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

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.
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  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:

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  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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Playing The Player—Preorder Details and Table of Contents

The day is coming. It’s only six more days until preordering begins for my new book Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents.

Preorder Details

Beginning on May 8th and up until the e-book release on May 22nd, you can preorder the book. It’s $49.99 for the e-book version [supports PDF, MOBI (Kindle), and EPUB (Apple and other e-readers)], $49.99 plus shipping and tax for the paperback, and $69.99 plus shipping and tax for the e-book and the paperback both.

If you order during the preorder period, you earn yourself a couple of bonuses that are together actually worth more than the price of the book!

  • A $60 OFF coupon for 4 hours of coaching. My rate for coaching is 4 hours for $400 as an introductory package, then $200/hour after that. When you preorder the new book, however, you get a coupon for 4 hours of coaching for $340—$60 off the normal price. This offer goes for new students and for those who have already had an intro package, so it’s a great deal for everyone.
  • A $20 OFF coupon for one of my two other books. You get $20 off either Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em or How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em. You can apply the coupon to the e-book version, the paperback version, or both. If you’ve missed one of these books, this gives you a great deal on it. If you’ve already read them both, you can use your discount to get a paperback to give as a gift! All paperbacks ordered off my website come personally signed by me. (If you’re giving a gift, please send me an email telling me whom to personalize the book to.)

That’s $80 in coupons for preordering a book that costs just $49.99! It’s a great deal, but remember, you have to preorder your copy between May 8th and May 22nd to get the coupons.

Table of Contents

To whet your appetite for all the new stuff in this book, here’s the table of contents.

The book teaches you how to identify predictable, exploitable traits in your opponents. Then it shows you how to build a counter-strategy to take full advantage of these traits.

The bulk of the book focuses on how to beat those TAG and LAG regulars in your games. The guys who play a decent game and aren’t just giving their money away. Chances are that, for now at least, you simply try to avoid these players. You then fight with these guys for the chance to play pots with the bad players in the game.

But you can do so much better than that. All the regulars in your games will have predictable traits and tendencies, and as soon as you identify these, you can really make them pay.

The ability to do this is what separates an ok winner from the absolute biggest winner in the game. When you learn to take money off not just the spots in the game but also off all the regulars, you will see your winrate skyrocket. If you want to move up and keep challenging yourself in bigger games, this is exactly what you need to learn to do.

In the book there’s a good mix between teaching you specific tricks that you can go out and use in your games tomorrow and teaching you how come up with new tricks and counterstrategies on your own.

I’m feel confident in saying that this book is really going to blow some people’s minds.

Playing The Player Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION
What is ABC Poker?
Optimal Poker
Playing The Player
A Note About Balance And Exploitability

PART I: TIGHT PLAYERS
Playing Against Tight Players
Trait No. 1: Refusing To Felt Without The Nuts
Trait No. 2: Limp-folding Preflop
Trait No. 3: Tight Player Bet-Sizing Tells
Trait No. 4: Bet-Folding
Trait No. 5: Pot-Controlling
Trait No. 6: Refusing To Fire A Second Or Third Barrel
Tight Player Review And Exercises

PART II: LOOSE-AGGRESSIVE PLAYERS
Playing Against Loose-Aggressive Players
Trait No. 1: Frequent Preflop Raising And Postflop Barrelling
Understanding Range Vs. Range Thinking
Understanding Preflop 3-Betting
Trait No. 2: Reflexive Weakness Attacking
Loose-Aggressive Player Review And Exercises

PART III: BAD PLAYERS
Wild Games
Trait No. 1: Peeling Light On The Flop And Getting Sticky At Showdown
Trait No. 2: Absolutely Refusing To Fold An Overpair
Bad Player Review And Exercises

PART IV: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Finding Holes
Top 10 Plays To Try That You Aren’t Using Today
Hand Quizzes

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Playing The Player—Details About The New Book

I’ve got a new book coming out May 22nd. It’s called Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents.

Folks, this one is really good.

Ok. It’s not news I think the book is good. I think every one of my seven books has been good and well worth your time and money. And I’ve pretty much thought that each successive book has been better than the last.

