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JDean's Ramblings.

I am back again, to post the second installment of my blog re-capping the discussions held in the Suited Aces Study group!

If you check out my first Blog entry, "Start Hand Standards", you can find all the info on how to take part in our study group. We meet on Saturdays, at NOON US Central time. This study group is open to ANY PSO member, so you all are welcome!

Reading your Opponents.

As you saw in the first post I put up, the Suited Aces group tends to approach poker "learning" in a step by step manner. While we recognize that no single "skill" in poker will lead you to overall poker "success", we also recognize that COMBINING multiple skills into a single topic is likely to lead to information over load.

Because of this realization, the first blog I put up addressed only the most COMMON types of value you will derive from your start hand decisions; high card/pair value. Simply making an adjustment towards ONLY playing higher end cards, cards likely to flop top pair type hands, AND playing only cards which are likely to have a "good" kicker when they do pair, goes a long way toward improving a beginning player's results. This does NOT mean it is the "end of the road" for the beginning player though...

Most normal lesson progressions move on from Start hand standards to talk about position, and the importance of that aspect of poker. Position essentially boils down to this:

The later your position, the more "information" you are likely to have about your hand, and the hands of your opponents.

This is all well and good, but Position, and the info you gain from leveraging it, is only truly useful to you once you know what KINDS of info you are likely to gain in position. If you have no clue about the info you should be "seeing", how can you leverage position, right?  This is why the Suited Aces addressed Reading your Opponents immediately after covering Start hand standards.

So...

The first thing we covered was a simple list of the types of information you SHOULD be gathering on your opponents. The list we used comes from the original "Super/System", and is taken from the LIMIT HOLD 'EM section, written by Bobby Baldwin (pg 356 of the Blak soft Cover edition). I will quote Mr Baldwin:

"The important Questions you want an IMMEDIATE answer to are:

1) How many hands does he play?
2) Does he bet a lot, or is he a "Calling Station"?
3) Does he bluff?
4) Can he BE bluffed?
5) Does he have a good knowledge of the game, or is he a "weak" player?
6) Is his play thrown off by a "bad beat"?
7) Does he always play the same hand the same way, or does he mix up his play (by "changing gears")?

Mr. Baldwin's list is pretty much the most comprehensive and concise list I have ever come across.

1) How many hands does he play?

To this I would add: "What hands have you seen him show down?" and "Does he seem to vary his start hand standards using position?"

This information essentially establishes a "Tight vs Loose" matrix for you to use against an opponent.

If you do a good job of collecting bits and pieces of this info item on an opponent, you can begin to adjust YOUR start hand standards to take advantage of what you have seen HIM play. These adjustments may take the form of loosening your start hand standards to play a wider range against a very LOOSE opponent, or it could mean CALLING on a much narrowed range versus a very tight opponent (or RAISING a wider range against that tight opponent, because he is more likely to fold...but more on that in the Bet sizing and stack management blog!).

There is something YOU should know though: No "read" of an opponents' start hand is likely to be "perfect" pre-flop.

For this reason, you should always be looking to put your opponent on a RANGE of hands, rather than a specific hand. Consider...

Any maniac can wake up with AA, right?

Just because he has raised with A5o, 33, Q9s, and J5o does NOT prevent him from POSSIBLY having AA or KK NOW, right?

That does not mean you should live in "fear" of AA/KK, and never play against this loose a raiser, nor does it mean you should fail to RAISE him when you hold a hand like QQ or AK. What it does mean is you should at least CONSIDER the possibility that you might be playing against a monster hand, and calculate that factor into your decisions. See?

We will cover more about these "equity calculations" against observed hand ranges in the blog on using Poker Math, but suffice it to say that there ARE ways to adjust your decisions to account for this factor. I would strongly suggest you go to: www.pokerstove.com

Down load this free equity calculator and play around with it a little bit. This calculator differs from the one at www.cardplayer.com I cited in my last blog, insofar as you can compare individual, specific, hands against each other (like the card player calc), but you can ALSO compare a known hand versus an unknown RANGE of hands as well. The Card Player calc does not have this functionality.

You can also use the thread I put up in the general forum about "Typical Relative Hand Value Situations". Memorizing the list of situations, and the adjustments for suitedness and connectivity in that thread can really allow you to zero in on "playable hands" if you can put your opponent on a RANGE of hands.


2) Does he bet a lot, or is he a calling station?

To this I would add: "how MUCH is he likely to bet with certain types of hands?"

Having this information essentially allows you to establish an "Aggression vs. Passivity" matrix for use against an opponent.

