Chapter 3: Playing Solid Poker
The goal of Texas Hold’em, or any poker game, is to win as many chips as possible. In order to do this effectively and consistently, one must lose minimally on hands when they do not win a hand and one must also make the most on hands when they win they hand. It is not important to win as many hands as possible, but if one is playing a hand they should be trying to win unless the hand is cheap to play. According to standard poker, this means that one should not play most hands, but when they do play, they should play to win and the second they seem unable to do so, move on to the next hand. Players who choose to play very few hands should seek to get their chips in with their strong hands.
While there seem to be a lot of rules, if players get together, perhaps at a one of their homes, by the end of the game they will understand the rules. It will take a lot longer, however, for one to understand the strategies and fundamentals. Initially, following this general principle will help a great deal for one’s strategic development in the game: the closer a player is to early position, the more seriously his or her raise should be taken the further a player is from early position, the less seriously his or her raise should be taken. Every player has the same initially probability of being dealt any given hand, however, in early position if a player is to call or raise the hand there is a decent chance another player will raise or re-raise as there are many players who have yet to act. Furthermore, even if everyone were to just call, then there are a high number of players in the hand, making it difficult to win. At a table where there is a lot of raising and re-raising, early position will only want to play especially strong hands as they will end up being forced to fold. In later positions, however, when there are at most 2 people to act when they face a raise, the later position players are more likely to raise with a wider range of hands.
In order to understand, fundamentally, what hands to play from a beginner’s level I have developed a guide of when to play what hands and how to play these hands. This guide is intended to reflect standard play, which will help amateurs greatly. A player who can play a standard game very well can usually make money at the lower stakes of casinos or at a home game, however they will not be able to reliably profit at a higher-stakes game though it will give them the framework to advance their strategy in higher stakes games. At a higher stakes game, playing a standard game is not immensely profitable because all the players there, being seasoned players, have it down to a science and thus know what to expect from others playing standard. While difficult to make much money from playing a standard game at a high, it is impossible to make money without fundamentally understanding how a standard game works, as advanced strategies stem off of poker fundamentals. Without further ado, playing a standard game is following an algorithm of when to play which hands and how to play them. One can learn all of the ins and outs of the standard algorithm and master a standard game. To play a standard game, a player in the following positions should be raising the following hands in a 6-max game, noting to always tighten one’s range in a 9-max game:
Early Position: Any pocket pair, any middle or high ace (A8-AK), or any Broadway combinations (QJ, KQ, KJ)
Middle position: Same as Early position, though can expand the range a little bit to any ace (A2, A5, etc.) and some close to Broadway hands (JT, J9, QT)
Cutoff: Same as middle position but adding connector hands (78, 56, 9T)
Button: Same as Cutoff but adding 1-gap hands (46, 79)
Small blind: Same as Cutoff
The earlier a player is in the hand, the more players one’s raise has to get through to win the blinds. Furthermore, with more players behind, it does not make sense to raise a hand like J9 from early position because when faced with a re-raise, the player with J9 will have to fold, costing chips as well as credibility. When in a later position, for example, in the small blind, a player can raise a hand like 78 but when faced with a re-raise fold. However, because there is only a single player to the left of the small blind they will infrequently be called and they will rarely be 3-bet.
A raise from early position should be 3.5 times the big blind, a raise from middle position or the cutoff should be 3 times the big blind, while a raise from the button or the small blind should be 2.5 times the cutoff. In a 9-max setting this can be adjusted to 4, 3.5, and 2.5 respectively. The reasons someone acting before others wants to raise big are:
To disincentive too many people to participate in the hand by making it expensive to play
To get value for one’s hand
The logic for the first point is that regardless of a player’s starting hand, if there are too many players in a hand it can be very difficult to know the relative strength of one’s hand. The logic for the second point is twofold. The first point being should someone want to play the hand they will have to cough up extra chips and thus pay the early position player, holding the likely better starting hand, a premium to play. If the player is the type to call too many hands regardless, the early position player may as well make them call more chips off rather than less chips. The second point is that when a player is raising from under the gun for value, the range I listed, they are going to try to make a very large 5 card hand and thus when they raise big, they allow for the pot to get very large. The earlier position in which someone raises, the bigger their 5-card hand could develop. Even though a raise from one of the earlier-acting positions should be relatively large, a raise from a later position such as the button or the small blind, according to standard poker, should only be 2.5 times the big blind; the reasons are as follows:
As no more than 2 people are left to act, they will likely fold and if at least one player calls, less chips rather than more chips are put into play with a marginal hand
Should the raiser actually have a strong hand, such as a hand that an early position raiser would have, they want to try to make a price such that a player left to act may defend with a hand like J9 and thus be able to profit should the raising player and the defending player both hit the flop but the raising player has the defending player outkicked (KJ vs J9 on J43 flop)
A defending player will likely fold all their junk hands, and call with perhaps the top 1/3 of their hands. It is imperative for one to understand the fundamentals or poker, that they evaluate the underlying math. The chance that, from the button, both remaining players, the small blind and big blind, fold their hands is equal to the chance that both of them have junk hands. So roughly 44.4% of the time (2/3)*(2/3)=(4/9), a raise to 5 chips in a game where the big blind is 2 chips will allow the raiser to get through both the small and big blind, and thus allowing them to collect 3 (small blind+big blind) chips, uncontested. In a situation where at least one of them calls, by no means does it mean that the raiser cannot win, but I still want to analyze the situation where neither player calls. If one risks 5 chips to profit 3, if this gets through 5/8, or 62.5% of the time one breaks even. The math works as follows, if a person spends 5 chips to break even that person needs an expected value of returning at least 5 chips, meaning they need an expected value of 0 as if they spend 5 and return 5 the play net them 0 chips. If that person is to raise to 5 chips, there are now 8 chips in the pot because the small blind is 1 chip and the big blind is 2 chips. If one does not get called exactly 5/8, or 62.5% of the time, then the expected value for the play is:
EV=P(not get called)*pot-(chips bet)
(5/8)*8 chips-5 chips=0 chips.