But this one is really, really good.

I was listening yesterday to the archives of Bart Hanson’s Deuce Plays podcast. I’ve already listened to each episode probably three times. They are very good. The archives are also free, so if you haven’t listened to these, you really have no excuse not to.

Anyway, I was listening to an episode where Bart interviewed his guest, international poker superstar Phil Galfond. Obviously an episode well worth anyone’s time. Bart asked Phil the following question (paraphrased): What is it that successful mid-stakes players [talking about online play here] do that the small-stakes regulars haven’t figured out?

Phil’s answer made me smile, because it is exactly the same one I would have given if asked. He said that small stakes regs often have strong fundamentals, and they understand the important concepts relevant to playing a no-limit hand in a vacuum. But they lack the ability to adjust their strategies to take advantage of the mistakes their opponents are making. (Q&A starts at the 8 minute mark of the linked podcast).

In other words, against many players in many hands, taking a non-standard line will make the most money. The successful mid-stakes players identify and take these non-standard lines while the small stakes players more often stick to the standard plays.

Playing The Player is written entirely about how to identify opponents and situations where taking a non-standard line will maximize your profits.

This book covers exactly the stuff that some of the most successful mid-stakes regulars use to get their edges over everyone else.

It’s advanced stuff… at least in the sense that I can play $2-$5 and $5-$10 in Las Vegas for many, many hours and come across almost no opponents who seem to understand and use the concepts in this book.

But even though it’s advanced, it’s really not that hard. There’s very little math in the book. You aren’t going to have to do EV equations or count hand combinations until your eyes bleed.

It’s logic. If you understand how to think logically, and you are willing to devote some honest time to working through hands away from the table, this book can potentially make you a much, much better no-limit hold’em player.

Here’s how the book works. I define various traits that you will find in many of your opponents. These are traits that I see commonly every day I sit and play. I show you what to look for to identify the trait, and then I break down the plays you can make to exploit the trait and therefore to make a profit off any opponent who has the trait.

For instance, I was playing $2-$5 yesterday. It was a multiway pot. I flopped a so-so pair and checked it, and the flop got checked through. A guy bet the turn, and I called. A worst-card-in-the-deck scare card came on the river, the guy made a large bet (for the pot size), and I folded. He triumphantly showed me a stone bluff.

I watched him play some more hands. Several times he made a fairly good hand on the river—top pairs, overpairs, and the like—and he checked them all.

In other words, this guy seemed to make big bets on the river as bluffs, but at the same time checked down all his decent value hands.

How would you exploit someone playing this way?

This is no small thing to notice about an opponent. Identifying this trait in this player will change how I play virtually every hand against him in the future, making nearly every hand more profitable for me.

This is how you get really good at poker. You find these little postflop tendencies that players have, you identify the counterstrategy, and you apply it ruthlessly. I teach you to do this step-by-step in Playing The Player.

This book is really good, folks. Some people are going to read it, the light bulb is going to go on, and they will go on to become monster no-limit hold’em players. I know it.

Release Details

The release date is May 22nd. As I’ve done with past books, I’m going to offer preordering beginning two weeks earlier, on May 8th. Also, as I’ve done with past books, those who pre-order will get a few perks for getting in early.

This time, however, I’m going to offer three options at pre-order time: e-book, paperback, or both. If you pre-order the e-book (or order both versions), then you’ll get your book emailed to you on the 22nd. If you pre-order only the paperback, however, then it will likely take two to three weeks after the 22nd for your shipment to arrive. Paperbacks will ship on a first-come-first-served basis as soon as I get them from the printer.

Paperbacks will ship by USPS Priority Mail and I will personally sign each one. I can ship to most countries now.

The price is $49.99 for either the e-book or the paperback (plus shipping and possibly sales tax on the paperback), or $69.99 (plus shipping and sales tax) for both. The e-book purchase gets you three versions: PDF, MOBI (for Kindle), and EPUB (for Apple products and most other e-readers). For payment I accept credit cards, Paypal, Skrill, and money orders by mail.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.

