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The Poker Hand Critic: Keeping Your Range Wide Against Thinking Opponents

Gutter23 Breaks Down Extracting Tons Of Value With A-A


The Poker Hand Critic is a new series by online pro “gutter23,” one of the top mid-stakes players in the game today. The Poker Hand Critic will break down a hand, street by street, offering up his analysis on all of the action.

The following hand comes from a nine-handed, $3,000 max buy-in $5-$10 game at the Aria in Las Vegas. The game had recently started and the table is filled with local regulars and one recreational player.

The Players

Hero (UTG, $3,000): My image in the first few orbits had been tight and aggressive. A few of the local grinders recognized me from previous visits and should perceive me as a winning, thinking player.

Villain (Button, $3,000): Young mid-20s male who is loose-aggressive and a winning player. He is capable of both bluffs and thin value bets and generally an opponent I would try to avoid. We have played together in the past but have no history of big pots.
The Action

Hero (AClub Suit ASpade Suit) opens to $30.
Villain raises to $140.
Hero calls.

I make my standard opening bet to $30 and get three-bet by the Villain. Most regulars in my situation would four-bet here but I prefer to call and my rationale is as follows:

If I four-bet from under-the-gun, my value range will be very narrow (A-A, K-K, A-K suited). The problem with having a narrow range is that my hand is face-up and we are very deep. The villain can call my raise, play the pot in position and put me in many uncomfortable situations post-flop.

Playing with a deep stack out of position, in a three-bet pot, against an aggressive player, is very difficult. Online players who are accustomed to playing 100 big blind stacks often fail to adjust their strategies accordingly for live poker. When playing online, if I open under-the-gun for 2.5 big blinds and the button three-bets to 7.5 big blinds, I can comfortably four-bet to 18 big blinds with both my value hands and bluffs and either call or fold to an all-in.

Live poker bet sizings are often much larger, so when I open for three big blinds, and the button raises to 14 big blinds, my four-bet would be to about 32 big blinds. This makes my bluffs very expensive and will allow the villain to frequently call as they will be getting great implied odds with about 270 big blinds behind.

Since I’m infrequently four-betting my under-the-gun hands against a loose-aggressive button three-bet, I will fold or call with the majority of my range. I will call with queens, kings, aces, A-K, A-Q suited, A-J suited and small to medium pocket pairs hoping to flop a set. Calling in this situation allows my range to remain wide, while also deceptively including monster hands.

Furthermore, by calling I keep all bluffs in my opponent’s range which might fold to a four-bet. Given my opponents loose-aggressive strategy, he will often double or triple barrel if he senses weakness.

Against tighter opponents and especially recreational players, I will four-bet aces in this spot. Their three-bets are usually for value and they will unlikely fold to further aggression. Due to the limited hands in their range, I will be able to value bet most board textures on future streets without fear of being bluffed or outplayed.

Flop ($295): JDiamond Suit 10Heart Suit 8Club Suit

Hero checks.
Villain bets $220.
Hero calls $220.

This is not the prettiest flop for my hand, and I feel the best option is to check-call. Folding is not an immediate option as my opponent will be value betting with worse hands and may continue his bluffs. Check-raising doesn’t make sense and I’d be over representing my hand and will likely only get called by a better hand or a hand with a lot of equity.

Turn ($735): 6Heart Suit

Hero checks.
Villain bets $440.
Hero calls $440.

The 6Heart Suit is a good card for me as it shouldn’t improve our opponent’s hand. Folding the turn is too tight as this particular villain will often value-bet K-K and Q-Q and could easily be barreling with A-Q or A-K. It’s certainly a possibility that he out flopped us, but I’m not convinced at this point.

River ($1,615): 4Diamond Suit

Hero checks.
Villain bets $880.
Hero calls $880.

The 4Diamond Suit is an insignificant card which doesn’t complete flush or straight draws and I elect to check-call the bet of $880. The villain quickly says nice call, which usually infers that they were bluffing, and mucks when I turn over aces. At no point did I consider raising the river for value as he will fold all worse hands and call with better. Folding this river is not a reasonable option against an aggressive opponent, who is capable of triple-barrel bluffing, while getting approximately 3-1 pot odds.

