Ed Miller Poker Strategy -- Turning Bad Games Into Good Games
Changing A Game To Benefit You
Live no-limit hold’em games are getting tougher. There’s no doubt about it. Year by year, the regulars are getting a little bit sharper. The guys that used to come in and dump four buy-ins in two hours are fewer and farther between. And after Black Friday, there have been more online players in the games.
I’ve heard a lot of grumbling at the tables recently about how bad the games are. “There’s no action at this table.”
I, however, don’t see these games as bad. Sure, they aren’t as good as many games used to be, but that’s neither here nor there. The reality is that these games are beatable for a resonable winrate – but very few adopt a strategy that will get the job done.
Most people, I’ve found, rarely adapt their strategy at all from game to game. A typical small stakes regular in Las Vegas, for example, will play a strategy that emphasizes trying to sneak cheaply into pots, hoping to make a strong hand. Then the goal is to find some unsuspecting sap willing to stack off to that strong hand. The regulars also like to make “big” folds when they get raised, thus ensuring that when they do play for stacks, they are nearly always going to come out on top. By winning a majority of the big pots, they plan to build a consistent edge for themselves.
They also make “little” folds like limping in preflop and folding to a raise when their plans to sneak in cheaply to a pot get thwarted.
Here is an example of this strategy in action. A regular makes it $30 to go from up front in a $2-$5 game. Someone calls on the button. There’s $67 in the pot.
The flop is Q 10 4. The regular bets $70 and gets called.
The turn is the 8. The regular bets $70 again. The caller now raises to $160, and the regular folds K-K face-up.
Say you filled a game with guys who were playing the strategy that the regular here is playing. What would the game look like?
It would look like a “bad” game. There would be lots of small, limped pots. As soon as anyone put in the first raise, most hands would end.
Most players who sat in this game would start limping along in these limped pots. When they flopped a hand, they would put in a raise, get no action, and win a tiny pot. The game would seem pointless and boring. “No action.”
Think about it for a second. Every strategy has strengths and weaknesses. The regular’s strategy of folding a lot and playing big pots only with nut hands has a major strength. Any time the pot gets big, the regular will be a favorite to win it.
Does it, therefore, make sense to play a strategy against this player that relies on winning big pots to be successful? Does it make sense to try to hit big hands and get paid off against this player?
Of course the answer is a resounding NO! If your opponent’s strength is having good hands in big pots, why on earth would you play a strategy designed to try to win a big pot? It’s not going to work! Why bang your head repeatedly against the deadbolted and barred front door when the back door might be left wide open?
So where is this player weak? Look at the example hand above. Any time the third flush card hits the board, this player turbo-mucks hands as strong as A-A. Furthermore, this player comes out and tells you he’s got that overpair by betting big preflop and on the flop when he’s confident, but then making a feeble one-third-pot-sized bet on the turn when the scary card comes.
More than half the time, the flop will come out with two or three of a single suit. If it comes out with a two suit, about 40 percent of the time the board will make a possible flush by the river. If your opponent is going to respect the flush every time it appears on board, you get to steal the pot perhaps as often as 20 percent of the time.
If you add onto that all the pots you can steal because your opponent misses the flop plus all the pots you win simply by making the best hand, you are absolutely smothering this “big pot” strategy by winning well more than your share of the small and medium pots.
The key is never to play a big pot with this sort of player without being virtually certain that you’re ahead. Remember, these players give up easily in small and medium pots to try to make sure they nearly always win the big ones. So simply refuse to play big pots against them and slurp up as many of the smaller ones as you can.
I’ll be the first to admit that games are more profitable when you can just get all the money in way ahead rather than being forced to chip away at a garden of rocks. Sometimes, believe it or not, you can turn rocks into the sort of players who will simply hand over their money.
It takes some practice to get a feel for who will go this way and who won’t, but you’re looking for someone who seems likely to tilt. Don’t pick the guy who just doubled up. Instead, pick the guy who’s already down a few hundred.
You’re going to find a situation where you can get the guy to fold. A hand where you can represent the flush against him works, or one where he simply misses a draw and folds. If he folds face-up, you have your opportunity, since folding face-up nearly always indicates frustration.
Show the bluff.
Honestly, if you showed your bluff every time a guy folded face-up against you, I don’t think it would be wrong. Why? Because some percentage of the time, this moment will send the guy over the edge. And when this sort of player goes over the edge, you will see him possibly make a play like the one I saw recently.
It was a $2-$5 game. A regular who normally plays a very conservative style was clearly steaming. He had been bluffed out of a big pot. He raised to $50 preflop. A bad player called him. They were playing more than $800 behind.
The flop came A 10 3. The steaming regular checked. The bad player bet $70. The regular then shoved for a little more than $800. The bad player called. The regular violently slammed K-K faceup on the felt, got up, and started to walk away even before the turn and river were dealt.
While some games are better than others, there are virtually no truly bad games at the $1-2 to $2-$5 levels. If you catch yourself thinking, “this game sucks,” stop. What you are doing isn’t working. Ok. But if you change your strategy, if you target your opponents’ weak spots rather than their strengths, you could blow the game wide open. ♠
Ed’s newest book, Reading Hands At No-Limit Hold’em, is available immediately for purchase at notedpokerauthority.com. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.
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