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Poker Strategy: When To Apply Pressure, And When To Pump The Brakes

Live Stream Grinders Andy ‘Stacks’ Tsai and Cedrric ‘Poker Traveler’ Trevino Share Their Tips

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The Pros: Andy ‘Stacks’ Tsai and Cedrric ‘Poker Traveler’ Trevino

Craig Tapscott: Can you share the best way to play various flop textures after being the raiser preflop? When is it best to be aggressive and when is it best to be cautious? How does the type of opponent you’re facing factor in?

Andy Stacks: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for continuation-betting being the opener preflop in position. Your strategy should always consider your current table image, your opponents and the general game flow at the time. A general rule that I follow, however is to bet accordingly to your perceived range rather than the strength of your actual hand on flops. This will allow your strategy to be well balanced and make it difficult for your opponent to determine the strength of your holdings.

One of the main factors I consider when c-betting is first determining whether the board is dry or wet. For drier flops that contain one or more Broadway cards that favor my perceived range, I lean towards c-betting frequently, using smaller sizings with my entire range. On wetter, more connected boards that favor the caller’s perceived range such as 5-6-7, I lean towards checking when I flop little to no equity and using larger c-bet sizings on wet boards when I flop strong.

Again, keep in mind that this is just a general guideline and will depend on your opponent’s tendencies as well as how you believe they will interpret your betting patterns. I will deviate from this strategy if I think that it will allow specific opponents to misinterpret the strength of my holdings.

Whether to c-bet aggressively or proceed cautiously depends on what I know about my opponents. If I perceive them to be sticky, willing to call down lightly with any piece or draw, I will value bet more aggressively on flops and on subsequent streets. I will lean towards bluffing less and checking when I flop no equity. This means giving up on certain boards in which they are likely to call down on multiple streets.

If I perceive them as sticky and calling with a wide range on the flop, I will also c-bet aggressively on the flop and may continue to bluff aggressively on turns and rivers that are very unlikely to improve my opponent’s flop calling range. If my opponent will only continue with strong hands like top pair or a good draw on the flop, I will c-bet aggressively and proceed cautiously when called.

Cedrric Trevino: For me there are two major factors when making a decision on whether to c-bet (play aggressive) or check behind (play passive) assuming our opponent does not donk bet (lead) into us. The two decision points are (1) board texture and how it should connect with our perceived range and (2) stickiness of the opponent.

To keep this simple let’s break each decision point into two options. Board Texture: (a) the board is good and should connect with our perceived range or (b) the board is bad and should not connect with our perceived range. Let’s define stickiness as how likely the opponent is to continue against a c-bet. So just two options on that (a) sticky: likely to continue (b) non-sticky: likely to fold.

With these two factors and two options for each we end up with four possible outcomes on the flop. We can create a simple chart to illustrate what we are more likely to do when each of those outcomes occur.

So, as you can see in the chart above, our decision leans to c-betting in three of the four possible flop outcomes. In general, aggression (c-betting in this instance) is a winning strategy and puts your opponents to a decision.

One of the most important things I ever learned in poker is that you can win two ways, by making the best hand or making people think you have the best hand.

Craig Tapscott: Let’s say you flop a hand like top pair. When would you consider a delayed c-bet? And what type of turn cards would change that plan?

Andy Stacks: When hitting a hand like top pair on the flop, my strategy will usually depend on how passive or aggressive and sticky my opponent is. Here are a few general guidelines I follow:

If my opponent tends to passively peel or float often, I will bet to extract value more frequently. If they tend to fold when they miss but tend to bluff more aggressively on later streets, I may choose to start with a check, especially using my weaker top pairs (with weaker kickers), either going for a delayed c-bet or planning to use them as bluff catchers.

If my opponent is very aggressive and check-raises many different types of flops, I may tend to go for a delayed c-bet and check back my top pairs on more draw-heavy boards to prevent being raised and making it difficult for myself to arrive at showdown with my equity.

Whether to c-bet or continue betting the turn depends on how the specific turn cards interact with the flop. If the turn completes obvious front door draws and does not improve my own hand, I will check frequently with the plan to evaluate and possibly bluff catch with my top pairs.

On dry turn cards that are unlikely to have improved my opponent and do not change the flop texture, I will usually continue to bet my top pairs for value. On turns that put more draws on the board, I will also continue to bet my top pairs aggressively as it increases the chance my opponent is able to continue calling with the improved equity.

For example, if the board is QClub Suit 6Club Suit 4Diamond Suit and the turn brings the 3Diamond Suit, bringing additional flush and straight draw possibilities that my opponent may be holding, I will bet for value aggressively.

Being constantly aware of the opponent(s) you are facing in each hand, their tendencies and how the board texture interacts with their ranges will allow you to implement the most optimal strategy.

Cedrric Trevino: Two important factors come to mind, aggressiveness of the opponent and strength of my top pair.

Aggressive opponents will be more likely to call our delayed c-bet. So, in essence this is the outcome we are looking for when choosing to check flop and lead turn. In my opinion using this strategy against passive opponents is not productive as it allows a passive player to catch up on the turn. I would rather take down these pots uncontested on the flop against passive players and not use the delayed c-bet strategy.

The strength of our top pair is simple to explain. Is our top pair likely to remain top pair on the turn? Does our top pair likely have the better kicker against opponents that might also have flopped top pair?

Here are some examples of strong top pairs: A Broadway pair with an ace or king kicker (A-Q on a queen-high flop or K-J on a king-high flop). Weak top pairs usually occur with suited connectors and suited ace combos, such as 8-7 suited on a seven-high flop, or A-5 suited on five-high flop. I am not typically going to employ a delayed c-bet strategy when our top pair lacks strength, because so frequently our hand is very vulnerable or behind with many turn cards.

That takes us directly to our next question. What type of turn cards halt my c-bet plan and which ones give us the green light to continue?

Cards that stop us from c-betting are cards that make a scary board even more coordinated (like a four-liner to a straight). Also, bigger cards that are in our opponent’s range. If we hold 9-8 suited on a 9-6-2 flop and the turn is a queen, this is a card where we might choose to abandon our delayed c-bet strategy and choose to reassess on the river based on final card and opponent’s action. Cards we will c-bet on are cards that do not change the board texture. ♠

Andy “Stacks” Tsai is one of the most familiar faces in the high-stakes poker scene in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and has become known for his regular appearances on the popular live streamed cash games Live at the Bike! at the Bicycle Casino and Hustler Casino Live at the Hustler Casino. Tsai has helped to promote the growth of poker in Asia as a brand ambassador for GGPoker China. You can check out his YouTube channel by searching for Andy Stacks Poker, and he can be found on Twitter and Instagram @AndyStacksPoker.

Cedrric “Poker Traveler” Trevino got his start in small $10 games with friends. He initially tried his hand at poker after college but ended up spending more than a decade working a corporate job. In 2021 he decided that it was time to follow his dreams, and has since transitioned into a full-time pro, documenting his experiences on YouTube and Instagram @poker_traveler. This summer, Trevino finished 66th in the WSOP main event, banking a career high of $121,500.