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An Excerpt From Playing The Player—Exploiting The Bet-Fold

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Below is an excerpt from my new book Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents. Preordering starts Tuesday, May 8, and the e-book will release on May 22 with the paperback coming out soon thereafter.

This excerpt gives you a good feel for exactly what the book is about. My goal with the book is to show you how to break down the strategies your opponents use and create counter-strategies that exploit their predictable tendencies.

Learn to do this successfully, and you will absolutely dominate your games. This is THE thing that the really good players do well to generate those sky-high winrates.

If you read this excerpt and want more, please do the following:

  1. Subscribe to updates. Just visit the main page and enter your email address to receive all my new website content free in your inbox.
  2. Share this article with your friends. If this excerpt has you excited, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. I sincerely appreciate it, and your friends will too.
  3. Return on May 8 to preorder your copy. Believe me, you will want to be one of the first to get your hands on this book, so lock in your order a s soon as possible. If you’ve subscribed to the site, you will receive an automatic reminder to get your preorder in.

Exploiting the Bet-Fold

An excerpt from Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents by Ed Miller

So far the tight player traits we’ve discussed have been fairly straightforward. Tight players don’t like to felt without the nuts. They like to fold weak hands early on, even after they’ve put a little money in the pot. And tight players often vary their bet sizes according to their hand strength due to the fear of getting outdrawn and the fear of betting the worse hand.

Altogether these traits point to the same set of adjustments. Don’t call their big bets. The big bets are saved for big hands, so calling it off becomes very bad. Don’t value bet too thinly either. Tight players’ threshold for calling down is higher than most players, so you can’t get much value from medium-strength hands.

Bluff more on the small and medium bets. These players will abandon small pots frequently, so take lots of stabs. Use preflop raises with weak hands to build pots before you steal them.

With very tight, or nitty, players, this is nearly the entire recipe to destroying them. Never pay them off. In fact, basically never play a big pot with them even if you’re the one betting. Instead, play lots of hands preflop and take frequent stabs at the small and medium pots. Since these players aren’t actively competing for the small pots, you’ll pick up far more than your share. And because you’re not losing big pots in the process, you’ll have a strong, consistent edge.

TAG, or tight-aggressive, players are a little tougher to beat. Why? Because they are also taking frequent stabs at the small and medium pots. Like nits, TAGs are tight early in hands, and you can steal blinds and win pots on the flop with continuation bets. But these players also try to steal blinds and make continuation bets. Without taking things to the next level, it’s hard to get an edge. They won’t spew in big pots, and they’ll at least compete for the small pots.

To get an edge, you have to understand a key TAG concept, the bet-fold.

Overview

Bet-folding is simple. It’s betting with the intention of folding to a raise. It’s raising preflop with the intention of folding to a 3-bet. Continuation betting the flop with overcards, planning to fold if raised. Or it’s betting top pair for value on the turn, again intending to fold to a raise.

Bet-folding is the TAG’s bread-and-butter play. In fact, it nearly defines the archetype. These players are aggressive. They bet frequently. But they’re also tight. They fold frequently. The only way to simultaneously bet frequently and fold frequently is to bet-fold. If you replace the bet-folds with bet-calls, you become loose. If you replace the bet-folds with check-folds, you become a nit.

Theoretically, bet-folding is a perfectly legitimate line. Why would you choose to bet-fold a hand? Well, let’s separate the two actions. First comes the bet. Why would you bet a hand?

There are three reasons to bet in no-limit hold’em, but the most important one is to get worse hands to call. The value bet. You think you have the better hand, and you want your opponent to call with a worse hand. A worse hand can be a weaker made hand. It can be a draw. Or it can even be a float or a bluff. (If you’re hoping to get bluffed, then you are betting not to get called by a worse hand, but to get raised by a worse hand. It’s theoretically similar.)

Say you bet top pair on the turn. Generally you would do so only if you thought you would be called the majority of the time by a worse hand. For instance, if you bet A-K on a A-7-3-Q board, you would be expecting that, more than half the time you are called, your hand is ahead.

Why is this? Because you’re proposing an even-money bet with your opponent. I’ll put up $100. You put up $100. We’ll see another card and see who wins. This bet is profitable if you win it more than half the time. (With cards to come, this half the time threshold is not hard-and-fast because there are other considerations that affect the total value of the bet. But 50 percent is still a decent place to start analyzing a bet.)

