No Limit Poker: When a Value Bet is a Loser

February 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

‘Value’ is often used in poker and, being such a sensible sounding word, tends to be incorrectly assigned to situations where ‘caution’ might be a more prudent subject matter. A very common example of this is when players, believing they have the best hand against a lone opponent, attempt to extract the maximum from a hand in which they have been making the running by raising the river for value.

Of course such a strategy may well add a few extra chips to the coffers but, alas, doing this kind of thing can be a recipe for disaster. Apart from laying ourselves open to a massive bet (bluff) that forces us to make an awkward decision, there is also a good chance that we are falling into a trap. And herein lies the crucial difference between value and a good old common sense slice of caution – a distinction that we come to appreciate with experience.

Here’s a typical example of this kind of scenario. We are dealt Ad Qd on the button and our standard raise is called by the big blind and a mid-position limper. The flop comes Ac 8d 5s, giving us top pair with an attractive looking kicker, a backdoor flush draw and, of course, we have the advantage of position. It’s checked around to us and we make a pot-sized bet which is called only by the big blind.

The turn throws up the 3d, which is both pretty innocuous and not exactly unwelcome as we now have a nut flush draw to add to our collection. The BB checks once again and, perhaps buoyed by the turn, we make another pot-sized bet which, again, is called. It’s by no means clear what our opponent is holding (maybe a flush draw), which is more troubling than we might assume because poker is all about information, and it can be more convenient to know we’re up against a strong hand than a complete unknown.

The river is the 5c and, breaking the rhythm of the pattern of play thus far, the BB bets around a quarter of the pot. If it was a – now unfulfilled – flush draw, this could be an attempted steal against our possible, albeit unlikely bluff. Alternatively, we might have been up against a poorly played pair of tens or even 8 9. Not only is this the kind of thinking we should adopt, but the process should have started earlier (in fact we should get used to it from the very beginning of a hand). It prevents us from, in a situation like this, now raising with our absolutely beatable top pair and being called by a holding like 8 5, thus wasting money. The possible hands we’ve just considered wouldn’t be calling a raise, and there’s a chance we could even finding ourselves calling a crafty re-raise here. Note that by raising we are also walking into hands such as AK. Moreover, even if we held AK ourselves a raise would still be foolhardy.

Essentially, a would-be value bet can end up being a losing bet, so beware, and listen out for those internal alarm bells that come with experience (and are heralded by a paired board!)

Good luck at the tables!

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

No Limit Bullies: Run? Or Rope-a-dope?

February 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Here’s a typical unpleasant poker experience – having eagerly anticipated sitting down to play a hopefully rewarding poker session (and with that familiar determination and confidence with which we tend to begin), perhaps after brushing up on our game, things soon don’t appear to be going as we had planned. Read more

Short-handed No Limit Poker Tips

January 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Years ago, when first introduced to online poker, we would start off on the No Limit path by sitting down at full-ring games, where the conventional, solid ABC approach tends to be a good foundation on which to build a repertoire of strategies. It’s a good idea to do the same today, not least because it teaches us to have patience and appreciate the (relative) value of starting hands.

However, short-handed poker is so popular now that we tend to try out the murkier waters of 6-player tables earlier in our careers, and it’s important to appreciate the implications of there being fewer players at the table. Read more

Expected Value in Poker

July 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Many poker strategy articles start with something along the lines of there being countless strategies, tricks and traps ‘but this particular subject is especially important’ etc. Well, there are indeed countless important aspects of the game… but understanding Expected Value (EV) is absolutely crucial if we have any intention of actually playing poker properly, because it is the subject about which decision making revolves.

Expected Value is the bedrock of poker thinking. As far as poker is concerned, it is – as its name suggests – the average amount (of chips/money) we expect to win/lose on our bet. Whether it’s a raise, bet, call, check or even a fold, any action brings with it an expected value. Clearly, depending on the outcome, these values will not only be both positive (win) and negative (lose), but there will also be varying degrees and extremes of expectation.

