In continuing my series on Back to Basics, this latest installment deals with how to play broadway cards. Broadway cards are generally defined as two cards that are Ten or better. Examples are AT, KQ, QT, KJ, etc. I consider this to be a follow-on to the section on Back to Basics: Suited connectors.
The more I play, the more I find that players (more live than online, but certainly both are guilty) have no understanding of broadway cards and how to play them. Broadway cards are perhaps the most difficult to play, and the easiest to lose money with by virtue of the fact that if the board pairs your hand, your flopped top pair may or may not be the best hand. Not only could your top pair hand be dominated by a better kicker, but a top pair hand is more difficult to fold than a suited connector hand. In comparison, regular suited connectors, most of the time, are not going to flop top pair - and when you do, you know it is a very vulnerable top pair. Regardless, people play all broadway cards, despite getting proper odds or understanding the reasons behind it. In a nutshell, they think: "KT! Two paint cards! That's a good hand! I can call this raise and be good on a King high flop or a Ten high flop," when the reality is that there are many hands that have KT crushed... namely AK, KQ, KJ, AT, AA, KK, etc., and proceed to stack off their top pair hand to any of the listed hands.
There is a defined pecking order of broadway hands, where clearly, some hands are better than others. At the root is the idea of expected value (EV). Fundamentally , The very best non-paired hand is AKs, AKo. AQs, AQo, AJs, are in the second tier, followed closely by AJo, ATs, KQs, KJs, etc. I have given you a loose definition of the Hold'em Heat Map - a chart which you should study and be comfortable with. There are many such examples of actions to take based on cards and position, available on the web; google "holdem starting hand chart groupings" and you'll get there.
The exact groupings of the starting hands are up to you; it defines you as a player, and delineates your VPIP / PFR. If you are a loose PF player, your premium hands may include AK and AQ. If you decide to be a tight PF player, you may only include AKs. However, the lower you go down the starting hand chart, the higher the possibility that your starting hand may be dominated, as discussed in the prior paragraph. AK clearly dominates all Ax hands - if an Ace hits the flop, unless your opponent has flopped two pairs, your AK is crushing all other Ace X holdings. The same can be said for a King high flop holding AK. You have what's known as TPTK, or top pair, top kicker, a very strong flop holding.
With the understanding of relative strength of 2 high cards, an interesting concept I want to introduce is the idea of raisable, limpable and callable hands. I will likely write about position in a later post, but for now, believe that position is one of the most critical elements to poker. Having the ability to act after your opponents gives you the power to see your opponent's actions prior to making a decision on your own. In short, you have more information. This principle applies for all streets of Texas Hold'em; the BTN is the strongest position at the table, in order on down to the SB being the weakest. In order to call a raise from either of the blinds, or raise the bet based on your hand strength, you must have solid holdings.
Where am I going with this? Well, it's interesting that, for example, while you may raise an unopened pot with QJ from the BTN or CO, you should likely fold QJ from the UTG position or MP1. Taking this example a step further, a consideration in your mind should always be, "What happens if someone 3bets me (re-raises my original raise)? Is my hand strong enough to either call a 3bet or 4bet?" Moreover, a consideration should be, "What happens if someone raises my limped QJ?" Although there is no clear answer, QJ in most cases cannot stand a 3bet... particularly from a tight opponent, but others as well. Assuming you call a 3bet, automatically, you're committing [what in most cases would be] about 10BBs, or 10% of your stack, PF with cards that may already be drawing very thin. Referring back to prior paragraphs, you may already be in a 70/30 situation up against an AQ, AJ, AK type hand. Needless to say, in a 3bet situation, you may be up against AA, KK, QQ, JJ as well... all dominated situations, too. Are you really looking to invest 10% of your stack on those kind of odds? I don't mean to paint such a glum picture, so you certainly could be up against lower pocket pairs as well (depending on how loose of a 3better you have), where you have 50% equity. Following the Back to Basics post on hand ranges and equity, if you called the 3bet, you're not giving yourself much of a chance; you're not going to hit your non-dominated card's 3-of-a-kind or a straight often enough to justify those poor odds AND PLUS, you'll need your opponent to stack off to you in those situations where you do hit the nuts like that - not always a likely scenario, in order to pay for all of the situations where you miss and have to fold your hand on the flop.
