Pulling off a successful double barrel with an appropriate frequency is pretty important in today’s online no-limit hold’em games. The days of profitably playing your entire range completely straight-forward and face-up after a continuation bet have been long gone for quite a while. However, because firing the second barrel often involves building a pot without a made hand, it’s intimidating for a lot of players. To help make things go smoother, we have a checklist of things you should consider before you double barrel. Continue reading
Since the release of our preflop opening ranges, both in Level 1 of CORE and as part of our ongoing GTO expansion in PRO, I’ve noticed a growing trend. In CORE, in particular, I now get frequent questions about whether subscribers should “memorize all of this” before moving on to Level 2. The follow-up question is often: “If so, how?”
Discussions with Vegas grinders have also revealed a certain level of gloom at the prospect of excellent memory being required for poker success in the solver era. With software tools revealing the objectively correct preflop and postflop play, will no limit hold’em be reduced to a memory contest between players?
There’s no doubt that when playing on poker websites, having good information recall is helpful. This is true of many strategy games that allow a limited time for decisions. And while I have no doubt that there are plenty of approaches to help you commit opening ranges and postflop lines to memory, probably involving something really depressing like flashcards, in this article I want to offer a different approach. Specifically, I’ll use some common poker situations to explore how much information you need to memorize and to what level of precision.
One of the first poker books I bought was “Hold’em Poker” by Sklansky and Malmuth. The analytic approach appealed to me greatly, as did the fact that playable opening hands were placed into eight distinct groups, with advice on which groups could be played profitably under different conditions.
Position is, of course, the most important variable, but the authors also explained how game texture impacts opening ranges. They even advocated what we would today call “mixed strategies”, with certain hands being played some fraction of the time.
It may be that I’m a sloppy student, but I don’t recall obsessing over my ability to memorize these ranges perfectly when first attempting to apply them to live play. I simply did my best. Further, the fact that opening ranges had a dependence on game texture and opponent tendencies revealed to me that, despite the science, good preflop play was also part art.
This introduces an important question that I’ll lean on throughout this article. There is no doubt that, as poker players, we need to remember things like ranges. But how accurately must our recall conform to the charts offered on our site and elsewhere?
Here’s a trivial example that develops the point. There are a large number of preflop probabilities that players pick up fairly rapidly. We know, for example, that in a pair-versus-pair preflop match-up, the higher pair is a 80/20 favorite. Similarly, we are aware that two overcards are a coin-flip against a pocket pair.
Both of these pieces of conventional wisdom are approximations. In the case of the overcards-versus-pair scenario, the approximation is fairly poor; JJ is a 57/43 favorite over AKo, for example. If you tell a blackjack player that a 57/43 edge is roughly a coin-flip, they will conclude you’re an idiot.
The point is that we remember these common probabilities simply because they are good enough to arrive at sensible poker decisions. The fact that JJ vs 22 is a bigger favorite at 81.87% than JJ vs 66 at 80.96% simply doesn’t matter when we’re deciding how to play our hand. In fact, the reason we default to referring to these match-ups as 80/20s, rather than quoting probabilities to four significant figures, is a tacit acknowledgment that only a modest level of precision is required.
Does the same argument apply to opening ranges? With some qualifications, I’d suggest it does. If you can memorize our charts to the point you know J9s is an open-raise from a certain position, but J8s is not, that’s great. But don’t kill yourself over it. It’s a classic case of diminishing returns. Yes, you might be able to develop perfect recall of a 6-max CO open-raising range by staring at the damn thing for another ten hours, but you’d likely generate far more EV using those ten hours to study a postflop facet of poker theory instead.
Besides, there’s a more important variable that adds slop to any opening range, to which I’ll now turn.
A Tournament Example
I started specializing in tournaments around fifteen years ago when LHE cash games started to dry up. Consequently, I spend a lot of time using tools like HoldemResources Calculator (HRC) to improve my own play and to explain tournament concepts to students.