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Announcing New Book — Playing The Player by Ed Miller

It’s been quiet around here for a month or two, but that’s because I’ve been hard at work finishing up a new project.

I am now pleased to announce my newest book titled Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents.

It is coming out on May 22nd. E-books will be available on that day with paper books coming out likely about a week or two later. The price will be $49.99 (plus shipping and possibly sales tax for the paperback edition), and there will be a two week preordering period where you get a few goodies for getting in early.

I got the idea to write this book when I began to see a major incongruity between how my students talked about poker and how they actually played.

Everyone knows that poker is a situational game. “It depends,” is a concept that has been repeated so many times it has become a cliche.

Here’s the thing, however. I’ve found that most poker players, even students of the game, don’t actually take that idea to heart. The vast majority of poker players have their own set of strategies—a style, if you will—that they take with them every time they sit at a table. They are very slow to adjust these strategies to changing circumstances. In fact, in most of their sessions, they never really adjust much at all. Only if a player of some “extreme” type is at their table—someone betting every hand like a crazy person, for instance—do they really make any real adjustments to their strategy. Othwerise, if they like to play like a nit, then every session they’re going to play like a nit. If they like to see cheap flops, then every sesion they’re going to see cheap flops.

This is almost completely backwards from how I approach poker. I don’t enter any game with a set strategy in mind. The first thing I do when I sit is look at what the other players are doing and, in particular, try to figure out what mistakes they seem like they might be prone to make. Sometimes I get lucky and see a huge mistake only a couple of hands in. Other times I have to infer the errors that my opponents may be making by watching a set of otherwise unremarkable hands. But, no matter, the beginning of a session is always focused on what my opponents may be doing wrong.

Next, I craft a strategy designed to take advantage of these mistakes. My job as a poker player is to take the mistakes my opponents already tend to make and try to create as many situations as possible for them to make these mistakes.

In other words, I’m playing the players. I have no consistent style from session to session. Virtually every decision I make is guided by the question, “How can I play this hand to maximize the frequency and magnitude of the mistakes my opponents can make?”

This approach is, in my experience, far more successful than developing a fixed style and sticking to it. It should be that way, of course, since the money in poker comes from the mistakes your opponents make, so any strategy that seeks to maximize these mistakes will likewise maximize profits.

Specifically, this book is designed to take players who rely on a tight and aggressive, ABC style and show them how to break out of the mold to take advantage of all the opportunities present at the no-limit hold’em table.

This does NOT mean the book teaches you how to be a LAG! LAG is just another fixed style that may or may not exploit the errors your opponents are making. No, the book is about finding and exploiting opportunities.

Here’s just a taste of it. Lots of tight, aggressive, ABC-type players around Las Vegas have become frustrated recently. The games have gotten tighter lately, pots have gotten smaller, and the ABC players have seen their winrates drop as a result. The thing is, the newly tight players are still making lots of mistakes. These are just not mistakes that an ABC style takes advantage of.

Playing The Player begins by detailing a number of traits of the tight, tight-aggressive, and nitty opponents you will face. It then breaks these traits down and shows you specifically how and why you can exploit them. After you read Playing The Player, you will never again need to complain that your game has no action, because you will have learned how to profit in virtually any game environment.

Again, the book comes out May 22nd. Get excited. I’ll have plenty more updates between now and the release, so stay tuned.

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Why Sharp People Sometimes Fail At Poker

In the past few months I’ve been spending a little more time with people from the advantage gambling community. Advantage gamblers are people who win money gambling (sometimes a lot of money) playing games against the casino, in the sportsbook, at online casinos, or sometimes in other venues. For instance, they might bet sports, play blackjack, play video poker, or play any of a number of other games that offer the player an edge under the right circumstances.

Some of these guys are very, very sharp, and they have won hundreds of thousands from their pursuits. But a thing I’ve heard from more than one of them is that they tried to win at online poker… and failed.

I’ve also heard of a different group of sharp people who have sometimes struggled with poker—chess players. A number of top chess players, including those who have achieved the highest ranks of Grandmaster and International Master, have taken up poker with varying degrees of success. Some have done quite well, while others, I understand, not so well.

