Bending Our Rules

You’re on a carb-free diet and have established a regimen that is working; no pizza, pasta or bread for months and your 8th Ab appeared last week. You’ve had to say “no” to waiters bringing bread at restaurants, flight attendants offering cookies and you even passed on cake at your own birthday. Congratulations, you’ve been able to follow your own rules in a predictable world. But what would you do if the earth started spinning in the opposite direction and somehow carbs became the only available food source? You’d have no choice but to break your previous code and chow down on some Chicken Pad Thai.

The Poker Model has rules like, “Min-raise with any ace, pocket pair, two cards over 7 and suited connectors if I have over 20 big blinds and there is no action in front of me”, but what if every time I raise the aggressive player on my left makes a 3-bet forcing me to fold? How about the rule, “Make a standard continuation bet when the action checks to you on a Flop if you completely missed?” What if every time you make your continuation bet an opponent Check/Raise Bluffs? Do we have to be so rigid and stick to our rules or are there times when we should adjust?

Sometimes in Poker, we must bend the rules based on the texture of the board, how the hand plays out and how deep we are in the tournament. It is not our intent to create robots that have no feel for the game and can’t see the bigger picture, but rather to establish a baseline to grow from and expand on. For example, a hand in the very beginning of a tournament will be slightly different than a final table because players receive more money each time a knockout occurs at a final table. If there are three players left and you have the most chips, then you may raise the small stack on every hand in order to put the pressure on, while second place does the same. This intense pressure forces the short stack to either pick up a hand to move all-in with or be blinded out. Both larger stacks want it to be down to two players, so both will apply pressure, appearing to team up against the short stack.

There is also a situation where you “check down” a hand in order to get the third player out. In this instance, the short stack may move all-in and both players call the all-in with weaker than usual hands. The two larger stacks will then check back and forth to the River, hoping that either one of them makes a hand, which increases the odds of knocking out the all-in player. Take a look at how the odds of winning with Ace-King drastically lower when a third hand like 6h-7h is added to the equation.

It becomes more likely that Ace-King will lose with the addition of 6h-7h. In both scenarios described above, players will adjust their core set of rules because of the tournament level. These plays will not occur at earlier levels.

Another interesting scene that occurs mainly online is when a player mistakenly registers for a tournament without having enough time to play it out. You’ll see these players move all of their chips into the pot with hundreds of big blinds on every hand. In this situation, it’s so blatantly obvious that they are blindly throwing their tournament away that you may make an all-in call with a weaker hand than usual. Again, this will never happen later on in the tournament, but may occur early because of a practical registration error. We’ll be ready to take full advantage of these mistakes but cannot make a rule, “Call all-ins from players who mis-registered”. Common sense layered on top of our rules will go a long way. If you are caught in the gray area, then err on the side of caution and keeping your tournament life. For example, if you have A-J in early table position and the player to your left has been 3-betting you every time you raise, be disciplined and make the same fold rather than 4-betting all-in. A better spot is coming.

The concept that we must bend the rules at times does not imply that we should abandon the rules altogether. Basketball players are always in a defensive stance when guarding their man as they are prepared to react to any situation from this position. Similarly in Poker, your core set of rules will keep you ready and when the unexpected happens; you’ll be prepared to quickly react and bend them if necessary. In this week’s hand, we’ll diagnose a situation where bending a rule was the way to go.


I’m under the gun holding Ah-5d with 49 big blinds and 50/100 blinds. We are relatively early on in the tournament, so most players have mid to large stack sizes. As a reminder for Rule #1, “Min-raise with any ace, pocket pair, two cards over 7 and suited connectors if I have over 20 big blinds and there is no action in front of me”. I have an ace with any other card, over 20 big blinds and am first to act so I’m going to make a min-raise. If I receive a 3-bet from any players around the table then I’ll fold because it implies they have a better hand than A-5. If I called the 3-bet then I’d be hoping for a big Flop, which is very unlikely (33% to make One Pair). When the Flop does not come, then I’ll have to check and most likely face a continuation bet from the raiser ultimately folding the hand. None of the players have been making multiple 3-bets, so I would not 4-bet here. It’s straightforward Poker in this hand at this point.


The four players to my left fold, The Button calls, The Small Blind folds and the action is on the Big Blind. If the Big Blind calls, then I’d expect a check to me after the Flop comes from him. We’ve learned in, “Check Mate” that players tend to “check to the raiser” in post-flop situations because they usually do not connect on the Flop and want to see a free Turn card. After the check, I would make a half pot continuation bet if I miss the Flop completely. The rule here is, “assuming stack sizes are deeper than 30 big blinds, if I open raised pre-flop and the action checks to me post-flop while I haven’t made a hand better than third pair, then make a continuation bet to take the pot down now.” This will help me determine if the two other players in the hand connected on the Flop by observing their actions. If they fold, then they clearly didn’t connect. If they call or raise, then they probably have something or are setting up a bluff.  At this point, I’d need to see the Turn card to know what to do next.

