Comparing Simple Strategies

A few years back ILoveTacos created a wonderful thread where he played down at various levels, and looked at how profitable he’d been, and gave some great insights into his approach to the game. Here, beginning tomorrow (January 18th, 2021), I thought I’d try something similar, and work my way up through the various levels of no-limit hold’em, and try out a different simple strategy at each level.

I invite others to try out other strategies and post their results with those strategies. At the lowest levels, I’ll keep the strategies painfully basic, so that a few simple rules entirely define my play, and then I will gradually adopt approaches that will be a bit more time consuming to describe. At each level and with each strategy, we’ll see what my win rate is in big blinds per 100 hands (bb/100). I’d love to hear if an equally simple strategy is able to fair better over a statistically significant number of hands.

It would probably be best if I gave each strategy at least 10,000 hands, to give time for volatility to have less impact on the results, and make it easier to compare the different strategies, but I’m unlikely to be that patient. That said, I think I’ll try to give each at least 1,000 hands.

At the lowest levels, I’ll announce the strategy I’ll be using in advance, giving people a chance to develop exploitative counter strategies against me if they’d like. This probably works against the goal of truly testing the merits of each strategy… but oh well, it seems fun. So tomorrow’s super simple poker strategy, to be executed on multiple tables on 1/2 no-limit (probably 9-max tables):

  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK, AQs: go all in preflop every time
  • 99, 88, 77, AQ, AJs: go all in preflop if you think you will be heads up post flop a majority of the time, and fold when you think you’ll mostly get 2 or more callers, or if you are already facing a 4 bet or more
  • big blind play with hands not defined above: go all in with any hand that beats AA post flop, and fold otherwise if facing a bet

Correction: the thread that inspired this was originally created by love2eattacos, not Ilovetacos.

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Looking forward to hearing the results, should be fun! Good luck!

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Speaking as a regular at the low stakes tables, I have no doubt that you will find enough callers, holding comparative rubbish, that you will have to be exceptionally unlucky to lose over a minimum of 1000 hands. I certainly think that you should handicap yourself by playing with a fixed bankroll. The experiment is, of course, a failure if you “go broke”.

Much more interesting, to me, would be a repeat of tacos “experiment” starting at the 1/2 level with 2500 chips exactly as if you had just joined the site. You should, of course, play your “normal” game adjusted, as required, for the skill level or lack of in the players you face.

In the unlikely event of you going broke, you should “top up” exactly as would any other low stake player:

Top-up Wait time Amount
1 - 2,500
2 10 mins 2,000
3 20 mins 1,500
4 30 mins 1,000
5 40 mins 500
6 50 mins 500
7 and above 60 mins 500

You should also add your daily bonus as appropriate.

I’d add a couple of other rules:

  1. You go to the next stakes level as soon as your bankroll reaches 1000BB at the higher level.
  2. You revert to the lower stakes when your bankroll drops to 1000BB for the lower level.

I have no doubt we could tweak this but that’s the general idea. Simulate the progression of a player new to the site.

Tacos gave some great observations regarding the skill levels (or not!) of the players he faced and it would be very interesting to get a second opinion.


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LOL… yes, a fun possibility for another day. And I have to admit, I really did love the original thread.

I’m hoping this approach will give beginners some ideas for simple strategies they can employ to build their bank roll, and will in general also be interesting, with the wide variety of seemingly contradictory strategies that can be effective.

Pre-flop Hammer results:
Tables Played: 1/2 NL Holdem (Aquarium and Artificial Lake)
Hands Played: 1,063
Chips won: $4,717
BB/100: 221.87
Strategy employed: all in pre-flop with best hands, fold everything else

Advantages of Strategy

  • profitable
  • easy to imitate
  • takes advantage of major leak at low stakes of opponents under folding
  • good for practicing sticking to a strategic plan

Disadvantages of Strategy

  • should be less effective short handed and heads up, as it’s harder to hide what you are doing (amazingly though, it did still seem profitable in these spots)
  • easy to exploit for anyone paying attention to what you are doing
  • fails to get value from a large number of hands that could be played profitably
  • most people will probably find this rather boring
  • volatile: someone starting with just $1,000 would run a high risk of going broke with this approach, as you’re not really a huge favorite with any of your hands except AA, and you are risking all of your chips at the table each time

Summary of play:
The third hand or so I get TT and go all in, and am called by: 72 suited. I probably go all in about ten times before I do so without getting called, illustrating the basic reason this works at very low stakes: people call these all in moves with an incredibly wide range quite frequently.

