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Improving Turn Play: Part 1
IntroductionIn this article
- Profitable Preflop Play
- Preflop Hands Charts
- Stealing Blinds
I recently asked PokerStrategy members what street they believed was the most difficult for the average microstakes player. Over 140 members voted and around 60% of them chose the turn. The next closest choice, the river, got only around 20% of the votes. This series of articles will focus on improving turn play.
It’s impossible to play a turn without playing preflop and on the flop. This seemingly obvious observation will guide the discussion. A key fundamental concept to understand is that mistakes on early streets compound on later ones. This can be illustrated by the following picture:
As you address some preflop and flop leaks, the possibility and impact of turn and river mistakes shrinks:
Thus, if you want to get better at playing the turn, you need to go back one step to focus on your flop play. Before you can do that, you need to take one more step back and address preflop play. You need to work backwards to get to the root of the problem.
Only once you address some preflop and flop issues can you start thinking about improving your turn play. It’s important to build a solid foundation from the start. That is the reason the series of articles will have the following structure:
It all starts with your preflop play.
Profitable Preflop Play
This series cannot cover all facets of preflop play, so moving forward we’ll make two assumptions:
- You are playing with an 80 – 125 BB stack. As established in the aforementioned thread, the smaller the stack size, the more important (and thus difficult) early streets are.
- The pot is unopened. No raisers or limpers in front – this is by far the most common situation that you will find yourself in.
So what makes a preflop play profitable? You can profit if one of two things happens:
- You win the blinds.
- You set up a +EV postflop situation.
If a hand is folded around to you, the first thing you should think about is whether or not there are any major fish against whom you have a chance to play a reasonable hand. "Reasonable" in this case is relative depending on the fish. Bearing that in mind, here is roughly what you should be thinking about:
We will analyze this decision tree in much more detail throughout this series.
Preflop Hand Charts
I think preflop hand charts are important but limiting; I think of them as training wheels on a bike. Use them until you have a general idea of why they were constructed, then start deviating from them and making decisions which are optimal for the situation at hand.
, a PokerStrategy moderator, recently said this when the discussion of where players make mistakes came up:
“Most micro players think they can decide preflop what hand to play because they've 'had experience', or they've 'got a chart', but deciding how to play the same hand preflop, from the same position, versus four different tables at the same time? I raised that table so I'll raise those three as well, yes? No!
Planning, you need planning. Ask a millisecond before a micro stakes player clicks a button to call/raise/3bet preflop what their plan is if they get called... and then tell me how many can tell you their plan.”
Basically, you need good reason for your actions preflop. This is exactly what this series of articles aims to address – why some preflop plays are +EV and others are not. We will talk more about opening hand charts and how to construct custom ones for specific situations later.
One of your first decisions in whether to open a hand or not depends on how likely you are to steal the blinds. Let’s start with some averages: I recently looked at a 100k hand sample from one of my 25NL 6-max students. Here is how often he successfully stole the blinds when he opened from different positions:
Here is the data from a 110k hand database of my full ring play at 100NL:
It’s important to note that these are averages. The charts shouldn’t surprise you too much, but it’s good to see the actual frequencies. As you can see, if you open from early position in a 6-max game, you will see a flop roughly 2/3 times. Thus, you need to open a range of hands that plays profitably postflop. On the other hand, when you open from the small blind in a full ring game, you are unlikely to see a flop, so your range can have a lot of weak hands in it and remain profitable.
The next step is to examine in what situations these frequencies move up and down.
Imagine you are sitting at this table and it folds around to you on the button:
You face a tight short-stacker in the small blind and a regular TAG with a standard 3-bet percentage in the big blind. Your probability of stealing the blinds will be high and you should open with a wide range here. You should also open to 2.5 BBs, since the short-stacker will usually 3-bet shove or fold.
In this example, the loose-passive player is in the small blind and the loose-aggressive player is in the big blind:
Now, your likelihood of stealing the blinds decreases. You are likely to see a flop or face a three-bet from Phil, the LAG in the big blind. Thus, you need to tighten up your opening range to hands that will play well postflop. You should open your strong hands like TT+, AK to at least a pot-sized bet and punish the blinds for their loose play.
While opening hands like 95o in Example 1 would be profitable with the tight players in the blinds, you should fold it in Example 2. It will be a losing play, since you are likely to either be 3-bet or go to the flop with a hand that doesn’t play well.
In the next article, we’ll examine what you should consider if you are unlikely to steal the blinds and thus likely to have to play on the flop. Central to this discussion will be the right side of the preflop decision tree (Figure 3 from above).
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