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JDean's Ramblings.


Change your "Default Settings" For Poker Decisions.

By: JDean @ 04:24 (EDT) / 503 / Comment ( 5 )


Hi all!
While railing some PSO friends recently, I saw some pretty leaky mistakes being made. I thought I could help, but as some of those "mistakes" continued even after I gave some info, my thoughts may have not sunk home. So I thought I would write a blog with a proposal which might help that person, and it could help you too. Here goes!
I remember reading something from Mike Caro a long time back, to the effect that:
"Many players sit at a poker table expecting to PLAY, not fold. Since aggressive raises can be uncomfortable without truly strong hands, and since really strong hands come rarely, many palyers fall into a pattern of calling too often just so they can PLAY POKER instead of fold. Calling becomes their Default Setting."
Does that fit you? It shouldn't, should it?
How about this one, courtesy of Al Spath, the "Dean" of the old Poker School Online:
RAISE more than CALL...FOLD more than RAISE!
Does that fit you? It probably should, shouldn't it?
You are probably thinking now: "Hey, I'm definately a TAG player! I really do not call that much! What does this have to do with me?"
How about we all take a little 3 part "test" to see if we are as aggressive as we think we are?
Question #1:
You are at a 1/2 no limit cash game table with 6 other people, and everyone has equal 200BB ($400) chip stacks. 
A very loose opponent who has been raising about 30 to 40% of pots from any position open raises UTG, making it $8 to go. 
All the opponents behind you are very TIGHT/PASSIVE players. 
You are UTG +1, and look down to see AJs.
What do you do?
A) FOLD. AJs is not a hand I really want to play a big pot with oop, and a loose aggro player this wide might bluff me hard and force me to fold on the flop.
B) CALL. AJs is going to play pretty well versus a 30 to 40% range, and I have a hand that could flop a strong draw even if others come along.
C) RAISE.I am likely well ahead of the opener's range, and really would like to increase my chance of winning with a 1 pair hand by isolating, or increase my chance of winning by showing early strength so i can represent a wider range of flop "hits". 
Question #2:
You are in the early/middle stages of a small field MTT (~200 runners to start, 20 paid, roughly 135 left) at a full table of 9. 
Blinds are 100/200 (with no antes yet), and you are on the button.
Average stack in the event is 5925 chips.
You have 10,500 chips, and are one of the larger stacks.
A moderately loose and pretty aggressive player (~25% VPiP, with about a 17% raise to enter %) moves all in from middle position with a 1750 stack.
The SB is another short stack, with about 1200 chips behind his 100 post, and the BB is the only larger stack than you at the table with 19,500, and he has shown himself to be a pretty decent TAG player.
It folds to you on the BTN, and you look down to see 99. 
What do you do?
A) FOLD. I am not comfortable risking at least 16.5% of my chips in what probably is a race.
B) CALL. I am ready to race with the shortie, and if the SB moves in I might win even more, but I really do not want to risk a lot of my stack against the BB. 
C) RAISE All In. I want to make sure I do not face a possible squeeze by the BB, and I am probably ahead of the short stack's shove range here. If the BB wakes up with a huge hand and calls, so be it. 
Question #3.
You are in the late middle stages of the same MTT, and there are 45 runners left.
You are still at a full table of 9.
Blinds are now 400/800 with 50 chip ante.
Average stack in the event is now 17,775 chips.
You have 13,500 and are again on the button (~17BB).
A 22,000 stack min raises to open from MP; he is a player running around 22/10 VPiP/PFR, and is pretty station-y post flop.
A 12,500 stack calls immediately behind; he is a very loose/passive player pre flop (39/8) , and often gives up post flop.
A 19,000 stack calls in the cut off; he is a pretty Tight/Passive player, with a 12/3 VPiP/PFR.
The SB is a big stack with 31,000 behind his posted SB, and he is a "sheriff" type who will tend to call pre flop, then "take over" with strong donk leads on the flop.
