“The Poker Tournament Formula 2” Review

[LL] “In 2008, Arnold Snyder followed up with The Poker Tournament Formula 2, one of the most controversial poker books ever written”, Leroy the Lion opened. “Where The Poker Tournament Formula focused mostly on fast-paced tournaments, PTF2 turns to longer, slower events (40+ minute blind levels). The central premise of PTF2 is that in poker tournaments, each chip you gain is worth more than the one before it.”

[RR] “Wait, isn’t that exactly the opposite of what guys like Sklansky and Harrington say?” Roderick the Rock contested.

[LL] “It is. Snyder’s Fundamental Law of Chip Utility is: ‘The more chips you have, the more each of your chips is worth.’ (Corollary: ‘The fewer chips you have, the less each of your chips is worth.’) Unfortunately for Snyder, his ‘law’ fails at the edge case. It’s undeniable that having one chip is worth infinitely more than having zero chips.”

[RR] “A chip and a chair.”

[LL] “But otherwise, Snyder’s logic mostly makes sense given the top-heavy payout structure of most tournaments. He wants you to build your stack at the expense of busting out more frequently.1

Snyder himself stoked the flames of the controversy by posting several articles online, but the reality is that the combatants can mostly just be viewed as the Loose Aggressive camp (Snyder) vs. the Tight Aggressive (Sklansky, Malmuth, Harrington, et al.) camps. A decade later, Snyder’s style is certainly more popular, but both are still completely playable.”

[RR] “I thought you were supposed to mix up how you play. Not that I know from personal experience.”

[LL] “There’s plenty of room for both Harringbots like you and Snyderites like Carlos the Crazy to succeed, but yes, it might be ideal to be a chameleon and tighten up just when your opponents think you’re loose (and vice versa). But you’ve only played in small, fast tournaments, which is not what Chip Utility really applies to. Snyder believes that you need to have over 100 big blinds for ‘Full Utility’. The range goes down to 15, under which you have ‘No Utility’.

Utility Chip Stack % Utility
Full Utility Over 100 BB 100% Utility
Competitive Utility 60-100 BB 75% Utility2
Moderate Utility 30-60 BB 50% Utility
Low Utility 15-30 BB 10-15% Utility
No Utility Under 15 BB 0% Utility

Your first goal is to have Full Utility. But beyond that, you strive for ‘Dominant Utility’, which is when your Full Utility stack is also double the second biggest stack at your table and at least four times the average. Then you can bully the table.”

[RR] “You don’t even start our tournaments with Full Utility, so I guess I’d have to try this out somewhere else.”

[LL] “The second major section of TPF2 gives a formula for the Tournament Utility Factor, which is the Patience Factor (see TPF1) times the Starting Competitive Factor, which is your starting stack divided by the initial big blind divided by 60. This lets your rate tournaments on how deep they are:

Tournament Utility Factor Rank Notes
0 to 5 Rank 0 Crapshoot
6 to 20 Rank 1 Need to build big stack early or bust trying; crapshoot by midpoint
21 to 40 Rank 2 Full Utility allows Small Ball early only
41 to 60 Rank 3 Small Ball early but ideal for Long Ball
61 to 100 Rank 4 Deep stacked, speeding up about halfway through
101 to 200 Rank 5 Full Utility; Small Ball until final table
201+ Rank 6 Full Utility throughout.”

[RR] “So our tournaments are about… Rank 2?”

[LL] “Yes, that’s what I calculated. It’s not bad for an evening tournament, since we can’t play all night…, at least most of you can’t.”

[LL] “The other main section of the book is ‘Five Phases of a Poker Tournament’, which shows you how to apply his utility factor to the Stack Building, Minefield, Bubble, Money, and Final Table parts of long tournaments. It’s a very long section because for each of the five phases he covers what you should be trying to do with various stack sizes. In summary though, try to get back to full utility or die trying!

[RR] “I take it you liked the book though.”

[LL] “Yes, I think it’ll be good for my game. The main weakness of PTF2 though is that Snyder didn’t put enough into the mathematical foundation of his system. He might have found a way around its zero-chip paradox and come up with a more accurate way to calculate utility. Otherwise, it’s a lot of interesting material to think about. It would certainly help you open up your game a couple notches.”

Title The Poker Tournament Formula 2
Author Arnold Snyder
Year 2008
Skill Level Advanced
Pros Thought-provoking, alternative view on how to play deep-stacked tournaments.
Cons Controversial premise. If you agree with it, this is a great book. If not, you should still read the book to see how some of your opponents might be thinking. Not mathematically grounded with few hand examples.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Snyder strongly believes that quadrupling your stack early in a tournament is worth busting out three out of four times for. This is one of his many points in his rebuttal of his critics.
  2. This number is interpolated. Snyder’s numbers in general are vague. He adjusts his utility percent up or down by as much as 25% for circumstances like having an aggressive player on his left or a weak player on his right.

