Scout’s honour: Win your poker badges and become a winning $1/$2 cash game player

Cash game pro Simon Hemsworth wants you to join the Scouts in a bid to earn badges and become a winning $1/$2 cash game player. Be prepared…

Every boy in my class used to go to Scouts when we were kids. After swimming a length, painting a picture or helping an old lady across the street we would get a badge for our achievement and feel all good about ourselves. Imagine if you could get that feeling when you accomplish something in poker? Wouldn’t achieving a balanced three-betting range or running a successful triple-barrel bluff be so much better if you got a badge at the end of it? Well, this is my Scouts Poker Challenge. The challenge is to become a winning player at $200NL. To do this you need to complete five tasks and earn five badges. Do this and you’ll soon be Head Scout of the $1/2 pack!

The three-betting badge

To achieve this badge you will need to be three-betting over 7% of hands over a sample of 50,000 hands. Although 7% is acceptable to earn your badge, you really should be aiming for a figure like 10-11%. Having a three-bet percentage above 7% is beneficial for a number of reasons. Firstly at the $200NL level the regulars in the game will be aware of your three-betting range and therefore it is important to keep this wide enough so you are difficult to play. If you only three-bet premium hands your opponents will notice your low percentage and conclude you always ‘have it’ when you three-bet. As a result you will start losing value when you are dealt Aces as opponents will start folding hands like 9-9 and K-Qs to your three-bets.

Moreover, three-bets in position are effective regardless of your holding, so should be utilised with a wide range. With 100BB stacks there are not many good options for opponents when they are out of position and facing a three-bet without a premium hand. They could call and play a bloated pot out of position or four-bet and risk getting five-bet. Because of this you should be the one three-betting tons in position and not just with Aces.

Aggression badge

Although the Scouts would not advocate aggressive behaviour it is allowed, and encouraged, within your poker game. To be a winner at $200NL you simply must take aggressive lines whenever appropriate as passive play won’t cut it. Let’s look at an example of the sort of play in a hand that will earn you this badge.

You raise the cutoff with 9h-7h and get called in the big blind by a competent regular. The flop is A-4-2, your opponent checks, you bet and he calls. The turn is a K. Your opponent check/calls again. The river is a 4. The villain checks again, you bet three-quarters of the pot and the villain tank folds.

Preflop is standard, as is the flop bet on a board with one high card and two low cards as the villain will fold a lot. The turn brings a flush draw, as well as the King that almost never hits the villain’s range, but could hit ours. It’s a card we should be barrelling and one most players of this level play this way.

The river is where many aspiring $200NL players will wrongly check back. The villain’s range is heavily weighted towards A-x one pair hands, as better hands like sets and two pairs would likely raise before the river and it’s unlikely the villain is calling two streets with worse than A-x. The 4s is interesting because it’s seen as a bad card to bluff because it does not change much. If the villain had A-x he may feel he is often calling for a chop, which reduces his pot odds. Many aspiring $200NL players will feel getting folds from A-x will be difficult but when you take this line versus a thinking opponent you will get a lot of folds.

Taking aggressive lines like this will prove to be very profitable in the long-term and you shouldn’t be put off by the times when you get hero-called or when the villain has slow played a monster. The extra money you will make in non-showdown winnings will push your overall profits up considerably.

Table selection badge

In order to earn this badge you need to either sit in games where you can identify the weak spots and therefore your edge, or in games where you feel you will improve by playing in them. In order to make money in poker we obviously need to sit in games where we have an edge. Sometimes this isn’t always very clear, especially if there are players in the game who we don’t recognise or know how they play. As a general rule you should try to identify weak spots in games and therefore exactly where your edge will be coming from. When deciding whether to sit in a game, seat position is always key. Playing in a game with one 30BB fish and with a good, aggressive regular to your left may be unprofitable. On the other hand sitting to the left of a weak regular who tilts a lot and has money to reload may be extremely profitable.

The alternative is to play in games where the main motivation is to improve. This does not mean the games have to be -EV, but you are more likely to get better in games which include tough opponents. Although $200NL is a level where you can make good money you should never rest on your laurels as online poker continues to get more difficult. Because of this it is essential to always look to improve and playing in tough games is a great tool to do this.

It is important to involve both of these forms of table selection for the good of your own poker game and the games you play in. Playing in profitable games is obviously essential as you must play enough games to win, and therefore show enough profit to be considered a winning player. But for the longer-term approach you also need to sit in games where you may have a negative edge in the short-term for the benefit of becoming a better player in the long-term. It is also good for internet cash games if more players are willing to play in many different games so that there is more overall traffic. The worst thing that could happen is for everyone to be too strict on table selection and for no games to run. So for the sake of everyone that plays online cash games it is best that you all take a negative edge at some point.

Tilt badge

To be a winner at $200NL cash games you must keep your emotions in check. Tilting is a big no-no. To earn this badge you need to keep tilt down to an absolute minimum. It would be unrealistic to have to never tilt to earn the badge as tilt is something that will affect everyone at some point, and often in very subtle forms. Tilt could manifest itself by slipping to your C-game because you are mildly irritated by being five buy-ins under EV for a session. Such tilt is acceptable every so often and happens to us all.

However the raging tilt where you start raising every hand, bluffing every street and generally playing terrible simply cannot happen. Ever. There are many examples of poker players who play great 95% of the time but tilt hard the other 5% of the time. This 5% of tilt ends up costing them all the profit they made during the 95% of good play. Your positive edge at $200NL will be small when you’re on your A-game but your losses will be relatively monumental when you go on tilt.

Unconventional line badge

Of the five badges needed to achieve the aim of becoming a winning $200NL player this is possibly the most difficult. At this level, it is important to mix up your play and occasionally play unconventionally. This makes you difficult to face as opponents will second guess their decisions and make more mistakes as a result. Taking an unconventional line does not mean it has to be –EV, it just means it is one that is uncommon and rarely utilised and will often occur in special circumstances. Here is an example of an unconventional line that takes place because you and the villain have a lot of recent history of aggressive confrontations.

Villain raises from early position, you call with As-Js in the cutoff and everyone else folds. The flop is A-9-7, the villain bets and you call. The turn is a 3 and it goes check/check. The villain bets the 3 river. You raise, the villain shoves and you call. The villain shows 6-6 and you win.

This is not typically how these holdings on this board would play out and you decided to take an unconventional line, which worked out great due to your advanced thinking on the turn and river. Preflop is standard as is the flop. With the aggressive dynamic you would expect the villain to bet all hands that are better than A-J on the turn so you are very confident that you have the best hand at this point. Betting would be the standard line here, but you decide to check because the villain’s check seems weak so it’s unlikely you can get two more streets of value. By checking you hope to gain more value on the river. When the river comes a Three it’s a very innocuous card. When the villain bets you raise because your hand is very under-repped at this point and raising will look extremely odd as the villain will have expected you to bet your good value hands on the turn. When the villain shoves it makes no sense based on the previous streets so you are happy to call here.

Playing this hand unconventionally has gained you an extra buy-in. It is important that unconventional lines should only be taken when the special circumstances dictate. Such lines should be used rarely as keeping to the fundamentals as much as possible is also very important.

If you can complete all these tasks then you are well on your way to becoming a winning player at $200NL, as well as gaining the respect of your fellow $1/2 Scouts and maybe even the worldwide Scout Leader, Phil Ivey.

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