Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adjust to Win

Once upon a time, the 3-bet (or re-raise) pre-flop was perceived as "I'm ready to dance, but are you?" and was rarely used by most players. The good players exploited this by three-betting more liberally, especially in position and could confidently fold to a 4-bet a majority of the time. Consider the profitability of forcing folds from most hands most of the time.

Today both passive and aggressive players use the 3-bet and even 4-bet for a multitude of reasons including: for value, as a bluff or to define their strength earlier in the hand rather than later. In today's game, if we don't 3-bet enough, players are going to accurately predict our uncreative range without much thought. If we start 3-betting liberally, our perceptive opponents will determine that our range is too wide and will adjust by playing back at us pre-flop or trapping us post-flop.

When I first began to win on a consistent basis and felt that I had begun to separate myself from my competition, my first revelation was to adhere to a strict set of starting requirements and try not to deviate from them too much. I started learning how to open-fold small pocket pairs pre-flop from UTG and not defend 3-bets with hands with reverse implied odds, such as A-10 or KJ. I studied charts which recommended specific opening ranges based on stack sizes and implemented many widely accepted 'rules of thumb' into my game. I was shaping up to become a TAG (tight-aggressive player) which was considered the optimal style of play.

By adapting a framework of solid opening ranges I was able to avoid a lot of trouble spots that would previously give me headaches. Not too mention I enjoyed more consistent winning sessions and less volatile results. I relied on the successes of those that came before me to buy into the idea of playing a solid range of hands from more beneficial position(s). But then people started making the very same adjustments and my sure-fire winning hands that I used to get a lot of value out of weren't winning as much. It seemed like everyone knew how to draw or semi-bluff or use the overbet as a valuebet.

I then started thinking that online poker was quickly becoming a game of coolers (Full Tilt Rush) where we all just pass around money and only survive because of rakeback/promotions and the rare fish. I considered whether it was still possible to have a defined edge or if every online player was now a professional by 2005-7 standards. You'll be hard-pressed to find a table these days that will allow you to exploit the 3-bet gap which existed not too long ago, but how do we define and exploit an edge in our usual game? The answer is to constantly adjust.

I believe that most players can be exploited in one way or another. For some they are too tight pre-flop. For others they go to showdown too often. Once we can begin to get an idea of our opponents tendencies, we can begin to experiment and test them in many situations. This is where the old adage "paying for information" really comes in to play. You don't just go paying off bets when you're beat because you need confirmation that you're beat with your made/semi-made hand. Instead, you decide that your hand is likely to win often enough to justify a call and even if you are wrong, you believe you will end up making more money against your opponent or in like situations having better understood the action and why you were beat. When you approach the game in this manner, you'll become more aware of the nuances between players. Does she check behind with a lot of hands that could be bet for value? Does he always play his monsters fast? It is these types of questions that you should be focusing on as opposed to being overly concerned with your "solid range".

To excel at the next level and beyond we need to be committed to re-inventing our game. I no longer care about being a TAG through anyone's perspective. I will be the biggest LAG (loose-aggressive) monkey you've ever seen if I'm big stack in a tournament with a table full of nits on the bubble. I will be the biggest nit you've ever seen if I'm at a cash game where a the standard open is 10-15 BB's every hand. The point is that I will consider the game flow, my position and assessment of every table I play at and let that determine my approach. It's nice to only play premium hands and not have leaks in your game. But it's also nice to get paid off and maximize your hourly win rate too.

1 comment:

  1. Funny that you post this; I've been exploring doing exactly what you talk about - adjusting my game to particular opponents. I've been overcalling a lot more hands with speculative value and lesser chance to hit, forgoing the pot odds for the implied odds of stacking my opponent. For example, I'll play AsXs against a 8/4 with inf aggression factor, full well knowing that I'm going to get away from the hand for most flops, but knowing that I'm likely going to stack my overplaying opponent in the event the correct flop hits.

    If you watch poker on TV, you'll see a lot of players limping / overcalling / raising J7s or 98o for example, in the expectation that the right flop will yield a stack - and it does happen, usually in cooler situations (i.e. set vs. straight or flush), but it works.


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