Skip to main content

Full text of "The Grinder's Manual A Complet Peter Clarke"

See other formats


www.dandbpoker.com 


Rolf Slotboom 

Secrets of Professional Poker 



Secrets of Professional Poker, volume I 

by Rolf Slotboom 

978-1-904468-40-0, 256pp, $24.95/£14.99 


Advanced 

Limit Hold’em Strategy 



Advanced Limit-Hold’em Strategy 

by Barry Tanenbaum 

978-1-904468-36-3,256pp, $24.95 / £14.99 



JCVICI9 VI VII II yus 

by Phil Shaw 

978-1 904468-43-1, 224pp, $24.95 / £14.99 



How Good is Your Limit Hold 'em? 

by Byron Jacobs with Jim Brier 
978-1-904468-15-8, 192pp, $23.95/£13.99 



How Good is Your Pot-Limit Omaha? 

by Stewart Reuben 

978-1-904468-07-3, 192pp, $19.95/£12.99 


How Good is Your Pot-Limit Hold'em? 

by Stewart Reuben 

978-1-904468-08-0, 208pp, $19.95/£12.99 


Hold’em on the Come 

LIMIT HOLD’EM STRATEGY FOR DRAWING HANDS 

by Rolf Slotboom and Dew Mason 



Hold'em on the Come 

by Rolf Slotboom and Drew Mason 
978-1-904468-23-3, 272pp, $19.95/£12.99 



Secrets of Professional 


'Alter this book. 


Secrets of Professional Pot-Limit Omaha 

by Rolf Slotboom 

978-1-904468-30-6, 240pp, $24.95/£14.99 


Limit Hold’em: winning 
short-handed strategies 


techniques for limit hold'em games with six players or less 



Limit Hold’em: Winning short-handed strategies 

by Terry Borer and Lawrence Mak with Barry Tannenbaum 
978-1-904468-37-0, 352pp, $24.95/£14.99 





























Danny Ashman 



POKER SERIES 


www.dandbpoker.com 















First published in 2009 by D & B Publishing 
Reprinted 2009 


Copyright © 2009 Danny Ashman 


The right of Danny Ashman to be identified as the author of this work has 
been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 


1988. 


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in 
a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, 
electrostatic, magnetic tape, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without 
prior permission of the publisher. 

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. 

ISBN: 978 1 904468 41 7 


All sales enquiries should be directed to D&B Publishing: 
Tel: 01273 711443, e-mail: info@dandbpoker.com. 
Website: www.dandbpoker.com 


Cover design by Horatio Monteverde. 
Printed and bound in the US. 










Contents 


Introduction 8 

Poker is a new game 8 

Because its new people don't understand it 9 

There is a lot of money in poker 10 

Why this book will make you money 11 

About this book 12 

1 Approaching the game 14 

The keys to winning poker 14 

Passion for the game 14 

Why poker is hard to learn 15 

Confidence and honesty 18 

Why continual learning is important 20 

Self-checking 22 

Intelligence 24 

2 Mental discipline 26 

General guidelines 26 

Winning poker 28 











Tilt 

29 

The seven deadly sins 

30 

The importance of not tilting 

33 

How to avoid tilting 

34 

Empowering yourself 

36 

Strategic considerations 

37 

Shorthanded vs. full table 

37 

Live vs. online 

38 

Game selection 

38 

Bankroll management 

42 

Multitabling 

45 

Poker math 

46 

Expected value 

46 

Basic probability 

46 

Hand combinations 

47 

EV calculations 

48 

Putting it all together 

50 

Pre-Flop 

54 

Evaluating your opponents 

54 

Skill level 

55 

Loose vs. tight 

58 

Aggressive vs. passive 

58 

Making adjustments 

58 

Starting hands 

60 

Hand reading 

61 

Example hands 

64 

The Flop 

69 

Planning a hand 

69 

Being aggressive 

72 

Protecting your hand 

73 

Determining the best line 

73 

Pot odds 

75 










Implied odds 77 

Example hands 79 

7 The Turn and River 89 

Sophisticated play 89 

Considering future cards 90 

Ev+ vs. Ev+++ 94 

Bet sizing 99 

Instincts 100 

Strategic considerations 102 

Metagame 104 

Example hands 106 

8 Other concepts and hand histories 111 

Value betting 111 

Bluffing 118 

Semi-bluffing 131 

Trapping 138 

Folding strong hands 145 

Bet-call and check-call lines with weak hands 149 

Changing gears 155 

Miscellaneous 157 

Heads-up matches 160 










Introduction 


Poker is a still new game 

In 1998 internet poker began with the launch of the site Planet Poker. 
Not many people had heard of, or indeed played on. Planet Poker 
but it only took one more year until 1999 when the much bigger and 
successful Paradise Poker opened up for business. In 2001 Party- 
Poker started and this would later become the biggest site for online 
poker (before the government passed anti-gambling legislation in 
2006). In 2003 Party's revenue was slightly over $100 million, but by 
2005 it had peaked at well over $800 million. Even though it was big 
in 2003, it wasn't until as recently as 2005 that it really took off. 

The same phenomenon of very recent growth has occurred in the 
arena of live poker. The World Series of Poker started in 1971 with a 
number of entries you could count on your fingers. By 2003 it had 
grown to 839 entries - a fair amount of growth, but that was as noth¬ 
ing compared to the next period of expansion where by 2006 there 
were 8,773 entries, which amounted to a first place prize of 
$12,000,000 when Jamie Gold happened to win. 

Meanwhile the World Poker Tour scheduled a full twenty $10,000 


8 












Introduction 


tournaments for its season six schedule of 2007. All of these live 
tournaments go out on TV with the recent additions of poker shows 
such as High Stakes Poker, Celebrity Poker, the Professional Poker Tour 
and so on. The numbers do not lie and the facts cited above illustrate 
that though poker has existed for a long time, it has not existed in its 
current form - where it is orders of magnitude more popular and a 
part of popular culture - until very recently. 


Because it’s new people don’t understand it 

All of this is of more than academic interest. Because poker is such a 
"new" game, the general level of understanding is quite low. Couple 
this with the following facts: a lot of people play poker and people 
play for a lot of money. Maybe the best word to describe the situa¬ 
tion that exists is "opportunity" or perhaps two words that describe 
it even better are "tremendous opportunity". 

This popularity has led to the increasing inclusion of poker in popu¬ 
lar culture - for instance a $10,000,000 poker tournament was used 
as the setting for the James Bond movie Casino Royale. In this film. 
Bond's arch enemy Le Chiffre declares, "All in. I have two pair and 
you have a 17.4% chance of making your straight", as if he has made 
a supposedly good play. According to conventional wisdom, this is 
apparently the math involved in the game - the type of skill re¬ 
quired to play in a ten million dollar tournament. Naturally, the re¬ 
ality is somewhat different. 

Perhaps an even better example from Casino Royale is where Le Chif¬ 
fre says, "You changed your shirt Mr. Bond. I hope our little game 
isn't causing you to perspire". Bond replies "A little. But I won't 
consider myself to be in trouble until I start weeping blood." Bond 
has apparently picks up a "tell" on Le Chiffre that when he cries 
blood it gives away information about his hand. However, the un¬ 
derlying idea is that the key to psychology in poker is looking at a 
person's face and figuring out what they have. Again, the reality is 
somewhat different. 


9 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

For example, in a baseball movie if someone said, "Okay Slugger, 
you have big muscles on your arms. Use those to hit that ball far, 
real far and then we can win the game", this would be analogous to 
the Casino Royale dialogue about poker. The difference is that people 
take the Casino Royale dialogue more seriously but would realise that 
the comparable baseball dialogue is nonsense because baseball has 
been in popular culture for a comparatively long time. 

If the skills cited by Bond and Le Chiffre were the true skills needed 
to master poker, they are so basic that everyone could be a poker 
expert in a couple of weeks. It is true that the two keystones to poker 
are psychology and math but those two terms actually mean some¬ 
thing much more profound than most people think. This will be ex¬ 
plained in great detail in this book. 


There is a lot of money in poker 

Before people could play poker online, they played in casinos. The 
best poker room in Las Vegas is the Bellagio and they have one room 
which seats a maximum of ten players. It should therefore be obvious 
that - compared to the action they can get by dealing blackjack or 
roulette - poker was not an attractive proposition for the casinos. This 
is part of the reason why poker has not been more popular in the 
past - it is not very profitable for the casinos. However, nowadays, 
thanks to the online revolution, a lot of people play poker. 

Going back in time a few years, $2/$4 No Limit Hold'em (NLHE) 
was considered "high stakes" and there was not much action avail¬ 
able online any higher. Slowly, and with some reluctance, sites 
added newer and higher stakes games that, at the time, caused great 
excitement among the players. The availability of $5/$10 NLHE 
games was a big deal, and then later when $10/$20 NLHE was 
added that was a big deal too. 

As late as December of 2005 I emailed PokerStars Cardroom man¬ 
ager Lee Jones making the case for adding $25/$50 NLHE games. He 
responded, "No, I'm afraid we're not going to deploy bigger no 


10 











Introduction 


limit hold'em games any time soon ... that's not carved in stone 
(nothing in this business is) but unless I see a major shift that I'm not 
expecting, we won't be doing it." However since then they have 
added $25/$50 and then even $100/$200 and $200/$400 NLHE in ad¬ 
dition. 

The second most popular poker site is Full Tilt Poker. What makes 
them special is that they have the highest stakes poker games avail¬ 
able. They host $l,000/$2,000 mixed limit games, $l,000/$2,000 LHE, 
along with $300/$600 Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) and $500/1,000 NLHE. 
Clearly therefore there is a huge amount of money involved - and it 
will pay massive dividends if you can learn to play it well. 


Why this book will make you money 

This book is ideal for someone who truly wants to understand poker. 
The reason this is the case is because I am a poker professional and I 
have put a lot of time and energy into putting everything I know 
into it. Many books are written by charlatans who have no right to 
be writing instructional material on poker (I call them charlatans be¬ 
cause they are mediocre players). Most people who could write 
worthwhile things about poker don't bother. Most people who are 
qualified to write about poker and do are lazy. This book took a lot 
of work because it is a textbook on a new area of poker that has 
never been thoroughly examined. 

First and foremost I am a professional poker player. I started out 
with $1,500 to my name and built that up by consistently ratcheting 
up my win rate. My wins come from consistent successes in cash 
games - I have never made a big tournament score. Tournaments 
require a lot of luck to succeed (granted skill too, but relative to cash 
games much less). It wouldn't be truthful to say that any old fool 
could win a tournament but just about any old fool can. Winning one 
tournament proves little about the skill of a player. Having numer¬ 
ous tournament successes does show something about a player's 
skill. However, what shows the most about the skill level of a poker 


11 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

player is winning a lot over a long period of time in the highest 
stakes cash games. This wisdom is shown by the fact that I have 
never come close to going broke - in contrast to many poker players. 

I have made most of my money playing $25/$50 NLHE heads-up 
which, when I was playing poker most seriously, was just about the 
biggest game offered. However, along the way I have played a sig¬ 
nificant amount at higher stakes, up to $200/$400 NLHE and PLO, 
and also LHE up to the stakes $200/$400.1 have played all these 
games live and online, shorthanded, heads-up (HU) and in full table 
formats. I have also played a fair amount of live $10,000 tourna¬ 
ments, although admittedly without much success. I've sat with 
over $100,000 in front of me playing poker with billionares, fools 
and more skilled poker players than me. As a result of all that, I 
know a lot about poker, and everything I know is in this book. 


About this book 

My main game is high stakes NLHE, shorthanded and heads-up. As 
I go through topics like tilt, bankroll management and example 
hands they are all drawn from that context. However, because all 
variants of poker are similar, the type of thinking and many of the 
concepts behind NLHE are very transferrable and helpful for all 
players - from micro stakes NLHE players to HU LHE players, 
tournament and even PLO players. 

This book will not tell you precisely how to play poker. Instead it 
describes how I play poker and how I (and other top players) think 
when playing. The reason I have taken this approach is because it is 
impossible to create set rules on how to play or to give judgments on 
specific situations. Indeed, some of the decisions, and even some of the 
logic I used coidd be wrong. What is important are the concepts and 
ideas used to think through the poker. Poker is always situational, 
but once you understand the types of considerations that are impor¬ 
tant in decisions, coming to a decision itself becomes easier and only 
a matter of gaining experience. 


12 











Introduction 


This book is written for poker players with some experience of the 
game, not beginners. As such there will be no elementary explana¬ 
tions. Basic ideas such as pot odds will be explained quickly and 
through examples, and where this book differentiates from others is 
that the bulk of the book will consist of taking those basic concepts 
and using them in advanced ways, as this is what high stakes NLHE 
is all about. Emphasis is placed on psychology and hand reading. 
Hand reading and mental discipline are the two most important 
elements of poker. They are the focus of this book whereas most 
other books focus on "what line to take" (in other words the deci¬ 
sion of whether to raise, fold or call) after the assumption is made 
that our hand-reading is correct. The "what line to take" decision is 
trivial and a matter of basic math when we know what our oppo¬ 
nent's hand range is, so this book will focus primarily on the hand¬ 
reading element. 

For the most part this book is not abstract essays on concepts in 
poker but instead a compilation of hands that actually happened. 
The type of thinking required to play the hand correctly and the 
ideas and concepts behind what happened are explained very spe¬ 
cifically and in great detail. The ideas and complexity present in 
poker are not dumbed down in the least. Poker is a much better 
game that way. 


13 










Chapter One 


Approaching the Game 


The keys to winning poker 

Poker is very competitive. Most of the traits needed to succeed in 
poker are derived from this fact and are, for the most part, similar to 
what is needed to succeed in other competitive endeavors (e.g. chess, 
soccer, racing). A good way to learn how to learn poker is to study 
how winners act and think - read biographies of winners. In this 
section the qualities needed to win are examined as they relate spe¬ 
cifically to poker. 


Passion for the game 

The most important part of becoming a good poker player is having a 
passion for the game. Mozart said, "Neither a lofty degree of intelli¬ 
gence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. 
Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius." You have to care about 
what you're doing to get really good at it. The concept of passion is 
slightly abstract, so let's try and make it more meaningful for a poker 
player. Since poker is, by its nature, very competitive, a passion for 


14 













Approaching the Game 


the game also means a desire to be the best player. Or put another 
way, it necessarily means a desire to beat everyone you play. When 
you are actually playing a real person this will translate into a desire 
to crush your opponent. Incidentally, one of the best ways to gain or 
regain this passion is to watch players better than yourself and see 
them make really skillful plays - this can be inspiring. 

The question is, how does someone achieve that high skill level 
where they are better than everyone else in their immediate envi¬ 
ronment? The answer is easy - it's the same answer a person would 
get that asked the same question regarding skill in any discipline - 
through hard work and study. But hardly anyone actually does that, 
instead they play poker and assume they'll get better as a result. 
They may do, but the process will be slow and erratic. Instead of 
playing poker and hoping that the side effect will be a gradual im¬ 
provement, it's much better to act on our main goal and gear our 
plan specifically towards attaining this improvement. 

If someone wants to be a doctor they don’t just start doing surgery. 
They go to university for six years and intern for another two to 
study the profession. If someone wants to play soccer in the Premier 
League it takes many years of practice, practice and then some more 
practice. They study their discipline with professionalism. To suc¬ 
ceed as a poker player is no different, this professionalism is needed. 


Why poker is hard to learn 

The difference between poker and other sports or professions is that, 
as previously discussed, it's a relatively new thing. There are no 
poker schools and there isn't much poker literature. There is no es¬ 
tablished roadmap for what it takes to become good. Everyone 
needs - to some extent - to go about reinventing the wheel. And it's 
not just learning how to play good poker, it's about learning how to 
learn how to play poker. And beyond that problem there are a few 
reasons unique to the discipline of poker that make it an especially 
hard game to master. 


15 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

One reason is that for most of its history, poker has been played 
"live" with real cards. People didn't realize it until the invention of 
internet poker, but live poker was actually a very slow game. People 
get dealt maybe thirty hands an hour in live play. Compare this to 
an internet player playing two tables and getting one hundred 
hands an hour per table. The online player is getting almost seven 
times as many hands as the live player. This results in a lot more ex¬ 
perience gained very quickly, so this player learns a lot faster. It 
takes a long time for a live player to learn the game since it takes so 
long to gain experience. 

Then there is the fact that the best players don't teach, they play. The 
saying "those that can, do. And those that can't, teach" holds an 
element of truth. It is especially true in poker because the best poker 
players can make a lot of money. As a result the people who can 
make huge amounts of money logically decide to do just that. They 
concentrate their efforts on playing rather than teaching poker. 

Those who don't make huge amounts of money playing poker teach 
a lot more, because their opportunity cost isn't as high. When they 
are teaching instead of playing poker they aren't losing a lot because 
they don't make much money from poker in the first place. 

Poker can also be very trying emotionally since it is so directly com¬ 
petitive and because money is such an integral part of the game. So 
if a player wants to learn and improve, they should disregard their 
emotions and use an analytical mind. However, it is actually quite 
hard to ignore your emotions. For example if a player wins a big pot, 
they should be calming their mind to analyze the hand and trying to 
understand if they played it correctly. When they do this they may 
realize that in fact they were outplayed and just got lucky. This 
would be an important part of the learning experience. However, 
maybe the amount of money they won was substantial and, natu¬ 
rally, this makes them happy. So now they're celebrating and doing 
a little dance around the chair instead of thinking about the impor¬ 
tant things. 

Conversely if a player makes a bad play and then the opponent capi- 


16 










Approaching the Came 


talizes on it, maybe the person will become too depressed and beat 
themselves up with thoughts of "damn I'm so bad at poker. I'm just 
so bad at poker, why did I do that? I just lost $5,000. I'm so bad." 
Then they keep repeating this over and over in their head. Instead 
what they should be doing is getting rid of these negative emotions 
and quietly thinking over what went wrong, and how specifically 
the hand could have been played better. But it's quite hard to sepa¬ 
rate the emotional aspect of poker from the logical aspect which, in¬ 
evitably, makes it hard for people to learn to play the game at a high 
level. 

That brings us to the biggest reason poker is a hard game to learn. 
When learning takes place, a person will do something, and then he 
will receive feedback. The feedback - whether good or bad - is what 
people use to learn. For instance a student can do a math problem, 
but the key is when the teacher marks it as incorrect so the student 
will know to change how he approaches that problem. Or a teacher 
could mark it as correct, so the student will know to keep doing it 
the same way. That feedback is how a student adapts his behavior to 
be better. 

Studying poker is a little like learning with a crazy math teacher. A 
teacher who marks problems right or wrong with no correlation to 
whether we did the problem correctly or not. For a student of poker, 
the feedback is very difficult to interpret. For example, a player 
could play very badly, but win a lot of money. So the feedback is the 
exact opposite of what it should be. Flere the experience merely rein¬ 
forces the bad habits. Or a player could make a really good play and 
get unlucky and then think the good play was actually bad and not 
do it anymore. Again the feedback is all wrong. 

There are many different ways this could happen - for instance a 
player could make a good play and get all the money in as a favorite 
and get outdrawn. The feedback is the opposite of what it should be, 
but it's pretty straightforward to understand that the play was good 
if the opponent hits a two-outer. However, what if the player made 
what was in principle a good play but got called by a better hand 


17 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

and ended up losing the pot as an underdog? Now the feedback is 
much more difficult to interpret. 

Maybe one would normally expect the opponent to have a worse 
hand or maybe the normal outcome would be that the opponent 
would fold the better hand and it was just unlucky he called this 
particular time. Or there can be other possibilities - maybe the op¬ 
ponent shouldn't have had that hand in that situation and was lucky 
to have it there. It's quite difficult to "self check" the answer and 
evaluate one's play in poker because the feedback is so unreliable. 
Couple that with the emotional issues of playing the game and the 
lack of quality instructional material on poker, and it explains why 
most people face a lot of problems becoming skilled at the game. 

In reality, however, poker is actually a much simpler discipline to 
master than many others. For example, it takes a lifetime of good 
work to achieve top level skills as an actor, an artist, a soccer player, 
or perhaps as a writer. For a poker player it many only take a year or 
two to achieve a high level of skill. Although it is a complicated 
game, it’s not nearly as complicated as other skills. It actually can be 
a lot easier to learn than people think - but when it isn’t the reason is 
usually because of these issues in learning. 


Confidence and honesty 

Confidence is fundamental in poker, as it is in all endeavors. It's also 
not just important for learning the game, but important for playing 
quality poker (this is discussed in the mental discipline section). A 
big part of the learning process takes place away from the table. This 
involves visualization and anticipating events that can occur. Imag¬ 
ine what would happen if you wanted to learn poker and so you 
thought about poker away from the table and visualized situations 
that might happen and how you would react to them, but then you 
lack the ingredient of confidence? You might be visualizing yourself 
getting into situations in the future and then playing them poorly. 
This is not what you want. 


18 











Approaching the Game 


How can you be passionate about pursuing poker and becoming the 
best if you don't believe you are capable of doing it? It is nonsensical. 
With confidence that you have the ability to improve - coupled with 
the desire to improve - you will ask yourself the right questions. 

This will happen in specific game situations. Let's say you got out¬ 
played in a pot but have confidence in yourself and your capabilities. 
The logical question for you to ask is "Okay I got outplayed in that 
hand. Let's see how I can play in a similar situation in the future to 
get better." Note that with confidence you will feel secure and be 
able to be more honest with yourself and admit when someone out¬ 
played you and so allow improvement to happen. However, if you 
do not have the confidence that you can beat this opponent then it 
makes no sense to try because, quite simply, you don't believe you 
can beat him in the future. 

Also because of the difficulties discussed above in learning poker it 
is crucial that you are honest with yourself. Not only will lack of 
self-honesty hugely inhibit learning, but it will prevent accurate as¬ 
sessments of your own skill relative to that of your opponents. This 
will result in bad game selection. The reason honesty is so important 
is because, as we have seen, in poker feedback is so tricky to inter¬ 
pret. It’s not like more straightforward pursuits where the results are 
clear cut and there is no way to hide from them; in poker one has to 
actively search for the truth. 

A key to getting better at poker is brutal self-honesty. Do not allow 
yourself time to be satisfied with your play. If you lost a pot, see 
what you did wrong. And don't just look for a better line, look for 
the best line. Don't just consider whether you made a bad river call, 
consider whether the turn call was okay, consider whether pre-flop 
was okay, consider if your bet size was okay on the flop, consider if 
you should have bet 10% more. Consider everything. 

If you won a pot because you got lucky, that's really the same as los¬ 
ing in the long run, so study that hand. If you won a pot because 
you outplayed the opponent that is not good enough - consider how 
you could have outplayed him even more. Consider if it just looks 


19 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

like you outplayed the opponent and in actuality you played it 
badly. Often players don't even know what hands to study because 
they think they played well when they actually played badly. 

For this reason you should study a lot more hands than you think 
you should. A player often doesn't realize when they are making 
bad plays, or they simply wouldn't make them. Even if you are on 
the biggest upswing of your life, you still need to study a lot of 
hands just as you would if the reverse were true. It pays to be tough 
on yourself and find as many mistakes in your play as you can. 
You'll be the one to benefit in the long run. The best plan is criticism 
of your own play, exposing the mistakes you make and then fixing 
them. Down the line this will pay off when you have improved by 
much more than everyone else because they have been complacent. 


Why continual learning is important 

As a poker player you are self-employed. There is no boss to decide 
when you get a raise. The only thing that decides when you get a 
raise is your skill level and the types of pay raises you can get are 
massive. There is huge upward mobility in poker. Win rates might 
start out at 1 cent an hour but the best players can make something 
like $5,000 an hour. Only a few people in the world are rewarded on 
that scale, although there are many players who can earn in the 
range of $1,000 an hour. 

Because of this huge potential reward, it pays to focus extra hard on 
learning in poker. The best players put as much energy into learning 
as they can and their whole focus is on the future. The following 
saying is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln, "If I had seven 
hours to chop a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening my axe". It 
might appear as if some players who have had great success are 
naturally talented and did not need to study to get better. This is ab¬ 
solutely untrue. I guarantee that if you asked them you will find 
they studied the game one way or another. Maybe they didn't have 
a coach, or post on an internet forum, or do equity equations, but 


20 











Approaching the Came 


they did something. Whether that was talking to a friend about 
hands or even something as simple as thinking over poker in their 
heads in their own time. There is no short cut - a lot of hard work is 
required to get good at poker. 

There are a couple of ways to approach poker. One is to play the 
game to make money. The other is to play to learn. It just so happens 
that if your approach involves learning to play better then, as a re¬ 
sult, you just happen to make even more money than if your goal 
when sitting was to make money. And the difference will be signifi¬ 
cant - you will make a lot more money. 

It makes sense in poker to take advantage of any resource that might 
help your game. This is because if you learn something new you 
don't get a $10 one-time bonus, instead you might make $10 more 
an hour for every hour of poker you play. The math is therefore that 
if you have to pay $100 for a poker lesson, and the coach teaches you 
just one little thing, then that is okay. Maybe that one little lesson 
only makes your expected win rate jump by $2 an hour. Then in that 
case you need to play 50 hours for it to pay off, and since you are a 
poker professional and poker is what you do you will play 50 more 
hours quite quickly. Everything after that is profit. 

When I started playing poker I read literally everything I could get 
my hands on about the game. I bought a printer for the sole purpose 
of printing out five year old archives from a poker forum. I printed 
out over a thousand pages and read them all, and read all of the new 
content from the forum as well. I made friends with every poker 
player I could and asked as many questions as they would let me. I 
read every book that was available. When I played a session of 
poker I saved the hands and then after the session went over every 
hand thinking it through, deciding whether I got lucky or unlucky 
and if I played it well and how to play it better. I did equity equa¬ 
tions on the hands and then when I was going to sleep thought over 
those same hands. I remember that after my initial introduction to 
poker - when I obsessed over it for a few months -1 then took a 
break. However, towards the end of that break a couple of hands 


21 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

started popping into my head that I would continue to analyze and 
consider. It pays to completely immerse yourself in poker. 

Another reason it pays to get really good at poker instead of just a 
little bit good is because the game is so stressful and because of the 
variance. Because it's so stressful it is hard to do as a fulltime job as 
well and this is not recommended unless you play really well. Let's 
consider a player who is quite good and makes $75 an hour. For 
some reason they start playing worse than normal and suddenly 
they are only making $35 an hour. 

What will they do then? If they try playing more hours to make up 
for the lost win rate they may end up just playing even worse, self- 
destructing and losing money. Furthermore, since this player is just 
good and not great, they don't have a lot of money saved up in the 
bank and they get worried. So they play even more, get tired and 
keep losing. Now they can run into trouble. However, this is much 
less of a problem if this player is very good and makes $500 an hour 
If they start losing, they have flexibility. They can drop down and 
still make $200 or $300 an hour and continue living very comforta¬ 
bly. They have more flexibility and thus less stress. The bottom line 
is, the better you are the greater your flexibility. 


Self-checking 

Since poker is hard to think about objectively a good technique to 
use is to ask yourself questions. This will help your learning process 
immensely. When playing poker the first thing to do after a session 
is to examine the hands and decide who are the good players and 
who are the weaker ones. Don't consider whether you won or lost 
money - consider whether you played well or badly. 

If you win a hand ask yourself if it was due to skill or luck. What 
would have happened in the hand if the cards were reversed? Say 
you had his hand and he had yours, would he have won as much 
money as you actually did? Would you have lost as much as he did? 
If you would have improved upon how he played and not lost as 


22 











Approaching the Came 


much, that shows you outplayed him and your skill was rewarded. 

In reality it is rather more complicated than this because players 
don't all play the same style of poker at different skill levels. People 
play in different styles and with each different style come different 
ways of making money. So, if you do the thought experiment and 
switch places with your opponent to find out if you would have 
fared better in their situation you need to be careful that it's not just 
because your playing styles are different. Maybe his style of play al¬ 
lows him to lose a bit more in a spot where you wouldn't have lost 
so much because he ends up making it back in other spots later on. 

Another question to ask after the hand is over is "when did most of 
the money go in?" Did it go in when you were the favorite or the 
underdog? How big a favorite or underdog were you? Say some 
money went in when you were a favorite, but then some went in 
when you were an underdog. Then it is a math question - how 
much went in when you were a favorite and how much were you a 
favorite by; and how much went in when you were an underdog 
and how much of an underdog were you? What would have hap¬ 
pened if your hand had remained good all the way - would the op¬ 
ponent have kept committing money like he did in the actual hand, 
or would he have stopped putting money into the pot if he hadn't 
hit his hand? 

For example, let's say you win a hand because you called a turn bet 
with the plan of calling a river bluff, then the river card came and 
you called the river bet and won and that was a good play. Then 
let's say we did some basic analysis and figured out it was a profit¬ 
able play when that river card came, but you need to go back and 
figure out what would have happened if other river cards had come 
and figure out if the play still works out profitable. Maybe your play 
was poor and the opponent was the unlucky one who just didn't get 
a good river card. Maybe his play would normally have worked. If 
you lost a hand the same type of analysis applies. 

Naturally, analyzing a hand in this kind of depth can't be done dur¬ 
ing play. In fact, when facing a tough decision at the poker table you 


23 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

probably won't be able to figure it out in the 30 seconds or several 
minutes you might have under pressure. You just make the best de¬ 
cision you can from experience. The real learning will take place af¬ 
terwards when you have hours to think it over. Then, when a simi¬ 
lar situation arises in the future, you will have done the homework 
and be prepared to make the right decision. Similarly, you can't do 
equity equations at the table, but it helps enormously to do them 
away from the table. Play around with the numbers and see how 
important it is when you change certain factors and how it changes 
the play of the hand. Then, although you won't be able to do this 
math at the table for future hands you will be subconsciously 
estimating this math all the time and will find that your study away 
from the table has helped you enormously. 


Intelligence 

As you might imagine, intelligence is important in poker since it is 
more competitive than most activities because people aren't just try¬ 
ing to win for the sake of winning - there is the additional element 
of money. Money is present in many mental activities, such as a 
prize in a chess tournament. However, the relationship is not as di¬ 
rect as in poker. In poker the sole purpose is to win money. The only 
tool to accomplish this is by using your brain - it's against the rules 
to punch someone. And unlike many other activities there is no 
combination of mind and body, in poker it's just your mind. 

