5 killer online moves – and how to counter them

Boost your profits by adding these five online poker moves to your arsenal today

Since the advent of online poker, everything about the game has gone into overdrive. Shuffling is instantaneous, dealing is measured in microseconds and the clock is on as soon as you get your cards. Even casual players now play on multiple tables, while volume has become the holy grail for pros.

Because of the sheer number of hands being logged by players around the clock, the way people play the game also changes and develops at a frightening rate. Players observe what other players are doing and learn how to adapt to them much faster than if they were playing live, resulting in an ever-shifting battleground of strategies and counter-strategies.

Meanwhile, the explosion of forums and training sites means tactics are picked over and discussed every minute of every day. Effective moves are identified and disseminated on sites like 2+2, and before you know it you have a new strategy buzzword. Then, just as the ‘stop-and-go’ or ‘light reshove’ comes along, it’s seemingly out of fashion again, rendered predictable and exploitable as it filters down through the ranks.

Unless you’re a full-time pro, keeping up with these trends can be tricky, so here we’ve assembled five tactics (and counter-tactics) being used by top players. Add them to your arsenal and stay one step ahead of the competition – for the moment at least…

1. The unexploitable shove

What is it?
The so-called unexploitable shove is a move used in tournaments, where the small blind, or sometimes the button, makes a seemingly large open shove preflop, usually for somewhere between 15 and 25 big blinds. Generally there will be antes in play to make the move effective.

Why has it become popular?

The clue is in the name! If used correctly it’s unexploitable – which is not to be confused with optimal, as there could be a better option such as a standard raise. But all the same, a correctly executed unexploitable shove can be proven by maths to be +cEV (chip EV).

What this means is that you could open-shove from the small blind, turn your hand over so the big blind can play perfectly against your hand, and you would still show a profit. How? Because if you shove a correct range of hands they will only be able to call you with a tiny range which, coupled with your equity in the hand, the blinds and the antes, will still see you turning a theoretical profit.

One of the reasons for its increased popularity is the prevalence of three-betting preflop, so simply shipping it in where you appear to be risking a lot to win a little is actually far more profitable than standard raising and intending to fold to a three-bet or a shove. Likewise shoving (from the small blind) negates the problem of having to play the hand out of position if you raise and get flat-called by the big blind.

Making unexploitable shoves is about recognising good spots and pushing small edges preflop. With edges in tournaments ever decreasing it is a sound move to have in your arsenal. Be warned though, as there is a fine line between executing an unexploitable shove and spewing off a stack. However, with practice, experience and use of equity calculators such as PokerStove, advanced moves like this can become second nature.

How to defend against it
Here’s the thing – you can’t. If you’re in the big blind and the small blind makes an unexploitable shove, your hand and the range of hands you’d call with don’t matter – the shove will still be profitable. Of course that’s not to say you should simply give up.

The best reply to an ‘unexploitable’ shove will generally be to fold all but true premium hands, but your range may also influenced by your stack, your opponent (are they sophisticated enough to know what they are doing with this move?), the payouts (are you playing to win or just ladder up?) and so on.

Effectiveness rating – 5/5

See it in action
Learn all you wanted to know about the unexploitable shove in this thread on the 2+2 forums discussing a shove made by Daniel ‘djk123’ Kelly.

2. The river overbet for value

What is it?
An overbet is usually defined as a bet that is greater than the size of the pot. A river overbet for value happens in cash games more frequently than in tournaments, as stacks are commonly deeper and there’s no fear of losing your tournament life.

Why has it become popular?
Two words: Tom Dwan. We’ve seen him make this move very successfully on a number of occasions on shows like High Stakes Poker. We all want to be durrrr so the logic extends that we all try to play like him. It doesn’t usually work for us though, as we don’t have his image or reading skills and our opponents aren’t payoff wizards like Eli Elezra.

Nonetheless, that’s not to say overbetting the river for value won’t be profitable at $0.25/$0.50, it’s just that it needs to be used against the right opponents and in favourable situations. Overbetting the river against a calling station, or an opponent who has gone into check-call mode is a good spot.

Likewise when you’re confident your opponent holds a very strong but second-best hand such as, say, the nut full house against a worse full house, then overbetting the river is genius as it’s almost impossible to fold.

Also, to some opponents overbetting the river looks far more bluffy than simply betting half or two-thirds of the pot. And, of course, opponents don’t have to call this overbet very often to make it more profitable than just betting half the pot for value.

Having the balls to overbet the river when holding a monster takes courage, as it’s naturally so tempting to want to eke out as much guaranteed value as you can when holding a big hand.

How to defend against it?
Folding is the obvious answer, especially as you won’t be getting fantastic pot odds to call. Also, with all the cards out and the information from previous streets available, before taking any impulsive action it’s time to go over the action that occurred on previous streets and try to work out if it smells of value or a bluff.

If you see this move being deployed in a hand you’re not involved in, take good notes. Few players are capable of sometimes overbetting the river for value and sometimes as a bluff.