I also had the usual experience of losing with AA on multiple occasions, once getting called by 4 people, and losing to the biggest stack who had been holding A3 suited. On another occasion, my pocket aces were beat down by J8 off.

The post flop advice here for playing the big blind is probably the weakest part of the strategy: you are never calling any bet without a hand that beats aces, and so a constant flurry of small bets is an easy way for an opponent to exploit that. Also, there are quite a few boards where a hand that beats AA is not particularly strong, and going all in shouldn’t show a profit (though again, I got some incredible calls, one example being a jam I made with 2 pair on the turn, getting called by A8 unimproved with a gut-shot straight draw that hit on the river).

All in all, I think others should probably be able to come up simple approaches that out perform this, but still, 200+ big blinds per 100 hands played is nothing to scoff at.

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Tomorrow’s strategy (1/19) on 2/4 no-limit (Hamburg and Corcovado): Passive Fish

  • never raise from any position without the nuts
  • go all in with the best hand possible (AA pre-flop, top set on dry, disconnected flop, etc)
  • pre-flop, ignore position, and limp with any pair, all broadway cards, any suited connector, and any suited one gap cards
  • facing a small or normal sized raise, make no adjustments at all to the ranges above, unless the table is aggressive, and you’ll often see a 3bet
  • Facing a 3 bet or situation where a 3 bet is common, dump everything except AA through TT, AK, and AQ suited

How will this work???

  • hopefully we’ll get a lot of calls when we jam with the nuts
  • getting value from our mostly call only strategy will require that we do a better job of assessing the value of our cards that the bettor, and will hopefully be good defense practice
  • I intend to over-fold versus the frequencies I observe, just dumping hands where I expect the EV is close to zero: I leak that I’m hoping most opponents at this level won’t be skillfully exploited
  • I’m guessing that a small number of hyper aggressive players will leave my calls quite profitable overall

In general, figuring out when to call is an important poker skill, and this will be a good way to drill on this, and figure out how good your getting (gee, I hope I don’t end up losing a huge amount doing this).

Expected shortcomings to strategy: Every poker book will tell you not to do this… why? Making bets is good for a huge number of reasons.

  • Bets create pressure, and pressure leads to mistakes
  • When you have a value hand, putting money in the pot is a good investment when you get called, and denies your opponent their equity share when they fold
  • Well timed and sized bluffs can be profitable on their own, and also have the benefit of increasing the value you derive from the good hands you bet

Also, the all in with the nuts strategy is clearly flawed against opponents that are not busy chatting on their cell phones… why would anyone call once they’ve seen you show down the nuts repeatedly without a bluff?

Finally, not modifying opening ranges based on position is almost certainly not ideal… but oh well.

I expect this one to last a few days, as I won’t have too much time to play. Good luck out there on the tables.

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I appreciate the effort but you’re only showing that an over-bankrolled, infinitely bankrolled in this case, player can play tight and win.

You didn’t mention the variance involved. Were you playing on a level field?

Given the win-rate presented, I would assume that being over-bankrolled isn’t too relevant. If you start with 3000 chips, and you buy-in for 200bbs at 1/2 (400 chips or 13% of bankroll), at a win-rate of 221bb/100 you would be very unlikely to go broke by chance, even though the win-rate is derived from a small sample.

Just as an example, I have consistently played stakes here with 10% of my bankroll on the table (at 250,000/500,000) without coming close to going broke.

I think the variance with “Pre-flop Hammer” can be significant, and so the number of hands played was probably insufficient to demonstrate the true win rate.