If I happen to flop a big hand, like Two Pair (A-5-8 Flop), Three of a Kind (A-A-2 Flop), a Straight (2-3-4 Flop), Full House (A-A-5 Flop) or Four of a Kind (5-5-5), then I’d make a continuation bet on the Flop all the same. This will build the Pot and give the other players an opportunity to bluff or call with weaker hands. Continuation bets should be made when we have “all of the Flop” or “none of the Flop”. The idea is that you will never get bluffed off of a mediocre hand this way, and enough bets with “none of the Flop” will lead to getting action with “all of the Flop”. To be clear, “none of the Flop” means you have Flopped Third Pair or worse, like if you have 4-5 and the Flop is A-J-5 (Third Pair) or A-J-7 (Nothing). On the Draw end of things, “none of the Flop” means you have a Gut-Shot Straight Draw or worse like if you have 4-5 and the Flop is A-2-K (Gut-Shot, need the 3 to make your straight). “All of the Flop” would be Top Two Pair or better which will still be situational, more on that in another post. The main takeaway here should be that we will be making continuation bets most of the time with “None of the Flop”. Raise pre-flop, miss the Flop, checks to you, make a continuation bet. This is the standard, but every once and awhile you will flop a big hand, make your continuation bet, and get action. Maybe your opponent is bluffing, maybe he has something. Either way your bet will be disguised like all of the other continuation bets made with nothing, which can lead to big payoffs.

If I flop a mediocre hand like Second Pair (K-5-2 Flop), Top Pair (A-10-9 Flop), Straight Draw (4-6-7 Flop) or Flush Draw (4h-7h-Kh Flop), then I will check to The Button. The rule here looks like, “assuming stack sizes are deeper than 30 big blinds, with a mediocre hand like Second Pair, Top Pair, Straight Draws, Flush Draws, and in some cases, Over Pairs, check the Flop”. The thinking here is that we want to navigate the Flop, Turn and River to see if we can pick up a big hand later by cheaply viewing additional cards.  We will win the biggest Pots with the least amount of risk only when we have a big hand. The Button may check, allowing us to see a free card. Another situation would be if the Button bets, where we can call to see another card cheaply. Again, the Turn card would determine our next line of thinking. If we bet out a mediocre hand like a Flush Draw, then we are giving our opponent the opportunity to raise us, making the Turn card more expensive. The goal is to keep the Pot small until the draw hits, then bet heavily after knowing the odds are strongly in our favor; this is why we check.

Knowing The Poker Model buckets above is the first step to getting in that defensive stance mentioned earlier. We don’t know what Flop is going to come or what moves our opponents are going to make, but we’re fully prepared regardless. Lastly, keep the broader concepts of tournament life and common sense in mind while applying the above strategies.


The Big Blind folds and the action is back on me with a 6c-7c-8c Flop. Technically speaking, I flopped an Open-Ended Straight Draw. This means that I have 5-6-7-8 and only need a 4 or a 9 to “fill up” and make my straight. An Open-Ended Straight Draw falls into the “mediocre” category. If it hits, we can typically bet heavily but must be aware of higher Straights, Flushes, and Full Houses that may be possible. As mentioned above, what I’m supposed to do is Check and see what my opponent does. If he checks behind me then I’ll see if I hit my Straight on the Turn. If he bets, then I’ll call, seeing the Turn card cheaply.

Let’s use some common sense here and observe that the board is all Clubs. This means that if the 4 of Clubs or the 9 of Clubs comes, then I’ll hit my Straight, but my opponent might only need one Club of his own to have me beat with a flush making my Straight second best. Also important to be aware of is the fact that I have a low-end Straight Draw, sometimes called the “butt-end” for good reason. This means that if any 9 comes, then all my opponent needs is a 10 to have me beat with a higher Straight. As a review, the highest Straight always wins. For example, 2-3-4-5-6 is second best to 5-6-7-8-9.

We need to bend the rules here by pretending that we flopped nothing. While I do have a Draw, it happens to show on a tricky board with too many other dangerous potential hands. The move will switch from a Check/Call situation to a Continuation Bet situation. Just like if we had completely missed the Flop, we’ll make a continuation bet in hopes of winning the Pot right now. Like other continuation bets on missed flops, this move will either cause a Fold, Call or Raise.

If my opponent folds, then we’ve just taken down the Pot; this is never bad. If he calls, then we’ll see what card comes on the Turn, maybe I hit my Draw or a Pair. If another Club shows on the Turn, then it may be a good spot for me to bluff because it will appear that I have the Flush. Most likely we won’t improve, however, and check/fold on the Turn. If my opponent raises, then we will fold as well because it implies he has a bigger hand than we do.


I make a half pot continuation bet and my opponent folds. Most players would call with any Flush Draws, Straight Draws or Pairs on this board. It’s possible he had an Under Pair to the board or two high cards with no Club. Either way, it took the observation that my Draw could be dominated by other Draws to make the mid hand shift and win the pot.

It’s certainly okay to adjust your plan based on new information in Poker. This week, we saw a situation where an unlikely board with numerous Draws forced us to make a continuation bet instead of check/calling as we usually would. Be careful when making these shifts and know why you are. Do not completely abandon your core plan and make clear, thoughtful decisions as you go. If you have the discipline to follow the rules, then you’ll have the discipline to bend them.


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