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“The Poker Tournament Formula” Review

[LL] “In 2006, Arnold Snyder’s The Poker Tournament Formula brought a novel approach to poker tournaments: design your playing strategy around the speed of the tournament. Start by looking at the blind schedule and figuring out how long you would last if you simply folded every hand.”

[RR] “That sounds like M.”1

[LL] “Well, yes, but apparently Snyder hadn’t read Dan Harrington’s book yet. It had only come out a couple years earlier.

Anyway, he converts that to a ‘Patience Factor’ to tell you how much skill the tournament requires (the lower the Patience Factor, the more luck matters as players get short-stacked earlier).”

[RR] “So, if you suck at poker, you want to play in low-patience crapshoot tournaments, and if you’re a pro, you want two-hour blind levels and multi-day tournaments?”

[LL] “That about sums it up. But the precision with which he categorizes tournaments is impressive. And since this is homework you do before you buy into a tournament, doing the math isn’t a problem.”

[LL] “The book proceeds to spell out how you should play in faster tournaments by introducing ‘Texas Rochambeau’. Use your cards (paper) to beat your opponents’ chips (rock). Use your chips to beat your opponents’ position (scissors). Use your position to beat your opponents’ cards. Despite the cycle, Snyder considers position to be the most important, since you’re guaranteed to get it regularly, and cards the least important since you can go long stretches without getting anything playable. Snyder claims, ‘The reason basic position strategy works irregardless of your cards is that you don’t win a fast tournament by betting on your strong hands so much as by betting against your opponents’ weak hands.’2

Snyder wants you to play very aggressively in position against opponents who are just limping, checking, and calling, betting almost regardless of your cards preflop, continuation betting on the flop, and firing again on the turn and river if necessary. ‘All postflop position play is very high-risk, but if you do not make occasional high-risk plays, you’ll never make it into the big money.’3 You need to slow down in multiway pots, however.

Snyder wants you to play fewer hands in early position but still fairly loose: any pair of Sevens or higher and Ace-Jack or better. You should raise when first in and with the better pairs (Jacks plus) and Ace-King with limpers in front, otherwise just call.

In middle position, you can add King-Queen suited down to Jack-Ten suited to the mix. In late position, you can also play the rest of the pairs, Ace-Ten, Ace-Nine suited, and Ten-Nine to Eight-Seven suited.

You should follow Snyder’s position strategy first, then if that would indicate a fold, look at your cards and follow the card strategy.

After the flop, you need to read the board and bet your strong hands, making a pot-sized bet if there are likely draws. Value bet your made hands when you have a straight or better; you can mostly ignore the possibility of full houses in fast tournaments. Don’t slowplay as the best way to win the most chips is to play your good hands fast.”

[LL] “Snyder also talks about player types. Instead of Hellmuth’s animal types (which he says originated with Ken Buntjer), Snyder proposes a slew of categories:

  • Ace Masters: will play any Ace, no matter how bad the kicker
  • Flush Masters: will play any two suited cards, hoping for a flush but willing to bet just a draw
  • Pair Masters: will play any pair
  • Cagey Codgers: mostly play ring games to socialize; like to limp to see a flop
  • Canasta Ladies: most play low-limit ring games; very tight and straightforward
  • Boat People: smart, aggressive and fearless
  • Show ‘N’ Tellers: love to show their cards even when they don’t have to
  • Ball Cap Kids: young, smart, aggressive, and bluff-loving
  • Wimps: tight and fearful of whatever hand fits the board
  • Oafs: weak players, especially tourists.”

[RR] “Not exactly politically correct and way too many. Most players are going to belong to multiple categories.”

[LL] “Other topics covered include rebuys, add-ons, bounties, additional types of bluffs, showing your cards, table image, common mistakes, chopping prizes, satellites, luck, and cheating. And then after all of that, Snyder titles Part Four: ‘The Most Important Chapters in This Book If You Want to Make Money’. This includes bankroll management, estimating chips in rebuy events, crunch time, and ‘What I Can’t Teach You’.

This is a very comprehensive book. It’s also well-written and mostly well-edited, a good read for any tournament player.”