So the question has been gnawing at me lately. Why do these sharp people who have what it takes to be wildly successful gambling and/or playing a different strategy game sometimes have such a tough time with poker?

I don’t know the answer. If I get some time, I may interview some people from these fields to see if they have insight. But I want to use the rest of this article to speculate wildly.

Lack of Psychological Mastery

My first theory revolved around the psychological aspect of poker. My view is that poker is essentially a math problem. But in most cases it’s an extremely complex math problem, which makes it difficult to “solve” the game in the same way that tic-tac-toe and other simple strategy games and casino games can be solved. Canadian poker at www.pokersites.ca with topics in game theory. Since it’s a math problem, you don’t need psychological insight to play this game well. You can just solve the math and go from there. (This is why bots, which have essentially zero psychological insight, can win at poker.)

But for the overwhelming majority of human beings, solving the math is very tricky. An understanding of psychology can simplify things and create straightforward solutions to what would otherwise be complex problems.

For instance, when someone bets $30 on the turn, I often know exactly what sort of hand to expect from them. Why? Because I understand how they think about the game. I understand how their emotions guide their decision-making. And therefore I know that this sort of hand they would be $30 with, this sort of hand they would bet $80 with, and this sort of hand they would check. These hand-reading shortcuts allow me to make accurate decisions without a lot of data points on a player and without reverting to a potentially complex game theory-derived solution.

When I coach students, I often realize that these little psychological shortcuts I use are very much learned. I was not born knowing that players shade their bets smaller when they feel a certain way about their hands or that players will tend to react to excessive 3-betting in a certain, predictable way. I learned these shortcuts through experience and likely a little bit of aptitude for acquiring these insights.

This psychological part of the game, however, plays nowhere near the role in many other gambling games or in chess. Blackjack, for instance, is 100 percent math. There is a computer-generated solution to every situation, and one must simply memorize the answers. There is of course some psychology in dealing with the heat one might get from pit bosses and other casino administrators, but a robot could easily play the game itself perfectly.

So I’m guessing that some of the sharp people who fail at poker don’t have quite the same aptitude for understanding the psychology of the game, so during their experience playing, they don’t acquire the right shortcut insights. To speculate even more wildly, I would imagine people who win at gambling by understanding market movements (a skill sometimes relevant in sports and parimutual betting) might have more aptitude on average than blackjack or video poker players.

Bad Feedback

All successful gamblers understand that winning a bet doesn’t mean you did it right and that losing doesn’t mean you did it wrong. The goal in gambling is to get a consistent edge on a long series of bets. How any individual bet comes out is irrelevant.

So I would expect any successful gambler to realize that if your opponent bets, and you call with a draw (getting correct odds) and miss, you’ve still done it right, and you should make the same decision again in a similar situation.

But the variance in poker is more subtle than that. Poker requires you not only to slap probabilities on what cards will come, but it also requires you to estimate hand ranges for your opponent. Say you get the money in and your opponent shows you the nuts. Ouch. Did you do it wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you estimated the hand range correctly, and you just got unlucky to run into the nuts. Or maybe you estimated incorrectly, and your opponent would actually have the nuts more often than you estimated.

Say you make a bet and your opponent folds. Good, right? Not necessarily. It’s possible that you overestimated the chance that your opponent would call with a weaker hand, and therefore your bet ended up being -EV.

Running into the nuts or getting too many “bad” folds with your bets can give you false feedback on what you’re doing. This is the sort of feedback that may trip up people used to other gambling games.

Reverting To Emotional Decision-Making

Nearly everyone wants to play poker a certain way. Generally risk-averse people like to play tight, make cautious folds, and feel confident that they’re doing the right thing when they put the money in. Generally aggressive people like to bluff and force the action.

The math of the game, however, requires that you strike a balance between these “styles.” The psychological shortcuts of the game require that you switch between these modes (and some others) to take advantage of the systematic errors your opponents make.

Again, I think that people are able to fight their natural emotional inclinations if they have convincing evidence that doing so is correct. But poker offers up enough confusion, enough confounding signals, that I’ve found virtually everyone ends up playing the way that makes them feel good rather than the way that makes the most money.

