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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: The Hands You Should Be Thinking About

Ed Miller Discusses Poker Situations That Should Have Your Attention


Ed MillerYou’ve just gotten home from your third bad session in a row. The whole way home you thought about that hand where you got stacked by the rivered gutshot. Should you have gotten away from it? Did you just throw that last $300 out the window? Maybe you should have bet more on the turn to force him out?

These are the pots most of us think about. It’s natural after a big loss to look at the hands where you lost the most and try to figure out what you did wrong.

By all means do your post mortems on the big losses. Many people do overplay hands and lose big pots where they could have lost less. If this might be you, it’s well worth some self-reflection.

But there’s a class of hands I think is even more important to analyze after the fact. They come up all the time. There is a treasure trove of knowledge to be gained by picking through them. And chances are, these are pots that you’ve forgotten as soon as the cards are in your hand for the next deal. These are, in my opinion, the hands you should be thinking about.

It’s simple. You have a pretty good hand. You bet for value, and your opponent folds.

It could be on the flop. It could be on the turn. Or it could be on the river. You bet with a good hand, and your opponent folds.

If you think about it, these hands are failures just the same as the big pots you lose. You bet, hoping for action, but you got none.

These hands don’t feel like failures, since we get to stack the pot afterwards. But they are. You wanted something to happen, and it didn’t happen.

Now don’t get me wrong. Just because a hand failed doesn’t mean you played it wrong. But the same is true for pots where you get stacked. I get stacked all the time, and after review only in a minority of hands do I feel like I should have done something differently. But a failure is a failure, and it’s usually worth a second look.

The Problem

Most no-limit players, particularly live players at the $1-$2 to $2-$5 levels, don’t bluff enough. This is especially true when the big bets come out on the turn and river. Since they aren’t bluffing enough, it means that these players usually want a call when they make a big bet. It is, therefore, usually best just to fold to these bets.

It stands to reason, therefore, that when you bet a value hand and someone folds to you, the hand might represent a systematic problem with your strategy. Your value betting frequency could be way too high in that situation, and you could be costing yourself calls as a result.

I feel like typical $2-$5 regular players would become much better if for a single month they wrote down and reviewed every hand that ended this way.

The Solution

The funny thing about these hands is that when you do bring one to someone’s attention, they usually all have the same first thought. “Should I have slowplayed?” If you bet and got a fold, and that was a failure, then perhaps betting was the wrong play.

Sometimes it’s true that you should have slowplayed rather than bet. But usually that’s not the right answer. Much more often the solution is to bluff more frequently in similar situations.

Whenever you bet a good hand and someone folds, your first thought should be, “Should I be bluffing more often in that situation?”

Two Examples

In all these examples you are playing $2-$5 with $500 stacks. A player limps in, and you make it $25 to go from two off the button with ADiamond Suit QSpade Suit. The big blind (BB) calls, and the limper calls.

The flop comes ASpade Suit 7Heart Suit 5Club Suit.

The BB bets $40 into the $77 pot. The limper folds, and you call.

The turn is the 4Diamond Suit. The big blind checks. You bet $90 into the $157 pot, and he folds.

It’s a simple hand, one that many players would not think twice about after it’s over. If you did think about it, you might think, “Should I have just checked back the turn?” With the straight and flush draws, however, you would likely conclude you played it well. And you did.

The real questions you should ask, however, is “Should I be bluffing more often in this situation?”

My answer, not surprisingly, is yes. You should be bluffing more in this situation.
The problem is, what hands can you bluff with? When someone bets an A-7-5 rainbow flop and you call, do you usually have an ace? Presumably the BB thinks so, which is why he played his hand the way he did. He couldn’t beat an ace, but he thought he might win if neither opponent held one. When it didn’t work, he gave up.

His play might indeed be profitable. If it is, then he’s making his money off your poor play. The fix is to call the flop with a wider range of hands. You can start by calling with big suited cards that give you backdoor flush draws, like QSpade Suit JSpade Suit and KClub Suit 10Club Suit. When you call with these hands, you have three ways to win. First, you can spike a pair on the turn and have it hold up against a hand like 9-7 or 6-6. Second, you can catch a flush draw on the turn and win with a bluff-raise. Third, you can win by merely betting the turn when the BB gives up.

Add all these ways up, and it’s worth calling the flop with these hands getting nearly 3-to-1 pot odds.

Frequently the reason $2-$5 players don’t bluff enough is that they are folding too many hands too early so they don’t have anything left to bluff with later on.

Another second quick example. A player opens for $20, one player calls, and you call on the button with QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit. The big blind calls.

The flop comes KDiamond Suit 6Spade Suit 3Spade Suit.

Everyone checks to you, and you check.

The turn is the 10Diamond Suit.

Everyone checks to you, and you bet $50 into the $82 pot. Only the preflop raiser calls.

The river is the 2Diamond Suit. The preflop raiser checks, and you bet $100 into the $182 pot. He folds.

Let’s say you held 10-9 suited. How would you play? Say you would check through the flop as you did in this hand. Then when it’s checked to you on the turn, you would likely bet to protect your hand. When the preflop raiser calls, he likely has Q-Q, J-J, a ten with a better kicker, or a draw.

On the river when he checks to you, would you tend to bet or check it down? Most people check, but it’s worth considering turning your ten into a bluff.

Final Thoughts

Mistakes don’t always come on the obvious hands. Anytime something doesn’t go your way, it’s a good signal you should give it a second look. ♠

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



Mark Clyde Brant V
over 7 years ago

Brunson's Super System recommended inversely scaling your hand strength to the size of the blinds. I believe that advice will be set in stone forever. The meat of NLHE strategy is best applied at the high stakes games, and that is where your detailed analysis of the game really shines, Ed. Thx for all your efforts!