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Smokin' Poker - The ABC of 2NL

Helping newbies to bubble up from the bottom of the fishtank
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Today's blog contains some general advice that is easy to memorize and should help you save or win a few stacks. This article was inspired by TheLangolier's video on Poker Theorems and discussions within my skype group (Hi guys!). Most of the tips come in the form of a one-liners, but I'll explain the sayings in more detail where appropriate.


1. The Baluga Theorem

Expounded by Andrew Seidman, who used the screenname BalugaWhale on 2+2, the theorem states: “Re-evaluate the strength of one pair hands if you get raised on the turn”, with the implication being that folding is often the best option. This is an incredibly simple theorem that holds true in contemporary games, even at 2NL. You'll save a lot of money by folding top pair (or even an overpair) if you bet the the turn and get raised. e.g. You have and bet the  flop for value. The turn is the , and you bet again. Villain raises. He has a set or a top two almost always. Your TPTK is no good, so fold NOW, because if you call, you'll be facing a river shove and you'll lose your stack if you call.

2. “River donks and river raises are the nuts”

Post-flop bets and raises can mean many things. On the flop in particular, a bet or raise could indicate a monster hand, a big draw, or a total airball. On the turn, a raise is a lot scarier. As indicated by the Baluga theorem, a turn raise usually means one pair is no good. On the river, a donk lead or (especially) a (check-)raise shows huge strength, and it's hardly ever a bluff. If you've been happily betting in position on the flop and turn with TPTK, and the guy who's been check-calling all the way suddenly leads out on the river, it's usually because he was slowplaying a monster, or he just hit his draw, and he doesn't want you checking behind. He wants you to call, because he thinks he has you beat. A river raise can be gut-wrenching, but you have to learn to bet-fold if you want to be profitable. If you bet the river and get raised, villain will usually show up with a nutted hand. Since the pot is large and the raise fairly small in comparison, it's suicidal to bluff-raise the river, because the pot-odds make calling look so enticing. A bluff doesn't have much fold equity if the pot lays odds of 5 to 1 on a call, for example. The lesson to learn from this is that villains usually have monsters if they lead out or raise on the river. You should be able to fold top two pairs to a river donk or raise, especially if straight and/or flush draws are completed. If a villain shoves the river, and you've never seen him bluffing in that spot, just give him credit for the nuts, because he nearly always has it.
Putting the Baluga theorem together with this advice can allow you to make some great laydowns. Think of it like this:
A flop raise means... “I could win this hand”.
A turn raise means... “I can beat top pair top kicker”.
A river raise means... “I can beat YOU”.

3. Zeebo Theorem: “No one folds a full house, regardless of bet size”

As with many of the sayings in this article, the phrase above is not 100% reliable. I've folded countless boats, because it was clear I didn't have the best hand. e.g. If I have and the flop is , I have a strong hand (trips) that can get value from worse (e.g. Ax). But if the turn or river comes an ace, I improve to a full house, but I'm losing to a better full house made with any ace. Here's a video of Phil Laak insta-folding a full house, because it's obvious to any thinking player that Johnny Chan is never raising the river with a hand that Phil can beat.  The way to use the Zeebo theorem is to recognise when villain is likely to have a full house, and then bet big (or even overbet) because you have the nut full house (or even quads). e.g. If you are lucky enough to flop quads on a board like , then anyone holding a pocket pair has a full house. You can pot the flop and overbet jam the turn, because hands like 88+ are always calling. At 2NL, villains are so obsessed with the absolute strength their own hands that you might even get looked up by  if you flop quads. Note that if you suspect a villain has a full house (e.g. on a double-paired board), but you cannot beat it, do not try bluffing. You will never bluff a bad player off a big hand. If you can fold full houses when you're sure you're losing, but you get max value when your sure you're ahead, you'll be on the way to fat profits. For inspiration, check out Roberto Romanello's epic fold of jacks full in the WSOP Main Event. (It's worth viewing for Mike Matusow's reaction alone).

4. "If you can't spot the sucker in the first twenty minutes, then you're the sucker”

This is a famous line that was appropriated in 'Rounders'. It has table-selection implications. When you're in a cash game, you should only need one or two orbits to discover the “mark”; the weak spot at the table. If you haven't identified a fish or two within a few minutes of play, then why are you sitting on that table? It won't be profitable to play on it, so find a better table.

5. "Tight is right"

Profitable poker requires a great deal of patience. Sometimes, you'll be card dead, but you shouldn't let it affect you. Don't start playing random trash hands just because you're bored. Very few starting hands are profitable in the long run, but wait for them. Playing a tight range will lead to easier post-flop decisions and generally lead to profit against looser players.