The BB is a good solid TAG player, running around 14/10 VPiP/PFR, who has 9,800 chips behind his 800 posted BB.
The pot stands at 6450 when it gets to you.
You looked down at your hand and see 78h.
What do you do?
A) FOLD. My hand is simply too weak to play in this spot for a raise, and I cannot call/fold over 10% of my chips and like it.
B) CALL. My hand is one that plays well in multi-way pots that are pretty cheap, so a min raise is not a very large amount.
C) RAISE, All in. I cannot play for a flat then fold flop misses, I cannot do anything but stick myself if I flop a 1 pair hand, and I need chips so this looks like a good spot to double because of the pot odds I'm getting.
Answer will be given at the bottom...
So how did you do on our quiz?
If you did not score 15 points (you do not have to tell us!), or if you struggle a bit when in spots where you cannot decide between a raise or a call, and usually opt to take the more passive line, read on...
I'm sure we all have heard the praises of a nice, tight aggressive style, and I'm also sure that many of us THINK we are playing TAG even though we are not nearly as aggressive, nor as tight, as we think we are. A lot of us have this "default setting" in our brains which causes us to call along on a few too many hands just "to see what happens", especially if we have been folding quite a few hands and it feels like we are not getting involved enough. Even when we find ourselves in a spot where there is a pretty good chance we do hold the best hand, if our hand is somewhat weak, we may go to our 'default setting" and call, just to be safe. 
Well, TAG poker is not really "safe" poker is "safe". 
Every decision you make when you play poker should have a REASON, and that reason should be geared toward increasing your return for any risk you take. Some sample "reasons" that might not be quite good enough are...
- I have 55 and it has folded to me in MP. I want to set mine so I'll limp in to hopefully get a cheap flop.
- That loose guy in EP has just min raised for the 10th time in about 25 hands, and I have ATo. My hand is really not great, but it is probably better than his, so since I am on the button I think I will call.
- I just flopped a gut shot straight draw, and a 9 high flush draw, and that loose guy in MP just C-Bet full pot. I have quite a few outs, so I think I will call to peel the turn so I do not cost myself too much if I miss, and so I can win a monster pot if I hit. 
What you SHOULD be thinking is...
- I have 55 and it has folded to me in MP. If I limp, how likely am I to be raised behind? Can I withstand that raise to set mine? If I RAISE can I get a good implied odds price to call and set mine if I am 3bet, and how likely am I to be 3bet if I raise? What kinds of OTHER hands could I represent as having hit me on the flop if I raise, and can I afford to make a C-bet then fold if called or raised?
- That loose guy in EP has just min raised for the 10th time in about 25 hands, and I have ATo. Am I really ahead of his range? Has he shown he can fold if I raise? If he calls a pre flop raise, how likely is he to check/fold the flop? What kinds of hands can I flop with ATo that I'd be willing to play against this guy in a large pot? 
- I just flopped a gut shot straight draw, and a 9 high flush draw, and that loose aggro guy in MP just C-Bet full pot. Is it possible all my outs make me a "math favorite" here over his range? How likely is he to fold if I raise, making it un-necessary for me to hit my outs? Is the pot size large enough, and my investment GREAT enough, to risk him calling a raise weakly and forcing me to hit anyway? If I raise, how likely is he to 3bet as a math dog to my outs, and can I profitably get all in here to ensure I see both the turn and river?
"Ok JDean, those are some spots I might not raise in so I'm with you. What's the point?"
A lot of times, we fall into patterns where a CALL is what we choose to do, when either a RAISE or a FOLD would be a better option. 
In our first example here, limping (a pre flop "call" of the BB amount), is really not a great idea. By doing so we encourage others to limp along behind, thus making it even less likely we could take down the pot with an un-improved pair of 5's (remember, we will only flop a set about 1 time in 8.5). We really should be thinking about thinning the field a little bit by RAISING, or we should FOLD because we recognize that will not really be possible if players behind us call raises too lightly. 
