CardRunners pro Ed Miller explains how you can use the overbet to your advantage in micro-stakes online cash games…
If you are reading this strategy piece on overbetting you are probably okay at poker, but there are always plays you can add to your game. There’s nothing here that will tear down your entire game and ask you to start over – the goal is to give you food for thought and to think outside of the box with new plays that will hopefully give the regulars in your games fits. When people in poker talk about playing the player it essentially means you are looking for the right non-standard lines to use at the right times.
It is tough to move up in stakes these days. It used to be a lot easier. I have been playing poker for over ten years and it’s tougher than it has ever been. My goal here is to show you the work you need to do to move up, whatever stakes you play and whatever your goals are. To move up at poker requires work away from the table, unless you’re some kind of freak player. For most people they need to think about what they are doing away from the table, write things down and work through problems before they can really add something meaningful to their games. Unless you actively think about the advice here it will not help that much. You must do the homework.
What micro-stakes players learn
There are certain things that all microstakes players learn if they are looking to get better at poker. One is how to play a solid preflop strategy. This includes not limping in with trash. Then there is learning how not to stack off with second-best hands. You may take this for granted now but it is a huge evolution in any microstakes player to learn that when the big bets come out you can’t just be stacking off – you have to learn how to get away from hands. Another key thing all micro-stakers learn is how to play position, including attacking the blinds, barrelling and so forth. All of this involves some basic hand reading. You wont be able to succeed at these stakes without a basic appreciation of hand reading. These skills will help you hold your own online in something like a $10NL or $25NL game.
Why do micro-stakes players learn these things?
If you ask anybody if poker is a card game they say no, poker is a game where you play the player. Everything is player dependent. If your opponent is doing this then you do that and vice-versa. I don’t think anyone will disagree with that, yet I have just shown you that within that, you have learned how to play your cards and not just the player. You have learned that one pair when somebody makes a big raise is often not good. You have learned that a certain hand in a certain position probably will not be profitable. This is learning primarily about hand values more than anything else.
There is not a whole lot of analysing in-depth about the other players. At this point your analysis will rarely go beyond broad strokes such as ‘this guy is tight’ or ‘this guy is loose’. You are not deconstructing what they are doing to try to take advantage of them. Why are you focusing on the card stuff when everyone seems to agree that the key to poker is playing the player?
It’s because everything you learn in the micro-stakes is designed to stop you losing! The whole goal is do not lose money. If you happen to win it’s because players in your game are dumping money around and you happen to be there to get some. If you can just focus on not losing and get in games with terrible players then you are likely to win. That is how a beginner will learn how to win at poker.
What micro-stakes players DON’T learn
I see micro-stakes regs building up a wall around themselves where they are playing not to lose. This is especially true if they are mass multi-tabling. They don’t learn how to beat up other regs playing the same. Anyone playing micro-stakes at the reg level will consistently be doing things that are exploitable, however most of the regs are content just to break-even with the other regs! I hear all the time that it is all about game selection – and to a certain extent it is – but, unfortunately, if you have any hope of moving up in stakes significantly then this approach is not good enough! If you can’t beat the microstakes regs in your games then take a shot in a $5/$10 game and you will be a massive fish. That shows you where the difference is in terms of skill level. If you are not actively trying to beat the other regs you are a fish too. And unfortunately there just aren’t enough wandering idiots these days to do well at poker without getting good at the game.
This is the first possible weapon you can use (out of dozens) to help you try and storm the other micro-stakes regs. I am referring specifically to overbetting on the river when you bet 2.5x the size of the pot. So if the pot is $5 you bet $12.50. It’s a very big bet. Something you should know is that many of the very best, most dangerous cash game players are well known for using this play. If you’ve ever watched High Stakes Poker you’ll have seen Tom Dwan making big overbets on the river. Isildur and the other big high stakes players are constantly overbetting. It is also something that most micro-stakes regs essentially never do.
