In this chapter we will discuss how to play unopened pots and form an overall game plan for creating profitable post-flop opportunities. While the intermediate strategy continues to have you opening a very tight early position range, the late position ranges are significantly looser. This is because I believe the most profitable way to play is a positional loose-aggressive, or LAG, style.
A LAG opens a multitude of hands that your average player would find ridiculous. If it folds to most people in the cutoff (or any position for that matter) and they look down at 95o, they insta-muck it because they believe they are too “smart” to play junk like that. It is my belief that there is no such thing as a junk hand. There are only junk situations. If there is potential profit to be had from playing a particular hand, then it is not junk.
The curious thing that many players have difficulty grasping is that, standing alone, a hand can be unprofitable while at the same time increasing your overall bottom line. For example, 95o is in my typical cutoff range. I do not believe that opening that hand will necessarily be profitable long term, yet I still raise with it when folded to under the right conditions. This is due to the fact that attentive players will notice that I am raising a wide range from the cutoff. Therefore, they will tend to give a lot less respect to my cutoff raises, which increases the average earn of the top of my range. The net result is an overall increase to my cutoff expectation.
It is important to understand this concept. It is the whole reason someone plays a pre-flop LAG style. You want to be the Rodney Dangerfield of poker and get no respect. You want people to become angry at you for seemingly“ raising every damn hand” and in turn loosen up against you. Not only does it get them out of their comfort zone, it also makes them have to adjust. And to be frank, 99% of players have no clue how to adjust properly to a loose-aggressive player. So most of the time, whether they adjust or not, we profit.
Stealing is the foundation of any successful pre-flop strategy, as the game of Hold’em is literally based on a fight for the blinds. If no one were forced to post blinds, there would be no point to the game, and the best strategy would be to fold every single hand but pocket Aces. However, there are 1.5 big blinds sitting there on the table at the start of every hand. In order to keep up with the fees you have to pay every revolution, you actively need to try to either hold on to your blinds or take someone else’s.
So which strategy is better? Do we try to defend “our” blinds, or do we pick pocket someone else? Right now, you may be thinking, “It’s only 1.5 big blinds; why the heck should I bother going out of my way to go after them?” The answer is simple. You should do so because 1.5 big blinds is a ton of money!
In a 6-handed, non-ante game, if you play 1,000 hands in a session, you will be in the blinds fully about 333 times. That’s 250 big blinds per 1,000 hands that you are investing all by yourself before the cards are even dealt. During that same time, the total invested by all players at the table is 1,500 big blinds. In a .50/1.00 cash game, $1,500 is contributed every 1,000 hands. Whoever is able to procure more of that money will be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Most players have either a flawed strategy or no strategy at all for competing for the blinds. Either way, they are fighting an uphill battle every time they sit at the table. The great majority of players who do fight for the blinds feel that they have some type of ownership in the money they post. They complain or get upset when someone tries to “steal” their blinds.
What they end up doing is chasing their blinds. Ever so often, they make a feeble attempt to try to hold onto what wasn’t even theirs in the first place by calling or raising. Typically, their efforts are both strategically and mathematically incorrect. The truth is, once a player posts a blind, it no longer belongs to him or anyone else. Until the pot is raked, nobody owns the money in the middle.
There is a time and a place to fight for the blinds while you are sitting in them. However, the best way to get your share of the blind pie is not to try to defend yours, but rather to take someone else’s. The way to do that is through an aggressive stealing strategy.
A steal is defined as any open raise from the Cutoff, Button, or Small blind after it has folded to you. When in the Cutoff, you will have position most of the time after the flop, and as the Button, you always will. As you have learned, position is king in poker. And any method that has you playing more hands in position is the better strategy. The only stealing position that guarantees you being out of position once called is the small blind. You would think that means we need to raise tighter from that position. However, counter intuitively, it is exactly the opposite. We will get into why in a bit.
The later your position, the more profit you should be making. Theoretically, your lowest win rate will be from UTG, and your biggest win rate will be from the Button. Why is this? The fact that more people are behind you to pick up playable hands when you raise from earlier positions, which gives more fold equity before the flop, has something to do with it. Even so, the biggest factor that makes stealing so much more profitable is position.
The screenshot below is of my positional stats over the last few months at 50NL. Notice how each position gets more profitable as you move toward the button. In the above sample, I stole from the cutoff 65%, the button 85%, and the small blind 100% of the time it folded to me. These numbers might seem ridiculous to some people, but I can confidently say that profits from stealing rather than 3-betting is what accounted for the majority of my win-rate from the stealing positions.
Breaking even from the small blind is a huge boon to my overall win-rate. There really is no secret to my success from that position. By just using the fundamentals of initiative and pressure, I am generally able to keep my opponents on the ropes in blind-versus-blind situations.
Stealing From The Small Blind
Your default play should eventually be to open 100% of hands when folded to in the small blind. This is because the vast majority of players out there have no idea how to react to having their big blind relentlessly raised by an aggressive small blind player. The most common way players who notice what you are doing will try to defend is by calling and trying to hit something post-flop. This is known as playing “fit or fold.” But due to your aggressive post-flop c-betting strategy, this will make life very difficult for players. Most do not have the stomach to call down with 2nd or 3rd pair, or bluff shove all-in with air against a short stack.
Inevitably, aggressive players will start 3-betting you light. Nevertheless, in order to exploit your 100% raising range, they would need to 3-bet a whopping 50% or more of hands. Anything less than 50%, and you are winning money, even if you fold to their 3-bet every single time. Additionally, with a steal success of 57%, you would break even if your hand never had value. You could open fold your hand post-flop every single time and not lose anything.
But here’s the good news. Your hand does have value, and sometimes you will hit flops. When all of this is factored in, against most opponents, raising anything less than 100% in the small blind when it is folded to you seems like a gross error. Besides, the world is full of nits. You will find that many players will be oblivious to what you are doing. They are completely focused on their cards or possibly playing too many tables to notice. These types of players are getting their pockets picked time and time again and will never realize it. I cannot overstate how important it is to keep the steady stealing profit from these players flowing in.
The only opponents you will need to adjust your SB opening range against are ones that either mix in calling with an aggressive 3-betting range or float relentlessly. Against these players, you can value bet more thinly should you get called, but you will need to play somewhat fit or fold against them. Versus balanced players, I typically tighten up to my raising range against them while I wait to leave the table. There is really no point in staying on a table with aggressive strong opponents on your left, unless there is some factor that cancels out the negative aspects of the situation. A good example of this would be having a huge fish directly to your right. In Chapter 6, I provided for you a pop-up that I recently created to help me make decisions when considering an open from the small blind. Feel free to incorporate it into your own HUD.