Preflop 4-bet Flatting

Years ago I befriended Ben Wilinofsky, who is known online as NeverScaredB. I watched with enthusiasm as he rose through the ranks online before taking down large EPTs. His style looked bizarre, but in conversation you could tell he clearly had a great poker mind. When people saw him win Sunday Majors one of the most common complaints I’d hear was, “He’s so bad and lucky! He flatted a 4-bet with J-4s!”

It was surprising to hear this, I’ll admit. However, I’m fascinated by outliers on the graph, and his results were staggering. I wanted to know if he was just running well or if he really was playing beyond our understanding. So, I decided to run some tests.

First, I deigned it important to find some small 4-bets that occurred to me in my database. I started with a baseline question when I found them. What happens if we fold to the 4-bet? Are we still unprofitable? Is it that bad to fold preflop? I ran the numbers to find out what would happen if, in the hand where I was 4-bet, I had 3-bet/folded aces (Figure 60).

As you can see I was turning a profit of 2BB if I 3-bet/folded with the nuts! Of course, I would never do this. I didn’t do it. This is just a simulation. Still, when we are doing our tests it often pays to ask the questions nobody else is asking.

To be fair, I selected a great opponent to 3-bet. Normally he was a little tighter, but in this iPoker major he was getting ahead of himself. While his opening range had changed I doubted his 4-betting range had. This led to him opening 22.5% of hands but only 4-betting 6% of them. That’s a hell of a deficit to make up.

Also, having the aces actually benefitted my 3-bet bluff. It gave me two ace blockers. I inserted the aces there as a test. This proves something that has always driven me nuts: many times the regulars who are berating you for “turning your hand into a bluff” are ignoring the fact you made a clearly profitable play. If they had no plan for postflop or they suggested an unprofitable 5-bet their alternative is a disaster. That’s especially sad when it was designed only for the purposes of salvaging a mediocre hand’s value, something you’d already done with the profitable 3-bet!

I ran the numbers again with 10-7s, the hand with which I actually 3-bet. That hand did not show a 2BB profit, but rather 1.625 or 26,000.

Now, let’s say we just flat versus this very tight 4-betting range, which consists of 88+, A-Qo+, and A-Js+. I thought for sure we were going to be bleeding money. We’re flatting with 10-7 high! He barely has a pot-sized bet left! Our implied odds are horrible! To my surprise, I found if we called on the flop versus an all-in with any pair, any flush draw, and any open-ended straight draw we’d still be showing a profit (Figure 61).

Our profit has diminished, of course. We’re not playing exceptionally well. I highly doubt these are the people NeverScaredB preys on when he flats a 4-bet. He’s probably looking for a wider range. However, it’s remarkable how flatting with such a garbage two-gapper we are still able to make 1.28BB on the hand.

To continue this experiment let’s try to make a hand range that Ben Wilinofsky is looking for. Let’s not make it very bluff-intensive, but we’ll put in some dry aces and some suited gappers, or what people seem to 4-bet bluff with when they get sick of being 3-bet. Figure 62 shows what I came onto.

I thought this qualified as enough bluffs to justify a flat. Notice I did not give the bluffer the worst hands either. He could very well 4-bet some weaker combinations. I tried to select holdings that would hit the flop as much as possible.

In my first model we flatted against this opponent’s 4-bet. The villain, seeing he had only about a pot-sized bet left, jammed any flop. We called with any pair, open-ended straight draw, and flush draw. In the model shown in Figure 63 we’re lighting money on fire compared with the other options.

We are still profitable, but instead of making 1.65BB with a 3-bet/fold we are making a little more than a third of a big blind. Many poker players do this all the time too. They don’t like the cut of the opposing player’s jib, and they go after him. They don’t realize they are only hurting themselves.