Concerning the bank roll necessary to implement the strategy without significant risk of going broke: personally, I’d recommend about 20 times max buy-in, or $8,000, before trying this (though it would probably be relatively safe still at half that).

Correction on hands included in “Passive Fish” strategy: I’ll also be play Ax suited from any position. So restating the list of preflop hands that will stick around for the flop unless there is a lot of aggression preflop:

  • all pairs
  • all broadway cards (AK, AQ, AJ, AT, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT and JT)
  • all suited connectors (T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, 65s, 54s, 43s, 32s)
  • Ax suited (A9s, A8s, A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s)
  • One gap suited connectors (J9s, T8s, 97s, 86s, 75s, 64s, 53s, 42s)

Hands that will stick around even with more pre-flop aggression: AA through TT, AK, and AQs.

Keys on making this work:

  • will need people to make bad calls on the rare occasions I go all in
  • having a few overly aggressive players that don’t adjust their aggression much would help a lot
  • the quality of fold/call decisions needs to be good (probably the hardest part of implementing this strategy successfully – probably easiest to just be pretty tight, as you’ll often end up in multi-way pots where it typically takes a pretty strong hand to win if anyone is displaying post flop aggression and you have other players calling)

Interesting experiment you are engaging in. I’m looking forward to seeing your strategies and results. One question - are you resetting stacks to ~100-125bb from time to time or are you letting them run up? I think resetting them to ~100 makes sense if you want to remove some extreme variance. If you let them run up so that the table is playing 200+bb effective, the swings at the ends of sessions will have higher weights than earlier in the sessions when stacks were shorter.

I’m intending to sit down with the maximum allowable buy in throughout, and so that will typically be 200 big blinds, which is fairly deep stacked play. Both Pre-Flop Hammer and Passive Fish rely on all in bets for a lot of their value, and so having the largest possible stack helps maximize value, assuming I have any edge at all. With Pre-Flop Hammer I was initially rebuying constantly, but that got boring, and I eventually switched to only rebuying if I lost roughly 15% or more of my stack (and I didn’t want to change my normal settings to automatically top off).

Some updates on Passive Fish:

I’ve still got a ways to go with this one, and think I’ll need to take it to at least 2,000 hands, as it feels so far like there is less value than with the simpler strategy of moving all in pre-flop with a certain number of relatively premium hands, but I’m already seeing some areas where I think the strategy could be improved (though I think I’d find this style of play painful no matter how the specifics got altered, lol). I won’t actually make any of these adjustments, but if others want to imitate this, I think these would improve EV.

  • drop off suit broadway cards, small pairs, and suited connectors from early position: the off suit broadway are just hopeless here, and while the others could normally be played profitably, they really depend on putting chips in the middle on the rare occasions where you create a strong hand, and with this scheme you are only allowed to do that with the absolute nuts.

Things I’m actually doing, but probably haven’t described well in my strategy definition:

  • I’m considering pot odds in my calls, and so calling smaller bets wider than larger bets (so preflop in the big and small blinds, I’m calling min raises with more hands than listed in the strategy)
  • implied odds are reduced in this strategy on draws to non-nut hands, as you’ll need to depend on opponents to bet for you, and thus it is important to reduce assumed implied odds relative to how you might calculate that normally (you’ll need to fold your draws to bets more often than you usually would)

I’m really curious if anyone can do better with a similarly passive strategy. I can’t believe how brutal this Passive Fish trial seems. LOL… I suppose it doesn’t suite me. It’s very alien to my style of poker I think.

But I’m also finding it is much more difficult to evaluate hand ranges than usual doing this:

  • this is no longer in vogue as a legitimate reason for betting, but betting does provide information, and helps to collapse the ranges you are against, making it a bit easier to make fold/call decisions on later streets
  • people make all sorts of really strange moves at these stakes, again making it harder to collapse ranges based on the play you’ve seen on prior streets
  • medium pairs are the pits with passive lines: you have TT or JJ, and get in these multi-way pots with players that bluff way too often… you could call more easily if you were heads up, but how often are you ahead with 5 others looking at the flop of K93?

