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Playing Preflop (4): Unconventional Plays
Before reading this lesson, you should have previously read through:
- Playing Preflop (1): Open Raising
- Playing Preflop (2): Entering an Opened Pot
- Playing Preflop (3): Calling and Isolating All-ins
By now you should know most of the default preflop plays. However, as usual, there are exceptions to every rule, and you should be able to identify them.
In this lesson, you will learn how and when to get creative for the right reasons, and step aside from the guidelines and strategies recommended in the previous preflop lessons. You will learn what the upsides and downsides of non-standard preflop plays are, how to use them wisely without overdoing it, and how to maximise value in the process.
It sometimes happens that your hand crushes your opponent's range so hard that you decide you are better off letting him see the flop for a cheaper price instead of making him fold preflop. The idea is to let him improve to a second best hand, in order to get more chips in the middle postflop in a spot when you expect your opponent to fold against your preflop reraise with most of his opening range.
This is typically executed by flat calling an open raise in a situation where you would normally 3-bet for value. You should only do this with the very top of your range. In many cases, this will mean just AA because even with KK it is often better to have the combined benefits of taking down a sizeable pot preflop and/or not letting your opponent catch a pair of aces with Ax for a cheap price.
You should avoid trapping in this manner if it is likely that your call will encourage other players behind you to call as well, as the top of your range fares worse in multiway pots. You should also avoid trapping at a table of good players because if your hand gets to showdown, they will realize you employ this strategy. A good player should be able to deduce that this in turn makes your reraising range exploitably weak, and play back at your 3-bets a lot.
Take a look at the following example where trapping might be a good idea:
In this example, assuming that opponent open raises with the range of 77+, ATs+, KJs+, AJo+, KQo, and calls hero's re-push with TT+ and AK, the cEV of the repush equals to around +1,344 chips.
Hero's fold equity preflop: 62%
Hero's equity vs. opponent's calling range: 83%
cEV (repush) = 62% * (3,700 – 3,000) + 38% * (83% * 6,500 – 3,000) = ~ 1344
Under certain assumptions it is also possible to calculate the cEV of the trap in this example. If villain always makes a cbet (50% pot size) here and calls Hero's check/raise all-in on the flop with a second pair, an open ended straight draw, a flush draw, or better, then the cEV of Hero's trap (flat call preflop and check/raise all-in against the flop cbet) is around +1,770 chips. This example is a bit simplified but it shows the nature of this concept.
Hero's fold equity on the flop: 37%
Hero's equity against opponent's flop calling range: 79%
cEV (trap) = 37% * (4,150 – 3,000) + 63% * (79% * 6,500 – 3,000) = ~ 1,770
You can also use this play in order to induce a reraise from a player yet to act. If there are aggressive opponents behind you, they might see it as a good opportunity to reraise after you flat call. Later in this lesson, you will learn why it is so. In this way, you can make these kinds of opponents put lots of chips into the pot with relatively weak holdings, whereas they would almost always fold if you 3-bet.
Another way to trap is to open limp with a strong hand, such as aces, instead of open raising small or open pushing. However, this play tends to be very easily read and can be pulled off only against weak or inexperienced opponents. It is also more risky because you are giving away equity for free and need your opponent to make bigger mistakes postflop to make up for it.
Remember that trapping is a play that should generally only be used with relatively shallow effective stacks – ideally under 20 bb. With deeper stacks, it is almost always better to reraise for value.
Stop and go
The stop and go is a play similar in appearance, where you flat call preflop in the big blind instead of reraising all-in which would be your standard play.
However, its purpose is different, and while a trap allows an opponent to improve and get committed to the pot, a stop and go depends on him missing the flop and being forced to fold, whereas he might feel committed preflop if you pushed.
A stop and go should be executed where a repush is profitable or just slightly unprofitable, but the increased fold equity postflop leads to the stop and go being a better play.
Take a look at the following example, where the UTG minraises and you are sitting in the big blind with a 7bb stack (including the posted big blind):
If you go all-in preflop, your opponent gets more than 2:1 odds on a call, so he probably calls with any holding he has opened with in the first place. Suppose he is a LAG and you can put him on a top 20% range when he minraises. With JTs, you have around 39% equity against this range. That means that the cEV of the repush equals -135 chips.
