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In order to understand and use the PDF above, you need to watch the following video(s) on bet types, moves and pot manipulation.
Instructional Videos on How to Use the Betting Calculator
Contrary to popular belief, playing a hand “slow(ly)” or “fast” in any poker variant isn’t necessarily a “line of play” rather a “style of play.” In poker, lines of play consist of your “moves,” which are in essence limping (i.e., only calling the big blind or “forced bring-in” in the first betting round), checking, calling, betting, raising, re-raising up to and including going all in (i.e., “pushing,” “shoving” or “jamming”) and all of the combinations thereof.
Some lines are better than others, and the most optimal line is normally highly dependent on your opponent; here, seasoned poker pros will tell you that “better” means “more profitable” in the long run given the situation at hand, not necessarily more “mathematically sound” as a general abstract principle … but mathematical precision very often equates to maximum long-term profit.
A chess master once told me, “If you never make a mistake, you’ll never lose, and you’ll almost always win.” A “mistake,” both in chess and in poker, doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete blunder where you lose a piece or half of your stack with no compensation; a mistake is simply any move or line that is less than optimal, and when experts face off at any game, the champion is often the one who had the fewest “unforced errors” (be they big or small). Due to ever-present variance, this principle unfortunately does not apply to the “short-run” at the poker tables, but optimal play on your part will definitely result in an increased bankroll over the long haul … given a fair game of course.
Understanding “Way Ahead or Way Behind” Scenarios and Equities!
I feel the need to hit on an important topic here even though it is a slight digression from our lines of play discussion:
Always be mindful of the fact that perfect play cannot protect you against cheaters, and the higher the stakes are, the more likely it is that cheaters will be present. Also remember that you probably won’t be able to catch professional “mechanics” in the act — they are simply that good. Stay vigilant when playing live:
- Be on the look-out for partnerships at your poker table (e.g., funky raise/fold moves when out of position followed by a re-raise by the same two players).
- Never keep your eyes off of the deck when other players are collecting the cards after or during a hand, when dealing or when cutting … even/especially when it’s your deal!
- Always use a “cut card” at the bottom of the deck.
- Insist that the deck be cut, using one hand, prior to every single deal.
- And most importantly, at your first hunch that there might be a cheat or multiple “shady customers”at your game, the best thing you can do is get up and find another place to play (this also applies to brick-and-mortar casinos and online card rooms). Because …
- A mechanic’s “line” is to find out who is “fast company” (i.e., a skilled and seasoned player) and who is a potential “mark” (i.e., an inexperienced or naive target for their planned theft).
- Final point: realize that most mechanics are also good card players in general and masters of deception (also socially), and they’ll generally only make one or a few cheating moves per session, which will invariably involve large pots.
If you believe that such a danger isn’t an issue for you because you’re certain you could spot it when playing live poker, do yourself a favor and check out the following video series on “card sharps”:
I purposefully digressed there, because if you aren’t aware of what I’ve coined the “dark side of poker,” it doesn’t matter if you understand and perfectly implement all of the information provided at this website, you’ll end up broke if you don’t adhere to bankroll management or naively assume that all games are played with integrity and honor. Now, back to the topic for games that are played “straight-up” …
“Balancing your lines of play” in poker simply means playing your strong and weak hands exactly the same way (and this definitely entails your pre-flop action). Deception is anything and everything you can do to guise the true strength of your holding. Balancing is only necessary against skillful opponents, buy you’ll need to deceive at every poker table in order to win in the long run. Against the average “poker tourist,” just sell it when you got it.
Example: You open raise from middle position pre-flop, C-bet/call the flop raise, check/raise turn and shove all-in on the river … with your monsters, semi-bluffs that didn’t complete & value bets on the river (i.e., where you have a made but vulnerable hand that you think is stronger than your opponents’ holdings).
As is the case with pot manipulation, lines of play also already begin with your pre-flop initial call, bet, raise or re-raise. Expert players always adjust to the opponents they’re facing and multiple other poker table and game-specific circumstances such as respective stack sizes, player profiles and tells. Masters of the game are capable of anything, even letting you believe they have absolutely no idea at all (e.g., playing and losing many small pots — when deep-stacked — as if they were complete idiots and then taking down a couple of huge pots when the time is right). Beware that experts play these types of “meta-lines,” i.e., making sub-optimal moves early in a session in order to make bigger profits later. Such players begin their “line” the moment they sit down at the poker table … not only at the beginning of each hand.