This information is important to know in order to open your hand range to possibly include drawing hands, and speculative hands like small pocket pairs to "set mine". Example:

You are playing Player A, and you hold 78h on the button.
You have seen player A essentially restrict his playing "range" to any 2 broadway cards, and pocket pairs. This equates to roughly an 18% hand range for him to enter on.
You have seen him enter every pot he does for a raise to 3x the BB.
You have seen player A "min bet" EVERY flop, after he raised and was called.
You have also seen he will continue to min bet all the way to the river, at which time he will SHOVE all-in on any top pair or 2nd pair type hand.

How can you use this info to decide what to do with your 78h? Well...

First, you have almost NO chance to be "ahead" of this hand range read right now. BUT...

As long as CALLING his intial raise does not severely "damage" your stack, and so long as calling 2 min bets will not push you close to a "committment point" (see later blog on Bet sizing and Stack management), you are pretty likely to be getitng a "good price" if you flop a draw.

You ALSO know that if your draw hits, on the flop, turn, OR river, there is a very good chance he will shove, and you will win a lot more from him than you'd normally expect by making your draw. BUT...

If the amount you can "win" if Player A gets all-in is relatively "insignificant" in relation to your stack size, running the risk of calling in here, even if you do get a "good price" may not be worth it. (again, more on the "why" of this in later blogs)

You ALSO know that if you do not flop an 8 or 9 out draw (open end straight or flush draw) at least, you can also FOLD your 78h without investing a large amout in the pot.

Ideally, THIS is the sort of "internal dialogue" which should be running through your head BEFORE you decide to enter the pot, or fold.

I ask you this:
(Practice Questions for your start to USING this information)

If your stack is 3800, Player A's is 3400, and the blinds are 50/100, what do you do here?
What if the blinds are 25/50? 15/30? 10/20? 250/500?

If your stack is 1450, and player A's is 3500, and the blinds are 50/100?
What if the blinds are 10/20? 75/150?

Contrast this bet pattern with that of Player B...

You are still on the button, and player B is the intial raiser ahead of you this time.
You still hold 78h.
Player B is playing a MUCH wider raise range.
His range consists of:
Any pp, any 2 broadway cards, any Ace, any suited K, he is playing off suit K9/Q9/J9/T9, any off suit 98/87/76, any suited connectors down to 54s, any suited 1 gappers to T8s, Any suited 2 gappers down to J8s, and any suited 3 gappers down to Q8s. This is a WIDE range of 40% of start hands.

Every time he gets one of these hands, he enters the pot for a MIN RAISE.
He has folded 15% of the time to a re-raise, and 40% of the time to a shove for greater than 30% of his stack.

Every time he raises, and is just called, he will C-Bet an amount from 2/3rds to Full pot (whether he hits or not).
You have no showdown info to decide whether his differentiation in bet sizes is a result of hits vs misses, or is a random choice.
He has folded to a raise 33% of the time on the flop after C-Betting.
100% of the time when his C-Bet has just been called, he has fired a POT size bet on the turn.

What is your play with 78h on the button if you hold 3800, player B's stack is 3500, and the blinds are 50/100?

What is your play with 78h on the button if you hold 1500, player B holds 3500, and the blinds are 50/100? What about if the stacks are reversed?

Rather than me answering here, I will leave it to anyone seeing this to use the comment feature of this blog for their responses. This can, perhaps, engender some discussion to help clarify how to begin USING these items of information to forumlate your play decisions.

When your opponent is more prone to CALLING, than betting/raising, you must be highly circumspect in both your bluffing "shots", and your value bet decisions.

The major problem posed by a calling station is that you gain very little "information" by betting into them. If your top/top hand is no good because he flopped a raggy 2 pair hand, you are not likely to get much info that your hand is no good by him raising you. So against these types of players it is often better to fore-go some potential value in the pot to preserve your chips in case he did out flop you. Plus...

It is a rare player who will call all the way down on something like a lone 2nd or 3rd pair hand, but if you attempt to BLUFF one of these players with a no pair hand, you will likely lose a ton of chips. You should strongly consider only solid "semi-bluffs", or "bluffs with outs", for added value in the pot when they hit against the true "calling station". Again, consider checking at least one street to see what he does, and take "free cards" for your semi-bluff when offered.

YOU must be aware of the fact that CALLING gives you only 1 way to win a pot at showdown (by having the best hand), while betting or raising gives you 2 ways to win (either by having or making the best hand at showdown, or by making a potentially BETTER hand fold before reching showdown), even if your opponent is not aware of this fact. Each calling station presents you with a difficult decision- is he calling me beause he isn;t sure his hand is good? Or is he calling me because he is SO sure his hand is best he is willing to let me "set a price" to draw at him on order to ensure I keep putting chips into HIS pot?


