or none at all. It just seems that people’s weakest call downs seem always to be from the big blind. Investigating those first tends to have the highest yield of results for most of my students. They see many examples of exactly when they should and shouldn’t be calling down.

You’re left with a collection of hands that show you whether you are good at hero calling or not. If you’re like most people, you will find that you vastly overestimate your ability to call down correctly. Now, we can pick a hand where we call down. It doesn’t matter whether you won or lost. Just because chips slid away from you does not mean you played incorrectly. If you caught someone in a bluff it doesn’t necessarily mean you played well either.

In the hand shown in Figure 142 I called a preflop raise from the big blind with J-8o. When we’re playing we need to first assign a range to our opponent. What do you think he’s opening here? How does that translate to a percentage? If you think he’s opening 40% of the hands what does that look like? Try to come up with the cutoff hands, the worst hands, at every range: 25%, 30%, 35%, etc.

Open up Flopzilla and see if you’re right. Figure 143 shows roughly how the 40% range would look. You can range 40% differently, but I believe this is the most accurate estimate. Perhaps you want to add more K-x combinations, but for the purpose of this hand I thought it would be more trying for my J-8 if he had some more connectors in his range.

Figure 142

Now, we come to the flop (Figure 144), on which he fires 3,000. We call.

To show this in Flopzilla we need to enter the flop and decide what our opponent is continuation betting. For simplicity’s sake let’s assume he is firing his entire range. This is unlikely to be far off from the truth; people love to continuation bet blind versus blind. They feel if they’re going to check and give up they probably had no business raising preflop (Figure 145).

As you can see we have placed a filter next to every part of the range in the “Statistics” section in Figure 145, showing that we believe every one of these individual range sections is betting. The “master” filter at the bottom says 100% on it, because every part of the our opponent’s total range is betting. The button on it should no longer be red because we have clicked on it and turned it to green. This means all of these range portions have been selected to go to the turn range. To the right, where I have indicated with the arrow, there is our hand’s equity against our opponent’s range, which now is at a boisterous 65%.

Is that enough equity to call the flop bet? Intuitively we know it is, but we must use the available instruments to prove every investment we make. At least, we should use our available tools if we want to best our opponents.

We can figure this out with math. We can divide how much we’re calling by how much we stand to win. In this case it is 3,000 to win 10,160; 3,000/10,160 = 0.2953, so we need 29.53% equity here in order to call. Thankfully, we have twice that. When you’re at the table you should be able to do this mentally. Doing it online when you’re at home and comfortable will prepare you to do the same mental work when you’re under the bright lights of a final table.

When you review hands you can check your mind’s guess by looking at the hand history replayer. Before you put in the call on it the system will show you what odds you needed (Figure 146).

With our Flopzilla set up we head to the turn, which is 6♥. We put it in Flopzilla and see how that changes the ranges. We now need to decide what combinations are double barreling.

I purposefully picked the hand shown in Figure 147 because there is no definate right answer. I don’t have much data on the opponent. Without statistics this allows us to pose hypotheticals without having a potential “right” answer to cloud our thinking.

Of course, when we see our opponent’s smaller sizing we start making some assumptions about the strength of his hand. This can confuse us. We need to set parameters and see what the hand reveals to us; this is where our deliberate practice comes in. We write down our studies. “Versus a small bet on this board we could call…” and list out what was possible. With enough notes like this we will start to see some trends.

We need to ask our hypothetical question, for example, “If we know this person is double barreling draws and queens can we call?” In Flopzilla we would do this by putting a filter next to the sections that specify draws and top pair (or better), but make sure the other portions are not selected. Afterwards, we go to the “Turn” filter button at the bottom and turn it from red to green. Figure 148 shows what the end product should look like.

As we can see in the “starting hand” selection, all the hands we did not select have been grayed out. All that is left are the hands that we thought were double barreling. As we can see from where the arrow is pointing our hand has 40.49% equity versus that range. If we look at Figure 158 the hand in Hold’em Manager 2 we needed 21% equity to call. So far, so good. We call. The river comes a 4♥, completing the straight draw (Figure 149).