There is an analogy here with sporting activities if we replace the 
use of brain for body. Take racing for example. There is a little bit of 
intelligence used to run a good race, but it is primarily about having 
a good body. In poker the body is of little importance - instead hav¬ 
ing a good mind is paramount. Of course skill and experience are 
also necessary. There are also activities, such as bowling, where ex¬ 
perience is the key factor. Having a good body comes into play but 
compared to other sports not so much. "Technique" is what is im¬ 
portant. 


24 











Approaching the Game 


It's hard to say where exactly poker falls on this continuum but it is 
probably close to a game like soccer, since both skill and experience 
and a good mind are significant. In poker it is important to be con¬ 
stantly thinking and using your brain as much as you can. It is pos¬ 
sible to play by shutting the brain off and going mainly on instinct 
(although this is still based on past experience). However, your re¬ 
sults will be poor. Use your head as much as you can in a poker 
game. 

So, if that means you need to exercise or meditate before playing 
then do so. Using instinct for generic situations is okay but in short- 
handed and HU play it will not be good enough because people 
quickly start adjusting to each other. For making adjustments to 
specific opponents and changes in the game that occur, conscious 
thinking through of the current situation is imperative. 

However, this is not about mathematical intelligence, despite what 
many people think. The math element in poker is not how it is usu¬ 
ally perceived. It is deep and underlies all poker hands, but the math 
is not advanced - it is simple algebra and statistics. Clear thinking is 
needed for that but it is not just the math that is important as psy¬ 
chology is necessary also. You need to outwit your opponent and to 
understand what he is thinking. Experience plays a part here for 
sure but every opponent is different so, on each occasion, you will 
have to think things through and come to an understanding of what 
your opponent is thinking, or how he is playing. 


25 










Chapter Two 


Mental Discipline 


General guidelines 

We have seen that having a passion to improve is vital. Similarly, 
having a strong body and/or mind is also important. But mental dis¬ 
cipline is perhaps the important trait in poker since when someone 
loses they actually lose their own money. This is quite a severe 
shock in contrast to what happens in other pursuits when someone 
fails. In an athletic or sporting event if someone messes up they lose, 
but the losses aren't penalized. That is the key - in most other com¬ 
petitive pursuits the loser is not actually penalized, instead the per¬ 
son's skill level stagnates in their activity. 

But in poker when you mess up you lose your money. This is not 
stagnating, but going backwards, and it is a very bad result. This 
tends to affect the mind even more and the consequence can be fur¬ 
ther losses, which can and do break people emotionally and finan¬ 
cially. Things are different in, say, soccer. If an aspiring college ath¬ 
lete does badly he doesn't go broke and his body won't self destruct. 
He may be disappointed but he won't go crazy. He'll stay in the 
same spot and not lose anything. He'll later either resume his march 


26 












Mental Discipline 


forward or quit the sport. 

In poker, players often make informal rules to protect themselves 
from these negative penalties - to make it more of a safe activity like 
soccer so they can't really lose too much. With these rules they can 
then face the normal swings of variance, but those swings become 
expected. They might appear negative on the outside, but someone 
who understands will realize that they aren't too bad and are just 
part of the game. Absorbing these normal swings in variance is es¬ 
sential in order to gain in the long run in poker. In many activities 
consistent negative results would make it obvious that a person 
should concentrate their efforts elsewhere. However, in poker it is 
much more confusing because of unreliable feedback. This is why 
there are "rules" people make up to protect themselves. 

When a person loses money following these rules (and everyone sets 
up their own based on whatever works best for them), they are re¬ 
garded as normal business losses that are expected and not a prob¬ 
lem. For instance if someone has a bankroll of $100,000 and tries 
playing $25/$50 NLHE, that is completely reasonable providing that 
if they lose $15,000 they then drop back down to their regular game 
of $10/$25. Or if I am playing an opponent and he busts me for a 
buy-in and I realize he is better than me and stop that is also fine (of 
course it is better if I realize that sooner and quit). Those are normal 
unavoidable expenses of doing things like trying to improve in 
poker and make more money. 

What is unacceptable though is when someone has $20,000 to their 
name, their only job is poker and they are playing $25/$50 NLHE. 
That is ridiculously unprofessional and such a person has little 
chance of success as they have no mental discipline. They probably 
know they shouldn't play that game but most likely they were los¬ 
ing earlier on and began chasing their losses. You need to be able to 
control your head, how you think and what you do when you play 
poker or you will go backward and maybe even end up on the street. 

The rules that most people follow are discussed below and relate to 
issues of moving up in stakes, bankroll management and so on. But 


27 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

for now just know that you need the mental discipline to follow the 
guidelines you set for yourself, in order to allow yourself to play the 
best poker you can for as long you can. 


Winning poker 

Playing winning poker is about a couple of things. Firstly it's about 
playing your best, or as good as you can, for as long as you can play. 
And it's also about playing your worst as infrequently as you can. It 
is a bit misleading to use the word tilt as if there are two levels to 
play poker on - normal poker and tilt poker. In fact, there is a huge 
variety in what poker game people bring to the table. Most people 
very rarely bring a 100% effort to the table. Most people play aver¬ 
age, middling poker for most of the time with little periods of rela¬ 
tive brilliance and stupidity thrown in. 

When you start playing you should come into the game with the 
mindset that you want to crush your opponents. If you start out 
sloppy and lose from the outset you will spend your entire session 
trying to get even and your play will suffer. Start out by playing 
precise, winning poker and try to continue in that mindset through¬ 
out the game. 

As we have already said, to play the best poker you can, having a 
passion for the game is essential. One thing that could help is to 
watch better people play, remind yourself what you are striving to 
achieve, how much you want achieve it, see how great they play and 
remember you want to achieve the same. And remember to do what 
they do, and what you need to do, which is to play as best you can 
for as high a percentage of the time as you can. 

Playing your best poker is also constructive in terms of learning and 
getting better. When your mind is focused 100% on trying to play 
your best and thinking everything over you will learn a lot more 
than when you play average poker (this works in the reverse too). 
When your main focus in poker is learning and getting better it 
forces you to put in maximum effort at the table, which will help 


28 











Mental Discipline 


you learn and as a side effect you'll play better and win more money. 
In poker you should always keep the mindset that you are at the ta¬ 
ble playing poker to learn, to become even better and to move up in 
stakes - this is crucially important. 


Tilt 

Poker can be difficult on the psyche at times. Sometimes you will be 
playing good poker and you will still lose. Don't compound these 
situations by tilting and playing worse, and as a result losing more 
money. When you tilt because of bad luck it usually means that the 
money you are playing for means too much to you. There are a cou¬ 
ple of explanations for this. One is that you only think about poker 
as a job and in terms of the money you make. You might be con¬ 
stantly worried about how much money you have won or lost in a 
session, always counting your chips or checking your bankroll. This 
is a bad habit that should be stopped. Look at poker as a game that 
you can try to master, not as a means to make money. When you are 
less concerned with wins and losses and more concerned with play¬ 
ing well, you will be less inclined to tilt. 

Another explanation for why the money means too much to you is if 
you are playing higher stakes than you are used to. Higher stakes 
will increase the stress of playing because the potential win or loss 
will be greater than you are used to. If you are a player who has 
trouble playing under stressful conditions then it might not be a 
good idea to take shots at higher stakes. But, if you practice mental 
discipline then taking shots can help your game and your bankroll. 

Another factor that may cause you to tilt is when you make a bad 
play. Poker is a long journey that will never be completed - you will 
always be changing your game and improving. Also, you will make 
many mistakes along the way, as all players do. So if you lose 
money by making a mistake you need to realize that in the grand 
scheme of things it doesn't matter. You are constantly learning to get 
better and one of the ways to learn is by evaluating your mistakes. If 


29 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

you see the reason you made a mistake and correct it then in the fu¬ 
ture than your game will benefit. Don't make the mistake worse by 
tilting afterwards. 

The seven deadly sins 

People tilt because of emotions, and some of the seven deadly sins 
come into play here. In fact they all do, to greater and lesser ex¬ 
tents - the least important being lust which can for all practical pur¬ 
poses be excluded unless a pretty lady is watching and it compels 
you to make an "impressive" play to show her your skills. Similarly 
gluttony doesn't play much of a part in a poker player's downfall 
either under normal circumstances. 

Anger is an interesting emotion in that unlike all the others it has a 
good chance of actually helping a player if it is directed at your op¬ 
ponents. If you win it's against a player you hate, and if you lose it's 
against a player you hate, so this will focus your efforts in a big way 
to make you do everything you can to win. 

Pride and vanity come into play also and are related to the idea of 
honesty which, as discussed already, is very important. If a player is 
not honest with themselves they give in to vanity and pride and 
think themselves better than they really are. This can lead them to sit 
in games they shouldn't be playing. These are games where a player 
of the imagined skill level might be expected to earn more money, 
but - in actuality - our misguided hero will be expected to lose. 

Envy can also lead a player to play stakes higher than they should to 
mimic and try to obtain what other players have. On the other hand 
it could serve as a driving force to make a player improve. Perhaps 
this could work, but even Star Wars made the point that if the pow¬ 
ers acquired by converting to the Dark Side are strong, they are not 
worth giving in to. So use negative emotions at your own risk. 

Sloth is a serious problem for poker players too. Laziness will slow a 
player's learning greatly (as well as their win rate). Learning slowly 
takes a little hard work, and learning fast takes a lot of hard work. If 


30 











Mental Discipline 


a person puts in no hard work at all they will experience no learning. 
Again, learning is the key to success in poker so you have to be vig¬ 
orous and energetic in its pursuit. 

The other problem with laziness is that it will very directly make 
you win less money at the table. In almost all jobs people get lazy 
and even if their boss catches them the consequences might just be 
some sharp words. However, in a way, poker has less luck involved 
than other professions - the cards do not lie and it is just simple 
math that rewards good play and punishes bad play over time. If 
you are lazy a little bit you will be punished a little over time, and if 
you are lazy a lot you will be punished a lot. The choice is yours. 

The worst problem at the table is greed. Most people want money, 
and a lot of money as fast as they can get it. But that's not the way 
things work in poker - acting on your emotions and desires won't 
help. Just because at a given moment you are impatient to get more 
money or get it faster than you normally do, this doesn't mean you 
can act on this and get it. Greed needs to be pushed aside and ig¬ 
nored when playing poker. 

For many people poker is simply a job. But unlike other jobs the pay 
isn't steady. In other jobs a person knows that for an hour worked, 
he will gain an expected amount in his paycheck. Poker is different 
and people can go on losing streaks for long periods of time. This 
person might then think "well this sucks. I'm not playing poker for 
my health - I want my money now". This is greed since they want 
money immediately. But that's not the way poker works because 
that emotion will make them play worse and lose money. This is a 
good opportunity to gain an edge over your opponents because 
most people are very seriously affected by a long term downswing, 
so if you can be not affected much that will be a huge difference and 
thus a huge edge over your opponents. 

Similarly, after a player has lost a good deal of money in a session 
sometimes he becomes focused on winning it back rather than play¬ 
ing good poker. When this happens a player becomes concentrated 
on winning a big pot and as a result plays bad poker. This is a criti- 


31 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

cal mistake and will cause you to lose a lot of money. 

For example, let's say you have Q-J, raise pre-flop and get called. 
Then you flop top pair and bet the flop and get called and then an 
inconsequential card comes on the turn. Now normally you'd check 
here to keep the pot medium sized with a modest hand such as top 
pair, medium kicker. But because you're down a buy-in and you 
want to win it back you bet the turn. If betting the turn here was cor¬ 
rect, you would do it all the time. But it isn't because your hand isn't 
good enough to go all-in with and if your opponent raises you must 
fold and he won't call with a worse hand. Instead of winning your 
money back, you will lose more. 

When you are only focused on winning big pots you neglect small 
pots. In short-handed play marginal situations arise frequently in 
small pots. It is a costly error to forfeit all the small pots because you 
are only concerned with winning a big pot. Most of the time big pots 
are just the result of luck, like pocket aces running into pocket kings. 
These kinds of hands will even out in the long run, so your advan¬ 
tage is outplaying your opponents in the smaller pots, which will 
add up quickly. Also playing every hand and all the small pots well 
is crucial to frustrating the opposition. If your opponents have an 
easy time in the small pots they will feel relaxed and be playing well 
when the big pots arise. Flowever, if you are really outplaying them 
and making them feel bad in every single hand they will become 
frustrated and play the big pots poorly. This last point is critical. 

There are a few other traits that don't fit into the seven deadly sins 
that are worth discussing. Curiosity is present at the table a lot if 
you are playing good poker and trying to figure out what your op¬ 
ponents have. But when you reach the river and your opponent bets 
and you are curious what he has but you are pretty sure he has you 
beat that first reason should be ignored. Another problem that can 
arise is boredom. Boredom will lead to a lack of focus and a lack of 
thinking that will make you play worse. It could also lead to forcing 
the action to make things more exciting 

The last of the problems that will be discussed here is desperation. 


32 










Mental Discipline 


or a lack of confidence. Maybe there has been a bad run of cards and 
for a while you simply cannot win. In psychology this is called 
"learned hopelessness" and it leads to people doing really stupid 
things even when history has taught them they cannot win. How¬ 
ever in poker we know that unreliable feedback can sometimes 
teach you to do the wrong things. On long downswings, you should 
not give in to desperation or stop making plays that are normally 
good plays because in a recent unlucky streak they have appeared to 
be bad. 


The importance of not tilting 

As we have seen, tilt is a major factor in poker, and if you learn not 
to tilt you will be able to progress as a player at a much faster rate. 

Of course, if you play $l/$2 NLH and eliminate tilt from your game 
you won't be able to jump right up to $5/$10. But, you won't have to 
spend hours and hours grinding away to try to make up for money 
you lose on tilt and you will progress faster. 

Many people underestimate just how high a win rate is possible, 
and how much tilting can impact this. When playing heads-up 
online you can play 100 to 400 hands per hour, compared to full-ring 
live play where you are fortunate to get 20 to 30 hands per hour. 

You get so many more hands online that if you tilt for a short time 
you could cost yourself a great deal of money. Conversely, when 
you are playing well your win rate will be magnified because you 
are playing more hands. 

If you are tilting and happen to lose a buy-in, think about how long 
it will take you to make it back. If you make ten big blinds an hour 
on average, it might take you ten hours of playing to make it up. 
Also, when you calculate your win rate of ten big blinds per hour 
that accounts for all the times you tilt away money. So if you play 
your best poker all the time your win rate would be significantly 
higher. 

It is impossible to fully eradicate tilt. Even some of the best players 


33 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

in the world have massive tilt problems. They may have huge win 
rates, but sometimes tilt away five $10,000 dollar buy-ins in a session. 
If you can learn to play poker as well as some of the top players but 
not tilt imagine what kind of money you could be making! 

When playing heads-up everything is also magnified - both your 
skill and tilt problems. Sometimes you may not be on tilt per se, but 
you may be not playing as well as normal. Maybe you're not con¬ 
centrating sufficiently, are a little off your game, or playing listlessly 
because of boredom. But these mistakes will wreak similar havoc to 
tilt. When you are playing poorly or tilting it might be a good idea 
to quit the game. 

This is an interesting point, because it's what most people advocate 
when you are tilting. However the decision is a little more compli¬ 
cated in the moment and it depends how good your mental disci¬ 
pline is. If you have good mental discipline it can pay off big-time to 
stay in the game assuming you have a good edge. The reason is that 
if you have been tilting and making crazy plays, your opponent will 
have noticed this and you will be in a good position to "change 
gears" and start playing solid poker to take advantage of a great ta¬ 
ble image. 


How to avoid tilting 

To be a successful player it is clearly imperative that you minimize 
tilt. Your winnings come from your opponents and this might be be¬ 
cause you are an amazing player, or an amazingly disciplined player. 
Of course the best thing to be is both; however, if you had to choose 
one the correct answer would be disciplined. You won't have to deal 
with the enormous variance associated with huge wins and huge 
losses which will make poker much less stressful. 

Take a step back and look where the money you are tilting away is 
going. It doesn't just disappear, it doesn't go to help a friend, buy a 
product, or to a deserving charity. It goes to your opponent - the en¬ 
emy, the villain of the hands you play, the person you need to beat 


34 











Mental Discipline 


to be successful. When you think about losses in this way it might 
help you avoid tilt. And when you get the urge to make a bad play 
because you are frustrated or bored, think about how unhappy it 
will make you later on. There is no need to rush important deci¬ 
sions - take your time and really think it through. Be methodical 
about playing poker. 

Another way to avoid tilt on downswings is not to get hung up on 
your current stack or bankroll and not worry about how much big¬ 
ger they were previously. This train of thought will force you to play 
too aggressively in hopes of regaining what you once had. Some¬ 
times your bankroll or stack will fluctuate downward but you must 
avoid giving in to greed when you are in one of these downswings 
since forcing the action will likely cause you to lose more money. 

The journey of learning to play poker can often seem to take you 
two steps forward and one step back, but everyone who plays the 
game goes through long periods of losing at some point. This is of¬ 
ten a combination of bad luck and bad play, since when people start 
losing they invariably begin to play worse. However, it is important 
to try to avoid long-term tilt in order to minimize your losses. 

Sometimes when you are on a bad streak of cards you start making 
thinner value bets and more bluffs in an attempt to recoup your 
losses. Other times your opponents might be on a good run of cards 
and when you play aggressively they keep showing up with big 
hands and this causes you to play scared. Long losing streaks are 
like fog in the distance - they cause you to lose your way on the 
journey. 

There are generally two remedies for long-term tilt. For some 
players, taking an extended break from the game might be a good 
idea. After long breaks the fog will subside and your mind will 
become clearer. Poker isn't a steady climb upwards - there are 
frequently valleys and plateaus encountered on the way. 

For other players a better remedy might be to just refocus your ef¬ 
forts and force yourself to play your best poker. This will work bet¬ 
ter for players with stronger willpower. If you are playing good 


35 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

poker you will eventually win, so just ride out the losing streaks as 
there are greener pastures ahead. 

Conversely there exists the problem of playing below your normal 
skill level, and note that such issues can compound themselves. 
When you play well, you will continue to play better and better and 
your opponent may play worse and worse. But when you play bad 
the opponent will play better and you will play worse yourself. This 
is why when you start playing badly and tilting it's hard to reverse 
the trend and it is usually better to just quit. 


Empowering yourself 

Many different things have been brought up so far that contribute to 
how well or badly a player will do in general in poker. However, 
rather than being overwhelmed by them you should view the possi¬ 
bilities as empowering. All of these elements are in your hands to do 
with as you choose. They are all very concrete ways to improve your 
poker game and gain an edge on your opponents. The fact that there 
are so many different aspects to poker and varying degrees of skill 
means that the differences in win rates between players will be 
huge - and, assuming you are prepared to work hard, this is a very 
good thing as it means upward mobility and the potential for you to 
make a lot of money. However, these are just some of the 
underlying factors that will contribute to your success, and it is now 
time to move on to discuss the more concrete factors involved in 
winning at high stakes no limit hold'em. 


36 











Chapter Three 


Strategic Considerations 


Shorthanded vs. full table 

A no limit hold'em game can be played with anywhere from two to 
ten players. The change from a two-handed to a full-ring game is 
gradual and continuous. With more players in the game, patience be¬ 
comes a huge virtue. Because more players are involved, more hands 
are dealt so the winning hands are higher in quality, and therefore 
you simply have to wait for a good hand to play. As the game gets 
more shorthanded the hand strengths go down so it's less about wait¬ 
ing for a good hand and more about outplaying your opponents. 

Obviously, in a ten-handed game - all other things being equal - you 
will win one in ten hands, but in a heads-up game you will win one in 
two. Thus you are competing over more pots. And because you are 
fighting over more pots many more decisions arise and people will be 
fighting for pots using more than just the value of their hands. Simi¬ 
larly, the more people at a table the more important it is to play 
straightforward poker because it will take a long time before your 
opponents adjust to your play, whereas the fewer people are at the 
table the more you need to mix it up and constantly adjust your play. 


37 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Live vs. online 

Live poker and online poker are very different games. In live poker 
because everyone is only playing one table at a time, and because at 
that one table hands come much slower, individual hands have a 
greater importance. Online poker is more about developing a system 
of play that works and not worrying about individual hands as 
much. Live poker is about focusing on every hand and trying to win 
as many pots as possible. Seeing live players fighting for big pots 
with marginal hands demonstrates how rare big hands actually are. 
Also, live play shows that concentrating on playing every hand op¬ 
timally leads to obtaining maximum value. Online, people often get 
bogged down in their "system" and lose some value by not concen¬ 
trating on every hand and seeing the specific aspects. 

For example, online a person playing five tables might see a situa¬ 
tion as "I have top pair with a mediocre kicker, that is not good 
enough to play for 100 big blinds (BB) so I fold." That is playing on 
autopilot and it misses a lot of the specifics of a hand. In live play 
because there is only one table and limited distractions people are 
able to concentrate better, which leads them to hand read better and 
develop a better understanding of their opponents. This allows them 
to make more optimal plays, thinner value bets and thinner bluffs. It 
can also open up an online players' eyes to the possibilities for mak¬ 
ing money by utilizing some of these plays online. 


Game Selection 

Game selection is very important in poker and this is especially true 
as the number of players decreases at a table. At a full table if there 
is one really bad player the benefits of his lack of skill will be shared 
by the entire table. At the other end of the spectrum is heads up play 
where 100% of the equity an opponent gives up will go straight to 
you. 

Additionally, at a full table it will take more time to reap the benefits 


38 












Strategic Considerations 


of playing against a bad player because everyone plays so many 
fewer hands with more people at a table, and thus there are fewer 
occasions when you and the bad player are in the pot together 
where you are earning money because of his mistakes. Of course, 
the opposite is true and if you are the inferior player in a heads-up 
match you will lose your money faster. Therefore, especially in 
heads-up play, it is important to find the good tables and to leave 
the bad ones alone. 

Just how important this is, is obscured by the idea of win rates. Take 
the amount of money won and divide by hours played and this is 
your hourly rate. It is helpful information but it is an aggregate of 
other information, and thus misrepresents what really happened. It 
can be used productively, but must also be used carefully. This is 
because the notion of "hourly rate" makes it look like for every hour 
played the expected value was the stated amount, and that for any 
given hour in the future the same expected win rate holds true. 

However many factors affect expected win rate in different situa¬ 
tions. Maybe your opponents were worse than average in certain 
games, or maybe your opponents were a lot better than normal. 
Maybe your opponents were average but you were playing particu¬ 
larly good poker or maybe they went on tilt for fifteen minutes. All 
of these factors are very important to consider since when playing 
poker vague thinking is a killer. In the middle of a session, being 
mindful of your opponents will pay dividends. Constantly evaluate 
the game you are in. Ask yourself questions such as "Does this op¬ 
ponent have a tendency to go on tilt?" and "Am I a lot better than 
him or just a little better?". And then perhaps say "If I'm just a little 
better maybe it's not worth it to play him because I can simply 
choose a different game versus an even worse opponent", and so on. 

Part of game selection cannot be controlled. For instance, without 
sitting in a game it's often hard to tell whether someone is playing 
very poorly, whether someone is tilting, or whether a new player 
you are unfamiliar with is bad or good. Also as far as tilt goes, in a 
HU match people generally don't start out on tilt. It takes some time 


39 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

until something happens that will set them off and you can't control 
that - it just happens and you have to wait for it. What can be con¬ 
trolled is what level of effort you put into evaluating how good the 
game is for you. The more effort you put in the sooner you can de¬ 
cide whether it's a good game or bad game, and by what degree - 
and then you can make good game selection decisions and do any 
number of things, such as change tables, play a longer session than 
normal or leave immediately. These are all opportunities to exercise 
good game selection, and consequently increase your win rate. 

Putting numbers on this will illustrate just how important good 
game selection is. Playing a table of $5/$10 NLHE might yield Player 
X $200 an hour on average. However, if he has a tilt problem and 
every now and then tilts in a very serious way for 10 minutes, dur¬ 
ing that time period he might average -$2,500 an hour. Also, some¬ 
times he plays heads up but only versus players he knows are bad 
and here he averages $1,000 an hour. 

These numbers are made up but they are plausible, since there is a 
huge range in what is possible for individual win rates, which will 
average out over time to an hourly rate. The key is to make the aver¬ 
age turn out as high as possible by acting on the information seen in 
the individual win rates. What Player X needs to do is stop tilting, 
but if he can't he needs to exercise good game selection and just 
leave a table when he is tilting. Note that -$2,500 an hour comes out 
to -$416.66 for every 10 minutes. If normally he tilts for 10 minutes, 
maybe he could raise his level of discipline and awareness so that 
after 5 minutes he realizes what is happening, and at that point ex¬ 
ercises good game selection and leaves. That would save him 
$208.33, which is a full hour of work for him according to his hourly 
rate. By doing that little thing he saves himself a full hour of work in 
the future - that is how important game selection is. 

Another option suggested by this information is that player X only 
plays HU matches since he earns so much more in them compared 
to his normal $200 an hour yield. Unless the HU games are both rare 
and he really needs all the money he can get his hands on and/or he 


40 










Strategic Considerations 


enjoys playing his normal game that earns $200 an hour, it makes a 
lot more sense to just wait for HU matches, since he only needs to 
play one hour of a good HU match to make what would have taken 
five hours of the normal game. 

Another advantage of good game selection is that it reduces the im¬ 
portance of variance. Say Player X plays someone at a win rate of 
$1,000 an hour, someone else at a win rate of $0 an hour, and a third 
player at a win rate of -$1,000 an hour. During five hours of play vs. 
each of those people Player X gets very unlucky and loses $4,000 in 
expected value vs. the first player, which means $5,000 - $4,000 = 
$1,000 won. Versus the second player it is $0 won, so -$4,000 = $4,000 
lost. And finally vs. the last opponent Player X lost $5,000 in expected 
value and then another $4,000, which comes out to a $9,000 loss. 

Note that the variance was the same in each of these matches. How¬ 
ever, even when Player X got unlucky versus the bad player he still 
won overall. To the outside spectator this can be confusing. If Player 
X only plays bad people he will always win (unless he either gets 
especially unlucky, or as the time period gets shortened it becomes 
more and more likely for Player X to lose). To the outsider it appears 
as if Player X is really lucky, but that's not the case - he experiences 
the same variance as everyone but is so much better than his oppo¬ 
nent that he still manages to win even when unlucky. Note also how 
being a really good player and exercising good game selection are 
effectively the same thing, since skill in poker is always relative. 

Versus the better player the session was a disaster. Even if the vari¬ 
ance had been completely reversed so it was in Player X's favor and 
he won $4,000 more than he should have he still would lose $5,000 
according to his win rate and come out down $1,000. What Player X 
should have done is play for as many hours as possible versus the 
bad player, and quit versus the other two players as soon as he had 
played enough hands to evaluate them as skilled opponents. 

This point about relativity in poker is very important and the only 
thing that matters is how someone matches up against you. A player 
could be good, but relative to you (since you are a very good player) 


41 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

you would consider them bad. Similarly, in the many hand exam¬ 
ples that follow in this book a constant refrain when describing the 
opponent is "he is bad" or "he is easy to read". These opponents 
really aren't that bad, and if they simply played against a different 
opponent at the same stakes they could be favorites, or if they 
moved down in stakes then once again they would probably do fine. 
They are not bad opponents per se - simply worse than me. Most of 
the hands are examples of good game selection by me and bad game 
selection by my opponents, and for the most part my opponents suf¬ 
fer for it. 

Game selection is also relevant in terms of your general poker 
schedule. Some people like to log a certain amount of time per day 
and quit. Others will play and then quit to lock up a win, or if they 
lose keep playing until they get even. Others will do the opposite 
and if they are winning keep playing and if losing stop. The right 
course of action is certainly to play longer when you are winning 
and quit earlier when you are losing rather than set specific times 
for yourself to play, which makes you inflexible. If you are winning 
this increases the chances that the game is good so you should keep 
playing. If you are losing it increases the chances that the game is 
bad and you should quit. Similarly, if you are winning it probably 
means you are playing well and now your confidence is especially 
high so you should keep playing, and if you are losing you are 
probably playing badly and now your confidence is low so you 
should quit. 


Bankroll management 

During your progression as a poker player there will be times when 
you have to make the decision whether or not to move up in stakes. 
To do this you have to be in tune with yourself and be aware of your 
goals in poker. Be introspective and ask yourself important ques¬ 
tions like "Am I committed to putting a lot of time into poker for the 
long haul or not?" or "Do I want to play for a living?" 


42 











Strategic Considerations 


The significance of these questions is that moving up in stakes is 
normally an investment. It is rare that when someone moves up in 
stakes they are immediate winners - the more likely outcome is an 
initial struggle to make it there. It will take significant investments 
of time to learn to adjust and improve to win at the new stakes. 
However, that investment will pay off in the long run because mov¬ 
ing up in stakes is a way to increase your win rate, and in poker win 
rates can improve with huge leaps or even exponentially. The ques¬ 
tion is are you going to put in the time and thinking required? 

You may also ask yourself, "Do I have a family to support?" One of 
the most common ways for a person to tilt is when they are playing 
for money that is important to them. If you live off your money, or 
need it to support a family then the money you are playing with and 
money you are playing to win become even more important to you. 
Losing will cause a lot of stress, which is bad for living a healthy life 
and for playing good poker. 

Then you may ask "Do I tilt easily?" The previous paragraph gave 
reasons why a person might tilt easily but - even ignoring that - a 
person might tilt more easily than most people just because it is in 
their personality. Be honest with yourself. If you have better mental 
discipline than most then you can move up in stakes faster, and if 
you lose it's not as bad as for most people because you won't com¬ 
pound the problem by going on tilt and losing even more. If how¬ 
ever you do tilt relatively easily, you have to be more conservative 
with bankroll management and moving up in stakes. 

Finally you must ask "How good am I?" This is a straightforward 
question and, obviously, the better a player is, the less variance will 
affect them because they could be so good relative to their oppo¬ 
nents that they win even when experiencing negative variance. Thus 
if variance isn't as much of an issue, a smaller bankroll is needed to 
sustain losses due to variance and the better a player is, the less 
money they need to try moving up in stakes. 

