I’ve had a few players ask me for tips to improve their game, and thought I’d summarize here some of the things I think might help players ranked around 200 to 800 move up into the top 100.
Work on pre-flop ranges
I’ve been surprised by how many players don’t seem to take pre-flop strategy seriously. Decisions on every street feed into your over all win rate, and it gets harder as you play better players to make bad decisions pre-flop and then recover from that with superior post flop strategy.
decide on what hands are worth opening from each different seat at the table, and play more hands from the button than from the cutoff, more hands from the cutoff than from the highjack, etc.
decide what hands make good 3 bets from each position, facing a raise from each position, and in general, 3 bet more (especially when facing raises from players that raise more frequently)
call less frequently; this goes hand in hand with the point above (3 bet more), but especially as you have aggressive players still to act behind you that might squeeze, and where you are neither the button nor last to act, there just aren’t that many hands that really perform best by just calling
flat 3 bets even less; if someone raises in front of you, and then someone raises over that, flatting really exposes you to the risk of a 4 bet from the initial raiser, and with a 3 bet already out there, the value of speculative hands diminishes a lot (their implied odds are diminished in 3 bet pots as stacks behind aren’t as large relative to the chips already in the pot)
consider the frequencies with which different players are making different kinds of plays, and record those statistics
Work on Balancing Ranges
The goal here is usually not to achieve balance, but more to understand what balance looks like so that you can tell where your opponents are not balanced, and how you can react to exploit that.
understand where you should make bigger bets, and where you should make smaller bets; at a very high level, you want to make big bets where you have a more polarized range (a nut advantage), and where your opponent’s range has a reasonably high density of hands that will want to continue
understand optimal bluff frequencies, and how bluff frequencies are a function of bet size. A pot sized bet where the bluffs have zero equity (usually only occurs on the river) should have 1 bluff for every 2 value bets, where a 1/3 pot sized bet should only have 1 bluff per every 4 value bets (just compare the size of the bet to the size of the pot plus the bet).
understand how having equity in your bluffs allows for bluff ratios higher than this (while those bluffs still have equity)
your checking range needs protection: you need to check some good hands at least some of the time, especially out of position
if you have a hand that is mostly ahead of your opponents range, but mostly behind their calling range, a bet is not a value bet, it is a bluff. Really weak hands with no show down value have the most to gain from a bluff, but there are also still spots where a hand mostly ahead can benefit from a bluff of this sort (when your opponent’s range has significant equity).
Check with some middle strength hands that are less vulnerable to cards to come
Make “protection” bets with some other middle strength hands more vulnerable to being out drawn
bucketing hands into 1 street of value, 2 streets of value, and 3 streets of value (and no streets of value) hands is useful in a lot of spots, but it is also important to remember that the flop, turn and river can change things. If you make a bet on one street, it can be useful to decide in advance how various cards on the next street modify the type of hand you have.
Apply Pressure, but also Patience
Continue to work on segmenting your range given the cards that are now visible:
hands that should check/fold
hands that should check/call
hands that should check/raise
hands that should bet/fold
hands that should bet/call
hands that should bet/raise
As you face decisions on every street, think of all of the hands you’d arrive at that spot with over millions of iterations, and how different hands should be divided into the categories above. You want to think about what hands belong in each category in the actual situation you find yourself in. You want to have a decent number of hands taking aggressive actions, but I find it helpful to try and focus on making the right play with the right hand, and finding the right hands to fold is important too.
If you happen to be an advanced AI, you can likely just play at the perfect frequencies and do quite well without paying any attention to the mistakes your opponents are making, but I think the biggest value from beginning to understanding optimal frequencies comes from understanding where you opponents are deviating from them, and how you can respond profitably to that. Especially pay attention to the frequencies you see from the opponents you think you’re most likely to be able to get chips from, and pretend everyone else is playing perfectly. I personally like to try and adjust my frequencies enough to derive extra EV, but subtly enough so that it’s harder for opponents to realize where my ranges are now also liable to counter exploitation. As an example, against a fairly extreme call station, I like to continue to include some bluffs in my range, but I’m going to bluff at frequencies significantly below theoretically optimal levels.
Great post. I’m still relatively new to poker… have only ever played on this site and have <200k hands… so it’s fascinating to hear the thoughts of a thinking player articulated in this way.
I’m curious though, to what extent you feel these considerations are applicable on this site & at which stakes? In my experience, primarily at the lower 2 elite stakes games & below… most tables are extremely passive pre-flop with almost no 3 betting (without premiums) with over calling on the remaining streets. So my experience is focused mainly on deriving an exploitative strategy that varies based on the specific players that are present.
I’ve dabbled in the highest 2 stakes & the play there does change significantly. Much much more aggressive pre-flop with challenging & more unpredictable (for me anyway) post-flop play.
Forgive any butchering I’ve done of “poker-speak” but would be interested in your thoughts. You are certainly a tough one to play against haha
To be honest, as I made this post, I was mostly thinking of a handful of players ranked between 200 and 800, and of things they seemed to need work on. If instead the question was, “what should you focus on to crush the 50k/100k tables and the 100k/200k tables here”, I think I’d likely come up with a different list.
At these tables, most of the players don’t use very balanced strategies, and tend to have very “original” styles where I agree that exploitative adjustments will maximize returns. Focus on finding 2 or 3 of their larges holes, and then hammer away at those as hard as you think you can without being super likely to get them to plug those holes or even reverse adjust.