Note that you’re merely proposing a bet. Your opponent has the option to accept or reject it. To be profitable, you have to win more than half the time your opponent accepts. The times your opponent rejects it are not relevant.

(Again, when your opponent rejects the bet, i.e., folds, you eliminate the chance you’d have been outdrawn which, of course, has some value. But in no-limit hold’em, this chance usually doesn’t affect the value of the bet too much. In no-limit, bets tend to be fairly large compared to the size of the pot. And in hold’em, because it’s a community card game, hands that are ahead on the turn usually don’t get outdrawn. So in no-limit hold’em, you’re making a large bet to secure against a small chance of being outdrawn in a pot that’s roughly the same size as the bet. It has value, but the average player overestimates the value. Put another way, for most no-limit players, the emotional impact of getting outdrawn looms larger than the financial reality of it.)

So we’re betting because we think that roughly more than half the time we’ll get called by a worse hand.

Then we get raised. With most players, this raise carries a ton of new information. Against many small-stakes players, it means we’re beaten with near certainty. Thus, a fold. With the information we started the betting round knowing, we had a bet. But then with the new information of a raise, we have a fold. Bet-fold.

Bet-folding is an incredibly valuable tool against loose, non-aggressive opponents. Loose players love to call bets with weak hands. They also tend to raise only with strong hands. So there’s a wide range of bad hands that they’ll call value bets with. But when they raise, they really mean business. The bet-fold perfectly exploits the predictable traits of this common bad player archetype.

In fact, it performs so well that TAGs often learn to live on the bet-fold line alone. They have developed essentially two poker skills. First, they’ve learned not to overplay marginal hands. They play tight preflop, and they don’t build big pots with iffy hands. Second, they abuse the bet-fold line to exploit lesser players. In most no-limit hold’em games, these two skills alone are enough to generate a consistent edge.

If you are like most people whom I expect to read this book, these are likely your two greatest poker skills as well. You know how not to aimlessly spew off your stack. And you know how to bet and fold to a raise. Pay attention, because you’re about to learn how to exploit yourself and the legion of other players who play just like you do.

Adjustment Summary

An over-reliance on bet-fold lines creates unbalanced hand ranges. What’s an unbalanced range?

At any given point in a hand, your opponent should be able to name a range of hands you could have based on your action to that point. Say you raise preflop and someone calls. The flop comes Q-9-4 rainbow. Your opponent checks, and you bet two-thirds of the pot. From your opponent’s perspective, what can you have?

You can have top pair or an overpair. Less likely (but, critically, not ruled out by your actions thus far), you can have a set or two pair. You can have an unimproved pocket pair or a pair of nines. You can have a straight draw–open-ended or gutshot. You can have a missed hand such as A-8 or an even weaker one like 7-6.

Now for the $64,000 question. Is this range balanced, or is it unbalanced?

The answer is that it could be either, and it depends on exactly how many weak hands you tend to play this way (raise preflop, bet on this flop). An unbalanced range is one that is too heavily weighted toward one hand type or another. Specifically, it’s a range that can be exploited by taking a single, simple action with nearly any hand.

What do I mean by that?

Let’s assume that instead of being a TAG, you are a loose and maniacal player. You will raise preflop with any two cards, and your opponents know that about you. And when checked to on the flop, you will bet every time. If you play this way, then your range on the flop is extremely unbalanced.

You might say to yourself, “Unbalanced? If a guy can have any two cards at any time, isn’t that balanced? You can never put him on a hand.” This would be true, except for one simple fact. Most hands miss the flop. When you’re up against someone who can have two random cards on any flop, the vast majority of the time, your opponent will have a hand that most players would consider to be weak–no pair or one small pair.

So if you were to put this player’s hands into one of three buckets–weak, medium, and strong–you’d have a lot hands in the weak bucket, some in the medium bucket, and a relatively small percentage of hands in the strong bucket.

Any range that is unbalanced in this way is guaranteed to be exploitable, and the exploit is simple. You bet or raise frequently against the range. If the player has weak hands and tends to call with them, then you value bet very thinly and relentlessly. If the player has weak hands and tends to fold them, you bluff a lot.

Ranges can also be unbalanced in the other direction, with too many strong hands. When your opponent has too many strong hands, the exploit is also simple. You fold. This is the problem nitty players have. They create hand ranges that are unbalanced to strong hands, and as a result you can simply fold whenever they want to put money in the pot. Keep in mind that to create an overly strong range, you must necessarily fold most of your weak and medium hands. Hence, nitty players fold too much in small and medium pots, and the strong ranges that remain are unbalanced and exploitable.

