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Building blocks of poker strategy

Online poker strategy has evolved tremendously in recent years. One of the main reasons for this development is the emergence of poker video instructions sites. In these poker videos expert players show and explain how they play and their rational behind it. Many players copied these experts’ strategies, which lead to a higher level in online poker games. However, a lot of players copy cat strategies without thinking critically. They see Brain Townsend 3 betting in a particular spot and they copy this by doing this too. This works well in many situations, but a good player will adapt and develop a counter strategy. The copy cat player who does not think critically will not adapt his game till Townsend comes with a new video how to adapt to the new situation.

A good example is how AK has been played in shorthanded games the last couple of years. Assume we open raise with A9 on the button and the big blind calls. The flop comes A 6 5 rainbow. We cbet and the villain in the big blind reraises. What now? Not so long ago the rational was: villain is repping not much, because he would 3bet AK/AQ and the chance of him having a set is small. So we definitely stack of with A9. Recently thinking players started to adapt by flatting AK here sometimes. They check raise now with AK and the copy cat player has seen in the video: he is repping air and stacks off. But of course expert players see this play too and in their next poker video they adapt to this new tendency with AK.

The point is that copy cat players always are always one step behind of the creative, thinking players. In order to be a creative, thinking players you need to know the basics of solid strategy. Although these are of seem trivial to many players, a lot players do not incorporate them in their strategy and just copy cat what they have seen. By incorporating the next building blocks of poker strategy in your rational and decision making process I believe that you will make better decisions, be more creative and be able to think outside the box. The consequences are that you are one step further than your copy cat regular opponents and play more profitable.

The building blocks of poker strategy are Expected Value (EV), hand ranges and possible actions and reactions, which are fold, call or bet.

Expected Value

The goal in poker is to make money. Since luck plays a part in short term results, profit should not be taken as benchmark for playing well or badly, at least in the short run. The benchmark that you should take for rating your decisions is expected value (EV). EV means how profitable an action is in the long run, assuming that statistics hold true in the long run (which they do). I sometimes see a player limping A9o UTG and if I ask them who they do this, the reply: “Let’s see how the flop comes”. Good players will ask themselves, is limping A9o UTG a +EV  decision and come to the conclusion that this is often not the case. In some cases you can calculate the EV exactly, for instance when you call an all in with a naked flush draw. In many other cases however EV is a matter of judgment, which depends on hand ranges and possible reactions.

Hand Ranges

If you assess whether a play or situation is +EV your decision is often depending on the hand range of your opponent. If you have pocket AA on a 10 6 2 rainbow flop and you get check raised by villain, it is a big difference if villain is super tight or a maniac. A super tight villain may only raise with a set, while a maniac may stack off with any pair. Shoving pocket aces against a super tight villain is clearly  -EV, while against a maniac it is +EV. The better you can assess hand ranges, the more +EV your decision will be. In this perspective I want to stress (once again) the importance of making notes. Some players for instance play their nut flush draw aggressively and other passively. Knowing this will lead to better decisions when you are raised by a player on a drawy board. You can exercise your hand reading skills by justing asking yourself often: “with what range does my opponent do this?” Important for beginning players is to not play too many tables, since this will reduce your hand reading development.

Action and Reaction

The last building block of poker strategy is choosing the best EV decision and assessing your opponent reaction. In poker you have 3 options: checking, folding and betting (raising is a sort of betting). The latter one can be further specified in bet sizes. In a specific situation it might be better to check against a too aggressive opponent, while against a loose passive opponent it might be better to bet. Always ask yourself what option the highest EV has. Also try to anticipate how your opponent will react to your actions. If an opponent has to call too many 3bets out of position and check folding the flop, you can profitably 3bet bluff him a lot. Against an opponent who likes to 4bet bluff, you should 3bet less. I always ask myself: “how is my opponent going to react”. By doing this I am able to make better, more +EV, decisions.

Poker is a game of thought, but many players forget to think when they play. I hope that these tools will help you in developing your game and play more thoughtfully. I also hope that you don’t copy cat poker behavior without thinking critically. Poker is game, which is still developing and if you are one step in front of your opponents, you will be able to make money!