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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Dominating Deep Cash Games

Miller Explains How To Create Profitable Big Pot River Situations

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Ed MillerMany no-limit players like to keep the preflop betting small, see a flop, and go from there. They’ll limp into pots with hands like A-K offsuit, 8-7 suited, 6-6, and so on.

I take nearly the opposite strategy, especially in cash games with relatively deep stacks. I raise every single pot I play (except from the blinds), and I reraise preflop frequently both in and out of position. I do this because I believe that there are huge edges to gain every time the preflop pot is big enough to put stacks in play.

In Las Vegas, most rooms allow a $1,000 buy-in to a $2-$5 game and a $3,000 buy-in to a $5-$10 game. Furthermore, many players — not just the professionals — buy in for these amounts.

On the overwhelming majority of hands, however, the deep part of the stacks never sniffs the pot. For example, five people limp in a $2-$5 game. Someone bets $15 on the flop and $40 on the turn. The last $500-plus in everyone’s stack is simply not in play.

Even in single-raised pots, most of this money never sees action. It’s raised to $20 and called in three places. Someone bets $55 on the flop and $120 on the turn. Even a bet and raise on the river usually won’t get the last few hundred into the pot — and that itself is a very rare occurrence.

As a result, the typical $2-$5 and, to a lesser extent, $5-$10 player is completely unused to navigating pots where these deep stacks are fully in play.

At $2-$5, my experience is that most players simply fold too much in the big pots. From a theoretical perspective, a $400 all-in bet into a roughly $1,200 pot should get called in an average situation roughly 75 percent of the time. Only at this frequency does bluffing with all of your hands become a break-even proposition. If your opponent folds at all more frequently, it is right to shove that $400 with any hand that has no reasonable shot to win a showdown.

In practice, a $400 all-in river shove is called nowhere near 75 percent of the time in these games. In fact, it often feels nearly impossible to get these final bets paid when you actually have the nuts. This makes me extremely inclined to shove the river even when I have a little bit of showdown value. If I can get a fold even half the time, I’d much rather go for it than permit a showdown I might win only 10 or 15 percent of the time.

Because I think the typical player misplays them so badly, I build my strategy early in hands to create these big pot river situations. Preflop, I will reraise light with suited hands like A-4 suited and 8-6 suited, even if I don’t think I have a great chance to pick up the pot immediately. I’m happy to build the pot early to put stacks in play with a hand that will sometimes allow me to bluff the turn with equity.

In general, players at this level will misplay the flop and turn in reraised pots as well. It’s almost like they know they will badly butcher the river, so they play to avoid the big river situation. Here are a few typical deep-stacked hands that exploit my opponents’ tendencies to play it too safe in big pots.

A player opens for $20 with $1,000 stacks from three off the button. The button calls. You reraise to $85 from the big blind (BB) with AClub Suit 4Club Suit. The opener calls, and the button folds. There’s $192 in the pot and $915 behind.

The flop comes KClub Suit 6Diamond Suit 5Diamond Suit, giving you a backdoor-flush draw, a backdoor straight draw, and an overcard.

You check, and your opponent bets $90. You call. There’s $372 in the pot and $825 behind.
The turn is the JClub Suit. You check, and your opponent checks.

The river is the 5Spade Suit. You bet $280, and despite the fact that you’ve bet a good bit less than the pot, you can expect your opponent to fold well more than half the time.

Often your opponent won’t even take the hand this far. After you check the flop, he’ll check it back and just fold to a turn bet. Or, if he calls the turn bet, he’ll fold when you bet nearly pot on the river.

Here’s another hand type I play commonly. A player opens for $20 from two off the button, and next to act you make it $60 with 6Diamond Suit 5Diamond Suit. The blinds fold, and the preflop raiser calls. There’s $127 in the pot and $940 behind.

The flop comes AClub Suit 7Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit, giving you bottom pair and backdoor-flush and straight draws. The original player donk bets $75. You raise to $175.

This raise ends the hand very frequently. Sometimes the player has a hand like A-J and will call the flop raise. Without improvement, however, he’s nearly always willing to fold after a turn bet and river shove. Furthermore, your hand has significant equity against a hand as strong as A-K.

If the flop donk bet is even smaller — say $55 — generally the read will be even more solid. I would be positively shocked in a typical Las Vegas $2-$5 game to see a player donk bet less than half-pot into a preflop reraiser and then, without improvement, call down a raise and turn and river barrels.

Final Thoughts

At the $2-$5 and often also at the $5-$10 level, many players who buy in deep tend to get lost in pots that put the stacks in play. Usually these players — if they are willing to stack off — will attempt to force the action at some point by raising or check-raising. If your opponent has dropped off into check/call mode, there’s an excellent chance you’ll eventually get a fold if you keep betting.

This is particularly true if an opponent has tested the waters at some point by betting into you for a relatively small amount. Take the AClub Suit 7Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit flop from above. When the opponent donk bets $55 into $127 on the flop, he usually is thinking one of two things if you raise — you have him beat, or he’s tricked you into giving him action. If it’s the latter, you’ll typically see either a reraise on the flop or a turn check-raise. It would be uncommon for this player to be satisfied check/calling down.

If it’s the former, he’ll bloat the pot a little and then fold. That’s how it usually goes.

If you want to make the most in deep cash games, look to put stacks in play early in hands by reraising preflop or raising the flop while the outcome is in flux. Then use your opponent’s bet sizings, reactions, and the turn and river cards to decide whether your opponent is likely to play for stacks or not. If not, unleash the bluffs. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site redchipoker.com.