Title The Poker Tournament Formula
Author Arnold Snyder
Year 2006
Skill Level Advanced
Pros Provides a detailed strategy for winning fast-paced No-Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments after giving you a formula for determining a tournament’s speed.
Cons Complicated math with no attempt to provide shortcuts.
Rating 4.0

Footnotes:

  1. Snyder’s chip strategy is to similar to Harrington’s color-coded M strategy but goes into much greater detail about what you should be doing with a big, medium, short, very short, or desperate stack. Unfortunately, he talks in terms of big blinds, meaning that he has to give ranges with and without antes, the latter of which is still inaccurate as ante sizes relative to the blinds can vary greatly.
  2. Page 74.
  3. Page 83.
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Counterfeiting


[SS] “Do you guys know the counterfeit coins puzzle?” Stan the Stat surveyed the table.

[LL] “Do you mean the 9 coin puzzle with two weighings or the 12 coin puzzle with three weighings?” Leroy the Lion countered.

[SS] “Good, then you’re ready for my new, poker-themed puzzle.”

[LL] “Fire away.”

[SS] “Okay. At a tournament, there was a problem with these very poker chips in front of us. Some immoral rodent snuck a counterfeit chip into circulation. Fortunately, we know the fake is one of these 14 chips (don’t ask how), and we were able to determine (ditto) that the fake chip weighed a different amount than the real chips. Unfortunately, our bathroom scale isn’t accurate enough to weigh the chips, but we dug out this old swing arm balance for you. Because we don’t have time for you to weigh each chip against every other one because I spent all our time laying out the puzzle, you only get three weighings to find the counterfeit chip. Can you do it?”

[LL] “That’s impossible. It took three weighings just to find the fake among a dozen; how can we find one among fourteen?”

[SS] “I assure you that it can be done. Maybe Figaro can help you out?”

[LL] “Need to think outside the box?”

[SS] “Perhaps.”

[FF] “Well, how do you solve the nine coin problem?” Figaro inquired.

[LL] “Not much of a challenge. In that puzzle you know that the fake coin is light. You just weigh any three against any other three. If they match, the fake is in the three you didn’t weigh; otherwise it’s one of the light three. Weigh any two of those three against each other, and you have your answer.”

[FF] “And the twelve coin problem?”

[LL] “That’s a bit harder, partly because you don’t know if the odd coin is lighter or heavier. I don’t remember the exact sequence, but you start by weighing any four against any other four.”

[FF] “So you eliminate eight of the twelve coins on the first weighing.”

[LL] “Right. The next step involves reusing some of the coins that you know are real, but I’d have to figure out the different cases.”

[RR] “What if Leroy pointed you to Figaro not because he’s an independent thinker, although that’s certainly true, but because he was playing with these other, presumably genuine, chips?” Roderick the Rock enjoined. “What if we add a known real poker chip to the mix and start by weighing five against five?”

{ highlight the following spoiler to read it }


[LL] “That’s it! If they balance, it’s easy. You can weigh three of the remaining chips against three that balanced. If those balance, you weigh either of the remaining chips. If they don’t, you know which way the pans tilted and you’ve narrowed it down to three chip, and you have the second half of the 9 coin problem.

If the first weighing doesn’t balance, weigh two from the light side (whichever the original real chip wasn’t on, that is) and one from the heavy side against two from the light side and one from the heavy side. If those match, you have two potential heavy chips and one potential light chip left, and you weigh one heavy and one light against two real chips. If those don’t match, then you’re down to the heavy chip on the heavy side and the two light chips on the lighter side, and you have a similar case.”1

[SS] “Very well done! Do you guys remember a couple years ago when a cheater tried to dispose of some fake poker chips in the toilet and got caught?”

[LL] “It wasn’t even the casino he was stealing from!”

[SS] “Right. That and three other recent incidents caught my attention for the combination of greed and idiocy:

  • In June 2013, Rear Admiral Timothy M. Giardina was caught using fake $500 poker chips at a Nebraska casino. Apparently the Navy officer, who had previously been banned from other casinos in Iowa and Kansas, was addicted to not only gambling but nicotine; he was caught on surveillance video taking cigarette butts out of an ash tray and smoking them. The Navy stripped him of a star, but no criminal charges were pressed.
  • In January 2014, Christian Lusardi introduced some fake poker chips at a Borgata poker tournament but got caught when he tried to flush $2.7 million worth of chips down the toilet at the nearby Harrah’s Resort and Casino and clogged the plumbing. The North Carolinian was sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Later in the same month, Rosa A. Nguyen and Vuong Q. Truong used fake $100 poker chips in the Maryland Live Casino then tried to dispose of unused fakes in Lake Accotink near their home in Springfield, Virginia. Only problem: the chips floated.
  • In December 2015, Sajid Rashid and Qamar Hussain were sentenced to 30 months in jail in Monte Carlo for marking up €10 chips up as &euro1,000 chips and collecting almost £s;3 million playing roulette. Their accomplice Zahidul Haque Khan got 10 months for accepting their loot. The British trio had made many visits to Monaco and had even been comped by the casino for their high rolling ways. Rashid had already served 14 months in jail and had been banned for life from British casinos.”