The thing about overbetting is that it allows you to bluff nearly 50% of the time. From your opponent’s perspective you can be bluffing nearly 50% of the time and be nearly unbeatable. It allows you to turn dead hands into pot winners because you can bluff more when you are overbetting (as it is harder for the opponent to call you). The other thing about overbetting is that it maximises the stakes and therefore also maximises your opponent’s mistakes. If you are playing in a game where the pot is $5 and you make a $2.50 bet then presumably you are hoping that your opponent makes a mistake against your betting strategy. That’s great, but what if you could bet five times that amount and also get your opponents to make mistakes against that bet size? Hopefully those mistakes will be on average about five times bigger than the mistakes your opponent will make against smaller bet sizes. When you force your opponents to play bigger pots those mistakes are also bigger.
More things to know about overbetting
The more emotional people get in pots, the less clearly they evaluate an overbet. A clear emotional response is when somebody really doesn’t want to be pushed around. It is not a mathematical response. If you look at the game mathematically you either have calls or folds and the idea of getting manipulated does not enter into it. The more emotional you can get people, the less clearly they will be able to solve situations. You want your opponents to act emotionally instead of going through the maths. They are more likely to make errors in this case.
The negative thing about overbetting is that you really do not want to overbet into the nuts! It’s the Achilles heel of this strategy and you need to know this.
The maths of overbetting
Let’s say there is a $40 pot with $100 stacks and you shove $100 as a bluff to try and win the $40 pot. To break-even this play must succeed 72% of the time. If your bluff succeeds more than this it is profitable. If it does not it isn’t profitable. If I showed this maths to a typical micro-stakes regular their reaction would often be ‘thanks, but no thanks!’ They would often say that instead you should bet smaller and give yourself less risk.
I look at things a different way. Assume that you can limit your opponent’s hand range to mostly middle-strength hands. This is the key assumption for all hands where you might overbet. Somehow your opponent has lopped off the very top of their range and they cannot have the nuts. A lot of lines where you can successfully use overbetting is when an opponent has established that they have a medium strength hand. Once this is clear you can value bet some hands that you are pretty sure beat him. Of course, it will be difficult to have a better hand always but sometimes you basically know that you are ahead and can value bet. But you can also bluff.
From your opponent’s perspective he is getting $140-to-$100 to call an overbet. These are not great odds and he needs to be good 42% of the time to break even. If we only bet half the pot he would only need to be good 25% of the time to break even. It makes calling a lot easier. The bar for calling an overbet is a lot higher.
Example of when to overbet
A reg opens from the cutoff and you call in the big blind. The flop comes J-9-3 with a flush draw and you both check. This check could mean a number of things, but let’s say it often means the opponent has a medium strength hands like 9-8, 6-6 and so on. The turn is an offsuit 7. You bet 2/3 pot and he calls. It is not important what you have. When he calls it solidifies that he has showdown value but also that his range is very limited because on two separate occasions he has failed to put in more money when he had the chance. He checked back the flop and then just flat-called the turn. If he had a big hand like J-J or T-8 he must try to put some more money in the pot by now and most regs would know this. The river is an offsuit 4 so the board reads J-9-3-7-4 with a busted flush draw. Your opponent has taken a pot-controlling line that indicates showdown value but denies real strength (such as two pair or better). If you had J-9 here you would know that your opponent is weak and may feel like you should bet small to milk him out of a bit of money. In a vacuum that makes sense but it doesn’t exploit the information we have. Betting half the pot doesn’t do this. The problem comes in when we are bluffing. If you are just betting half pot you probably should not be bluffing very often because you are giving him a great price to call, when you know he has showdown value. It allows your opponent to snap off bluffs and get to showdown cheaply. Betting 2.5 times the pot however lets you bluff more and exploit the information that you now have. If you bet this much you also get more value when you do have a hand.
What overbetting achieves
First, it pulls your opponents way out of their comfort zones. They are just not used to dealing with these bets on a regular basis. It raises the stakes and does so on your terms. You are playing your own game for more money than your opponent wants to be doing. And it forces your opponent to figure it out quick or risk making big mistakes for big money. Often they will just fold far too much! Once your opponent finally adjusts you should stop overbet bluffing to this degree.
The catch to this strategy is that the play depends on the accuracy of your read. You must have put your opponent on a limited hand range so that you are very rarely bluffing into the nuts.