Final Thoughts

I think success at poker requires proficiency in three major areas: analytical ability, psychological aptitude, and emotional control. It is an incredibly frustrating, yet intellectually demanding game. It stands to reason that people can be proficient in pursuits that require one or two of the major poker skills, but struggle with the others.

If you have any thoughts about this, please comment.

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Million Dollar Winner Credits Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em

This is pretty cool.

Someone just pointed me to a monster thread on 2+2 where poker pro “Giev Money??” details his path to winning a million dollars playing no-limit hold’em. Someone asked him if he watches any videos or reads any ebooks, and this was his answer:

Nah haven’t watched any videos in a long time. Two eBooks that helped me most when I went pro were Let there be range (probably overpriced nowdays) and Small stakes holdem by Ed Miller (only $30). It was almost 3 years ago when I read those but there is probably still valuable info even though games have developed.

You can check out the entire thread here.

I don’t write books with the intention of helping people to make a million dollars playing poker. Honestly, for most people, it’s not a realistic goal. But it’s cool to hear someone who has made it to the top credit one of my books when asked how it all got started. (And, not to toot my horn too much, but I’ve had a number of other million dollar winners tell me that one of my books got their careers rolling.)

Making a million isn’t a realistic goal for most people… but I think making ten thousand dollars at this game IS realistic for most people if they are willing to put in the work and willing to keep at it over the long haul. That’s my goal when I write. I want my readers who do the homework and put in the serious effort to make ten thousand playing this crazy game that we all just can’t get out of our heads. Sounds good, right?

So congrats, Giev Money??, on your tremendous accomplishment. I figure this is as good a time as any to offer those of you aspiring to win more money playing no-limit hold’em a discount. So for the next week (expiring February 18, 2012), you can take $10 off either Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em or my new book How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em. Just use the discount code GIEV10 when you check out.

Buy Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em

Or

Buy How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em

Don’t forget the code GIEV10. I wonder which of you who buy today will be the next to win ten grand…

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Poker In 2012 And Calling Preflop 3-Bets Out Of Position

The first month of 2012 is in the books, and I wanted to share a few of my poker-related thoughts for the upcoming year.

The birth of online poker 2.0

I think 2012 is going to be an excellent year for poker. With the recent DOJ statement that online casinos aren’t prohibited by the 1961 Wire Act and Nevada leading the way with legal online poker coming (hopefully very) soon I expect full-blown legal online poker in the United States by the end of the year. Now I don’t expect every state to get involved, and it’ll probably be a few years until the Feds, the states, and any other interested parties all take sides and online poker 2.0 becomes truly mature in this country.

But as a player, writer, and coach, I don’t need mature poker. I’m sure I will like online poker 2.0 in its nascent form. I’m thinking the very first day the pay games run, the action will be better than anything you’ve seen on the major sites for the past few years. And as the sites come online and compete for casual players through major ad budgets, I think we’ll get an influx of soft money like we haven’t seen since 2005. There’s an opportunity coming, and I plan to take full advantage since opportunities never last long enough. In the coming months I’m planning writings and maybe a few videos aimed at helping you get ready so you can take the fullest advantage of online poker 2.0 when it arrives.

Aussie Millions Envy

This month also marks the conclusion of the Aussie Millions Poker Championship at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. I have to admit, this is one tournament I’ve always wanted to play. I’m not much for playing tournaments. My primary purpose for playing poker is to generate steady income, and in my opinion cash games are just plain better for that than tournaments are. Tournaments also require a major time investment, and one reason I always liked poker is the flexibility the game offers. I don’t like being told I have to play at this table, in this seat, from noon until 2am, whether I like it or not.

But I also get the upsides of tournaments. They’re fun, without a doubt. And the promise of a huge payday is nice. One year I’m going to make an exception and play the Aussie Millions. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, and heading down under in January definitely seems like a good plan (even if I’m sitting in a casino half the time). A www.onlinecasino.com.au and a guide to Melbourne. If you’ve been to the Aussie Millions and have any feedback for me, let me know.