Balanced ranges contain a mix of weak, medium, and strong hands. The exact weighting between these buckets depends on how much money is in the pot. Generally speaking, early in the hand and in small pots, your ranges should have higher weightings of weak hands. And later in hands when there’s been a lot of action, your ranges should have higher weightings of strong hands.

And so the bottom line. Early on and in small pots, more weak hands. Late and in big pots, more strong hands. But to build a balanced range, you want the mix to be unexploitable. You want to have enough strong hands in your range early on to deter opponents from simply bluffing like crazy. And you want enough weak hands in your range late that you can be bluffing and therefore can force your opponents to pay you off.

So that’s the jist of the difference between balanced and unbalanced ranges. When your opponent’s range is unbalanced, you can nearly always take one particular action and expect it to be right. When your opponent’s range is balanced, you can’t do that.

And now back to what I said in the first sentence of this section. An over-reliance on bet-fold lines creates unbalanced ranges. Why is that?

The bigger the pot, the stronger your hand range should be to remain balanced. Betting makes the pot bigger. Thus, your betting hands should be, on average, stronger than your checking hands. Duh, you say, right?

Here’s the thing. TAGs have learned that they can exploit players who fold too much by reversing this basic principle. In many situations they bet virtually all of their hands that have no value whatsoever, relying on all the folds to turn a profit. The only hands they check are ones that have some showdown value. Here’s a specific example.

It’s a tight $1-$2 game like one you might find online. Everyone folds to a TAG who raises to $6 from one off the button. You call in the small blind.

The flop is Kc7s5d. You check. The TAG bets $10. What does this bet tell you about the hand the TAG might have?

Very little. Most TAGs would look at a flop of this texture–rainbow with two low cards and a single, disjointed high card–and think, “Great flop to continuation bet.” TAGs will bet this flop with hands like 9-8, A-6, 3-3, and so forth.

In fact, if such a TAG were to actually check this flop, I would give him some credit for a hand. While he might be sandbagging with a monster like K-K, more likely I’d expect a check to be a medium-strength pair like 7-6 or A-5. Betting these medium pairs rarely folds out better hands and also rarely gets calls from weaker hands. So checking makes a good bit of sense.

Back to the betting range, the TAG has a mix of strong hands (kings mostly) and a lot of junk (total air). Couple this with a wide preflop opening range from one off the button, and we’re looking at mostly junk. That is, an unbalanced range.

The TAG is planning to bet-fold many if not most of his betting hands on the flop. So what should you do? (Hint: It starts with an ‘r’.)

I remember a time when raising continuation bets was a cutting edge play. The TAG regulars in the online games were all merrily continuation betting the flop, relying on their fold equity against unthinking players and other TAGs to make the play profitable. And then some sharp cookie would come along and start raising continuation bets like crazy. For a while, these sharpies absolutely cleaned up. They vacuumed up pots on the flop like crazy.

This play is not cutting edge anymore. The best players all know about it and use it, and they have adopted counter-measures. But just because it isn’t cutting edge doesn’t mean it isn’t still profitable when used intelligently.

More importantly, every time one of your opponents makes a continuation bet, you should be thinking, “Is his range unbalanced? Do I have an auto-raise here?” More often than you might expect, the answer to both questions is yes.

Raising continuation bets isn’t the only play here. TAGs bet-fold in many other situations as well. On the turn, TAGs learn to bet-fold with top pair. They bet top pair, but then assume when raised that top pair is no good. They bet-fold the river too. Any time your opponent can be bet-folding many hands, you have a potential auto-raise situation.

How do you identify bet-fold situations, besides the fairly obvious example of the player who raises a wide range preflop and then continuation bets all of the air?

It requires some hand reading skills.

You’re looking for situations where your opponents have a fairly weak betting range. One easy way to spot these situations against some TAGs is to use bet-sizing tells. Remember that many players will make extra-large bets on the late streets when they have a monster. Therefore, when these players don’t make a large bet, their betting range is weighted more toward weaker hands.

You can find these situations even against players who don’t exhibit bet-sizing tells. Here’s an example.

In my book How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em, I talk about the limiting turn call. The idea is that a flat call, rather than a raise, on the turn often denies a very strong hand. This is because the board is usually at least a little scary on the turn, and most players with strong hands will want to charge opponents to draw out.