Here’s an example of direct relevance to the current topic. Consider a 9-handed table in which everyone has 10bbs. There is a 0.1bb ante. HRC will happily find the Nash equilibrium for all players with a push/fold restriction. The UTG open-shove range is:
15.2%: 33+ A7s+ A5s ATo+ K9s+ KQo Q9s+ J9s+ T9s
Like other GTO applications to poker, that range assumes our opponents are playing perfectly in a game-theoretical sense, which in this context means they are calling with unexploitable ranges. I won’t write them all out, but roughly UTG+1 should call with a 7.5% range. For the first caller, that number increases as one moves to later positions until it reaches about 10% for the player in the BB.
HRC also allows the user to explore scenarios in which calling ranges deviate from Nash. We can, for example, make all the single-call ranges 7.5%, then ask how that impacts the UTG shove range. The answer is UTG’s range increases from 15.2% to 24.3%. A fairly modest change to the calling ranges has thus produced a significant change to the shove range. If we instead stipulate that players call with the 5% range TT+,AJs+,AQo+, we discover that UTG should be shoving a whopping 86.4% of hands!
While some find explorations like this extremely troubling, I regard them as liberating. I remember shoving ranges fairly well simply through repetition, but the big takeaway from calculations like this is that game texture and the tendencies of specific opponents can completely swamp one’s baseline GTO ranges. Thus while one still needs to have a reasonable handle on the baseline ranges, profiling your opponents and understanding how they are responding to the changing tournament conditions is far more important than remembering if the MP2 shove range includes A7o+ or A9o+.
Memorization Has A Context
Another facet of this whole memorization issue is that we are not attempting to remember things in a complete vacuum. Particularly as we play more and study all aspects of poker, we can minimize the degree of memorization required simply from general poker principles.
In a preflop context, we don’t need to “remember” that 94o is outside all but extreme shoving ranges, because we know that 94o is not a good hold’em hand. Similarly, we don’t need to consciously include premiums in a shoving range.
Another simple example stems from our understanding that poker is positional. A shoving range from the button will be wider than one from UTG. A rudimentary knowledge of preflop equities also informs our decisions and assists memory. If we deduce that our opponents are shoving extremely tight, preflop equities demand that our calling range must be narrow.
To Err Is Human
We may be living in the poker era of The Machines, but you’re not one. And stressing about playing like one strikes me as wasted energy. Yes, for restricted problems, we can now ask GTO+ or PioSolver to tell us the “correct” line for a specific hand on a flop of our choosing. And through cunning heuristics and simplifications, a dedicated student can implement strategies that are close to objectively ideal.
But recognize that all these tools, from opening charts to number-crunching solvers, are simply a means to better understand the beautiful game of poker. They will help you eliminate the big mistakes from your game first, then smaller ones, until you can dominate your player pool. But you’re never going to be perfect.
I’ve been watching MMA for over 10 years at this point, and its been fascinating to watch its “meta game” evolve in similar ways to poker. At the beginning, true to its name, it started with each fighter focusing on their individual martial art; living and dying by its individual strengths and weaknesses.
This is exactly the way poker started, there was little math involved and each player focused on a strategy they believed in. There were no solvers telling us how to play, we simply tried strategies and judged how they performed over time. We watched the best players and tried to extrapolate what they were doing. Most players were easily categorized, I was able to be a serious winner by starting as a tight player and carefully adding as many bluffs as I could. A cautious player constantly adding moves was enough to dominate.
Players like durrrr would show up and demolish the field playing completely different than anyone else had done before, 3-betting wide, 4-betting wide and barreling off with seemingly reckless abandon. After that, CTS’s precise hand reading seemed to dominate for a time then jungleman came and showed up all the high stakes players dependent on the overly aggressive durrrr style with call down strategies based on frequencies.
Similarly, in MMA the strongest styles also became clear, early on Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ) took a clear lead with Royce Gracie famously submitting much bigger and stronger fighters with apparent ease:
Eventually as the competitive meta progresses, with enough talent and time applied both in poker and MMA, the best strategies start to become more clear cut. However, I think in poker there’s an over emphasis on ideal strategy now, I know several very successful players who play completely different style in similarly tough games, with matching win rates. I think many players have abandoned the idea of styles because of the raw efficiency of the solver. There’s always a theoretically perfect play to check after the fact.