Hero's fold equity preflop: 0%
Hero's equity vs. opponent's calling range: 39%
cEV (repush) = 39% * 16,000 – 6,375 = -135
However, if you call preflop and go all-in on every flop, your opponent is getting the same odds, but having missed the flop – which will happen relatively often – he should fold often, thus increasing the EV of your play. To keep it simple, let's assume he calls on the flop with a pair or better (excluding a pair on the board) or with any draw (gutshot, OESD, or a flush draw). This means that 40% of the time he folds, and you win 4,250 in chips. When he actually does call, you have 36% equity on average and so you win 5,760 for a 6,375 investment. Therefore, your net loss is 615. Thus the overall cEV of the stop and go becomes +1,331 chips.
Hero's fold equity on the flop: 40%
Hero's equity vs. opponent's calling range: 36%
cEV (stop and go) = 40% * (10,625 - 6,375) + 60% * (36% * 16,000 - 6,375) = 1,331
This example is somewhat extreme since you have a hand that flops very well, and your opponent has a loose preflop range and a tight flop calling range. However, it should help you to understand the underlying principle behind this play.
In general, you should avoid this move with a very strong holding where you would prefer your opponent to call. However, you can balance this strategy with trapping. The main difference is postflop because in a stop and go you generally lead all-in, whereas in a trap you check to induce.
This play is only good so long as your opponent doesn't fully understand what you are doing. Therefore, it is important to avoid using it too often against good opponents.
A squeeze is simply a 3-bet, but in a specific spot. It is important to understand why a squeeze is an efficient play, and that in certain situations it can be done with a wider range than a regular 3-bet.A 3-bet is called a squeeze when the open raise has already been called by at least one player.
The biggest advantage of the squeeze is that the direct reward is larger because there are more chips in the pot to be stolen, and the risk does not necessarily increase. The reason why your fold equity does not drop even though there are now two or more players in the pot is twofold.
Firstly, the open raiser has to think not only about your hand strength, but also he must be wary of the over caller(s) because any of them could wind up with a hand to continue with. On the other hand, the over caller in most cases has a capped range, and even though he can be trapping with a monster, he most likely isn't and will fold to your 3-bet.
The reason why the open raiser has to worry about the over callers more than you need to is because in order to find out if they are trapping, he needs to invest (and hence risk) a much larger amount of chips than you do. That is because calling your squeeze is typically out of the question for the open raiser as he would often end up in a multiway pot out of position. Therefore, he needs to 4-bet if he wants to continue with the hand.
As a consequence of all of the above, the risk to reward ratio tends to be better (lower) than in the case of a simple 3-bet, so the squeeze should be executed with at least a similar frequency to a regular 3-bet against a single opponent in the same spot.
The preflop sizings advised in the previous lessons from this module are recommended as a part of a balanced strategy. However, sometimes when playing against weak opponents who either call too much or fold too much regardless of the sizing, there is no need to be balanced with your bet sizes.
On the contrary, you should take advantage of their tendencies and play accordingly. In particular, this involves minraising from the small blind with weak hands against a very tight and straightforward opponent who doesn't defend with marginal holdings despite having position and getting a great price.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are spots when you should open raise and reraise larger than recommended against calling stations with your strong hands. If you think a given opponent's range is inelastic (that is, it depends too little on your bet sizing) and contains a lot of weak holdings that he would call with, make as large a raise as possible without narrowing his calling range.
An extreme (but sometimes profitable) example is open pushing with AA with very deep stacks (typically during the first couple of levels) in order to get “curiosity calls” from a range like 99+, AQ+, whereas four streets of standard sized value betting would usually lead to getting only a fraction of your stack in the middle.
In this lesson, you have learned that:
- You should sometimes trap in order to reduce your fold equity, or execute a stop and go in order to increase it.
- A squeeze is usually at least as profitable as a 3-bet against a single opponent.
- Against weak opponents, as an exception, it might be better to alter your bet size depending on your hand strength.
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