Calling 3-Bets Out Of Position

Oh boy. Someone pointed me to a thread in the microstakes forum at 2+2. In the thread, the poster has KQs in the small blind in a 25NL 6-max game. It’s folded to him preflop, and he 3x raises. The big blind 3x 3-bets. Blind versus blind. The poster 4-bets small and gets called. The flop is J-T-7 two-tone (no backdoor draw for our hero), and the poster check-shoves the flop and gets snap-called by KJ.

The poster’s comments about the opponent was that this guy 3-bets light a lot and he’s a suspicious player.

The poster’s commentary is that flat-calling the 3-bet is “****ing awful”, and he cites my book Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em as his source for why this is such a terrible play.

Let me start out by saying that if there ever were a place where it is a-ok to flat-call a 3-bet from OOP, this is it. (In fact in modern no-limit games there are plenty of places where flat-calling 3-bets both in and out of position is fine.) I would tend to call in this situation more than anything else.

It is true that in SSNLHE we warn against flat-calling 3-bets from out of position. The biggest problem with doing this is that, too often, when players do it, they make two major postflop errors. First, they mentally give their opponents credit for holding a legitimate 3-betting range rather than the wide range that light 3-betters have. Thus, they tend not to give their own hands enough credit, and they underplay. Second, they tend to play a fit-or-fold strategy postflop. If they fit, they want to shovel all the money into the pot. If they don’t “fit” according to their definition, they’re looking for the first opportunity to fold. The problem with this is that most people’s definition of “fitting” a flop is too narrow, and they end up putting big bucks in preflop and then giving up too often. Basically, they’re calling the 3-bet, but then just folding WAY too often on the flop or turn. Furthermore, they’re calling the 3-bets with too many small card hands that will be begging to fold once the flop comes.

Here’s the thing. In a blind versus blind battle against a notoriously light 3-bettor, KQs is a legitimate monster hand. There’s no question it’s worth playing against a light 3-betting range from the blinds. Now when I’m deciding whether to flat-call or to 4-bet preflop, I’m going to think about how my opponent is likely to make mistakes responding to my action. I tend to find that most players at the 25NL level will make more and more significant mistakes playing the 3-bet pot (even when they have position) than they will in responding to the 4-bet with a hand like this one, so I’m more inclined to just call the 3-bet.

If there’s a hand that makes something on more flops than KQs, I’m not sure what it is. Something is as little as overcards and a backdoor flush draw. When your opponent is aggressive and has wide ranges, flopping something with KQs gives you license to continue in the hand. Again, how you continue depends on the sort of mistakes your opponent is likely to make. If your opponent is going to make too many folding mistakes after the flop in the 3-bet pot, then I would consider lines that involved semi-bluffing the flop or turn. (E.g., donk betting the flop, check-shoving, betting the turn if the flop gets checked through, etc.)

If my opponent is suspicious, however, and unlikely to fold incorrectly, then I’m often going to try to extend hands through to the river. Getting to the river will allow my hand value advantage to play out because it maximizes the chance of seeing a showdown. Getting to the river also helps me because my opponents tend not to read hands well once the board gets crowded. I’m going to make a lot of money against a suspicious opponent when I catch a king or queen and get paid two postflop streets of value… sometimes even getting stacks in by the river. I’ll also be able to find spots where my opponent’s turn play turns his hand face-up and I can bluff profitably. (Even suspicious players don’t look you up when they have air.)

Basically, against a light 3-bettor who is also suspicious and doesn’t like to fold early in the hand, I’m going to rely on the preflop hand strength of KQs to justify early bets preflop and on the flop. Then on the turn and river I’m going to rely on my (hopefully) superior hand-reading to find value and bluffs where appropriate. This is, of course, aided by the fact that my starting hand is quite good.

Bottom line, when people 3-bet you really light in position, you have to have an out of position calling range. Suited big card hands are probably the perfect hands for this range, since they hit so many flops and they flop top pair often allowing your opponents to value-own themselves. Even on a rag flop with a backdoor flush draw you might take the 3-to-1 odds and float out of position looking for something positive to develop on the turn or river. (Either good cards or your opponent taking a line that betrays weakness.)