A LIMP is a decent option sometimes, but only if A) we are pretty sure no one will raise and price us off a set mine, B) we are pretty sure we will get a lot of callers to increase our chance of getting paid if we flop a set, or C) if we are likely see a raise no matter what we do, and we would still have implied odds to call the raise to continue our set mine (and if getting 3bet if/when we raise to open will not leave us implied odds to continue). 
In our second example, we'd really need to know how aggro this guy is post flop to decide whether to play ATo agaisnt him, and how loose he will call to continue. We are quite probably ahead of his range, but we are also quite unlikely to flop enough of a hand with ATo to love playing a huge pot (unless the money is pretty shallow). If the money is pretty shallow, we should probably think about raising with the intent to get our chips in on a top pair type hand, and if the money is too deep enough for that we should probably fold.
A CALL might be a good option if we can Bluff or Semi Bluff the flop quite a bit of the time, and get the opponent to give up a better hand than we flopped, or if he will check/call with a lesser hand quite often.
In our 3rd example here, we flopped a pretty strong draw, but we are facing a pretty LARGE C bet. About the only way we should call here is if we believe our 9 high is calling for VALUE (we are ahead with 9 hi...which we almost never will be), or because we think we can set up a successful semi bluff on the turn by floating. We should almost always raise or fold here.
The truth of poker is that by calling (or limping), you leave yourself "card dependant", and you can only win a hand by making the best hand at the river. By betting or raising, you not only have a chance to hold the best hand at the river, but you also may make BETTER hands fold on occasion. 
If you ARE ahead with your hand, an immediate bet or raise that gets called by a lesser hand adds more value to the pot for you than a call (as long as you have bet enough to deny odds to a draw), and defines the types of hands your opponent might be betting or calling on; that definition can save you money if likely threat cards then appear which could beat you. Aggressive action (bets and raises) also tends to define the types of cards you might need to see to improve to the best (if you are bluffing or semi bluffing), and can save you money if/when those cards do not materialize and you no longer have odds to continue.
Most people do not have trouble with betting or raising when it is pretty clear they are ahead, but when we find ourselves in spots where we MIGHT be ahead, but we are not really sure, that is when we tend to resort to the default setting in our poker brains, much to the detriment of our profitability.
The concept many people fail to realize is:
"Huh? Run that by me again JDean?"
What if you limp our 55 hand, and it folds to the BB?
Pot = 2.5BB
The flop comes 234 rainbow, and the BB checks. 
With an OESD and a minor over pair, you decide a half pot bet is a good idea, even though you do not have your set. 
You do this because you do not want the BB to get a "free card" in case he holds an A, a 6, or (rarely) a 5. 
You lead, making it 1.25BB to go, and putting the pot at 3.75BB. 
The villain Check Raises, making it a total of 3.75BB to go (2.5BB to you). There is 7.5BB in the pot, and you are getting 3 to 1 to continue.
You go into the tank for a while, and you realize that the villain is pretty aggro, so he might make this C/R on a weak A (like A8/A7), a 5 with an over card, a 6 with an overcard, and as he probably raises many bigger pp than yours pre flop, there is a pretty decent chance your hand is still ahead.
You also know there is a chance your opponent has a BETTER hand than yours on this flop, as he might have any 2 random cards and could have flopped straight, a baby set, or a weak 2 pair hand. In that case, at least you have an OESD to draw at, and while you are not getting the right pot odds to peel for that hand, you do have reaosn to think the Villain will lead again if an A or 6 comes, perhaps giving you the right implied odds price to call. 
So you call...Pot = 10BB
Turn comes a 2, and you still have an over pair + straight draw. 
Opponent checks to you now, and because you have somewhat marginal showdown value and could be beat, you decide to check behind.
River comes a 6. 
Villain leads for 3/4ths pot (7.5BB). You tank for a while thinking what the villain could bet like this when the 6 comes, and you believe he could easily bet a 6x (top pair), could be making a "scare card" bluff after you checked back the turn, or he might actually have made a hand that is even better than your straight. You are a little too deep to think about re-shoving for value (75BB effective still), and your hand is beating a little too much of what the villain might have to fold.