However, I just said that one will only not get called 44.4% of the time, meaning one’s expected value is 44.4%*8 chips-5 chips=0.444*8 chips-5 chips=-1.45 chips<0 chips. Here is where post flop play comes into effect to offset the otherwise negative returning play. Whenever one gets called, one will lose money for sure if and only if one’s hand were to have 0 equity against the opponent’s hand or opponents’ hands. However, even one were to have the worst hand in the game, 27 and were up against an opponent with aces, one would still have a 1/8 chance of winning the hand. Usually, a standard player would re-raise not just call with aces, but assuming they just called there is a chance of flopping something strong. The better the hands one plays, the more equity they will have against their opponent. Under the assumption that one raises with 67 and their opponent calls with J9, the opponent unquestionably has the better hand but the raiser still have 36% against his or her 64%. This means that if one’s opponent were to just call and the hand were to check down all the way through, one would not be in horrible shape. 44.4% of the time when opponents don’t call the aggressive player about which I am speaking; they win 3 chips uncontested. In the remaining 55.5% of the time one will get at least one other caller, getting 2 callers only 11.1%=(1/3)*(1/3) of the time, and exactly one caller 44.4% of the time. When one has just one caller, if one has 36% and there are either 11 or 12 chips in the pot depending on which blind one’s opponent called one from, one’s equity would be 36%*11 chips=0.36*11 chips=3.96 chips. When one gets called by both opponents, with 67 up against opponents with j9 and Q8, one still has 27% equity and now the pot is 15 chips meaning their equity in chips is .27*15 chips=4.05 chips. One’s expected value for one’s hand is:
Expected Value=P(both fold)*(chips in pot)+P(one folds and one calls)*(aggressor’s equity)*(chips in pot)+P(both call)*(aggressor’s equity)*(chips in pot)-(chips invested).
This works out to (0.444)*(8 chips)+(0.444)*(0.36)*(11.5 chips)+(0.111)*(0.27)*(15 chips)-5=0.84
The number 11.5 comes from one’s 5+a caller’s 5+the average of the small blind and the big blind.
As 0.84 chips>0 chips, raising to 5 chips from the button seems like a profitable play, in fact one returns 0.84 chips from a 5 chip investment, or 16.8% return on investment. What if one were to raise to 7 chips instead of 5 chips from the button? It is imperative to analyze the math behind this thought so that one knows the effects of doing so. Using the same equation for expected value as listed above but adjusting the numbers such that additional 2 chips per caller is accounted for, the expected value works out to:
(0.444)*(10 chips)+(0.444)*(0.36)*(15.5 chips)+(0.111)*(0.27)*(21 chips)-(7 chips)=0.55 chips
Returning 7.55 chips with an investment of 7 chips is still a profitable play, however, it returns less money in absolute terms than raising to 5 chips as it only returns 0.55 chips instead of 0.84 chips, and in relative terms it only returns 7.9% instead of 16.8%, which is less than half of the relative returns from raising to 5 chips. There are still situations where it makes sense to raise to 7 chips, for instance when an opponent or both opponents are likely to defend most hands and one has a strong hand, which for the same reason as raising to 7 from the early position or middle position seats can be quite profitable. Going back to raising to 5 chips, I already showed how it is profitable even if one gets called under the assumption that the hand checks down. However, raising loosely from the button can be especially profitable if one can realize greater equity than 36%. One’s opponents will usually miss the flop, and they have a tendency to miss certain flops more than others. Imagine that one has 76 against either J9 in the case of a single caller, or J9 and Q8 in the case of two callers. If the flop comes out K34 everyone missed. Even though everyone missed, Q8 has the best hand, followed by J9, followed by the raiser’s hand. However, when it is reasonable for the raiser to have a king in their raising range and their opponents miss the flop, by betting out half the pot or so, both preflop callers will be forced to fold. Betting on the flop after raising pre-flop is known as continuation better or c-betting. If one is to get called by both players one must to give up unless that person make a hand, for instance, if a 5 were to come the preflop raiser would make the 3-7 straight, which is the best hand possible, also known as the nut. In this case, the 3-7 straight is called the nut straight. If the raiser gets called by just one player, the caller does not necessarily have to have a king, as they are likely to have a hand like A5 where they will call 1 time hoping that either the preflop raiser was bluffing and gives up after the flop or that the preflop raiser has a hand that currently beats their hand, such as KJ and the caller is hoping to improve by catching another 5, an ace, or a 2 on the turn. If another card comes that the preflop raiser believes does not help the caller and believes that the caller has a relatively weak range, perhaps middle pair or worse, then they can bet the turn and take down the pot. Even if the preflop raiser hits a 6 or a 7, they will bet the turn expect this time it will be for value because most of the hands that the caller will have will not include top pair or better, and thus the preflop raiser usually will have the best hand and does not want the caller to realize free equity. Of course the raiser is delighted when the caller does not believe them and decides to call them again with a hand like A5 but they want to get paid for an opponent’s mistake and not give the opponent a chance to improve their hand for free. Lastly if the calling player choses to call again, in the case of hitting a big hand on river, the aggressor will bet for value. If the aggressor, after trying preflop, flop, and turn to win the hand misses the river and they believe that their opponent is planning on calling if they were to bet on the river, they will check back the river. A monumental mistake a lot of players make, one I made when I was younger before I got my poker ego under control, is trying too hard to win every hand. If one thinks that their opponent has top pair or better on the flop, they should not even bet the flop unless they have a massive hand. However, one should still c-bet, according to the standard playing algorithm I am showcasing, because one has no reason to believe that one’s opponent has top pair or better before they call or raise the flop. If the opponent calls very quickly and one has nothing on the flop, it makes sense for the aggressor to simply give up because this way they will lose minimally instead of losing a large amount of chips. Because players miss the flop 2/3 of the time, for the same reason as raising pre-flop, particularly when heads up, that is only 1 player remaining, or when the flop comes out something that callers usually wouldn’t hit such as 236, one should be c-betting. One should not be c-betting if the board comes out something that is strongly in their opponents range and one misses the flop as doing this gives one’s opponents free chips, rather than losing minimally. A single opponent will fold something like 70% of the time one c-bets and either call or fold the remaining 30%. 2 opponents will both fold roughly 49% (0.7*0.7) of the time, both will call or raise 9% (0.3*0.3) of the time, and one will call or raise while the other will fold roughly 42% of the time (1-0.49-0.09 or equivalently in stats notation 2(cr)1*0.3*0.7). If one has 1 opponent in the 11.5 chip pot discussed earlier, when their opponent folds 70% of the time they bet around half the pot, call it 6 chips, then the aggressor’s expected value is:
0.7*(11.5+6)+0.3(one’s equity)*(11.5+6*2)-(one’s investment)
For this play to be profitable, is must equal a value greater than 0, which in this case any number between and including 0 and 1 for one’s equity suffice
The aggressor’s expected value needs to only be 0 or higher to justify making this play long term. The math works out in such a way that the expected value equations neither take into account previous investments in the hand nor the times an opponent or two opponents re-raise the preflop aggressor. As poker as a game played at the margins, sunk costs are sunk. One cannot fully make decisions on the basis of chips they have already lost and try to recover them in making a future play. One is able however, to partially do this as the amount of chips in the pot include their previous investments in the hand. If a player is down for the game, they should not focus on money lost in previous hands, they should only focus on money going forward. When a player into which the aggressor raises decides to re-raise (3-bet), this is not factored into the expected value. It works out into the net transfer of chips the same way previous actions do not affect marginal decisions, it simply means that if the aggressor has a strong hand they call or reraise and they fold if they do not have a strong hand, which saves them from spewing additional chips later in the hand. When one is beat and their opponent has a hand that one cannot reasonably get them to fold, they need to immediately stop bluffing and fold the second their opponent bets.