Of course, I was puzzled the first time I saw this. How could this be such a bad play when one of the best players I know used it frequently? It then dawned on me: Ben Wilinofsky is not flatting because he assumes the player shoves every flop. He’s doing it because he knows the guy is doing a 4-bet he’s not comfortable with. He recognizes the opponent has stepped outside of his comfort zone. The initial 3-bet wouldn’t be profitable if this 4-bet wasn’t an outlier. Therefore, Ben is gambling on the inexperience of the competitor to expose itself in the flop play, where he will realize he has gotten in over his head.

How will this be reflected? Perhaps he will check/fold if he doesn’t hit a pair? That makes sense. I’ve watched many hand histories where a frustrated regular 4-bet (too small) versus another regular, got flatted, went “what the hell is this?”, and then check/folded the flop when they missed. I decided to calculate for that, and I had us closing our eyes and jamming every flop when they checked. Figure 64 shows the results.

Now we’re cooking. We are at two big blinds profit. That’s a massive amount, when you consider that was our profit margin when our opponent was folding everything preflop and we had two ace blockers. These small percentages of big blinds might not seem like, but they make all the difference in the long run. Of course, we do not always assume our opponent is going to play this predictable. Occasionally, we will misfire and jam versus a guy who trapped us. This is the difficulty in programming equity models. Frequently our answers are only as good as our assumptions.

I feel uniquely qualified for this job as I have watched so many many hand histories. Generally, I have seen poker players terrified to check and set up a trap here. When there’s so much money in the middle they’d rather jam with a brittle pair (which they’ll have most often) and get the party done with.

Are there players who do check and trap? Of course, but against them we should not be running this play. To redirect our attention, notice how every play in this part of the book was profitable. There is a great refrain among grinders. They constantly love to say, “But my play was profitable!” As we can see from these models there’s a large difference between turning a profit and making a world-class play. The differences can be minute: if we flatted the 4-bet and our opponent was skittish, we were banking a huge profit; if we were flatting and he had the gumption to shove and test us we were bleeding out. However, it’s our willingness to run tests and find what particularly influences a play that will have us getting the upper-hand. This is what separates the mediocre grinders and the high-stakes earners.

One side-effect of showing people this math is that they start seeing the situation everywhere, even when the profit is unavailable. This play is usually not a good idea. As I mentioned earlier your initial 3-bet bluff makes no sense if the opponent’s 4-bet range regularly contains a number of bluffs. This is an aberration that occurs occasionally. It is often the result of you having pissed someone off.

The balance is delicate. If the guy is angered enough to just dropkick fire the flop then you’ve made a mistake. If he was not actually frustrated preflop and he is 4-betting a normal range your play is subpar too. Normally, your efforts in poker tournaments are much better spent on finding good 3-bet bluffing spots.

If you change the opponent’s 4-bets to 2.5x the bet or more it disturbs the entire process. The flat is profitable in certain instances because they gave you such a good price. You did not need to hit the flop much to make your play justifiable. If you get into the habit of routinely flatting large 4-bets you will not find yourself lasting in no limit tournaments very long.

Another factor we must emphasize was the value of position here. We were able to see what our opponent did before we acted. This allowed us to further clarify his range. If we were not given this luxury we would have to punch in the chips or tip off our opponent as to the weakness of our hand by checking. Unless we are running a stop and go this is inadvisable.

In these rare instances check/fold statistics are the Holy Grail. This can also help you flat 3-bets versus similar range textures when you’re in position. “Skip C-bet and fold” is a wonderful stat to have on NoteCaddy. There are people who check/fold 60% of the time. Since this is about how often you miss the board you can safely assume when the gentleman bricks he is no longer willing to play.

People never get as excited by the numbers as I do. If I was talking to an old rounder back in the live poker days and he said to me, “This guy can always be counted to back down in a re-raised pot. If he misses he lets it go,” I’d be stunned by the purity of the read and also the edge it would give us. Yet technology bestows this beautiful read on us, and few even bother to learn how to use it.

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