Keep in mind that when you move up it will take some time to ad¬ 
just to new and better players. You might want to try playing a cou- 


43 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

pie of tables at your current level and adding one table of a higher 
stakes game. That way, if you lose at the higher stakes game while 
you are adjusting, you will be bankrolling your losses by playing 
two tables of the game you are comfortable with. Think of this ad¬ 
justment period as an investment and soon you will learn and adjust 
to be able to play higher stakes successfully and make more money. 

An additional advantage to moving up in stakes is that you are 
forced to refocus your game and improve your play. For example, 
when I started out in poker I moved up in stakes very aggressively. 

If I had ten buy-ins to my name I considered that enough to play at a 
given level. Or if for some reason I didn't have a lot of money online 
and had to start out at stakes extra low for me I'd give the stakes a 
go at five buy-ins (although granted I did have more money in the 
bank) because my skill advantage was so huge over lower stakes 
players. The reason this worked for me is I had good mental disci¬ 
pline - I had no expenses or responsibilities and I was very commit¬ 
ted to the long term and ramping up my win rate as high as I could. 
So even if I lost money I could justify it to myself as an investment in 
the future and not be bothered too much. Also I had a lot of flexible 
free time so if I jumped up in stakes and lost I was able to play more 
hours than normal at lower stakes to win it back and then give the 
higher stakes another go. 

Now five years later things are very different for me. A lot of my 
money is invested and poker is a part time job. I am not interested in 
making it the centerpoint of my life, and am not interested in study¬ 
ing the game as intensely as is needed to improve and move up in 
stakes further. Necessarily because of poker's place in my life I play 
worse now than I used to - either you are moving up the ladder or 
down, it's hard to stay in the same place. Now although I have 
much more money to my name then I used to I actually play lower 
stakes. 


44 










Strategic Considerations 


Multitabling 

It's worth talking a little about how to approach online poker and 
the ability that comes with it to play as many tables as you like. 

There are a couple of different issues here. One is that playing more 
than one table is good because then you play more hands overall, 
face more decisions and thus gain experience faster. On the other 
hand if you play too many tables this advantage is negated because 
the action will move too fast for you to think about hands and actu¬ 
ally learn from them. 

It's best to start out with one or two tables when new to online poker 
to just become accustomed with the game. With more experience it's 
important to add more tables not only for the simple reason that it 
creates a higher win rate but also for the reasons mentioned above. 
However, even if your highest win rate might be achieved with ten 
tables, you should reject this option. In the short run it might make 
you more money, but the fact is it will slow your learning down and 
so you will improve less and move up in stakes more slowly. The 
key is to find a good balance - but if in doubt the focus should al¬ 
ways be on learning and getting better for the future. 


45 











Chapter Four 


Poker Math 


Expected Value (EV) 

In poker, expected value (EV) is a frequently used term. It means 
how much you are expected to win in a certain situation on average. 
An EV calculation is simply an actual math calculation to figure out 
more exactly what someone's $EV (their real money expectation) is 
in a pot. EV calculations are good practice, and are well worth carry¬ 
ing out to increase your learning. However, they are important for a 
better reason - they are a mathematical way of writing out what is 
really happening in every hand of poker, whether it's thought about 
in these terms or not. 


Basic probability 

Let's start with some basic math - for example the odds of hitting a 
flush draw. There are 52 cards in a deck, five of which are visible af¬ 
ter the flop - the three on the board and the two in your hand. There 
are either two flush cards in your hand and two on the board, or 
three on the board and one on your hand. That means there are nine 


46 













Poker Math 


flush cards left in the deck out of 47 unseen cards. The odds of one 
coming on the turn is simply 9/47. The odds of two flush cards com¬ 
ing consecutively is 9/47 * 8/46. The odds of one flush card coming 
and one non flush card is 9/47 * 38/46. The odds of no flush card 
coming twice is 38/47 * 37/46. 

We can't do such multiplications in real time so a good way to calcu¬ 
late the odds if we are considering a "two street scenario" is to esti¬ 
mate based on a few facts. With six outs and two cards to come (e.g. 
a two overcard draw) the odds of it hitting are slightly worse than 3- 
1, i.e. it will happen 1/4 times. The odds of a nine-outer coming (e.g. 
a flush draw) is a little better than 2-1 or 1/3 times. And the odds of a 
12-outer hitting (e.g. a flush draw and overcard) is almost even 
money. These numbers can be used as a point of reference, so if the 
number of outs is somewhere near these numbers, the probability 
can be estimated by raising or lowering one of these memorized ex¬ 
amples as needed. 

When counting outs, runner-runner flush draws and straight draws 
are also worth considering. Say the board is 5V-6V-94 and I have 
Ay-2*, the odds that the flush comes are 10/47 * 9/46 = 0.042, which 
adds about 4% to the chances of winning (which is roughly equiva¬ 
lent to an additional out). As will be seen later on, simply picking up 
the flush draw on the turn (regardless of whether it hits on the river) 
can be a very powerful weapon, allowing us to bluff and be aggres¬ 
sive. Similarly with a straight, if the board is 3-4-10 and I have K-Qo, 
I need a jack to come and then either a 9 or an ace so that is 4/47 * 
8/46 * 2 = 0.03 or about 3%. 


Hand Combinations 

Another important basic component of poker math is hand combi¬ 
nations, i.e. how many different ways there are to make up a hand. 
For example, with A-K the answer is 16 as there are four aces and 
four kings that can each match up. But if an ace comes on the flop 
there are now only 12, and so on. Pocket pairs are different since 


47 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

they are two cards of the same rank. If you write out the four differ¬ 
ent colors for any given card, and draw lines between them repre¬ 
senting all the combinations, you will see there are six combinations. 
How about a suited connector? There are four ways to make any 
given suited connector (one of each suit). 


EV Calculations 

Now we have covered some of the basics it is time to attempt a sim¬ 
ple EV calculation to see how the math of poker actually works in 
practice. For example, consider the following: 


( 8 / 46)($350 + $ 1 , 000 ) + ( 38 / 46 )(-$ 350 ) = -$54 


This is a quick way of saying that 8 out of 46 times one event will 
happen, and when it does we gain $350 + $1,000, but when the other 
event happens (which is 38 out of 46 times) we are expected to lose 
350 - and then that the overall expected value of this situation is ap¬ 
proximately minus $54. 

This is a representation of when the opponent goes all in on the turn 
for $350 more, and the pot is already $1,000 and we have an open- 
ended straight draw - exactly eight outs that we know are good and 
no more. One important thing EV calculations show is that poker 
decisions are close. It might feel like you are making a call for $350 
to win a $1,350 pot here; however, in actuality the decision is close 
and whether you call or fold, or win or lose the pot, the expected 
value of the different plays is nowhere near the pot size. 

For instance in the above situation, it is bad to call over the long haul 
as a call will cost us money and the $54 loss is relatively large. Play 
around with the numbers in the equation and you will see that the 
pot would need to be $300 bigger to make the call about breakeven 
and $600 bigger before there is around a $50 expected value gain. 


48 












Poker Math 


Poker is all about these decisions - not making decisions to win 
$1,500 pots but making decisions to gain a small amount in expected 
value. 

The idea of an EV calculation is to consider every possible action we 
can take and figure out which earns us the most expected value. 
Here the options are to either call or fold. If we fold our expected 
value is 0 - we can't lose any more money because we aren't risking 
anymore by putting it in the pot and we also cannot gain any money 
because we are folding so there is no way to win the pot. The hand 
ends right there and our expected value is 0. So we can then con¬ 
sider what other options we have and see if they are better than that 
(i.e. if the expected value is higher than 0). A couple of ways to set 
up the equation are: 


(x/46)($350 + $1,000) + (46 - x)/46)(-$350) = 0 


Here, solving the equation for x, and 46-x (where x is the number of 
outs we need to have to make our call) will reveal where the break¬ 
even point is. So if we have that many outs or more then our ex¬ 
pected value is higher than zero and it's a better play than folding. 
Another way to set up the equation is to keep the number of outs the 
same and change the pot size to see what pot size is required for us 
to make it a profitable call: 


(8/46)($350 + x) + (38/46)(-$350) = 0 


And one final way to set it up is to change how much the opponent 
goes all-in for on the river in order to see how much that needs to be 
for it to become a profitable play: 


49 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


(8/46)(x + $1,000) + (38/46)(-x) = 0 


By taking situations that come up and turning them into EV equa¬ 
tions you can learn a lot. By playing around with the numbers and 
equations it will show what the important factors are in a hand, and 
how much they need to change one way or the other to make plays 
profitable or unprofitable. It will show when some plays aren't as 
important as you thought they were because the EV isn't much 
above or below 0, and help you decide whether you have made a 
good or bad decision in the play of an actual hand, so that you will 
be aware of it in the future. 


Putting it all together 

Now let's consider a real life example. Say that our opponent raises 
to $30 and I reraise to $90 with 5-5 and he goes all in for $1,000. This 
is a classic "way behind or even" situation and it's clear a fold in 
most situations. Here then is a simple math concept put into words 
that shows what the math obviously proves. But let's say he would 
do this only with A-K, K-K, or A-A and consider the EV calculations 
involved. A-A and K-K are effectively the same if we go all in vs. 5-5 
so instead of analyzing them individually we can put the hands into 
different groups - A-K and the overpair groups. If we think he has 
A-K 50% of the time and a high pocket pair 50% of the time the EV 
equation is: 


(1/2)(1/2($1,090) - (1/2)($910)) + (l/2)((4/5)(-$910) + 
(1/5)($1,090)) =-$210 


50 













Poker Math 


This equation is slightly more complicated than the previous one as 
it's split up into two sections. The first side is a representation of 
what happens the 50% of the time the opponent has A-K, and the 
second side a representation of when he has A-A or K-K. When he 
does have A-K vs. our 5-5 we will win roughly 50% of the time, so 
we win $1,090 and the other 50% of the time we lose so that means 
we lose $910. 

Then on the other side of the equation when the 5-5 goes all in vs. a 
higher pocket pair we will lose roughly 4/5 of the time, and lose the 
$910 we put into the pot to call. And the other 1/5 the time we win 
the $1,090 in the pot. Add all of those together and the result is an 
expected value of around -$210 which is very significant (although 
still surprisingly low). The fact that we are risking $910 to win $1,090 
makes a little difference, and also the fact that we can outdraw a big 
pair with the 5-5 helps. Also obviously the fact that half the time we 
are even money makes a huge difference. So, if we compare calling 
with the 5-5 to our alternative plays, here there is only one more 
which is folding. The EV of that play is 0, and the EV of calling is 
$210, so we save ourselves $210 by exercising discipline and folding. 

Now let's make this representation even more accurate. In a real 
situation he isn't going to have A-A or K-K half the time and A-K 
the other half the time. There are more ways to make A-K than there 
are A-A and K-K combined - there are 16 combinations of A-K and 
12 of A-A and K-K in total. So the odds he has A-K will be 16/28 vs. 
the chances he has A-A or K-K, which will be 12/28. So the equation 
becomes: 


(16/28)(1/2($1,090)-(1/2)($910)) + 
(l2/28)((4/5)(-$910)+(l/5)($l,090)> = -$167 


So here things start to come back in our favour a little. But now let's 
say that although he will get A-A and K-K 42% of the time versus 


51 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

the 58% of the time he gets A-K, he might not always play this way 
with A-A or K-K and always play this way with A-K. An opponent 
might make this play 7/8 times with A-K because he just wants to 
get all-in instead of playing post-flop, whereas playing A-A or K-K 
is easier post-flop because they are already strong hands, so he 
might want to trap as much as 50% of the time. In this case the equa¬ 
tion changes dramatically and now we must weight the hand 
combinations and then put them in the EV equation: 


0.5 * 12 = 6 ways he’ll play A-A or K-K this way 
0.875 * 16 = 14 ways he’ll play A-K this way. 


So now there is a 6/20 chance he has A-A or K-K and a 14/20 chance 
he has A-K, which makes the equation: 


(14/20)(1/2($1,090) - (l/2)($910)) + 
(6/20)((4/5)(-$910) + (1/5)($1,090)) = -$90 


So clearly unless the circumstances change dramatically this will al¬ 
ways be a -$EV play. However, there are still a lot of factors that can 
be changed in this or other models. For instance, maybe the oppo¬ 
nents could have an underpair and then there will be three groups 
of hands. Again these would need weighting as it's unlikely each 
group would have a probability of 1/3 - it's probably a 50% chance 
he has overcards, 10% chance underpair, and 40% overpair. 

Or as we have already seen you can change his stack size (and hence 
his bet size), or add in more hand combinations like Q-Q or J-J in 
which case an overpair becomes a lot more likely and a call a lot 
worse. Or maybe he does this with just A-K or A-Q and J-J because 


52 












Poker Math 


he likes to trap with his really big hands, and just goes all-in pre-flop 
with hands he is afraid to play post-flop. A-K and A-Q have a total 
of 32 combinations vs. 6 possibilities for J-J so if he always plays 
those three hands in exactly this manner it weights heavily towards 
a call. 

This is the underlying math involved in the game and it takes place 
in every single hand. This is a relatively simple problem to figure 
out because the opponent has gone all-in, there are no future streets 
and no more action - just try doing an EV calculation on the flop 
with middle pair and adding all the possible scenarios such as the 
possibility you are ahead, behind, the times he bluffs you when you 
are ahead, the times he gives you a free card when you are behind 
and you have implied odds and so on. It's impossible. 

That's why - instead of doing the math every time - we use concepts 
to guide us through these situations. For instance if we are either 
way behind or even money that is an excellent reason to fold. But 
there are other concepts too that can be important - so here very 
good pot odds would counter the first concept. It's useful to do the 
equations yourself, simplified down to the basic concepts involved 
in a hand, and then to play around with the numbers to see which 
concepts outweigh others and so on. 


53 










Chapter Five 


Pre-Flop 


Evaluating your opponents 

If we sit in a poker game with no prior knowledge of our opponents 
and are first to act we can base decisions on our hand strength alone. 
However the very first action an opponent makes is information that 
needs to be used in building up a profile. If it's the first hand and he 
raises his button. I'd assume he's loose and aggressive until shown 
otherwise. If he folds his first button I'd say he is tight. If he raised 
his first button and then folded his second button I would then re¬ 
verse my opinion of him to thinking he is tight because it's correct 
generally to play more than 50% of hands on the button and here he 
has played tighter than that. 

Everything depends on how your opponent plays, including your 
pre-flop hand selection. The first step is to learn about your oppo¬ 
nent and to do that we'll use labels and categories to put people into. 
But be careful because though helpful, categorizing opponents is in¬ 
accurate - every opponent is different and they don't fit into neat 
tidy categories. Some players are aggressive pre-flop and then im¬ 
mediately slow down, or others might be skilled tough players ex- 


54 












Pre-Flop 


cept for pre-flop they play very poorly. Make your reads on players 
as detailed and accurate as possible. When evaluating a player the 
main things to assess are levels of skill, aggression and tightness. 

Playing tight or loose is not inherently bad or good. There are skilled 
players who win a lot of money by playing tight, and those who win 
a lot of money by playing loose. There are advantages and disad¬ 
vantages to both styles. Playing tight will lower the quantity and se¬ 
verity of your swings in poker. But playing tight won't get you as 
much action as people like to give action to opponents who will 
gamble, not nits. Playing loose means getting into more tough situa¬ 
tions, and those extra situations mean the possibility of making 
good decisions and making more money, but they can also mean 
getting outplayed and losing more money. Because poker is a com¬ 
petitive game, being aggressive is advantageous. However, it is pos¬ 
sible to be a good player and win a lot of money playing more pas¬ 
sively than most. And it is possible and not an uncommon problem 
to play too aggressively. 

There are many things to consider when learning about an opponent, 
although the above ones are the primary factors. You might also 
consider if when he has a very big stack he becomes loose and care¬ 
less or whether he tightens up to protect it. If he loses a pot does he 
tilt and try to win it back? Or does he refocus his efforts and start 
playing solid poker? Is he suspicious when you bet or does he take 
you at your word? If the pot is big on the river and he faces a big bet 
will he think along the lines of 'I can't call if I don't have the nuts, I 
don't want to go bust' or if he gets a good hand does he refuse to be 
pushed off of it? And so on. 


Skill level 

One way to learn the answer to these questions would be to play 
HU for a couple of hours. This, however, is not optimal - poker is a 
game of adjustments and the faster you adjust the better. Most peo¬ 
ple adjust quite slowly, so this is a good way to gain a big edge over 


55 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

your opponents. Another way to figure out if a player is good is to 
play him and then see if you feel you can beat him. This is what 
most people do but again it is not optimal. The issue is that emotions 
are involved here - people have egos and don't like to admit defeat. 
If he is better than you, it will take a fair amount of damage done to 
you for him to "prove it" and for your conscious mind to accept the 
fact. 

The way to get a reliable answer on an emotional and tricky ques¬ 
tion like this is to ask yourself questions - indirect questions that 
will suggest an answer. Since they are indirect and straightforward 
questions the answers won't be tainted by your ego. And since they 
are questions you are asking yourself, it forces you to consciously 
think about the situation and learn and adjust - a good strategy if 
your goal is to make money! Questions you might ask include: "Am 
I happy when I get into a pot with him?" The reason you should be 
happy is because you are comfortable and at ease. The opponent 
isn't making plays that put you out of your comfort zone and put 
you to tough decisions where what you should do is unclear. The 
converse to being happy when you enter a pot with him is being 
afraid and intimidated. The reason you would feel those emotions is 
because based on your past experience together he has put you to 
tough decisions and outplayed you, and it is logical to assume this 
will continue into the future. 

"Does it feel like he is always getting good hands?" Though it is pos¬ 
sible for people to get a good runs of cards, it is unlikely. Most of the 
time people don't get lucky and don't get particularly good cards. 
Thus there is a discrepancy between the cards you think he has been 
getting and reality, and the discrepancy has to be explained 
somehow. What is happening is the opponent is tricking you and 
outplaying you. You cannot satisfactorily hand read against him. If 
you think he has only been getting good hands that means he hasn't 
shown you any of his bad hands, which means he is winning pots 
with his bad hands by bluffing you out of the pot or folding them 
early on and only incurring small losses. 


56 










Pre-Flop 


"Can I read him or is it a guessing game?" If you cannot get into his 
head psychologically and are just playing an educated guessing 
game based off of the math you are in bad shape. He is out-thinking 
you - so why play him? 

"Is he making bad plays that I would never make?" You should be 
looking at all the hands after they are played in real time and asking 
"what would have happened if I had his hand and he had mine?" 
There should be clear times when he made big errors you would not 
have made. Clearly what you want are opponents who are just ob¬ 
viously worse than you, not an opponent you think might be mar¬ 
ginally worse but who may in fact be better. 

"Is he a good hand reader?" If he is a good hand reader that will 
make things a lot tougher for you. The point is that most people 
don't bother hand reading, they just go on how they feel, which isn't 
very accurate. The difference between a hand reader and someone 
who doesn't hand read can be seen when facing a pot-sized bet on 
the river with a weak made hand. A person who doesn't hand read 
will see a big bet and fold. However, a hand reader will think "okay 
he knows I am weak, so why is he betting into me so big? He must 
expect and want me to fold." He will then take his weak hand and 
call. It's still quite possible to beat this player - now you just need to 
think "okay I will bet a small amount since he knows I know he is 
weak, then he will think I'm expecting a call." 

Some people play weak poker and others play strong poker. A 
strong player is hard to push off of a hand and a weak player gets 
scared easily and folds hands too much. The difference is in hand 
reading skills - a strong player will hand read the opponent and 
then play the hand based on his read, whereas a weak player won't 
bother hand reading. In HU and short-handed poker, good hands 
come along very rarely, so when cards come on the turn and river 
they are generally not helping the opponent so much as putting 
scare cards out there. To a strong player who hand reads and puts 
the opponent on specific hands, just because a scary card comes 
doesn't mean it hits the opponent, and someone hand reading well 


57 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

will realize that and play accordingly. A weak player will see a scare 
card and be scared instead of actually hand reading to see if he 
should be scared. 

Loose vs. tight 

Next there is the difference between loose and tight players. A loose 
player is a person that puts money into the pot too much and a tight 
person is someone who puts money into the pot too little (with 
"solid" being somewhere in the middle). Again this trait will vary 
greatly from street to street and in degrees so you will need details - 
to play HU and know that your opponent is simply "tight" or 
"loose" is far from sufficient. There are no tricks to getting the an¬ 
swer here - the best thing to do is directly observe. When he is faced 
with a decision, does he put money into the pot (with either a raise 
or a call) or does he fold? 

Aggressive vs. passive 

Finally there is the difference between a player who is aggressive 
and one who is passive. When the opponent does decide to put 
money into the pot, is he doing it with a raise or a call? Being too 
aggressive or too passive are both leaks. However in competitive 
games being aggressive is almost always favored. Advice in chess, 
soccer, or racing is generally to play aggressively. It just happens to 
work out better if you are putting pressure on the opponent, show¬ 
ing confidence, going for the win yourself and taking the initiative. 

Making adjustments 

Before talking about adjustments to take advantage and exploit the 
specific tendencies of opponents, consider how you should play 
poker in a void - mathematically correct poker. The right way is 
straightforward, just playing your strong hands strongly and weak 
hands weakly. If you have a strong hand bet and raise, if you have a 


58 













Pre-Flop 


weak hand fold or call. From there, as your opponent sees how you 
play, adjust. Furthermore as you see how your opponent plays - 
you should adjust. 

As you discover information about your opponent, consciously ask 
yourself how you should adjust. If he is a skilled player the main ad¬ 
justment to make is to give him respect. You cannot play against 
him in marginal situations because the decisions will be tough and 
he can trick you into making the wrong choices. A good player will 
just play too well, so a lot of spots that were profitable versus poor 
opponents will change from being profitable to costing money. So 
the main adjustment to make is to tighten up. 

Additionally, versus a skilled player you will have to play more ag¬ 
gressively. Versus a bad player it can be advantageous to play more 
passively some of the time. The basis for this is that you can outplay 
a bad player and want as many opportunities to do so as possible on 
as many streets as possible. So it would be okay to play more pas¬ 
sively versus a bad player to draw out the hand and get as many 
chances as possible to outplay him. If you do this versus a good 
player it is the opposite of what you want as now he'll outplay you. 

If your opponent is tight pre-flop then you should adjust by raising 
a lot. But then when he calls you know his hand range is small and 
strong, so be less inclined to bluff the flop. But if a player is loose 
pre-flop then you should be more inclined to bet the flop because 
their hand range is wide and weak so on the flop they probably 
don't have anything. 

One difference is that with a passive player you don't have to force 
the action - you can take your time and slowly grind away so there 
is no variance. But versus an aggressive player you have to gamble 
with your stack (this becomes more true the better the player is) and 
maybe the math of just how many times he has bluffed in the past 
says you have to do something other than fold. 

Similarly, if he folds a lot on the river to big bets, then make more 
river bluffs than you normally would (and additionally feel free to 
put yourself in those positions more often with more liberal turn 


59 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

bets and raises) and conversely if you have a strong hand bet small 
on the river. 

When betting the flop consider how often the opponent calls pre¬ 
flop. If the opponent folds a lot pre-flop realize that this is where 
your profit comes from. Against that opponent you can auto-raise 
pre-flop and then just keep taking his blinds and make a handy 
profit. When he calls (which will be relatively rarely) he'll have a 
good hand so don't usually bluff the flop against him as he is now 
more likely to have something decent. But against a player who calls 
too much pre-flop you are not going to win money by stealing the 
blinds. You are going to win money by value betting your better 
hands and/or bluffing the flop against him. Since he calls so much 
pre-flop, his holdings will be fairly weak, thus you can bluff him off 
his hand on the flop more often. 

Starting Hands 

There is a lot of flexibility in playing hands pre-flop. A lot of people 
agonize over their pre-flop hand selection and debate endlessly the 
merits of re-raising someone with 10-10. There is no right or wrong 
answer - it depends on the situation. But more importantly the right 
and wrong answers do not differ by much in terms of EV so it is not 
important which you choose as both plays are valid. The stage is 
only set for a hand when the flop comes and it is those three cards 
that can change so much for you and the opponent. 

Because of this if you want to create a loose, aggressive image to get 
paid off when you hit big hands, it's fine to make loose/aggressive 
plays pre-flop and then slow down post-flop. Playing "crazy" pre¬ 
flop looks a lot worse than it really is. Other people think you are 
nuts, but you realize that if you re-raise someone pre-flop a lot of 
things can happen - you can win it there, you can bluff at some 
point in the hand, you can hit a hand and win the pot even if you 
start out behind pre-flop, and so on. 


60 











Pre-Flop 


Hand Reading 

Hand reading is one of the most important skills in poker. That 
might sound like an obvious comment but the importance of hand 
reading is still under-rated. First you use your hand-reading skills to 
figure out what hands the opponent could have and how likely each 
type of hand is for him. Then you use basic logic to consider 
different scenarios that could play out versus his different hands 
and weigh the costs and benefits of each of them and choose the best 
line to take. All the while mental discipline is used to implement the 
previous skills to the best of our ability. 

Hand reading is a combination of math and psychology. The math is 
derived from knowing about a player's style - how loose or tight, 
passive or aggressive they are. Saying a person is tight is another 
way of saying that the percentage of hands a person plays is smaller 
than normal. Since this person will always play their best hands, 
when a person lowers the percentage of hands they play the hands 
they are no longer playing are the poorest quality ones. So the 
tighter a person plays, the better their average hand is. And to say a 
person is playing loose means they play a higher percentage of 
hands than is normal. Thus this makes their average hand weaker. If 
a person is playing aggressively that means the ratio of times he 
raises or bets versus calling is high. 

And when a person is passive it means the ratio of times he calls or 
checks versus the times he bets or raises is high. This information is 
a bit harder to interpret as far as giving us information about what 
hand a person has compared to information about a person being 
tight or loose. This is because when a person is tight he is always 
playing his best hands. However, when a person is playing aggres¬ 
sively they mix it up - some are more likely to be aggressive with 
their strong hands, and some people are more likely to be aggressive 
with their draws or bluffs. On the other hand, a person won't be 
tight and "mix it up" by folding strong hands and playing weak 
ones. 


61 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Then there is the element of psychology. You need to know how the 
opponent thinks. Look at their bets and figure out what they are 
thinking, or what they are trying to accomplish with their bet (or 
check). If they are good, your thinking needs to get more advanced 
to take more into account, like "how does the opponent view me? 
What does he think I have? What does he think, I think he has?" and 
so on. However, assuming you are a winning player, most of your 
opponents will be bad (relative to you) and thinking on a basic level. 
Against them do not overcomplicate things, think on the same level 
as them. Play in a basic manner until you see evidence he is a think¬ 
ing player, then adjust. 

Say your opponent is not reraising you a lot and then he does for the 
first time in a while - you might think "he is raising with only 
strong hands, and he knows I know it. So surely if I re-raise he will 
know I'm extremely strong." That's not the way it works though as 
now you are confusing the situation. The math says he will have a 
strong hand and people play strong with strong hands, so he'll sim¬ 
ply call your raise or go all-in. Start thinking on the simplest level 
and then adjust from there. Start playing an opponent by playing 
the strength of your hand and then very quickly adapt, start think¬ 
ing about how good your opponent's hand is, and if it matters think 
of what your opponent thinks of your hand. But ease yourself into 
the more advanced thinking as you see what level your opponent is 
thinking on. 

Bluff when they are weak and don't bluff when they are strong. A 
lot of people make the mistake of bluff-raising the turn, but not 
bluff-betting the turn when checked to. They believe that because 
the opponent bet the turn it makes their bluff more "convincing" be¬ 
cause of how much strength they can show by raising instead of just 
betting, and by raising a lot. But there is a reason the opponent bet 
the turn - they probably want to build a big pot with a big hand as 
opposed to when they are checking the turn, where they probably 
want to keep the pot small since their hand isn't that good. Take 
things at face value and play straightforwardly, then as you start to 
get inside an opponent's head adjust. No read should equal no bluff. 


62 










Pre-Flop 


This gets back to the idea of starting out by simply playing your 
hand strength and only after you see how your opponent is thinking 
playing your opponent's hand, which then allows you to bluff. 

Math comes into play in poker all the time behind the scenes. But 
there is more math than just the odds of hitting a flush draw. In a 
HU situation someone can raise from the button 50% of the time, or 
maybe even 90% of the time. If he raises the button 90% of the time 
think of all the possible poker hands that his range consists of - al¬ 
most everything including Q-4o or J-2o. Here there is no psychology 
involved, it's straightforward math that you can reraise him pre-flop 
and he probably cannot call you because the odds are his hand will 
be quite weak. Or maybe he automatically calls your reraise, then 
the math says you can auto-bet the flop and most of the time he will 
have trash that can't call your bet. Or if he is in the habit of continu¬ 
ing on the flop too and is a maniac the first good hand you get you 
can make a lot of money off of him and you must just be patient. 

If he calls your flop bet a lot then he is going to have a weaker range. 
But if he is very tight pre-flop and then calls your flop bet he proba¬ 
bly has a hand every time because he has already filtered out his bad 
hands pre-flop. Maybe you can't get inside his head, but this math 
tells you a lot. 

If an opponent raises pre-flop and bets the flop and you call, then he 
often bets the turn, you can punish him by re-raising. If he does it 
seldom then he doesn't make a lot of money by bluffing you out on 
the turn so let him take down the pot and win money from him in 
other ways, like picking up a lot of smaller pots along the way that 
he doesn't contest. Bluff when they are weak, and don't bluff when 
they are strong. 

When someone is too loose, loosen up - but not as much as them. 
When someone is too tight, tighten up - but not as much as them. 
Saying "play tight when they are loose, and loose when they are 
tight" makes no sense. It's symmetrical so how can one player gain 
an edge on advice that is similar to both players? Picture a spectrum 
with too tight on the left, correct in the middle, and too loose on the 


63 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

right side. If someone is playing too loose then you want to adjust 
by loosening up and moving to the right a bit, but not as far as them. 
If someone is too tight you want to tighten up to adjust but not as 
much as them - just stay closer to the "correct" point than them. 

