Ask the Right Questions
Friday, 2 July 2010
Have you ever asked a fellow player “Should I 3-Bet from the big blind with
A-Q when an opponent raises on the button?”
Is this a great question?
Is this a terrible question?
So what is it?
Well, in a word, incomplete.
Questions like this show an underdeveloped understanding of the dynamics
of poker. There’s no answer to this question other than “It depends”.
Gone are the days when you could follow some regimented play book and
expect to show a meaningful profit at any limit above the most micro of
micro-limits. This might have worked when the vast majority of the playing
population had little to no idea of the basics of poker play. Back when
continuation betting made you a god amongst men and an isolation raise was
a concept only understood by the cream of the crop.
The fact of the matter is that the game has evolved, the standards have
evolved and – there’s no getting round it – if you want to beat the games you
have to evolve. To evolve, you have to adapt, and adaptation is the key to
surviving in the modern game.
You shouldn’t be thinking, “What’s the best way to play A-Q?” You should
be thinking, “What’s the best way to play A-Q against this particular
opponent in this particular situation?” What hands does this player raise with
from the button? What hands would he expect me to 3-bet with? How will
he respond with the different hands within his raising range if I 3-bet him
here? How about if I called? And so on.
It may well be that, in general, versus the entire playing population, 3-
betting is a profitable play. But the fact is that against certain players it will
be better to fold, against others it will be better to call, and in the long term
you probably don’t want to be playing your hand exactly the same way all
the time anyway.
There are dozens of tiny factors at play and a good poker player takes these
into consideration and adapts to the situation he or she is facing. Poker is a
decision making science and there’s a lot more information to be gathered
beyond absolute hand strength and position. Of course, these basic factors
need to be understood and provide a solid foundation for new players, but
an understanding of the game that plateaus at this level won’t give you an
edge. To make better decisions than your opponents, you have to be able
to absorb and process all the information available and be able to form a
strategy for the best possible course of action in any given situation. In other
words you have to be able to think for yourself, because there isn’t enough
paper and ink in the world to write a playbook for every possible situation
you could ever face.
Let’s take a look at betting. Instead of trying to predetermine which hands
to bet with, we should be thinking about why we would ever want to bet in
general, then we can understand if our hand and situation merit it.
To bet is to represent strength. It is a statement to the other players at
the table that we believe we have the strongest hand or the strongest
circumstances in which to act, and so we wish to raise the stakes to reflect
this. In principle, most bets we make in poker should be for one of two
1 . For value
2 . To bluff
We should bet for value when we believe that our opponent could hold
a hand that is both weaker than our own, but strong enough to call our
bet. We should bluff when we believe our opponent holds a hand that is both
stronger than our own, but not strong enough to call our bet.
In reality, of course, things are not always this clear cut – we may not have
a good sense of our opponent’s cards. However, before we decide to bet, we
should try to have a firm sense of the reasons for our bet.
There is one more reason to bet that falls somewhere between betting for
value and bluffing:
Betting for protection.
As with a bet for value, we believe we have the best hand, but, as with a
bluff, we are happy to see our opponent fold. Despite thinking our hand is
winning, we also believe our hand is very vulnerable. A protection bet is
designed to win the pot then and there; we don’t want our opponent to see
any more cards (for free) that could improve their hand. Unlike a value bet,
we don’t expect our protection bet to be called by worse hands.
So, if you can determine that betting for one of the above three reasons fits
the situation you are facing, you have taken some really positive steps in
terms of decision making. So now, which factors determine how much you
should bet and why? Well, that’s a whole new can of worms, but at least
now you’re asking the right questions.
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