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StrategyWeekly No Limit

Crushing NL50 (3) - Postflop: Advanced Concepts

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Crushing NL 50 (3) -
Postflop: Advanced Concepts

by Hasenbraten

In this part of the column series "Crushing NL 50" we will discuss further basic concepts of the postflop game, but this time we will go into more detail. You will learn what a "range" is, how to work with it and how to assess your opponent's range. You will also learn about "way ahead - way behind" situations and receive more information regarding pot control, protection and extracting value.

Thinking in Ranges

First off, a range is a group of different hands. A single hand like A, T is a very specific range, something like AQs+, AKo, QQ+ would be less specific.

The term "range" is frequently used for a set of hands that your opponent will most likely hold in a certain situation. To shorten this, we generally use the XY+ notation. 

The "+" means an increase in the kicker, so "AT+" as an example range covers AT, AJ, AQ and AK both suited and off-suited. The difference in the hand being suited or not can be expressed through something like AJo+, ATs+. This range would encompass ATs, AJs, AQs, AKs, AJo, AQo and AKo. A "+" can also indicate stronger hands from the same category like 65+ also including 67s, 87s and so on.

So how do I think in ranges?

You have to realize that your opponent never plays one specific hand, but within a certain range. Try thinking in ranges; it's the prerequisite for hand reading and estimating your own equity.

What exactly does equity mean?

The term has already been used in the last issue of this series, and since we are going to use it more precisely this time, we're explaining it again. The equity of a range describes its marginal value in pot share when compared to a different range, and by taking the board into account.

A range can vary between specifying a certain hand and the most unspecific statement "any two". A feeling for equity is indispensable while playing poker. If you were unsure in a few situations during a session, you should consult the Equilator after your session and analyse your hands thoroughly.

Here are a few examples of equity in different situations:

  • Top-pair versus flush draw with undercards: 65% to 35%
  • Top-pair versus flush draw with two overcards: 48% to 51%
  • Set versus open-ended straight draw and flush draw: 60% to 40%
  • QQ versus a range of QQ+, AK: 40% to 60%
  • Top-pair versus top-pair with a weaker kicker: 86% to 13%

These values can vary slightly depending on the board, but they are very decent landmarks for your own play.

Hand Reading

Let's get to the more practical part of this article: hand reading.

Hand reading is about determining your opponent's range based on the available information. This process requires a lot of experience among other things, no matter how much theoretical content you study. Hand reading takes place at the table and there is no way around trying it for yourself and learning from your own mistakes.

You can hand read by narrowing down each opponent's range step by step. As long as no player is being favoured  by the dealer, you will face nine players (at a 10-max table) with a range of any two and the only known hand being your own.

These players now start playing. If a player raises, his range becomes smaller as he wouldn't raise with just any two cards. This smaller range also depends on his player type, his position and other player's actions.

Let's assume all players before the cutoff fold and this player raises. His range might now consist of 22+, A7s+, ATo+, 78s, T9o+, AQo+ and KT+. To narrow it down even further we should always take all available information into account.

A tight player might raise a few hands less whereas a looser player a few more. With every further action made by this player, his range will get even smaller.

One important thing: a range can never expand. A hand your opponent wouldn't raise pre-flop can never be part of his range after the flop. However, hand reading is never 100% precise, and can lead to further wrong conclusions if your first assumption is incorrect.

To illustrate this with an example:

EXAMPLE 1

100BB Stacks
CO (TAG)
BU (Calling station)

Pre-flop: all fold, CO raises 4BB, BU calls 4BB, 2 folds

Based on your estimate that the CO is a TAG, you assume the CO's range is as follows: A2s+, ATo+, 78s+, T9o+, Qto+, KT+, JT.

For the BU you consider the following range possible: 22-JJ, A2-AQ, 45+ 46+ 58+, Q2+, K2+, J5+, T5+.

This range is pretty wide and he won't cold call with any of these hands all the time; perhaps with broadway cards, but rarely with suited connectors. However, these hands are frequently part of these situations and should therefore be included into the assumed range.

Flop: K, T, 2
CO bets 7BB, BU calls 7BB 

The TAG will not bet 100% out of position against the fish in a situation like this. His range could now be Tx+ with additional draws like a flush draw or QJ for an OESD. AQ, AJ with a gutshot and an overcard are also possible. All in all, the TAG's range should amount to Ah2h+, KT+, QJ, JT+, 22, TT+.

