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Banging it Out in the Blinds

Adapting to an opponent’s tendencies

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Feb 01, 2011


Most poker books encourage a rigid strategy. Few discuss constantly adapting your play to your opponents’ tendencies. One of the significant differences between the best players and the also-rans is their ability to adapt well to the individual situations that they face. By adjusting their strategy based on their excellent hand-reading skills and superior knowledge of their opponents’ tendencies, they create edges that other players just don’t perceive. That said, those dominating skills require a lot of knowledge and focus.
I was in the Bellagio cardroom early; the $30-$60 limit hold’em game I was playing in had not gotten warmed up yet, and the game was pretty solid. I had just posted the big blind; the field had folded to an aggressive local pro in the small blind, and he raised me. Many players don’t like to chop the blinds, believing that they are giving up an important edge. Others don’t chop as a way of being consistent and avoiding problems. I like to chop the blinds, feeling that it’s the neighborly thing to do. It helps in keeping the game sociable, friendly, and, most importantly, appealing to social players.
I peered down at the 6♥ 6♦ and pondered my options. Mr. Local Pro has a highly larcenous heart, and his hand range was very wide, ranging from A-A to total junk. Since folding wasn’t a legitimate option, I could either three-bet or call. I evaluated the value of each.
Mr. Local Pro was extremely likely to bet the flop. Since I had position on him, if I didn’t reraise preflop, I could trap on the flop. If I caught a favorable flop, I could get greater value out of my hand, and possibly get away more cheaply from an unfavorable flop. However, if I three-bet, Mr. Local Pro would read me for having a premium hand, and bluffing him off a medium-strength hand on a high-card flop also would have value. While the best-play equation contained other factors, I felt that these were the most important ones.
When determining the best play, factors often conflict. You need to weigh the value of all of the factors to reach a good decision. If you think it’s a close call, and your poker knowledge is deep and your poker intuition is excellent, you probably don’t need to use up the time and mental energy to figure it out every time. But when you’re mystified, evaluate the problem. In this case, I chose to call, thinking that 6-6 has a limited number of outs when it is not the best hand, and therefore must be folded with greater frequency on the flop. Against an aggressive, creative opponent, I didn’t want to make the pot any larger, because he might play me off my marginal holding. Making the pot larger gives my opponent a better price to play me off the hand. Looking ahead and accurately computing the likelihood of folding or getting into trouble with a hand can help you avoid many negative EV [expected value] situations.
The dealer flopped the K♦ 5♣ 3♥. As expected, Mr. Local Pro fired into me. I had no read on the strength of his hand, and flat-called. He probably would bet again on the turn, and I was withholding my play choice until I had a more informed picture of the hand. A good turn card came, the 4♣, giving me an open-ender to go with my pair. Mr. Local Pro fired again. The fact that I had picked up a straight draw and now had more outs if I was currently behind greatly strengthened my hand. There was also a good chance that I held the best hand. Raising wouldn’t get Mr. Local Pro to fold a better hand than mine, but it could get him to fold a hand that might draw out on me. Since I was most likely going to pay off anyway and had a reasonable shot of sucking out if I was beat, and it probably wouldn’t cost me more to raise, raising had value. So, I hit it, and he called.
The river was the J♠, and Mr. Local Pro checked to me. I pondered betting, and mulled over his range of hands. I couldn’t beat any king, jack, or wired pair unless it was deuces. But you don’t always have to be right to make a bet that has positive EV. There also were hands in his range that I could beat and he would call a bet with. Mr. Local Pro knows that I am capable of having a draw or blanks when I raise the turn. The fact that the turn card had made both straight and flush draws possible would influence him to call. If he held any 5, 4, or 3, he would call a bet. He might even call with ace high, and more importantly, ace high was a likely holding of his. He would raise with it preflop, bet the flop, and definitely fire and call the turn when he picked up a gutshot draw. I felt there were more hands in his range that he would call with and lose than he would call with and win. Thinking there was little chance of him check-raising, I fired a wager. He called, showed me 10-10, and took down the pot.
I looked back on my play. Did I lose too much? Did I read my opponent’s range of hands accurately? Did I adapt my play correctly to my opponent’s tendencies? I believe that I did. And as long as I know that I acted on sound thinking, I’m happy with how I played the hand, even though I wasn’t smiling over the result. I just ran into a hand that was at the top of his range. That kind of stuff happens a lot in poker, even if you play well. So, get used to it — and play the next hand soundly. ♠