Speaking of when to fold, prior to the flop, players have several options; here is how a player should defend various hands as well as when players should re-raise (3-bet). Because a player raising from an earlier position will have a stronger hand on average than a player raising from a later position, the range of hands one should be defending against earlier position players should be stronger than the range of hands one should be defending against earlier position players. Because of a concept called reserved implied odds, which says that if two players have hands that hit hard on a given board, the one with the worse hand will lose a lot of chips because both players will put in a lot of chips as they both think they have strong hands. An example of reverse implied odds is as follows:
the early position player raises to 7 chips with KJ and the small blind decides to make a loose call with JT.
The flop comes out J34 and when the early position player puts in a c-bet because the defender hit top pair, they of course will have to call.
Assuming the board remains jack high and a ten does not come, the player with JT can be out quite a few chips while KJ will be profiting.
Players should only defend hands that they can play profitably. Players should 3-bet hands from which they would like to seek additional value. The later one’s position, the wider one’s range can be. If the following positions raise, the following hands should at least call:
Facing an early position raise: exclusively pocket pairs, good aces, and KQ
Facing a middle position raise: same response as for early position raises adding in KJ and middle aces (A8+)
Facing a cutoff raise: Same as middle position adding in KT, QJ, QT, and JT
Facing a button raise: Same as cutoff as well as any ace, middle kings & queens (K8+ Q8+), J9, as well as connecter hands (78, 9T)
Facing a small blind raise: same as the button with 2-gappers (46, 8T)
Facing a big blind raise*: Same as a middle position raise
*Note, this will only occur when everyone in the hand just calls (limps), and the big blind raises big (squeezes)
Now, I said that the hands above were worth at least calling, but not necessarily just calling. A player should raise with their hand if their hand is ahead of the raising player’s range. A player’s range is defined as all the possible hands they could have while making a move. For instance, as stated earlier, the early position player’s typical range will consist of any pocket pairs, any medium or strong ace, or any Broadway combinations. When one just calls, one wants to have a hand that is similar to the middle of the raising player’s range. To do this successfully, one should fold hands that are below most of the raising player’s range with the exception of pocket pairs and conversely one wants to raise hands that are above most of the raising player’s range. When listing out the early position’s range for a standard player, there exists A8, A9, AT, AJ, AQ, AK, KJ, KQ, QJ, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, and AA.
The top of this range is AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, AK, and AQ. All of the hands at the top of their range should be re-raised (3-bet). One should protect their hand from losing its value by allowing too many players to enter and thus needs to 3 bet to make sure that anyone who wishes to incorrectly call must pay a premium to do so. Additionally, one is happy to collect the pot regardless of one’s hand as the pot is uncontested. As far as sizing is concerned, one should raise (3+n) times the previous raise where n represents the number of callers, excluding the initial raiser, in the hand. For example, if the early position player opens to 7 chips, the middle position player folds, the cutoff calls, the button folds, and the small blind calls, when one raises from the big blind they need to 3-bet to 5 times the initial open, for a total of 35 chips. Because some of the players may call one’s raise or even 4-bet the 3-betting player, one should have solid hands when 3-beting so big against the early position’s open raise.
If one looks at the bottom of the early position player’s opening range, there is A8, A9, KJ, KQ, 22, 33, 44, 55. These hands, with the exceptions of 22, 33, 44, 55 one should be folding without second thought. To a newer player, folding these hands sounds insane, they are after all stronger hands than most poker hands. However, if one thinks they know better and calls anyway, they will get into trouble with reverse implied odds. When I was younger, this happened to me very frequently; I had to learn the hard and when I stopped I made a lot of progress in my game. When one has KJ or KQ, the early position opponent is likely to have AK or AQ and when one has A8 or A9 the opponent is likely to have AT or better. To stop oneself from getting into trouble with reverse implied odds, one can simply decide to fold hands found in the bottom of the raising player’s range before the flop. I made one exception to this rule, pocket pairs. However, with pocket pairs one can call single raises because 2/15 times they will flop a set (3 of a kind) and we can make serious money if one hits a set and their opponent has a big hand. It must be noted, that on very rare occasions, one can get set over set but this does not mean to avoid set-mining, it simply means that while occasionally there are reverse implied odds after flopping a set, it is rare enough where a player should not focus on it the way they would be concerned to play a weak or medium ace. Because so much of an opponent’s range is rooted in strong hands, they will have hands like queens often enough against one’s pocket 3’s and on a flop like J35, they will have to think Q’s are good as they will assume the other player has AJ or KJ. They can put in potentially all the money with other hands like KJ, AJ, queens, kings, or aces while the player with a set gets their chips in ahead (91% favorite). The underlying concept behind set-mining is called implied odds. Implied odds mean that a player will call a raise, usually to miss, such that when they hit they are able to get enough chips in a sufficient amount of the time to cover the losses from missing. If one misses the flop with a low pocket pair, when their opponent c-bets they will usually call the flop, if they are the only player remaining in the hand, and then check down the hand unless they hit a set or otherwise improve their hand. They will only call the flop because in standard poker the initial raiser will c-bet most of the time regardless of his or her actual cards, and a pocket pair beats hands like AQ on the aforementioned J35 board. If one’s opponent bets the turn as well, one will fold if one’s hand remains unimproved.
For the sake of amusement, here is a hand I “nstonn” played against another player online several years ago showing a set over set scenario:
The hand folded around preflop to me so I raised 3 chips into my opponent who then 3-bet me from the small blind but bet large, 12 chips. I felt that there was a chance that my hand was up against a similar equity hand like AK or AQ, so I decided just to call to see a flop. I flopped middle set and my opponent c-bet bigger than the pot, or overbet the pot, so I sense that he hit the flop hard. I felt certain that he or she had AK or AQ and that whatever they had, they would call me if I were to raise all-in. I decided to raise all-in and then was happy when my opponent quickly called, until I saw that my hand was in bad shape and remained unimproved. A situation like this is incredibly rare, and even if I knew he had aces before the flop I still would have called preflop, I just would have folded on the flop. Of course, there is no way of knowing that the player had AA, and I am certain that my opponent would have called me with an array of hands aside from AA when I reraised all-in. It was an unfortunate scenario, but I am more showing this for the sake of humor.