So why do I say that QJ is fold-able from UTG, yet raise-able from late position? Control and position. If you limp and/or raise QJ from an earlier position, there are many opponents who will likely have a hand ahead of you - who will be raising their hands or at least calling you. What happens when you get that Q T high 2-tone flop you were looking for, cbet and are flatted by your opponent? Does he have KQ, AQ? Does he have a flush draw? Does he have a straight draw? You can't positively believe that you are good here a large portion of the time (I know you can never believe you are good without holding the actual nuts, i.e. a set, etc.). What happens if he is on the flush draw holding AKs? He's actually ahead of your equity without holding a made hand - he has the inside straight draw to a Jack (making your would-be hand much harder to get away from, holding top two pair), he holds 2 overcards to the board and any card of his suit... 3 + 9 + 6 = 18 outs or >50% equity. By the turn and or river, he expects to have the best hand; should you keep betting and building a pot for him to take away from you? You've potentially put yourself in a terrible situation by playing out of position with weak relative holdings.
Are you looking to throw money away or put yourself to tough decisions with every hand? Just fold it and wait for a better opportunity with less players to raise / call... i.e. from the later positions. As a fact, the later positions have as few as 2 or 3 players to react to your move. From the BTN, all you need worry about is the SB and BB. Chances are, with 2 players, you have the best hand here. If so, you will likely win the blinds - a 1.5BB addition to your stack for very little risk. Additionally, with future action, you will always act last and have the advantage of seeing what your opponents are doing / how they're betting. More often than not, a loose player in the blinds will fold to a cbet (continuation bet) on a non- Ace high flop.
Therefore, for beginners, I suggest following an algorithm based on the one defined on wikipedia; Hold'em Heat Map, where the Mason and Malmuth hand grouping is:
|A||AA, AKs, KK, QQ,|
|B||AK, AQs, JJ, AJs, KQs, TT|
|C||AQ, ATs, KJs, QJs, JTs, 99|
|D||AJ, KQ, KTs, QTs, J9s, T9s, 98s, 88|
|E||A9s...A2s, KJ, QJ, JT, Q9s, T8s, 97s, 87s, 77, 76s, 66|
|F||AT, KT, QT, J8s, 86s, 75s, 65s, 55, 54s|
|G||K9s...K2s, Q8s, J9, T9, T7s, 98, 64s, 53s, 44, 43s, 33, 22|
|H||A9, K9, Q9, J8, J7s, T8, 96s, 87, 85s, 76, 74s, 65, 54, 42s, 32s|
|Action||Early Position |
|Middle Position |
|Late Position |
|Raise||A||A, [40% of the time] B||A, B, C, D + |
all pocket pairs
|Call 3Bet||JJ, B||JJ, B, 99,C||TT, [60% of the time] B, |
[20% of the time]D
|4Bet / all-in||[without JJ] A||[without JJ] A||A|
|Action||vs. Early Open||vs. Middle Open||vs. Late Open|
|3Bet / Raise||A||A, sometimes TT||A, TT|
[60% of the time] B
|22+, B, C|
As you become comfortable with this starting hand range and associated actions, you can deviate away from the initial algorithm, expanding one tier and shrinking another, or vice-versa. For example, I tend to raise all pocket pairs from all positions, raise 25% of my suited connectors and limp (with others in the pot) or fold 75%. I play 25% of AJo from EP, yet raise from MP+. I raise a full range of hands from CO or BTN. However, I caution you before you start messing with the algorithm: if you're a beginner and/or not profitable at poker, become the nit described above. You may not optimize on all of your hands, but you should be profitable and will become more comfortable with starting hand strengths and positions.
