The Transparency of the Minimum Raise…

February 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

No Limit Hold’em is so-called for a reason – unlike Limit poker, where our betting choices are defined by the limit put on how much we can add to the pot at each betting juncture, NL affords us literally unlimited flexibility.

However, when presented with such an abundance of choice we are also given the opportunity to make mistakes, and the minimum raise is one such fundamental part of the NL game that in some respects – for the vast majority of players – is best avoided altogether.

Let’s see why… Read more

Be in the Driving Seat

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Apart from at the higher levels, a typical NL cash  game will often see players, with each new hand, slotting into their roles in that once a pre-flop raise has been called the aggressor will be allowed to continue in the same mode. The callers essentially oblige by checking to keep the spotlight on the raiser, a tactic that gives nothing away in terms of information but runs the risk of giving too much away in the shape of the initiative which, like position, is a key part of the game.

Note that we need to make the distinction between out and out aggression for aggression’s sake (such as randomly betting big out of the blue) and seeking to assume the initiative in a hand, to dictate the play and secure a level of control.

As long as we execute this strategy sensibly so that our play is believable, finding a balance that makes it problematic for our opponents to pinpoint a definable hand range, then by putting ourselves in the driving seat and encouraging others to passively await our next move we are better able to influence the course of a hand and the rate at which the pot builds.

As well as making us difficult to handle, being in possession of the initiative in turn serves to unsettle the opposition when it comes to making decisions based on their own holdings. The less control they have in determining how a hand unfolds forces them to make more mistakes and, significantly, to arrive at decisions that in themselves are not disastrous but are incorrect and, over time, contribute to our edge. Typical examples of this are when assuming the initiative allows us to take down a pot through a pre-flop raise and subsequent (consistent) continuation bet, or – equally effective – to steal an uncontested pot away from someone who’s ahead of us but feels unable to wrest the initiative away from us.

Of course engineering a ‘driving seat’ strategy takes some effort and experience but, generally, if we can get used to concentrating on assuming control when being involved in a hand rather than being one of the passive check/callers, we’re already taking a valuable step in the right direction.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

No Limit Cash Games Guide Part 2

February 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, Featured, News, Poker School

The hand we all want to see – whether it’s FL or NL – is a pair of aces. Not surprisingly there is more than one way of playing, but in certain circumstances in the popular lower buy-in NL games that most people play, which are often populated with at least one person who is up for an occasional pre-flop duel, the all-guns-blazing-all-in isn’t as silly as it might seem. It is particularly worth a try when a few players have limped in or a couple have called a small raise, at which point going all-in will get action (sometimes even from more than one player!) more times than we’d imagine. Tables with a recent history of these all-in encounters are also good for our attempt with aces. What often happens is that there will be a brief period of mass activity, during which maybe one player’s inability (on seeing so much in the pot) to resist a gamble will prove infectious, and then without warning the tempo of the game will suddenly return to a more sober pace.

Of course rather than recommending we assume gung-ho mode every time we are dealt aces, the point is really to make players with little or no experience of NL games aware of the fact that even this kind of unsubtle, extreme play is by no means unusual in this format. Moreover it would be unusual to play for an hour or so and not see at least a couple of pre-flop all-in match-ups, and when they do happen they won’t necessarily involve aces, either.

Nevertheless, as always, patience is an absolute imperative. There should never – in any format – be any rush to win, and this is especially true of NL games. We should be prepared to mix our play occasionally with ‘outrageous’ moves with aces, for instance but, in the main, by biding our time we are able to be both solid and tricky.

Cutting our way through the NL jungle with a purposeful, measured aggression helps us get used to both avoiding unnecessary gambles and closely observing the play. We should anyway be keeping an eye on how the others are playing (during all hands, not just those we’re involved in) but this is a must in NL.

Losing our stack because we simply failed to notice a particular aspect of someone’s game is a sin. Observing what others are doing and earning ourselves a reward through our diligence and patience is what we sat down for in the first place.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador 



No Limit Cash Games Guide (Part 1)

February 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Newer players might have noticed that these articles tend to feature Fixed Limit as well as No Limit cash games.

When we first start out the FL format is more player-friendly than NL because each betting stage has, as the name suggests, a (modest) maximum bet, so we are not in any danger of making errors that could cost us our whole stack.

Many people then try out NL but decide to continue with FL as their game of choice, while the attraction of NL is obvious.

