Hand Classes and What to Do Now

Doyle Brunson has the nice quote to the effect that there is nothing that matters except how strong your hand is now. Grouping your hand of the moment into various classes, and repeating that at each decision point, can be a useful way of deciding what you should do.

  • Effective Nuts: you have a hand that is ahead of every likely holding, and want to mostly bet big when you think your opponent’s range has many hands they will likely call with, and check or bet small when the opponent’s range does not have many premium hands
  • Strong Value: You might be up against a stronger hand, but most of the time your opponent’s continuing range will be with a hand worse than yours; you’ll mostly want normal sized bets, again with some checks and smaller bets mixed in when you think your opponent’s range is quite weak
  • Thin Value: You might be well in front of your opponent’s range until you bet, at which point you will only have slightly more calls behind you than calls in front of you
  • Barely Ahead: It can be hard to decide what to do here, since if you bet, most of your opponent’s calls will be ahead of you; you will still want to make protection bets when your hand is very vulnerable (much of your opponents range has a lot of equity against your holding), but will also want to include a lot of these hands in your checking range to strengthen it
  • Weak Showdown Value: You are probably behind, but will still win at showdown if it checks down a fair amount of the time; mostly check/fold with these (though you can also have some rare check raises)
  • Weak but High Equity: These are hands that are probably behind, but which might improve to be a very strong hand with future cards. You often want to be very aggressive with these, although there are also spots where just checking or calling can be preferable (where your opponent might be likely to raise all in in response to a bet from you, and your equity at that point won’t be enough for a call)
  • Complete Trash: These will mostly be check folds, but unfortunately you will have too much trash, and especially once you are down to only one opponent, you want to pick some of these that block your opponent’s continuation range to use as pure bluffs (bluffs with almost no equity if called).

For the last two categories, when deciding on sizing for bluffs, it is often good to consider what kind of value bets you’d make, and to make bets of sizes that you’d also make with the value parts of your range.

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Let’s say you have pocket sevens and raise pre-flop and two calling stations call you. Flop comes 2 6 A - what category would you put pocket 7’s in with that flop and how would you proceed?

Having multiple opponents alters the equity of your hands, requiring stronger holdings to be able to bet for value, and diminishing the frequency bluffs are able to sneak past the sleeping guards.
Having calling stations of course also lowers the profitability of the bluffs in your range.

That said, I’m mostly making a slightly oversized continuation bet for a dry board of slightly over half pot, assuming this is not a monotone board. This bet would not usually be a value bet but a protection bet, as most calls will have 77 beat especially by the player with someone still left to act behind. But with calling stations, it starts to move in the thin value direction because of calls with a six or 2 and who knows what else. But I’m not honestly sure if this is thin value or a protection bet… a lot depends on how call happy these folks are, and the size of their pre-flop calling ranges.

The situation gets ugly on the turn if both opponents call… I don’t think you can get multiple streets of value with 2 opponents. Hopefully they are the type of call stations that only bet with value, and you can just toss 77 in the face of meaningful aggression on later streets.

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Let’s say there are two over cards on the flop instead of one (board is 2 K A instead) - would you still bet the flop with something like pocket sevens? (opponents are still two calling stations who called a raise preflop)

With 2 opponents, I’m probably not ahead on an AK2 flop with 77. If I was against 1 normal opponent, I’m probably range betting here, since both an ace and a king hugely favors the range of the pre-flop raiser, but against 2 call stations, I’m just checking down and folding to anything that is not a min bet.

Looking back to the previous case, with the A62 rainbow flop (I was kind of assuming it was rainbow), you might ask what you should do with bigger pairs, like QQ or KK. Here, against normal opponents, these are great candidates for checking, as they don’t have as much risk of being outdrawn if they are ahead on the flop. Against call stations, if 77 is a thin value bet, then these start to perhaps be worth two streets of thin value.

Against really transparent calling stations that never bet without strong value, you don’t really need to protect your checking range, and the main question becomes how wide they will call, and if a given hand gets called more by hands ahead or behind.

Edit: I’d also just add that the play I’m describing is almost certainly flawed. This is an honest description of how I think I’d play most of the time, but simply put, there are better players, and I think even the best players in the world don’t really know what the most profitable plays are most of the time, especially against weak human opposition that tends to make extremely suboptimal plays in occasionally very hard to predict ways. I think the most profitable players are those that are the best at exploitative adaptations, and if GTO theory is still a work in progress, optimal exploitative play is even more so.

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In the first example with a A62 rainbow flop against two calling stations, what percentage of the pot would you bet with 77?

As I think about it more, I think there are quite a few factors, high on the list being the extremity of their propensity to call with any two cards, but I’m probably torn between 60% pot and just using the 1/2 pot button. Honestly, I think checking is fine also. I don’t expect that there is a large EV difference between the two options.

Let’s imagine a few cases where we know what their cards are…

Case 1: 77 v K9o v J8o on A62 rainbow flop
Here, note how our opponents combined have more than 12 outs against us (any of the 3 remaining K, J, 9 or 8, plus some straight possibilities, offset by a rare spike of a 7 on the turn or river). We are actually a pretty strong favorite, and can expect to win about 2/3 of the time, but still also derive a lot of benefit from folds.

Case 2: 77 v 65o v T2s w/backdoor flush
You might think we’d be better here, but our equity has dropped from about 66% to 57%, with both players now having more equity against us than either before… but this is normally about the best case you can realistically expect when you get calls from both players.

Case 3: 77 v 22 v A4 obviously we are almost completely dead here… and when we get bet and called by both players, it will be this grim more than occasionally. Surprisingly, we actually have more equity here than A4, at 9% against 4% for A4, even though A4 is obviously way ahead of us individually.

If we imagine that these two players call preflop raises at a 100% rate, and never fold post flop, then overall equity is a little under 50% for 77, with our two opponents splitting the difference. The more selective they are about calling, the more our equity crashes, and the more any bet becomes a protection bet, and can’t be considered thin value.

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In this instance I wouldn’t think about how much of the pot should you bet but more of how much you can afford to lose of your stack. Too many variables with those calling stations and the flop

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