Note that it’s not merely a case of maximising our gains, but that we should also endeavour to be prudent in terms of minimising our losses, and thus have respect for the significance of EV each time we are faced with these important junctures of the decision making process.

Ideally, then, we would like to approach each situation with a view to making the play that has the greatest EV over time, +EV being how we describe a positive expectation play and -EV a negative expectation. Those who make +EV decisions make money in the long-term, and those prone to -EV decision making are long-term losers.

EV can be well explained in the context of the traditional coin flip game. Normally this 50-50 proposition (let’s say the stakes are $1 per flip) represents neither +EV or -EV as the heads/tails distribution over time is going to be evenly split.

But what if our opponent offered us $2 for Tails and we have to pay them $1 for Heads? Of course we’d be more than happy with this +EV situation because, over time, we’d come out on top.

But what is our expected value per coin flip? To calculate EV we simply multiply the results of the possible outcomes by their probability and add them together.

In this case:

Heads – we lose $1
Tails – we win $2

Each outcome is 50% likely and thus has a probability of 0.5

Therefore we have the following EV (Heads + Tails):

EV = (-$1 x 0.5) + ($2 x 0.5)
= (-0.5) + (1.0)
= $0.50

Thus for each coin flip we will win an average of $0.50 – note that the whole point of EV is that we are not concerned with a one-off outcome. We don’t care in this situation if Heads comes up a dozen times consecutively (remember we must have a bankroll big enough to survive such a bad run) because over time we will come out ahead. After 10 evenly shared outcomes, for example, we will lose $5 but win $10 for an overall profit of $5, which is $0.50 per flip.

Of course this is a rather simplistic illustration but, essentially, it is exactly what we are aiming for when playing poker – in other words, recognising and extracting maximum value for ourselves over time while trying to engineer situations in which our opponents are getting poor value.

In Part 2 we will see EV in action.

Good luck at the tables!

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

The Crafty Re-Steal (Part 2)

June 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

Given that the subject of the re-steal involves bluffing (we wouldn’t really be stealing if we had a better hand), getting acquainted with typical situations and features related to the re-steal is imperative. Another scenario that tends to be more difficult than we think it should is making the most from a pot when we’re strong, but at least then we have the advantage of ‘knowing’ that we will pick up chips. But with the re-steal being a bluff this certainly isn’t the case, and we obviously need our opponent to fold their hand in order for us to win the pot.

In Part 1 I mentioned that our table image is a factor as our action needs to be believable, but of course it pays to closely observe the opposition, too (remember we should anyway be doing this at all times, as a matter of course). Clearly, the best players from whom to re-steal are those who we believe are stealing in the first place. It takes one to know one, as they say. And, often, those who we will spot as thieves tend to be the better players who are indeed better because part of their overall, successful strategy is accumulating chips through helping themselves with well-timed but deceivingly ‘regular’ pre-flop raises.

Note that we need also to be able to make the distinction between this kind of player – whose prudence and practical superiority leads them to fold when we strike – and others who are prone to raise pre-flop. Wilder players may well react to our three-bet by putting us all-in, for example, and if we find ourselves in this position a couple of times (and folding, of course) it’s time for us to take a step back and perhaps pull something different out of our bag of tricks.

Meanwhile, as regular readers are well aware, poker is closely related to chess in that in both we need to get used to thinking ahead. There’s no point trying to re-steal if we’re lost for a plan when we’re called. Which brings us to both our cards and our position.

Rather than being in the unenviable position of fighting for the hand with a mediocre ace, for example, when we could well be dominated and simply not know where we stand, we’re better off with a small pair or 67s, for instance, which are both potential monsters and easier to handle.

As for position, we will usually be in the blinds representing considerable strength against a late position raise. But of course should we be on the button and the opportunity to re-steal arises, then it’s time to step up the pace, our move being more likely to work – especially against better players – thanks to our being in position.

Good luck re-stealing!

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

No Limit: Playing an Underpair

April 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, Featured, News, Poker School

Calling a pre-flop raise with a medium pair against a single opponent is clearly a decent play and tends not to be too difficult to handle when the flop comes because the combination of the board and the opposition’s action (or lack of it) gives us quite a bit of useful information.