You Call.
RESULT: Villain tables 23, had checked when he turned the boat in hopes you'd bet and/or "catch up" enough to bet or raise the river (or at least call).
You lost a total of 12.25BB despite not doing ANYTHING "wrong" really, except play passively.
Had you RAISED the 55 pre flop, the BB probably does not call to flop bottom 2 pair.
Had you RAISED the flop C/R when you thought you held the best hand, you might have seen a 4Bet you could fold to, or at least a turn bet because you expressed strength. You might even (possibly) have gotten bottom 2 to fold.
See how failing to act aggressively may cost you MORE than it needs to?
"Great JDean, I get this. But I still do not know how to change these things very well. I am still going to feel uncomfortable, so how do I KNOW when I am failing to act aggressively when I could do better that way, and how do I tell when I am being TOO aggressive?"
Glad you asked! :)
In order to help you to re-set your default switch for your actions from Call/Fold/Raise, to what it should be (Fold/Raise/Call), I suggest the following exercise...
Play 10 x SNG/MTT or Cash Game sessions at a micro stake (below what you'd normally play)
In this exercise, NEVER CALL...only raise or fold. 
(yes, you can still check your option in the BB, and you can also CHECK post flop, but you cannot limp or call AT ALL! Just raise or fold...).
If you play MTT/SNG, the fact you cannot play "cheap pots" by calling means you should probably only raise/re-raise a pretty strong value range, especially early on.
You will probably be in a "shove/fold" situation relatively earlier due to playing fewer pots that might build your stack.
You may find that betting or raising opponents who are calling stations can be costly, so you may want to make sure you do not try to bluff bet them too often.
All this is FINE...
I'd also suggest that if you play cash games within this exercise, yous tick with a pretty tight value range for your games. I'd also suggest that you NOT enter more than 3 or 4 pots at most before moving to another table, as a bet or raise only play style can be very easy for opponents to adjust to.  
The goals of this exercise are to make you more aware of:
- POSITION. The more people who may call or raise behind you, the harder it will be to play a hand without being able to call and pot control.
- OPPONENT LOOSENESS. The weaker an opponent may call, the weaker your range might be to have good equity agaisnt that range. If TOO MANY opponents might call, the STRONGER the hand you hold hold may have to be to win the pot, and the more important it will be to have maximum info from position. 
- OPPONENT AGGRESSION. The more likely it is that opponent(s) might RAISE your pot entries, the stronger your initial raise range equity should be, and the less willing you should be to paly "big pots" with hands that may only flop top pair with somewhat weak kickers. 
- STACK SIZES. Adopting an approach that allows only bets or raises forces you into situations where you will tend to be in more "big pots", with fast approaching committment decisions. Before you enter any pot, be aware of how the types of hands you might flop with your start hand will tend to paly in those pots. 
Now just like with the famous Annette Oberstad exercise of covering her cards and playing an MTT is not going to be +eV, do not expect this exercise to be +eV either. Calls ARE part of the game of poker, so eliminating them TOTALLY from your game is hardly a sure road to "success". 
Covering your cards and playing allows you to identify situations where you might pound on WEAK opponents with your bet sizing choices, but you are essentially 'bluffing" every hand you play simply because you cannot know what your equity is versus the opponent's range. The exercise I propose allows you the chance to assess your equity and take steps to MAXIMIZE that equity. Sure, you might find some spots to bluff/semi bluff too, but the big idea behind this exercise is learning how to become more aggro with your more marginal value range, especially agaisnt weaker opponents...
This should help to re-set your default switch AWAY from calling too often, and focus it more on trying to get the most out of your situations that stand to have good value for you to do so. 
And THAT is the idea behind TAG poker that we all aspire to...right?
I am curious to hear how you do if you try this, so let me know!
Hope it helps!
