THE HIGH POINTS
That was a lot of information, and I know it can get confusing in there. I included specific hand ranges in the discussion so you have some concrete, practical guidelines to help you get going. Yes, you can raise K-8 suited there and it won’t be a disaster. No, you shouldn’t call that raise with A-3 off.
But the specific hands I chose for each situation—particularly the marginal ones—are not important. Another author would no doubt choose a different mix of hands than I did for each decision point. I wouldn’t even necessarily argue it either. The truth is, no one can say with certainty that K-6 suited is profitable, but K-5 suited is unprofitable in a given situation. This game is way too
complicated, and every situation comes with way too many variables to get precision like that.
Here’s the part that matters.
- Play tight. You can alter the mixes of hands, but don’t stray too far from the frequencies I listed. If I recommended playing 14 percent of hands, don’t play 30 percent instead. That’s what can get you into trouble.
- Avoid strength. Your 1-2 opponents will give you far too much information about their hand strength, and that information begins with pre-flop play. If someone rarely raises, but they raise this hand, assume they are strong and react accordingly.
- Attack weakness. Your opponents play too many hands pre-flop. This tendency forms the base of why you can win money at this game. When you suspect your opponents are in with the weak hands, you should attack them with raises.
- Don’t try to make hands. Making trips and straights and flushes is not how you win. If you think, “Gee, maybe I can slip in with this suited hand and catch a flush,” you are thinking like everyone else. If you think like everyone else, you will play like everyone else, and you will lose $10 an hour. If your opponents are limping, they’re probably weak, and you should probably attack them with a raise—even if your hand isn’t so great either.
- Choose hands that have equity-when-called. A hand like 8-7 suited is better in this game than a hand like A-4
off. (This is true with typical cash game stack sizes. In tournaments with short stacks it’s potentially a different story.) The real value of 8-7 suited is that it hits a wide range of flops, ensuring that you often have equity. A hand like this will be one of your best bluffing options. Whereas on flops that don’t contain an ace, A-4 off will be mostly useless.
6. Defend blinds against steals, not strong raises. When your opponent makes a big raise that’s likely to be a strong hand, don’t worry about defending your blind. On the other hand, when your opponent makes a raise that’s likely to be a steal, defend with lots of reraises and calls. Avoid strength. Attack weakness.
MULTI-WAY POTS AND LOOSE GAMES
That’s it for the basics on pre-flop play. This section, “Multi-Way Pots and Loose Games,” will be a recurring fixture at the end of the next few chapters. A common feature of small-stakes games is players who are in way too many hands pre-flop. This tendency creates pots where four-to-six players see most of the flops.
When so many see the flop, it makes it more likely one of them has hit the board. It often feels like opponents in these games will never fold.
When so many see a flop and refuse to fold post-flop, it can present a unique challenge to a lot of players early in their careers. So for the first few skills, I will specifically discuss how the ideas apply to these sorts of games.
In general, too many players tilt in these games and let the dynamic get into their heads. They get frustrated. And they flail around trying to find the winning formula.
The good news if you have this problem is that you’re not alone. In reality, games with loose players and multi-way pots aren’t that different from games with other types of opponents. If you learn the skills I cover in this book, and you incorporate the notes at the end of each chapter, you should do just fine.
There are in fact two types of loose games pre-flop. First, there are games where lots of people limp, but they’re less willing to call raises (especially fairly big raises). For instance, in this sort of game, typically four players limp, and the blinds call and check
for a six-way flop. But if someone makes it $15 or $20 after three limpers, only one or two players are likely to call the raise.
In this type of game, raise bigger. When people limp in front of you, don’t worry about them. Since players are limping with so many hands, these limps represent extremely wide and weak ranges. Just pretend the limps aren’t there for the purpose of selecting hands (i.e., use the ranges I suggested above without adjustment). Then make your raise to $15 or $20. When you get one or two callers, you’ll be playing a more “normal” game.