This is the primary reason why you msut read lightly with a rampant CS.

(Note: Google "the gap concept in poker" for more information)


3) Does he Bluff?

To this I would add:
"are there any SPECIFIC situations where he likes to try a bluff
(does he river bluff busted flush draws?, does he strong bluff when his flopped top pair is no longer top pair?, will he "triple barrel bluff" any 2 random cards? and a LOT more potential types of bluffs)

"does his bet sizing change when bluffing, as opposed to betting for value?"

"does he prefer to bluff specific streets"? (bluff the flop, but then check/fold the turn, or the river? or does he love bluffing the river? etc)

People generally bluff a lot, or bluff very little; relatively FEW people apply solid reasoning to bluff situationally (altho some people who do not "normally" bluff will do so if the situation is obviously favorable, and some who bluff with great frequency may NOT if the situation is not very favorable at all).

This tendency is usually caused by an individual's level of "risk aversion"- the more "risk averse" you are, the less likely you are to feel "comfortable" with bluffing, and vice versa. (We will visit bluff frequency and calling/raising/folding to bluffs more in the bet sizing and stack management blog).

The frequency of an opponent's likelihood to bluff STRONGLY influences your CALL decisions- obviously, the more OFTEN he is bluffing, the more likely you should be to CALL on relatively decent hands (they also effect whether you may raise/re-raise, or even fold, but we will address that questions, again, in Bet sizing/Stack management). A couple things to realize when playing a frequent bluffer:


A) Use the rule of "5 and 10" (applicable ONLY on the river)

This rule states:

If a call is 5% of your stack (or less), and he is frequently bluffing, you should almost certainly call with almost any hand likely to beat a bluff. This may be top pair/weak kicker, it may be 2nd or 3rd pair, it may be BOTTOM pair...it might even be Ace hi. The strength of your hand needed to call with just a "bluff beater" should rest largely on this size of the pot as well as the "strength" of your hand. you should also consider the likelihood of him bluffing a busted draw (the board texture).

If  a call is 10% or more of your stack, you should probably be more apt to RE-RAISE or FOLD, than call, depending upon a) the Strength of your holding in relation to the board and b) your read of his frequency of bluffing.  A re-raise should be chosen only if HE has enough chips left, he is likely ABLE to fold (not committed), or if your hand is strong enough to withstand a bluff shove (top/top type hand, at least).

B) The LARGER the pot, the more value a successful bluff will give.

This simply means that the larger a pot is, the more likely a bluffer will try a "stab". This also means the more a snapped off bluff will be worth to you. Keep in mind though, the larger the pot, the larger the bluff call will likely cost. Adjust calling standards accordingly.

C) The more you have shown a willingness to fold, the more likely it will be a bluffer tries to bluff you.

The more "discipline" you have shown in folding certain hands when it would put your stack at risk in "deep money" situations (above about 25-30 BB), the more likely less aware players will think you can ALWAYS be bluffed. This means once your stack has fallen to a level below about 20 - 25 BB, your calling ranges versus frequent bluffers should widen. Note: this does not mean you are "safe" to call, so do not discount the "stages" of a tourney you are in (more on this is a later blog!).


4) Can he BE bluffed?

To this I would add:
"Identify if he has regard for his stack, and if he has a certain 'pressure point'".
AND
"Keep track of your own 'image', to avoid the potential he may get 'fed up' with you and call"

Bluffing is ESSENTIAL to poker for the simple fact that if no one EVER bluffed, poker would be a simple game of showing down the best hand. There is a certain "art" to bluffing effectively though, and it is going to be a "stand alone" topic for the Suited Aces in the future. So at this time I only want to address bluffing with regards to how it can be effected by the "read" you have on an opponent. To Wit...

There is an "ideal" bluff amount. This "ideal bluff" happens when you bet (or raise) an amount EXACTLY 1 chip more than your opponent is willing to call; if you bet more than this, you are putting yourself at more risk, and if you bet less than this the bluff will not work. The "trick", of course, is knowing EXACTLY want that amount is!

Most players who are susceptible to being bluffed will have a certain "pressure point", beyond which they are un-likely to call. In MTT play, this pressure point will vary widely by player, but will also vary widely for a single individual based upon factors like:

a) his stack size vs blind level,
b) his "fatigue level" with this MTT (is he ready to "give up"?),
c) the stage of the tourney (players tend to become much more apt to call once in the money for instance),
d) how often he feels he has been bluffed before,
e) the quality of his holding.