Some of the time the elements of math and psychology behind poker 
will coincide. For example, say the opponent is playing very LAG 
(loose/aggressive) so the math says he has nothing, and then 
psychologically on a given hand you have a feeling that he has 
nothing and it turns out you're right. In this case you are outplaying 
your opponent. On the other hand sometimes an opponent will play 
LAG, so you figure he probably doesn't have a hand and call him 
down, but he does. Or he is playing TAG (tight/aggressive) so you 
figure he does have a hand and fold, and he doesn't. In these 
situations the opponent is confusing and outplaying you. When you 
notice this happening a lot versus an opponent it means they are 
better than you, or at least match up well vs. you - so stay away 
from them! 

Example hands 


Example 1 

$5/$10, five-handed, effective stack sizes are $1,000. Opponent in CO 
raises to $35, he is a good player. Button folds, and it's to me in the 
SB with 6-6 and I fold. The value in a low pocket pair is generally 
hitting a set and building a big pot. The opponent, however, will not 
get his stack all-in with me just because he hits a mediocre made 
hand. So I will have to outplay him and trick him in some way and 
I'd rather wait to try and do that when I have position on him and a 
hand that will hit the flop more often then the 8-1 of hitting a set. 6-6 
also has showdown value but vs. a skilled opponent, he will not let 
me win with a low pocket pair out of position (OOP) if he has king 
high or ace high, as opposed to a bad player who could very well 
allow that to happen. 


64 












Pre-Flop 


Example 2 

$l/$2, six-handed, effective stacks of $200, friend raises to $7 second 
to act and then the cutoff (CO) makes it $29 to go. Friend has aces 
but what are the criteria for deciding whether or not to reraise? Start 
with the most basic thinking which is what do you have? A good 
hand, so you want to get money into the pot. Then take it to the sec¬ 
ond step - what does he have? If he is raising a lot then he has a 
wide hand range and if he is raising a little then he has a small hand 
range. A wide hand range means it's likely he has a weakish hand 
that will not call a reraise and will fold. A small hand range means 
he has a good hand that will call a reraise and may just push all-in 
because he will be practically pot committed from calling a reraise. 
Another consideration is how aggressive the opponent is - if he is 
aggressive now is a good time to take advantage of that and just call 
because on the flop he will play aggressive like he normally does 
and trap himself. The aces will almost certainly remain the best 
hand on the flop, so that's exactly what you want - him to be put¬ 
ting more money in on the flop. However, if he isn't aggressive then 
just calling pre-flop won't serve to trap him very well because his 
style of play means he won't trap himself. 


Example 3 

$25/$50, six-handed, 7-8s UTG. I raise to $175. This decision is pretty 
straightforward, the main criteria here is how good I am relative to 
my opponents. If I am good and want to play pots with them then I 
will take marginal situations pre-flop and go with them. If they are 
better than me then I will fold in marginal situations. In this case I 
am better so raised. 


Example 4 

$25/$50, K-9o, second to act six-handed. The opponents are very bad, 
I raise to $175. 


65 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Example 5 

$25/$50 K-Jo, second to act six-handed. The opponents are skilled, I 
fold. 


Example 6 

$25/$50, A-5o HU. The opponent is skilled and tight and opens to 
$150 on the button, I fold. The next hand I have 9-5o on the button 
and raise to $150 to take advantage of his tightness. He folds. 


Example 7 

$25/$50, six-handed, UTG opens to $175, he is slightly bad and loose. 
I have A-8s next to act. It's tempting to call here and a big factor is 
how aggressive the players behind you are. If they reraise frequently 
using their position it's very bad to cold call here, so if that is a pos¬ 
sibility it weighs strongly on the side of folding. But if that doesn't 
happen often then a call is reasonable, though still marginal. 


Example 8 

$25/$50, six-handed, UTG opens to $175, the CO and button call and 
I have A-8s in the BB. In an absolute sense all the other players have 
position on me, i.e. they will all act after me on every street. But 
what is also important here is relative position. The pre-flop raiser 
has a good chance of betting the flop again because he was aggres¬ 
sive pre-flop, so there's a decent chance he continues being aggres¬ 
sive. In which case my position is actually better than the CO and 
button. They will have to respond an UTG flop bet and I get to act 
after everyone else on the flop. Relative position is an important fac¬ 
tor to consider along with absolute position. A-8s is a call here. 


66 














Pre-Flop 


Example 9 

$10/$25 HU, opponent has $1,300. We haven't played much but he 
has reraised me a lot so far, and recently he showed down Q-6s after 
reraising so it is very obvious he is reraising us light now. I raise A- 
lOo on the button and he reraises me. This is normally a bad spot to 
reraise because of stack sizes since we will be pot committed for a 
big over-bet of the pot and A-lOo is a medium strength hand so he 
could call with better hands and fold worse ones. Also, he is so bad 
that it might be better to wait and just grind him down with lower 
variance post-flop than get it all in pre-flop (even with a small EV 
edge) and gamble. However, on the other hand he is so bad and his 
range is so wide that in the final analysis a reraise is a good play. 
Also he is bad-aggressive and not bad-passive, which means he 
won't be that easy to play against anyway, and he could definitely 
chip me down if I don't fight back. I reraised him all-in and he called 
with Q-7s. 


Example 10 

$10/$25 HU, we both have $2,200.1 have Q-Q and raise to $75 on the 
button and he reraises to $225. Now there is a decision as to whether 
to reraise him again or to just call and trap. It was close, but there 
was one deciding factor that made the right play clear. He was play¬ 
ing straightforward and decently pre-flop. However, post-flop he 
was just a terrible player. So I wanted to make sure we got to post¬ 
flop play where he will play badly. As the hand turned out, the flop 
was 54-54-4*, he bets $300, and I called. Again he plays bad so I 
wanted to let him keep going and give him as much rope as possible 
so I just called. The turn is the 24; he bets $775 and I raised him his 
last $900, and he called with 6-6. 


Example 11 

$5/$10, three-handed, opponent opens to $30 in the SB, I am in the 


67 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

BB. He has raised to $30 in the SB a lot. This means his hand usually 
isn't very good. I have Q-9 and reraise to $90. This is a good spot to 
reraise for a combination of reasons. First of all. I'm not scared of a 
four-bet from him because he has opened a lot and I haven't reraised 
him yet so it looks like I have a hand, and since he has opened a lot 
he probably doesn't have a hand. And if he does reraise me he 
probably has a good hand and Q-9o isn't that good of a hand any¬ 
way so I'm not losing a lot of value by not seeing a flop. Also if he 
folds then for metagame reasons it will make my image looser and 
crazier and next time I reraise him pre-flop he won't know what I 
have. My style of play is to raise and reraise a lot preflop and hope 
that tricks my opponent into thinking I have a loose and crazy im¬ 
age, but from there I tighten up a lot and in big pots I am very tight 
and have a good hand often. This is a good low variance style be¬ 
cause in the beginning when the pot is small I am playing "crazy", 
but when the pot is big and we play around with bigger bets I play 
conservatively so when I do play a big pot I generally win. And in 
the beginning when I am playing crazy I am really not giving away 
a lot, assuming I'm the better player. 


Example 12 

$25/$50 HU. I limp on the button with 3-5o and he raises me pot to 
$150 as he has done every time I have limped, so I call. The flop is 
64-94-Q4 and he leads $300 as he has done every time so I pot it to 
$1,200. Since he has been making this play regularly the odds are 
good that he doesn't have any piece of the board, and even if he 
does since he bets every time it could be something like 6-7, which 
he can't call me with anyway. 


68 











Chapter Six 


The Flop 


Planning a hand 

Having a plan for how to play a hand in poker is a necessity and the 
time to make this plan is the flop (not pre-flop because there the 
situation is still too complicated). The plan should be a decision 
about what pot size will be optimal in the situation and also how to 
achieve that pot size. There is a big difference between betting all-in 
yourself for instance, as opposed to check-calling an all-in. Some 
situations call for the first one, some call for the second one. The 
more information and considerations taken into account when mak¬ 
ing a plan, the better the plan will be, and the more money you can 
expect to make on the hand. More precisely, the more accurate in¬ 
formation and relevant considerations are taken into account the 
better a plan will be. 

For example, someone might have the wrong read on an opponent 
and apply that to a plan - obviously that plan will not fare very well 
(and if it does, it will be accidental). Or if a person believes one con¬ 
cept is very important in a situation but in fact it may not be relevant, 
then again the plan is a poor one. The only way to become good at 


69 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

poker is to make a lot of plans and study, and then you will improve 
and your plans will be more precise. 

In poker it is absolutely key to think in specific terms and not allow 
vague and hazy thinking to get in the way. When considering a play, 
think about what specific things it will accomplish. And when we 
say "accomplish", our goal is to win money. So calling because we 
are curious to see the opponent's hand does accomplish something - 
it satisfies our curiosity, but it does not satisfy our main goal, which 
is to win money. 

In this chapter we'll start introducing the considerations that need to 
be taken into account when making a plan. Then we'll make plans 
for hands based off those considerations. The considerations or rea¬ 
sons that would have a person make a play that we're going to talk 
about are as follows: gaining value for a hand; making the opponent 
fold a better hand; preventing a bluff; protecting your hand; pot 
odds; stack size; position; being aggressive; and betting for informa¬ 
tion. But note that too many people overvalue protecting your hand, 
being aggressive, preventing a bluff, and betting for information - 
those are by far the least important reasons to make a play. 

Continuation bets on the flop are also a big leak for a lot of people. 
This can be corrected in two ways. First, simply play the strength of 
your hand. If you raise pre-flop and get called and you have a good 
hand, bet again, and if you don't have a good hand check. From 
there you can mix up your plays for specific reasons. Secondly, 
avoid hazy thinking. It is the hazy thinking that leads people to 
think that they need to bet the flop because they want to be "aggres¬ 
sive", or to "show no weakness". These are such vague reasons for 
an action that they are not real reasons at all. It's like saying "I bet a 
lot because I want to win". 

Real reasons might be "it's good to be aggressive against this player 
because he is weak and will fold" (another way of saying "make a 
better hand fold") or "I don't raise much pre-flop so when I con¬ 
tinuation bet the flop it's consistent and credibly represents a strong 
hand" (again, another way of saying "make a better hand fold"), or 


70 










The Flop 


"it's good to be aggressive because then it gives him a chance to call 
me with a worst hand" ("value betting"). Remember your goal 
when playing poker is to make money. It's obvious how making a 
better hand fold will allow us to win the entire pot, and how that 
helps us to win money. It's not at all clear how "seizing the initia¬ 
tive" will lead to making money. Being aggressive is not an end in 
itself - it's a way of playing that in some situations won't work well 
and in others will work well for specific reasons. The key is to be 
more specific and to find out for what specific reasons being aggres¬ 
sive works, and then to directly consider those factors. 

Doyle Brunson advocates automatically betting the flop after raising 
pre-flop in Super System, but today when playing heads-up or 
short-handed this strategy will get you eaten up. Instead, take poker 
street by street - the mistake a lot of beginners make is committing a 
lot of their money to a hand on an early street. For instance, a begin¬ 
ner can't check-raise bluff the flop because he'll automatically go all- 
in on the turn to continue the bluff too often. The expert re-evaluates 
on the turn - he sees if any good cards have come to continue the 
bluff and some of the time he'll simply give up. Similarly, a good 
player will raise pre-flop, and then the flop is another street - he 
won't automatically bet it, he'll consider his options at that point 
and maybe bet and maybe not bet. 

A very good action that will help us win money is gaining value for 
a good hand, i.e. getting money into the pot with a good hand ver¬ 
sus a worst hand. This doesn't need a lot of explanation but the rea¬ 
son it is such a powerful way to gain value is that when you are bet¬ 
ting top pair and the opponent has top pair with a worse kicker (or 
middle pair) and calls you, he only has three or five outs. ITeTl 
rarely outdraw you, and you have a lot of equity in the pot com¬ 
pared to him. Whenever you make a bet and he calls, you gain al¬ 
most his entire bet in expected value. 


71 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Aggression 

People usually want to be aggressive to "take control of the hand" 
or "seize the initiative"; however, as we have said these are not ends 
in themselves, just examples of hazy thinking. Taking control of the 
hand is meaningless; it's almost synonymous with a couple of le¬ 
gitimate reasons, which are "betting now to prevent a bluff later on" 
and "betting for information". These ideas are more Limit poker 
ideas than NLHE ones. In NLHE since the bet sizes are not small 
fractions of the pot but rather close to pot size most of the time, they 
are significant and can't be thrown around. Betting for information 
is too expensive, in fact it doesn't really accomplish much except for 
sometimes making a hand easier to play. 

But making a hand easy to play is not the same as making it more 
profitable. In NLHE instead of betting for information it's better to 
just check, and then you won't have the information but you also 
won't have thrown out a sizeable bet, and without the information 
you'll just have to make an educated guess and come to the best de¬ 
cision you can. Similarly, instead of betting to prevent a bluff, just 
check. And then if he bets, now you have a decision to make. If you 
are afraid he's bluffing you a lot then simply start calling him down 
with weaker hands. 

Being aggressive is ok to accomplish certain things - when you are 
aggressive and betting or raising it could be to gain value or to bluff 
the opponent. As shown above that gains real money, but just "be¬ 
ing aggressive" does not gain anything in itself unless it is used as a 
tool to gain something. So be specific and figure out what exactly 
you are trying to gain and what the thing you are trying to gain is 
worth. 

Another important factor to consider is the skill of your opponent - 
for example whether they will outplay you on the river. If you check 
the turn and they are a bad player, you can maybe pick off a bluff on 
the river when the draw misses, and fold when it hits. But if they're 
better than you, maybe they'll outplay you on the river with a bluff 


72 











The Flop 


and you will lose the whole pot - so now you might want to bet to 
protect yourself against getting bluffed later in the hand. 


Protecting your hand 

The conventional wisdom that says protecting your hands in NLHE 
is a must is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. NLHE is not 
like limit hold'em in that regard - you do not bet to protect your 
hand. In NLHE profits come from value betting against worse hands 
or by bluffing out better hands. The math shows why this is true. 

Say the pot is $1,500 and you bet $1,500 into it to protect your top 
pair from being drawn out on. Maybe they have top pair with a 
lower kicker, a flush draw or second pair. In case one they have 
three outs, in case two they have nine outs, and in case three they 
have five outs, so in all cases their equity is below 1/4 of the pot. So 
basically you are betting $1,500 to protect 1/4 of the pot, or $375. 

Another factor people think is important is betting to protects bluffs 
in the future. This is related to the idea of betting for information 
and it's just too expensive to do in NLHE. Instead, if you think the 
opponent is the type to bluff a lot, just check the flop and then either 
make a weak call-down or re-bluff raise him. That is how to profit 
from someone who bluffs a lot - not by stopping him from bluffing 
with a costly bet, but by spotting it and taking advantage of it by 
calling him light. 


Determining the best line 

The main factor in determining what is the best line to take is seeing 
if when you bet a worst hand will call or if a better hand will fold. 
Consider for example if at $5/$10 HU I open on the button to $35 
with A-10 and the opponent calls. The flop is 10-7-4. Now the reason 
I would bet here for the most part is to gain value rather than protect 
my hand. If he has two overcards like Q-J or Q-K he has six outs, if 
he has a pair of tens with a worst kicker just three outs, and even if 


73 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 
he has 8-7 that has only eight outs. 

So we don't gain much value by forcing him to fold but there is 
value if he'll raise us and we're prepared to call - then a lot of 
money can go into the pot with us as big favorites. That however 
isn't really protecting our hand, it's still betting for value. And if he 
has a pair of tens with a worse kicker he'll certainly put money in 
and have little chance of outdrawing us and that is where the main 
value comes from. 

Stack sizes will affect the plan you come up with for a hand and 
what matters is effective stack size, which means the money that can 
be won or lost based on the smallest stack. We can look at stack sizes 
in relation to the number of big blinds, and also what percentage of 
went in pre-flop and from this decide what type of hand will be 
played out post-flop. The general rule is that the bigger the effective 
stacks are, the more flexibility there is in how a hand is played, and 
the more money that goes in pre-flop the less concern there is that a 
player will hit a big hand - if a player puts in 10% of their stack pre¬ 
flop, then we're not really afraid of him hitting flushes or two pairs. 

Position is a big advantage, which you want to make sure you util¬ 
ize to the fullest extent post-flop. The way to utilize it is by playing 
as many streets as possible in position to put the disadvantage on 
the opponent as often as possible. If just one street is played then the 
opponent has to deal with the disadvantage of being out of position, 
but just one time. With more streets a person in position gains more 
information, as they get to see more cards and how the opponent 
reacts the whole way. The way to play more streets is to play more 
passively in position. Conversely, if a person is playing out of posi¬ 
tion, they need to neutralize the disadvantage by trying to end the 
betting action on a hand as soon as possible by either folding or rais¬ 
ing, and in general a person will need to play more aggressive out of 
position if they enter a pot. 


74 










The Flop 


Pot Odds 

Pot odds are the odds you are getting to call a bet to win the pot. If 
the bet is small in relation to the pot, then you are getting good pot 
odds. In general, on the flop and turn people bet around the pot size, 
which gives a person 2:1 pot odds. Draws in NLHE are not that 
strong (almost no draws are going to hit 1/3 times getting one card) 
so for the most part people don't make those call because of pot 
odds. Instead NLHE players think more in terms of implied odds - 
the chances of hitting a hand and winning additional money after 
making it. 

Pot odds are therefore most important on the river where the oppo¬ 
nent makes a bet and there is no future action. However, pot odds 
are still relatively not that important even then, as making the cor¬ 
rect river decision is mainly a matter of hand reading, and then if the 
decision is close the idea of pot odds can be factored in to sway it 
one way or the other. 

Here is a simple hand to try an equity calculation with. EP min- 
raises to $100 at $25/50 and LP calls with a short-stack of $3,000.1 
have A-Qo on the button. The min-raise to me says that he has a 
mediocre hand that he doesn't want to put a lot of money in with, 
and doesn't want to build a pot with - he just wants to see a flop 
cheaply. So I raise to $500, EP folds and LP calls. The flop comes 
A-J-6 with three spades, he checks, I bet $800 and he goes all-in for 
$1,700 more. 

So now there is approximately $1,100 in the pot from pre-flop, then 
$1,600 more from my bet and his call, which makes $2,700, and he 
raises $1,700 more so I would put up $1,700 to win $4,400 - so 44:17 
or almost 5:2. If he has A-J, a set, or a flush then I have very little 
chance of winning. If he has a pair and a flush draw like K-J with a 
spade, or maybe 10-10 with a spade that gives him five or two 
pair/set outs and nine flush outs, so 12 on average. 12 outs twice is 
about even money to win the pot. So the equation is: 


75 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 



It's important to understand how this equation works. X is equal to 
the percentage of times A-Q has to be ahead versus a semi-bluff for 
our equity to be breakeven in the pot when calling. About 50% of 
the time 10-10 will win so we'll lose the $1,700 we used to call his bet, 
and the other 50% of the time we win the entire pot of $4,400. (1-x) is 
all the other times when he does NOT have a semi-bluff - it is the 
times I'm drawing dead and then I lose the $1,700 call. Note that (1 - 
x) added to x is equal to 1, i.e. x and (1 - x) account for two different 
scenarios, which together happen 100% of the time. There are two 
factors battling each other here - the first is that our pot odds are so 
good, but second is that he has a lot of equity even when he's behind. 
So from the equation we can see that if our hand is good 56% of the 
time then calling is a break even proposition. Let's say our hand 
reading is off and it's good only 30% of the time. Now we can plug 
those values in and see how much our mistake cost us: 


0.3($4,400*0.5 - $1,700*0.5) - (0.7)($1,700) = -$788 


Or let's say it's good 70% of the time then it becomes: 


0.7($4,400*0.5 - $1,700*0.5) - (0.3)($1,700) = $435 


76 













The Flop 


Based on the calculations above if we call when we are ahead 70% of 
the time then we win $435 from our opponents in Expected Value, 
and if we call when our hand is only good 30% of the time we lose 
ourselves almost $800 in EV. You can see that by calling or folding 
we don't make decisions that cost us $1,700 or win us $4,400 - they 
actually win or lose a small fraction of that depending on how good 
or bad our hand reading was. 


Now let's say he either has A-lOo or one of his huge hands then try 
running it again: 


x($4,400) - (l-x)($l,700) = 0 
$4,400x - $1,700 + $l,700x = 0 
$6,100x = $1,700 
x = 0.27 


So if we're either ahead huge or behind huge (and there is no re¬ 
drawing) then we only have to be good 27% of the time because our 
pot odds are so good. Note that this equation is just a long-hand 
way of writing out pot odds, which are 4,400:1,700 or 1,700/(4,400 + 
1,700) = 0.27. 


Implied Odds 

Implied odds are another tool to add to the poker arsenal. When a 
person starts out playing poker they have relatively few "tools" to 
use - for instance maybe there is just pot-odds, which as seen above 
do not allow for a lot of flexibility, as based on them alone many 
hands would have to be folded. As more and more ideas get added 
into the thinking and planning of a hand, there are more possibilities 


77 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

and more ways to mix it up and either call, raise or bet as opposed 
to folding or checking and it will be understandable why those plays 
are profitable. 

Implied odds come into play based on how much money you think 
you can make if you hit that drawing hand on future streets. Your 
implied odds depend heavily on earlier factors such as hand reading 
and the style of an opponent. To figure out if you have good implied 
odds first consider the hand ranges of your opponent and how they 
will react to the cards coming on the board that hit your hand. Then 
also consider the style of poker your opponent plays (skilled? ag¬ 
gressive? loose?) and how that will fit into the picture. Implied odds 
can also be combined with pot odds to find more +EV calling situa¬ 
tions. 

Here is a straightforward example. Eight-handed $5/10, UTG limps, 
UTG+1 limps, I limp on the button with KV-Qv and the BB checks. 
Normally this hand is good for a raise - it's a good hand and we 
have position; however, the reason I didn't this time is because UTG 
had a stack of just $250, which makes it easy for him to limp-reraise 
me all-in which is not something I want. The flop comes AV-34-2V, 
BB and UTG check, next to act bets pot of $45. Here clearly I do not 
have pot odds but if I get paid off if a flush comes then I can call. 

The turn is a 74 and he bets $135 leaving himself with $500. A flush 
card will come about 1/5 times, and pot odds say I need to win 1/3 
times, so I need to make up for that difference somehow to call. The 
answer is with implied odds, or in other words, the time a flush card 
comes and he pays me off: 


0.8(-$135) + 0.2($405 + x) = 0 


This means that 80% of the time we won't hit the flush and won't 
win the pot (note this neglects the times when our hand is already 
good and we can win as in a showdown, and the times we can bluff 


78 











The Flop 


him when a flush card doesn't come which are significant factors). 
And 20% of the time we win the $405 in the pot and then x, where x 
is the amount of money the opponent will pay us on average when 
we hit, which in this case is $135. Note how a turn call is worse than 
a flop call even though we still have a 1/5 chance of hitting the next 
card and immediate pot odds of 2:1. This is because on straight pot 
odds we cannot call getting 2:1 on a 4:1 shot to hit; however, if he 
gives us a free turn card then our chance of hitting a flush becomes 
about 2:1 overall. He will check the turn some of the time (when 
playing you need to make a mental estimate) so pot odds won't jus¬ 
tify the call entirely. However, implied odds are better on the flop 
than the turn because then the math is 


0.8(-$45) + 0.2($135 + x) = 0 


It is a lot more likely with two streets of action to go that we get the 
value of x, which is only $45 here. 


Example hands 


Example 1 

$25/50 HU, I raise on the button to $150 with A-10 and opponent 
calls. The flop is 4-7-9o. I might check this flop because the opponent 
is passive and if my ace high is good he will be passive enough to 
allow me to check it down and win. On the other hand if my hand is 
K-10 I would be more inclined to bet because king high is much 
worse than ace high in a showdown. Say my hand is A-7 then I'd 
ask some questions like "how aggressive is my opponent?". Some 
opponents will either fold or raise and not call - in that case betting 
will only serve to protect my hand, it won't fold out better hands or 


79 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

gain value. Here it isn't needed to prevent versus a bluff because my 
hand is strong enough to call a future bet so it deprives me of a fu¬ 
ture bluff. If on the other hand the opponent is passive then I'd go 
for a bet for value and to protect my hand. 


Example 2 

$25/$50 HU, I raised pre-flop with A-9 and he called. The board was 
9-3-4o. Now I'd be more inclined to bet the flop because my hand is 
better so it is more possible for him to call with a worse hand (gain¬ 
ing value for me). 


Example 3 

$25/$50 HU, I raised pre-flop with 59, he called and the board is 
9-3-4o. Here I'd be a lot more likely to check the flop because it's 
harder for the opponent to call with a worse hand - for him to have 
hit a pair means he has top pair with a better kicker, or a pair of 
threes of fours, but since the three and four are such low cards, it's 
hard for him to call pre-flop with a three or four in his hand very of¬ 
ten. 


Example 4 

$25/$50 HU, I raise pre-flop with K-5o and he calls. The flop is K-J-8. 
Here the board is very coordinated, and even though my kicker is 
bad it's quite possible the opponent hit a second best hand and I can 
get value with a flop bet. One consideration when you hit a hand 
and want to gain value is "how aggressive is the opponent"? If he's 
aggressive I'd rather check to be tricky and try to catch a bluff on the 
turn and/or river. It also depends on how happy you'd be to call a 
raise and build a big pot with your hand - if you are happy to do 
that then there could be huge value in betting and calling him down 
if he is aggressive and raises. 


8o 













The Flop 


Example 5 

$25/$50 HU, I raise to $150 on the button with 6-9o, opponent calls. 
The flop is 2-3-6. If my opponent is tight and passive, even though 
we have top pair there aren't a lot of ways to gain money from this 
situation because if I check behind he won't bluff, he won't call with 
a second best hand, and we certainly can't try and make him fold a 
better hand with a flop bet. So the main considerations are not rele¬ 
vant and we resort to secondary considerations like protecting your 
hand. Here protecting your hand doesn't gain you much value, but 
then again neither does checking so it's best just to bet and take the 
pot down. 


Example 6 

$5/$10 HU, opponent is loose and bad, effective stack size is $825,1 
have 10-10. He opens to $30 and because is he loose and bad there is 
a lot of value to be had in reraising with a hand as good as tens. I 
reraise to $90 and he calls. The flop is A4-74-8*. If I check and he 
bets I will be confused about what to do versus this opponent. That 
is not enough of a reason alone to bet out; however, in this situation 
the opponent is bad enough that he could call with a worse hand, so 
my bet serves as a value bet and also protects my hand from getting 
outdrawn. All those reasons on their own are small, but added to¬ 
gether it makes betting the most attractive option here. As the hand 
turned out, I bet $130 with the aim of achieving all those goals and 
he called. The turn was JV we checked. The river was the 64,1 check 
and he bets, and the very fact that he bets makes me think I'm beat, 
but he only bet $80 into a much bigger pot so based on pot odds I 
called and he had K-8. 


Example 7 


$25/$50, effective stacks of $5,000, four-handed. Opponent opens 
under the gun to $175 and I call in the BB with A-Jo. The flop is 


81 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

104-10V-K*, I check and he bets $300. Even though not much has 
happened, due to the board texture we can already do some hand 
reading. Would he bet like that if he had a ten in his hand? Most cer¬ 
tainly, he could raise with it pre-flop and then he'd definitely bet the 
flop to build a pot and get value for his strong hand. Would he bet a 
king like that? This is the crux - he may or he may not. For him to 
bet the king he needs to be able to put me on worse hands that could 
call him, and it's hard to do that because of the board - if I hit the 
board I hit either trip tens of a pair of kings. So maybe he has a pair 
of kings with a strong kicker and hopes I have a pair of kings with a 
weaker kicker. However even then he might check the flop, because 
he isn't going to try and bet the flop, turn and river, so there is no 
rush to bet. If he wants to get one or two bets from me he can do that 
on the turn or river more effectively. So it polarizes his hand range 
such that he probably has either a very strong hand (the trip tens) or 
a weak hand (not a pair of kings), and strong hands are rare. 

Based on that, it's a good spot to raise, and I did so to $1,000. Pot 
odds are one way of looking at this - we are risking $1,000 to win 
$650 so he has to fold about 2/3 of the time which I think he will. 
However, implied odds come into play here too because we do have 
a gutshot draw which will probably give us the best hand. Also 
there is a chance the ace is an out. Also position is important here so 
we want to play aggressively to neutralize our disadvantage - so if 
we're going to make a play for the pot we need to raise and try and 
end the hand now. Stack sizes are also favorable for this play - if the 
opponent was short-stacked, it makes it more likely he'll bet the flop 
with a pair of kings or even a weaker hand he is willing to get all-in 
with (because he doesn't need to worry about pot control). As it is, 
when we bet $1,000 if he wants to reraise us he'll have to reraise a lot 
more, and if he calls he'll have to face the prospect of a big turn bet, 
so the stack sizes give us power here. In the hand he folded. 


Example 8 

$5/$10 three way, I raise on the button to $35 with A-Ko, the BB calls 


82 











The Flop 


and the flop is A-J-4o, he checks and I bet $60. My hand is quite 
strong. I'm willing to get a lot of money into the pot and even get all 
the money in here (we have $1,000 each). So a big part of the plan 
here is how we want the money to go in. The hands that are most 
likely to put money into the pot here that are worse than us are pairs 
of aces like A-Q or A-10. Those are the sort of hands from his per¬ 
spective that are likely to just call when I bet. They don't need to 
raise because they aren't afraid of getting outdraw (there aren't 
draws on the board), worst hands won't call the raise and just call¬ 
ing allows me to keep bluffing. 

Thus if he raises me he usually has a bluff, two pair or a set (or a 
pair of aces that he is playing badly). If I bet the flop for $50 and he 
check-raises to $150 and I call then the turn is a three and he bets out 
for $350 a fold should be considered. Here his hand range is very 
different when he does this as opposed to if he check-calls twice and 
then checks the river to me, where I'd bet as much as I thought 
could get called because his hand range is very different. 


Example 9 

$5/10, six-handed, second to act opens to $35, he has $455 and I 
cover, I am the only one to call with A¥-JV. The flop comes A4-44-84, 
I check and he bets $50. As far as hand reading goes, there isn't 
much information to say what he has. He could be bluffing, or bet¬ 
ting with any ace or a flush draw. At this point I need to make a de¬ 
cision if I'm happy to get my hand all-in versus his hand, and if so 
whether raising is the superior play because by calling I allow him 
to bet the hands he wants on the turn (the hands that beat me), and 
check the hands that I want money to go all-in against. I'm not too 
afraid of free cards here because I have top pair and no overcards 
can come. He could have a flush draw but flush draws don't come 
along all too often. The main reason for a raise here is to gain value 
from weaker aces that he might have. 


