Seeing in the Dark

The power goes out at the NBA Finals, leaving 20,000 people in the dark. After a few minutes of chatter and confusion, fans begin to form exit strategies. For some, this is easy; they’ve been to every game this season, know exactly where the correct aisle is located and can navigate the pitch-black to find an exit. For others, this is an absolute nightmare; they spill beer on themselves, knock shins against the plastic seats and end up in the bathroom instead of the exit.

The fans described above have never seen a blackout but some were able to make an easy getaway, while others were stuck. This example proves that experience usually wins. In most situations, the people that have “seen it before” will have insight on the best solution. This is not always the case, however. Many of the first-time fans were in the lobby getting pizza when the blackout occurred and were able to easily exit. Also some of the experienced fans were courtside and stuck like the rest of them because the elevator was now out of order.

In Poker, the strategies that you use and the experience that you gain will get you out of the dark though there will always be luck involved. You will patiently wait for the elevator to be functional again while you realize that the breakdown was out of your control. You might even laugh at the idea that so many first-time attendees are walking out with no issue, while you are stuck.

When you play enough hands, the game begins to look a bit different than it used to. For example, when an inexperienced player hears the words, “All-in”, they may get a stab of anxiety and instantly think, “it must be a big hand”. The experienced player will calmly look at the stack size of the all-in to determine the range of hands that it could potentially be. Similarly, an amateur may view an initial raise as a premium hand, while to a pro it has the potential to be any two cards based on table position, stack sizes and player image.

No matter how many games we have played, there will always be an element of the unknown. For example, maybe a hand plays out and we have our opponent tagged to have 6-6, while we are holding 7-7. Great! This means that we have the best hand and should win the Pot. We play the hand out exactly like we are supposed only to learn that our opponent had 8-8, which beats us. Be mindful that if you are very close when guessing an unknown hand you can feel good about your thought process because players make similar moves with ranges of hands, not only individuals. To sum it all up, if you think someone has A-J and they have A-10 then you’ve done well.

The unknowns can be directly related to gameplay or can be something totally unrelated. I was once playing online and made a bet that my opponent was considering for the full 60 seconds allotted. When her timebank ran out, folding her hand, she chatted, “Ugh, I had the best hand but I couldn’t get back to my comp in time.” These things happen. Here I was sweating her decision when in reality she may have been in the kitchen pouring a bowl of Lucky Charms.

This week we’ll see an example of clarity in a seemingly dark situation. With the awareness of stack sizes, Pot control, table position, and continuation bets, we’re able to manage.

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I’m holding 9h-9c on the Button with blinds at 20/100/200. The smallest stack at the table has over 30 big blinds; we are in a deepstack situation. 9-9 falls into my playable hand range even with a raise in front of me. If any player at the table raises, then I’d make a call with 9-9. As a review, I’d make the same call with K-J, K-Q, A-10, A-J, A-Q, or 22-QQ. If there is one raise followed by a 3-bet, then I’ll fold 9-9. In order to play the hand in that scenario, I’d need K-K, A-A, or A-K. With these premium hands I would 4-bet to get all-in.

As briefly covered in, “The Blinds Leading The Blinds”, the Button is the best table position because you are last to act post-Flop and can see what other players do before making your move. The advantage of this is that you are able to make plays with more information than your opponents as they must bet or check before you. After observing their action, you can act accordingly. Levels of experience and knowledge come into play when on the Button. Generally speaking, players will play weaker hands from the Button because they can use the post-Flop table position to their advantage as described above. They can also steal the blinds pre-Flop if the action folds around. 9-9 is good hand, but has even more value on the Button for these reasons.

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The action folds around to the player on my right and he raises to $415. We talk a lot about min-raises, also known as doubling the big blind when entering a pot, here at The Poker Model. The more we min-raise, the more standard it starts to look to our opponents. The amateur thinks, “wouldn’t he raise more with A-A than 9-10? He can’t possibly have a big hand every time he makes the exact same raise. I’m going to try a 3-bet here.” And the amateur would be correct to make this play, until we actually have a big hand. This is why sometimes (with mediocre hands) it is okay to make your min-raise look slightly different. We recommend making your min-raise look very clean when you have a very big hand and changing the “look” of it when you have a hand that you do not want to receive a 3-bet with. The clean min-raise may induce action when you have a big hand (like K-K), while the changed appearance of your min-raise may block a 3-bet when you are holding a mediocre pre-flop hand (like Jd-10d). Keep in mind that you will still receive 3-bets regardless, but try raising to $625 instead of $600 if the blinds are 150/300. It may throw the amateur off and block a 3-bet or two.

The fact that the player to my right understands the correct amount to open raise tells me that he may understand other professional concepts, like continuation bets. This does not guarantee anything, but is a correct step #1 by him. This leads me to believe that he may have any two cards and is attempting to steal the blinds with all other players out of the hand. Because our stacks are deep, if I had a garbage hand, then I may be able to make a 3-bet bluff here and win the pot now. But I have 9-9, a very good hand that I’d like to see a Flop with. If I 3-bet with 9-9, then I leave the door open for him to 4-bet me, which could mean a hand bigger than 9-9 or a bluff for him. Some players may even 4-bet here with hands like 7-7 or 8-8. 9-9 has good value post-Flop so I’m working to see a Flop. 3-betting will complicate the hand and leave me vulnerable to get bluffed or make a call where I’m potentially dominated. Remember that we want to win big pots with the least amount of risk. 9-9 doesn’t grant me that value pre-Flop, but may post-Flop.