It’s a $2-$5 game with $1,500 stacks. You raise to $20 from early position with AdJd. Two players call from behind, and the big blind calls.

The flop comes Qd8s7d. The blind checks, and you bet $60 into the $82 pot. One player calls behind, and the other two players fold. The caller is a TAG player who bets rivers for value thinly when checked to.

The turn is the Tc. You bet $150 into the $212 pot. Your opponent calls.

The river is the 7s, making the final board Qd8s7dTc7s. You check, and your opponent bets $200 into the $512 pot. After the $200 bet, there’s still over $1,000 behind.

What does this betting range look like? Except for specifically 8-7, it’s unlikely to include a full house. Why?

Because he almost certainly would have raised either the flop or the turn if he held a set. The board on the turn is getting scary. There’s a possible flush draw out, and lots of straight draws are available. Most players would want to “charge the draws” with a big hand on a board like this one.

Yet he didn’t raise. This turn call limits the top end of his range. Unless he’s a little bit crazy, he doesn’t have Q-Q, T-T, 8-8, 7-7, J-9, or Q-T.

He’s more likely to have a hand like A-Q, K-Q, Q-J, or a draw. All the draws missed, which makes this a relatively weak betting range on the river. He’s almost certainly planning to bet-fold the river with a lot of his range.

This is a situation where betting out as a bluff on the river might be less effective than check-raise bluffing. If you simply bet the river, I’d often expect to be called by hands like A-Q and K-Q. But if you check the river, you can likely get your opponent off these same hands with a big check-raise. And checking A-J isn’t too bad since it’s conceivable you might even win a showdown with the hand.

The key to the play is that our opponent has done something in the hand that denies the strongest holdings. Any bets our opponent makes after that point will frequently be bet-folds.

Thanks for checking out the excerpt. Again, if you’ve read this excerpt and want more, please do the following:

  1. Subscribe to updates. Just visit the main page and enter your email address to receive all my new website content free in your inbox.
  2. Share this article with your friends. If this excerpt has you excited, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. I sincerely appreciate it, and your friends will too.
  3. Return on May 8 to preorder your copy. If you’ve subscribed to the site, you will receive an automatic reminder to get your preorder in.

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11 Responses to “An Excerpt From Playing The Player—Exploiting The Bet-Fold”

steven
@ Mon May 07, 2012 11:41:28 AM
1

Nice excerpt.

Michael
@ Wed May 09, 2012 05:44:52 PM
2
Ed Miller
@ Mon May 14, 2012 12:09:52 PM
3

Michael,

Thanks for catching that! It’s fixed in the book.

Pokerstars
@ Wed May 16, 2012 07:58:23 AM
4

Fantastic article, im considering getting this book. Really informative and well written.

Tony
@ Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:55:34 PM
5

Hi Ed. I’ve been playing live 1/2 nl for a few years and am a thinking player but not a winning player. I believe that I have a strong grasp of the fundamentals and often hear that I’m a strong player. I’ve read many of your articles and really appreciate your insights and the clarity with which you express them.

I plan to buy one of your books and wonder which you would recommend for a person looking get over the hump and become a consistently winning player. I suspect I will buy others from your library but I wonder which one you would suggest reading first.

Thanks!

Tony
@ Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:59:11 PM
6

Just a follow-up. I meant to say that I’m a strong player but that makes no sense because I’m not a consistently winning player.

I was thinking about Professional No Limit Holdem but you’ve written others since them.

Thanks.

www.worldpokerinfo.org
@ Tue Sep 25, 2012 02:08:22 PM
7

Fantastic article. Definitely going to look into buying the book now. I’m hoping to become a player that will win more times than not, so will let you know of my progress!

Almusto
@ Thu Jan 24, 2013 06:20:43 AM
8

How big should the river c/r be?

Almusto
@ Thu Jan 24, 2013 06:36:39 AM
9

One more question, can you apply this also at 25NL or 50NL online. Since I think allot of players will call that river with a AQ hand since they hate folding!

oddspalace.co.uk
@ Mon May 06, 2013 08:31:17 AM
10

This is a really good tip particularly to those new to the
blogosphere. Simple but very precise info… Many
thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

Jimmy
@ Tue Sep 16, 2014 04:51:46 AM
11

Finally i quit my day job, now i earn decent
money on-line you should try too, just search in google
- blackhand roulette system

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