[LL] “I’d think that counterfeit poker chips are becoming less of a problem as casinos have begun using RFID2 technology, especially in larger denomination chips.”

[SS] “But even as casinos step up their security measures, you can never be safe from counterfeiting any time you play Hold ‘Em!”

[RR] “Ha ha. You mean like when your hole cards are counterfeited?”

[SS] “Indeed. “There’s no real consensus on what constitutes counterfeiting and what doesn’t, so I break things into three categories: Definitely, Borderline, and Not Counterfeiting:

Definitely Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥T♠T♣ 3♦ Q♠ Pocket pair counterfeited by higher two pairs on board (making 3 pairs)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ 7♠ Full house on flop counterfeited for half pot on river
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠T♣ Q♦ T♥ Full house on turn counterfeited for half pot
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ Q♣ Full house on flop counterfeited for full pot when pocket pair becomes bad kicker
K♣Q♦ A♣K♦ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited by turn giving opponent a higher straight
K♣Q♦ K♦2♣ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited for half the pot
9♣8♦ any

K♥K♠8♥ 8♣ K♦ River makes bigger full house on board, costing half a pot to most hands and losing to pocket Nines and higher
9♣8♦ any

K♥K♠8♥ K♦ 8♣ Same as above but perhaps more painfully (but always behind pocket Nines in this case)
9♣8♦ T♣T♦ 9♥8♠2♣ 2♠ Two pairs counterfeited by pair on board, giving opponent a higher two pairs
9♣8♦ 9♥2♠ Q♥J♠8♣ J♥ 9♠ River improved hand to better two pairs yet cost half a pot (the dreaded 3 pairs again)
9♣8♦ A♣K♦ Q♣Q♦Q♥ 9♦ Q♠ Full house counterfeited for full pot when board makes four of a kind

Borderline Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
A♣K♦ 9♣8♦ Q♥T♠T♣ Q♦ Q♣ As of the turn, the Ace kicker was beating the Nine kicker, but the boat on the river removed the kicker from the picture
9♣8♣ A♣K♦ J♣5♣2♣ Q♣ Lower suited hole cards needing only three of the suit on the board can lose to a fourth suited card on the turn or river
9♣8♦ A♣9♦ J♠8♥5♠ J♥ 9♠ The Nine on the turn didn’t counterfeit the 98 because it was still ahead then! The 98 then improved on the river but lost.
7♣7♦ K♦2♣ 9♥8♠7♥ 6♣ 5♦ The set of Sevens was ahead until the straight on the board chopped the pot on the river; a flush on the board is even less likely to be considered counterfeiting (could have been behind on the flop or turn)

Not Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
9♣8♦ J♥T♥ T♠9♥8♥ J♠ It’s not counterfeiting if an opponent’s hand simply improves to beat you (like a Heart, Queen, Jack, Ten, or Seven on the turn here)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ K♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ K♣ A Queen on the river is more obviously counterfeiting, but a King is just a bad beat

[LL] “That’s a lot of counterfeiting!”

[SS] “And that’s not even counting my kitchen renovation…”

Footnotes:

  1. Original puzzle posed by Biotop on the Straight Dope message board on June 9, 2010.
  2. RFID is short for “radio frequency identification”, which in this case allows a reader to identify the value and location of every poker chip at the table.

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MIT Poker Course

{ Figaro the Fish glances over at Leroy the Lion’s iPhone. }

[FF] “I didn’t know you were playing online poker again”, Figaro commented.

[LL] “Huh? What makes you say that?” Leroy wondered.

[FF] “You’re looking at multi-table tournament advice right now, aren’t you?”

[LL] “Well, for starters, MTTs aren’t just online. This tournament we’re about to play in is an MTT, even if nobody here calls it that.”

[FF] “True enough.”

[LL] “But that doesn’t actually say M-tee-T on the screen, it’s M-eye-T.”

[FF] “As in the university down the road from Harvard?”

[LL] “Yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

[FF] “Your older son is thinking about going there?”

[LL] “No…, well not yet anyway. I’m looking at a poker course that’s been taught there during IAP since 2012.”

[FF] “So MIT has an iPhone app where you can buy courses from them?”

[LL] “No, IAP doesn’t mean In-App Purchases here; it stands for Independent Activities Period, a four-week mini-term at the start of each calendar year where MIT students take very short courses. This one is called How to Win at Texas Hold’em Poker.”1

[FF] “Ah. It’s a course you can take online?”

[LL] “Not exactly. But videos and slides from last year’s course are available. The first couple lectures are for beginners. But there’s some good stuff starting with the third one, Basic Strategy. I’d also recommend lectures 4 (Pre-flop Analysis), 5 (Tournaments), and 8 (Decision Making).”