Q #1 Answers:
Score 2.5 points if you chose A. 
This is TOO tight at a short handed table this deep, and against this opponent. Sure, You will miss the flop about 2/3rds of the time, and you may not be able to bet and take this opp off his hand, and this option at least does not cost you anything but a CHANCE to win some money versus a wide range, so it is a possibility oop. But this is a pretty risk averse option, and passing up spots like these are not ideal. 
Score 0 points if you chose B.
This is too PASSIVE a play choice versus this opponent. Also, if anyone else calls along behind, given their tight/passive play styles, you will not really know where you stand. Seeking to play "comfortably", but trying to avoid excessive risk by not raising may cause you to flop a "2nd best" hand, and lose far more than you would if you had raised or folded.
Score 5 points if you chose C.
This is a pretty good option really. Your hand will play well versus the open raiser's range, you will tend to fold out a lot of slightly BETTER hands which otherwise might call along (like middle pp), and if you 3bet to around $24 to go, you would have a pretty good idea about what you "need" to see on the flop if you get called behind. If you are 4bet behind, there is no WAY you can feel comfortable calling, so you can easily give up pre flop somewhat cheaply. If the LAG flats your 3bet, you stand a pretty good chance to pick up the pot on continuation simply because you showed pre flop strength, and if he gives up his (likely) weak holding pre flop, you win a pot with zero further risk. 
Q #2 Answers:
Score 1 point if you chose A. 
This is a move to play for a min cash, and that is not how you make money in MTT poker. Sure, you avoid any chance of loss by folding, but passing up spots like this to pick up chips because you are 'scared" of a loss will usually result in you not accumulating enough of a stack to run deep; that's where the real money is. 
Score 0 points if you chose B.
Again, the call in this spot sets you up to possibly look at a squeeze you may think about folding to in order to preserve your MTT "life". If you want to flat along with AA/KK/QQ in HOPES the BB tries to squeeze you out, fine. A smart TAG palyer in the BB poses too big a risk to want to call off the remainder of your big stack though, and folding 16.5% if pretty "blech" too...avoid the choice altogether.
Score 5 points if you chose C.
You are on enough of a hand to think you are probably ahead of the shover's range. You are still far enough away from the money to think that you "must" get more chips to cash. You do NOT want to possibly add over cards that might beat you by allowing the BB to call along on something like QJ with odds by flatting, and you do not want to see a "dry pot" that you might find hard to bet into to deny free cards to draws. You cannot 3bet any amount less than all in without committing yoursefl anyway. Altogether, this adds up to an All in as your only solid choice.
Q #3 answers:
Score 5 points if you chose A.
A fold is probably best here. When you start with 17BB, you are going to come up on a committment decision VERY FAST, especially in a bloated multi-way pot that figures to start with a mega LOW SPR. This you will need to decide on the flop whether you have hit hard enough to think about committing, and those flops will be pretty few and far between.
Score 1 point if you choose B.
I really debated about giving ANY points to this option, and finally decided that it is somewhat valid. I went with giving points because 1) The chance of being re-raised pre flop is somewhat low (although the short stack TAG may jam, given the pot size) 2) your stack is probably not deep enough to get you even a min cash, so you need to find some spots, 3) call/folding 2BB does not really CHANGE the play-ability of your stack, only the amount of time you have before your decisions must change 4) You do have roughly a 25% chance to flop 2 pair+, or an 8 or 9 out draw that would be a huge chip up chance if you hit and win. The key thing to note in regards to the "theme" of this post is that while a call now may seem "passive", making it means you WILL be acting aggressively on any 8 or 9 out draw, or any 2 pair plus hand.
Score 0 points if you chose C.
This is TOO aggressive. Your stack carries little fold equity in the pot that has already built, and facing this many opponents simply makes it too likely you will get a call. If you DO get a call, you are almost never ahead, and 17BB getting somewhat close to the $ is a bit too large of a stack to "punt" by getting in behind. Remember: TIGHT is part of TAG poker too...


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