Of course the two formats could hardly be any different, with the excitement factor of NL being something that we should be looking to exploit when dealing with those players who enjoy the thrills and spills. People watch big pots played out on television and want to reproduce the situation online, pushing all-in pre-flop with all sorts of mediocre holdings. This is pure gambling and, as such, could pay off, but money is money and making a habit of this risky play can soon put a dent in the bankroll, even at the lower buy-in/blinds tables.

Poor odds remain poor odds, regardless of the stakes. Don’t be fooled into thinking that small stakes NL can be played more liberally – the cards don’t know how much we’re playing for, and the shrewd players will gladly take our money.

The first thing every player looking to change from FL to No Limit games should do is completely ignore whatever criteria they have been using thus far for hand selection. While there are some hands that are strong whatever the game, in NL the emphasis is on betting and implied odds and so on, as opposed to FL where – special circumstances aside – starting hands dictate the play.

Therefore calling a modest pre-flop raise (i.e. a small percentage of our chips) with, for example, 6c 7c (mostly a muck hand in FL) is perfectly acceptable in NL. The idea here is to flop hands such as two pair, trips and juicy straight and flush draws, with the aim when hitting of cleaning out the pre-flop raiser intent on seeing a strong pre-flop hand hold out to the river. Let’s say someone has QQ and the flop comes 477 (and we’re the only two left in the pot) – chances are big bets will follow and our opponent will be unable to get away from the hand. This is just one of many examples of a hand’s potential thanks to the nature of the betting in NL.

For more NL cash game advice tune in next time to Part 2…

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador    



Fixed Limit: The Big Blind

January 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

How best to handle our BB is always tricky, regardless of the format we’re playing, although some games are easier than others. In the case of a NL cash game, for example, the pre-flop raise can be big enough to make folding an easy decision, but in FL the betting cap means that subsequent pot odds are more significant in the BB. Consequently calling with non-premium hands can offer decent value. The trick in making the best of this awkward position is to be on the lookout for opportunities to turn our BB situation around to our advantage.

While I advocate getting used to folding what tend to end up as lost causes, it helps to recognise, for instance, the NL-style Button raisers so that we can try to turn the tables on them by calling and then putting them under pressure on the flop.

Incidentally we often read about ‘defending’ the blinds and so on but, from a psychological perspective, I think it’s preferable to approach this kind of situation, when faced in the BB with a pre-flop raise from the Button (and nobody else left in the hand), to see a call itself as an act of aggression. The point is not to be passive but to assume the initiative. And remember that taking such a stand costs us little.

Let’s say we are in the BB on a €0.20/0.40 short-handed FL table. It’s folded round to the Button, who seems to be have been making more than his fair share of raises, and does so again; the SB folds. The pot now stands at €0.70 (3.5 ‘small bets’), and we need to invest only one more small bet of €0.20 to see the flop. Thus we are getting odds of 3.5/1 to lock horns with the raiser. Notice that our actual starting hand is not a critical factor here, rather the attractive odds and the dynamics of the scenario.

Against this type of player – whose primary aim is to steal the blinds without a fight – we are simply looking for the kind of flop that misses even a generous raising range of starting hands, so something like 2c 5d 7h is ideal and thus ripe for the taking. As far as a Button holding such as Ac Ts is concerned, not only is this a useless flop, but of course we could have gone along for a cheap ride with anything. Apart from the fact that our random holding could well have connected here we might anyway have been calling with a better hand than AT.

As long as we have a solid table image we are in a perfect position to take the pot now with a decent sized bet, while there is also the more adventurous option of a check-raise (but remember checking offers a free card). Essentially we are using the psychology of the situation (based on what we have observed about this player thus far, as well as our perceived table image) to transform a random BB pre-flop call into a steal by – in this case – representing mediocre hole cards when the rags flop misses the raiser.

As with many things in life, this kind of play should be used selectively and not habitually, but it is the richness of poker that enables us to maximise profitable situations from the collective employment of such luxuries. As usual, experience helps, so don’t automatically call in the BB, but don’t automatically fold, either.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador



No Limit: Pot Control

August 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

No Limit: Pot Control

How many times have we flopped top pair on a dry looking board, managed to induce a couple of bets from a lone opponent and then lost a hefty chunk against a hand like two pair? Pot control is an important part of NL strategy designed to cut down on these avoidable disasters. The aim is to prevent the pot from becoming too big so that we are less likely to face difficult decisions – and make mistakes – as bet sizes consequently increase.