[FF] “Sounds like a good way to spend some quality screen time over the holidays!”

[LL] “You can even watch the YouTube playlist of the course on your new Apple TV. Sure beats watching your umpteenth bowl game…”

Footnotes:

  1. Kevin Desmond taught MIT 15.S50 last year with guest lecturers like Bill Chen and Matt Hawrilenko. Wei “Will” Ma, a poker pro who won the 2007 Grand Prix De Paris Championship Event for over half a million dollars, will teach next month’s course with help from Paul F. Mende, who was formerly the head of the MMT (Money Management and Trading) group at Cambridge Technology Partners and an analyst at MDT Advisers. The course was Ma’s brainchild.
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Reading Hands, River

{Continued from Reading Hands, Turn}

[NN] “The river is the exciting conclusion to a four-act play”, Nate the Natural continued. “With a good read, you can pick off a bluff by a missed draw, like naming the murderer in a whodunit.”

[FF] “I don’t get killed that often, but they’re certainly always stealing my chips”, Figaro the Fish amended.

[NN] “Okay then, just a bit of larceny to discover… or commit. If you think you’re behind, can you try to steal the pot? If you’re ahead, how much value can you get from the final street of betting? If you’re in position or do you fear a check-raise? If you’re out of position, are you better off betting or hoping to pull off your own check-raise?”

[NN] “So, if a blank hits on a draw-heavy board after your opponent has check-called you the whole way, you’re not going to get paid off much. You have to hope the draw included a weak pair. In tournaments, you may not want to risk a small value bet if your opponent is a known check-raiser (unless of course you think he check-raise bluffs too often).”

[NN] “Likewise, if a money card hits on the river but your opponent still checks, there isn’t much point in betting.”

[NN] “The interesting case is when a draw comes in and your opponent leads out.”

[FF] “Easy fold.”

[NN] “Against most of the players here, probably. But what about against someone crafty like Elias the Eagle?”

[DD] “I try not to get into hands with him in the first place.”

[NN] “True, but you have top pair, and you never even had a chance to fold, since he never bet or raised. So here you are now with a board that shows K♥Q♥T♣4♦2♥. Elias bets half the pot. What are the odds he actually has the flush?”

[DD] “I have to fold or else he justifies his odds for chasing his draw.”

[NN] “The Birdman chases a lot of draws, because his implied odds are higher than ours are. When we didn’t bet him off on the turn, he called with pretty much 100% of his holdings, so he still has:

	AA, JJ
	ATs+, K8s+, QTs+, Ah9h-Ah2h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AKo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Count up the hands, and you’ll discover that he was on a straight draw more than three times as often as a flush draw. But by representing the flush, he more than doubled his ‘outs’, got us to fold, and stole our chips!”

[DD] “So, the only way to apprehend the criminal is to catch him in the act by calling his river bluff.”

[NN] “Right. Now suppose the board was dry instead: K♥7♣2♠4♦2♥, and your opponent is Roderick the Rock instead of Elias.”

[FF] “No draws there, so he has a real hand.”

[NN] “Yet he’s only been check-calling us.”

[DD] “He has top pair but doesn’t like his kicker.”

[FF] “Maybe a pocket pair lower than Kings?”

[NN] “It depends on who you are. If his opponent is Carlos the Crazy, Rod would have no problem calling with a pair of Tens. If it’s Mildred the Mouse, he’s folded all but his best Kings.”

[DD] “So, not only does he have a King, but it almost has to be King-Queen. Because he would have raised with Ace-King preflop.”

[NN] “Very good. So if we’re Mildred, and we actually hold pocket Sevens for a set, how much should we bet to extract the maximum value?”

[FF] “I’d probably pay off anything up to half a pot.”

[DD] “He’s tighter than you are. I don’t think he’s paying off much at all. I might try a quarter pot or even smaller.”

[NN] “I agree. That’s all you’re likely to get. He shouldn’t call anything, but we all hate to get bluffed, and we’re all curious to see what our opponents have.”

[DD] “Mildred isn’t ever bluffing here.”

[NN] “What if the opponent was Elias with an unknown hand instead of Mildred? If he bets a quarter pot, should Rod call? A half pot? Pot?”

[DD] “Roderick would probably call the first two but fold to a pot bet.”

[FF] “Unless Elias had been bullying Rod out of a bunch of pots recently.”

[DD] “Precisely when Elias is most likely to show up with the goods.”

[NN] “Maybe. But if you do a good job of putting him on a hand range, he won’t be able to fool you nearly as often as he does now.”

[DD] “Thanks, Nate. You could write a great book about reading hands.”