As the initial raiser’s position approaches the small blind, the wider one should react to their raises, either in the form of calling or 3-betting. Because players who raise later in the formation have wider ranges, one’s best response is to adjust to their wider ranges. If one thinks about facing a raise from middle position, the cards one will defend with will be almost the same as hands defending against early position raises, however one can consider throwing in hands that just missed the cut to defend against early position raises such as A9 and KQ. One can also consider 3 betting slightly wider than previously by adding in AJ, AT, 88, and 77. Facing the cutoff raise, one should certainly be defending any ace and any royal cards, thus expanding one’s 3-betting range to include any pocket pair as well as medium aces, KQ, and KJ. Facing a button raise, one will expand one’s 3 betting range to include any ace. Lastly, facing a small blind raise, one will be defending an array of hands while 3 betting a number of hands including any ace, any pocket pair, any Broadway cards, and if the small blind is raising frequently JT and QT. The lighter a player raises, the lighter one can profitably 3-bet. Oftentimes one will cause similar hands to fold to the hands one 3-bets with, for instance if the cutoff raises with JT and one were to 3-bet with 55 from the big blind. One’s equity with pocket 5’s goes from 56% equity to 100% if JT folds and if JT decides to call and misses the flop, which it will most of the time, one will c-bet and take the pot down.
For premium hands, one should be 4-betting for the same reasons one raises or 3-bets. However, depending on the player’s raising position, one should be readjusting their 4-beting range. Similar to the concept of the 3-bet, when one 4-bets, one needs to be at the top of one’s opponent’s 3-bet range. After analyzing their 3-bet ranges, one will be able to decide the hands to fold, call, and 4-bet in response to 3-bet from one’s opponent. When a player 3-bets the early position raiser, they are suggesting that they have a strong hand. When one 4-bets, they are claiming to have an even stronger hand. The following hands: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, AK, and AQ are in the top of the early position’s range and thus are hands with which players would 3-bet the early position player. If one has a hand like 99, TT, or JJ, or AQ and faces a 3-bet one should call. If one has worse than the hands just listed, with the exception of other pocket pairs, one should immediately fold. However, if one has hands in the top of their range, in other words one has AA, KK, QQ, or AK, one should 4-bet. The issue with 4-betting traditionally, meaning sizing it the same way one would size a 3-bet, is one usually prices themselves in to stacking off if one’s opponent chooses to 5-bet them. Because one is priced in using big raises, one should 4-bet with smaller raise sizing, however, much of the time a player 4-bet they are willing to stack off. By raising smaller, one now has the option of getting away from the hand should they choose to do so which will incentivize aggressive players to 5-bet one’s 4-bet. By overcalling with hands like AT against a 3-bet one will oneself in bad shape by being up against a better ace or otherwise better hand, another countless example of reverse implied odds. Now for the usual reason of ranges expanding as positions approach the small blind, the range of hands with which one would call or 4-bet in response to a 3-bet stemming from a later position player’s raise increases. If a player 3-bets against the middle position, one can add JJ and AQ into their 4-betting range as well as call with TT, 99, and AJ. If a player 3-bets against the cutoff position, one can add TT, and AJ into one’s 4-betting range and add 99, 88, AT, and KQ into one’s calling range. If a player 3-bets against the button, one can add any pocket pair into one’s 4-bet range along with any strong ace and any very strong king, KQ or KJ. The same applies for a 3 bet stemming from the small blind raising or big blind raising, however, it must be noted that sizing a 4-bet does not need to be as big as it would be for other positions, as unfortunately one will not be able to stack off with low pocket pairs. However, if one were to only size small with the weaker side of one’s 4-betting range and one’s opponent knew that every time one sized small one had a hand that would fold to their 5-bets, they would always 5-bet us regardless of their hand knowing that we would fold and they would never 5-bet this person if they were to size the 4-bet large unless the 5-bet was with a value hand. To stop them from gaining this information, one will always size relatively small with 4-bets regardless of whether or not one has a hand. 4-bets should be something like 2.5 times the size of the 3-bet. This way, one will not price oneself into the hand unless they have a short stack and quite frankly, one will still usually get folds which means one can profit uncontested. Even when one does get called, if one c-bets half the pot usually one’s opponent will let their hand go and wait until they have a stronger hand. For instance, if an opponent were to call one’s 4-bet with AQ and the board comes T63 they have to fold. However, if they have jacks or better on that board they will never fold for the same reason they called with preflop, to make sure the board was good for their hand and then get the chips in. The implications of an opponent’s strategy include if one c-bets and gets called, if one does not have a value hand, one must give up and not spew chips. Failing to give up a hand in a situation where one’s opponent calls one’s 4-bet preflop as well as one’s flop bet is what stops many players, who otherwise would be solid players, from being profitable players. While it is profitable to 4-bet the button with a wider range of hands, including hands like AJ, when there is no ace or jack on the board and one c-bets and gets called, AJ is no longer the best hand. If it does not improve to the best hand, it is a losing play to get all one’s chips in as one’s opponent is always calling and always has the better hand. By the time one’s opponent calls one’s c-bet, they will have close to half their stack in the pot. When half of one’s opponent’s stack is in the pot, in the absence of a drastic change in the hand, they will never fold. If one believes he or she has a read opponent after getting their 4-bet called, it can make sense sometimes to avoid the c-bet altogether to save the chips unless one hits a big hand on the flop.
The last best responses for standard Texas Hold’em are 5-bets, because regardless of sizing or whether or not one is all-in, after 5-betting one’s chips are unquestionably going to go all-in. This means that one should be prepared to 5-bet only the absolute best hands. While there is still some variance is the 5-bet ranges based on position, there is the least variability here. Yes, it is true that someone can get away with raising and 3-betting fairly light from positions like the cutoff, button, and small blind. However, when someone 4-bets a pot, they usually have a pretty strong hand. While some players bluff more than others, bluffing after a certain point is foolish. That is to say, if a player does not have a good hand and they try to outplay and bluff the other players, when the other players are 3-betting and 4-betting the bluffer the bluffer will usually lower their ego and concede the hand, saving themselves from a situation where they go broke. Against a 4-bet stemming from the early position, middle position, or cutoff player’s open raise, one should only 5-bet with AA, KK, QQ, or AK. The only exceptions here would be if one believes the 4-better is 4-betting especially light. Against a 4-bet stemming from the button, small blind, or big blind, JJ, TT and AQ can be added. If one is to jam a weaker hand from this spectrum such as TT or AQ, one is sincerely hoping not to get called because even if one is not dominated, one is at best 56%, for instance in the case of TT vs AK. However, the reason one can jam TT and AQ is simply because it is very difficult for a player in the later positions to have an absolutely amazing hand and there are too many opportunities for them to 4-bet such a wide range that one can oftentimes 5-bet and get their opponent to fold. In addition, sometimes they may fold as good or better hands. For instance, if one 5-bets pocket 10’s and get one’s opponents to fold JJ or AQ because the opponents think that one’s range is weighted too highly for JJ or AQ to be a profitable long term call. As a rule of thumb, one should raise or re-raise worse ranges than one should call or raise with. In other words, it is correct for the small blind to 5-bet TT however, if he or she held TT on the button and 4-bet and was then facing a 5-bet, it would be correct to fold to the 5-bet.