I had put the above 2 charts detailing actions to hand groups awhile ago; I would like to include the notes that I had in there when I came up with the algorithms at the time:
"Obviously, depending on the table, you can adjust your ranges up or down (if a LAG has a VPIP +30 & PFR +20, then you can widen your RR / calling ranges. However, this should provide you a good idea of what you should be playing / doing. Additionally, it serves to say if you run into significant resistance (3 and 4 bets prior to your turn, you really need to narrow your ranges even further.
Finally, there is no leak if you simply fold a hand because you are unsure. Certainly, there is the cost of lost opportunity, which does cost winnings. However, you can't lose if you fold. By sticking to the above charts, you should be able to handle at least 2 tables at once, and keep yourself from making difficult, marginal decisions. In other words, you will usually have the best of it unless there is a slow played PP or set or something like that (less likely at our micro stakes).
Finally, you can semi-adjust your play to make certain assumptions about players when you see their VPIP over a longer hand history. You can clearly see the top 20% of hands. If you see a VPIP of around 20, you have a pretty good feel of what they're limping / raising with as well, based on the hand grouping chart. If you see a VPIP of 30, you can surmise that they are adding in the AT / QT / KT / etc. type hands as well as Axs. Upwards of 30 shows they are playing suited gappers (i.e. 97s, etc.), or even random suited / connectors (i.e. J3s / 87o / 86o). Those VPIP >30 players are the ones you want to hammer on constantly when you're in position, in my opinion. Punish them for limping when you have a hand. Get them heads up and c-bet good flops which likely missed them. Make them pay for their junky-pair-type hands that you have the best. Put them to difficult decisions, constantly. Keeping to this chart gives you a good feel for where you are, as you have no direct read on the opponents you face other than the information you have collected prior. The idea is to laugh in your opponent's face and say 'my range is better than yours.' "
Tying it together (I have suited connectors and broadway):
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official DeucesCracked.com Hand History Converter
Hero (BB): $87.45
Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is BB with Tc Qc
5 folds, CO raises to $1.50, 1 fold, SB calls $1.25, Hero calls $1
In a multi-way pot, I have both a suited one-gapper and 2 broadway cards, which may, in & of themselves, be able to stand on their own as a single top pair-type hand. However, I treat this hand with as much power as a normal suited connector; I'm not going broke with a top pair hand. I love seeing a multi-way pot with this hand.
Flop: ($4.50) 3c 6h 2c (3 players)
SB checks, Hero checks, CO bets $2, SB calls $2, Hero raises to $8, CO folds, SB folds
This flop is likely to have missed my opponents, yet I want to give the CO a chance to bluff at it. My check / raise is a semi-bluff; I have 2 overcards (25% equity), but I also have a flush draw (32% equity) to go along with it. I am fairly certain that no one else is on the flush draw, so I can feel safe that *AT WORST* I have 32% equity. However, let's assume that I have a "dominated" Queen or "dominated" Ten - i.e. someone else has AQ, KQ or AT, KT, then I can safely give myself at least 3 outs to the best top pair, assuming no one else has an overpair (which I think my raise will establish very quickly. So, I give myself another 3 outs to the 9 flush outs, a 44% equity hand at worst... plus the check / raise that I put in is a pretty strong move - increasing the likelihood that the hand won't even continue past the flop.
Final Pot: $10.50
Hero wins $10.00
This would probably be a bad call:
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official DeucesCracked.com Hand History Converter
UTG+2: $14.85 - 15 VPIP / 9 PFR
Hero (MP2): $79.70
Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is MP2 with Kc Qc
2 folds, UTG+2 raises to $1.50, 6 folds
Note that I will not be calling anything against this player's open (without JJ+ in which case I'm 3-betting him). There are no implied odds here to warrant a call... in most situations... EVER! Note multiple things here:
- He is a 15/9 which is a pretty tight range to open pots.
- He is opening the pot from early position, which increases the likelihood that he has a legitimate hand.
- We are playing for effective stack sizes of $15.
Final Pot: $1.25
UTG+2 wins $1.25