Let’s look at a typical scenario with this potentially problematic example of top pair.

In late position we hold Ks Jc and are the lone caller of a standard pre-flop raise. The flop brings Kh 6d 2c, giving us a welcome top pair, but our solid opponent then opens the betting. We know that much of the time this will be a continuation bet on a missed flop and, in position, decide to call in order to await developments on the turn, which brings an ostensibly harmless 8s. True to c-bet form, this time our opponent checks.

The ‘natural’ thing to do here is simply to follow what has happened thus far and conclude that we are indeed ahead and that it is therefore time to take over the initiative and bet. While we may well be in front, this is one of those situations that can get out of hand by blindly betting in response to the assumed weakness of a pre-flop raise and subsequent flop bet that appears to have run out of steam.

What might happen if we bet? First, if we are correct, and our opponent has missed the flop completely or is way behind, then we will pick up the pot immediately. Not a disaster, but treating top pair this way has the downside of scaring off hands like A8 from which we can still induce a value bet/call on the river. This failure to possibly extract maximum value is bad enough, but another problem situation arises in the event of a call, in which case we’re approaching the river armed only with top pair yet facing the prospect of having to deal with a bet that will now be bigger because we voluntarily juiced up the pot. And without superhuman reading skills we are likely to call and lose more than we should have to hands such as 88, 66, 22, AA, AK and so on. And this potential problem would be compounded had we rather uncomfortably called a raise on the turn.

So we see that despite it seeming quite standard to bet the turn here it serves merely to introduce the possibility of getting us in hot water due to the inflated pot, while the ‘good’ news when picking up the pot on the turn might reward us with less than the hand deserves.

However, by checking we keep the pot at a more modest size so that we are subsequently able to either sustain the considerably smaller loss should we call on the river and lose, or win at least as much as above if we are (as expected) ahead by value betting. Additionally, checking the turn also induces weaker hands than ours to bet the river, again rewarding us with a bigger pot.

Pot control is a very useful way of keeping our feet more rooted to the ground when we might otherwise have invested too much with a hand like top pair and in doing so run into trouble when having to face bigger bets. Leave the monster pots for your monster hands.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD)
32Red Poker Ambassador


No Limit Hold’em: To slowplay, or not to slowplay

August 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

No Limit Hold’em: To slowplay, or not to slowplay

‘Slowplay’ seems to be simultaneously a four-letter word and one of the joys of poker. We have all been guilty of doing it when we shouldn’t; it gives us great joy, yet can also cause heartache. There is a reason why advice such as ‘only slowplay sets on unconnected, rainbow boards’ crops up in strategy articles. However, the fact that slowplaying big hands can lead to disaster doesn’t mean we should remove this weapon completely from our armoury. The trick is to avoid digging our own proverbial grave by being tempted in situations that are shouting out to NOT slowplay, while keeping our eyes peeled for those times when it is appropriate.

The main debate we have with our poker conscience in NL is whether or not to try slowplaying pocket aces pre-flop. Often the fear of scaring everyone off the hand by opening the betting sees us limp in and then end up in the nightmare scenario of a multi-way pot. We might have succeeded in disguising our aces but we, too, are completely in the dark in terms of knowing anything about the strength or otherwise of all the other limpers’ hands and, unless one of the two remaining aces appears, the situation is potentially ruinous. For many players it is a case of once bitten twice shy when this happens, and the notion of slowplaying gets an undeserved lifetime ban.

The ideal opportunity comes when we are in early position at a table of players who have more aggressive tendencies than usual. Of course we must be prepared for these players to decide to go against ‘type’ and still find ourselves seeing the flop alongside numerous limpers but, when there are enough aggressive players behind us in the pre-flop betting, someone will usually raise, thus opening the door for us to re-raise. Typical dream pots see us win an explosive hand against a lone player with a lesser pair or AK, or someone might throw in a reraise so that our enormous further raise is more likely to get action because it will look more like a squeeze play.

Regardless of whether slowplaying like this works, we need nevertheless to incorporate such a play into our repertoire for the sake of balance, slowplaying having particular significance for our table image and subsequent big hands when others witness what we have done, thus sowing the seeds of uncertainty in the opposition’s minds – are we limping with aces again, or does our hefty pre-flop raise indicate aces?