Facing a bet from the raiser on a flop containing an ace or king isn’t good news, but at least we can give up the chase with a clear conscience (we could be up against a random pre-flop raise and subsequent continuation bet but – particularly at the lower levels – it wouldn’t exactly be a shock to be up against top pair).

But what happens, for example, when we have called with 99, there’s a queen-high flop such as Q 7 2 and our opponent opens with a bet? This is indeed something of a poker conundrum. Of course there are numerous factors to take into account that will be specific to the situation, but this is one of the many scenarios that we can contemplate in advance to make life so much easier.

It is possible we are dominated by aces, kings, AQ, KQ and even QJ, which is why previous history can be important. But if we are dominated by a pair of jacks or tens, a hefty enough raise should be enough for us to steal the pot. We will also take the spoils if our opponent has thrown in a c-bet with AK (again, more than a fair share of similarly aggressive plays will help us come to this conclusion).

Either way, with a flop that doesn’t quite tell us as much as we would like in terms of where we stand, a call here might very well not be the most practical of our options.

Good luck,

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

When not to bluff…

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

Picture the scene – the hero (a rugged, strong and silent type) has just gone all-in on a scary looking board, having put his house, car, all his money and his faithful wife’s family jewels on the line. The only other player left in the pot, who has been loud and arrogant until now, suddenly looks uneasy. Colour seems to be draining from his face as he takes a long look at his cards and he curses his bad luck as he throws them down on the table and surrenders an enormous pot. Our hero finally smiles as he reveals a brilliant bluff, and we all live happily ever after.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we feel that a hand is slipping away so try to bluff the river against a player we’ve thus far struggled with. We’re called and the session goes from bad to worse. Unfortunately the latter scenario is the more accurate description of the two, and this is because bluffing is a difficult part of the game to get to grips with. Moreover, to compound the problem, we seem to miss the best opportunities yet bluff when we shouldn’t.

In order to help minimise our mistakes, here are the times when we should avoid bluffing. It’s a safe bet to assume we’ve all been guilty of not heeding the following advice. Of course these are guidelines rather than inflexible, absolute rules.

Don’t bluff when we’ve recently been caught bluffing

Even if it’s possible that we could be as crafty as a Bond movie baddie and thus might get away with it, generally we’ll be caught out once again. After a failed bluff it tends to be a good idea to keep the bluffing powder dry for a while.

Don’t bluff into numerous players

Again we might pull it off, but it wouldn’t be surprising that a bluff into a multi-way pot won’t make its way through all the players – someone is likely to make a stand, and (remember) any made hand beats us.

Don’t bluff against weak players

This is just as foolhardy as trying to steal from several players, as it only takes one weak (and ‘fearless’) opponent for a bluff to fail. Some people simply won’t back down with any type of hand, and they even like the idea of rooting out bluffs and (worse) keeping players honest. Instead of bluffing against them, wait for a strong hand and let them call when they’re behind.

Don’t bluff immediately after coming off worse in a big pot or straight after a bad run of hands. There’s a very good reason for this: we could well be on tilt, in which case consciously keeping a check on how we react to reverses can help nip emotionally driven mistakes in the bud, and, importantly, even if we’re not tilting, if someone thinks we are we’ll anyway be called.

Don’t bluff when bluffing is the most plausible play

This isn’t as strange as it sounds – there will be situations where various factors combine to make a bluff the most reasonable means to pick up the pot and, against experienced players, attempting to do so will set their alarm bells ringing.

Don’t bluff on flops that may well have hit the opposition

A typically dangerous flop would be a co-ordinated one such as QT9, for example, while it is generally a risky strategy bluffing with an ace showing as many players are in the habit of sticking with an ace and subsequently not letting go when they connect with the flop/board.

Finally, try not to bluff when the pot is so big it will justify a call. In such circumstances players are more likely to call by convincing themselves they’re being bluffed, or even ‘mistakenly’ call in the hope of having the stronger hand.

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: Can we play a full ring table in short-handed mode?

