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Learning During the Pandemic: Part 3

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Sep 23, 2020


This is the third in a series of columns that focus on websites for learning about poker during the pandemic. In this series, I will try to give you an overview of the website, with emphasis on its strengths. I will pick a specific hand or idea from that site’s content, and then elaborate about my thinking process when analyzing this specific hand. I pick free content. This content is usually available if you sign-up with the site or is on YouTube.

If you find a source is valuable, consider buying some of their products. The content they are selling is presumably even more valuable than the teasers they throw away for free. It should benefit you, and helps keep the sites in business.

Today I want to look briefly at Alec Torelli’s site Conscious Poker. Alec is a talented high-stakes player, who (judging from his own statements and rumors) probably has had some discipline problems in the past. The fact that a player is undisciplined or has other flaws in their game doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a lot from them. To draw an example from chess, even the best players in the world have coaches. Yes, they could crush their coach if they played, but they chose coaches who have expertise in areas where they are relatively weak and can learn.

Let’s look at Alec’s video on putting your opponent on a hand range.

Without going into all the details of the hand, Alex is out of position on the river with a hand he feels is almost certainly good. He checks. The idea behind the check is that if his opponent has some unexpected hand that beats him, he will lose the amount he would lose if he bet. In fact, he might lose less, since he can never be raised.

More importantly, he might win more by check-calling, since his opponent may decide to bluff with a missed draw. During his analysis of the hand, he mentions the idea of a Hand Range Funnel.

His metaphor of a funnel is excellent. Before your opponent acts, he could have any hand. In general, each action he takes eliminates some possible hands. Although, there are some situations where his actions don’t reduce the range of hands he can have, his range can never expand. He can never have a hand on the river that he couldn’t have had on the flop.

Imagine all the hands entering the top of the funnel, a steadily narrowing range until the river, like liquid entering the wide opening at the top of the funnel and a small stream coming out the other end. Alec graciously emails more details of his funnel method of narrowing your opponent’s hand range if you request it.

The video is interesting because his opponent ends up showing a hand ‘he couldn’t possible have.’ Does this mean the funnel method was wrong? No, only that he assumed his opponent would not have played the hand he held in the way he played it.

It takes some adjustment to realize that a player may raise a lot of bluffs and semi-bluffs, but call with most of his value hands. When I play a long session of live poker, I usually will see some hands shown down that I didn’t think a player could possibly hold. While I haven’t consciously been applying the funnel method to hand reading, I guess I could say I use it. Although I might separate the bottom into two exits.

They have a polarized range with value hands and bluff hands. If they bet in a situation where my read is that they have mostly or entirely value hands, my tendency is to fold. If they take aggressive action in a situation where they can have a lot of bluffs, I call.


On the river and out of position, check some of your good hands. This will elicit bluffs and protect your checking range for the future. You never want to let an opponent know that your river check means you will fold if they bet.
The funnel metaphor is an excellent way to narrow down your opponents’ ranges based on each action they take, but don’t always assume that they are playing the way you would play. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With two WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.