If my opponent raised to something like $800 here, then I’d feel confident that he is not a professional. Again in general, an $800 bet which is 4x the big blind, probably means premium hand from an amateur, while the standard $415 raise is much more likely an experienced player. I’d still call the $800 with 9-9, but would be much more cautious going forward, as amateurs are more likely to make random plays. I wouldn’t call the $800 raise in this position without 22+, K-J+,or A-10+. If the amateur decides to make an even bigger raise, then I’d tighten up a bit more depending on the exact amount of the raise, both his and my stack size, and our table positions. As a reminder, The Poker Model’s “call behind” ranges in a deep stack situation are 22-QQ, K-J+, A10-AQ. Generally speaking, these are the hands that we can call behind with to see a Flop if an opponent raises and we have over 25 big blinds.

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I make the call and the action is on the Big Blind. Consider the Big Blind’s position. If he has the knowledge that $415 is a standard open raise, and that I would call behind with good, but not great hands, then he could make a play here. He could make a 3-bet to about $1300 forcing both of us to fold. Keep this play in mind when you are in the Big Blind, have over 50 big blinds in your stack and see a standard raise from an experienced player. If he folds, then I’ll be heads up with position against the original raiser. If he calls, then we’ll be in a three-way pot where I still have the best position because I’m on the Button and am last to act.

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The Big Blinds calls and the Flop comes As-7c-2h. Because we have experience, we are able to be fairly confident that the Big Blind could have any two cards. The most relevant hands being, A-X,7-X, 3-4 or 4-5. While it is highly unlikely that these hands are in play, it’s possible. The way the bets are made will help us determine with greater confidence. For example, big bets and raises would imply that players may actually have a big hand or are bluffing, while checks and folds as the hand plays out will imply that there are not big hands in play in most cases.

We also know that the player to my right may be capable of making a standard continuation bet with nothing if the action checks to him. If this is an experienced player, then he may be using a similar code that The Poker Model uses. If that’s the case, a Flop bet would mean that he has “all of the Flop” or “none of the Flop” and a Flop Check may mean a mediocre hand like Top Pair or Middle Pair. Some players will bet the Flop no matter what. Other professionals have different styles. If they sense that their continuation bets are getting called with nothing, they may choose to Check/Raise on Flops or following through with bets on the Turn (Double Barrel). There are many different combinations of plays that can be made which is why we’ll keep it simple. You will build off of our model and develop your own style in time.

With my Middle Pair, I’ll call one bet, because I know that continuation bets can be made with nothing. While it’s not a premium hand with this Flop, 9-9 still has great showdown value if my opponent is bluffing and is beating any pair below 9.

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The Big Blind checks and the original raiser makes a standard half-pot continuation bet. To an amateur this looks like a very dark situation. We have three players in the hand, one raised pre-Flop and is now betting post-Flop with an Ace on the board. The amateur thinks, “Someone has the Ace, I should fold my nines.”

The Poker Model makes this situation a bit easier. We can see through some of the uncertainty and be fairly confident that this is not a bet with a monster hand, but merely a standard continuation bet. This helps us make a call here with 9-9. We must have over 20 big blinds to think this way leaving us with zero risk of losing our entire tournament here, which we do. Also, we’re empowered to get out of the hand quickly on the Turn if our opponents are showing signs of a bigger hand.

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I make the call, the Big Blind folds and the 6c shows on the Turn. Now is the time to learn if our opponent really has a hand or not. Remember that he could have any two cards at this point. That means that if he raised pre-Flop with 4c-5c, then made a standard continuation bet on the Flop that failed, he now has an Open-Ended Straight Flush draw! Or maybe he hit a big flop with A-7 and decided to bet with a big hand as he should on the Flop. The Poker Model has created a rule for these situations. “With Middle Pair, and in some cases Top Pair and Over Pairs, fold to the second bet.” The second bet is always a Flop bet followed by a Turn bet from our opponent. So if my opponent bets again here, then we’ll fold. The idea behind the rule is that we cannot be sure that we have the best hand at this point and the Pot will get much bigger creating more risk and setting up bluff vulnerability on the River.

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Aha! Our opponent slows down by checking as described in “Pumping The Brakes”. While it is more likely that I have the best hand now, some players would make this play with the Ace. If we check to the River here, then we are allowing an overcard (like a K, Q, J or 10) to come or giving our opponent the green light to bluff. This is why we will make a Turn Blocker Bet. Remember that a Turn Blocker Bet is meant to slow down our opponent from making a big bluff. If our opponent folds, we win. If our opponent calls, then we should get a momentum check on the River, where we can check as well. If our opponent raises, then it’s possible that he had a big hand the whole time or is bluffing on the Turn. We will always fold to this raise. The value of getting the River check or the Turn Fold, outweighs the risk of getting raised here. So we’ll make the bet and fold if raised.

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I make an average size bet and my opponent folds. Now I’m fairly certain that he raised pre-flop, made a standard continuation bet on the Flop and didn’t improve on the Turn. I’ll win a nice pot here, even though I never had more than Middle Pair throughout the hand.

Our hope is that this article results in self-reflection by our audience. We want you to take advantage of our code and relieve some of the worry that you have had while playing Poker. Make sure to be aware that bet amounts will tell you if your opponents are playing by the same rules as you are. If you see a standard continuation bet, you’ll be able to take advantage of it. It’s time to take off the blinders and calmly make your way to a 1st place exit.

Brett

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