In fact, many of the issues you will be considering when contemplating a CALL of a potential bluff, are the same sorts of information bits you should be considering when you are contemplting bluffing yourself.

Part and parcel of reading your opponents is being aware of the times YOUR "table image" begins to effect the decisions of your opponents. While many beginning players will have very little "reasoned" aware-ness of your play, even they will tend to notice when you are winning pots far more often than you are losing them. For the purposes of this section though, you must be aware that if you repeatedly bluff the same person, there is a strong chance he will become sick of your "bullying", and lower his calling/raising standards. This puts you at greater risk for chip loss, so keep this in mind. Some indicators he is getting sick of being bluffed (by you, or anyone) are:

a) He may try a tentative call, then check/fold the flop.
b) He may try a tentative (weak) raise, then check/fold the flop.
c) He may take LONGER when contemplating a fold, before folding to the bet.

Any of these indicators MAY point to potentially STRONGER post-flop play by your bluff target in future hands, or may well show a willingness to lower calling standards at the very least.


5) Does he have good knowledge of the game, or is he a weak player?

to this I would add: "Be aware of the value he places on certain hands."

A player with good knowledge of the game is likely to be aware of things like:
a) pot odds
b) the value of kickers
c) your table image
...as well as many other things we will address in later blogs.

This means that while YOU are attempting to put into practice all the things we have discussed thus far, both in this blog and in the blog on start hand standards, a "good" player is likely to be considering the same things. The "plus" of playing a "good" player is that it may be easier for you to understand his motiviations for the things he does. The minus of playing against a "good" player is that he is less likely to make a "mistake", and when he does make a mistake, it is less likely to be one that gives away a lot of chips.

Suffice it to say: Even good players are likely to have some "leaks". It will be improtant for you to look even harder at good players to identify these (likely smaller and harder to notice) leaks, and formulate a way to exploit them.

Bad players are much easier to notice, and are much easier to extract chips from. Some typical "bad player" traits are:
a) over valuing weak one pair hands, like low top pairs and/or bad kickers
b) betting/raising/calling too often with substandard holdings (hands likely to be significant under-dogs)
c) over valuing draws, especially weak draws (gut shot draws and kicker draws)
d) ignoring position and its benefits
e) failure to recognize the effects of multiple bets/calls on their stack
...among others.

It truly "sucks" when a bad player makes a terrible decision, and gets lucky to take a pot from you. all you can do is take heart in these cases from the fact that YOU are trying your hardest to collect information to help you make the best decisions you can. Luck will all average out in the long run, so if he continues his bad decisions, he will not get lucky EVERY time.

So...

You should be constantly vigilant for these severe "leaks", both in bad players AND good ones. In a later blog we will discuss more about how to use these pieces of information for specific plays, but for now, you may want to practice noticing them, and try putting this information into use on your own.

6) Is his play thrown off by a "bad beat"?

to his I would add: "does ANY chip loss effect his play?"

Mr Baldwin's list was compiled to reflect cash game play, rather than MTT play, so a "bad beat" in those types of poker games will possibly result in a player "re-loading" and putting more chips onto the table to exercise his personal "demons". In an MTT, a bad beat often equates to a severe chip loss, and an early exit. Obviously, if a player is gone he is no longer a threat to you, and does not require you to process information on his play.

With that said, there are still going to be times in an MTT when an opponent loses a good portion of his stack, but still retains a significant amount of chips- you want a "shot" at those chips!

Be aware of any changes in his typical patterns of play after a severe loss. Does he begin to raise much more frequently (and "looser")? Does he react by calling into more pots in the hope of flopping "big" to re-coup? Does he "lock down" and wait for only good solid hands upon which to shove?

Each of these things could be triggered by a loss, and would entail you to make adjustments in your play against this opponent.

#NOTE: there is one very specialized type of player I have seen somewhat frequently, especially in SNGs. I call this type the "front runner".

The hall mark of a "front runner" is that when he is on a chip lead at the table, he is highly likely to go to great lengths to retain his lead. This means that he will probably seek to immediately re-coup even a SMALL chip loss by entering the very next hand, or entering the next couple hands. While this is often a very temporary state, if you notice it happening (look for it at LEAST 3 times before trying to exploit this tendency!), there is a decent chance you can find a good "bluff spot" to pick up some chips. Trying this will probably entail firing pre-flop and on the flop (at the very least), and can be very risky. The benefit of noticing this "special" pattern is that you may induce more SEVERE "tilt" in a big stack, resulting in setting off a "blow up" which may reduce that big stack, and make even MORE chips available for you to pick up.


