The concept of ABC poker is oftentimes misunderstood. Many players think ABC poker is playing some super exploitable and dumbed-down strategy that makes about 0bb/100. However, ABC poker is really just a term to describe a simple strategy that focuses on good fundamental play and veers away from FPS (fancy play syndrome).
In full disclosure, I use an ABC strategy quite often, especially in live games and micro stakes online games. But if I’m fully capable of using a LAG strategy, why would I use such a simplified strategy?
Imagine playing in a brand-new game. Every player is unknown to you, you have zero information on any opponent, and it folds to you with T♣8♠ in middle position. An ABC player would just fold here. T8o isn’t a default open-raise from middle position and thus it’s an easy fold.
But if I had information, such as everyone behind me is tight, then I’m going to break away from ABC and raise to try and steal the blinds from a non-steal spot. This is how I would play as a default too. With information I’m going to raise and try to pick up the pot preflop…but without information, I would resort to a default strategy of just folding my weak hand because I don’t have information on the other players.
This, in essence, is ABC poker.
This same concept can be applied to postflop poker. With information, you may continuation bet more, size your value bets more perfectly, and even run double barrels and overbets more often. But without information, or even with super minimal information like a sample size of 14, you will oftentimes have to revert back to default lines.
The ABC Poker Playbook
Since ABC poker boils down to simpler play, their playbook is usually easy. They typically use a small ball poker strategy and utilize an easy bet sizing strategy that prioritizes a single size over multiple. They also avoid mixed strategies and instead use a binary approach when building their ranges.
So what are some ABC lines that players use?
- Raise only good hands from EP/MP
- Only 3-bet value hands like QQ+ and AK preflop
- Don’t bluff continuation bet in a multi-way pot
- Keep turn/river bets for value
- Keep bet sizes around 2/3rd pot
These ideas, along with many others, are simply fundamental and basic starting points. The ideas is to keep your ranges strong so you can value bet more often and be forced to bluff less often.
The issue in unknown poker games and dynamics is that you aren’t sure if a bluff will work. Even though a 1/2 pot double barrel on the turn only needs to work 33% of the time to breakeven…without info you can’t really know if your bluff will create that many folds. So rather than throw out an expensive bet with no concept on the profitability, you could pass on the opportunity and just check/fold instead.
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An ABC strategy is thus a good idea in unknown environments…and then once you have info on one or many players you should veer away from ABC and begin using a more exploitative strategy to maximize profit in each spot.
I think this is why ABC is so misunderstood. Players think ABC means to just use a totally dumb and overly simplistic strategy…which is true…but it’s true in situations where you don’t have the information to do something more exploitative. If you are playing a super basic strategy when you have good sample sizes on villains or in spots where you know you could veer away from a default play (like light 3betting A7o rather than just folding it) you are passing up valuable opportunities.
3 Tips For Playing Better ABC Poker
While there are piles of things you can do to improve your poker strategy, I find focusing on just a few things can minimize getting overwhelmed. So if nothing else, look to implement these three things into your game over the next week and see how things feel in your next session.
1. Know Your Preflop Ranges Super Well
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of hand charts. I think they are limiting and miss the bigger picture of poker – being dynamic and fluid to each situation. But, ABC poker requires that you have a fall-back range you can use when you don’t have better information to use – so a basic hand chart is useful.
The exact ranges you open-raise with, call with, and 3bet with will vary from game to game. For instance, I open all pocket pairs from UTG in a 6max game but typically only open 66+ from UTG in a full ring online game. This is the starting hand chart I suggest grabbing for full ring and live players.
And remember that hand charts are useful for preflop ranges and are NOT used postflop. Hand strengths, lines, and bluffing frequencies are texture-dependent and a postflop hand chart would leave heaps of money on the table.
So spend a few minutes today writing down your ranges from each position – what would you open-raise, raise over limpers, limp behind, call preflop raises, 3bet, and 4bet with. That way you always have ranges to fall back on if you don’t have other information to help you craft an optimal range for the exact spot.