6. “Don't go broke in a limped pot”

Limped pots are often multiway pots, but because there was no pre-flop raise, the pot on the flop is usually small. This means that the only way that stacks end up in the middle is if there is a lot of raising and re-raising. For there to be a lot of raising, there needs to be some monster hands in play. Since limpers usually have speculative hands, you'll generally be looking at sets, straights, flushes and full houses if all the money goes in. It therefore follows that in a limped pot, you should only be getting your stack in the middle if your hand is close to the nuts, if not the actual nuts. At a minimum, I would only stack off top two pairs in a limped pot on a dry board. On a wet board, do not be surprised to see someone show up with something like 74o that made a well disguised straight. (Since the pot is small on the flop, villains will often chase gutshots to the river, as the price is so cheap). As a further piece of advice, remember that in multiway pots, the winning hand will typically be much stronger than a hand made in a heads up pot. It's hard to make a pair in holdem, but if there are five players seeing a flop, there's a good chance that someone made a set or better.

7. “Don't value-own yourself!”

Sometimes you make a strong hand and you think “I should raise here”, but before you ever raise, ask yourself “Can I get called by worse?” If you make a raise that will fold out worse hands and only get action from better hands, you are value-owning (or “value-cutting”) yourself. It's incredibly common to see 2NL players value-owning themselves without even knowing they are doing it. e.g. You raise pre-flop with and a villain calls in the blinds with . The flop comes . Villain checks, and you c-bet with your set. Villain check-raises with TPTK. This is textbook value-ownage. If you were c-betting with air, you fold to this raise very easily, so villain gets no more value for his hand. But since you have a set, you can 3-bet and stack off with 95% equity. Villain's raise with TPTK is never getting called by worse, so his raise is both pointless and stupid. Don't make pointless and stupid raises. Don't value-own yourself!

8. “In a multiway pot, someone always has a jack”

This witticism doesn't have a whole lot of strategic implications, other than the fact you should be less inclined to c-bet with overcards on jack-high flops multiway. If you happen to have QQ+, however, you can make large value-bets, expecting the player with a jack to pay you off.

9. “No set, no bet” /  “Spike or hike”

These two terms refer to set-mining, and the advice is very simple. If you a call a pre-flop raise with a small pocket pair, your aim is to flop a set of trips. If you don't hit a set (or in some cases an open-ended straight draw) then don't put any more money in the pot. If you don't spike, then take a hike! No set, no bet!

10. “Pump it or dump it”

This phrase is more commonly used in non-holdem games like Omaha 8. It's another way of saying “Don't be a calling station”. If you're seeing a flop, it's usually better to be the one driving the action with bets and raises, not the player that just calls. Calling doesn't give you an immediate chance to win the hand, like betting or raising does. While there are definitely many spots in holdem where calling is the best action to take (it prevents you from value-owning yourself, for a start!) your expectation is greater in the long run if you raise with big hands and strong draws. The saying is pump it or dump it, because raising or folding are often better options than calling. Don't be a calling station, pump it or dump it!

11. “Don't go broke with one pair”

If you start a hand with a 100bb stack, you generally shouldn't be getting all in if you only have one pair on the river. This isn't wholly accurate, because with aces and kings, you can happily stack off pre-flop with your big pair, and you can also go for three streets for value with big overpairs. With TPTK or worse, however, you seldom want to be putting money in on all three post-flop streets, as you'll not often get called by worse. The winning hand at showdown is usually two pairs or better, so try taking a pot-control line when stacks are deep in comparison to the size of the pot on the flop.

12. “Most of money you'll win at poker table comes not from the brilliance of your own play, but from the ineptitude of your opponents” (Lou Krieger)

Making triple-barrel bluffs, 4-betting K7 offsuit, or check-raising the river with a missed draw might make you feel like a rockstar, but these fancy plays should generally be avoided. You will make the bulk of your money by taking straightforward lines, and by letting villains make mistakes. At 2NL, the most common mistake is “calling with the worst hand”. There's no need to get fancy with your strong hands. Just bet for value and let villains make mistaken calls.

13. “Don't chase flushes and straights on paired boards”

If the board pairs, then it's possible that someone has a full house. Be more cautious with your flush and straight draws on paired boards. Don't assume you have 8 or 9 outs to the best hand. You could be drawing to a very costly second best hand. Running the nut flush into a flopped full house (or even quads) is a good way to get stacked.

14. “Focus on making good decisions, and the money will look after itself”

A string of bad beats can be very frustrating, but don't be results-oriented. Variance in poker can be sickening, but the fact is that players who put their money in the middle with an underdog hand will not make money in the long run. Getting it in good the majority of the time will lead to profit. You can't win every flip, so take the bad beats with good grace. Focus on making bets that have a positive expectation and don't worry about the results. Get your money in good, and your bankroll will grow.

15. “Poker takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master”

The principles of no limit holdem are fairly simple to understand. Anyone can quickly learn the rules of the game, in the same way they can learn the rules of chess. But the game has layers of complexity that take years to comprehend. Poker is not a “solved” game, like chess, because there is always some hidden information that complicates your decisions. You never know your opponent's precise holecards. All you can do is keep studying and practising, improving your hand-reading, bet-sizing, and tilt-control. Don't get complacent. The game is constantly evolving. A play that works today, might not work so well tomorrow, so keep working at it. Find pleasure in the process of learning. Good luck with your poker education!

I'm not yet sure of the subject for my next ABC blog, but suggestions are welcome in my thread on the forum. Till the next time, use these maxims to win the maximum!

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