Poker Strategy -- Cultivating Your Edges In No-Limit Hold'em
Matt Glantz Brings A Poker Essay From Bill Hubbard
In my continuing quest to promote the idea that there are many different ways to win at poker, I am bringing you an essay from esteemed poker coach Bill (AintNoLimit) Hubbard. He is a very sought after poker coach that has taught over 350 students over the last few years. Bill talks about some very important ways to cultivate your edges at no-limit hold’em. And I bring you this article as part of the ongoing series of mixed-game strategies because these fine points he discusses are important in the mixed games as well. Anyone interested in speaking with Bill about coaching or any other ventures can find him on his website at www.ANLpoker.com.
All serious no-limit hold’em players who play 15 plus hours per week should spend a good percentage of their time studying the game to continually raise their level of skill. A notable high stakes online player gave fantastic advice, saying “All players should strive to learn one thing per day (even if a tiny thing), and the player will rise tremendously in skill over time.” Never truer words were spoken in my opinion. But how do we accomplish this? Read more books? Talk to more poker friends? Join more poker forums?
A great place to start is the inspection of how well you utilize your edges at the poker table (It will be up to the player’s discretion as to whether help is needed in this area). After coaching 350 plus students, it is evident that a great majority of players are aware of these edges, but do nothing to pursue cultivating them. Below are some well-known and documented edges that successful poker players cultivate. They are listed in the order or importance. (Note: This is assuming the player is of a reasonable skill level)
Skill advantage (Knowing you can outplay the villain overall)
A. Math and highest expected value (EV) betting lines
B. Hand reading
Image (Having a killer winning/lucky image must be taken into account as it is a potent weapon)
Position (Having position is a tremendous weapon to hold)
Initiative (Important because the player with initiative is the ONLY player who can win without a hand)
Card advantage (Having strong premium hands or playing pocket pairs/suited connectors only when highly profitable to do so)
Note: It may seem very odd that card advantage (while huge) is last on the list. The reason I place it last is because card advantage occurs so infrequently that if a player utilizes the other edges combined; those edges override card advantage except in the rare instance when the villain is holding A-A or K-K. Let’s look at each of these edges one by one:
1. Skill Advantage
There are many types of skill advantages. I will discuss two basic skill advantages below and possible ways to hone these edges.
Math and Highest EV bet lines
It’s critical to study away from the table and utilize PokerStove and other online poker calculators to best estimate equity and how well certain betting lines will produce various expected values. If you do not know roughly that his 2 overs plus flush draw has roughly 34 percent equity over top pair and requires X amount of fold equity/stack size to be profitable, then you will never know whether barreling the turn, a large check-raise, or an all-in will produce the highest EV.
Example of Math plus Judgment
Here is an example seen every day. A villain with $200 in a $1-$2 full ring game opens to $10 and it folds to the hero on the button with 5-5. The hero calls because of the 20-to-1 stack odds offered which most players learn from poker books. Would you ever consider anything else? (Note: three-betting would be a terrible choice by the way.) In this example you must win $85 on average every time you flop a set just to break even. If you win $95 on average when you flop a set, then you win an average of roughly $1 per pair of fives dealt. Will you win half the villain’s stack on average when you flop a set? Most likely the answer is no. If you doubt this idea, then re-check the possible outcomes within the following scenario. If the villain has a super tight range of J-J plus and A-K, his A-K misses 66 percent of the time on the flop. J-J and Q-Q look at an ace or king on the flop, causing the villain to shut down often. When the villain has K-K, he sees an A-x-x flop often enough so that only when we flop a set and villain has A-A specifically can we routinely count on winning a large pot. It’s important to remember that we don’t always win when we flop a set.
Hand Reading Skills
Most players only pursue hand reading on a surface level while only a handful work diligently at it away from the table. In most poker decisions, optimization is attained by first asking questions about the hand, and then piecing that information together.
Hand 1: Hand reading example $2-$5 game 100 big blind effective stacks
All villains are very weak-passive, straightforward non-regular players.
UTG, UTG+2, MP all limp and hero raises to $25 with 7 7. (I disagree with this preflop raise)
Flop: Q J 8
All check on flop
All check to MP who bets $20 into $107, and hero raises to $80
Now MP 3 bets to $200
Think “honestly” of what decisions you would make in real time. Next, remove yourself from all emotional and monetary involvement and make another decision. Which decision do you assume will be better? Emotions and monetary attachment cloud most players’ judgment resulting in hasty, poor decisions. Completely eliminating these feelings may be impossible though reducing them as much as possible will allow you to make future decisions with far more clarity.
Ask yourself the following questions. Can the villain hold Q-Q, J-J or 8-8? Most likely he could only show up with 8-8 because he didn’t raise preflop. Would he check the flop with a set? I doubt it, since the two players checked and he likely would not want to risk allowing a nine or ten to fall on the turn and ruin his hand. Would the villain play a straight this way? These types of villains often slowplay monsters frequently especially when there is a rainbow flop and no flush draw to worry about. What hand would the villain slowplay on the flop, then bet very small on the turn? J-x, Q-x or a straight he may easily take this line. What hand would he three-bet over our large raise on the turn? The straight is the only logical answer. The villain’s hand is a straight because he or she went through great lengths to slow play at first; only revealing the true nature of their hand after the hero began firing a big raise on the turn. We shouldn’t worry about the three percent to five percent of the time that the villain does something weird with another random hand. This is infrequent and will not affect my overall expectation much.
Now that you’ve successfully determined the villain’s holding, it’s important to determine what action to take. Call or fold. The hero is a 3.5-to-1 dog to fill their full house on the river (getting around 3.33-to-1 immediate odds). We must assess if we’re able to produce any other income from the hand. Ask yourself if the villain would shove his straight on a paired river card. If you think the villain would, we can expect to capture the villain’s very large stack when we do fill up on the river. The implied odds of the guaranteed river profit make this an easy turn call if you make your full house, though you must fold the river if you do not fill.
As clearly as folding may be seen on paper, the average $2-$5 player in this example calls both the turn and river or ships the turn about 90 percent of the time. Calmly reviewing each piece of the puzzle will very often lead to an optimal decision. Most players can remember the times they flop a nut hand and all thoughts of folding are lost in a haze, creating knee jerk calls losing to obvious better holdings later in the hand. Entitlement (thinking the pot is ours before the final result is in) is a big leak and eliminating it from our game should be a main focus. Reducing these automatic losing calls is a must, since calling when you should fold is the number one error in poker.
Next issue we’ll look at image, position, initiative and card advantage. ♠
Matt Glantz, Ambassador to Parx Poker Room (just outside Philadelphia, PA), is serving an integral role in the development of the fastest growing poker room on the East Coast. Matt has shown a consistent passion for growing the game of poker and has demonstrated high-stakes versatility, becoming the World Series’ most consistent performer in big money mixed-game tournaments. Since 2008, he has made four WSOP final tables in mixed game events with buy-ins of $10,000 to $50,000 and is considered one of the top mixed-game cash game players. For more strategy and updates from the tournament trail, check out www.mattglantzpoker.com
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