The calling station is obviously likely to call a lot here: any pair, any flush draw, any straight draw, sometimes even ace high. His range should therefore consist of 2Q+ (Q2, K2 and A2 as possible deuces), T5+, K2+, QJ, AJ, AQ, J9, Q9 and XhYh. You can also throw in a few random calls with other hands, such as one card backdoor flush draws, ace highs or similar hands. Two-pair+ hands are also a possibility, as they aren't usually raised everytime.

Turn: 3
CO checks,

The CO will frequently bet made hands here, such as top-pair+. A bet with Tx+ wouldn't be bad, but isn't placed all the time. This assumption leaves you with the rest of the made hands and all the draws that are too weak for a second bluff. If you originally made a mistake and you know that he frequently bluffs with pure air, he might be giving up this bluff now too.

Let's assume the following:

CO: JT, T9 as weaker made hands, AQ, AJ, QJ, XY without a draw.

BU bets 15BB, CO raises All-In 

In this case, the otherwise fairly passive BU will probably have a hand. Given that he will not necessarily raise strong hands on the flop, he probably has Kx or something stronger, and less frequently might have weaker hands or a draw.

The raise that followed the bet doesn't make sense. There is no hand from the TAG's range that he would raise against the strength the BU has shown. It's either that our range analysis went wrong earlier or our assumption regarding the way he plays his ranges is incorrect.

If this happens during the game, you should try to find the error and fix it as soon as possible. If this doesn't work, there is one option remaining: forget your earlier range assumptions and ask yourself if this play could be a bluff, a semi-bluff or value play, and how likely each of these moves are.

In case you don't expect a bluff or semi-bluff from this opponent, you have to estimate your equity against a value range and not forget to take hands into the equation that you excluded earlier. He has to have some kind of hand right? At the table, the following calculations have proven themselves to work best:

Determine your opponenent's range. Use part of this range to make decisions on how to react and make the most profitable decision based on the sum of all these possibilities.

"Profitable" can be expressed mathematically in this case too, but the more options are included, the more complicated it gets. Here is your basic formula:

EV = Pfold * Pot + ( 1 – Pfold ) * ( Equity * ( Pot + Bet ) - ( 1- Equity ) * Bet )

"Pfold" describes the likelihood of your opponent folding, "Pot": the pot without your input and "Equity": your share of the pot. To estimate your profitability, EV=0 and solve the new equation to either calculate the required value or equity ratio.

Note that calling sets makes Pfold zero whereas bluffing sets makes your equity zero. As an example, let's calculate the necessary fold equity for for a pure bluff:

0 = Pfold * Pot + ( 1 – Pfold ) * ( 0 * (Pot + Bet) - ( 1-0 ) * Bet) = Pfold * Pot – (1-Pfold)*Bet

Depending on the bet size, we arrive at Pfold = Bet/(Bet+Pot). If you look at the bet size in relation to the pot size, the new equation will be Pfold = Bet%/(Bet%+1) with Bet% = Bet/Pot. If your bluff with a pot size bet is meant to be profitable, your opponent has to fold in 1/(1+1)=0.5 cases, making it one out of two. If you bluff with just half the pot, your opponent has to fold in ½ / (½ + 1) = 1/3 or one out of three cases.

These and similar calculations form the basis of a mathematical analysis of expected values. In more complicated cases you also need a range analysis to determine the equity and you might also need to assess more complex scenarios. Imagine you are up against two opponents; in this case one, both, or none of them might fold to your bluff bet.

When in doubt, this sort of analysis allows you to at least make rough assumptions regarding the expected value, as you can never make correct assumptions as precisely as you would like. At least you move on from "I think this is correct" to more substantiated statements like: "I calculate it like this and the result indicates that..." which is easier to verify.

Unfortunately, just a few decisions can be verified in such detail. Especially at the beginning of a hand, the vast number of possible scenarios and the sum of all possible mistakes makes it impossible, or at least very hard, to arrive at mathematically grounded conclusions.

Way ahead - Way behind

Let's move on from the very dry mathematical part and the first practical session of hand reading to further post-flop concepts. The first one is called "Way ahead - Way behind" or WA/WB in short. It describes situations that meet the following criteria:

  • You have great equity against one part of your opponent's range
  • You have very little equity against the other part of your opponent's range
  • Both parts are equally likely

Based on these assumptions there is a fairly easy playing recommendation for you:

  • You don't have to protect your hand against draws
  • If you are aggressive, your opponent will frequently fold weaker hands

These two recommendations lead to the conclusion that passively reaching a showdown should be your goal. This style maximizes your profits because weaker hands stay in the pot and you don't keep your opponent from bluffing. On the other hand you also minimize your losses as you don't make the pot bigger than necessary.