But jump back to MMA for a moment, while the strongest base strategies have become clear at this point (wrestling, BJJ, striking) fighters are limited in implementing these strategies by their physical capabilities. A completely smothering wrestler’s strategy like Khabib cannot be replicated in another fighter’s strategy simply because they might consider it to be ideal. I would follow bookmaker’s with their UFC bets and I can promise you the edges available were not easy to come by despite the increasing clarity in advantageous styles.
Despite poker’s apparent perfection, no human or even bot replicates this perfectly at the table yet. I can tell you from coaching, poker player’s have extremely different bases with which they can build winning strategies.
For example, I’ve never personally been tempted to play too many hands preflop. It’s just not something I’ve ever had to worry about, I always enjoyed the confidence in knowing I entered a pot correctly and thus the discipline there was never an issue. However, the overwhelming majority of poker players, play too many hands preflop (too passively) including many successful pros. If you were to try and replicate my GTO oriented aggressive style but without the preflop precision, you would likely struggle.
Similarly, I had a discussion with Red Chip coach weazel where he could recite the probabilities of folds on a wide variety of board textures based on millions of hands that he’d analyzed in databases. There would be no way I could replicate his depth of knowledge there with the same efficiency without dozens if not hundreds of hours of work. He likes to tell me with supreme confidence how he’s certain his exploitative focus is superior!
So that’s the case I would make, understanding your own style is critically important, building around the strength you currently have is an important part of poker, even in the era of “perfect solver plays”. Lastly, understanding your style lets you leverage the power of iterative improvement, you may still end up in the same solver oriented place but getting there profitably is also important!
Poker is a technical game based on probabilities. This makes it challenging to learn for a couple reasons. Let me illustrate the idea with an example.
One of the biggest roadblocks to poker success is that humans have a spectacularly poor intuition for how probabilities work. This is both an impediment to developing sound strategy, as well as a significant mental strain for all but the most resilient players.
The ability to identify and read poker ranges is one of the most important skills a player can have.
Poker is a game of incomplete information and we will almost never know exactly which two hole cards our opponent has. But with logical deduction and strong technical knowledge, we can build our opponent’s range and use that information to make even more profitable plays.
What Are Poker Ranges?
A range is a collection of all the possible hands a player can have right this moment. Ranges exist both preflop and postflop, and can vary widely since tight players will have fewer hands in their range and looser players will have many starting hands in their range.
You always begin by building your opponent’s range preflop and you continue to refine that range as they take action throughout the hand.
If you are new to poker, you may not know which stake to start at. Should you start at the smallest limit your poker room allows for? Or should you play at the biggest stake your bankroll can afford?Continue reading
Playing live $2/$5, you flop top two pair against a TAG regular. But when the action gets heavy and stacks are heading into the pot, is it time to think about folding two pair against a likely set?
Today I want to talk to you about studying poker in 2021 and share my study routine with you. This is especially useful if you don’t already have one, but if you do have a study routine, you can take bits and pieces of this process and improve your own.
The thing that we have to keep in mind is that we’re not going to become the best poker player in the world overnight, or in a week, or even in a month. It’s going to take long periods of time. Even just becoming the best poker player you can be is going to take a long period of time, but we can break poker study into week-long sprints and we can say, “Okay, this week I’m going to try to fix this leak, the next week another, the next week another, etc.” When we do that and continue improving our game and decreasing our poker leaks, we’re going to become MUCH better players over time.Continue reading
Odds in poker can be a bit…odd. So let’s break down pot odds, implied odds, and give you some free tools so you can quickly calculate these on your own. Or skip ahead to the calculator for you:
- Pot Odds Calculator (Facing Bets)
- Offering Pot Odds Calculator (Making Bets)
- Implied Odds Calculator (Facing Bets)
One of the most profitable plays available to you in a game where preflop raises tend to get one or more callers is the squeeze. Done correctly, squeezing can pick up lots of uncontested pots preflop, even when you have marginal hands.
But squeeze in the wrong spots, and you will bleed chips quickly.
So let’s explore this together.Continue reading