But for those that prefer not to overly focus their play on exploiting specific individual players, but might rather prefer to make plays that exploit the pool at large:
Mostly raising pre-flop, along with selecting hands appropriate to be played that way, means you are playing hands with a positive expectation, and going post flop playing for bigger pots with that positive expectation
There are a lot of post flop situations where most players ranges become very unbalanced – either very weak or very strong; start making a mental catalog of some of those spots, as you can avoid bluffing into the really strong ranges (and can over fold to bets), and you can find a lot of profitable bluffs in the spots where the ranges are very weak.
When you have a really strong hand, try to think about the hands you’d want to bluff with, and how you’d usually play that hand on a given board; when you have a natural hand to bluff with, think about what hands you’d make the same bets with for value
In trying to decide if you can bet for value, make a quick catalog of the hands that will call and beat you, and then the hands you are targeting that will call and lose, and compare the combinational frequency of those two categories.
Decide how you want to balance protecting your checking range against trying to derive maximum value from your value hands. Also decide if you need to… if I’m facing call stations that are extreme enough, I’ll most play in a manner that seems like it should almost expose my exact holding, betting any time I think I can bet for value, and bluffing any time I think my opponents will over fold (a lot of call stations will over fold to bets on the river, even as they over defend on earlier streets).
If you are suggesting that players play better in live cash games than in on-line games for real cash, then I disagree.
If you are suggesting that high stakes live cash players play in general far better than players on this site, then I agree.
If you are suggesting that low stakes live cash players play in general better than the high stakes cash players on this site, then I again disagree.
Being overconfident is usually not a great idea if your goal is to perform well. Suggesting that this is somehow not real poker just because players cannot turn chips won into cash and a lot of the better players have probably never bought chips also seems lame to me. This is fundamentally real poker, played for play money. The skills involved are nearly the same, though I’d agree that if you are playing over your bank for real money, the stress will be a lot higher (but no one with any sense would do that anyway).
Anyway, good luck everyone on the tables, both here and wherever else you play. I think this will be my last post for a bit.
No, but I think when you get to the higher levels on RP, not wanting to lose chips is a real Factor.
As I wrote before, I had played exclusively in tournaments, but recently started to play Ring games. I was experimenting with various ways of playing and made some bad mistakes. In a couple of weeks I had lost 60 million chips, and I was getting worried about this, but was determined to improve. (Fortunately in the next couple of weeks I was able to add 90 million chips.)
But I think people attach a certain amount of status and mental well-being to having a large or largish chipstack. It takes a long time to accumulate a lot of chips. If you are playing in the 50k/100k ring game, you usually start with a stack of 12M chips. If you get stuck in a few times, you can lose a lot of chips and slide down the rankings. People who have got to this level want to maintain their rankings and improve them. To get to that level, a player has to beat a lot of other players on the way up.
I cannot say for sure exactly what level of play the highest levels on RP would equate to in a casino game game, but I think the top 100 players on RP could probably hold their own in the kind of televised games or games on YouTube that one sees played by badly dressed men!
As Yorunoame says, the top players on RP have idiosyncratic styles, and are very difficult to exploit.
This is an excellent and very thoughtful post that would help any player to improve their game. Please don’t stop posting. There are so many levels of thinking to poker that almost nobody could ever reach the virtuoso level. I know for myself that I have just started thinking about questions like what card on the turn could enhance or denigrate hands that opponents might potentially be holding and how players react in their betting patterns when events occur such as the bottom card on the flop pairing itself on the turn.
I think you know when you have reached your level in RP when you are up against a table of opponents in which for long periods of time no one is really making a profit or a loss. In this respect RP is different from casino Poker, because there is no table rake.
I agree it is a bit annoying when people make blanket statements about the quality of play on RP without providing any underlying arguments, examples, or details.
Obviously not, but some of the people who play really high stakes poker may do so because they have more money than they really need, and playing high stakes poker gives them a sense of status. These high rollers probably provide income for professional players and never make a long-term profit themselves.
Most of the people playing high stakes poker for real money are probably not playing with their last $1,000, or on money they raised by mortgaging their children. And even if they were, would they play better?
It would be interesting to see an Olympic poker tournament of champions in which players only used play money, but played for the prestige of an Olympic medal.
It is also a pity that there is no system of certification or Mastership in poker like in chess. You could have a system of graduated exams in which people were asked to solve poker probability problems within a few seconds without using a calculator or computer.
But in all fairness, I should probably add that I kind of disagree with myself on this point: this kind of bet probably isn’t best described as a bluff, even if that makes a good point. I guess the key is that it is not a value bet. If more calls will be ahead of your hand than behind, then you’re really just hoping for folds, at which point this does start to feel somehow bluffy. But I think bets like this are really a 3rd category of their own, and can in some cases improve EV, even if they often do the opposite.
Which way they tilt (+EV or -EV) depends on a balance of the following factors:
Net losses from calls, given that we are by definition looking at a population where calls that beat our holding will outnumber calls that lose
Improved share of the pot from hands that fold, most all of which will be surrendering some equity by folding
It’s of course a little more complicated than this, as the bullets above don’t really capture what happens the fraction of the time that we face a raise, but I still hope this will be helpful in thinking about bets with marginal hands that are somewhat below the thin value class.