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Learning No-Limit From Scratch ­- Reading the Situations and Running Them Over!

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Mar 30, 2016


Roy CookeReading situations in no-limt hold’em is the most important skill. Knowing the odds and the plays have value only if you can pinpoint the correct situations in which to apply them. To read hand ranges effectively you need to know a player’s knowledge level, emotional state, and approximate hand-range selection. You determine this by attaching a relationship to their past thoughts in similar situations to the current situation, after which you base your play on your hand strength and your interpretations of how the hand is likely to play out.

I moseyed down to Caesars Palace for a little $2-$5 action. It’s a luxurious and friendly place to play with a good rake structure and liberal comp policy. I sat down in a game with players I’d never played with before. In such situations I know I am establishing a fresh image with my opponents. If my cards dictate so, I will often initiate an aggressive image as people generally give you the benefit of the doubt until you prove otherwise, increasing aggression’s value. But in this particular situation I couldn’t pick up any sort of playable hand. My dry pre-flop run made me appear much tighter than I really am. Knowing that, I made a mental note to pick a spot in which to exploit my misunderstood image.

The game, like most Vegas low to medium sized games, was a mix of vacationing tourists and locals. One local was continuously isolating a tourist whenever he opened the pot for $10, which he did with all his moderate strength hands. Since Mr. Tourist open-raised his strong hands for $20, Mr. Local correctly read the bet-sizing tell and avoided the $20 raises.

Mr. Tourist, about $400 deep, open-raised to $10 two off the button. The cutoff folded, and Mr. Local, about $700 deep, made it $30 on the button. I was around $600 deep and picked up the 7Heart Suit 5Heart Suit in the small blind. I contemplated my best play. I knew Mr. Tourist had a marginal hand, and Mr. Local’s three-bet range was very wide in this situation and that it included many hands which he would fold to a reraise from a player he viewed as tight with a significant portion of his range.

I made it $75 to go, with the objective of winning the pot immediately, but knowing that my hand still contained equity should it be called. In order to have immediate equity on my four-bet I would have to fold them both out just more than 60 percent of the time. Since I overwhelmingly read Mr. Tourist as being weak, due to his predictable bet-sizing, I didn’t think there was much chance in him continuing. But while Mr. Local had a lot of marginal hands in his range that I felt he’d fold to a four-bet from a player he deemed as tight, he’d also have strong hands in his range that he might call or reraise. They both mucked their hands and I took down the $45. Not much in the way of glamor and excitement, but hey, that’s nine big blinds!

While I preferred to win the hand immediately, my hand would still have some equity if called. I could have hit the flop and gotten additional value out of my hand, or bluffed on a later street. While the hand might not have folded both opponents more than 60 percent of the time, having additional equity would turn the play from a negative expected value (–EV) play to a positive expected value (+EV) play. The combination of both events being plausible added up to the play being soundly +EV.

The concept here is that you must read the situation accurately and include the implied equity of all viable possibilities when determining the best play, in this case a four-bet pre-flop semi-bluff. In such cases, don’t just consider the fold equity of the play, but all of the factors. How will the hand play in differing circumstances? Are your implied odds positive or negative? Are you considering all issues in determining if the play is valid?

Calculating your exact total equity in the heat of poker battle is virtually impossible. You don’t know your opponents’ exact holdings, nor can you be sure how they’ll play them. A “rough justice” estimate of your opponents’ hand ranges and how your hand is likely to play while taking into account your opponents’ tendencies and their perceived image of you, is the best you’ll likely achieve.

Obviously, making the play I did wouldn’t be feasible if either opponent was likely to call or raise pre-flop, play their post-flop holding loosely or play back at me with bluffs in their range. Additionally, if either opponent was short-stacked, the play would be much riskier as players tend to, correctly so, go all-in with lighter ranges when they aren’t risking large stacks. You must take into account each situation’s nuances and tendencies.

Most novice players’ strategy is based only on the strength of their hand. They’re incapable of reading hands and situations and making plays founded on those reads. In this case I read my opponent’s tendencies, analyzed what my image was, and made a +EV play based on that read.

Additionally, I blended the fold equity of my raise with the value of my hand playing forward. Each on its own merit wouldn’t provide enough value to make the play correct. But the combination of both tipped the scales into making it a profitable opportunity. It’s vital to calculate the entire equity of your holding, not just the current “run out” or “immediate fold” equity of the hand, but instead incorporating all the plausible future scenarios and implied odds into the equation.

Do that correctly, and your poker decisions will be vastly improved! ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke