Experiment with your game: Unusual lines you can take to crush the tables

CardRunners pro [vital]Myth continues his look at experimenting with your game to find new ways to win

In part one we talked about why it was important to experiment when playing poker, and the best situations to try out new moves. This time out I want to show you some examples of experimental strategies you can use to show a profit at the tables….

Unusual lines

 The first type of NLHE experiment I want to talk about is that of taking unusual lines. Almost any line is optimal in some situations – now, of course there are some exceptions and some lines will probably never, ever be good given certain parameters (like when you have a certain type of hand or are against a certain opponent) – but even lines as esoteric and crazy as min check-raising all three streets are sometimes optimal. It will be very rarely but you’ll never know unless you give it a go to find out when. Here are some simpler examples of non-common lines you can experiment with to round out your game… 

Take the lead 
Even today after years of various people advocating that you should sometimes lead instead of always checking to the aggressor people are not doing it enough. There are so many times where you can find really good spots to lead into the raiser, whether it’s for value or as a bluff. People seem to not take advantage of these spots. 

Leading can take place on any street and in any situation. There are a lot of possibilities to experiment with here. For example, your opponent may check-call flop and turn before shoving the river when a draw gets there. In your head you may think it’s obvious that he has the nuts and just fold. However because you are thinking that it’s likely that all the other regulars in your game would think that too. This means you could now try that leading move as a bluff when a draw gets there but you have actually missed. You’ll never know if it works until you try it. It’s a great way to represent a flush. 

When you lead opponents will be polarised between how they view a leading bet. If you lead into the preflop raiser some people will always give you credit and fold their air. Other people are on the extreme and never give it credit, raising automatically without thinking. Most people are like this. Leading on any street is a polarising action. If you can narrow down which players belong to which group you can really exploit them by picking the perfect times to lead. 

Checking as the aggressor 
As long as you were the preflop aggressor you can check but with the intention of continuing to play your hand. Don’t check just planning to fold in this experiment. Check with the intention of playing trappy, or being aggressive by check-raising. Just check instead of your normal c-betting approach to see how people respond. Some people will always give the preflop raiser tons of credit if they check-call the flop whereas others will never give you credit at all. For example, on a King-high board if you check-call the flop some people will squarely put you on pocket Jacks and triple barrel against you all the time. So you can use this to your advantage with K-x hands. Often checking instead of c-betting will allow you to get one bet out of players who otherwise wouldn’t have called a bet in the first place.

Slow playing

This can have a number of meanings. I think a lot of people are pretty good at slow playing in instances such as when you have 8-8 on an 8-8-2 flop. People don’t tend to raise a c-bet with that hand because they have the deck crushed, and the only way they can get money is if their opponent decides to run a big bluff or has a big hand themselves (neither of which is that common). But people don’t have a good sense for slow playing so that they can get a little bit more value. 

You can do it preflop. If you slow play preflop that means just flat calling with a big pair or A-K when those hands would usually be in your three-betting range. For example, this can work well if you have an aggressive opponent but one who doesn’t like to mess around much preflop. If he raises the button and you have Aces in the big blind it could be a good spot just to call as he’ll bluff postflop much more than preflop. Three-betting is definitely +EV but it might not be as optimal as just calling. 

Slow playing big hands preflop can lead to rash plays from volatile players and also end up getting more value from nits, who would fold to a three-bet a high amount. By flatting you’ll get at least one more bet out of your aggressive opponents. You will look very weak to them and they may even double or triple barrel against you. 

Versus a nit, it’s going to be hard to get too much value preflop – unless you cooler them – so by just calling you allow him to hit a draw or some equity which should get you extra value with your Aces when you check-raise the flop. Anything like that is better than just three-betting against someone who folds all the time. This is especially the case when you have a hand like Queens that actually doesn’t do too well against their all-in preflop range.

Pretty much the same principles apply postflop – you have something and normally you feel like you want to have a mixed range of bluffs, semi-bluffs and value hands when you make a play such as check-raising. That’s often true, but you should mix in slow playing too. For example, you flopped a set and even though there is a straight draw and flush draw they are not hugely likely, such as on a J-8-2x board and you have 8-8. That’s a much better flop to slow play on than J-8-7x. Instead of doing what you are expected to do, which is raise for value on the flop, if you call there is a really good chance you’ll get at least one more bet out of A-K if the turn is an Ace or the Ace of hearts when a heart comes on the turn. Those hands would have folded the flop right away. This falls under the category of ‘letting people catch something.’ When this happens you can end up getting much more value from your opponents. This requires you to think about balancing your bluffing by check-raising draws alongside huge value hands on the turn. 