It's also important to point out that it's not a WA/WB spot if you are either ahead or behind very often in a given situation. Let's imagine you are holding KK and you don't think that your opponent has AK. In this case, you are either way ahead against anything but aces, or way behind against aces.

However, it's more likely for an opponent to have a weaker pair than you rather than a stronger one, making this spot a non-WA/WB situation. The same accounts for a spot with 77. You might be ahead against smaller pairs, but if you are in an all-in situation, you shouldn't only be up against such a pair, but against much bigger pairs instead. This is why we assume that WA/WB doesn't apply here.

EXAMPLE 2

100BB Stacks
(No information)

Pre-flop: You are CO with JJ
6 folds, Hero raises 4BB, 2 folds, BB calls 3BB

Flop: Q, 6, 3; Pot 8BB
BB checks

So you have 2nd pair. If you are behind you don't have more than two outs. If you are ahead, your opponent has five outs tops, except if he has 45. It looks as if WA/WB would apply here and it almost does, but the arguments for betting outweigh the possibility of WA/WB.

  • There are still hands out there which are weaker, but that wouldn't fold to aggression, such as other 2nd pairs
  • If you just check your hand, you would limit your choice of betting ranges on such a flop, as you would by bluff betting too

You bet 6BB, BB calls 6BB

Turn: 3
BB checks

The 3 is a blank so your opponent might either have a better hand (Qx) or a weaker (6x or pocket) one. If you choose to bet, the latter will most likely fold and you won't have to protect. A second bluff bet is something you shouldn't do too often either, so you can just follow WA/WB here and check behind.

You check

River: 9
BB checks

In this case you can even bet once again for value as your opponent would probably play most winning hands differently If you go for a bet of about half the pot, you will frequently get calls from weaker hands.

If we assume that BB would bet 12BB on the river, our answer wouldn't be as clear. You have shown weakness on the turn, so you can often call on the river, given that your opponent might bet weaker pairs for value, place a block bet or bluff with hands like 45. However, a situation like this depends significantly on your view of your opponent, so we can't make a general recommendation.

Pot control, Protection & Value

Three terms, three spots and three goals:

  • Pot control means that you have a medium hand and want to keep the pot small. This leads to a passive playing style.
  • Protection means that you want to prevent your opponent's hand from improving. This leads to an aggressive playing style.
  • Value means that you assume that your hand is currently the best and you want to boost the pot size. This also leads to an aggressive playing style.

These principles obviously contradict each other and it's not always clear which one to follow. If you have the best, or one of the potentially best hands, your directive is simple: play for value. 

Problems arise if pot control overlaps with protection and/or value spots. for example if you have an overpair on a dry board. Your opponent might have a set or two pairs and your hand would be beaten. Against such hands you should play for pot control or even consider folding.

It looks different if your opponent has a top pair. You should now play for value because his hand allows him to invest quite a few chips too.

Possible scenarios for pot control vs. value could be:

  • TT on 923r, KQ on KT5r etc.

Possible scenarios for pot control vs. protection:

  • JJ on Q, 9, 3; KJ on J, T, 2; 22 on 9, 8, 2, 4 etc.

Each situation is impossible to judge based on such a simple presentation. You have to create an individual plan for every case based on your hand reading and make assumptions on how a particular opponent would play a certain hand. Does he play draws actively or passively? Is he the type of player that will slow play? Will he raise a lot on the flop and if so, with what kind of hands? With what hands does he go to the showdown? Is he capable of folding top-pair? And so on and so forth.

Keep in mind that the pre-flop game limits every player's range drastically, down from 100% to approx. 2%-30%, depending on the situation.

» SUMMARY

You have now laid the theoretical foundation for beating the full ring game. Both your pre and post-flop game should be solid enough to allow you to move on to short-handed games in the next chapter.

Moving to short-handed games isn't necessary at all costs, but most players do it sooner or later. In the next article we will especially discuss playing short-handed pre-flop alongside the open raising chart. The articles after that will go into more detail with advanced concepts and playing styles for short-handed games.