There are 2 responses to 5-bets from any position, folding or moving all-in. It must be noted that no matter the 5-better’s hand strength, they will always call when one moves all-in. One should never move all-in against without one of the top hands in the game. With the exceptions of the later positions, there are 2 acceptable hands with which to 6-bet all-in, AA and KK, in addition, if the hand is suited AK is considered standard to 6-bet, but only if it is suited as will be discussed later. It must be noted that QQ is an acceptable hand to 5-bet with and of course one would call a 6-bet if he or she had QQ but it would not be correct to 6-bet facing a 5-bet stemming from early positions with QQ. When a hand starts off with a raise stemming from early position or middle position and gets 5-bet, the 5-better’s range is almost always AA, KK, QQ, and AK. There are 6 combinations of AA, 6 combinations of KK, 6 combinations of QQ, and 16 combinations of AK. This means that one’s probabilistic range is weighted more heavily towards AK and then is distributed equally amongst the top pocket pairs. In total there are 34 combinations of hands one could get called by after 6-betting. However, if one were to move in with QQ, there would only be 1 combination of QQ remaining making it very unlikely for one to tie. In addition, there would be 16 combinations of AK, 6 of KK, and 6 of AA. Because of this distribution, one will be tied (50% vs 50%) 1/29 times, marginally ahead (55% vs 45%) 16/29 times, and crushed (19% vs 81%) 12/29 times. This works out to an expected equity value of:
(Chips in pot/29 total combinations)*Summation of (Probabilistic weighted distributions)
(Chips in pot/29 total combinations)*[1*(0.5)+16*(0.55)+6*(0.19)+6*(0.19)]=0.4
So if both players started the hand with 120 chips and one only has 20 chips in from the 4-bet, one could either forfeit the 20 chips, retaining 100 chips or one could gamble and go move all-in expecting to return 240*0.4=96 chips, costing one 24 chips in expected value. As -20>-24, one should just fold QQ. Even if one changes the hand to AK, a hand many beginners regard as being great, one’s opponent has 6 combinations of QQ, 3 combinations of KK, 3 combinations of AA, and 9 combinations of AK. With AK, one’s equity against QQ is 45%, against AK is 50%, against KK is 30%, and against AA is 7%. The expected value now works out to:
(Chips in pot/21 total combinations)*[9*(0.5)+6*(0.45)+3*(0.30)+3*(0.7)]=0.396
This is virtually the same thing as having QQ; though AK suited is an exception as its equity is 3% better than AK. Moving one’s hand to KK, one face 6 combinations of QQ, 1 of KK, 6 of AA, and 8 of AK. One’s equity against QQ is 81%, against KK is 50%, against AA is 19%, and against AK is 70%. One’s new expected equity value is:
(Chips in pot/21 total combinations)*[1*(0.5)+8*(0.7)+6*(0.81)+6*(0.19)]=0.576
0.576*240=138.24, which is >120 with which one started the hand. However, the decision to 6-bet all-in or fold does not have to do with 120, it rather has to do with a marginal decision, one’s expected return on the 6-bet all-in vs the 4-bet cost of 20 chips; all one needs is for the expected value of 6-betting to work out such that one loses less than or exactly 20 chips in expected value from 6-betting all-in. Solving for the equity one needs:
e*240 chips=100 chips
E=100/240=0.4167 or 41.67%.
QQ and AK just miss the cut. If one’s AK were suited, contrary to the general rule of folding AK, it adds 3% equity to one’s hand as I mentioned earlier which give it just enough equity to 6-bet all-in as it has 42.6%, although it must be noted this is especially marginal considering AK suited makes the cut by less than 1%.
Lastly with the monster hand of AA, there are 6 combinations of QQ, 6 of KK, 1 of AA, and 8 of AK. One has 81% against QQ, 81% against KK, 50% against AA, and 93% against AK. One’s expected value, the best expected value any hand can ever have to start, is:
(Chips in pot/21 total combinations)*[1*(0.5)+6*(0.81)+6*(0.81)+8*(0.93)]=0.841
With the rockets, one can expect to get 0.841*240=201.84 chips which is fabulous considering one started off the hand with 120 chips. As one moves to the later positions, one will expand one’s 5-bet range just a little bit, noting that overly aggressive plays are optimal in a vacuum, but it one believes that his or her opponent has a top hand such as queens or aces then one should fold jacks instead of 5-betting them from the big blind. However, because of the later players’ exploitive tendencies, it is profitable to 5-bet a wider range, including jacks. While one would always like to make money, by 5-betting light one will sometimes run into really bad shape. However, so many times one will get folds because even from the later positions, one will at worst get called off by jacks meaning the 4-better has to have jacks or better to call. If one knows that a player will never 4-bet without say queens or better, unless one has, kings, aces, or the suited AK discussed earlier, one will fold without hesitation. Position-based raising is a great strategy for optimizing gameplay, however it will run into issues sometimes.