83 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Example 10 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $1,600, he opens to $150 and I call with 
8-9o. The flop comes 8*-8*-104,1 check and he bets $150. Here the 
main concern is how to get in the most money and to gain value for 
the hand. For him to outdraw me with a straight draw is 4-8 outs 
and to hit a higher full house is two outs. So those aren't concerns, 
it's just figuring out how to get the most money in. Based on his flop 
bet it seemed like he had a pair of tens or some sort of hand so I 
raised there to gain value from it. He went all in after my raise to 
$600 with A-10 and lost. 


Example 11 

$5/$10, it's folded to the SB who limps in, and you check in the BB 
with Q-8o. The flop comes A-K-5, and he checks. Here there is not 
much value in betting because a worse hand won't call and a better 
hand won't fold (with the exception of Q-9, Q-10 and Q-J). So here is 
the equity calculation of checking. Let's say he has 10-9 80% of the 
time and the other 20% of the time he checked the flop as a trap with 
a made hand that will call. And then the 10-9 outdraws us about 1/4 
the time: 


l/5(-$15) + 4/5($20) = $13 
1/4(0) + (3/4)($20) = $15 


Here it shows that our EV is good in either case, but it's slightly 
higher in the case where we don't bother betting the flop. The equa¬ 
tion shows we don't gain much value by "taking control" and taking 
it down immediately. We risk a lot that costs us the few times he 
trapped us and don't gain much equity because he won't outdraw 
us very often. However, let's change it a little to say that if we check 
there is a 20% chance he will bluff us: 


84 













The Flop 


1/4(0) + 1/4(0) + l/2($20) = 10 


Because of the small but significant chance of him bluffing us betting 
the flop is marginally better than checking behind. Note how all the 
decisions are close, but if you keep adding in factors and making the 
decision more and more precise a better decision is arrived at. This 
equation will change from player to player - some people trap on 
the flop a lot which makes checking behind more correct, and some 
bluff a lot which makes betting more correct to stop them from do¬ 
ing it (although if they do very often then maybe the best way to 
capitalize is to bluff raise the turn). 


Example 12 

$25/50 six-handed, I open UTG with K-lOo to $175 and am called by 
the BB. As far as hand reading goes, the BB needs a weaker hand 
than other positions to call because he already has $50 committed to 
the pot so he has to call a smaller bet, and also no one else is to act so 
no one can reraise him out of the pot. Also I raised UTG so he views 
me as having a strong hand. The flop is 6V-64-QV and he checks. 
Here is a good spot to bet because of the factors just mentioned and 
the main goal is to bluff him off a better hand. He folded. 


Example 13 

$25/50 HU, opponent limps on the button and I check with J-8o. The 
flop is QV-Q4-9V, I check and he bets $100. There had been one other 
hand where he limped pre-flop and bet the flop in a short span of 
playing so based on that it makes his hand range here wider and 
weaker than normal. Also even if he does have a made hand like a 
pair of nines which is a lot more likely than trip queens, I will have 
outs. So here I check-raise bluffed and he folded. 


85 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 14 

$5/$10 HU, I raise to $30 with 10-9o and the opponent calls. The flop 
is J4-5V-74, he checks and I check. The opponent has been playing 
slightly tight (though not particularly pre-flop) and aggressive. The 
fact that he plays tight and aggressive, and the fact that the board is 
coordinated, make a check-raise too likely here for us to try a bluff. 
We also have outs in the shape of a gutshot draw to the nuts and 
also some pair outs that might be good, but we might not get the 
opportunity to hit vs. an aggressive opponent if we bet the flop (and 
get raised). The turn came a 3* and he bet $30 and I folded. 


Example 15 

$50/$100, opponent limps on the button and I check with 8-5o. The 
flop comes A-Q-7o, I check and he bets $50. In terms of hand read¬ 
ing I think pre-flop if he had a hand with an ace in it he would raise, 
so I don't think he has a pair of aces. With a pair of queens or sevens 
he might bet but he might check to try and trap me for a small bet 
later on. Also if he does have those hands he might fold to my 
check-raise, but most likely he has nothing. So I check-raised here to 
$250 as a bluff and he folded. 


Example 16 

$5/$10 five-handed, I button raise with J-9o, SB calls and the flop 
comes A-10-4, then he checks. People like to call with pocket pairs 
pre-flop to hit a set and then try to get money in. With low connec¬ 
tors people will just call because they are weak hands (especially out 
of position). With high cards like strong aces they will semi-bluff 
raise and if they get called try and pair up. So here in this situation 
there isn't much information to go on but an ace is at the bottom of 
his hand range and we can definitely have an ace on the button, plus 
our jack high has no showdown value so this is a good spot to con¬ 
tinuation bet. 


86 













The Flop 


Example 17 

$10/$25 HU, opponent has $500 and I cover. I have JV-44 and raise to 
$75 on the button, opponent calls. Flop is 24-74-34, he checks and I 
check. Please note that in general the more I raise pre-flop (and I 
raise a lot, almost automatically as can be seen by my raise here with 
J-4o) the more I'll have to check the flop and show discretion. This is 
because if I raise preflop and then bet the flop everytime I obviously 
can't have hit the flop everytime and he can take advantage of it eas¬ 
ily by bluffing me. 

The turn is the 44, he checks and it's to me. Here is a perfect example 
of a time not to try and protect my hand with a bet. If he calls me I 
have no outs and if he raises me I cannot call. If he beats me I'm beat, 
and if he raises me it could very well be a semi-bluff but I can't do 
anything about it because either he has a lot of outs or I'm dead. 
These reasons are pretty simple and overwhelming but most people 
let the thought of "look at all those cards that can hurt me, I want to 
just take the pot down now" make them bet. The problem is the un¬ 
derlying math which makes it a clear fold. Basically, I stand to lose a 
lot more than I win by attempting to "protect my hand". The math is 
I either win a medium to small percent of the pot by forcing him to 
fold a hand that has a medium to small number of outs or I lose the 
value of the whole pot with my pot sized bet when he simply calls 
me with better hands, and I lose the same when he raises me with 
better hands or as a bluff. Also since we have a made hand but 
checked twice it's a little tricky and maybe we can gain a little value 
on the river. In the hand the river was the 2V and he led out $25. 

That looks like a wacky bet with something weird like ace high, so I 
min-raised him to $50 and he called with Q-10. 


Example 18 

$25/$50 HU, stacks of $5,000, opponent limps on the button and I 
raise to $160 in the BB with J-J; he calls. The flop is A4-94-34. Betting 
to protect my hand is a bad idea here. Say the opponent has 9*-104, 


87 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

or say he has K>-2*, or something even as weak as Q4-2*; if I bet he 
is certainly not folding. And his equity is roughly equal to mine on 
the flop so I'm not gaining anything. Instead I'm building a pot out 
of position in a very precarious spot. He could also easily take a 
hand like that and just bluff me out of the pot, which is obviously 
bad. Betting to make a worse hand call doesn't make sense because 
his hand range is very narrow for hands like that - he'd need to 
have 9-x with no diamond and even then he might just fold the hand. 
After betting he will never fold out a better hand, and again con¬ 
sider specifically what hands. The most likely hand that is better 
than ours is a pair of aces and he wouldn't fold that. We check and 
the turn is the A*. Now if he has a diamond in his hand his equity 
has gone down significantly, and the second ace on the board also 
makes it less likely that he has one (and also less likely that we have 
one so he will be tempted to call us down with a weaker hand). Also 
he checked the flop suggesting that he doesn't have a strong hand so 
now we can bet for value and to protect our hand. 


88 










Chapter Seven 


The Turn and River 


Sophisticated play 

The above poker is basic poker, and applied along with strong 
mental discipline will yield very solid results. But to play HU and 
take poker to the next level some new ideas need to be added. They 
still revolve around playing well thought-out poker, having a plan, 
controlling the pot size and getting the money in well. It's just that 
within that framework some nuances need to be added. 

The best players play with precision. If they make a call it's because 
they think they are best, not because they think they have to given 
their hand strength (they follow their instincts). Some of the times 
you might have a pretty good hand and call a flop bet, but for some 
reason you are pretty sure your opponent is going to bet the turn 
again, and your hand isn't good enough to call that bet. This is 
known as a weak flop call. It can also happen on the turn. Make a 
decision about the hand (this is more applicable to the turn call then 
the flop), make a read about whether you're good or not and act on 
it. The worst thing to do is get confused, say "damn it" and call, then 
he bets on the next street like you thought he would and you say 


89 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

"damn it!" (you are quite a bit angrier now) and quickly muck. This 
is terrible play and you will lose a lot of money on it. 

Conventional wisdom says, "Every time you call the turn with a 
made hand, and the draw misses on the river, you should be calling 
the opponent's pot-sized bet." This is not true. Play precisely - if 
you now think you are beat you can fold. Sometimes against a good 
player you call a turn bet, the draw misses and they bet the river, so 
you don't have any new information and are unsure of how to pro¬ 
ceed. This is because they are playing good poker and you can't 
hand read them. In this case you should make a decision on the turn 
because you don't gain anything by waiting until the river. Against 
a bad player, or a player who you can read well, you might make 
calls on the turn and then after gaining more information fold when 
they bet on the river. These are bad players and you can outplay 
them. On the turn you think you are ahead, but his river action will 
tell you otherwise so you call the turn and reserve judgment until 
you gain more information. 

Whatever the pot size, it's very important to play precise poker - 
don't give anything away and don't play weak. If you're going to 
play, fight for the pot, mix it up and raise him later on, call him 
down, or reevaluate your decision and fold. But, do not make 
sloppy calls and slowly hemorrhage money away to an aggressive 
player - this is one of the worst poker sins. 


Considering future cards 

When coming up with a plan, the more future things that could 
happen that you consider the better the plan. A beginner will start 
out with the most basic plan, only foreseeing what will happen in 
the case of a few cards coming. For instance if he has a flush draw he 
will consider two different cases - when the flush card comes and 
when it doesn't. However, the advanced player will see many dif¬ 
ferent cases. Take for instance this situation. The board is 10V-9V-34, 
and the expert has 8-7o. He doesn't just see eight cards that come 


90 











The Turn and River 


that hit a straight and eight that don't. He sees three cards that give 
him the nut straight without hitting a flush, a card that gives him the 
non nut straight and hits the flush and four cards that give him the 
nut straight - one of which hits a flush. He also sees all the flush 
cards that can come, and also non-flush overcards. So for instance 
say the opponent bets, and the expert doesn't have the odds to call 
on straightforward considerations like just how often the straight 
comes. Maybe he puts the opponent on a pair of tens, and then 
maybe he can win a big pot if the straight hits, or bluff if the right 
cards comes (like a flush card or scary overcards). 

Another way to consider future cards that can come is not just if 
they can be used to bluff by you, but if your opponent can use them 
to bluff you out of the pot. This is more of a consideration the more 
aggressive and skilled your opponent is. Another consideration is 
that when you are on the flop and have a big hand most of the time 
you aren't concerned with cards coming that allow your opponent 
to outdraw you so much as cards coming that are scary for your op¬ 
ponent and ruin the action. 

For example, playing $10/$25 HU if we both have $2,500 and my 
opponent is playing standard. I raise to $75 with Ay-74, he calls, the 
flop is 10*-84-64, he checks and I bet $125 and he calls. If the turn is 
the K4 this is a great card to continue the semi-bluff on. He just 
called the flop and didn't raise so his hand is probably weak. The 
turn is scary for him and I could have had a good hand already, or I 
could have hit the king or a flush and maybe even more importantly 
he knows he will face a hard river decision. If he calls, I most likely 
have a lot of outs and even if they aren't outs they will be scary 
cards for him that I can bluff on. That is the power of semi-bluffing - 
even if he knows I might be semi-bluffing there isn't much he can do 
about it. Another reason this is a good time to continue with the 
bluff is that there is no value here in checking behind on the turn, 
trying to hit the draw and getting more money in on the river. My 
draws might make me the best hand but aren't strong enough to ex¬ 
tract a lot of value on the river so it's not as much of a problem if he 
check-raises me off the hand. 


91 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Now lets consider another hand in even more detail. Suppose we 
are playing $25/$50 HU, we have $5,000 stacks, I raise on button to 
$150 with 7-8o and he calls. The flop is 5V-6V-Q4, he checks, I bet 
$225 and he raises to $600 and I call. The turn is the 10* and he bets 
out pot of $1,500. I'm going to hit a straight 8/46 times, so based on 
pot odds I cannot call. And since two of those straight cards also 
bring the flush he probably won't pay me off on those because he'll 
be afraid, so I have implied odds for six of the cards to come. So the 
math is as follows: 


38/46(-$l,500) + 2/46($3,000) + 6/46($6,000) = -$326 


The previous equation is saying 38/46 times a non straight card 
comes so we lose the $1,500 we call with on the turn, 2/46 times a 
straight card will come that is also a flush card so the opponent will 
be scared and not pay us off for a river bet so we just win the $3,000 
in the pot on the turn, and finally 6/46 times a non scary straight 
card will come and we can get paid off for a pot-sized bet on river so 
we win a total of $6,000, and this comes out to an expected value of - 
$326. This is helpful analysis to do, but doesn't tell the whole story. 
Consider not just the times straight cards and non-straight cards 
come but separate the cards into more categories - straight cards, 
flush cards, and none of the above. Let's say on a flush card the op¬ 
ponent will be scared and we can use the flush cards to steal the pot 
with a bluff. Then the math is as follows: 


9/46($3,000) + 6/46($6,000) + 31/46(-$l,500) = $359 


This means the 9/46 times a flush card will come and the opponent 
will fold when you bluff the river so you win the $3,000 in the pot 
on the turn. 6/46 times a non-flush straight card will come and the 


92 












The Turn and River 


opponent will pay you off, and 31/46 times the opponent's hand will 
remain good and we'll be unable to bluff him out so we lose $1,500. 
Suddenly with this more accurate plan a call can become good. But 
even this is still a big simplification, as consider that some of the 
time the opponent will make a big call-down when the flush comes, 
or that he might even have the flush draw himself. Or even the 
times that he doesn't pay us off when a non-flush straight card 
comes, or the times he is bluffing and if we pair up the 8 or 7 in our 
hand then we win. So the situation might be closer to this: 


9/46(0.8*$3,000 + 0.2*-$4,500) + 6/46(0.8*$6,000 + 0.2*$3,000) 

+ 6 / 46 ( 0 . 9*-$!,500 + 0 . 1 *$ 3 , 000 ) + 25 / 46 (-$l, 500 ) = $46 


This math is an even more accurate model of what is really going on 
in this situation. It is saying that 9/46 times a flush card will come, 
and then when that happens, 80% of the time we can successfully 
bluff the opponent and win the $3,000 pot and 20% of the time he 
will call us down and then we lose $4,500 (the $1,500 for the turn call 
and $3,000 for river bluff); 6/46 times we'll hit a non flush straight, 
and 80% of the time he'll pay us off for the river bet and we win 
$6,000 but 20% of the time he'll find a fold and we only win $3,000; 
6/46 times we pair up the eights or sevens in a non flush, of which 
90% of the time this has no relevance and he'll continue betting and 
we'll lose, or he'll check and have the best hand in a showdown, but 
maybe a small percentage of the time say 10% he'll check with a 
bluff and we can win the pot; and finally when the other 25/46 other 
cards can come and we'll lose the $1,500. 

This all comes out to a profit of $46. It's interesting to see how when 
we are calling with $1,500 on the turn and planning on $3,000 bets 
on the river, the edge in the hand came out to be so small. By look¬ 
ing at the math it becomes clear what is important. For instance, it 
needs to be very clear that the opponent will fold when the flush 
card comes and we can successfully bluff that card - if not the play 


93 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

loses a lot of value. Note that the better a player is, the more into the 
future they can see and plan for, and a really good player's plan 
would include contingencies for even more than what is talked 
about above. For instance on the turn, a good player would know 
there are other cards that also bring up interesting situations like 
non flush aces, jacks or kings, which might be good cards to bluff on. 
Or maybe within the flush cards that could come there will be some 
that can be bluffed and some that cannot be bluffed. 


Ev+ vs. Ev+++ 

You should always try to find the best line in every situation with¬ 
out settling too easily on a merely mediocre or standard line. There 
are a few traits to battle here - fear, greed and laziness. Fear comes 
into play because the line that makes the most amount of money for 
you might be a tricky line that requires tough decisions on later 
streets. Or it could be fear that you will look silly and foolish for 
playing a hand in a different way. Greed comes into play because 
you could quickly see a line that will make money and want to jump 
on it right away. This greed will only prevent you from rationally 
thinking about the hand in progress and actually making even more 
money. And finally there is simple mental laziness - not thinking 
about the best line and just playing standard poker - and that costs a 
lot of money too. 

If you make a nice play and win a pot don't be too happy with your¬ 
self - analyze the hand and see if you could have played it even bet¬ 
ter. For example, maybe in a $25/50 live game a quiet kid who is not 
up to much opens in EP with $125 and I look down and see any two 
cards and raise to $450. Bet sizes tell a lot, and in this situation it tells 
me that the kid wants to see a flop cheaply with a mediocre holding. 
With his $125 bet he's trying to block people up. So I have 5*-8* and 
raise to $450 expecting to take it down. If he calls I will use my posi¬ 
tion and superior playing skills to beat him. I reraised pre-flop so 
there are a lot of high cards like aces, kings or queens I can use to 


94 











The Turn and River 


bluff him out. The only difficulty is if he has the hand I am repre¬ 
senting, but nonetheless I will use my position to feel him out, figure 
what he has and bluff him if I can on the scare cards. If I hit my hand 
is quite disguised. As always this has the benefit of guaranteeing ac¬ 
tion when I do get a big hand. 

So anyway he makes an unexpected call and the flop is K*-Q*-8V. 
He checks. It's unclear at this point where he's at. If I bet and he 
raises we're going all-in and probably running some sort of 50/50 
situation, or he could fold straight away. So if I bet the two ways the 
hand could go are that we gamble in a big pot where I don't have a 
big edge or he folds on the flop because he is weak and I take down 
the small pot. Note, if he is weak and folds to my flop bet, my hand 
is probably good as it is, so there is no need to even bet on the flop 
and get him out of the pot. 

The other option is to play deceptively and check behind on the flop 
and try and wait until I hit a big hand and get all the money in at 
that point. So since I have position on him, I check and the turn is 
the 9«£. He bets out $700, and if I raise he's going to have a hard time 
putting me on a real hand. Aces bet the flop, and kings and queens 
that are sets bet the flop too because there are so many cards to come 
off and slow the action. Plus if my opponent has a draw he might 
put in a raise and it's best to get the money in on the flop. Also if I 
bet the flop and he flat called, and the turn comes a flush card and I 
bet big again, it's a lot easier to put me on a flush since most people 
will semi-bluff the flush draw on the flop. 

So here I am in a reraised pot looking at a wonderfully disguised 
hand and raise to $2,400. It seems like some of my most likely hands 
are any hand with one club in it that is semi-bluffing (e.g. A*-Jo or 
10-J) or maybe top pair. Sometimes I'll get tricky with K-Jo for in¬ 
stance on that flop because my hand isn't that strong, so weaker 
hands aren't going to call much unless I add deception by checking. 
So maybe I have that K-Jo and am raising the turn to freeze him up, 
value bet vs. any weaker hands he has with a draw and take a free 
showdown - that's what my medium-sized raise was intended to 


95 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

represent anyway. On the other hand I wanted to make my raise big 
enough to commit him for a big river bet. He calls, the river comes a 
rag, and he checks. So I bet $4,500, just picking the biggest number I 
think I can get called. He mulls over it a long time and eventually 
calls and loses with his set of eights. 

Now let's look at another hand. The game is $10/$25 three-handed; I 
raise with A-Qo on the button to $85 and the BB calls. We have 
$2,500 each. The flop is A-5-3 and he check-calls a $165 bet. The turn 
comes a 5, and he checks so I check behind. This is about pot con¬ 
trol -1 think I am ahead here and I think that there is a good chance 
I can get more value out of him, but only one bet not two. My hand 
isn't strong enough (i.e. he can't have a strong enough but worse 
hand) to call a turn bet and a river bet. The strength of our hands 
makes it so it's possible to get maybe one bet out of him, and it's 
more likely I will get that bet on the river not the turn. Betting on the 
river not the turn is more suspicious to him and also he gets to see 
my cards immediately - on the turn he has to worry about a future 
river bet. Also it's a very dry board so getting outdrawn isn't a 
worry so all those factors make it a perfect situation to check the 
turn and try and get value on the river. 

The river comes a K, and he leads out for $200. What I did here and 
what I expect most poker players who are vastly inferior to me 
would do here is be a little upset, maybe a little hopeful that they're 
still going to win and just quickly call. However, that's missing a big 
opportunity. Let's do some hand reading to see why - first, the pre¬ 
flop action actually tells us quite a bit. He put money into the pot so 
he thinks his hand is good. The higher the cards are in a hand, the 
better the hand is, and the more likely it is the player will play a pot 
with them. Which means that the most likely card for him to have in 
his hand is an ace, the second most likely a king, and so on. 

His bet size on the river also shows he doesn't have a five in his 
hand because if he did he would want more value, which means 
betting bigger or going for a check-raise. A final reason he probably 
doesn't have a five in his hand is because now there is not just one 


96 










The Turn and River 


five on the board but two fives, which means there are now only 
two fives in the deck for him to have and not three. He clearly is 
telegraphing a pair of aces, and here an aces up hand isn't a worry - 
he can't A-K as he would reraise pre-flop. So we are very sure here 
our hand is either best or more likely tied. 

The winning play here is to raise big and make it scary for him and 
try to make him fold to scoop 100% of the pot, not 50% of the pot 
with almost no risk to us. In the hand I called and got shown A-10. 
Maybe he'd call my big scary raise because he's smart and reasoned 
it out, but maybe he wouldn't. And even if he does it's good for us 
and our image, making us look scary and unpredictable and letting 
him know we don't need to have the nuts to raise big. 

One note on the metagame there. For me it's good that he thinks I 
don't need the nuts to raise big because my personal strategy in 
poker (although this can change depending on the opponent) is to 
normally have a big hand when I raise big, so I want him to think 
the opposite of me. However, there is nothing inherently good about 
that - for some people maybe they would want to cultivate the op¬ 
posite image of being tight and only raising big when they have a 
good hand and then play the opposite and take advantage of that by 
bluffing. 

It depends on what style you like to play, and it also depends on the 
natural style of the opponent. For instance if the opponent is natu¬ 
rally a loose crazy player then he already makes the error of playing 
too many big pots. It would be a lot of work to make this player re¬ 
verse his tendencies completely and try and make money from him 
by developing a tight image and bluffing him. It makes a lot more 
sense to take advantage of his natural weakness and develop a wild 
bluffing image, and then in reality play tight and solid and make 
money when he calls and you have a good hand. In poker it's im¬ 
portant not just to find a play that makes us money. The key is al¬ 
ways to compare all the different options and find which has the 
highest EV. So even if one play has an EV of $200, don't immediately 
make that play - consider if another option yields a higher $EV. 


97 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Brunson also said that the flop is where he makes all his decisions 
on the hand but this is also not an optimal strategy. The basic idea is 
that he was aggressive and that was his system. This might work 
sometimes - for instance if playing $50/$100 an opponent raises to 
$350,1 call with 84-94 and it's HU. The flop is A4-84-44, and he leads 
out $750. Now I could go all-in for $9,000 more and maybe take it 
down and win the $1,500 in the pot or race it vs. A-K. Or I could call 
and try to outplay him on the following streets. Against a good 
player you can't out-play them so be more aggressive, but when 
playing a bad player where you can play as many streets as you can, 
get as much information as you can, and give yourself as many 
chances as you can to out-play them. 

So I called, the turn came the 2V and he quickly led out for $2,500, 
which indicates a strong hand for him. So without thinking much 
about it I figured he probably has a strong ace like A-K. This is a 
close decision but I'm getting 2:1 pot odds with probably 13 outs 
from 44 cards and then I also have implied odds. He is a player who 
calls a lot so I think he'd probably call an all-in with A-K. Remember, 
just because you have a strong draw doesn't mean you need to 
raise - a strong draw is still a lot weaker than A-K. Its strength lies 
in the fact that it is never dominated, whereas A-K can easily be 
dominated. However, if the opponent calls a lot draws aren't worth 
much, so wait to hit them and wait for strong made hands. 

So I called, the river came the 104 and he thought for a second and 
led out all-in, I called, and he had 44. In retrospect this player is so 
bad that his instant pot bet on the turn might not even have been 
A-K - there's a decent chance it's A-A, 8-8, 4-4, A-8, or A-4. Out of 
position even against a bad opponent it might have been correct to 
fold here. Since I have position though, things become much harder 
for him, especially since I've been floating with a lot of hands to 
steal it later. As it is, the way I played it turned out to be pretty good. 
Even though he had a set on the turn I had 9/44 outs, or 4:1, I'm get¬ 
ting 2:1 immediate pot odds and he has another $5,500 behind so I'm 
getting about 4:1 with implied odds which is even money. Then if 
either of the eights come I can't fold and lose my stack. If a 9 comes 


98 










The Turn and River 


and he checks I obviously go all-in, and if he bets all-in it's a tough 
fold that I may not make in the game but if I had a chance to think it 
through I probably would since he's a bad player and I might be 
able to read what he has since when he bets strong he normally has 
something big. 


Bet Sizing 

Bet sizes give off information, and you can use the information 
given off by the size of someone's bet to help read their hand. Say 
someone min-raises pre-flop to open up the betting. What does their 
bet size mean? It means they have a hand that they want to see a 
flop with but it's not good enough to raise a large amount or play a 
big pot pre-flop with. They don't limp because they don't want to 
have to call a raise behind them. Basically what it means is they are 
trying to see the flop as cheaply as possible. This can be a good spot 
to auto-raise with any two cards (this can't be done every time 
though or your opponent will know something is up and play back 
at you). It takes time and experience and it's a continual process of 
refining how to change gears and how often these plays can be done 

For example consider a hand of ITU $2/4 where the opponent raises 
on the button and I call with 6-7s. The flop is K-Q-6,1 check and he 
checks. The turn is a Qo, I check and he bets $12. If he had a king he 
would have bet the flop or probably checked the turn again to trap. 
Or he would bet more on the turn because his king should get him 
more value than half the pot and more value will probably be ob¬ 
tained by betting full pot or by checking behind to be tricky. If it's a 
queen he would want to build a big pot so he'd bet more money. 

As it is, it looks like he has a mediocre to weak hand or is bluffing. 
The question is whether to call or raise? A good thinking opponent 
who has say 9-9 could call a check-raise because they know they in¬ 
duced it by acting weak and it is difficult to put me on a hand. And 
would a king check/raise the turn like that? A king would probably 
lead the turn or check-call, since check-raising is a strong line for it. 


99 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Of course I'd definitely play a queen like that but trips are hard to 
come by and it's either trips or a semi-bluff of some sort. However 
this opponent was weak and if I call then I face the disadvantages of 
letting him have a chance to outdraw me, or he could be value bet¬ 
ting with 7-7 - J-J. A couple of reasons to call here are if the oppo¬ 
nent is tough and will call down light or if the opponent will bluff 
again if I call, but none of those applied here so I raised the pot and 
he quickly folded 


Instincts 

It is old advice but good advice that bears repeating - trust your in¬ 
stincts. Do not entirely play on your instincts though, trust them but 
also logically and consciously think through hands. A lot of the time 
in a hand you will not have the time or the wherewithal to logically 
and consciously think through it. Instincts are your subconscious 
telling you what to do in a given situation given all you've already 
learned in poker. Try not to get flustered in a hand - calm down, 
think through the hand as best you can to consciously reason 
through the best play, balance that with what your instincts tell you 
to do, and then act. After the poker session is over run through the 
hands in your head and fully figure out how you should have 
played them. 

For example, playing $25/$50 live at the Bellagio, UTG who is a bad 
player straddles to $100,1 raise in EP to $300 with 8-8, and the next 
player to act is Lee Marcault who calls and so does UTG (who will 
almost always call there). This is a good spot to bet the flop every 
time with nothing (and if your hand is big enough, do the con¬ 
verse - check and trap). The reason is the straddle inflates the pot so 
it is big and my flop bet will be big. Additionally I'm in EP so I get 
more credit for a big hand. And finally I'm betting into a three-way 
pot which is stronger than a continuation bet into a heads-up pot. 
Or at least that's what it looks like at first glance. However, in actu¬ 
ality I know UTG called pre-flop so he's weak and folding the flop 


100 











The Turn and River 


almost all the time. So add these factors together and a flop bet takes 
it down most of the time. Since that is true, if this situation arose and 
I had a strong hand on the flop, though the specifics of the flop and 
my hand would be the deciding factor. I'd strongly consider check¬ 
ing and trapping. 

Then the flop was dealt, 74-7V-44. With a hand like 8-8 it's not strong 
enough to induce bluffs here for a few reasons. Lee is a good player 
so I don't want to be playing with fire and getting into marginal pots 
out of position vs. him. If I check and he bets there's a good chance 
he just has me beat with a higher pocket pair, and if he doesn't have 
me beat now he and UTG can have a lot of overcards to outdraw me. 
So I bet out $700 into the $975 pot. Lee calls and UTG folds. The turn 
comes a 7. Now Lee's a good player, so I'm going to tread cautiously 
and give him respect because he has position and has called two 
bets of mine already. He is not loose, passive or weak, so if I bet the 
turn he is not going to call me and then let me win the pot with a 
marginal hand like 8-8 - he will bluff-raise me, raise me with a bet¬ 
ter hand, or just fold so a bet doesn't gain much for me here (unless 
I'm prepared to bet and call a raise). So I check and he checks. The 
river is an ace - not a good card for me, obviously. I check and he 
bets $1,500. My instincts tell me if I call I'm going to be shipping my 
cards into the muck. I try to reason it through though and come up 
with rationalizations to call like maybe he is making the bet with a 
lower pocket pair like 2-2 - 6-6 and trying to use the ace as a scare 
card to bluff me off my higher pocket pair. Also there are only a few 
ace high flush draws he could have. 