November 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Angus Dunnington, News, Poker School

The answer should really be no, but that isn’t to say we should discount the possibility altogether. In the ‘old’ days, when online poker more mirrored the traditional casino version, full tables were not only considered a good starting point for beginners – as is still the case – but also a more popular choice for experienced players than we see today.

As the game became more tactical and aggressive the 6-max tables saw a considerable gain in popularity, the modern style of getting involved more in the action being the appropriate way of addressing the more frequent blinds.

So-called tighter players prefer to stick to full ring games, which have the additional attraction of being cheaper due to the cost per hand thanks to the ‘longer’ orbit – this might seem insignificant but over many hands makes a big difference. ‘Fewer’ blinds also means that not needing a compensatory loose approach tends to produce less variance and this, in turn, allows us to feel a little more relaxed than might be the case at a 6-max table.

Because there are far more short-handed tables nowadays (as well as heads-up tables, where tight in its literal poker sense simply won’t work), and because short-handed poker is viewed as the more fashionable and exciting game, people tend to discount full ring as an option despite the fact that it might well suit them better. But even if we ultimately end up choosing 6-max there’s something to be said for trying out bigger tables in order to better appreciate such aspects of the game as hand selection and patience. Full ring play also places more emphasis on stronger hands and implied odds.

Furthermore, once we have spent some time on both kinds of table we can return to full ring and exploit the players who are clearly the archetypal tight, conservative, no-risk full ring regulars as well as those who demonstrate little or no experience and are just too loose. It is indeed possible to apply short-handed bullying tactics and (re)steals and so on at a full table, rather than feeling that by definition we must revert to a style of ABC poker that runs the risk of being one-paced.

Poker has evolved enough over the years to afford us some flexibility.

Good luck at the tables!

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

Heads-Up Fun with your Redbacks!

32Red's Poker School Blog

32Red's Poker School Blog

I mentioned a while ago that 32Red Poker now gives you more ways to use your Redbacks (RB). Remember that you earn Redbacks while you play, whether it’s on cash tables, in a sit & go tournament or scheduled multi-table tournaments. Quite simply, for every $1 you generate in rake or tournament fees, 32Red rewards you with 10 Redbacks and, as well as being able to use them for 32Red Poker’s multi-table tournament buy-ins, you can now play for ‘free’ in the Sit & Go section too (watch out for ‘RB’ next to the buy-in info).

I recommend the exciting world of Heads-Up tournaments. In fact there’s such a good selection on offer it’s worth taking the time to see which particular format suits you best. For example you can choose from a simple €5+0.50 HU match-up – which will cost you around 750 Redbacks – to win the €10 prize, start another one, and so on, or for the same RB750 outlay enter a 4-player HU winner-take-all tournament, win the same two matches and instead pocket €20 for 1st place. And if this challenge seems doable, then there are 8-player HU tournaments with a 70%-30% split for the two finalists. This means that winning the first two matches guarantees you a minimum payout of €12, and a €28 return for your RB750 if you win the final! Note that buy-ins go up to €10+1, while 8-player tournaments are available for €1+0.20/RB163 and you can play 1-on-1 HU for as little as $0.10+0.01 or 11 Redbacks!

As well as deciding between the number of players you must also choose between so-called Normal, Super-Turbo and Extreme formats. These are quite different in terms of blind levels and thinking time, so it is important that you find what’s right for your game. Normal HU means 8-minute blind levels, 25 seconds response time and a 60 second time bank, while in a Super Turbo you get 5 minutes, 20 seconds and 45 seconds respectively. Extreme lives up to its name with 2-minute blinds, only 15 seconds to make your decision and a 30-second time bank – considering that (with starting stacks of 1500 chips) in this case after 10 minutes the blinds will already be up to 100/200 whereas in the Normal format you’d be only a quarter way through the 15/30 level, the conditions can be drastically different.

Whichever you play in, remember that in these tournaments it is imperative you adhere to the age-old sporting golden rule of taking the matches one at a time. And remember, too, that it’s great fun!

Good luck at the tables!


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