A classic issue which violates range parameters as defined earlier is a given player’s style. The ranges laid out are optimizing pre-flop play in a situation where players all play standard poker based on their positions. However, some players will only 4-bet QQ+ while others will 4-bet KJ. What is ultimately important in making 5-bet decisions is determining how a given player’s 4-bet range operates and how widely they will call 5-bets. Sometimes, if one has a hand like aces, kings, or queens and one knows their opponent is bluffing on a 4-bet, one can just call and allow the opponent to spew off their chips on the flop. If instead one were to 5-bet the opponent, they would be forced into folding. Sometimes when one 3-bets QQ, if one is confident a player with a 4-betting range so tight that it only includes QQ, KK, AA, or AK, as discussed earlier, it becomes an easy fold. However, most beginners will never play quite this tight and if they do, one can exploit the beginner’s tendencies by 3-betting and 4-betting them with a wider range as the beginner will fold a greater percentage of the time than a standard player would. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the distributions of any given hands are the same for every player. Any player is as likely to get aces as any other player. The reason for expanding ranges towards the later seat has to do with exploitative tendencies rather than lower chances of being dealt a specific hand. Of course, in some scenarios one may 5-bet with jacks from the big blind against the small blind’s 4-bet and the small blind may call the all-in with queens or better, leaving one in bad shape. However, one is always striving to develop a strategy that will make long term from any given play. A classic example of a cooler, a hand where the only thing that makes sense for either player is to get all the chips in, is kings versus aces. With either hand, a player will of course move all their chips in and recognize by having kings that some of the time, in fact 6/21 times, they will be up against aces; needless to say this statistic does not justify ever folding kings. It would be the height of foolishness to ever fold kings in a traditional poker game without better information as to another player for sure having aces. Most players have never folded kings in a traditional game, and those who have found that the other player usually didn’t even have aces. There are exceptions to when it is the correct play to fold certain hands, such as in certain tournament settings, which I will elaborate on later in the book.
At this point, I have explained how to play a standard game of poker before the flop, however, most hands will see the flop. To understand post-flop play, one must thoroughly understand the following concept that was mentioned earlier in the book: the goal is to win a game not every hand, this is done by losing minimally and winning maximally. This means that while one should try to win any hands one can win and maximize the earnings on these hands, one should not bother trying to run over every pot, particularly when one’s opponent is likely to have made a big 5-card hand. As far as standard poker is concerned, hands that will call a bet on the flop are pairs or better as well as draws. The bigger someone’s flop bet, the fewer draws will call. Certain draws have so much equity that even when faced up against a set will still stack off. Because players from earlier positions can almost only get away profitably by raising strong hands before the flop, one would expect their range to be face card heavy. While they will of will raise lower to middle pocket pairs like 22-99, a player only has a pocket pair 1/17 times and they only flop a set 2/15 times when they do have one. Now, given a player is raising from early position, considering pairs make up so much of their range, they will have a pair more than 1/17 times, they will likely have a pair 1/5 times. However, when they will only flop a set 1/11 times the chance of the raising player flopping a set is (1/5)*(1/11)=1/55=1.8%. While there is of course a chance that the player will flop a set, the chance is simply not high enough for one to be too cautious while playing against them. When an early position player raises before the flop and then proceeds to c-bet on the flop, one will discount sets and only give them initial credit for hitting the board if there are face cards. For example, if the board comes out JT9 and one has pocket 5’s, while one recognizes there is a chance that the opponent missed this board, one’s range connects so strongly with it and even if they missed, the opponent will usually have huge equity due to the drawing potential of their hand. For instance, if one’s opponent has AQ on this board, against one’s own hand of 55, any 8, Q, K, or A, of which there are 14, will improve their hand to the winning hand. Furthermore, if one’s opponent is particularly aggressive there are simply too many hands they can credibly represent, even if the board does not change much for one to keep calling down with 55. However, if the board comes J32, while one’s opponent can certainly have KJ, AJ, QQ, KK, or AA, one will at least call 1 street with 55. If one’s opponent missed, or has a hand like 44-TT, where they have a pair but when one calls it suggests that one may have a jack, they will frequently check the turn. When the opponent checks the turn, one must bet. Usually one will have the best hand and just take it down because one’s opponent will fold their missed AQ, AT, KQ type hands. In addition, if one shows oneself to be a standard poker player then one’s opponent will give us credit for top pair or better and fold his or her pocket pair if it is lower than a jack. If one’s opponent is playing standard poker and does in fact have an overpair which is a pair that is higher than the highest card or the board, or he or she has top pair with a good kicker (K or A), they will never fold to a turn bet and are much more likely to bet the turn rather than check it. One should not raise the flop because one’s opponent will fold all their bluffs, which are raises that they did without made hands, and either call or 3-bet their value hands; whereas if one were to just call and one’s opponent misses, the opponent will frequently give up on the turn which allows one to determine with more certainty if one’s opponent is bluffing. There is a high level play, called a float, where someone calls the flop without having a value hand in the hopes that one’s opponent checks the turn where one bets and the opponent folds. One’s goal is to get as many chips in the middle as one can when a player has the best hand. If one calls the flop and the opponent goes for the turn bet, one will fold almost always, unless one spikes cards that will improve one’s hand. If the turn is an A, 4, 5, or 6, one can consider calling the turn, with the most favorable cards being the 5, followed by the 4, followed by the A, followed by the 6. If one turns a 5, one now has hit a set and would love to get all the chips in the middle against the opponent. If one turns a 4 one now have 10 river cards that will improve one’s hand, with the cards being any A, 5, or 6. If one turns an A or 6, one has 6 cards that will improve one’s hand. Before calling, if one turns an A, 4, or 6 one needs to consider how many chips the opponent bets on the turn and the strength of the opponent’s hand. For example, if one believes the opponent has AJ, when the turn is a 4 one’s opponent still has top pair top kicker (TPTK) and now has a gutshot (straight-draw that can be made into a straight with exactly 1 kind of card, in this case any 5) to accompany TPTK. If the river is a 6, one makes a straight and there is no way the opponent can accredit one for hitting it, but the best river for the player with pocket 5’s is an A, as one’s opponent improves their hand to top 2 pair and the player with pocket 5’s hits the A-5 straight (wheel). This situation turns into a cooler, which is a situation where neither player can justify doing anything but getting all their chips in with their hand. If there were a pre-flop raise to 7 chips and one calls from the big blind, then 15 chips would be in the pot before the action on the flop. The flop bet, which one called with pocket 5’s, was another 8 chips growing the pot 31 chips prior to the action on the turn. Both one and one’s opponent have 200 chips behind. When one turns a 5, one is in fantastic shape. When one turns a 4, there are 10 outs however 5’s can put one in bad shape against the hand that one believes one’s opponent has, AJ, due to reverse implied odds, meaning there are 7 good outs for the player with pocket 5’s. Under the assumption that one’s opponent has AJ exactly, if one wishes to river a 6 or an A, there are 7 cards of the remaining 44 that can satisfy this wish. Therefore, one has a 7/46, or 15.9% chance of hitting a straight on the river. One must evaluate his or her options before deciding what to do on the turn. If one folds right now, one will only lose what one puts into the pot, 15 chips. If one calls and misses, one loses the 15 chips in addition to the 20 chips that the opponent will bet on the turn for a total of 35 chips, though if one folds one will still lose 15 chips. If one calls and hits a straight on the river, one will net at least 36 chips which is the opponent’s 35 chips and 1 chip from the small blind. The question becomes, what is the minimum number of chips for one to need to get out of the opponent to make it worth calling their turn bet. I want to emphasize a point, the 15 chips one put in thus far are irrelevant as they are a sunk cost. Constantly looking to get back chips does not create a winning player. Do not have the mentality of always needing to recover if you expect to win in the long run. In this situation, one needs to call 20 chips off on the turn in the hopes of taking the opponent’s stack, but the math will show that one does not need to take the opponent’s full stack for calling the turn to be a profitable play.