Effectiveness rating – 3/5

See it in action

Durrrr gets the absolute maximum out of Phil Laak with an inspired river overbet in this hand from the Aussie Millions Cash Game.

3. Pot Control

What is it?
Pot control is a way of keeping pots small, either in tournaments or cash games. This is achieved by just calling out of position preflop with a good but not great hand or checking in position on at least one street postflop. Situations where you might want to play a small pot include spots where you’re either way ahead or way behind, you can’t get three streets of value or you can’t stand a check-raise.

Why has it become popular?
Pot control has become popular as a direct way of combating the aggression in the modern online game, and due to the fashion of playing ‘smallball poker’. In recent times continuation betting has become such an epidemic that players have developed counter-strategies, and these in turn have become widespread.

Many players have realised that check-raising on dry flops such as K-8-2, either as a pure or semi-bluff, will force c-bettors to fold a lot of the time. The check-raise works because on dry flops like this the preflop raiser has either connected well with a hand such as A-K, missed completely or missed with a made hand such as 9-9 through Q-Q that would find it hard to continue, especially in the face of a suspected second barrel on the turn.

As a result, c-betting is far less effective than it once was. Against thinking players a better line is often to check behind and exercise pot control. By doing this you can make a delayed c-bet on the turn and fold out hands that would have called/raised you on the flop (such as bottom pair and draws that haven’t completed).

And when you do have a hand of some sort, you can get mediocre hands to call the turn, where if they had called on the flop you may have had to check the turn and hand them the initiative on the river.

By showing weakness on the flop you may also get them to lead the turn with worse, allowing you to call in position. While this is a valuable play, pot control can sometimes get you into a world of trouble, as you can let worse hands get there and have to make hero calls if they lead into you on the river.

How to defend against it?
Playing out of position is tough, and as pot control isn’t an aggressive play it’s not so much that you’ve got to defend against it as get value out of your big hands when out of position. The best way to do this is by trying to make your foe commit a big mistake. Usually this means leading into them with strong hands and making them play a guessing game.

Effectiveness rating – 3/5

4. The donk lead

What is it?
The donk lead is a term that describes an open bet into the preflop raiser out of position on the flop. This is opposed to the more conventional play of ‘checking to the raiser’.

Why has it become popular?
Ironically the popularisation of this move has its roots in the live game. Gus Hansen’s book Every Hand Revealed, in which he records the key hands from his victory in the 2007 Aussie Millions main event, is partly responsible for the prevalence of donk-leading.

Gus would say, ‘Well I’ve got second pair and a backdoor flush draw – that’s enough for me to lead out here!’ The second reason for its popularity is again the aggression factor in the online games.

A preflop raise, especially one from late position, doesn’t necessarily mean strength, so flat-calling out of position and then leading into the preflop raiser is seen as a good way to steal the pot.

How to defend against it?
Just as the preflop raise no longer means strength, neither necessarily does the donk lead. In its infancy a donk lead was often a set, with the lead hopefully enticing the preflop raiser (whose raise used to mean strength) to make a big mistake and come over the top.

Now a donk lead tends to be quite polarised between strong hands like sets and hands that are, rightly or wrongly, betting for information and to see where they stand. The latter is often a hand such as second pair (something like 8-8 on an A-7-3 flop) or even top pair, weak kicker.

On uncoordinated boards, a raise often gets the trick done and sees the donk-leader slide his cards into the muck. On coordinated boards, especially any that contain two cards between eight and Queen, it’s usually best to give up the hand if you’ve got nothing, as these types of boards smack out-of-position flat-calling ranges square in the face. Even if the donk-leader is semi-bluffing with a draw, he’s got many outs to make his hand.

Effectiveness rating – 2/5

See it in action
To see the donk lead in full effect we turn once again to our friend Tom Dwan and a classic hand from High Stakes Poker. With the pot already bloated Dwan leads right out into two players after flopping a huge combo draw, thereby ensuring all the money gets in the middle.

5. Checking to induce

What is it?
This tactic is used on the flop, where instead of betting with what you believe to be the best hand, you check to under-represent the strength of your hand and induce your opponent(s) to either bet into you or raise you on subsequent streets. While it increases your chances of being outdrawn, it also allows you to win extra bets that you would have lost had you played your hand in a straightforward fashion.

Why has it become popular?
Nobody is ever given credit for having an actual hand nowadays, and if you check back on the flop it’s seen by weaker players as tantamount to giving up on the pot. In this way, a check can actually maximise the value you can win from a hand. Continuation bets also get picked off so frequently these days that (as already discussed) checking on the flop is often the safer play, and ensures you don’t get blasted off the hand on the flop.

How to defend against it?
Don’t automatically assume that because the preflop raiser checked the flop they haven’t got a hand. It’s not always a green light to lead into them on the turn. So if you check and they bet the turn, you call and then they bet the river, it’s very likely that one pair, even top pair, is not winning. The best way to defend against this move is to play as few pots out of position as possible.

Effectiveness rating – 3/5

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