By calling preflop with aces and disguising my hand, I extracted a huge amount of value. The key concept to take away from this hand is that when playing against thinking opponents, it’s always best to keep your range wide.

Gutter23 plays mid-stakes full ring cash games and has had a great deal of success over the past five years. He was named the low-stakes online player of the year by PokerTableRatings in 2011 and is one of the few cash game grinders who truly understands the nuances of both live and online poker.

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almost 8 years ago

I generally like the approach not to 4 bet the AA pre-flop, but it sure makes it a set up to get outplayed or pay off post-flop when you are OOP. Please replay the hand with fictional board textures (flop and turn) with the same betting line that might get you to lay down the hand. (i.e. QhJh8d flop 7h turn)


almost 8 years ago

Thanks for the comment gyndok. You definitely make a valid point about uncomfortable board textures but as an experienced player, I hope to limit my mistakes postflop. As mentioned in the article, my range is relatively wide and it will include a variety of hands. This should decrease the likelihood of our opponent barreling on very wet boards.

For example, the QhJh8d7h fictional board you suggested would be a bottom 10% board texture with me holding black aces. But, against my range in this spot which includes QQ,JJ, QJs etc, I don't expect the villain to just blindly continue barreling. He will often give up or pot control the turn and I can bet rivers for value.

Obviously certain flops like KQJ, QJT would be terrible and I may be forced to fold the best hand but I'm just not concerned about it. I never get married to aces and even if I fold the best hand occasionally on the flop or turn, how much have I lost? 14bbs if I fold the flop, 36bbs if I fold the turn?

I think the value of calling preflop and playing my hand deceptively vastly outweighs the potential losses from bad folds or uncomfortable situations.


almost 8 years ago

What about the times when your opponent has ~KK and is betting thinking he has best hand whole way, in that case you would be wishing you 4-bet and got stacks in pre-flop.

Or what about the times that opponent had JJ or TT and you pay off whole way never really knowing where you stand?

It's an easy hand to write about when your AA OOP holds up against a triple barrel bluffer, but I think more insight could be learned in the much tougher hand scenarios that could arise in that situation.


almost 8 years ago

Thefly, how do you suppose we get stacks in preflop when we are $3000 deep? I make it $30, he makes it $140, I 4bet to $340, is he just going to shove his remaining $2600? Does he really expect me to call off my stack with AK or QQ? The problem is that we are deep and I can't get stacks in preflop. If we were 100bbs deep then I will gladly 4bet hoping that he'll shove AK or KK.

If my opponent had JJ or TT and I pay him off, imagine what would have happened if I had 4bet preflop and he called with JJ or TT (which he should 300bbs deep). How much am I going to lose in that scenerio when the pot is bloated preflop and he flops a set? He will get my stack more often than not.

Yes it's easy to write when I pick off a triple barrel bluff but there are also many situations where the board runs out 22467 and I check the river, he bets QQ or KK and I jam Aces for value.

Playing oop is tough and yes, there will be times where he outflops me and I pay off 3 streets. There will also be times when I fold the best hand postflop on terrible boards. The point of the hand is about keeping ranges wide and how to play deep against a thinking opponent.

Anybody can 4bet aces preflop to try and take down the hand. That's the easy way out. I'm willing to sacrifice some preflop equity to gain a lot of postflop equity.


almost 8 years ago

I dunno, I must just be too hesitant to play TP for a sizable portion of my stack unless there's a way of getting it in there KNOWING I must be ahead (i.e., PF), so I can't see the advantage to giving a LAG all five cards to see whether he can't run me down. If you're against a player making pot-sized bets you're going to the river having passively called off $1200 into a $2400 pot where you'll need to decide to call the rest of it all-in without having gained a shred of information as to where he's at. Betting (or raising) all my money's one thing, but calling every penny of it off?! I CANNOT call for all my money with just TP. No way, no how!