Slowplaying post-flop is even more complex as we have to take into consideration who (including ourselves) was doing what during the pre-flop betting as well as the texture of the board, the tendencies of anyone still involved in the hand and so on. Obviously the more players we are up against and the more ‘connected’ the board, more can go wrong, hence such nuggets as ‘only slowplay sets on unconnected, rainbow boards’ being worth our attention.

We’re much happier slowplaying AsAc on a flop of 2s 7c Kd than if the flop came 8h 9h Th, the latter simply having too much potential for others and none for us. Indeed slowplaying would be awful on a draw-heavy, co-ordinated board – far better to make a genuine attempt to take the pot with a bet that means business (and denies draws value) and then decide accordingly if anyone comes back fighting: even two players willing to get dirty here means it’s very likely time to get out of the way.

As our hand becomes stronger, the more correct it is to slowplay, to an extent that with a monster it is practically imperative in order to give the opposition enough chance to catch up sufficiently to justify staying involved. Checking the flop with a full house, for instance, also has the advantage that even if an opponent fails to improve their hand they might be tempted to try a bluff in reaction to our perceived weakness.

Note that slowplaying takes different forms against different types of players. Aggressive players might build the pot for us, whereas passive players tend to need us to make modest bets to build the pot because they might check to our check.

Of course slowplaying is not confined to pre-flop or on the flop itself, but whenever it presents itself as an option, we should remember to take into consideration the relevant factors such as those mentioned, not least our own table image and history in similar situations.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD)
32Red Poker Ambassador


No Limit: The Double-Barrel

July 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

No Limit: The Double-Barrel

As we become more experienced in NL we start to make use of the Continuation Bet, which, in a nutshell, is when we follow up a pre-flop raise with another bet on the flop, regardless of whether we made a hand. In an ideal world we are then rewarded by taking down the pot then and there when the one or two remaining players fold. However, in the real world what happens all too often is that our ‘cbet’ is called and we find when the Turn card appears that we still have no hand.

This is when we are faced with an awkward decision: do we continue the aggression with a further bet, or check out and hope for the best? Not surprisingly there isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer, but (and perhaps also not too surprisingly) if we err too much on the side of caution we’re simply giving up on opportunities to take the pot. Of course if we make a habit of the double-barrel, or fire when circumstances suggest we shouldn’t, then we will be undone by predictability, poor play or both.

While it is possible for the double-barrel strategy to work against several players, chances are that against three opponents, for example, someone will have caught enough of the flop to justify staying in contention, so here we will deal with a few tips to keep in mind for those situations involving at the most two opponents who pay to see the flop.

One key factor is the board itself. Some flops will be much more likely than others to have connected with the opposition’s hand, in which case alarm bells should be going off, while other uncoordinated, raggy flops tend to miss a caller and are thus ripe for an initial continuation bet and often the double barrel.

Let’s say we get a lone caller to our Button pre-flop raise and the flop of Kd 6c 7c fails to connect to our hand. Our opponent check-calls and we see the Turn bring an unwelcome Qh. There are now simply too many possible good hands, from made big pairs and better to flush and straight draws, meaning that it is highly unlikely we can take the pot with a bet here. Time to be realistic and keep the powder dry.

Now for an example of a board that shouts out for a double-barrel. This time the flop is J82 rainbow and it is significant already that our pre-flop raise and first cbet were indicative of strength. When the Turn brings the 5 of the remaining suit, it is far from likely, compared with the K, Q and suited connectors of our first sample hand, that the opposition still has much of an interest in this board. By betting the Turn our line is consistent with a range of hands from an overpair, AJ, JJJ, 888 and even the cheeky 222. Indeed unless our opponent actually holds one of these or a decent Jack, then a bet here should induce a fold (even the latter hand would probably fold).

It is imperative that the size of the bet is big enough to get the job done, so assuming our flop cbet was between ½ to 2/3 of the pot, then now we should be firing in the region of ¾ of the pot – failure to bite the bullet (my apologies) when double barrelling is a sin.

Note that these examples are pure ‘bluff’ double barrels; with an appropriate balance we should be able to integrate similar betting lines when we hit or when we flop/turn big draws.

Finally, don’t forget to keep an eye on stack sizes in order to avoid the embarrassing situation of firing out bluff-bets until the opposition has practically run out of ammunition and is going to be pleasantly surprised after calling with whatever’s left.