Our opponent leads half of the pot. What equity do you need to call?

I purposefully didn’t show the hand history replay, because you need to get in the habit of doing it mentally. You also should memorize a few numbers. The equity you need to call a half-pot-sized bet is 25%. If someone bets $1 into a pot of $2 the pot then becomes $3. If you call and are right you have risked $1 to win a $4 total pot. Therefore, you need to be right 25% of the time in order to call. Do you have 25% equity here if your opponent bets missed flush draws and top pairs especially? How confident are you of your answer?

Let’s figure this out. Once again we enter the next card in Flopzilla, which this time is the river. To the right under “Statistics” are the different hands our opponent could possess. We select the hands we feel he is betting, then turn the bottom button to green. On the right we now have our hand’s equity (Figure 150).

As you can see we do not have the equity to call our opponent. Even if our opponent is turning every pair with a flush draw into a bluff we still don’t have the best hand more than the required 25% of the time. Even if we call here and are good we have made a losing play.

This is the difficult part of poker to most people. We have been raised watching movies where the sharp gunslinger calls down a bluff with a pair of 2s and is right. We want to be like that cardsharp. We want to be the soul reader who can pull off a move like that. Some people, pursuing that feeling, hero call the river constantly. It stands to reason that a few would run good with their calls. Perhaps they just turned out to be right in some of the most important pots they played in their life. The TV audience sees the heroic call on their screens, and doesn’t see the next 2,000+ failed attempts to relive that glory that undoes the “ringer” in the upcoming years. All the public sees is the correct call, the money, and the oversized check, and they assume things are happily ever after from that point on.

The real poker players ignore the siren call of the elusive “hero call.”

Perhaps no one sees their hand when they call and muck. Perhaps no one judges them. But later they beat themselves up because they know if they don’t hold themselves responsible the opportunity to learn will be lost forever.

With Flopzilla analyses we can define our decisions using measurable variables. Here are some examples of questions we could ask ourselves about the hand above; with Flopzilla and a calculator we could solve all of them:

♦ What if our opponent only opens 35% of the hands preflop? 30%? 25%? ♦ What if our opponent checks some top pairs on the turn?
♦ What if our opponent turns some bottom pairs into a bluff on the turn? ♦ What if we had a blocker to the flush draws in our hand?

And so on.

I am not going to say it is easy to collect the data from all of these experiments. My office is strewn with papers and notebooks. My computer has thousands of separate poker-study-related documents. Considering how much work I’ve done, I feel I should be much further in my journey. However, for any speed of learner the process helps your mind develop a framework for looking at hands. After looking at hand after hand you will start to see a number of trends.

One that I have noticed is that putting someone on a flush draw is a pretty weak excuse to call on the river. Every flush draw combination is exactly one combination. There is only one A-2s that matches your suit. At maximum you’ll have around 20 missed flush draws.

A single A-x holding can be made up of 12 combinations. If there’s an ace on the board there are nine combinations. So if there’s an ace on the board and you think your opponent could be value betting A-K through A-10 (offsuit and suited) that would be 45 combinations. That is for only one of the possible pairs that could be made with a board card. It gets worse if you think he could be value betting second pair or even more top pair holdings. The combinations can number 100+. Obviously, this ratio doesn’t work out as a call for us that often.

Findings like this allow us to clarify our thinking. If we can take the time in the hand to start rough counts of combinations we can make much better decisions with the lessons we’ve been taught from working with Flopzilla. Eventually, our mind will start calculating combination totals, because we’ve slowly gone through the process so many times and cemented it in our brain.

This process is called “chunking” by researchers. Most of the world’s rapid learners are incredibly good at it. “Chunking” is when we slowly deconstruct something, put it together enough times till it’s fluid, and then batch it with other similar data. In the process described above perhaps we’d slowly unravel how many combinations certain players use on their double barrels. We associate that with how much equity we need to call. Eventually, we don’t need to separate each range and count each combo. Our mind remembers generalizations of numerous specific scenarios. This level of unconscious competence allows us to pay more attention to subtleties which could allow us to make the more ethereal plays.

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