Having a really aggro opponent is the savior of this strategy, where a trapping style of play is often great, anyway. Without someone firing silly bluffs on every street, it’s like watching an hourglass, where the sand is your chips, draining away.

OK, I just couldn’t take any more of that, LOL. For me at least, that style of play just feels like torture. I just couldn’t keep doing that for another 1,000 hands, and so have cut it off at close to 1,000, like Pre-Flop Hammer. For those that enjoy this style, there are a lot of ways it could be modified to be improved (throwing in some bets with very strong, but not the absolute nuts hands would certainly help), and I did manage to show a profit in this sample.

Passive Fish results:
Tables played: 2/4 NL Holdem (Corcovado and Hamburg)
Hands played: 1,070
Chips won: $3,129
BB/100 hands: 73.11

Not betting on the river as the button, when you are nearly certain you have the best hand, was for me probably the most difficult spot. I actually almost bet once with a full house where I blocked the only possible quads, but AA only would have had a stronger boat… but I barely managed to hold to the strategy, as clearly defective as it was, lol. For tomorrow I’m going to have to switch to something a little more active.


Coming up tomorrow: Value Village

  • all bets, both pre and post flop will be pot sized
  • if heads up, any pair weaker than top pair with medium kicker (except an under pair) will get 1 bet: 60% flop, 60% turn if not flop, and river if not on prior two streets
  • top pair with medium kicker and better gets 2 bets (75% flop, 60% turn), unless board is very wet, in which case can be down graded to prior bullet approach
  • over pairs and better get bet on every street, with downgrade again possible on very wet boards
  • all of the above assumes you don’t get bet into – if the bet is small, stick to above plan (though now pot sized bets will be bigger), and if it is larger then half pot, count it as one of your bets, folding some of your weakest holdings like bottom pair
  • if any bet would leave your bet larger than the chips you or your opponent would have left, then go all in
  • when facing more than one opponent post flop, down grade your hand either one hand category per opponent, or drop your betting percentages by dividing by the number of opponents and then increasing by 10% (you can choose a preferred method, or randomly switch between them)
  • no bluffs allowed, even with monster draws with 15 outs and better (we’ll introduce different types of simple bluffing options with later schemes)
  • with draws, to make it simple, with 8 or 9 outs and a chance at the nuts, call half pot bets and smaller, and fold the rest; fold draws that aren’t to the nuts or that have fewer outs, unless bet size is 25% pot or smaller
  • pre-flop, only raise or fold, except as small blind or big blind… no limping
  • fairly normal, tight opening ranges (I won’t stick to these religiously, but should be playing moderately close to these opening ranges), raising with all hands below if there is no prior raise (don’t care if there are prior limps for this strategy)
    Seat 6 - UTG: AA - TT, AK, AQs
    Seat 5 - EP: add 99, 88, AQ, AJs and ATs
    Seat 4 - MP: add 77, 66, AJ, A9s, KQs and QJs
    Seat 3 - LJ: add 55, 44, AT, KQ, A8s, A7s, and all suited broadway
    Seat 2 - HJ: add 33, 22, Ax suited, T9s, 98s, and 87s
    Seat 1 - CO: add A9, A8, all suited connectors, and all broadway
    Seat 0 - BTN: add Ax, and all suited one gappers
    Seat -1 and -2 - SB & BB: raise with AA to TT and non-suited broadway, and call with remaining BTN hands
  • If there is a raise in front of you, either 3 bet or fold (again make pot sized raises, not min raises). If it is a min raise, 3 bet (re-raise) the same range as your normal opening range (you could drop the worst 2 or 3 hands if you wanted). Against normal sized bets, toss out half of your range, and 3 bet the rest.
  • if you face a 3 bet, just cut your range in half again, and 4 bet or fold
  • a pair is 6 combos, an off suit hand 12, and a suited hand 4, when figuring out what it means to cut your range in half (your are tossing out 3 times as many hands when you drop an off suit hand as when you drop a suited hand); I typically like to drop off suit hands first, but the overriding principle is to get rid of the hands that you think will have the lowest expected value
  • always raise AA and KK preflop (KK will be up against 72 suited in a 7 bet pot too often at these stakes to ever think of folding it)