So I call and get shown A4-104. After reasoning it out more fully 
(again, it's hard to do this during a hand) it is a clear fold. First of all, 
taking a made weak hand like 2-2 - 6-6 and using the ace on the 
river to bluff is a fairly advanced play. Most people will just take 
that free showdown. It means Lee needs to have a really good read 
on me, namely that I have exactly 88-K-K. Also this brings up an¬ 
other point - my play is totally consistent with A-10 - A-K. With 
A-10 - A-K I could have bet the flop as a semi-bluff to not let myself 
get bluffed out, given up on the turn, and then on the river if I hit an 


101 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


ace I'd be pretty sure he's not calling and my only chance is to in¬ 
duce a bluff. So basically he's going to have a harder time represent¬ 
ing that pair of aces if there's a decent chance I in fact have the aces 
myself. Furthermore with 2-2 - 6-6 Lee is actually probably going to 
be folding on the flop because of all the reasons I listed above about 
how strong I look. It is true Lee could have a flush draw without an 
ace so my play is not totally without value but in this case I should 
have trusted my instincts and not let faulty rationalizations and 
quick thinking let me get trapped for a $1,500 bet. 


Strategic Considerations 

Part of my style of play is to check the flop more than most people. 
This slows the action down and extends it so more streets are played, 
more cards are shown, and I get to see more of my opponents action. 
A common response to this advice is "but then can't he just bet into 
you on the turn with anything?". Of course he can, and if he does 
that I can adjust by calling the turn weaker than normal, or by bluff¬ 
raising it. That is the whole point -1 feel confident in my play so I 
don't need to play it safe and standard on the flop and always bet to 
make the hand easy to play. I'll make the hand harder to play later 
on because I'm confident in my abilities. And because there will be 
harder decisions to make later on in the hand than there would be if 
I simply bet the flop every time which will give me more opportuni¬ 
ties to outplay my opponent, which is what I want since I fancy my¬ 
self a better player than him. If he does start outplaying me after I 
check too much then I will have to adjust and revert to playing a 
more standard aggressive style of betting the flop more. 

When playing heads up the adjustments and strategy you use 
against your opponent are crucially important. Consciously think 
about how you are going to make money against your opponent. Is 
it by being aggressive and pushing him around? Is he going to force 
you to gamble in marginal spots or can you wait for big hands? ITere 
is an example of a time where I should have thought more carefully 


102 











The Turn and River 


about the correct strategy against a certain player. My opponent at 
$10/$25 was playing very poorly and like he was on constant tilt. He 
had $1,300 in front of him and I covered. I limped with 10-7 on the 
button and he raised to $75, and I called. I didn't raise since he was 
calling every raise pre-flop and I don't want to put much money in 
with 10-7 preflop, but I wanted to play the hand in position so I 
called his raise. The flop is 7-2-2 and he leads with a pot-sized bet. 
There is a very good chance I am ahead against this opponent but 
the stack sizes are awkward because if I raise and he moves all-in I 
will have to call but I won't be very happy about my hand. Also if I 
raise and he has nothing he can fold easily. I should have just called 
given the stack sizes and the way my opponent had been playing. 
Since he was playing so bad, it would be almost inevitable that he 
would go broke. I didn't need to risk my money here, and should 
have waited for a better spot. 

Here is another hand where at $25/$50 my opponent plays okay 
normally but is on tilt now after losing a lot of money. HU he raises 
on the button and I call with A-8; the flop is 8-6-5.1 lead out the pot 
of $300 and he raises to $1,200 (he has a stack of $3,500). I was pretty 
sure I was ahead but this is the sort of board where I am either way 
ahead or way behind. Again the main point is that against this op¬ 
ponent I don't need to gamble -1 can just wait for a hand and there 
is no need to give him loose action. This will frustrate him and he'll 
play worse and worse trying to win his money back fast. Or even if 
he tightens up for a bit he'll crack eventually (unfortunately in this 
hand it was me that cracked and I went all-in). The same reasons 
apply again - if I lose this big pot I could tilt, he can play better or he 
can leave the game. It's a fold for strategic reasons. 

We've said already that it's important to get as much money out of 
every situation as possible. One more "situation" is a group of many 
hands versus an opponent. When it becomes clear in what direction 
this opponent is making a mistake, you'll naturally want to exploit it. 
For instance say I've raised on every button with any two cards ver¬ 
sus weak blinds for a few orbits. The next orbit the same play will 
still show an expected profit, but the expected value will decrease 


103 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

every time I make this play. By doing it every time it will be easier 
for them to adjust to my play and fight back at me. So even if an 
auto-raise is profitable it might make sense to take some of the 
weaker hands and fold them anyway to show some respect and not 
get the opponents angry. 

Similarly, there is a correct amount of the time to defend the blinds 
vs. a button raise pre-flop, but most opponents will play incorrectly 
in one direction or the other. If they are playing too tight you want 
to keep them predictable and push them further in the incorrect di¬ 
rection they're playing. By raising literally every time you are mak¬ 
ing your strategy transparent and even the worst opponent will ad¬ 
just and become looser and start playing more correctly. So it makes 
sense to slow down in marginally profitable spots with the worst 
hands pre-flop just to show a little respect and keep the opponent 
predictable and playing incorrectly. Then as play continues you can 
slowly bleed them easily, instead of forcing the situation too soon in 
a marginal spot. 

How often you can exploit the opponent's weakness versus showing 
them respect is a function of how bad the opponent is, or more spe¬ 
cifically how slow they will be to adjust. The worse they are then the 
more you can take advantage of their bad play without them either 
noticing or knowing how to adjust, but the better they are the less 
you can take advantage of their weakness and so more caution 
needs to be shown in spots that show small expected value. 


Metagame 

Decisions should not be randomized to be made unpredictable. You 
should use every piece of information available to weigh the advan¬ 
tages and disadvantages of making a particular play versus a par¬ 
ticular play. Then if the result is roughly equal, add in more infor¬ 
mation and keep adding more information until you can come to a 
decision. Randomness is not needed to keep your opponent guess¬ 
ing because you can simply outthink your opponent. Instead of 


104 











The Turn and River 


making a random play and not knowing how your opponent is go¬ 
ing to react your goal should be to make a play and know exactly 
what your opponent is going to do. Of course all this assumes you 
are a better player - if you aren't then they will out-think you and in 
that case maybe more randomness is needed. But in that case if it is 
HU you should just quit and if it is short-handed you can adjust 
your play drastically to not enter many pots with him. 

Metagame is not as important as many people think. The most im¬ 
portant factor is hand reading and if you hand read well and play 
accordingly, metagame takes care of itself. Players often use meta¬ 
game as an excuse for playing sub-optimally. For instance bad play¬ 
ers often think something like "okay it's the river and I just have a 
seven high, and I feel like he probably will call my bluff given the 
action on the hand but it will be embarrassing to lose the pot with 
seven high. There's always a chance he will fold if I bluff plus it will 
be awesome for my metagame - down the line he will call me more 
often when I get real hands!" There is logic behind this line of think¬ 
ing but at it's core, it's a rationalization of a bad play. 

Similarly, a player may bluff a few times by betting big on the river 
and then bet the river big again. You might think "he's due for a big 
hand here" or "he was setting this play up with the last few bluffs, 
he wouldn't bluff again, this time he must have it". This line of 
thinking is also illogical. In poker if someone has called your river 
raises seven of the last 12 times then he's more likely than not calling 
this next one. So don't rationalize your internal desire to bluff all-in 
because you don't want to give up the hand - he's been calling be¬ 
fore and he will likely call this time. Go with your read - if your 
read says he's calling, don't bluff all-in even if it would make your 
metagame look nicer and "balance" out your play more. 

It is true however that metagame thinking, put into appropriate per¬ 
spective, will lead you to play better poker. You'll be in some situa¬ 
tions with a monster and think "there is no way he can pay me off, 
there is only one hand I could have here, he is definitely folding" 
and then he'll fold. So what you need to do is play some weaker 


105 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

hands like that too. For example say someone raises, and someone 
else reraises. It normally makes no sense here to cold-call with 10-9o. 
However in this hand you happen to read them as fairly weak, and 
if you also read that they are smart enough to fold hands that appear 
to be second best and they understand that normally you only cold 
call there with aces to trap them then go ahead and call with 10-9o 
once in a while so you can take it away from them on the flop. You'll 
almost never need to get this fancy, though, because most players 
are bad and actually will get trapped when you cold call with aces 
there so it is calling with 10-9s that is the bad play. 

Another important point is that good players don't make random 
decisions for metagame purposes. Good players don't mix up their 
poker game randomly. They don't do it randomly because they are 
better than their opponents so they don't need to randomize. They 
get more information than they give away, they can out-read and 
outplay their opponents, and so instead of flipping a coin on 
whether or not to call a big bet on the river for metagame reasons a 
good player will just make a read on the situation - they will think 
back over the hand and keep adding more information until they 
can tilt the decision one way or the other. A good player wouldn't 
make a loose call-down where he knows he will probably lose just 
so the opponent won't bluff in the future. They will fold in that 
situation when it is correct to fold, and then if he feels his opponent 
will bluff more in the future because of it, he will just correctly open 
up his calling range in the future. In this way he adjusts and out¬ 
plays his opponent. 


Example hands 


Example 1 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is playing decent and straightforward. He 
raises on the button to $75 and I call. The flop is J-J-81 check and he 


106 












The Turn and River 


checks. Turn is a 4,1 bet pot $150 and he min-raises to $300.1 take my 
two cards and three-bet to $950. His min-raise on the turn is saying he 
wants to control the pot size and keep it small, and freeze me up. He 
is not trying to build the pot as big as he can - he is saying he does 
not have a jack. With my play I am saying I do have a jack and if he 
doesn't believe me he doesn't just call the raise of $650 on the turn. He 
may or may not face a big river bet too. In this particular hand I had a 
flush draw - the more outs you have in these spots the better. 


Example 2 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $2,200 and I cover. He limps on the but¬ 
ton, I have K-9o and raise to $150 because he is weak and even 
though I'm out of position I think I can outplay him post-flop. The 
flop comes 3V-44-54 and because he can float the flop with as weak 
as ace high and I'll be in tough shape on the turn to do anything 
about it I checked the flop and he checked behind. The turn is the 5V, 
I led $300 and he called. The river is the Ay, and the pot is $900 so I 
went all in for the over-bet of $1,500. The basis of this play is that my 
play is consistent and represents a flush and big bets are hard to call. 


Example 3 

$25/$50 HU, I have two cards and call a min-raise to $100. The flop is 
10-2-3 and it is check-check, the turn is a 10, check/check, the river is 
a 4. He doesn't have a ten because most people would bet it on the 
flop, and if not they'd bet it on the turn because they have trips and 
want to build a pot. On the river, I lead out $300 into the $200 pot on 
the basis that I know he doesn't have a ten, so he is weak and my bet 
is big and very hard to call with a mediocre hand. 


Example 4 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is straightforward and a little loose. I have 
Ky-5V and raise to $75 and he calls. The flop is 104-5*-4y, he check- 


107 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

calls a $125 bet. The turn is the 9*, check-check. River is J4 and he 
checks. I'm pretty sure I have the best hand, and he is straightfor¬ 
ward so I bet as much as I thought he'd call. I bet $65 and he made a 
silly desperation call with 22. Since he is a straightforward and easy 
to play against, this small river value bet (where my bet size tele¬ 
graphs what my hand is) is okay. 


Example 5 

10/$20 shorthanded, UTG opens to $80,1 am next to act with A-A . I 
took my time and thought that I'd been reraising a lot pre-flop and 
UTG was suspicious and the type to call a reraise pre-flop regardless 
of raise size. Normally I'd reraise here to $240 but against him I now 
raised to $280 to extract a little more value, and even more impor¬ 
tantly this builds the pot so he'll be more committed to fighting for it 
post-flop. 


Example 6 

$10/$25 HU, I have 5<£-7<£ and open to $75 on the button and he calls. 
The flop is A-8-8 with two clubs, he check-calls my bet of $125. The 
turn comes an off-suit two and he checks to me. He is not going to 
check-raise me so I don't risk too much by semi-bluffing here. When 
I bet the goal is to maximize the times he folds and to choose the bet 
size that does that (although technically it is to maximize the times 
he folds and minimize the amount of money we risk - we could bet 
all in for $2,200 here but this almost never happens for obvious rea¬ 
sons). The pot is $400 and in the game I bet the pot of $400 but this is 
a mistake -1 should have bet $300. By betting the full pot I am say¬ 
ing I either have a very good hand and want to win a lot of money 
or I'm saying I have a bluff or semi-bluff and want him to fold - 
which is what I had. So given my hand ranges and pot odds it is just 
too unlikely I have an eight for him to fold so he calls with what is 
probably a pair of aces. Betting $300 is actually much harder for him 
to call if he has a pair of aces with a weak kicker because when I bet 


108 












The Turn and River 


$300 it is a smaller value bet so it means my hand doesn't just have 
to be very good - it could be just good, in other words it could be an 
eight or it could be a pair of aces with a strong kicker, and it can still 
be a semi-bluff or bluff although that does look slightly less likely 
probable to him now because I bet less. So now in terms of hand 
ranges I could have an eight, or a pair of aces with a strong kicker 
which makes it a lot more likely I have a good hand, and makes it 
harder for him to call me down weak. 


Example 7 

$10/$25 five-handed, UTG calls, next to act raises to $110,1 call on 
the button with 10-10 and so does the UTG limper. The flop is 
2V-64-J* and is checked through. On the turn a 5V falls and UTG 
leads out $230 then the next to act folds. His bet felt kind of odd to 
me as it wasn't clear what he was representing - normally someone 
who limps in EP has a pocket pair and wants to hit a set cheap and 
it's a little hard to put him on a pair of jacks because of his UTG limp. 
Another factor that makes it suspicious is that the pre-flop raiser and 
I both checked behind him on the flop, so it appears as if we're weak. 
His bet size also felt strange and when things feel strange it's nor¬ 
mally because someone doesn't have a hand. So I called, the river 
came a 6 and he leads out $650. This continues the weirdness and 
it's hard to put him on a hand. If he has a jack to be making a value 
bet he has to think there are worst hands I could have to call him 
with, and the most likely hand for that is for me to have is a pair of 
jacks with a worse kicker. So this narrows his hand range down 
more from a pair of jacks to a pair of jacks with a good kicker like 
A-J or maybe K-J, so for his bet to make sense he has to have a nar¬ 
row hand range. I called and he had 7-7. 


Example 8 

$5/$10 HU, opponent is bad and has $650,1 raise to $30 on the but¬ 
ton with 3-3 and he reraises to $60,1 call. He does this fairly often so 


109 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

it doesn't indicate great strength. The flop is Q4-9V-4* and he bets 
out $65. Now given his tendency to play so loose and aggressive and 
continuation bet here frequently his hand range is weak. Also his bet 
size is a little small and thus also weak. However our hand is weak 
too. So the decision as to whether to try and make a play here is 
close and the deciding factor is strategic. He's a bad player who is 
going to lose his money to us eventually, so we do not need to play 
crazy to upset and tilt him because he is already playing bad and 
will already lose his money. However the reverse can happen, if we 
lose a pot to him he can change from playing bad to playing good, 
which a lot of players actually do - they tighten up to protect their 
wins, and it's also possible they'll get up from the table and leave. 
Here it's much better to fight the war of attrition - frustrate him, 
don't give anything away and just wait and slowly wear him down. 


Example 9 

$25/$50 HU, opponent raises to $150 and I call with Q-4s. The flop is 
Ay-6^-64,1 check and he bets $135. He has been raising pre-flop and 
continuation betting the flop a lot so I think his hand range is weak 
and he can have a lot more than an ace. However I also thought that 
if I check-raised him he might be suspicious and continue with a 
weak hand. So I just called his bet with the plan of leading out about 
4/5 pot into him on any turn. It's essentially the same play as check¬ 
raising the flop, but one difference is the turn card could either hit 
his hand and make him call my bet or it could be a scare card for his 
hand. From his perspective when he faces a turn bet he will have a 
hard time not giving me credit for a hand, since he will think "well I 
bet the flop, and he just cold called me out of position, so he must 
have some sort of decent hand". So because it's so obvious I should 
have a hand, this is a time to use that against him and do the oppo¬ 
site. In the hand the turn came the 2*, I bet out $375 and he folded. 


no 











Chapter Eight 


Other Concepts and 
Hand Histories 


Value Betting 

Here are some examples. 


Example 1 

$3/6 HU, I raise to $18 on the button with A-9o and my opponent 
calls. Flop is 74-Q4-5<4, check-check. Turn is 3V, check-check. River is 
94 he checks I bet pot. From the play it's hard to put me on a hand. If 
I have a Q I bet the flop or turn. A flush draw bets the flop or turn, 
which I did not do so I do not have a flush draw. And since the flush 
draw hit that is scary for the opponent so it's hard to see me value 
betting a weak made hand. Also the straight draw 8-6 will usually 
semi-bluff the flop and turn. 

Most people will stop the thinking there but it is right for them to 
continue since it's quite hard to put me on a hand, but it's also a 
weird place for me to bluff. This is because when people bluff there 
should be a range of hands a person can represent. Here, because it's 
hard to put me on a reasonable hand it's also hard to put me on a 


ill 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

bluff because a bluff can't represent a reasonable hand here. So the 
opponent has to see through the unusual nature of the play and de¬ 
cide what I have. One more piece of the puzzle is that they checked 
on all three streets so I am pretty sure they have something weak. 

The problem arises when we have a tough opponent who sees us 
making thin value bets and then check-raises the river to combat us - 
his line is so strange and tricky (checking three times to check-raise 
the river) then it's time to consider just calling him with a fairly weak 
holding because it looks like he's bluffing us. Going down this line of 
thinking is how high stakes HU games become so crazy. It is espe¬ 
cially tough if opponents check-raise good hands to us on the river 
along with bluff check-raises. From his perspective if he actually had 
a flush checking the river would be a good play. I checked the flop 
and the turn so I'm weak. He has to hope I hit something that will bet 
when he checks to me (that wouldn't value raise since the flush hit) 
but could be strong enough to call a check-raise, or that I bluff the 
river. It's also a simple matter of pot control for him - with a flush he 
doesn't want to bet and be called (getting just one bet into the pot), he 
wants to check-raise and be called (getting two bets into the pot) be¬ 
cause a flush is such a strong hand he wants to build the pot. Inciden¬ 
tally, it also would have been a good spot to check-raise the turn with 
a flush draw. I checked the flop so I probably don't have top pair if 
I'm betting a lot of turns when he checks twice and I'll have a hard 
time continuing against a full pot-sized check-raise. There is also very 
little chance I'll three-bet all-in on the turn after checking behind the 
flop so he doesn't have to worry about not seeing the river card. 


Example 2 

$l/$2 eight-handed, one limper in EP, hero has A-Q and raises to $9, 
limper calls. The flop is K*-10*-5V and villain check-calls a $16 bet. 
Turn is the 9*, check-check, river is the J*. Villain leads for $15. The 
pot is $50 and the bet is $15 so this will be a bare queen most of the 
time - with a flush the villain would probably bet more because his 
hand is strong. Based on our hand reading A-Q certainly looks good 


112 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


here. Maybe you'd ask "what worse hands can call me if I raise with 
A-Q though?". Well, maybe a bare queen. It's a hard call for some¬ 
one to make with just a pair but if you are better than your oppo¬ 
nents you can think along these lines: "I play poker with opponents 
worse than me, so if I'm pretty sure I have the opponent beat. I'll go 
ahead and value raise and since he's a bad player maybe he'll make 
a mistake and make a bad call." 

Beyond that we are not that afraid of a reraise. One reason to be 
afraid of making a bet or raise is because it opens us up to a bluff- 
reraise. Here we aren't afraid of a bluff reraise because we are very 
capable of having that flush. That's what we're representing with 
our raise. How can he reraise when we could likely have the nuts? It 
takes a huge amount of courage (and in this case craziness) to three- 
bet bluff the river. Bluffs happen a lot of the time when you are 
pretty sure the villain has a weak hand, or are pretty sure the villain 
does not have the nuts. In this particular case the villain cannot 
know we don't have the nuts. 


Example 3 

$25/$50 HU, we have $5,000 each. Opponent is an okay player and is 
TAG. He raises to $150 on the button, I reraise to $450 with Q-Q and 
he calls. The flop is 2*-5*-8*, I bet $700 and he calls. The turn is 74 
and here I made the mistake of checking. The opponent is TAG 
which means that he is not the type to float with weak hands on the 
flop just to try and steal it on the turn. He's aggressive so if he has a 
hand he likes he'll probably just raise the flop, and since he doesn't 
show that aggression on the flop it's unlikely he'll show it on the 
turn when I check to him. If I check I shouldn't expect a bet - the 
only reason to check is if I put him on a mediocre made hand (which 
I do) and think that my show of turn strength will be too much for 
him and he'll fold, if I check the turn though it can put doubt into 
his mind about my hand strength, and also then when I bet the river 
he also knows that's the last bet he will be facing so it's easier for 
him to call and see a showdown. 


113 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


The river comes the Ay, a bad card because it could have hit him, 
and even if it didn't it's a scare card so he's less likely to call a value 
bet by me. However, it's bad to play poker scared, this card could 
have hit him, but it probably didn't. Also the opponent knows that I 
can bluff bet on this card as a scare card. It's also hard to push this 
particular opponent out of the pot on bluffs, so to take advantage of 
that we have to value bet aggressively and lightly against him. So 
despite the ace it is still a clear value bet. I bet $1,800 and he called 
with 10-10. 


Example 4 

$25/$50 five-handed, the SB raises to $150 and I have K4-44 in the BB 
and call. The flop is A4-K4-54, opponent bets $300 and I call. The 
turn is the 44 and he check-calls $700. The river is the 34, he checks. 

I have two pair but it's not a two pair with the ace, and there are also 
four cards to a straight out there. However, these things that on the 
surface are instinctively scary actually don't matter. It's impossible 
to put my opponent on a two for a straight - the only way of him 
having it would be if he had A-2 and that is just one hand. Or he 
could have hit the three - if he has A-3 he hit a better two pair but 
that is just one hand so that isn't likely either. A lot more likely is 
that he has A-6, A-7, A-8, A-9, A-10, A-J or A-Q. It's also hard for 
him to put me on a two. The river is therefore a standard value bet 
for as much as you think the opponent will call, which in this case I 
felt was $2,000. He called with A-10. He might also think the river 
card makes the board more scary so I can't value bet with my more 
marginal hands and that I will just bet with my really strong hands 
(a straight) and everything else will be a bluff. 


Example 5 

$10/$25 HU, I raise 9-9 to $75 and he calls. Flop is 64-34-84, he 
checks and I bet $125. Since the cards were lower and it was slightly 
less likely he hit them, I wanted to compensate and give him the 


114 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


chance of playing with me by betting just a little smaller - $125 in¬ 
stead of $150. If the hand was Q-Q and the board was J-9-3 I would 
surely bet full pot of $150 because it's more likely he has something 
and I want to build the pot. Also $125 is fine just because both are 
equally valid and I like to mix it up. He calls. 

The turn is the K*. Since he called the flop it's impossible to put him 
on a hand containing a king - he most likely has a pair from the flop, 
something either connected, or with an ace. Hands like A-3, A-6, 6-7, 
7-8, 8-9 or 8-10. It's unlikely he has K-3, K-6 or K-8o. Its possible he 
has K-8s, possible and less likely he has K-6s and possible but even 
less likely he has K-3s. Not only is it a little unlikely he'd play those 
hands to begin with, but the suited pairs that have a king are all 
suited, narrowing the possibilities significantly. For instance there 
are only three combinations of K-8s he could have but there are 12 
combinations of A-8 he could have. 

So we have to assume he does not have a king here, which means he 
has a draw or a pair. The best way to get more money from those 
hands is to bet the turn. The reason is because it will be hard for him 
to put us on a hand. Our bet is either saying we are bluffing or hit 
the king - supposedly any hand weaker than a pair of kings would 
stop betting because of the "scary overcard". There is no point in 
checking to trap - if he has something like A-8 he might be scared, 
but the river card isn't going to help, it's only going to scare him 
more so we have to bet here and hope his suspiciousness gets the 
best of him. 


Example 6 

$50/$100 HU, I raise pre-flop with K-Jo and my opponent calls. The 
flop is j4-9*-3*, he leads out $450 and I call. The turn is the 64, 
which is a good card. There are many cards that make the turn quite 
complicated - for example a queen hits all his straight draws, or 
makes a pair or two pairs for him sometimes, and an ace might 
make us lose or at least get us less action on our strong hand. A ten 


115 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

hits hands like Q-K, 9-10 or J-10, and an eight hits two pairs and gut- 
shots. Basically, when he led out he probably has hands like Q-10, K- 
10, 8-10 or Q-8. The reason is that these hand have outs, and they are 
willing to put money in to see a turn. However, they are not strong 
enough to check-call, and check-raising puts in more money than 
they want to. On the flop K-J could raise but here we call. 

The turn is a 6, he checks and we feel great about the hand. So we 
bet away $1,500. Now on the flop when he bets out and we call our 
hand looks weak. We could have called with any number of hands, 
even as light as A-K, A-Q, even A-xo or 7-8, using the strength of 
our position. Our range is quite wide, so he calls us since our range 
is so wide his range also becomes quite wide. On the river an off-suit 
ace comes. Now our ranges are both wide, he called us on the turn 
suspiciously and then an ace comes on the river. An ace is a perfect 
bluffing card and also most people check mediocre hands behind on 
ace high boards. So if we bet again he's going to put us on some¬ 
thing like A-J, any sort of two pair, a set, or more likely he's going to 
be suspicious we missed a draw. 

Now on the turn he check-called so he probably has a made hand. 
We called and didn't raise the flop so we're probably not very 
strong. Thus, if he bet the turn with a draw he wouldn't have to 
worry about getting raised off it. The check-call line is of course a 
typical made hand line and not a draw line because he puts money 
into the pot on the turn by calling, and he can't play a draw profita¬ 
bly by just calling (most of the time anyway) so as long as he's will¬ 
ing to put money in he might as well bet it. On the river we ask a 
few questions. What does he have? What does he think we have? 
Does he call down a lot or does he fold a lot? To answer question 
one, we don't know what he has but it is clearly fairly weak so 
probably not A-J. A-9 is a possibility, but just one hand. So we 
should feel pretty good about K-J! Question two - he thinks we are 
either very strong or very weak and people get few strong hands in 
general. Plus we just called the flop and bet when he checked to us, 
which is not overpowering strength. Question three - he calls a lot. 
Therefore we should bet and scoop up that value! 


116 










Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Some people will ask how often he calls us. Of course we don't know 
what he has, and maybe he just has pocket sevens and it's doubtful 
he'll call us, but right now we're sure we're ahead of him so even if he 
calls us very infrequently it is still a profitable play. Also, if he check- 
raises the river a lot then things become trickier and we can't be such 
heroes with our value bets. For the bet size there is a decision to make 
too. I could either make it fairly big and close to a pot-size bet which 
makes it look more like I'm bluffing. Or I can just try and price him in 
on a low bet size, which would obviously be a value bet but he might 
mindlessly call because it's cheap to. The question is whether the op¬ 
ponent hand reads and would be suspicious of a bigger bet and actu¬ 
ally have the courage to call it or whether he's a poorer player who is 
bad enough to get priced in to making a call because the bet is a small 
size. In this case I bet big and he folded. 


Example 7 

$5/$10 HU, opponent has $415 and is bad. I have Q-10 and raise to 
$30 pre-flop and he calls. Flop is 9V-9*-104 and opponent leads out 
$60. The decision on what line to take here is basically a pot control 
decision. Normally with top pair medium strength kicker it is a call 
on the flop because you don't want to build the pot too big. In this 
case, however, we are willing to get all of our money into the pot. 
The reason is that the opponent leads out on flops enough so our 
hand is so strong we have to go with it. If he has a better hand than 
us we lose all our money no matter what. The question is how do we 
gain more money against draws and worse made hands? The an¬ 
swer is by raising the flop - if he has a made hand then a lot of scare 
cards can come and also by raising he might think we have a draw. 

If he has a draw, he has a lot of outs and there are a lot of types of 
draws he can have so this info doesn't really help us and we can't 
exploit it that much by calling and waiting for the turn to make a 
play. So for those reasons we should just raise now. I raised to $190; 
he called. The turn was a 4* and he led out all in for $215 more and I 
called. He had J-7 and our hand held. 


117 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 8 

$25/$50 HU, opponent is a tilting maniac. He has $7,500 and I cover. 

I raise with 10^-104 to $150 and he reraises to $450, but his range is 
very wide here. It's not any two cards but it comprises hands as 
weak as 8-9 or A-5o. This is a very easy three-bet to $1,300 which he 
automatically calls. The flop is J4-74-9*, he checks and I check be¬ 
hind. The turn is 64. He bets $2,700 on the turn. Given how loose he 
is pre-flop, and how aggressive he is, he could have me beat but 
there is just too much of a chance he is semi-bluffing, or even betting 
with nothing because I checked behind on the flop and he is a ma¬ 
niac. Also we have a few outs even if he's ahead. I raise his last 
$3,500 and he calls with 8-9 with no diamond. 


Bluffing 

Bluffing is obviously an important part of poker. Everyone knows 
this, but many people get in trouble with bluffs. One of the most 
common problems is that people think once they start a bluff they 
can't stop and end up bluffing all-in. After you get called on one 
street most of the time it is wise to give up the bluff. However, if you 
have a gutshot straight draw and make a bet or a raise you could 
continue the bluff by planning to bluff certain cards. Like if the 
board completes a flush draw or straight draw you could represent 
these big hands. So you can win the hand by making your hand or 
by bluffing on a scare card. But if a brick hits the turn or river you 
need to exercise discipline and be willing to give up the hand. 

People who do not have the discipline or skill to make the right de¬ 
cision in tough situations tend to get in a lot of trouble when making 
bluffs. The reason is that bluffing can put someone in an extra mar¬ 
ginal position. Say you bluffed and got called, and then on the next 
street your hand is losing and you have no outs - that is a tough 
spot and the key is to realise that the bluff was a poor decision and 
not compound your error by continuing. If it was the original plan 
to bluff a second street if called, or to bluff on certain scare cards that 


118 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


come that is one thing, but all too often people bluff again simply 
out of recklessness. 