A Few Examples of “Lines”
Delayed Continuation Bets
As you already know, the continuation bet is when you bet the flop as a continuation of your pre-flop aggression. A delayed C-bet is when you, e.g., check behind on the flop and then bet the turn after a second check, which is especially useful against pre-flop calling stations who check/call the flop 80% of the time, even when they miss. This move can be made for value or as a bluff … just be sure to mix it up.
Many people falsely believe that floating is necessarily a bluff, but it is actually a positional move that can be made with strong hands as well. Given certain types of opponents (especially “nitty” players who only play monsters post-flop — i.e., 2-pair or better — or as a bare minimum over-pairs and top pairs with strong kickers), floating as a semi-bluff can be very lucrative. In essence, floating is stealing the initiative from your opponent, who has had control of the hand due to his or her aggression until you float. In Texas Hold ’em you can float into the turn or river.
Example OOP: You limp/call pre-flop, check/call opponent’s flop C-bet when you’re out of position, “donk-bet” or check/raise on the turn.
Example IP: You cold-call pre-flop, check behind on the flop when you’re in position, call the turn “delayed C-bet” and then bet/raise the river: (1/2 to 2/3 pot if not a direct push).
Examples of Post-flop Bluffs (which should also be played with made hands)
- C-bets & C-bet raises
- And the list goes on and on and on … but always be mindful of villain’s ability to fold when making your 1/2 to 2/3 pot-size bet/raise or the occasional over-bet push.
Example: You make an isolation raise pre-flop with a speculative hand (e.g., connectors, suited Ax or 22-TT), miss the flop completely and fire the “first barrel” (i.e., flop c-bet); you check-behind on the turn to represent a potential draw and then bet/raise the river on a scary board. Other bluffs that are executed over multiple-streets can entail pre-flop squeezes & steals/re-steal scenarios, “light” 3bet & 4bets (i.e., with less-than-premium holdings pre-flop) and pretty much anything else when you believe that you will be able to push your opponents off their hands with aggressive post-flop play.
Quick Pop Quiz on Lines of Play
In order to illustrate many of these principles and to let you see if you’ve properly understood all of the information provided on the previous betting pages and especially the information and example hands provided in the Essential Poker Knowledge video series on “Bet types, moves and pot manipulation,” I’ve provided you with the following brief example.
Comprehensive Example in Texas Hold ’em:
The “Hero” (always you) is in the CO (i.e., directly right of the dealer) on a full-ring (10 players) no-limit table with a big-blind of $1.00. All of the players involved in the following hand have effective deep-stacks of 1,000 big blinds (this will rarely be the case in most games you’ll play in the future, but this is useful in order to better understand the principles contained in the following example hand).
“Villain #1” (i.e., your opponent) makes an open raise (i.e., 2-bets) from early position (EP2) to $3.50 (i.e., a pot-size raise of 2x the amount to call plus the current pot size of $1.50). “Villain #2” (V2) cold calls and the pot is now $8.50. Hero makes a re-raise (i.e., a 3-bet) to $14 and the open-raiser and cold-caller both call.
Pre-flop pot = $43.50
On the flop, it is checked to the Hero who makes a 1/2-pot bet of $22.00. V1 calls and V2 raises to $80. Hero and V1 call.
Pot coming into the turn = $283.50
V1 bets $140 on the turn. V2 “flats” (i.e., only calls the previous bet) as does Hero.
Pot coming into the river = $703.50
V1 checks the river, and V2 makes a ~1/4 pot-size bet of $175. Hero pushes (i.e., goes all-in) for his remaining stack of $591 (just over 3x V2’s bet amount). V1 decides to make a “crying call” (i.e., calling with a hand that has showdown value but is likely beat). V2, instead of “block-bet/folding” as she had originally planned, decides to over-call since she’s getting ~ 4.5:1 pot odds (i.e., she only needs to win one time in 5.5 — ~18% of the time — in order to break even in the long run).
Questions for You
- What were the respective “lines” for each player (i.e., how did the players play their hands on the respective streets)? Review the hand above, and write down how you understood their play; then, see the answer below.
- Given these lines and assuming that all of the players involved in the hand are very experienced players (not wacky, clueless, thrill-seeking gamblers), with a flop of 7d 6d Ah, turn Kc and river Td, what do you think each of the respective players held?
- What is the best possible two-card hand given the board above (in question 2)?