7) Does he play hands the same way, or does he mix up his play (by "changing gears")?

This is VERY important to notice, because failure to notice this aspect of an opponent's play can "negate"
all the hard earned information you have gathered on this opponent, as well as lead to many severe mistakes (by YOU!). Since much of the stuff we put up in this blog so far is deduced by noticing PATTERNS, failing to notice someone who consciously VARIES his patterns can easily result in mistakes.

Luckily, players who effectively change gears can be easy to spot (they tend to be GOOD, and are usually stacking chips), and their rarity makes them somewhat easy to "avoid". If you see this type, and you are a newer, but improving player, try VERY hard to avoid this person. You can tell someone is capable of changing gears effective by noticing:

a) he is likely to vary his post-flop bet patterns based upon the opponents left in the hand.
b) he is likely to vary his pre-flop start hand standards based upon those who've entered ahead of him.
c) he may well raise to "isolate" frequently, and when that fails to work, he is likely to vastly "change" his betitng "line" (depending upon who comes along behind).
d) he will play draws by betting or raising sometimes, and checking or calling at others.
e) he will mix up his play of "good hands" by betting sometimes and playing "slower" at others.
...and so on.

Your best "defense" against a player who can change gears is to resort to "careful", almost "ABC" type play. If you do try to run a bluff, be careful to not rely on more than a single street attempt, and be very careful of thinner value bets if this opponent has already called a raise to continue. Be highly aware of the "board texture", and be prepared for just about ANYTHING to happen in the hand!

...see why I say it is probably better to AVOID this type of player? :-)

Additional thoughts...

This is a LOT of stuff to digest at a single reading!

Similarly, trying to become familiar with the gathering and use of all the potential information out there can be daunting for a newer player. Some "tips" to help you process this information are:

a) Take NOTES. 

Do not rely solely on memory to toss up the stuff you need when facing a tough decision. Date your notes also, because especially in PSO, players are learning and improving every day. What may be true today, may not be true of the same player tomorrow.

b) Start by concentrating your information gathering efforts on the players you are most likely to be involved with. These are the 2 players to your LEFT, and the player to your immediate RIGHT. The players to your left will have position on you in most hands, and will pose a significant "threat" to you throughout your time at the table; you will also be on the button in their blinds. You will have position on player to your immmediate right, and can excercise this benefit most often against this player. Expand your efforts outwards as your "book" on these "closer" players grows.

c) Be aware of any "disconnects" in a previously "predictable" player's pattern(s). When a formally aggressive player suddenly min bets, or when a normally passive palyer suddenly fires a BIG bet, take note of what ACTUALLY happens as a result of the hand. These sorts of "disconnects" are major sign posts that may point out "danger" (if a player does them when "strong" only), or can point towards opportunity (if they are done when weak). It is important to know which way the sign points!

...and some FINAL comments!

A) The GOAL of gathering information is to help firm up your decisions, and to help you to avoid "mistakes", and also to help you formulate a playing strategy to exploit any observed weaknesses.

B) Good decisions will lead to "winning poker" in the long run. The immediate results do not matter.

C) A "play" you make backed by a solid amount of information pointing to the fact the play would be "correct" more often than not is a GOOD decision. Similarly, a play you make which wins you a pot, even though you made it without any consideration, CANNOT be a "good" decision. It can be "lucky", but luck is a short term phenomena and fades- skill does not.

D) Poker "skill" is derived by placing yourself in as many +ev (expected value) situations as possible. The more +ev situations you find, and the fewer -ev situations you have to "survive" by getitng lucky, the better your poker play will be.

E) Do NOT fool yourself into thinking about the BEST (or the Worst) that can occur in a given situation. Account for both the best and the worst cases in your decisions, apply your personal risk tolerance threshold, and act in the most positive expected value manner you can.

F) Do NOT fool yourself into thinking a single instance of an opponent acting in a certain way "defines" that player. Allow your "informational book" on an opponent room to evolve, maintain "situational awareness" about factors which may effect your opponents' thinking, and try to avoid committing significant chips to a play tactic against an opponent until a "pattern" emerges (at least 2 or 3 instances).


And with that, I close!


Whew, this was a LONG Blog post! But then this was a pretty big subject to try covering in one gulp!

I welcome any comments you might have about what you've read, as well as any additions you can make to what I've written here. I do not pretned to "know it all", and much of the material here was derived from the collective knowledge of the Suited Aces study group as a whole. I am just pasisng on the stuff we talked about, in hopes that it might aid you in your quest to play better poker!

So until next time, i'd liek to wish you...

GOOD DECISION!

Adios!

-JDean


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