Another tendency people have which hurts a lot is that if they are 
about to go to showdown and they have nothing they feel they have 
to bet. Say a draw of some sort missed on the river. Use your judg¬ 
ment - if you think a bluff will work then bluff. But don't bet just 
because you have nothing and you feel you have to. Remember to 
play straightforward. You were drawing; if your draw hit you'd 
have a big hand and could bet big, but you have absolutely nothing 
so don't bet big, just give up the pot. That is, unless other reliable 
information tells you to do otherwise. 

Also realize that if someone bets into you on a four-flush board and 
they are a decent player, they can have more than the nut flush. 
Think about it mathematically - they have to hold just one card in 
the deck to have the nut flush so this isn't very likely. They could 
have a nut flush, but think of all the other hands a good player could 
bet - he could bet any medium to high flush or maybe he is bluffing. 
This could be a good spot to raise because they will have trouble 
calling with less than the nut flush on these scary boards. 


Example 1 

$10/$25 HU, me and opponent have $2,500 stacks. I raise to $75 on 
the button and he reraises to $225, which he has been doing a lot, so 
I call with my red pocket eights. The flop is 9*-7*-3«£, he bets $375 
and I call. He is raising so much pre-flop and continuing to bet so 
many of the flops that he doesn't need to have a big hand here -1 
could be ahead or I have the chance to outplay him on later streets. I 
called instead of raising for a couple of reasons. The first is to play 
more streets as his action on the turn will give me information about 
his hand strength and I can either call, bet, raise or fold whereas if I 
raised on the flop it would be doing so blindly. 

However, his turn action will tell a lot more about his true strength - 
note this is true mainly because he is a worse player than me and if 


119 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

he were better than me than his turn action would give away less 
information and would confuse me so I'd just fold the flop. The sec¬ 
ond reason is that there are a lot of hands he has that I'm even with 
in terms of equity like overcards with a flush draw that might go all- 
in if I raise and force me to fold, whereas on the turn his equity will 
go down a lot so he will be a lot less likely to semi-bluff me out of 
the pot. 

The turn comes the 44, he checks and I check behind. The river is Ay, 
the pot is $1,200 and he bets out $750. His bet size gives me informa¬ 
tion - mainly what it says is he does not have the ace of clubs. If he 
had the nut flush here he would bet more money, because if I had a 
high club I would call for more money so he would be missing value. 
His bet doesn't look like a bluff because it's a small size so it looks 
like he wants a call and isn't trying to force me out of the pot. It 
looks like he has a high club that isn't the ace. Based on that I moved 
all-in. He ran his timer down and called. He had K4-Q4. One part of 
my analysis that is lacking is what high clubs he would be doing this 
with. It's doubtful he is an aggressive enough bettor to make this 
play with the J4 or lower, and whether he'd bet or check-call with 
the queen of clubs is unclear. So his hand range is the K4 and maybe 
the Q4. So even though he doesn't have the ace of clubs his hand is 
quite strong and my raise isn't big. His bet looks like a value bet but 
it is possible for him to have a bluff. Also part of the problem is that 
the opponent is an okay hand reader - if I had the ace of clubs there 
is a very good chance I would simply go all-in on the flop. 


Example 2 

$200/$400 HU live against Chau Giang, he is playing weak-tight. I 
have $50,000 and he covers me. I have Q-Jo, he raises to $1,600 and I 
call. The flop is 10*-54-24 and I lead into him for $2,800 and he calls. 
This is a good lead because (unlike if I had an ace high in my hand) 
Q-J has no showdown value at all if it gets checked down. With Q-J I 
have two overcard outs, plus it's unlikely Chau hit anything here, 
plus Chau is a weak player. The turn is the 6*, I check and he checks. 


120 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


then the river is 104 and I check. The pot is $9,000,1 check, and he 
bets $5,000. 

His bet size indicates he does not have a flush because he would bet 
bigger with that to gain more value. He called the flop so he had 
some sort of made hand and then feels his made hand is good 
enough to go for value on the river so it sure looks like trip tens. 
Also note that on the turn his hand wasn't good enough to bet for 
value, but on the river something changed so it was good enough. 
Two hands that improved were pairs of tens to trip tens and flush 
draws to flushes, and we've already ruled out the flush possibility 
so it looks like trip tens. That gives us a lot of power since we know 
what hand he has. But can I try to bluff him? His hand is strong; 
what will he think I have if I check-raise? 

Leading the flop indicated that the board hit me in some way. That 
could be a flush draw. On the turn my equity with a flush draw and 
implied odds go down after not hitting and he called my flop indi¬ 
cating he has a hand he liked. A flush draw would probably then 
check the turn. Would a flush draw then check-raise the river too? 
Yes, it makes perfect sense. If I hit a flush I would consider what 
second best hands are going to give me money, and the main one is 
trip tens. Trip tens are pretty good and will almost certainly bet if 
checked to ,so a check-raise is definitely better than leading out. So 
with a flush I definitely could, and probably would, have played it 
the same (although because I think he's folding versus the line I 
took - with an actual flush I would change my line to one where I 
thought he'd call). 

He should still call though. In terms of reading my hand he needs to 
realize a few things in addition to the hand reading we just did. The 
question is how often do I lead the flop? If I rarely lead then I 
probably have something pretty good like a set or a flush draw. If I 
lead frequently then my hand range widens considerably so I can 
have a lot of nothing hands mixed in with flush draws. I lead out a 
reasonable amount so when we get to the river my hand range in¬ 
cludes my nothing hands along with a flush. And even then he 


121 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

would need to consider if I am both capable and likely to make this 
play with nothing hands. If not then even though my flop bet 
doesn't narrow my hand range to a flush then the river check-raise 
itself would. However, I am both capable and likely of doing it here 
with all my hands. 

So I check and he bets half-pot, which gives away information. It is a 
bad play to make a small bet which says "I have a hand I like a little 
but not a lot" then fold when a good player responds to that weak¬ 
ness. What does it mean when a good player sees a bad player who 
is weak make a bet like that and then responds with a raise? It 
shows the good player expects the bad player to fold, so it makes a 
lot of sense it is a bluff. Chau needed to see the history between us, 
how he was playing weak and I noticed that and adjusted - then he 
would have outplayed me and won a big pot. 


Example 3 

$25/$50 live at Bellagio, opponent has about $17,000 and I cover. He 
seems to play poker close to correctly, although accidentally - his 
game is unimaginative and weak. I open UTG for $200 with A*-QV, 
he calls and three others call behind. The flop is Q4-7V-3*, I check, 
the opponent bets $400 and the three others fold, I call. The turn is 
the 9<£, I check he bets $1,200 and I call. The river is the 2*, I lead out 
$1,200, he fairly quickly and without a worry raised to $3,000,1 push 
all in for $13,000 more. 

On the flop my hand is probably best, but the decision is how best to 
reap value from the hand. I'm not all that afraid of free cards and by 
continuing to bet in a five-way pot I represent a strong hand (which 
is what I have) so the opponents will have a hard time calling me 
with weaker hands. Because of those reasons, I checked for decep¬ 
tion and to see what would happen. The player immediately behind 
me bet $400 into a $1,000 pot - with such a small bet into a multiway 
pot he must think someone will call or raise him. Because of that, he 
is not bluffing, and because it is a five-way pot it's doubtful he 


122 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


would be so foolish as to make that bet with a hand as weak as J-J 
here. Thus his hand is probably a set or top pair. Sets are unlikely by 
their very nature, plus his bet size, which is small, doesn't seem like 
a set because he doesn't seem that concerned with building a big pot. 

On the turn his bet size is further evidence against him having a set 
because once again, he doesn't bet bigger trying to build a pot. He 
bet $1,200 into a $1,800 pot which is a moderate sized bet, but it 
would be natural to bet a bit bigger - around $1,500 with a big hand 
like a set. Note one way to build a pot is to bet small to induce a 
raise, but given my check-call flop line it's unlikely I'm going to 
spring to life here and check-raise. 

On the river I led out $1,200 to squeeze what value I could out of his 
top pair since it seemed unlikely he would value bet at that point 
given that the flush draw hit. He raised to $3,000 and here my mind 
cracked a bit under the pressure of the situation. I saw his bet size 
which was a small raise and based on that figured he had a medium 
strength hand like a set or a low flush, since I had the ace of clubs in 
my hand so he couldn't have the nuts. Therefore with over 300 BB 
stacks and a weak opponent I raised all-in as a bluff. He got a sick 
look on his face. It didn't even look like he was thinking through the 
hand deciding what to do - it was more like he was just depressed 
that he didn't have the nuts so couldn't call in such a massive pot. 

He showed K<£-Q<£ and mucked it. 

Now, let's address the mistake I made which could have been very 
costly. The whole hand, I had him read for a top pair, and then 
changed that opinion on the river. The main reason I changed it on 
the river was that I saw I could bluff with 250 BB and knew he did 
not have the nuts. But then I allowed some wishful thinking and put 
him on the hands he needed to have so I could make the play I 
wanted to make. 

The hand reading that should have taken place is that after the turn 
he probably has top pair, although there is a smaller chance he could 
have a set. On the river it doesn't make sense for him to make that 
raise with a set because he is a weak player. A flush hit so his set 


123 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

could be behind, and more importantly it makes it harder for me to 
call his raise with a worse hand. He must have a made hand given 
the action and if it is that top pair we suspected he is definitely not 
imaginative enough to turn that into a bluff on the river. Somehow 
he must have hit a flush and the only way he could have given his 
flop and turn play is by back-dooring a flush with top pair - so 
Q*-K*, Q*-J* and Q*-10* as he'd probably fold worse Q-x of club 
hands pre-flop. During the hand based on his low bet size I thought 
he could have a low flush, but that makes no sense with the other 
information and there is no way for him to reach the river with a 
low flush. Even though he is a weak player, it seems quite risky to 
know that he has something like the second absolute nuts and try 
and push him off that hand. 

But he made a huge mistake, which he would have known had he 
spent time hand reading on the river to see if he should call me. How 
can I get to the river with the nut flush? I check-called the flop, so 
could I have A*-7* or A*-K*? Probably not, as I'd very likely fold 
them both. A*-K* I might call with the intention of making a play on 
the turn but on the turn I just check-called again, also an unlikely line. 
A hand like A*-Q* would make more sense but he has all hands like 
that blocked because he has the Q* and K*. Perhaps even more im¬ 
portant than my flop play is the river play which really shows that I 
have no nut flush. If I had the nut flush I would bet the full pot to get 
as much value from it as I could, or I would go for a check-raise. The 
small $1,200 lead and then three-bet all-in is very suspicious. Was it 
really my plan to bet small so he could raise me, and then trap him 
for a three-bet all-in with the nut flush? Maybe it's a brilliant play by 
me, but in that case he just has to pay it off. 


Example 4 

$25/$50 four-handed, opponent opens UTG to $175 and I call, he is a 
decent thinking player and I call next to act with 10-7s. It is good to 
call behind with a decent range of hands shorthanded to mess 
around with the opponent so he doesn't feel free to do whatever he 


124 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


wants. It's annoying for a player to always have to play pots out of 
position, plus it disguises the times I do have good hands. 

The flop comes A*-2*-AV and he leads out pot. It's tempting to 
make a play at this pot given the low probability that he has trips 
and with the power of our position. However, to do that versus a 
thinking player we have to think not only about his hand range 
(which we just did and decided he doesn't have a strong hand 
probably), but also think about the hand range he can put us on - 
our bluff must be credible. The way I played the hand pre-flop gives 
information away as if I had an ace with a strong kicker I would re¬ 
raise. Hands I would call with are pocket pairs, and suited connec¬ 
tors. Thus he knows my hand range is medium to weak made hands 
or nothing. 

If I raise the flop, given that I do not have a strong ace and he knows 
it, my play is suspicious. A good way to represent a medium 
strength hand here is to call, because that is how I would play 
pocket pairs, so to represent a pocket pair I should play it the same 
way and call. However, this is a skilled opponent so on the turn he 
will know that my hand is probably a pocket pair and that I don't 
have an ace, and also know that I know he could have an ace. Thus 
he can continue a bluff into me on the turn. So this is a bad spot to 
try a bluff here and I have to fold. Compare what happened here to 
what would have happened versus a weak player. Versus him I 
could call the flop and then if he has something he will bet turn and 
if he doesn't he will check-fold, or I could just raise the flop. In either 
case I can simply worry about what he has - not what he thinks I 
have - and that would have allowed me a decent chance at the pot. 


Example 5 

25/$50 five-handed, opponent opens to $175, he has $5,000 and I 
cover. I reraise pot with A-Qo and he calls. Opponent is tight and 
straightforward. The flop is 10*-10V-6*, he check-calls $1,000 and 
there is $3,100 in the pot now. The turn is the 4* and it goes check- 


125 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

check. The river is the 24 and I think there are some hands I can 
plausibly represent here like A-A - Q-Q, a ten, and a flush so I go 
ahead and bet $2,700 and he calls me and wins with Q-Q. 

The problem here was that my reasoning should have started on a 
more basic level. The first issue at hand in a bluff is figuring out 
what the enemy has. This opponent is tight, not weak, and that 
means that for him to call pre-flop and on the flop he has to have a 
hand he likes. In conclusion, his hand range is strong hands and 
very strong hands and there are better spots to bluff than this. If I 
had kept my thinking simple and focused on the right things I 
would have seen this and not bluffed in a hugely -$EV spot. 


Example 6 

$25/$50 HU, we both have $5,000 stacks. Opponent is loose- 
aggressive, gives too much action and is a fish. I have J-8o and raise 
my button to $150 and he calls. The flop is 2V-QV-74 and we both 
check. The turn is the 44, he bets $300 and he has been leading the 
turn every time I check behind on the flop for the last few hands so I 
raised to $1,000. His aggressiveness and loose play had worked suc¬ 
cessfully against me due to a bad run of cards. It frustrated me and 
put me on a little tilt and the turn raise was a product of that. This 
turn raise was forcing the action - here I had no good outs, the op¬ 
ponent is a loose fish and I should have just folded and been patient. 

He called the turn bet, and then the river came the A4. What 
changed from the flop to the turn? A four came which made a flush 
draw, and if I had a pair of fours it gave me a set, so the four didn't 
change a whole lot. I didn't bet the flop, but I raised the turn so it 
looks like the four could have affected my hand (of course the other 
possibility is that I was getting tricky with some other hand and the 
turn didn't affect my hand). The hand I am most consistently repre¬ 
senting here is a flush draw. Also the ace came, which is just a plain 
scary card for him. Even though he is a calling station, this card 
should be so scary to him. It's a close decision but worth continuing 


126 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


my bluff on so I fired out a pot bet, and he thought for a while and 
folded. 


Example 7 

$25/$50 three-handed. Button folds, SB limps and I check in the BB. 
The flop is A-2-4, he checks and I bet $50. This is a good spot for the 
SB to auto check-raise because it is unlikely I have a pair of aces and 
it is tough to call a check-raise with less than that on this board. 


Example 8 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $10,000 and I cover, he plays well but is a 
little over-aggressive. He has been reraising me pre-flop a lot and 
then almost always continuation betting and so far it has worked 
against me. I raise to $150 on button with 4-4 and he reraises a bit 
more than pot to $500.1 call. The flop is J-8-7o, he quickly leads out 
$800 like he normally does. Since he makes that play so often his 
hand range is fairly wide and weak. This is a good board to make a 
play on him because it's the sort of board where supposedly when I 
raise I can have a big hand like a straight, two pair or set, or on this 
board I could have a strong combo-draw like J-10, plus we have 
deep stacks and he's out of position. That combination makes it hard 
for him to continue there facing a scary board where my hand is 
supposedly a strong hand or a hand that has good drawing possi¬ 
bilities. I raised and he folded. 


Example 9 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is okay and is loose-aggressive. We have 
$2,500 each. I have KV-JV and open to $75 and he calls. The flop is 
10*-74-4*, he check-calls my bet of $150.1 suspect he's weak be¬ 
cause normally he raises when he's strong. The turn is 3*. Now on 
the one hand I have nothing - I have no good outs because even my 


127 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

overpair outs might not be good, and a couple are tainted (the K<* 
and J*) so that points to not putting more money into the pot. How¬ 
ever, when I say the opponent has been loose, so far he has played 
loose on the flop but he hasn't faced many turn bets yet, so if I bet 
the turn here it should appear strong to him. Also he is weak based 
on the fact that normally he raises but here he called, and if he's 
weak then a third club on the board and a big turn bet by me should 
look scary to him. And even if he thinks he's still good or wants to 
draw to a mediocre hand he has the problem of being out of position 
and having to worry about what I will do on the river. So it's a good 
spot to bet, then if he calls I have options on the river depending on 
what card comes. But as expected he folded on the turn here. 


Example 10 

$10/$25 five-handed, opponent has $2,850 and I cover. One limper 
second to act, then I raise to $110 with K>-10V, the BB calls and so 
does the limper. The flop is A4-74-5V and they both check to me. I 
liked betting in this spot because I'm pretty sure the limper has a 
pocket pair so when I bet it looks like I'm strong but in reality I 
know I'm really only betting into one opponent. I already know the 
limper probably has a pocket pair and is probably folding - the BB is 
the one I'm not sure about. Based on that I continuation bet here the 
pot of $340, the BB calls and the limper folds. 

The turn is the 10* and he checks. At this point we know what the 
opponent has and that gives us all the power. He has a pair of aces. 
A set or two pair is possible but based on two things he doesn't have 
that - sets and two pair are statistically harder and more improbable 
to come by, and also he called the flop and did not raise. Also we are 
pretty sure his pair of aces does not have a very high kicker because 
people normally reraise A-K pre-flop. So we know he has a medium 
strength hand, and he doesn't know what we have. 

We could very well be strong given the betting so far, and also given 
the dry nature of the board, so if he wants to call us down that elimi- 


128 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


nates a big group of hands from our hand range that would give him 
a reason to do so. This is also a good time to put into play the concept 
of us betting a given amount, and that amount really forcing the op¬ 
ponent to make a decision for his whole stack of chips. On the turn 
the pot is about $1,000 but instead of betting full pot I felt it would 
make it look more believable that we have a good hand and are try¬ 
ing to milk him so I bet $765. If he calls that then the pot grows to 
$2,500 and he will be left with $1,800, so he comes close to committing 
his whole $2,500 stack to the pot when I bet just $765. Also consider 
that given the nature of his hand - say A-J - he does not have redraw 
possibilities and he's either ahead or behind. For the standard player 
it's an easy fold but if he's either a brave and good hand reader or a 
stupid lunatic then we could be in trouble. In this case he folded. 


Example 11 

$10/$25 three-handed, opponent has $1,500 and raises to $75 from 
the SB and I call in the BB with 6-6. The flop is 2*-8*-Q4 and he bets 
out $150. Flere is a time to make a raise based on stack sizes and his 
hand range. The stack sizes are such that if I raise and he calls he 
comes quite close to committing himself for his whole stack. So it's a 
case of me only betting $500 (in the hand I raised to $500), and him 
not having a decision for $500 but for his whole stack. Secondly he's 
aggressive so I believe if he had any pair of queens he bets there, 
and more importantly I think he bets just about all of his pocket 
pairs. Tie's a little wily and he might be suspicious when I raise but 
ultimately if he has a pocket pair the bottom line is he can't do much. 
He's going to have a hard time calling out of position and he has to 
assume I have two overcards, a flush draw or a pair of queens. Plus 
then even if I don't hit my hand I can bluff scare cards. So his other 
option is to raise, but I raised to $500 so is he really going to put a 
full $900 more into the pot with an under pocket pair? It's a tough 
spot for him and he really can't do much here with a marginal hand 
but fold. 


129 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 12 

$5/$10 six-handed. A bad player limps, another person who posted a 
blind checks, the SB limps and I'm in the BB with 94-Q4 and raise to 
$55.1 do this for a few reasons - my hand is a cool looking one. I'm a 
better player than my opponents, and it's an image play that makes 
me look kind of wacky so I get more value on my good hands in fu¬ 
ture. Post-flop I'm under no obligation to continue with a bluff and 
will only bet if the situation is profitable. Only the EP limper calls. 

He is a bad player and has $550, which I cover. 

The flop is J4-5V-10V and we both check. The reason I checked is be¬ 
cause he is a little wacky and his combination of wackiness and the 
stack sizes makes it reasonable for him to raise me all-in with a wide 
enough range of hands that it makes me uncomfortable. The turn is 
a 3*. Since he checked behind on the flop his hand isn't that strong, 
so with a hand that isn't strong he is going to be calling or folding to 
a bet from me and not raising. Also the turn was a rag so it didn't 
change his hand strength. 

If he calls me in this situation it's really not all that bad as I have a 
lot of outs and we're building the pot so if I do hit my hand maybe I 
can win a really big pot. The river is the Ay so I have nothing. He's a 
bad loose player and I'm reluctant to bluff him but the Ay is the 
scariest card in the deck so I have to take advantage of it here and I 
bet out the pot and he folds. 


Example 13 

$10/$25 HU, we both have $2,500, the opponent is okay but pretty 
straightforward. He raises the button to $75 and I call in the BB with 
A4-34. The flop is 7y-Q*-84, check-check. The turn is the 24, check- 
check. The river is the 4*, I check and he bets $150, which caught me 
by surprise. He checked the flop and turn so he doesn't have a good 
hand and then he bets the river which is a rag. What that means is 
he either has a weak made hand he's trying to value bet or he has a 
bluff. Given that, I check-raise bluff to $600 hoping the size of my 


130 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


bet will scare him more than it's suspiciousness tempts him to call it. 
In this case he thinks for a bit and folds. 


Example 14 

$10/$25 HU, I have 9V-8V and call the button's raise to $75. The flop 
is J*-3V-3*, check-check. Turn is the K4, check-check. River is the 
10*. Now at this point if I want to bluff it's going to be a little hard 
because I checked the turn so he won't give me credit for a pair of 
kings, and if I have lower than a pair of kings then what am I doing 
value betting? Thus if I try to bluff he's probably going to call me 
with just about any made hand. However it looks like he doesn't 
even have a pair - maybe just an ace high, or some other high card 
that beats me, so those are the hands we're going to focus on bluff¬ 
ing out here. And to bluff those hands out we don't need to bet the 
full pot of $150 as that's wasting money. 

What we need to decide here is the least amount of money we can 
bet to make him fold ace high, which I decided was $65 and subse¬ 
quently bet. In this way, the times that he happens to have a pair 
and calls us we save the difference between a normal sized pot bet 
of $150 and $65. Note that the $85 is only saved the times he does 
call us which might be 50% of the time, so by changing our bet size 
here our expected value increases by $42.50, which adds up over 
time. 


Semi-bluffing 


Example 1 

$25/$50 HU against a thinking aggressive opponent, he has $5,000 
and I cover. He raises the button and he does that a lot so I fight 
back with A+-2+ and raise to $450 and he calls as he has done a fair 
amount of the time. The flop is 2y-3«-4V, I check and he bets $650. 


131 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

He would bet the flop fairly often after I check, and then given that 
he also raises a lot pre-flop and often calls my reraise, too - that 
makes his hand range quite wide. Since he is playing so loose and 
aggressive a big made hand can be discounted for the most part (al¬ 
though not entirely). Also since he is so loose the odds of him hav¬ 
ing a pocket pair are less, too, and it can be more weighted in favor 
of a nothing hand trying to steal the pot. However, even if he does 
have a pocket pair he will have a hard time calling my all-in raise 
because it's so big. From his perspective with a medium pocket pair, 

I could have either have a big hand that has him crushed like an 
overpair, or two overcards which along with the gutshot draw if I 
have an ace have many outs and aren't even that big of an underdog. 
Because of that, it will be hard for him to call, and hard to call even 
if he does have a mediocre made hand which is at the higher end of 
his range. Even if he does call I still have 9 outs and am risking 
$4,500 to win $1,500. The immediate pot odds say that if I always 
lose if he calls then my bluff has to work 3/4 times for it to be profit¬ 
able. But let's say he has 10-10 and he calls, in which case I have 9 
outs which has 35% chance of winning. By doing an EV calculation 
we can see that if he folds 40% of the time it's a break-even play and 
if he folds more I make money. Also this play in particular is good 
for metagame as it will make him scared and frustrated. 


Example 2 

$25/$50 five-handed. I raise UTG to $175 and the button calls, he's a 
little wily and tricky but not good. I have Q-K and the flop is J-J-6,1 
check and he bets $350. Now it's time to do some hand reading as 
his bet feels weird here. One possibility is he hit trip jacks because 
he bet full pot on the flop so he is trying to build a pot now. And 
with some players they will have trip jacks a lot here, but since this 
opponent is a little tricky he doesn't need a great hand to float with 
pre-flop and he is not a nit and will bet more than trips on this flop 
so it makes trips unlikely just by virtue of the fact that they are hard 
to hit. If he has a lower pocket pair he would probably bet less be- 


132 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


cause all he needs to do is bet enough to protect his hand - he 
wouldn't want to bet a lot for value because there is no value there 
for him. Even if it is a pocket pair I most likely have two overcards 
to it, and also it will be hard for him to call me, and particularly hard 
for this player to call me because he respects my game and doesn't 
want to tangle in big pots. So I check-raised to $1,000 here and he 
folded. 


Example 3 

$10/$25 six-handed, 100BB effective stacks. UTG limps, I raise on the 
button to $110 with A4-Q4, the BB calls and so does limper. Flop is 
3V-4V-74 and they both check. Most people continuation bet and 
bluff too much but this happens to be a good spot and there are a 
few factors here that make it a good bet here. Because of the way the 
hand developed we happen to be able to represent more strength 
here than is usual and that is the key. 

First, our bet will be against two opponents and not one so our bet 
represents strength. Also since there are three people in the pot that 
put in a full bet pre-flop the pot size is bigger so our natural pot¬ 
sized bet will be bigger than normal - a full $340. If one of them has 
a pocket pair maybe they will feel comfortable calling a small bet 
(because they have a small hand) but not a big bet. 

Also one final reason is because the pre-flop action was not raise, 
call, call. It was limp, raise, call, call, which again makes the pot size 
bigger because my pot sized raise pre-flop came after the limper. 
And thus it follows that it's tougher for them to continue with 
pocket pairs because they are weak hands that don't want to face big 
bets. The crux here is this situation just so happens to allow me to 
represent greater strength than I normally can in this type of situa¬ 
tion. So I should take advantage of that ability to represent strength 
and bluff the flop, which I did and they both folded. 


133 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 4 

$5/$10 six-handed, UTG limps and I raise next to act with A*-J* to 
$45, UTG calls and it's heads up. The flop is Q-10-6 and he checks. 
This is a good spot to take it slow and check behind. First of all by 
checking we ensure seeing another card and can maybe hit the 
straight or a pair. Beyond that, maybe he has something and maybe 
he doesn't. If he doesn't and he has that pocket pair that people like 
to limp in with from EP then he will check the turn and we can bet 
and our turn semi-bluff will be as effective as if we had semi-bluffed 
the flop. What we've done effectively is save ourselves money the 
times he does have hands and the times he tells us that by leading 
out on the turn. The downside is if he decides to lead into us on the 
turn and bluff, but since most people don't play good tricky poker 
this isn't much of a risk. Another downside is if he takes a weak 
hand he would have folded to a bet on the flop and gets suspicious 
and calls the turn. That's not really a problem either because if he 
has a pocket pair, the board is simply too scary and there are too 
many overcards/draws for him to play around and try calling even 
if it is on the turn. In the hand I checked the flop. The turn was a 4 
and he check-folded to my bet. 


Example 5 

$10/$25 four-handed, I open on button with Qf-9V to $85 and the SB 
calls. The flop is K>-5*-24, he checks and because he's in the SB it's 
more likely he has a pocket pair than two high cards with a king, 
because with two high cards people are happy to take the pot down 
immediately pre-flop whereas with a pocket pair they want to call 
and hit a set and build a big pot. I bet the flop full pot $190 and he 
called so the pot is $570. 

The turn is the 64 .1 had been playing aggressively to make him ad¬ 
just and call me down lighter so his flop call is weaker than normal. 
The stack sizes are perfect for this play here, he now has $1,600 left 
and I covered. On the turn the pot is $570 and I bet $525. The reason- 


134 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


ing behind this play is multifaceted - first of all I have outs if he calls 
(also some implied odds). Secondly, his hand range is wide and 
fairly weak. And thirdly, the power of my bet is that if he has a mar¬ 
ginal hand he isn't just looking at the $525 bet on the turn, he's 
really looking at committing his full stack of $1,600 if he wants to 
raise to protect his hand, or he is looking to call a river bet of mine. 
So I bet $525 and in position have the choice of whether to put that 
last $1,075 in the pot. One consideration for this hand is how passive 
or aggressive the opponent is. The more aggressive he is the more 
likely you should be to check behind and the more passive the more 
likely you should be to bet. If he is very aggressive and will only 
raise or fold here than you are devaluing your hand, which has 
value in the Q4 for flush outs and even implied odds, into a pure 
bluff. 


Example 6 

$10/$25 vs. the same opponent shortly after. I raise J*-4* to $75 and 
he calls. The flop is 3*-5V-6V and he checks. A part of me wanted to 
check because he is aggressive, and it would be bad if I got check- 
raised on the flop, but on the other hand that is playing right into 
the his hands - the more passive I play to some extent the more he 
wins. Let's say he is an aggressive bad player who is just wacky, 
then in that case I can play passive and just wait for hands and beat 
him that way. But if he is aggressive and decent, which this oppo¬ 
nent was, I can't play passive and wait around. Sometimes you just 
have to play, aggressive and get into tough situations. Note here in 
this situation how much easier it is to play vs. a passive player 
(which is the equivalent of saying a bad player). Anyway, I bet and 
this time he just called me. The turn is the 8V. I'm not sure what he 
had but I used the same reasoning as before that he just called the 
flop so was weak. Then the turn could have helped him but proba¬ 
bly not because he was weak, then he checks the turn again and it's 
very consistent for me to go ahead and bet again and even if he calls 
I still have outs. Here he folded. 