When your opponents are aggressive and bloat pots with light 3-bets and auto-flop c-bets, you have to get sticky with them. You can’t just fold all day long. You have to gamble. As long as your hand compares well to your opponent’s actual range (rather than the range you’re scared of), you’ll be fine. Yes, there’s variance. And yes, you’ll have runs where your opponents outflop you a bunch of times and you lose X buyins real fast. That’s modern no-limit.

But as long as you’re willing to hang in there and not just call preflop and check-fold flop, calling 3-bets out of position can be just fine.

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How To Read Hands Now Available In PAPERBACK

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m now accepting orders for the paperback version of How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em.

It’s $49.99 plus shipping (and sales tax for Nevada residents).

Order here (purchase links at bottom of page).

Assuming there isn’t a disruption in the supply chain, the first books should ship end of next week/beginning of the week after that. Books ship via USPS Priority Mail, and Priority Mail International for purchases outside the US. I will personally sign every book in the early orders, and if the first shipment sells out I will fulfill orders on a first come/first served basis.

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Check-Raise Bluffing The Flop

I don’t play a lot of pots out of position. When I do play out of position, the most common scenario is that I’ve open-raised preflop and someone has called behind me.

In this scenario, many students of the game automatically fire a continuation bet on the flop. This is too aggressive. You should be checking many flops when you’re out of position whether you were the preflop raiser or not.

Why is that? Well, the short answer is that once a competent player calls your preflop raise in position, you’re no longer necessarily the favorite in the hand. A competent player is going to call your preflop raises with a range of hands roughly equal in strength to the ones you would open-raise with.

Say you’re four off the button and you make it $20 to go in a $2-$5 game. What hands are you doing this with? If you’re playing an aggressive but not particularly loose game, you’ll be opening with hands like 4-4, Q-T suited, A-6 suited, and A-J offsuit. A competent player generally won’t be calling your raise with hands too much weaker than these. Sure, you’ll have A-A and K-K in your range while your opponent might reraise rather than call with these premium hands. But generally your raising range doesn’t have a huge card strength advantage over the caller’s range.

And you’re out of position. Out of position, with no card strength advantage, against a competent opponent. It’s not a particularly profitable situation. In deference to this reality, you should be checking many flops.

But just because you’re checking doesn’t mean you’re just giving up. You can check-call with good hands. And you can check-raise. In this article I’ll talk about check-raise bluffing.

Since most players don’t check enough in this scenario, they also don’t check-raise bluff enough. This is a powerful play when used with an appropriate frequency.

The remainder of this article is insider content available to premium members only. Log in to your account or become a premium member and get instant access.

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How To Get Very Good At Poker

Think back to a time when you knew very little about how to play poker well. Some of you may not have to stretch the imagination very far. You went to the casino. You chased big hands, you checked back value hands, you had no idea what your opponents had.

What have you learned since then? Likely you’ve learned all the important fundamentals. You’ve learned not to limp in out of position with weak hands. You’ve (more or less) learned not to pay off big bets from nut-peddling and passive players. You’ve learned to play position aggressively. You’ve learned to c-bet flops and also to barrel the turn when it’s clear your opponent doesn’t often have much. You bet your good hands for value, and maybe here and there you find a good thin value bet.

You’re a nit or maybe a TAG, and you make money easily off of players who can’t read hands and who therefore overvalue their medium-strength hands in big pots. As long as you can play in relatively soft games, you will make money playing poker for the rest of your life.

But I’m sorry to say, you’re not very good yet. Being very good means firing up an online casino and sitting in a game with nothing but players just like you and being able to generate a consistent profit. Obviously we’re not talking about a massive winrate. Massive winrates require legitimate spots in the game. But a consistent winrate.

You might be thinking, “Why on earth would I even want to try to play in a game with nothing but solid players to squeak out a winrate?” If you were thinking this, stop yourself! That’s not the point. The point of getting very good is that instead of winning X in a game, you’re now winning X + Y, where Y is the profit you squeeze out of the regulars in the game. That Y over time allows you to build your bankroll faster and move up.