Expected value: P(Hit)*(chips won)-(cost of calling)
Plugging in values where P(Hit)=15.9%, cost=20 chips, and chips is 71 chips+n, where n is the amount of additional chips one wins on the; the equation with numbers becomes:
Expected Value of calling, which needs to at least be 0=(0.159)*(71+n)-(20)
n=54.79, or in pragmatic terms 55 chips
There is 0 doubt, that one can get 55 chips out of the opponent on the river as half the time one makes a straight, the opponent will have top 2 pairs, and the other half of the time, the opponent will have top pair top kicker. When the pot is 71 chips, on the river the opponent will lead out for 50 or so chips. This already almost covers the 55 one needs from them to profitably call the opponent’s turn bet. The player with pocket 5’s and his or her opponent have 180 chips behind at the start of the river, and after betting 50 the opponent has 130 behind. The best play is to re-raise all-in which will get called as one’s opponent has a great hand with either TPTK or top 2 pairs. While it is technically only necessary to get 55 chips out of the opponent, when the opponent is going to call anyway one may as well try to get all the chips in the middle. However, when one analyzes calling after an A or 6 comes on the turn, one only has a gutshot and thus have 4 outs instead of 7. Therefore, the expected value works out as follows:
Expected value: P(Hit)*(chips won)-(cost of calling)
Plugging in values where P(Hit)=9.1%, cost=20 chips, and chips won is 71 chips+n, where n is the amount of additional chips one wins on the; the equation with numbers becomes:
n=95.73, or in practical terms 96 chips
Similar to the case of 7 outs, if one calls one has to get a lot of chips from his or her opponent. The best play is to again raise all-in on the river. The opponent has to believe his or her hand is the best hand, particularly when they thought it was the whole hand and the river should not change much as one’s hand is well disguised. As the opponent will believe he or she has the best hand, one will always get paid off in the absence of making a blunder such as showing another player one’s cards.
The flop is a very standard spot to c-bet. Someone can c-bet on the flop even if they missed, yet still somehow magically pick up a hand on the turn or river. As I mentioned earlier, when one has a marginal hand, one should never check the hand back on the turn if they think that they currently have the best hand. The turn is the spot in the hand that usually outlines how the rest of the hand will be played. Frequently, all-ins occur on the turn, for example when someone has a set on a board when there are straight draws and flush draws and they want to secure all their money by getting it in on the turn. After the river is dealt, any draw either get there or miss; there is no way a missed draw can hit after it misses the river and therefore has 0 equity. The turn is a very key spot to get flop callers with pairs lower than top pair to fold after a second bet should they remain unimproved. It is also a good spot for one, particularly when one does not have much invested, to fold should one not make a decent hand and one’s opponent bets. One should never fold when it is free to check. While giving up on the turn after one’s opponent calls the flop is a good strategy overall, sometimes one can credibly bluff his or her opponent by betting on the turn. Typically, one’s opponent will not want to get too much money in without a great hand unless they are a loose gambler. If one’s opponent has a hand like AK and the flop is JT4, they will absolutely bet on the flop. They will frequently take down the pot, and even if they do not, they usually will have 10 outs (3 A’s, 3 K’s, 4 Q’s) to improve. Imagine one has KQ against the opponent with AK. One’s opponent’s 3 ace outs are now rendered reverse implied odds cards, because if he or she hits the ace then he or she will have TPTK while one will make the nut straight. Imagine a situation where the turn is a 3, neither player improves their hands. However, if the opponent raises again on the turn, which would be the correct play for them to do so, one can make an aggressive move known as a semi-bluff, which is where a player bluffs with a drawing hand rather than a hand that is made. In semi-bluffing in a spot like the example, as well as in plenty of other spots, one can take down the hand because the opponent will not be able to call off so many chips on the turn with a hand that has little equity against hands that would usually reraise the turn. Of course if the opponent knew one’s hand, they would at least call every single time and may even raise, depending on their style of play and risk preferences. If one decides to semi-bluff by reraising the flop, one will get called by his or her opponent as the opponent will have implied odds to do so even against value hands. Due to the sizing of the reraise one can make on the turn being much greater than the reraise one could make on the flop, the opponent will be forced to fold as they will no longer have implied odds to call, however they would have odds to call on the flop. In addition, if one had raised the opponent on the flop, they would likely call then check to on the turn where one could fire another bet, although if the opponent hit the turn they would either call or raise leaving one in terrible shape. Clearly, one is better off by just calling on the flop. Furthermore, one can analyze the turn card and see if it is a card that is conducive to one successfully raising the opponent off the best hand, if not one can fold to the opponent’s bet. Lastly, sometimes the opponent will not bet the turn which means one can bet the turn after being checked to, which will usually get the opponent off their hand and if not, on a river that does not change anything one can bluff the river. The only way to win the hand on a missed river is to bluff, as even though AK only has ace high, ace high is still a better hand than king high so the only win to win the hand is to bet and get one’s opponent to fold, which in the case of having ace high, they will do in a matter of seconds, if not faster.
The turn defines the equities for the hand that determine which draws will keep calling and allow a draw that completed itself on the turn to aggressively build up the pot. If a player waits too long to stack off and they have a big hand, they will not be able to build the pot big enough to stack off. By reraising the turn, the pot on the river will usually be large which means that a player can potentially get all their chips in on the river. When a player who c-bets the flop goes for the turn bet, they usually have at least a draw. If they do not have a strong made hand like TPTK or better or a very strong draw, such as a straight draw with a flush draw, one’s reraise will get them off their hand, assuming one reraises sizably enough to ruin the opponent’s odds to call, hence they have to fold. However, if one’s opponent has strong hand, one’s reraise will at least keep the opponent calling. One should only reraise them with a semi-bluff if one is confident that they have not made a hand a strong hand or have a high equity draw or one thinks that they have a big hand but one has a very strong hand, hoping to get as many chips in as possible as one likely has the stronger hand. If one has a hand, such as QJ or J9 on this JT4 board, one will definitely want to build a large pot, but one may not want to get all one’s chips in. For a value hand that is not phenomenal, one does not want the pot to spin out of control, especially when much of the opponent’s range will have one beat, so one should exercise pot control to make sure the pot does not spiral out of control. One wants a sizeable pot, but one does not want to stack off either. One needs to get value for a decent hand but if one gets too aggressive, worse hands will fold and better hands will call, thus being overly aggressive is a death wish. There are 3 exceptions to this rule:
The opponent calls very lightly
One has a short stack
The opponent is bluffing and therefore one calls his or her bluff.