Randomization notes: I’ve added some randomizing elements to the play. If you’ve never done this before, some ways you can do this quickly:

  • keep track and just run through a cycle that matches your desired percentage
  • roll dice
  • use hundredths of a second on a stop watch
  • use the second hand on a clock
  • invent your own, even cooler approach

Weaknesses in strategy:

  • we aren’t doing much to protect our checking range, other than shifting some of our continuation bets to the turn, and so this leaves us a little vulnerable to floats or to bets against our checks if we were out of position
  • without bluffs, and with only value bets, our play is fairly “face up”: stronger opponents will be able to narrow our range further and further with each bet, and should be able to make better decisions about whether to check, call, raise, or fold as a result

Let me know if you think there are other large holes in the Value Village scheme worth warning others about. If you want to exploit them yourself against me yourself, I’ll be playing this one at least through Thursday on 5/10 9 max no limit tables. Best of luck!

Wow, tough start against the seasoned pros playing on 5/10… I’ve lost a little over 5 buy-ins, or over 1,000 big blinds, in the first 250 hands played. I was actually pretty confident this would out perform the previous two strategies, so interesting to see how much of an impact volatility can have.

On the whole, the tables have been hyper aggressive, with quite a few cases where players would go all in pre-flop repeatedly, or always jam on the flop. Overall a fine situation for this strategy (and the prior two), but certainly volatile. So far, people at this level seem to treat pot sized bets like min bets… getting about 1 opponent out of 5 to fold with a pot sized bet seems about the norm.

With basically every pot seeing multiple people to the flop and later streets, you win far fewer pots with strong hands, but do win much bigger pots when you win. The hand below is a typical example of how things go when running bad. Here, I can’t really fault my opponent for calling with trips, though you might wonder why they called pre-flop.

Many other times I was stacked were to even more unlikely holdings. What does this mean? I think it means you are up against very wide ranges: you have a lot of opponents that will simply never fold until they’ve seen the river. I think attacking play like this with a value strategy is the way to go, but as you can see, getting lots of callers means you’ll often get out-drawn by the river. Still, the rare pots you do win will tend to be bigger. We’ll see how it goes. :wink:

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One further clarification on implementation versus pre-flop raises: against a min re-raise you really shouldn’t fold, as the pot odds offered are good enough that all of the cards in your range should have enough equity to call against the normal raising range you’ll see at this level, and so if you don’t have the cards that you should raise with, calling here is fine, even though the general approach here is to always raise or fold pre-flop. An exception is probably if the call will pot commit you, in which case you have all three options on the table. For simplicities sake: raise with the top half of your range; fold with the bottom 25%, and call the balance.

If we have any beginning or intermediate players where the rules laid out for Value Village seem like too much, feel free to simplify and tweak them, and maybe gradually add more of the bullets. I’m hoping to eventually have at least one +EV (winning) strategy for each level through the first 15 to 20 levels (if I last that long), that people can imitate or improve, picking from among them a style that suits how they like to play.

If we do have beginners reading this thread, please note that all of these strategies will reach a point as you face better and better players where they will not work. Pre-Flop Hammer, for example, would be a complete disaster at the highest levels (and I’d be curious to see at what level it would start to lose money – at 5/10 I’m strongly suspecting it is still fine).

For advanced players (or anyone else for that matter), please feel free to suggest some schemes also, and I might try and pick some of the ones I like the best if I begin to run out of ideas on that front. Still coming from me pretty soon: Lazy Limper and Pressure Cooker, and I’m sure I’ll come up with some others. I’m hoping for stuff that has some kind of cohesive theme (which will fundamentally probably make it somewhat exploitable – but hey, there are a lot of levels before we’re trying stuff on the Elite tables).