So how do you do this? It’s a relatively simple, yet painstaking process. It’s simple because you can find a single edge over your clones in as little as fifteen minutes. But it’s painstaking because you have to find these edges over and over and over again–and retain them all–to really get the best of your TAGish bretheren.

Basically, it’s a lot of work. But if you play a lot of poker, and your goal is to win more or move up, the work is very worth it. So what do you do?

First, pick a relatively common situation. It’s a $0.50-$1 6-max game at an online casino. A 21/17 regular opens for $3 from under the gun. You’re on the button, and you call. Let’s not worry about what hand you’re calling with just yet. The blinds fold.

The flop comes A :diamond: 6 :spade: 2 :heart: . Your opponent bets. Is this bet unexpected?

It’s not. This is a dry, ace-high flop, and many regulars think they should bet flops like this one with 100 percent of their range. After all, they raised a tight range UTG, and they can “represent the ace.”

What’s the reality, though? Say the UTG player raises 13 percent of his starting hands from UTG. His range is something like this:

AA-22
AKs-ATs, KQs-KTs, QJs-98s, QTs
AKo-AJo, KQo

This is 13 percent of hands. How often do you think this hand range makes top pair or better on this flop?

According to Flopzilla, which is an invaluable, yet inexpensive, program if you want to get very good at poker, this UTG range makes top pair or better just 31.6 percent of the time. This means that 68.4 percent of the time, your opponent will flop a hand he’s likely to fold to pressure.

If this is beginning to sound like a good spot to throw in a bluff, you’re catching on. Assume UTG is playing a very simple strategy of c-betting 100 percent of his hands (because he’s “supposed to” on a flop like this one) and then shutting down without an ace or better. You can raise his c-bet and show an automatic profit. There’s $7.50 in the pot preflop. He bets $4 on the flop. That puts $11.50 in the pot. You raise him to $10 with any two. You’re risking $10 to win $11.50 that he’ll fold. If he is indeed folding 68.4 percent of the time, this is extremely profitable.

If you find that your regular opponents tend to take this line on flops like this one, you can raise them all day long and auto-profit. You’ve taken a small step toward becoming a very good player. Now find 200 more situations like this one. Find two every day for 100 days in a row. At the end of this exercise, you’ll be an absolute monster in your regular games, and you’ll have a gaudy winrate to match.

“But Ed,” you say, “you make it sound easy, but it’s not easy like that! If I start raising these flops with air, I’ll be exploitable, and my opponents will adjust and punish me. And then I’ll just be spewing chips.”

No, no, no, no, no! This line of thinking has two enormous flaws. First, it’s monsters-under-the-bed. Most players at your level don’t adjust quickly or accurately to opponents who are playing counter-strategies. Many of them are multitabling 12 tables or more, and they literally click buttons every second or two. Do you think one of these players will think twice about the situation when they see they got raised on an ace-high flop holding 8-8 or K-J suited? No, they’ll fold, and they’ll do it day after day unless you absolutely abuse them many times in a very short period.

Second, you are not a robot. Say you get reraised. What is a legitimate reraising range on this flop given the UTG opening range? Sets and maybe A-K, right? Your opponent will have one of these hands under 15 percent of the time. You are going to get reraised very rarely. If you notice a player start to reraise you, he’s likely adjusted, and now you adjust yourself. You start raising A-J and A-T on this flop and stop raising air.

For the most part, though, when you find an exploitative play like this one, it works. It’s a more-often-than-not thing, which adds up to a long-term edge. Nitty and TAG players LOVE to bet/fold. It’s a strategy that works terrifically to maximize value against fish. But it’s an exploitable, unbalanced strategy. Find all the common spots where your opponents are bet/folding, and raise them. (Or float them and then bluff when they give up.)

Yes, it will blow up in your face sometimes. And when you’re running bad you’ll feel like a total idiot spewmonkey. But after 100k or 200k hands, you’ll likely see a much better winrate than you had before. And you’ll know that it was all your hard work that got you there.

Time to move up and start the process anew with a more sophisticated set of regulars.

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