Another good example of a situation where one does not want to go crazy with a decent hand is when folding AT, JJ, KK, or AA on the board TQQ. With any of those hands, one has all tens beat, however, one’s opponent will not stack off with just a ten for value. This board is a board where the opponent’s range could hit hard, and one does not want to get all one’s chips in with worse than 3 queens. Even in the event that one has 3 queens, it makes it difficult for one’s opponent to also have 3 queens as there is only 1 queen left in the deck and they only have 2 cards in hand. Even if they do have 3 queens, one wants to make certain one has a solid kicker so one is in great shape against the opponent. With a good hand on a scary board, such as AT, JJ, KK, or AA one will still usually want to go for 2 streets of value but not 3 unless one hits a full house. This can either come from one betting the flop in addition to the turn and checking back the river, or from one betting the flop, getting called, then checking back the turn and either calling an opponent’s bet or betting on the river. The benefit of the later strategy, is the opponent may decide to bluff the river if they call the flop with a drawing hand such as KJ and misses and therefore one would get 2 streets of value rather than 1 from one’s opponent, without being worried about the opponent reraising on the 2nd street.
The best way the betting section is to address river bets. River bets can be much different than turn bets. Sometimes one will bet on the river to extract one last street of value, while other times one will bet on the river to get the opponents to fold their hands when one’s semi-bluffs missed. Sometimes the river will either scare one or not help one and therefore one will check the river when there is no way one’s opponent can pay off if they have a worse hand, such as the instance where a player had either QJ on J9 on a jack high board. Sometimes one will check the river to the opponent while holding a fairly solid hand like top pair but cannot get the specific opponent to call with worse, thus the way to make money from them is to call if they choose to bluff. When one has a value hand and one’s opponent does not, one will never get paid off on the river as the opponent has a bluff and cannot beat one’s hand. However, one can check, thereby giving the opponent room to hang themselves and bluff where one can call. Particularly with more aggressive players, one can capitalize on the opponents’ tendencies towards going for a final bluff on the river, particularly when one has a hand that is not strong enough to get value in a traditional way. In order to determine what play to make on the river, the questions one needs to ask oneself are:
How strong is one’s hand?
How strong are the opponents’ hands?
How strong do the opponents believe one’s hand is?
What kind of players are one’s opponents?
The first question is a very important one to address. One needs to determine if one’s hand is a value hand, a bluff, or something in between. If one has a value hand, one wants more chips to go into the pot. If one has a bluff, one wants one’s opponents to fold. If one has something in between, such as middle pair, one wants to check as if one bets one will get worse to fold and better hands to call. If worse hands will fold anyway, there is no point in trying to bet the river with an okay hand as one will win if it checks around. If one of the opponents has a hand like top pair, they will call anyway so there is no point of betting. The first point links well with the second point, the strength of the opponents’ hands relative to one’s own hand determines what kind of relative hand one has. If one’s opponents have relatively weak hands, then one cannot get anything out of them by betting as they will just fold. Instead, one needs to induce bluffs from opponents with relatively weaker hands to make money from their hand. To accomplish this task, one needs to represent one’s hand as being much weaker than it is to convince the other player to think that they will be able to win the hand. If the opponent bets on the river, and one’s hand is super strong, one will reraise them on the river and hope that the opponent desperately tries to represent a large hand by going for an all-in bluff. If the opponent folds, which they normally will, they will not see one’s hand and will be desperate to win pots in the future, particularly against the player who reraised them. One should never show one’s hand when one is not required to do so, it gives players too much information that they can use in the future to the disadvantage of the player who showed his or her cards. When one has a player at one’s table who is desperate to win chips, one is in great shape because anytime one makes a hand against that opponent, all one has to do is let the opponent hang them self by playing passively, calling the opponent down leading to major pots, including frequent all-ins. For one’s opponent to try to bluff them when they are not in an angry state of mind, they have to think that one has a weak hand. No sensible opponent would bluff one if they sincerely believed one had a strong hand, though players lose rationality when they let their emotions and egos get the best of them. Also, if one’s opponent believes that one has a very strong hand, unless they have a top hand themselves, they will be folding. This rule means that one can credibly represent a big hand while having a bluff whenever one’s opponent will accredit one for having a big hand. Lastly, the tendencies of one’s opponent in calling, folding, or reraising when facing a bet are incremental for one’s decision making. If one’s opponent folds almost everything but top hands and one does not believe they have a top hand, then one will bluff them as they will fold anytime they do not have a top hand. However, if one’s opponent is a payoff wizard, a player who almost always calls big bets with marginal hands, one will of course be betting bigger than normal with a hand that is ahead of their calling range. If an opponent is aggressive and has a high tendency to check raise, one will bet only with top hands because one needs to be prepared to call a huge bet, likely an all-in, on the river in the case of getting raised. If one has a good hand but not one that is good enough to call an all-in, one should simply check to the aggressive opponent and if they check back, it is not a problem and if they decide to bet one will call. The check back is not a problem because one would fold if they were to reraise so not maximizing value against a scary opponent is better than losing. When an opponent is particularly aggressive such that one thinks they will reraise often, they will likely try a river bet when checked to, which as earlier discussed gets the same value as one betting and getting called.
In summary, when one’s 5-card hand is very strong, one would like to get as many chips in for value as possible; whereas when one’s 5-card had is strong but not incredibly strong, one would like to get a good amount of chips in but not build pots too large unless the opponent satisfies any of the 3 conditions. Lastly, if one’s hand is not strong but has is still the best hand sometimes, like middle pair on the flop or a pocket pair lower than top pair, one should protect one’s hand and fold if one’s opponent puts too many chips in the middle, unless one is very certain of the opponent bluffing. If one simply thinks that the opponent could be bluffing, but is not very confident they are bluffing, when the opponent is putting in chips like crazy one needs to fold and wait for a better opportunity. I have made the mistake countless times when I was younger of calling when the opponent may have been bluffing and while occasionally I was correct, I was usually wrong and it cost me more chips than I got back from occasionally being wrong. A concept in poker a lot of players have trouble with is that to be profitable one does not have to always make the correct decision, they just have to make the correct decision more than they make the incorrect decision. Lastly, if one’s opponent makes standard calls, folds, and bluffs, then one will only make river bets that would cause them to take a certain action based on their hand and one’s perceived hand from the point of view of the opponent.