PokerStrategy.com pro Patrick Leonard is an expert at preflop play. In part one of his guide to the ultimate poker game plan he looks at building an effective preflop strategy…
I am an extremely competitive person. When I was seven years old my Mum bought me a chess board and for the next three years I dreamed of different ways to checkmate imaginary opponents every night before I went to sleep. I was addicted to computer games, always trying to beat my highest score. So when I first played poker, and made a fool of myself, I decided that would be the last time I was laughed out the door.
I hear a lot of people talking about poker as a ‘solved game’ or say that it’s ‘impossible to win online anymore’. Every year I hear about how the games are so tough. It’s absolute rubbish. What I see instead is a lot of theoretical disasters, repeated ICM suicides and a truck load of players spewing off chips.
Over the next few issues I will try to help you build a good fundamental foundation to make you comfortable at the cash tables. I will focus on specific topics that people have difficulties with such as playing from the blinds, playing draws out of position and will also be looking into what leaks I see on a daily basis from regulars and how we can exploit them.
In many aspects of life it is important to have a game plan. In chess I would always start every game by moving my pawn to one spot and a bishop to another. It became second nature to me and I was lost without following this plan for the rest of the game. In any strategy game having a game plan is an absolute must. Poker is no different. An effective game plan acts as the backbone to your decision making in specific situations against different opponents.
I’m not going to give you a poker bible that you can open any time you are in a difficult spot which tells you the right answer. Poker is such a complex game that lots of the time it simply depends what we will detail in our game plan. But there are some situations that are common such as playing pocket pairs from the button versus an early position raiser or three-betting from the small blind versus the big blind.
The end goal is to be comfortable playing in any preflop spot against any opponent from any position. Having a very good preflop game plan allows us to continue in hands with strong and balanced ranges while helping us make easier and, more importantly, profitable decisions.
Whenever we analyse a situation that demands a game plan we must break it down step by step. Initially, this may look daunting but it’s time to stop clicking buttons and start thinking!
Who is the opponent and what is their likely game plan in this spot?
What should my range look like and what should my basic game plan be?
What are the weaknesses of my game plan?
Let’s look at an example game plan for a three-bet strategy from the big blind versus the small blind. To build our game plan we should look through the three steps above. The first step is thinking about who our opponent is and his likely game plan. We need to have a basic overview – to get this we can either look at HUD stats from PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager, or make an assumption based on our impressions of their play. For example, if you’re playing in a live cash game then we can make assumptions on our opponent depending on his stack size, age and nationality. A 21-year-old Swedish male with too much hair gel will play considerably different to a 50-year-old bus driver from Alaska wearing a WSOP 2005 t-shirt.
Let’s say in this instance that we are playing against a standard TAG opponent who steals over 50% from the SB. This is far too wide a range to try and steal from and includes many weak hands. Due to his weak range and positional disadvantage it will be easy to exploit him.
Now that we have gone through step one it’s important to look again at step two: what should my range look like and what should be my basic game plan?
When playing online we can look at our opponent’s HUD and see that he has a very high fold to three-bet percentage from all positions, especially when he is out of position. At the moment he is opening 730 combinations of hands (every pair has six combinations, every suited hand has four combinations and every offsuit hand has 12 combinations) so let’s assume that our opponent defends the following range to our three-bet; AA-77, AK-ATs, some suited Broadway hands and a smattering of other stuff such as A-4s, Q-8s and so on.
This would show that our opponent is defending 188 combinations of hands from the original 730 combinations that he ‘attempted to steal’ with, corresponding to a fold equity of 75%. If we wanted to show an automatic profit from three-betting in this situation we would need 68% fold equity, meaning that if our opponent didn’t adjust and start defending wider or opening a tighter range we could three-bet 100% of our hands, from 7-2o to A-A, and know that our adjusted game plan is showing a clear profit.
Finally, let’s finish off this example hand by looking at step three: what are the weaknesses of my game plan? We have now established that we can show a clear profit by three-betting any two cards. That’s pretty cool. But I am still not satisfied, I don’t want to be a 1BB/100 winner, and I don’t want to be a rakeback pro. We want to crush the games and move up the stakes! Just because we can show an immediate profit doesn’t mean we should be satisfied. This hand example is good because it shows one of the bigger mistakes that regulars make in six-max games. We can see that our opponent is opening Q-2+, K-2+ and A-2+ so the normal adjustment that regulars tend to make is, ‘Oh well, he is opening so wide I will three-bet this A-Q for value’. There are a few reasons why calling may be significantly better;
- He will likely fold the majority of these hands to our three-bet
- When we both flop a pair, we will generally get two and sometimes three streets of value
- When we flop a pair and he flops nothing we almost always get at least one street of value
- Whenever we float the flop with Ace or King-high and we improve on the turn we usually get an extra street of value
- Because we want to defend wider versus our opponent it is important to have strong hands in our range so that our opponent can’t always profitably triple barrel us and put us into difficult situations
- If we three-bet K-Q or even A-Q he may choose a lot of A-x and K-x hands to four-bet bluff us
The most important part of building this poker game plan is we have realised that just because we have a potential automatic profit play we don’t necessarily need to take it – we should always be looking for weaknesses in our initial ‘profitable’ game plan and take the most optimal decision.