Cardrunners pro strategy: Add more aggression to your game

CardRunners pro Matthew Janda steps back in time to 2011 and discovers that he was calling too much when he should have been three-betting…

In this piece I want to talk about a concept that I approach very differently in 2014 than I did in 2011 – how my overall aggression level has increased significantly with strong hands. I took a two year hiatus from poker and didn’t play much from 2011 to 2013. Now that I’m back I am playing a very different game.

I think the majority of players right now are playing far too passively with strong but not amazing hands (such as A-Q, J-J and so on). This applies to both postflop and preflop, though for the purposes of this article we will be focusing on preflop play.

Understanding preflop

Whenever you three-bet someone preflop with a non-premium paired hand – so hands other than J-J, Q-Q, K-K and A-A – you will nearly always be making them fold a high equity hand. For example, if the button opens with 7♣-6♠ and you three-bet in the big blind with A-K and make the opponent fold, you made him fold a hand that had 36% equity. That is so much equity. 7-6 was frequently going to outdraw your A-K and bluff you off your hand a lot when you were ahead with just Ace-high. 7-6 has so many potential gutshot or straight draws that allow them to easily make semi-bluffs and get you to fold the best hand.

Even if you are three-betting just T-T and better pairs, plus A-Q and A-K (which is too tight), then 7-6 offsuit still has 26% equity against this incredibly strong range. If you are going to be outdrawn 26% of the time, that is more than one in four times. If it’s as high as 36%, that is more than one in three times! Every hand preflop has so much equity against you unless you have a super premium hand. And even if you have a great hand like pocket Queens, lots of your opponent’s opening range, such as A-x, will have a ton of equity against you. That’s why it is vital to three-bet and get them to fold! Making the opponent fold is a really big deal and the vast majority of people are still folding too much versus three-bets.

Comparing three-betting to common postflop spots

Here is a typical spot that will come up all the time. The cutoff opens and you flat on the button. The flop is Q-7-6♣. What are you value raising and how much equity do the hands your opponents fold have against it? Take a second and think about it…

What are you value raising?

  • 7-7/6-6/7-6s

These are really strong hands. I wouldn’t want to slowplay any of them because the board is too wet – straight and flush draws could get there on the turn or river, or your opponent could make a higher two pair.

What is your opponent bet/folding?

  • A-K/gutshots/A-5 suited, etc

Those hands have nowhere near 37% equity against our value raising range.

What you need to take from this example is that postflop is a hell of a lot different to preflop play. Usually, when we are value raising postflop we want a call. The term ‘value raise’ doesn’t even really work for preflop play because getting your opponent to fold is just so valuable. Whenever we three-bet preflop and get a fold it’s good because they have a ton of equity.

Postflop our value raises are so, so strong that they won’t usually have much equity against us – making it much more important to deny our opponents equity preflop than postflop.

Make sure the magnitude of this is really sinking in, it’s a huge deal!

Why you should be three-betting more out of position

Think about what you would usually do with the following hands when the cutoff has opened to 2.5BBs and it folds to you in the big blind:

  • A-9s/A-8s/A-7s/A-6s/A-5s/A-4s/A-3s/A-2s

My guess is that 95% of you reading this article will call with all of them. Now, calling can be profitable and it is easy, but think about this instead; do any of these hands play better as a three-bet than they do a call? Personally I would three-bet A-7s to A-2s, and probably A-9s and A-8s too.

Against a cutoff opening range A-4s has around about 46.7% equity. How does it perform as a call though when you are out of position? Not very well. If we flop an Ace, it will be hard to win big pots but very easy to lose a big one. The major problem is that when we have Ace-high and it is the best hand, we’ll almost certainly get blasted off it and end up having to fold.

For example, the cutoff opens and we call with A-4 in the big blind. He then c-bets on a T-6♠-2♣ flop. Our opponent is so often betting hands like K-Q/K-J/Q-J here and winning, and there is little we can do about it!

Let’s flip this scenario around. So we three-bet A-4 here and our opponent calls with the same range of hands. We now make the continuation bet and we force him to fold most of those hands.

What I would have done differently in 2011

In 2011 I thought people were not calling wide enough in position. After all, if the cutoff opens the reasons for calling on the button are…

  • We’ll have lots of stack depth if we call (and stack depth favours position).
  • We can easily call with hands that have at least some robust equity (such as 7-6s, T-8s, A-5s, 3-3 and much more).
  • There’s dead money in the blinds if they fold. And if they call, our hands – which have a lot of potential to make the nuts – will play really well multi-way. Plus, we have position!

Oddly enough, as I read these reasons it still makes me think that calling in position is really good. Maybe I should do that a bit more! But then I have to remember that calling in position really isn’t that great, and for one simple reason: we can get squeezed very aggressively by the blinds, and being blasted off our equity sucks! Also, we can’t call preflop with any strong hands unless we think that just calling with A-K or J-J+ is more profitable than three-betting. The problem is that it almost certainly isn’t more profitable because…

  • Calling lets the cutoff realise his equity for free (as we were talking about before).
  • Three-betting bloats the pot as our opponent has to defend aggressively by calling and four-betting.
  • Very strong hands like these do not play well multi-way. They do much better heads-up.

For these reasons we can’t justify calling on the button with our really strong hands. That means that whenever we just call we are bound to have a mediocre hand, and we are then a sitting duck for perceptive opponents who will squeeze versus us from the blinds all of the time. 

I used to think that you could just call on the button with A-K to mix things up and try to induce a squeeze. But I don’t think that anymore. I would say there is no more slowplaying!

So when should you call?

So we’ve looked at the pros and cons of my 2011 strategy – calling in position with a ton of hands – and analysed why it wasn’t the best strategy. However, you might be thinking that I listed four reasons for why calling in position is a good thing, but only one really bad reason why we should not do it (in that we will often get squeezed off our hand). In that case, do we go back to just calling because the pros outweigh the cons?

No! Getting squeezed is such a big deal that it must prevent us from calling too wide. It’s a terrible outcome for us to put money into the pot voluntarily and not get to realise our equity with very playable hands because we don’t see the flop, turn or river. We give ourselves no chance to get lucky on the flop if we never see it.

I now call much, much tighter on the button than I used to, and I definitely don’t play looser than I used to. The points in which you can call a lot more is when nobody can blast you off your equity. Good examples are when you are calling three-bets or calling in the big blind versus a button raise. In those cases you will always be the last to act, ensuring that you see a flop.

This article is an extract from Classroom: 2014 vs 2011 Pre-flop by CardRunners pro Matthew Janda. To watch the full video, and more, go to today!

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