Tips, strategies and stories about black jack.

Bluffing in Poker

Let us start with an example from $2-$4 no limit Texas hold’em poker. You open raise from middle position with the 7c-5c and the big blind calls you. The flop is Jh-9h-2s and the big blind checks and you make a dubious c-bet with little showdown potential. Your opponent calls you and the turn card comes the 6c giving you an inside straight draw. Your opponent checks again and you fire again and are once again called.

 
In no limit Texas hold’em then it is easy to build an image pre-flop. Tight players have a tight image because they fold a lot more. Aggressive players have an aggressive image because they raise a lot more. In short then we always see the pre-flop part of the game but we don’t always see the showdown. This means that it isn’t as easy to construct a post flop image. Most aggressive players change to orthodox post flop in no limit Texas hold’em and this has become known as a LAG-TAG.

 
However let us say that our opponent calls our turn barrel and the river card comes and is the Ad. They check again and we shove all in using the ace as a scare card. They fold and show us Js-10s and we show them our bluff.
Many professional players never show bluffs, their views are that you should never allow your opponent to have free information in no limit Texas hold’em. This concept is a weak one and does not stand up to close scrutiny. Numerous examples can be taken from warfare to see how information is deliberately passed to the enemy for future potential gain.

 
The fact is that it doesn’t matter what information we give to our opponents as long as it is misinformation. If we are showing a bluff then many people argue that this makes it harder for us to bluff in the future…….but does it? The fact is that we cannot control our opponent’s thoughts in no limit Texas hold’em.

 
It is quite possible that when you show your opponents a bluff that they could tilt immediately. This increases the EV of any hands that we get in that period of time that are strong. If they see our bluff then many of your opponents will perceive that this is a one off and not call your next bluff or the next one after that in the belief that you are setting them up for a big sting.

 
Now let us see how you gain from showing your bluffs in no limit Texas hold’em. You raise with the 10c-10d and the same player in the big blind calls you. The flop comes 10s-9h-8h and your opponent checks. This is a great time to value bet even when heads up because of your bluffing image and the fact that the board texture allows for many weaker combinations to call your c-bet. The turn is the 8c and your opponent check-raises all in after you bet again. The cards are flipped over and they have the Kh-4h for a flush draw of which they are drawing dead. It was your bluffing image that created this out of line move from your opponent.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and poker ambassador for 888poker

Donking in Poker

For those of you that are not familiar with what donk betting is in no limit Texas hold’em then I will explain. A donk bet is simply a bet into the pre-flop raiser. For example let us say that it was folded around to the button that raised to 3.5bb and the big blind called. The flop came J-10-4 and the big blind bet into the raiser…….this bet is called donking.

 
A “donk” in no limit Texas hold’em is often a name for a weak player or fish but in this instance it means something else. Here it means leading into the pre-flop raiser. The reasons behind why this move is popular are obvious. Firstly the big blind in this instance knows or at least strongly suspects that the raiser is stealing. So they look to take the pot away from them by placing the onus back on them to connect with the board. So instead of three betting pre-flop they elect to call with the intention of betting the flop.

 
When done at a very basic level in no limit Texas hold’em then donking doesn’t really make any sense. It is a bet that is designed to represent a hand but it seems counter-productive to make such a move with either a strong holding or a fair holding. If you check then your opponent will almost certainly bet and so you capture at least one bet with the best hand. If you donk then your opponent could simply fold. So you would at least check-call or check-raise with a powerful holding.

 
Many players in no limit Texas hold’em will go into what is called pot control. Players tend to do this with mediocre or marginal hands that may be best but may well not be. Mediocre made hands serve as very good bluff catchers and so once again it is better to check-call with marginal hands. So in both cases then the donk lead makes little sense.

 
The simple response to the donk lead is to simply raise. This is especially the case if your poker hand has any sort of equity. The combination of pot equity and fold equity will prove profitable over the long term. Some players even go as far as to raise 100% of donk bets. However even against moderately thinking opponents then these players will play back in no limit Texas hold’em eventually.

 
As your opponents reach a higher level of sophistication then so do their strategies to defeat you in no limit Texas hold’em. So if your opponent believes that you would raise donks then some of them will adjust by leading out with their value hands or three betting you with their lesser holdings. So in no way should donking be automatically labelled as weak. However if you encounter this tactic at low stakes games then it is a weak move to wrestle the initiative more often than not. If you can figure out why your opponents are donking in no limit Teas hold’em then you will find more profitable spots.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker

Should you Balance your Play?

The word “balance” is the big buzzword in poker these days but I feel that most of it is misunderstood by the majority of people that play poker. Everybody it seems is trying to balance ranges these days but is that the right thing to do all the time? Well to be quite frank it isn’t because if you have to play in a game where you need to be balanced all the time then you are probably playing in the wrong game. What you need to remember with balancing your play is why you balance in the first place.

 
You balance because you are trying to create a situation where your opponents cannot exploit your play. This is defensive in nature and not offensive but it is a requirement against very good players. To better explain what I mean then let us say that you are playing against a world class player in the game of “Rock, paper, scissors”. If you don’t know how to play that game then simply look it up on Google. Against a player that could read your actions and likely responses then your optimal line would be to balance your play!