Slow playing also allows people to fire a one-barrel bluff. Let’s say you open from the small blind and the big blind calls. If you check the flop, the big blind will fire most of the time with their complete range. As the small blind you can take advantage of this by knowing this and letting him barrel once instead of giving up versus a c-bet.

Bet sizing

Bet sizing is really important when it comes to experimenting. Here are some ways you can play around with sizing to accomplish some good results…

Min-bets are always an option. Every now and then it is the perfect play. For example, I have noticed that a lot of volatile, fishy European players tend to spew and bluff versus them. If you min-bet they tend to raise with a lot more hands than if you had just bet a normal amount. 

When you are experimenting with min-betting don’t make assumptions about what effect the min-bet will have as you will probably be surprised. A lot of people think a min-bet will always induce a raise or bluff. But you’d be surprised that sometimes people even fold to min-bets, especially in bloated pots! This could be as much as 10% of the time if you pick your situations well. The min-bet can now become a cheap bluff or a blocking bet. 

Pot sized bets  and overbets 
These are two things that have startling effects on people. When you do it they sit and re-evaluate for a second – this period can lead them to make really bad decisions. These bet sizes will get moderately more folds than if you had bet your normal amount of three quarters the pot. Suppose you triple barrel and your opponent may or may not have a hand. If you bet the pot or bigger on the river you might get a lot more folds than your standard bet, meaning your profit from that bluff is hugely improved from a normal bet size. 

On the other hand when you are overbetting sometimes you will get really suspicious calls. One mistake I see people making frequently is if they value bet in a limped pot against a fishy player they tend to bet two or three BBs less than they should have because they don’t like overbetting in general. That fishy player probably doesn’t care if it’s 5BBs to call instead of 2.5BBs. You can bet twice the pot in these situations and get called the same amount. 

You must take notes on players when you do moves like this. Keep track of which players tend to have what tendencies. It can be really valuable – if you spot a player that is always suspicious of plays that are out of the ordinary you can now bet really big with your value hands against them and expect to be paid off.

Experimenting with game flow

People think of game flow in very varied ways. One person talking about game flow may use emotional and competitive language whereas another may be logical and talk
about adjustments. Everyone has a different framework. 

You should experiment with some basic things within game flow…

Image building 
Building an image is not about thinking that everybody is going to make the same judgement of who you are. If you sit down and play really loose and crazy it makes sense that people will call you a lot, but it also makes sense that they will perceive you as a dangerous opponent so they will instead wait for a big hand before they battle with you. There are lots of subtle ways that people will view you at the table. 

Your experiment should not be that you will play crazy for a while and assume people will spew off money to you. It must be that you will play crazy and then see what happens. Also keep in mind that it is very difficult to build up a tight image these days, you need so much of a sample size and mindful opponents that it’s rarely worth the investment! 

Picking on someone
Pick a specific person and only mess with that guy. Three-bet them a lot, raise them all the time and see how they react. Maybe they will lie down and take it forever – that will teach you that some players will take much more abuse than you ever could have imagined! On the other hand people may tend to have a breaking point, and once they reach that you can observe some cool changes in their game. 

Playing weirdly 
Doing weird stuff like min-betting, three-betting really tiny or betting twice the pot on the flop are all examples of weird plays that you can throw at the game. See how people react. If you sit down and take weird lines people will not know how to react to you. If you can figure out their reactions it can be very profitable. 

What you are looking for is getting people to level themselves. When somebody knows deep down they should fold because you never bluff in a certain spot…but he’s seen you three-bet ten times as soon as you sit down….they just can’t find a way to fold to you. Just in case you are bluffing. If you can figure out ways to manipulate your opponents into levelling themselves you will quickly add a lot to your win rate.

This article is an extract from Classroom: Experimentation by CardRunners coach [vital]Myth. To watch the full video, and thousands more training videos, go to www.cardrunners.com today! 

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