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Thinking Through a Hand - Poker Tips

Originally I had intended to write an article on what is important and what is not, when it comes to learning to beat micro stakes online poker. When I started writing things down, I came to the conclusion that there was one central concept: learning to think through a hand. As in, having a logical thought process and planning your hand in advance, instead of just doing things for no reason or based solely on hand strength alone.

I’m not awesome at writing general blanket ideas and concepts; there are many many experts I have learned from that articulate general concepts much better than me. Instead, this will be in the format of describing my thought process in each hand.

How I think through a hand:

Preflop:

  1. What is my hand? Since a lot of our money at the micros comes from value betting, this is the first thing I need to know.
  2. What is my position? This will determine a lot of the time if a hand is good enough to play. AQo is not a good hand to play UTG, but is an excellent hand to play in later position.
  3. What is the action in front of me? I don’t ever flat call a raise with hands that are potentially dominated, and I only flat call if I have implied odds, a decent amount of fold equity, or occasionally I will flat with AA if there is already a raise and I suspect that the raiser is weak, and it’s likely I’ll be heads up with him (for example, I might flat from the blinds with AA vs a BTN raise. But only sometimes. J )
  4. What are the effective stack sizes? This tells me if I have implied odds and if I should flat call or 3-bet.
  5. If I’m stealing the blinds, what are the blinds’ “folds to c-bet” stat? If it’s low (less than 50%), I am less likely to try and steal. If it’s high (50% or more), I’m more likely to steal with a range that is up to and including ATC.
  6. Lastly, what is the ideal flop I’d like to hit, given all of the previous information? For example, if I called with 89s versus an UTG raise from a tight player, my ideal flop is a big draw, such as 67x of my suit. I will not usually change my plan, because a flop I don’t really want to get is 942r. One pair is not what I wanted to flop. Similarly, if I called in the same spot with 77 and flopped 246r, I might proceed, but very cautiously; I did not call with the intention of flopping an overpair.

Flop:

  1. How many players am I up against? I will not c-bet with air against more than one opponent usually.
  2. How likely is the flop to hit my opponent? For example, a tight player limp calls from EP, and the flop is 247r. His most logical holding is a pocket pair. It’s very likely that this flop is good for him, either as a set or an overpair, or a pair that he’s comfortable continuing with. I would not c-bet with AK in that spot, but it’s a very good spot to value bet a big pair.
  3. How likely is the flop to have hit my logical range, and is my opponent likely to give me a logical range? Single high card, rainbow, and unconnected boards are great to c-bet. Similarly, A or K high flops are better to c-bet than Q or J high flops. Villains usually put raisers on pocket pairs or AK/AQ. If my opponent is a straightforward player who plays his cards alone and is probably not giving me a range, I am only looking to value bet.
  4. How did the flop actually hit me? Furthermore, how did the flop hit me compared to my opponent’s range? A lot of times, this determines why I am betting, if at all. It’s important to think, “What hands will call if I bet, and what hands will fold?” If you think worse hands will call if you bet, then bet. If only better hands will call if you bet, then don’t bet. J

Turn/River

  1. Given the flop action, my holding, my opponent’s range, and my holding vs that range, am I looking to value bet the turn and river or get a cheap showdown? For the most part, the big decisions are made on the flop. If worse hands will keep calling, then value bet. If villain is very passive and you are ahead of his range, then bet. If you have a good hand that needs protection, bet and be content if he draws at bad odds or if he folds.
  2. Did the turn complete any draws, and was my opponent likely to be drawing? If yes, I am probably going into passive mode, either by check/folding or check/calling. But keep in mind that just because your opponent check called a two tone flop and the third flush card came on the turn, it does not mean he was drawing at the flush. For example, a tight player (we’ll say 15/6) opens from MP, and you 3-bet with KK on the button. He calls, and then check calls a 257 two tone flop. The turn brings a third flush card, and you have none of that suit. His logical range is overpairs. You should be betting for value and protection against backdoor draws. If he check raises in that spot, you can be more sure that he probably had a hand like AKs/AQs and was drawing at the flush with overcards. (But notice I said “more sure” and not “100% sure” J He’ll still have overpairs sometimes.)
  3. Is there value to be had on the river? A lot of players (myself included) miss value on hands because they incorrectly give their opponent a smaller/better range than they should. A good example is when a very loose passive player calls your flop bet on a K high flop, and you hold QQ. The flop contains a flush draw, but is not connected. The turn and river brick, and you (incorrectly) check the river, because you think he must have a K to call the flop. You’re losing money (by leaving money on the table) in that spot. Unless the board gets really bad, I will value bet every single street with a premium pair vs a loose passive player. What’s important to keep in mind is that you should take actions that are +EV against his entire logical range, not just against the top 1% of his range.

Keys to keep in mind:

  1. Villains play straightforward and logical. Their line will tell you their opinion about their holding. Use PT stats, their line, and pot odds to make educated decisions about their hand.
  2. Most profit at micro stakes comes from value betting. The key to value betting is betting. Don’t fall into the trap of Fancy Play Syndrome for the sake of “well, I don’t want to blow him off yet, because he probably has nothing and I have a monster.”
  3. NLHE is all about playing for stacks. Each time you’re in a hand, you need to determine your opponent’s all in range (what is the minimum strength hand he is willing to risk his stack on?), and then assess how your hand rates against that range. If you decide that your opponent has a hand that falls in that range and you are ahead, then you should be value betting all streets with the intention of getting all in by the river. If you are not ahead and your opponent is trying to get a big pot going, it’s probably time to fold. If your opponent is NOT at his all in range, and you are ahead, you are in an extraction spot, and should figure out the best way to get as much value as you can, because you’re probably not going to get his whole stack.
  4. NLHE is a complex game. Study everything you can, participate in any strategy forum you can find, think about the game often, and always be looking to improve. You’re never good enough.
  5. Have a reason for doing something. Raising “because X is likely to happen/I am ahead of his range and he will probably call a raise/some other reason” is better than raising “because I feel like it/because I have AA”. You can correct logic than is wrong, but you can’t really correct decisions that have no logical basis.
  6. Don’t overestimate implied odds. Maybe I will write an article on that too. But remember, even KK has flops that they won’t want to commit with.

- sevens -

The Basics of Value Betting

Short Term EV

5 Mistakes When Playing Pocket Aces

Playing Irrational Players

Thinking Through Your Poker Hands

Playing Your Draws Aggressively

Basic Bankroll Management

Common Beginner Mistakes in Poker, Part 1

9 Reasons You Lose At Cash Games

NLHE Table Selection

Playing Middle Suited Connectors

Playing OverPairs

Avoiding Tilt

6 Tips for Beginners

Playing The Turn in NLHE

Tournament Play - Playing The Shortstack

Common Beginner Mistakes in Poker, Part 2