 
You could achieve this by using outside factors to base your decisions. Like for example if the second finger on your watch was showing between 0-20 seconds then you chose paper, 21-40 seconds then you chose rock and 41-60 seconds you chose scissors. Because you are totally taking your own decision making out of the equation and with it your own brain patterns then your opponent cannot outplay you. It can be said that your game is balanced. However it is obvious or should be obvious that if you are better than your opponent then balancing is harmful to your results.

 
So to exploit an inferior opponent then you need to become unbalanced yourself. In a poker context then this can be looked at in numerous ways. If a player folds too much post flop then you must counter that in the opposite direction by bluffing more. You cannot counter this by folding too much yourself otherwise everybody will be folding and nobody will be beating the rake. Likewise if an opponent is too aggressive pre-flop then we can counter that by either being more aggressive or more passive and calling their raises with position.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Needing a Poker Bankroll

These days there are several avenues to play professional poker and they are to either play cash games or tournaments in a live or online setting. Firstly if you are going down the avenue of playing live poker tournaments for a living then I really do wish you the best of luck because you are going to need it.

 
Any poker tournament is a lottery and as Dan Harrington once said, the difference in how good you are as a tournament player basically dictates how many “tickets” you buy. A weak player may not even have a ticket while a mediocre player may have one and a world class player may have half a dozen……but a tournament player is still in a lottery.

 
It is hard enough to play live tournaments for a living unless you are fortunate enough to get a sponsorship deal or something of that ilk. Online tournaments usually don’t help the cause much because the really fast structures mean that variance is huge and losing runs can last a long time. Some of the best online tournament players do well but it is a tough way to make a living. So it has to be cash games and despite the fact that live games are softer, you simply cannot compensate for the fact that you can offset that by recording huge volume when you play online.

 
I only ever play online cash games and I play at around the $100 levels. You simply cannot expect your opponents at these levels to make huge mistakes in big pots. The combination of regs and decent short stack players means that your profits will come from exploiting fold equity more than pot equity and this means going after small pots when your opponent’s ranges are at their widest.

 
In online poker then the required bankroll that you need is dependent on several factors. Firstly how aggressive your style is and how aggressive the overall game is are key factors. Secondly what form of poker you are playing is also a factor. Heads up no limit and Pot Limit Omaha are far more volatile than full ring no limit hold’em. So the shorter the player numbers then the more volatile and aggressive the game is. This also knocks on to playing higher levels as well where players become much more aggressive.

 
In full ring games then I think that 20 buy-ins is a solid number as long as you are a favourite to do well at your level. So at NL100 then if you win at a rate of 5bb-10bb/100 hands then a $2000 bankroll could be enough to turn pro. You could turn pro at lower levels and have even less but the lower you go then the harder it is to earn enough money per hour to cover all of your expenses.

 
Remember that your weekly and monthly outgoings have a huge impact on your ability to turn pro. If you need $3000 per month just to break even and turning pro will only make you $2000 per month based on past results then turning pro cannot be an option under these criteria.

 

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Are You Bluffing or Value Betting

Your primary strategy for placing money into the pot is to either bet or raise for value or to bluff. These two reasons predominate throughout poker and is the first and probably the biggest leak that players need to fix at the lower levels. However our money at certain levels of play has to come from somewhere and it is either through bluffing or value. Now before we continue I am not saying that you can only make money by bluffing or by value betting at any stake level. What I am saying is that there will be a strong bias towards one or the other.

 
Let us take the smallest possible stake level in online poker which is $0.01-$0.02 cash games. Bluffing in a game like this will be far less effective for the simple reason being that your opponents will simply call more. The combination of the small stake levels and the low sophistication of your opponents mean that these guys want to play hands and not to fold them. So your primary reason for betting (notice that I said primary and not solitary) is for value and not to bluff.

 
However let us not change that to say a NL50 full ring cash game with $0.25-$0.50 blinds. This is still not high stakes by any stretch of the imagination but $50 buy-ins represents a very credible stake level. So there will be a lot of tight and solid serious players at these levels as well as several minimum stack players. So value betting through the streets becomes less effective for several reasons. The first is because your opponents are tight enough not to call with weak second best hands. You will be strong enough to be raising and re-raising to isolate and so you will not extract much by way of value from weaker holdings most of the time. Secondly the presence of the minimum stacks reduces your value betting potential.

 
This is not to say that it will never happen, just that your bias needs to be leaning towards bluffing and extracting dead money from your opponents. Of course there will be times where you can value bet but those times are reduced at this level because many of the pots will be heads up and three way. Your tight mostly multi-tabling and short stacked opponents will be biased towards folding. The mentality will be different in a much more aggressive six handed game but in full ring then we need to reassess the situation.

 

 

However at say the $10-$20 levels then your opponents are not going to call you down loosely unless they have a reason to not believe you based on your image. Although in a strange kind of way you can value bet these higher levels more than you can at say NL50. This is because the average player is more sophisticated and is more than likely properly bankrolled for their level. This means that they are prepared to call you down very thin if they think that your range is polarised or because of your recent image.

 
So the bottom line is that you need to be aware of the two primary reasons for betting and then see which one is more relevant to the particular hand in question. You also need to build your entire strategy around these reasons as well. Many players fail to beat levels like NL25-NL100 because they expect too much value from their good hands. In actual fact if only these players shifted their reasons for betting away from value betting to bluffing then they would do far better. At each level there tends to be a theoretically correct default setting for the proper levels of value betting and bluffing.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

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