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Good Poker Technique

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Nov 01, 2009


When I first started playing a lot of poker, I played single table tournaments (STTs). I had the occasional score from multitable tournaments (MTTs), and sometimes made money playing cash games, but STT’s were where I made most of my money. I liked them because they were simple and it was hard to run that bad at them. The reason they are simple is that for the most part, the stacks are very shallow. Their format lends itself to two styles of play. Passive when the blinds are low, and aggressive when they are high. I did well because I understood this and was able to vary my play accordingly. I wasn’t that good at post-flop play, but that was fine because I rarely had to play post-flop, and when I did in the early stages, I usually had a very good hand (which makes it a lot easier).

One of the things I learned from playing STTs was the value of aggression, how important it is to be the one raising and betting rather than calling. Now, a few years later, my understanding is more sophisticated. There are often times when calling is by far the best option. However, in the context of an STT (that is, a low blind-to-stack ratio) it is important to always be the aggressor. The equity you gain from forcing people into making bad folds is crucial. And it applies to cash games as well, it is bad poker to call large bets with marginal hands on early streets.

A student of mine played this hand recently. The game was $1-$2 no-limit hold’em. The villain of the piece was quite aggressive and bad, and his stats were 45/21 with a three-bet stat of 11. (45 is his “Voluntarily Put into Pot” statistic. The percentage of hands he played (45) is crazily high, and 21 refers to his “Pre-Flop Raise”, the amount of times he raises pre-flop). My student, the tight-aggressive (TAG) player’s stats are not that important, as you can safely assume the villain wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention. They are both $300 deep.
Good Poker Quote
It’s folded to the TAG who raises on the button with 10s 7s. The villain three-bets from the blinds. TAG calls. Flop is K-7-4, with two spades, Villain bets $45 into the $48 pot and the TAG calls. There is a red jack on the turn and the Villain bets $100 into the $138 pot. The TAG calls. 

The river is a red 7, and the villain pushes for the remainder of his stack. The TAG obviously calls with trips and wins as the villain had 9-9. 
Importantly, the decision point wasn’t the river. On the river, there was $338 in the pot and about $140 left in each stack. At this point it was too late to fold no matter what card came on the river. The TAG was getting about 4.41:1 and shouldn’t fold unless he is quite sure he is beaten. If the river was a blank he is most likely beaten, with any king, jack, some tens, or an overpair beating him, but the odds dictate that he call anyway. Had he called he would have lost to the villains nines, which could possibly have been folded on an earlier street.
The decision should have been taken on the turn, because by calling such a large bet the TAG should have realised he was committing himself. You should always be aware of what your actions will mean on future streets, except for on the river you always have to think about the possibility of future bets. In this hand a better line would be to raise on either the flop or turn as a semi-bluff, although I think folding the turn is probably best. Whatever you do, remember that you should never be calling large bets on early streets without a good plan for the rest of the hand. Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.