[FF] “I don’t know about palmistry, but you sure could write a good poker book.”

[NN] “Thanks, but Ed Miller already has. How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em is expensive1 but worth the price. You can easily win that outlay back in a single cash game or tournament.”

Footnotes:

  1. Currently still selling for its original list price of $49.99 at Amazon. The book deserves a full review, but I’m not qualified to write it. Maybe in a couple years.
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Reading Hands, Turn

{Continued from the Flop, Part Three}

[NN] “The turn is the street of hope”, Nate the Natural asserted. “You hope you’re ahead in the hand. If not, you hope you can bluff your opponent out. But if all else fails, you still have hope that you’ll be able to hit one of your outs.”

[FF] “I’m usually hoping I won’t mess up the hand…”, Figaro the Fish added, “if I haven’t already.”

[DD] “Roderick’s usually hoping his opponent isn’t about to suck out on him”, Deb the Duchess noted.

[NN] “Which is why if you’re ahead, you need to figure out which cards you’re worried about and charge accordingly. Suppose we’re in position as before, on a wet board of K♥Q♥T♣, when the 4♦ hits, and our opponent checks again.

After he check-called the flop, we put him on:

	AA, JJ
	ATs+, K8s+, QTs+, Ah9h-Ah2h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AKo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

So he has a lot of draws in his range where he currently has less than top pair:

	JJ (8 outs for straight and 2 outs for set)
	JhTh (17 outs for flush or straight)
	AhTh-Ah2h, Th9h (9 outs for flush)
	KJo, QJo-JTo (8 outs for straight)

That’s half of his hands. Except for the J♥T♥, you can give your opponent the wrong odds to call with a half-pot or larger bet. Assuming of course you don’t pay off on the river if a scare card hits.

If you have a King yourself, your opponent is even more likely to be on a draw, so a bet here is basically required.”

[FF] “What if my he check-raises me?”

[NN] “That’s very unlikely around here, but if it happens, just fold and silently congratulate your opponent on a nice play.”

[DD] “I’ll have to try that with my next drawing hand!”

[NN] “On the other hand, if you have a King on the dry board of K♥7♣2♠ and the 4♦ hits, you need to know how often your opponent would have called your flop continuation bet with a weaker King or an underpair. The looser you’re perceived and the tighter he plays, the more reason you have to check behind to avoid the check-raise or check-call he was planning.

As the saying goes, ‘Big hands want to play big pots…’, and you have just top pair here, so keep the pot small. Your opponent most likely has at most five outs,1 so the free card isn’t much of an issue.”

{To be continued…}

Footnotes:

  1. An underpair has five outs to make a set or two pairs, a weaker King has four kicker outs, and an Ace has three outs for an overpair.
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Reading Hands, Flop: Part Three

{Continued from Part Two}

[NN] “Alternatively,” Nate the Natural continued, “the non-preflop raiser could bet first. Derogatorily called the ‘donk bet’1, the bet basically says that the player hit the flop (or, at higher levels, that they think the raiser didn’t, but we’ll ignore that possibility for now). For some players that means top pair or better. On a dry board, the strongest hands would usually check to the raiser, but on a wet board, those hands are in the betting range.

Using the same 20% preflop range as before, what hands would provoke a donk bet on that dry board (K♥7♣2♠)? Mostly just top pair, as the sets might slowplay, and the weaker pairs might hope to see a free turn,

	K8s+
	AKo, KJo+

which is under a sixth of the preflop range. Looser players might bet other pairs, nearly tripling the number of hands.

On the wet board (K♥Q♥T♣), the same players who might check-raise a good hand or a draw against a frequent c-bettor, could choose to lead out against a more timid opponent:

	KK-TT
	KQs, KTs, QJs-QTs, AhQh+, AhTh-Ah2h, Kh8h+, Qh9h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AJo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Again, whether the draws, which are two-thirds of these hands, are included or not is very player- and stack-dependent.

The size of the donk bet might also be telling. A small bet can represent either a blocking bet with a weak hand or a value bet with a monster. The numbers say that the former are much more common than the latter. On the wet board an overbet usually means top pair with a good kicker, ‘to price out the draws’.”

[NN] “Lastly, in the case where there was no preflop raise, which is common at lower levels, you can’t narrow anybody’s range much preflop. This is one good reason why better players prefer to raise or fold preflop most of the time. The postflop bet, especially out of position, then simply means that the player liked the flop. In position, some players will often or always take a stab if checked to, while others will just take the free card (for some players, only with draws).”

[FF] “Okay,” Figaro the Fish commented at last, “now my head is spinning like Regan’s in The Exorcist. I know you’re trying to rid me of my donkey demons, but the cure is killing me.”

