I have been wanting to post a new strategy guide for Replay, but it keeps branching out into tangents because poker is a complex game. So, I distilled it into fewer and fewer steps until I was left with only 1.
- Bet, bet large, and be the last bettor.
Imagine you are playing a cash game 200 bbs deep or are deep-stacked early in a big tournament. You get AKs, and dutifully raise to 3.5 bbs. The player in the BB is unknown to you, and they shove all-in for your entire stack. How do you feel? What do you do? If you’re like me, you imagine that (it being Replay) they might have some hands like 88 or “bluffs” like A3o or complete randomness, so you maybe have to call, but you don’t like it. AKs is one of the best hands in poker and here you are hating it. You may even fold or consider folding. Being put under this pressure takes away your postflop skill advantage, so you could decide to fold and look for a better spot. That is the power of betting. If you call, you will lose 1/3 of the time to a completely random hand and more than 3/4 of the time against AA/KK. Even KK/QQ will lose 1/5 times against a random hand and be crushed by AA.
So many players on Replay almost never raise and only bet big when they have a great hand. How do you expect to win in the long run if you always let somebody else do the betting and fold if your hand is not strong enough to call? You will only end up with hands like trips or better a very small percentage of the time. So if you only bet big when you have those hands, you are not giving yourself a chance to win many pots or win big pots.
This might sound strange, but against most Replay opposition you can win without ever calling a bet in any situation. Open-raise every hand you want to play. If somebody has already raised or 3-bet either fold or raise again, never call. Then bet, raise, or fold on every street. Think about it, your play seems very strong, you dictate the action, and your opponent has to have a strong hand to continue.
There are several reasons this works
a) Players often telegraph their strength. If you are always the raiser, then when your opponent raises it looks very strong, so if your hand is weak you can easily fold. It is harder for them to have a good hand to play back at you than it is for you to be aggressive with all of your hands.
b) Players do not adjust correctly or at all. You may bluff too often with this strategy, but players may adjust by tightening up, which enables you to fold when they play back at you. Or they may bluff back at you, in which case you can still fold or make them pay when you have it. Even very aggressive players will have strong hands sometimes. Other players will continue to play fit or fold and just give up if they don’t have it.
c) It is not the standard play. Forcing players to adjust to your play is likely to take them out of their comfort zone and create mistakes. With practice, you can make better decisions because you are used to playing this way, while other players will be forced to play big pots with relatively weak hands or overplay big hands.
d) The gap concept (https://www.thepokerbank.com/strategy/concepts/gap-concept/). This is kind of an amalgam of the other bullet points, but basically the bettor is the one applying the pressure, and other players generally need better hands to continue against bets than you need to make the initial bet.
This is not to say bluff every hand; it is predicated upon making good decisions, and you will also need to give up and fold a lot. You would want to use a polarized range with this strategy with a lot of very strong hands, Ax hands, and suited connectors. But you can play this strategy with a normal range of 10-30% of starting hands.
What gives most people pause (including me) about this approach is what about the times you end up betting into monster hands or you make an all-in bluff and get called by a weak top pair. These situations will happen, but if you raise sufficiently before the flop, you will face fewer opponents with lower absolute hand strength (it is tough for someone to always have monsters or hands they will call all-in). And there will be times when you have it yourself. There is nothing sweeter than getting maximum value when people call down and you actually had it.
Now, I am not advocating never calling, just that you want to do more betting and big betting than you do calling. Having the initiative in hands enables you to win pots in multiple ways, maximize value, and apply pressure to force your opponents into mistakes.
Imagine one more scenario. In a cash game 150 bbs deep, an opponent in early position opens to 5 bbs, and they never raise, so you put them on exactly AA/KK or maybe AK/QQ. You are in the big blind and don’t even know what your cards are except that they are in your 3-bet range, which is all pocket pairs, all Axs/ATo+/KQs/QJs/JTs/J9s/T9s/T8s/98s/97s/87s76s/65s/54s. That is 16.7% of all starting hands, so you would be 3-betting quite frequently and quite light. They call you and go to a flop.
You will be ahead by the river against AA/KK 22.2% of the time. That means if you bet pot on all streets and get called every single time, you will win their entire stack more than 1 of 5 times and lose nearly 4 of 5 times (and you will win 1/3 of the time if you include AK/QQ in their range). But then imagine that you bet and get called on the flop, turn, and go all-in on the river. The board on the river is 79TJ2 with three spades. They have one flush combo with AA/KK/AK/QQ and no sets, no two pair. Meanwhile you have something like 15 flush combos, all set combos, and most two pair combos. Your range now has 55.2% equity against theirs. So, they set up to trap you with the strongest possible hands, and now you will win more than half of the time; you can have all the strongest hands and they only have a bluff catcher. This is the power of being the bettor.