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD)
32Red Poker Ambassador


Fixed Limit: The Big Blind

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

How best to handle our Big Blind (BB) is always tricky, regardless of the format we’re playing, although some games are easier than others. In the case of a No Limit (NL) cash game, for example, the pre-flop raise can be big enough to make folding an easy decision, but in Fixed Limit (FL) the betting cap means that subsequent pot odds are more significant in the BB. Consequently calling with non-premium hands can offer decent value. The trick in making the best of this awkward position is to be on the lookout for opportunities to turn our BB situation around to our advantage.

While I advocate getting used to folding what tend to end up as lost causes, it helps to recognise, for instance, the NL-style Button raisers so that we can try to turn the tables on them by calling and then putting them under pressure on the flop.

Incidentally we often read about ‘defending’ the blinds and so on but, from a psychological perspective, I think it’s preferable to approach this kind of situation, when faced in the BB with a pre-flop raise from the Button (and nobody else left in the hand), to see a call itself as an act of aggression. The point is not to be passive but to assume the initiative. And remember that taking such a stand costs us little.

Let’s say we are in the BB on a €0.20/0.40 short-handed FL table. It’s folded round to the Button, who seems to be have been making more than his fair share of raises, and does so again; the SB folds. The pot now stands at €0.70 (3.5 ‘small bets’), and we need to invest only one more small bet of €0.20 to see the flop. Thus we are getting odds of 3.5/1 to lock horns with the raiser. Notice that our actual starting hand is not a critical factor here, rather the attractive odds and the dynamics of the scenario.

Against this type of player – whose primary aim is to steal the blinds without a fight – we are simply looking for the kind of flop that misses even a generous raising range of starting hands, so something like 2c, 5d, 7h is ideal and ripe for the taking. As far as a Button holding Ac, Ts is concerned, not only is this a useless flop, but of course we could have gone along for a cheap ride with anything. Apart from the fact that our random holding could well have connected here we might anyway have been calling with a better hand than AT.

As long as we have a solid table image we are in a perfect position to take the pot now with a decent sized bet, while there is also the more adventurous option of a check-raise (but remember checking offers a free card). Essentially we are using the psychology of the situation (based on what we have observed about this player thus far, as well as our perceived table image) to transform a random BB pre-flop call into a steal by – in this case – representing mediocre hole cards when the rags flop misses the raiser.

As with many things in life, this kind of play should be used selectively and not habitually, but it is the richness of poker that enables us to maximise profitable situations from the collective employment of such luxuries. As usual, experience helps, so don’t automatically call in the BB, but don’t automatically fold, either.

Good luck at the 32Red Poker tables!

AngusD


NL Cash Games: Bluffing

January 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

32Red's Poker School Blog

32Red's Poker School Blog

Here are a couple of ways to successfully incorporate more bluffing strategy into your game. While shoving all-in on the river is the more obvious ploy which, unless executed sensibly, will see your money disappear, there are more subtle methods, too.

Exploiting Late Position Thieves

Button raising (as well as aggression in the cut-off) has become such a popular play nowadays that habitually surrendering the blinds is simply passing up on opportunities to exploit what is often just a pre-flop steal attempt. Obviously you must observe the play closely (as always), but be prepared when in the blinds to 3-bet light against those players who are stealing in these late positions. Given that most players ordinarily raise in late position with a considerably wider range, your post-flop continuation bet should be enough to take the pot. Note that the very reason this works is your willingness to assume the role of aggressor when out of position, so it is important not to make a habit of this play. The trick is to do it enough so that, when used properly, picking up pots uncontested in this way has the potentially lucrative benefit of seeing your hands being paid off when you later 3-bet light in the same circumstances with big hands against increasingly non-believing and frustrated opponents.

Check-raising against Serial Continuation-bets

This is another out of position bluff aimed at punishing those players who invariably follow up a pre-flop raise with a continuation bet. Again the danger is that your strategy becomes as predictable as the play you are trying to exploit. But once again, by picking up pots (this time including your opponent’s post-flop c-bet) with this out of position check-raise bluff (when the flop looks like it missed your opponent), you are more likely to have your monster hands paid off. And with this in mind, whenever you subsequently check it is by no means an indication that you don’t have a strong hand, which in turn makes the opposition‘s decision making more awkward.

Good luck at the tables!

AngusD