[DD] “But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, Deb the Duchess assured.

{To be continued…}

Footnotes:

  1. “Donk” being short for “donkey”, one of many terms for weak players.
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Reading Hands, Flop: Part Two

{Continued from Part One}

[NN] “Even if we know the range that the c-bettor is betting with, that doesn’t mean opponents will call or raise with broad enough ranges. Among weaker and tighter players, particularly out of position, a c-bet will induce a check-fold most of the time.

Looking at the same dry flop of K♥7♣2♠, if the button c-bets, a player who has already checked might call with top pair with a bad kicker, second or third pair, or a slowplayed set, but not much else. If the board had been lower, a loose player might call with just two overcards, but I don’t see that play much around here.

Suppose you had put a middle position player on this 20% range for their preflop limp-call:

	22+
	A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s
	ATo+, KJo+, QJo-JTo

The calling hands would be these:

	22+
	AKs, A7s, A2s, K8s+
	AKo, KJo+

which is half of his hands.”

[NN] “On a wet board like K♥Q♥T♣, many players will check, hoping to see the turn for free but otherwise intending to check-call with just about any draw. Top pair and better hands might also check-call, along with some weaker pairs that have other potential, leaving this range:

	AA, JJ
	ATs+, K8s+, QJs-QTs, Ah9h-Ah2h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AKo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

That’s just about 60% of the preflop hands. Sets will probably bet, and straights will bet unless they have the flush redraw.”

[NN] “It doesn’t make much sense to check-raise on a dry board with a strong hand (although I suppose you should some of the time to cover your bluffs), but on that wet board it’s a good play against a frequent c-bettor. Not including bluffs, the check-raise of the c-bet might be made from two pairs, a set, better hands that don’t want to give up a free card, and semibluffing drawing hands that want to take the pot down now:

	KK-TT
	KQs, KTs, QJs-QTs, AhQh+, AhTh-Ah2h, Kh8h+, Qh9h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AJo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Since two-thirds of that range are drawing hands, it really pays to know whether your opponent would check-raise with a draw.”

{To be continued…}

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Reading Hands, Flop: Part One

[FF] “Wow, thanks Nate”, Figaro the Fish offered. That really would have helped me a lot if I could remember it all.”

[DD] “Or even ten percent of it”, Deb the Duchess amended.

[FF] “So now that you have everyone on a hand range, how do you narrow down the ranges as the hand goes on?”

[NN] “Well, let’s take this one street at a time”, Nate the Natural recommended. “On the flop, remember who raised preflop as that’s the player who’s most likely to bet even if the flop didn’t help him.”

[NN] “A postflop bet from the preflop raiser is much weaker than a bet from anyone else. Some players will continuation bet almost 100% of the time when checked to in position, especially against a single opponent. Some weaker players only bet if they improved or already had a pocket pair (fit or fold). Some players bet their draws frequently, while others will prefer to take a free card. Some players will bet to ‘protect’ their good hands against possible straight and flush draws. Some players will slowplay the strongest hands. All depending on the number, style, and stack sizes of their opponents, of course.”

[NN] “Stronger players will take the board texture into account while weaker ones may not.”

[DD] “That all sounds useful in general, and I understand that you need to notice people’s tendencies over lots of hands, but how do you apply it in practice?”

[NN] “I could go on for hours as the possibilities are nearly limitless, so I’ll just give a few common examples.”

[NN] “On a dry1 flop like K♥7♣2♠, two players check to the button, who raised 2.5xBB preflop and got called by two limpers. When he bets half the pot here, it’s very likely to be a c-bet. If you put him on a preflop range of 30% like:

	AA-22
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-98o

then an frequent c-bettor might continue with all but his best (KK, 77, 22) and worst (T9s, T8s, 98s, 65s, 54s, T9o, and 98o) hands, leaving his range as:

	AA, QQ-88, 66-33
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, 87s-76s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+

Just over half of those hands are a pair or better, so you can see why a in-position c-bet is so hard to defend even if you know this player c-bets here seven-eighths of the time!”

[NN] “On a more exciting, wet2 flop like K♥Q♥T♣, the c-bettor will be tighter, as a lot of draws will be calling, and there’s significant potential that someone checked intending to raise with a good hand. A pot-sized bet here represents top pair or better, hoping to price out the draws:

	AA-KK, 77, 22
	K9s+
	K9o+

but you’ll have to learn which players will make this bet with their own draws and which would prefer to take the free card (of course, depending on how many chips they have left behind). The above range is pretty small (just over one-sixth of his preflop range), while there are many more drawing hands. On the other hand, the sets that would be likely to slowplay on a dry board can’t afford that luxury here. Only the made straights (AJs, AJo, J9s, and J9o) might slowplay comfortably, although some players would bet without the flush redraw. Two-pair hands (KQs, KQo, KTs, KTo, QTs, QTo) could go either way.”

