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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller -- How To Stick To A Plan

Don't Wing It When You Play Poker

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Ed MillerMost people don’t plan when they play poker. From hand to hand, they wing it. Oh, I’ll limp in here. Maybe I’ll hit my hand. Oh, I’ll bluff there. It’s the only way I can win.

This isn’t how I play. Before I put my first chip in the pot, I have formulated a plan for how I’m going to beat each of my opponents. It may sound like a lot of work, but really it’s not. It’s just some simple observation combined with logical consistency.

My plans always revolve around the mistakes my opponents make. I observe and then make guesses about the sort of mistakes each opponent is likely to make. If I see someone playing tightly preflop, for example, I assume the player will tend to make folding errors postflop. On the other hand, if I see someone playing very loosely preflop, I assume this player will be prone to making outrageous calls on the river in the right situation.

Let’s plan a hand against a very loose player who might make calling errors.

We all know the type. They limp in or raise preflop with 60 to 100 percent of their hands. After the flop they make their way through hands almost at random. Some betting here. Some calling there. The occasional raise. It can be hard to get a read on these players, as often they don’t even know how to read their own hands.

The biggest error this type of player is prone to make, however, is the big, hopeless river call. Sure, they’re not doing themselves favors by limping in with J-5 and 6-4. But these are $5 mistakes.

On the river, however, in the right situations you can get these players to make $300, $500, or even $1,000 mistakes. That’s what I plan for. Here are the general alterations from my “standard” strategy that I make to try to actualize my plan:

Less light preflop raising. Against most player types I raise almost anything preflop that I’m planning to play including “light” hands like 9-7 suited. This strategy raises the effective stakes of the game and helps me get people to make folding errors. But against this particularly loose player, I’m not trying to get folding errors. I’m trying to get calling errors. To do that, I have to make hands. So I tend not to raise (or reraise) any light hands preflop. I’m raising only with strength.

Much less postflop bluffing. Again, against most player types I rely on stealing pots to create a consistent edge. But stealing pots — particularly early in hands — prevents my opponent from making big calling errors on the end. And it’s hard to steal from this sort of player anyway. The bottom line is that if I try to steal from this player, I’m playing into a strength. Instead, I want to bring as many hands as possible to the river to maximize the chance I get my huge calling error.

Larger-sized value bets, particularly on the end. I’m trying to get my opponents to make big calling errors. They can only make a big calling error if I make a big bet. I might have to small ball some players, but not these guys. I’m going for the home run here.

The strategy is summed up this way. Keep the pot small before I have a hand. Don’t try to win many pots without a hand. As soon as I can beat top pair, let loose with huge betting.

Here’s an example of how I might play a hand against this particular player type.
It’s a $2-$5 game with $500 stacks. Most of the players are fairly tight regulars, but there are two loose players in the game prone to making big calling errors.

The two loose players limp in. One of the tight players limps behind. I have 9-8 suited on the button.

I limp. I’ve begun to engage my plan. In most scenarios I tend to raise here. But with these two loose callers in the pot I’m playing for the big call on the river. Raising preflop bloats the pot and makes all postflop calling more correct. So I limp.

The small blind calls, and the big blind checks. Six players are in the pot for $30.
The flop comes K-8-6 with two of my suit. I flop middle pair with a flush draw. Everyone checks to me.

I bet $25. I’m betting for value, not bluffing. There’s a good chance I’ll be the favorite in the hand if I get called.

The blinds fold, but then the first loose player makes it $65 to go. Everyone folds back to me.

Some players would look at the pair and flush draw and put in a big reraise here. I’m definitely not doing that against this guy. When this opponent type check-raises small, he’s most likely to hold a king with a kicker of varying quality. Of course he could also have other hands such as a set, two pair, or a draw.

Most likely he can beat a pair of eights. If I were to reraise, it would be a bluff. Bluffing is not in my plan. I want to take hands to the river. If I get the money in now, I’ll likely be flipping against a king, and I’ll have gained nothing. Instead I want to let the hand develop and see if I can set my opponent up for the river.

I call. There’s $160 in the pot and $430 left in the stacks.

The turn is an offsuit 2, making the board K-8-6-2. My opponent checks.

It’s tempting to bet here, but nothing has changed. My opponent likely has a king that he’s not quite sure how to play. I can’t beat a king, and my plan is to go for river value, not bluffs.

I check. There’s still $160 in the pot with $430 stacks.

The river is an offsuit 9 making the final board K-8-6-2-9 and giving me two pair. My opponent now bets $90 into $160.

All-in.

This is my moment. My opponent is marked with top pair, and I can beat top pair. He makes big, bad calls, so I’m going to ask him to make the biggest one I can. After calling the $90, the pot would be $340, and that’s exactly what I’ve raised when I go all-in.

It’s a big raise for the game, but this is where my opponent’s weak spot is. It’s not a sure thing. He could turn over K-9 or K-8 or 6-6, and I could be toast. But chances are he still has just a king, and chances are (if I’ve judged my target correctly) he’ll end up calling.

This is the trick to no-limit hold’em. First you observe your opponent and formulate a plan to exploit a weakness. Then you stick to the plan. If will be sometimes tempting to veer off track, but you don’t. You trust the plan you made, and you pursue it to the last dollar. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at notedpokerauthority.com. Find Ed on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.