- More importantly than trying to guess their exact holdings, what do you think each of the respective players’ preflop ranges were? V1’s PFR% from early position was 10% and his Call 3bet stat was 60%. V2’s cold-call% from middle position was 12% and her call 3bet stat was 70%. Hero’s squeeze stat from the CO was 14%.
Check out the following “Equities and Discounting Outs” video excerpt (and the “Way Ahead, Way Behind” excerpt above) to assist you with finding the correct answers to questions 2 & 4.
Answer to Question 1
Pre-flop: open-raise (2bet), flat-call Hero’s re-raise (i.e., squeeze)
Flop: check/call Hero’s continuation bet (C-bet), over-call V2’s check/raise
Turn: donk bet (it’s called “donk bet” because it is a bet where you don’t give the last aggressor on the previous street the opportunity to make a C-bet, not because it’s a bad or “stupid” move).
River: check/call all-in
Pre-flop: cold-call, over-flat call Hero’s squeeze 3bet
Flop: check/raise Hero’s C-bet
Turn: flat-call V1’s donk bet
River: block-bet/over-call all-in
Pre-flop: 3-bet squeeze (in late position)
Flop: C-bet after perceived weakness, flat-call V2’s check/raise
Turn: over-call V1’s donk-bet (closing the betting round for pot-control)
River: raise all-in vs. V2’s block-bet and V1’s check
Answer to Question 2
See answer number 4 below.
Answer to Question 3
Although most players out there would probably assume the best-possible hand would be an ace of diamonds and any other diamond card (AdXd), the correct answer is 8d9d (eight and nine of diamonds). Do you see why? The list from the “nuts” (best possible hand given the 5-card board) is as follows:
- Straight flush
- A-high flush … down to the 2d3d flush
- 10-high straight
- Three-of-a-kind aces, then kings, then tens, 7s, and finally a set of 6s
- Two pair aces and kings, …, etc.
Answer to Question 4
Correctly putting players on ranges of hands and narrowing down the possibilities of their holding given the information you acquire throughout the hand takes a lot of practice and experience. The range depends highly on the style of player, the betting action both preflop and postflop, and most importantly on the position of the player.
Remember: The later the position, the wider the range!
I won’t spoil the fun for you here with a definitive answer, but play around with this free program — Poker Stove: Texas Hold’em equity software and analysis tool—and drop me a line in the comments to let me know what you think.
And again, take another look at this chart to internalized the “fold-equity” you need (i.e., the percentage of the time your opponent(s) must fold) in order for you to break even (your bluff bet is expressed as a fraction of total pot size) and the pot odds the villain is getting with his or her respective equity required in order to make the call and at least break even in the long run:
|Your Bluff Size & Fold Equity Needed to Break-Even||Villain’s Pot-Odds & Equity (e.g., the probability of completing a draw) Needed to Make the Call|
|1/4 Pot||20.0%||5 : 1||16.7%|
|1/3 Pot||25.0%||4 : 1||20.0%|
|1/2 Pot||33.3%||3 : 1||25.0%|
|2/3 Pot||40.0%||2.5 : 1||28.6%|
|3/4 Pot||43.0%||2.33 : 1||30.3%|
|1 Pot||50.0%||2 : 1||33.3%|
|2 Pot||67.0%||1.5 : 1||40.0%|
|3 Pot||75.0%||1.33 : 1||43.5%|
|4 Pot||80.0%||1.25 : 1||44.4%|
Strategy Recap and What’s to Come for Our Members
This article concludes our synopsis of betting strategies and tactics, which has hopefully unveiled the invisible “board, pieces and moves” of a poker hand, which — like in chess — are certainly there, but hidden from the untrained eye at the poker tables. With this information alone, this deeper understanding of the game and these new skills, you should already be way ahead of most of the competition you’ll face at home games as well as many low and middle-stakes games at online and brick-and-mortar card rooms.
Again, I can’t stress this enough, never forget the PIP principle, and let your position, your holding, the type or style of players at your table and the respective stack sizes guide your decisions when faced with any action before you or when it’s checked or folded around to you so that you can steer the hand as you see best fit. Come back to these pages from time to time to review the different bet types and bet sizing principles, how to adjust the amount you bet in relation to the pot as well as how to approach hands with regard to entire “lines of play.” Also stay tuned for our upcoming Essential Poker Knowledge video series, which provides you with even more information and numerous examples of how to implement all of this into your game.
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