[NN] “An out-of-position check by the preflop raiser on this same flop doesn’t narrow down their hand much at all, as it could be strong, hoping to check-raise or slowplay; medium, not wanting to build a big pot out of position; or weak, simply checking with no strength and no desire to c-bet.”

{To be continued…}

Footnotes:

  1. A “dry” flop has at most one high card, no likely straight draws, and no flush draw. A paired board is dry if the third card isn’t close by, and the rare three-of-a-kind flop is always dry.
  2. A “wet” flop has at least two high cards or connected medium-high cards or two cards of the same suit. Straight draws or flush draws are possible.
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Reading Hands, Preflop: Part Two

[FF] “I think I understand the idea behind hand ranges now,” Figaro the Fish began, “but I’m pretty clueless as to what ranges to put people on. It just seems so complicated!”

[NN] “It is complicated, so don’t feel bad”, Nate the Natural consoled.

[DD] “Maybe you could give us some more common pre-flop examples?” Deb the Duchess inquired.

[NN] “Sure. Especially among casual players like we have here, you often get an early limper that encourages the rest of the table to limp in because we love to see flops.”

[NN] “The early position limper has the tightest range of the limp chain, anywhere from 20% of hands to 40% of hands, not including the biggest hands like Aces or Kings which don’t want to be playing against a lot of opponents. This is what it might look like for 30%:

	QQ-22
	A2s+, K5s+, Q7s+, J8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o

Subsequent limpers might be playing 40% of hands:

	QQ-22
	A2s+, K2s+, Q7s+, J8s+, 98s-54s
	A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-65o

But there’s always a guy who loves suited cards and limps along with almost 55% of hands:

	QQ-22
	XXs
	A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-54o

And don’t forget that the big blind gets to play for free, so he could have any two cards with up to about two limpers in front, and all but Aces or Kings with more (that’s 99%).”

[NN] “If a middle position player is known to raise a loose 30%, say,

	AA-22
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o

then a player in late position could call with the same 30% with the positional advantage.”

[NN] “Another common occurrence is when a short-stacked player moves all-in pre-flop. You can use a formula1 to estimate how weak the player’s range is, but most people here just use their gut instinct. Depending on the player’s patience, the shoving range tends to widen with each hand that gets folded. In a rebuy tournament, the range is significantly wider early and tightens up tremendously after the rebuy period ends.”

[LL] “My range widens considerably once the side game has started”, Leroy the Lion admitted. “I don’t want to bust out and have to wait around doing nothing.”

[NN] “The button vs. small blind vs. big blind (BSB) battle is a special scenario that happens more with better players that it does here, but it’s still important. Some players will raise 100% of the time if folded to on the button. Other players, especially weaker ones, don’t value position that highly and are likely to play the same cards from the button as they will from the cutoff or hijack.”

[NN] “A limp from the button here is interesting, since it tends to deny a stronger hand. One player might raise 40% of hands,

	AA-22
	A2s+, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s-54s
	A2o+, K2o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o

limp 40%,

	K8s-K2s, Q8s-Q2s, J8s-J2s, T8s-T2s, 97s-92s, 86s-82s, 75s-73s, 64s-62s, 53s-52s, 43s
	Q8o-Q2o, J8o-J3o, T8o-T5o, 95o+, 85o+, 75o+, 65o, 54o

and fold the remaining 20%:

	72s, 42s-32s
	J2o, T4o-T2o, 94o-92o, 84o-82o, 74o-72o, 64o-62o, 53o-52o, 43o-42o, 32o

while a raise-or-fold player could raise 50%:

	AA-22
	A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J6s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s
	A2o+, K5o+, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 98o

and fold the rest.”

[NN] “If the blinds are known to be tight, the stealing range from the button could be 70% or more.

	AA-22
	A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 93s+, 84s+, 74s, 63s, 53s+, 43s
	A2o+, K2o+, Q3o+, J5o+, T6o+, 96o+, 86o+, 76o"

[NN] “The big blind might then try to resteal with just the top 20% of hands:

	66+
	A4s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s
	A9o+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo"

[LL] “A wider range would probably be better.”

[DD] “We’re only talking about what people do, not what they should do.”

[NN] “One last example… stealing from the small blind in a blind vs. blind battle is tough because the player is out of position. A player might raise 30% of the time (like the loose middle position raise) against a tight big blind:

	AA-22
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o"

Footnotes:

  1. For example, the SAGE (Sit And Go Endgame) formula can be used to determine whether to move all in or fold.
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