You Don’t Pay Attention
A lot of your problems in poker could be fixed if you started paying a little more attention. Just ask yourself if what you’re doing makes sense or if you’re just reacting because you think you’re on auto-pilot.
For the most part, chances are that you don’t really pay attention, and that’s one of the reasons why you can’t figure out why you keep getting in difficult spots. In my previous series on tactical poker compared to strategic poker, I showed how a lot of people just play on auto-pilot using tactics like stealing blinds, continuation betting and double-barreling. These tactics work as prescribed 80 percent of the time, but that other 20 percent of the time when they don’t “just work” will absolutely kill your win-rate.
Thankfully I have a solution here that will show you how to kill off a lot of your auto-pilot problems without having to resort to some big paradigm-shifting change in your poker framework.
When Top Pair Sucks
A good example of tactical thinking is betting strongly with top pair. A majority of the time this is going to be a decent enough play. However, that minority of the time when it isn’t is going to wipe out most (if not all) of your profits from the times that it’s the correct thing to do.
Suppose you face a pre-flop raise in a 100bb NLHE cash game from MP and 3-bet with something like K9s from the button. Everyone folds but MP who calls. The flop comes 844 giving you a flush draw. MP checks, you correctly make your semi-bluff c-bet, and MP calls. The turn comes a 9, and MP checks once again.
I can guarantee that the vast majority of the people who read this would fire off another barrel, and I can guarantee that it would almost always be the incorrect play.
Yes, you have top pair along with a king-high flush draw. However, if you think about your opponent’s range for just a moment, it becomes clear that you should not be betting here. First off, you’re not going to get him to fold almost anything that beats you, so the notion of semi-bluffing is all but completely out the window. Second, you definitely aren’t going to be getting calls from hands that you beat, so you can’t claim that it’s for value. The third factor, and possibly the most over-looked, is that checking has a high EV here because of your overwhelming number of outs and the fact that you’re most likely behind to some sort of large pair.
As you can see here, a small amount of strategic thinking makes it easy to spot what’s wrong with the “routine” tactical play.
What to Think About
So I just got through tearing you a new one for not thinking more about what you’re doing. Now I’m going to show you what you should be thinking about to avoid a lot of these “dumb mistakes” that you realize are mistakes as soon as you consider the key piece of information that brings the correct play to the light.
Your Opponent’s Range
If you’re a fan of older Nintendo games, then you might be surprised to know that there was a special Beginner’s Circle Edition of Super Mario Bros 3. The entire game only lasts about 23 seconds because it’s designed to teach you one thing:
Put your opponent on a range.
In your practice and study, this should be a bit detailed with an actual list of individual hands, etc. However, at the tables, your thinking should be a bit more general, and it should only take a couple of seconds.
When you think about your opponent’s range, however briefly, you will eliminate a lot of the mistakes that you make already by blindly following your auto-pilot mode. A general consideration of your opponent’s range is all that it takes to break out of this auto-pilot mode where tactical decisions are deployed automatically 100 percent of the time instead of just the 80 percent of time that they are correct.
Why This Works
The majority of tactical decisions are based on your opponent’s range and how he or she will be playing it. When you stop to think about what you’re doing in terms of that range, then it breaks you out of this “automatically pushing buttons” mode of thinking and brings you into the present moment long enough to quickly decide if what you’re doing is a good idea or not.
In the 3-betting example that I gave above (which was based on a recent SSNL forum post), a quick audit of your opponent’s range would have been enough to tell you that betting the turn wasn’t the best idea. It only takes a couple of seconds, but it will drastically increase the power of your play, and it could be the single easiest change you can make to your play that will reap the largest rewards.
How to Get Better at Ranges
A lot of you reading this aren’t going to feel comfortable dealing with ranges. That’s fine. What’s not fine is if you decide to just ignore all of this and not do anything about being not-so-confident about handling ranges.
There’s a really simple way to get better at dealing with ranges at the table. All you have to do is break down the hands you study in terms of what your range is and what your opponent’s range is at any given point. If you do this for a few dozen hands and start to pay attention to the patterns you see, you will automatically do better with building a general understanding of ranges that will come out at the tables without you having to do anything special.