This may not be the perfect way to approach these games, but it’s a simple and winning way. Don’t waste your time trying to optimize your play in games like this. Because soon you’ll be graduating out of this level of play.
The other type of loose games requires some adjustment. Here, players are loose and limp too much. Likewise, they’re loose and call raises and reraises too much. In this type of game, if three players limp, and you raise to $20, you’d expect one or both blinds to call, and all three limpers to call as well.
On one level, this can feel scary. Yet, in fact this is an ideal situation in which to make money with stronger hands, because so many players are willing to risk so much money with weak hands.
Yet, here’s the problem. This game style creates artificially shallow stacks. Say you’re playing 1-2 with $200 stacks. In a “normal” game, two players limp, and you make it $10 to go. The blinds fold, and the limpers call. There’s $33 in the pot and $190 behind, so the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR—the ratio of money left in
stacks to the money in the pot on the flop) at this point is almost 6.
With an SPR of 6, there’s room to bet the flop, get called, and have meaningful action on the turn and river as well.
In a super-loose game however, you raise to $20 and get called in four spots. Now the pot’s $100, with on average less than $200 behind. So, the SPR is below 2. When the SPR is so small, you essentially must decide whether to commit your stack on the flop.
When faced with playing for stacks on the flop, the relative value of pre-flop hand features gets reconfigured a bit. When I introduced these features, I said that suitedness was the most important, with big-card value and connectedness close behind.
Yet, when the pot is already so large compared to the remaining stacks—as it is in super-loose games—it’s much more valuable to make top pair on the flop than it is to flop a straight draw. So a hand like K-T suited will perform much better than 8- 7 suited. You might even prefer offsuit big card hands like A-J or K-Q to smaller suited connectors.
In fact, small suited connectors are so devalued in games like these, you might consider folding some of them to other players’ raises. You might even consider limping with them. (I did say earlier in the book you could argue limping exceptions to me, and this might be one of them.)
As I said earlier about suited connectors, it’s probably best to consider these bluffing hands. When five players see a flop, and most people will either commit on the flop or fold, the bluffing value of suited connectors drops (but doesn’t disappear entirely).
Likewise, if you’re certain you’ll get called and have to see a flop, you can drop all the bluffing hands from your 3-betting ranges. Instead of 3-betting A-A, K-K, and A-5 suited from early position, you just 3-bet the premium pairs. And in that circumstance, you can likely add Q-Q, J-J, and A-K to the 3- betting range as well.
I want to emphasize you have to be quite certain you’ll get called to abandon all your bluffs. Many amateurs make the mistake of taking their experiences from one game or a few games to an extreme. “These guys never call when I have it.” “These guys never fold to bluffs.” “They won’t ever fold a pair. Ever.” Player observations get generalized unreasonably, and reshape someone’s play for good.
Amusingly, some amateurs will hold all three of these viewpoints simultaneously. Their opponents never pay them off when they have a hand, but always call their bluffs. This is obviously nonsense. Either your opponents call a lot or fold a lot. Your 1-2 opponents aren’t clairvoyant. They don’t have the gift to fold every time you have it and call every time you don’t.
In games where players tend to fold a lot post-flop, there are still plenty of situations where you can get paid off with good hands. And in games where players tend to call down a lot, there are plenty of situations where you can get a bluff through. This is true almost regardless of the extremes you feel your games are playing.
You should catch yourself whenever you have the thought, “Gee, they never fold when I reraise.” Is it really never? If it is, then fine, don’t reraise bluffs. But being certain about future
events that aren’t actually certain is one of the preferred foibles of mediocre poker players. Always keep an open mind and seek out information that challenges your reads.
The bottom line here? When you’re in a game that’s particularly loose, and pots get very big pre-flop, focus on hands that get you there faster and can hit a board hard—pocket pairs and high-card hands. And be less willing to play hands like suited connectors that take time to develop as the board runs out.