2. Use Hand Reading Skills To Find C-Bets
Even though you don’t have great information on your exact opponent, you can still find bluff CBs. Some flop textures lend themselves beautifully to bluffing – while others make it quite difficult. Take a common situation where you open-raise from MP with A♥ J♠ and the SB calls. They check to you on a Q♥ 7♥ 3♦ flop. Should you fire?
With some basic hand-reading skills, the answer becomes clear.
Say you think the SB called your preflop raise with 22-JJ/ATB (minus AK)/43s+/64s+/AXs. How often does that range hit a pair+ or decent draw on this flop?
Assuming you think they won’t float the flop (and why would they OOP?), you can expect folds around 45% of the time – meaning that any bet that is 2/3 pot or small is outright profitable. That means it doesn’t matter if you have 22, AT, or 65 here – you can fire a +EV continuation bet out there! (Of course, having some equity – backdoor or otherwise – is even better).
These situations are everywhere. With basic hand reading skills* and the knowledge of how common ranges hit common flop textures – you can find extra continuation bets in every session with all parts of your own range. And this expands beyond the flop since you can use this same knowledge to find double barrels, triple barrels, bluff check-raises, etc.
The exact range you calculate won’t always be correct (how could it be without solid information about their playstyle?) – but with experience and practice, you can get a great feel for spots where you should be firing way more often than just constantly checking.
* One of the best ways to break away from ABC is to improve your hand reading skills. With better hand reading you can find more spots to bluff, more ways to generate creative value, and more. Join my FREE 5-day email course and improve your hand reading skills this week!
3. Use Variable Bet Sizing
When in doubt, keeping your bet sizes to a default 2/3 pot is safe. It’s easy to calculate, it’s rarely “the worst” bet size you could use, and as such it’s a staple in the ABC strategy. But I’d like to make a simple suggestion for a simple reason: use variable bet sizing.
This means making bigger bets with your big hands and slightly smaller bets with your bluffs. It’s simple to see that you stand to make more money when your hand is best and risk less when trying to get your opponent to fold.
Now is this something I want to do against regs and people I play against often? Of course not – since such a bet sizing strategy would allow them to easily discern how strong my hand is and give them opportunities to play closer to perfect against me. But if a player is an unknown to me, I’m almost certainly an unknown to them and they wouldn’t have any idea what my bet sizing strategy says about the strength of my hand.
It would be easy to take this too far – over-betting 1.5x pot with strong hands and 1/4th pot with weak hands. But I don’t suggest taking it quite that far. Something closer to 90% pot with a strong hand that rates to beat the hands your opponent calls with and something closer to ½- pot when trying to bluff in your next poker session to solicit a fold. If you don’t already know, a ½-pot bluff means your opponent only needs to fold 1/3rd of the time for your bluff to make profit – something that is reasonable in many situations.
Again, this is NOT something I suggest doing against regs. But when done correctly vs unknowns – this can massively change the profitability of your ABC strategy!
How To Win Against ABC Players
Up to this point, we’ve discussed how to implement an ABC poker – but what about beating players who use this playstyle?
Like any tighter playstyle, the easiest way to beat them is two-fold:
1. Be VERY careful when they try to build a big pot
2. Fight hard for small-medium sized pots
Folding vs. ABC Players
If an ABC player is trying to bloat the size of the pot (especially when check-raising), this is a clear indication that they have a strong hand. So unless you have a strong draw or a rare nut hand, it’s typically advisable to fold more often.
Yes, this means not getting married to your pocket Aces when they try to make a big pot on 9♦6♦5♥-T♣.
Bluffing vs. ABC Players
On the other hand, look to bluff often in small-medium-sized pots since ABC players are more likely to fold their equity early if it looks like the pot will get too big for their weaker and medium-strength hands.
This means more continuation betting, more barreling the turn, and possibly even considering overbets when it’s clear they have a one-pair hand that can’t handle the pressure.
It’s common for an ABC player to fear the worst and want to avoid losing a stack at all costs – so look for spots where they simply won’t feel comfortable continuing.
My advice would be to strengthen your ABC strategy so that you always have a profitable strategy to fall back on…but also to work on improving your exploitative strategy so that you know how to attack players once you gather good information on them. A strong ABC game has its place…but keep learning and growing to ensure you can exploit regs and generate more profit in the longrun.