135 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 7 

$10/$25 seven-handed, I open to $85 and a loose, slightly crazy but 
decent player calls in the BB. I have Q-lOo and the flop is J*-4*-7V, 
he checks and I check. The turn is 9V and he leads out $110. He's a 
decent player so he doesn't give away a lot of information with his 
bet - he could have a semi-bluff, a made hand or a big made hand. 
This is a good spot to semi-bluff raise for a few simple reasons. First 
of all we have outs to hit a big hand. Secondly if he calls it's not 
really that bad because as stated we have equity in the pot, and also 
implied odds to win a big pot. Finally we have position and there 
are a number of scare cards that can come which we can take advan¬ 
tage of to bluff too like a third heart - our play is perfectly consistent 
with a heart flush draw, and probably represents that more than 
anything. We checked the flop so we didn't like our hand then, but 
then on the turn a 9V came and we like our hand now so much we 
decide to raise - what changed? A heart came supposedly giving us 
a flush draw. In the hand he folded to the raise. 


Example 8 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $1,800 and I cover. I have A*-7* and 
raise to $150 from the button, he reraises to $390 and I call. The call 
is slightly marginal, but the opponent isn't the sharpest tool in the 
shed so that made me want to call. The flop is KV-54-44, check-check. 
The turn is the 64 and he leads out $260. This is a perfect spot to 
semi-bluff, the opponent checked the flop and then bet small on the 
turn so that makes him look weak. Although to be honest it's un¬ 
clear since he's a little tricky and he could definitely have a good 
hand here. 

What then makes it a good spot to raise is two things. First of all we 
have outs - we have the open-ended straight draw, which gives us a 
eight outs and also there is a fair chance our ace high is good for an¬ 
other three outs. Beyond that the stack sizes are perfect. Part of the 
reason not to semi-bluff raise most of the time is the way an oppo- 


136 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


nent can outplay you by reraising your semi-bluff. Here, however, 
that is simply not possible for our opponent. A natural pot-sized 
raise for us is about all-in so there is no way for him to counteract 
the play and it's also good for image reasons and getting action later 
on with bigger hands. 


Example 9 

$25/$50 HU, opponent raises to $150 and I call with 10V-9V. The flop 
is 3*-3*-8V, I check and he bets $175. This is a good spot to check- 
raise him - again his bet size is small and weird and he is probably 
weak. And even if I'm wrong there are backdoor straight and flush 
draws which are significant as they let me continue a semi-bluff on 
the turn if I choose to, and if they hit on the river they are such dis¬ 
guised and strong hands the implied odds are massive and I can 
make a lot of money. There are a full 10 hearts that can come, six 
non-heart straight cards and also six pairing cards. Here I raised and 
he folded. 


Example 10 

$10/$25 HU, I raise on the button with 4*-7* to $75 and my oppo¬ 
nent calls. Flop is 54-4>-34, check-check. Turn is J4 and he bets $70. 
Poker is a complicated game with a lot of things going on so it's im¬ 
portant to be able to simplify situations and analyze only the rele¬ 
vant factors. Here the hand turns out to be quite simple and we can 
ignore things like pot control, putting him on hand ranges and so on, 
and just look at two things. The first factor is that he made an odd 
looking small bet so this means he is weak. The second is that we 
have outs to hit a better hand. That's all it takes - all we need to see 
here is the weak bet and outs even if he does call us. I raised the pot 
and he folded. 


137 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Trapping 

Normally when you have a good hand you bet, and with a weak 
hand you check. Trapping means taking a hand that is good enough 
to warrant that bet and checking, which accomplishes a few things. 
It lets the opponent bluff (although sometimes the best way to 
"trap" an opponent is to bet to induce a bluff raise) it can also put 
doubt into the opponent's mind that your hand is strong (if it was 
strong why wouldn't you just bet it right away, which is the stan¬ 
dard play?) and with that doubt in his mind, thus create more action 
on later streets. Finally it allows more cards to come on the board 
which could make the opponent put more money into the pot. 

When you check to let the opponent see another card and you hope 
he hits a hand, consider what specific worst hand you are hoping 
your opponent catches. 


Example 1 

$5/$10, three limpers, I complete in the small blind with K-Jo. The 
flop is A-K-K with two clubs. If I check what worst hand am I hop¬ 
ing they hit? There is a flush draw and if they hit that they are beat¬ 
ing me. They can't pair up because there is already an ace on the 
board so their pair would be an under-pair and not a very good 
hand. The second question is will my check put doubt into their 
mind so they will give me action later on in the hand? For example 
would they call me with A-10 on the turn whereas they would have 
folded it to a flop bet? Another question is, will they attempt a bluff 
if we try trapping and check to them? In this hand almost certainly 
not - it's a five-way unraised pot so they would have to be quite 
reckless to try and bluff four opponents out of the pot. 


Example 2 

$5/$10 five-handed, I have 7-9o and raise on the button, the BB calls. 
Flop is J*-9*-3*, he checks, and I check. This board is so draw heavy 


138 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


that with either a draw or a made hand, especially since he's out of 
position, he has to get rid of my positional advantage by raising so 
on this board texture it is close to a raise/fold situation for him - he 
can't just call and see what happens. A raise or fold doesn't look that 
great to my 7-9, so I check, the turn is a J. 

He checks, and again this is a good spot to be tricky and check. Re¬ 
member that in NLHE profits come from making worse hands call 
you, or making better hands fold - profits do not come from having 
draws call you. In the first place if he has a draw he is either going to 
lead the turn or check-raise the turn - it would take a bad and weak 
player to check-call the turn with a draw (note that check-calling the 
flop is more reasonable because it is trickier and he has two cards 
left to hit it). Check-calling a pot-sized bet on the turn means putting 
money in at odds of 2:1 when a flush draw only hits 1/5 times. But 
say he has a hand like A-Q and we have 7-9, then he has six outs, 
which means by betting and making him fold he loses 6/45, or 13% 
equity in the pot, so out of $70 that is $9 equity we gain in the pot. 
Say we bet $50 to protect the pot with the plan of folding to a raise - 
if he raises he wins $120, so if he ever bluffs or semi-bluff check- 
raises we are in big trouble. We are trying to push him out and win 
$9 of EV but it can end up costing $120. 

Since I checked the flop he knows I probably don't have a jack, thus 
he can check-raise bluff me with seeming impunity, semi-bluff 
check-raise, and this is also a good spot to trap check-raise if he has 
a jack. It's hard to see what worse hand he can call with, or in other 
words, how a value bet by me could be successful. The most likely 
hand to call is a better nine, like K-9 or A-9. So again it's probably a 
fold/raise situation for him, but less of a fold/raise situation than on 
the flop. For instance let's say he has a pocket pair lower than nines. 
If he calls the flop and I have two overcards (and possibly a straight 
draw or gutshot draw on this board) he has to dodge an outdraw on 
two streets, and he also has to dodge cards that allow me to bluff 
him and also dodge my bluff on two separate streets. 

However, on the turn the very fact that I checked the flop makes it 


139 










Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

less likely that I have a made hand. Also he only has to dodge one 
street of outdraws, raising his equity significantly, and finally he has 
one last street to dodge bluffs by me. All of these factors make it 
more possible for him to call the turn instead of raising or folding. 

So I check for deception, the river comes a seven and he checks. He 
definitely can't put me on 8T as that would have bet the flop or turn, 
and it sure seems like a nine or J would have bet earlier in the hand 
too. So basically a bet by me is suspicious as it's hard to put me on 
anything, so he might call with a worse hand that he would have 
folded earlier in the hand, plus there is definitely the chance he can 
lead out on a bluff on the river. In the hand I bet and he folded. 


Example 3 

$10/$25 HU vs. a bad player; we both have $3,000 stacks. He raises 
to $75 and I have A-lOo so I re-raise to $225 for value. I can outplay 
him post-flop so I'm not afraid of building a big pot out of position 
with a marginal hand, although in this case A-lOo isn't actually 
marginal because he is raising the button very often and he calls 
every single reraise. Normally a problem with raising a hand like 
A-lOo here is that the opponent will fold worst hands and call with 
better ones, but in this case the opponent is auto calling reraises. 

The flop is AV-J4-3V and now I have to decide how to play the hand. 
Since he is raising his button so often, and because he automatically 
calls my reraise, his hand range is very wide and there is a good 
chance he has nothing. Also he is aggressive and capable of bluffing 
so I checked to see if he'd trap himself. He bet $400 and against 
some opponents you'd have to proceed very cautiously here and 
even consider folding. But against this opponent after thinking 
about his bet, his pre-flop tendencies and ability to bluff, I wasn't 
ecstatic about my hand but checking the flop was my plan to trap - 
and now here was my chance to trap and I'd follow through with it 
so I call. 

The turn comes the 104 and I check again. Now the pot is $1,250 and 


140 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


he bets $800. Before the T came I wasn't thrilled about my hand but 
was probably going to follow through with the plan and show down, 
but now I am ecstatic. The only question is whether to go all-in or to 
call. Again given that he's so loose pre-flop there is a good chance he 
is doing this with random cards that don't have any outs. Also if he 
has a flush draw his bets are a little odd because he keeps giving me 
a chance to check-raise him off his hand so that means there's a good 
chance it isn't a flush draw 

Note that after I call the pot will be almost $3,000 and we only have 
$1,500 left each. Most people would get excited about their hand and 
check-raise all-in without thinking about it for a number of reasons. 
However even though an all-in would be an under-bet compared to 
the pot size you shouldn't just throw it in there for the hell of it - play 
precise poker. So I called the turn and the river is a blank, I check and 
he immediately goes all-in for $1,475 which I call and he mucks 8-6o. 
Note that given my plan and pot size I have to call any river includ¬ 
ing the Qy, otherwise my plan could backfire in a big way. 


Example 4 

$25/$50 HU, opponent is loose/bad and has a stack of $2,000,1 cover. 
I limp on button with 5-7s and he raises to $150, which he likes to do 
frequently. The flop is Q-Q-5 and he leads out $300, which he almost 
always does, I call. The turn is a five and he checks. Based on how 
he plays which consists of always raising pre-flop and always bet¬ 
ting the flop, along with his turn check here, I think he doesn't have 
a queen. Since he is suspicious this is a good time to not trap and 
just bet straight away. Most people wouldn't be aggressive and bet a 
five, so when I bet I am saying I have a queen or am just making 
some weird bluff. He's not going to catch a good second-best hand 
here so he has a decision to make about if I have something or not, 
and my bet looks more suspicious on the turn than on the river. On 
the turn it looks like I am just quickly trying to get him out so this is 
a good spot to not trap. In this case I bet $700 into a $900 pot and he 
check-raised all-in for $1,500 total with A-2. 


141 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 5 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $3,300 and is a tilting maniac. I raise to 
$150 on the button and he reraises to $450 and I call with 66. The 
flop is Q«£-74-6V and he has been betting the flop when he has some¬ 
thing and check-folding when he doesn't have anything. And when 
I check behind he almost always automatically bets the pot of $900 
into me on the turn which he does here when the 8V comes. Now 
this puts an awful lot of draws out there and it's time to ask a couple 
of questions. What is his hand range? Very wide. What is the best 
way to get money out of that hand range? Because he is so aggres¬ 
sive and is currently betting, we want to let him keep the lead and 
let him be overaggressive. So the best play is to just call his bet. His 
hand range is so wide right now that it could be any two cards, and 
since he is a maniac he will give action on the river. He probably 
doesn't have a good hand that will give action now but might if a 
scare card comes. He probably doesn't even have that good a draw. 
The plan is to call, and since he's a maniac we can't outguess our¬ 
selves on the river - it's a call no matter what card comes, even if it's 
the 9V. In the hand a 104 fell off, he went all in for $2,000,1 called, 
and he had Q-8. 


Example 6 

$10/$25 HU, opponent has $1,000 and I cover. I have J*-3V and raise 
pre-flop to $75 and he calls. The flop is J4-5V-5* and he checks. We 
have top pair with no kicker and aren't too afraid of future cards 
coming to outdraw us as he probably has one overcard to hit at most. 
Granted future high cards could scare away action but that is a cal¬ 
culated risk. Also it's hard to put him on a second-best hand that 
will give us action - the board wouldn't let that happen. If he hit the 
board it's either trip fives or a better pair of jacks. The situation is 
ripe for a trap. 

In this particular case it turns out the best way to trap him is actually 
not to check. First of all, one problem with the check trap is he can- 


142 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


not catch a second-best hand - he either pairs up to outdraw us or 
hits an under-pair, which is such a weak hand he probably wouldn't 
commit much money with it. Here his stack size makes it easier - if 
he raises us if he does have us beat, we stand to lose less. One of the 
reasons to check the flop normally is a combination of trapping and 
pot control as it would generally be bad to get 100 BB in here; how¬ 
ever, getting just 40 BB in is more reasonable. 

The bottom line is that betting the flop is more suspicious than check¬ 
ing. Because the board is so dry and he couldn't have hit anything, it's 
also hard for us to have hit anything. And because this opponent is 
aggressive and loose I am alright to get all the money in here and so I 
bet $125, and he check-raised to $390, which makes things slightly 
awkward for us because once we call it shows we have an okay hand. 
For the turn play he would have the advantage as he would know 
about what type of hand we have and supposedly be able to play 
pretty close to correctly. We won't have a lot of flexibility given such 
good pot odds. However, with that being true, there is nothing we 
can do, we just will have to follow the plan. I called. The turn is a 34, 
he goes all-in and we call and his 104-44 is no good. 


Example 7 

$25/$50 three-handed, I have $7,500 and the opponent covers, he is 
bad player who is easy to read. He raises the button to $175 and I 
call with 2-2 in the BB. The flop is 2^-64-7V, I check and he bets $375 
quickly. It has been a betting tell of his that when he bets full pot 
quickly he continues with a bet on the turn. I haven't seen his hands 
when he does this so it's unclear if it's a bluff or a good hand. In any 
case my only question here is how to build the biggest pot. The 
board is so uncoordinated that I'm not worried about draws - the 
only draws here are gutshot straight draws and an 8-9 but if he hits 
that there is nothing I can do so my main concern is just to build the 
pot. 

So I called, the turn is the 24,1 check and he quickly bets pot as ex- 


143 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

pected. Now there are a couple of questions to ask - how often does 
he have a good hand here (an overpair) and how often is he bluffing 
and how often will he continue to bluff? My read was that he proba¬ 
bly had a good hand but there was a chance he was bluffing. In ei¬ 
ther case I figured if I check-called there was a good chance he'd do 
it again on the river. 

The river is the A*, which seemed like the worst scare card possible 
and it became likely he would shut down now with whatever made 
hand he had. I considered leading out into him like $1,100 to force 
some value as he will be curious and suspicious and probably call - 
it's quite hard for people to fold a decent hand in a $3,500 pot for 
$1,100. However, the deciding factor was his bet timing and sizing 
tell. When he had quickly bet full pot before he had always followed 
it up on the next street with a bet. In the hand I checked and he im¬ 
mediately went all in and his K-Jo lost. 


Example 8 

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $15,000 and I cover him. I have Q*-8*, he 
raises to $150 pre-flop and I call. The flop is A*-K*-5* I check he 
bets $300 and I call to mix it up. The turn is the Q4, check-check. The 
river is the 10*. This is a perfect time to check and trap. The reason 
is that I will only get money from the opponent if he has a straight 
or if he has a flush. So if he doesn't have one of those two hands it 
doesn't matter what the river action is, the result is always the same. 

So let's say he has one of those two hands and consider what will 
happen if I check and what will happen if I bet. If he has a flush and 
I bet he will raise all-in, and if I check he will bet and call my check- 
raise all-in so I get all his money either way. So the only hand that 
matters for analysis now is the straight and what happens when he 
has a straight if I bet and what happens if I check? If I bet he will 
only call me, but if I check he will bet and then maybe call a check- 
raise so I might get two bets on the river. I checked and he checked 
behind with K-4, from which I would have got no value anyway. 


144 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 

Folding Strong Hands 


Example 1 

$50/$100 three-handed. My opponent, who is a relatively solid and 
unimaginative player, opens to $350 on the button, I reraise in the 
BB to $1,100 with A-A, and he makes the surprising move of four- 
betting me to $3,400 quickly. Since it's so rare for him to four-bet, 
and because he is unimaginative, his bet means a big hand. To be 
more precise, it doesn't even have to be a big hand - just a hand he 
thinks is big. Also given that he will have position on me post-flop, 
and also considering that he doesn't give excessive action post-flop 
unless he has a big hand, and finally considering that a call by me 
will give away almost as much information as raising, I should have 
just gone all in pre-flop. 

But this time I just called. The flop came K-K-6,1 checked and he bet 
$3,600. Now we must ask what the hand range from a tight uni¬ 
maginative player after this pre-flop action is - A-A, A-K, K-K or 
Q-Q? If he has queens he'll check the flop for sure - why would he 
bet them? He isn't calling a check-raise and he doesn't need to pro¬ 
tect his hand against outdraws, which would only have two or three 
outs. And he's not bluffing with nothing because his pre-flop action 
says he has a strong hand. Even given a small chance he was bluff¬ 
ing pre-flop, since I called he would probably give his bluff up and 
check the flop. So his hand range is basically A-K or K-K. I pushed 
foolishly and he instantly called with A-K. A rule of thumb is when 
you put in about 10% of your stack pre-flop with aces, it's okay to go 
to the felt with it all the time on the flop. That rule of thumb worked, 
and my flop play here is standard for almost everyone. However, 
this was a great opportunity to make a big fold here and gain a lot of 
EV that other players wouldn't get. 


145 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 2 

$50/$100 three-handed, $15,000 stacks. I have A-A and raise on the 
button to $350, opponent makes it $1,100 in the BB. He is passive 
and doesn't reraise much pre-flop. A lot of the time just calling with 
aces is a better play here because four-bets are really strong and let 
people fold their medium-strength hands and bluffs. However in 
this spot the opponent is probably quite strong because he never re¬ 
raises pre-flop, so I four-bet to $3,500 and he calls. The flop comes 
10*-5*-5<fc, he checks. When most people get aces and reraise pre¬ 
flop one of two things happen - they get over excited and want to 
get all the opponent's money right away, or they get afraid of play¬ 
ing a tricky pot on later streets and instantly bet pot on the flop 
without realizing that the easiest line is not always the most profit¬ 
able. However, in this spot a bet is best as he didn't call with a weak 
hand with the intention of bluffing me out later - he has something 
strong and has to make a decision about whether I'm bluffing or not. 
Maybe I'll get his money, maybe I won't. 

The other question to ask is what hands could I trap by checking,? 
Well not many - the only card that could come to set an effective 
trap is a king, and if he happens to have a king in his hand there are 
only three of those left. I'm not so afraid about the flush because 
there is only one exact hand combination that could have a flush 
draw - A4-K*. So I bet the pot of $6,500, he thinks for a while and 
goes all-in. I obviously call, as his hand range here is probably A-A - 
Q-Q, 10-10 or A*-K*. Also I'm getting 4-1 odds on my money, and 
this was my plan when I bet the flop. So I called and he had A*-K4. 

If we consider his side of the things this hand will show us how not 
to play a draw. Reraising pre-flop is perfectly normal with A-Ks 
(though it would have been smart of him to reraise more frequently 
so I didn't put him on a hand range as narrow as Q-Q - A-A and 
A-K or A-Q). However, my four-bet is quite strong. One thing he 
should realize is that I am a better player than him, and he should 
give me respect and realize I can outplay him. If an ace flops he 
won't get bluffs from me and if it doesn't I'll push him off his hand. 


146 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


An ace or king will only flop 1/3 times and he's out of position. He 
needs to give a better player his due and fold A-K here. 


Example 3 

$10/$25 HU, opponent raises to $75 on the button and I call with 
94-10*. The flop is 8V-34-24, check-check. The turn is the 94 which 
makes for a lot of hands composed of some combination of straight 
draw and overcard draw that he'll semi-bluff there. Here he checked, 
then the river comes the A*. I check and he bets $150. It's pretty 
frustrating that he checked behind on the turn then such a bad card 
comes on the river and it's very easy to call here out of a combina¬ 
tion of frustration and curiosity at what he has, hoping that our 
hand is good. But this is actually a good spot in a small pot to fold 
where most people would make a sloppy call and lose their $150. 

Part of the reason is that one of the most likely hands the opponent 
checks behind on the flop and turn is ace high - it has showdown 
value so he doesn't need to bluff with it like he would with a hand 
like K-J. 


Example 4 

$25/$50 four-handed, button raises to $175, SB calls and I call in the 
BB with A-5s. The flop is 24-64-K<4 and to mix it up I lead out $500. 
The button calls and the turn brings the 10V, I check, the pot is 
$1,500 and he bets $1,300. Should I check-raise my last $3,000? Or 
call? No, even though I have the ace-high flush draw with an over¬ 
card it's a fold. It's very hard for me to have two pair here with the 
flop being so uncoordinated - I could have hit two pair on the turn 
with K-10, but with K-10 I wouldn't lead the flop. 

Therefore my flop lead is either air, a flush draw, or a set. When I 
check-raise the turn all-in he can put me on either a flush draw or a 
set. The fact is sets don't come along as often as flush draws so the 
question is whether he is a weak player who sees a big bet and auto- 


147 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

automatically folds one pair? Or is he a thinking player who will put 
his money in when he thinks his hand is best? In this case I thought 
he was just a loose suspicious bad player, so I just folded which is 
the best play on the turn. 


Example 5 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is playing weird illogical poker, he is tricky 
and a little tough to play but has many leaks. He changes his bet size 
a lot making small and medium bets with small hands and bluffs 
and he bets full pot when he has a good hand. I raise pre-flop to $75 
with Q-J and he calls. The flop is Q-7-2, and he check-calls a bet of 
$150. He calls a fair amount. The turn is a two and in terms of pot 
size my hand is good enough to get one more bet into the pot. But if 
we go all-in, or bets go in on both the turn and river, then there's a 
good chance I'll lose. 

Therefore I check the turn and hope to get value on the river. The 
river is an eight and he leads out $400 like he does with good hands. 
I was slowly grinding this player down so strategically it's not bad 
to fold here. Also, I had a feeling he wasn't bluffing, which came 
from the game tempo, his bet size and bet speed. Another reason it 
probably isn't a bluff is because there isn't anything for his bluff to 
represent. No scare cards hit and I either have a pair of queens or I 
don't. If I have a pair of queens I'm probably calling any bet up to 
the pot size. If my hand is worse than a pair of queen than I'm 
probably folding to about a 3/4 pot bet or even a little less. So he can 
accomplish the same bluff by betting about $300 - but he didn't, he 
bet $400. My read was that he's targeting me if I have a queen and 
so I folded. 


Example 6 

$25/$50, four-handed. I open on the button with Q-Jo to $175, the SB 
raises to $575, BB folds and I call. This is normally a fold but he is 


148 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


playing aggressively and people are pushing me around pre-flop. 
The flop is K*-Q*-74 and he leads out $725. Since I called with such 
a marginal hand, the situation is marginal and I have to play very 
well to make it an okay call pre-flop. Although, just because I called 
pre-flop doesn't mean that if I hit something I am committed to put¬ 
ting money into the pot -1 called his reraise pre-flop so the Q and K 
are very likely cards to have hit me and his bet size seems to say that 
he wants to keep me in the pot. We can't know for sure but it looks 
like he is targeting us if we have a queen. What I mean is if we have 
a pair of kings we are probably going to put money into the pot 
whether he bets $725 or if he bets $1,150. If we have 10-10 or Q-J we 
are probably not going to put money in if he bets the full pot $1,150; 
however, we are more likely to put money in if he bets smaller. 

The first piece of evidence is he bet on a board that could very likely 
hit a person calling a reraise pre-flop. The second piece of evidence 
is that he bet small like he's trying to trap us. Normally a small bet is 
evidence of weakness but here it's different because given the board 
texture it's quite likely we hit something. And if we hit something 
and he bet small it looks like he's wanting us to call and if he wants 
us to call that means he has a good hand and should fold. Also this 
player is aggressive and when he bets the flop he generally bets the 
turn, so for that reason we need to make a decision here as to 
whether we are willing to go all-in with a pair of queens on the turn 
when he bets, and that simply can't be justified as he is aggressive 
but not a maniac. 


Bet-call and check-call lines with weak hands 


Example 1 


$10/$25 six-handed, two folds and a limper, I raise pot to $110 with 
KV-10V, SB calls and so does limper. I have $2,400 and limper covers 
me. The flop is K^-54-QV, SB checks and BB leads out into me for 


149 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

$250.1 call and the SB folds, the turn comes the 44 and he leads out 
$600. Now we have a decision to make and now it's time to start 
hand reading. 

Normally according to the basic concepts of poker this is a fold - it 
was a three-way pot pre-flop, we have top pair and a kicker that 
isn't worth much and the opponent has made a decent-sized turn 
bet and is certainly threatening to make a big river bet. Normally we 
don't play top pair for big pots, let alone 100 BB. And had I been 
playing on autopilot without consciously and deliberately thinking 
through the hand I surely would have folded. But doing exactly that 
yields interesting results. Try putting him on a specific hand. A set? 
K-K is very unlikely as there is exactly one combination, since I have 
a king and there is a king on the board; Q-Q is also unlikely because 
he limp-called pre-flop, and for the same reason he doesn't have 
aces. He also doesn't have A-K because he wouldn't limp call with it 
pre-flop. 

K-J is a possibility but this line with K-J would be quite peculiar as 
his hand isn't quite good enough to be played so aggressively. If he 
had K-Q he probably would just raise pre-flop but assuming he limp 
called he probably wouldn't lead out on the flop since he has the 
board dominated. He could have a set of fives but that is only one 
hand combination so not too likely. Therefore since we can't put him 
a set we will continue with K-10 but should we raise or fold? Raising 
makes no sense as if he is bluffing we want him to keep bluffing and 
the board isn't too scary with draws so we don't need to raise for 
protection. The only reason to raise would be if we are very sure he 
has a draw and also very sure he will not bluff us on the river. So we 
call, the river is a queen and he goes all-in. Now we must ask if there 
is anyway he could have a queen? Not really, he would have had to 
bet the flop and the turn with a Q somehow like A-Q, K-Q or Q-5, 
which don't make sense. So I call and he shows 8-6 for a gutshot 
draw he picked up on the turn. 


150 










Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Example 2 

$10/25 HU, the opponent has $1,350 and I cover. I have 9-9, he raises 
on the button to $75 and I reraise to $225. He calls. The pot is $450 
and he has $1,100 left, the flop is KV-84-2*. Now normally pot con¬ 
trol would be a huge factor here as you would be trying to keep the 
pot small because if the pot got big and you went to a showdown 
you would likely lose. In this particular case, however, the opponent 
is raising very frequently and calling all reraises. So in general 
pocket nines are a good hand and will often still be best on the flop. 
This flop is also relatively good with just one overcard so since he is 
so loose and tilting and our nines are probably the best hand we just 
have to get the money in and see what happens. 

Therefore I bet $325 and he calls. The turn is the 74; I check because 
if he floated the flop with nothing or a weak hand just to see what 
I'd do, I want to give him a chance to bluff here. He went all-in, I 
called and he had 5-6. In this hand he could very easily have had us 
beat but sometimes in poker there is nothing you can do to avoid 
losing money and this would have been one of those spots. 


Example 3 

$25/50 HU, opponent is very loose-aggressive and bad. He is raising 
almost every button and then almost always continuation betting 
the flop, he has $2,500 and I cover. He raises pre-flop and I call with 
K-lOs. The opponent is so bad and needlessly aggressive that I can 
just wait to see if I hit a flop with this hand, and then get the money 
in from there because he will always bet. So here I call, the flop is 
K-9-3,1 check and he bets $300 as expected. Now normally I have 
top pair with a medium kicker and it's not good to get 50 BBs in on 
the flop with that on a dry board. A good player would either check 
behind on the flop with something like K-5 so he can practice pot 
control himself, or he'd fold it pre-flop, or if someone raised him 
he'd make a good decision. This particular opponent will not only 
bet the flop with K-5, always raise it pre-flop and will make a bad 


151 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

decision if I raise, but he could be betting any two cards and will call 
with worse kings. So instead of calling which I'd normally do, in this 
case I check-raised to $1,000, he immediately went all-in and his K-4 
lost. 


Example 4 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is very bad and loose-passive, he has already 
been stacked a couple of times. I raise K-Qo to $75 and he calls. The 
flop is 4>-4*-64, he check-calls a $125 bet. The turn is the 6V and he 
checks, I check behind. The pot is $450, the river comes an off-suit 
Jack and he leads out $270. My instincts told me that something felt 
off - there was a combination of factors here that made his play sus¬ 
picious. He plays straightforward, so if he hit the six on the turn he 
probably would have led out and so far he has bet the full pot in¬ 
stantly with hands he likes and he didn't do that here, which is evi¬ 
dence he doesn't like his hand. He calls me pre-flop almost every 
time so his hand range is wide, and he calls my flop bets very often, 
so his hand range is wide there, too. If he had ace high he would 
probably check the river because ace high has showdown value. 
With A-4 in his hand he would raise the flop. A-6 would probably 
bet the pot on the river. The combination of all these factors made 
me suspicious so I called and he had 5-2. It's worth noting that a 
raise is bad as if he has a 4 or a 6 he is never folding. The worst hand 
he could have is a jack and a raise is so suspicious and he's so bad 
that he could call anyway. 


Example 5 

$10/$25 HU, opponent is a clown but plays like a nit so it's a grind to 
take his money away. He min-raises on the button, I re-pop to $150 
with 8-8 and he calls. This sequence has happened a few times al¬ 
ready. He is short-stacked with $1,200. The flop is A4-104-24, and I 
check as there is no reason to bet. He checks too. The turn is the Q4, 

I check and he checks. The river is the 44,1 check and he bets $300. 


152 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Normally this is an easy fold just based on the obvious fact that it is 
an underpair to a board with three overcards in a re-raised pot. 

But my instincts said his bet doesn't make sense. His pre-flop range is 
wide as he raised pre-flop a lot and would always call my reraise. 
Then if he has a big hand why wouldn't he bet the flop or turn both 
for value and to protect his hand. Then the river is a blank so it 
doesn't change the strength of his hand and he chose that time to bet? 
He bets full pot, too, which on that board indicates a good amount of 
strength which is inconsistent with the facts, so this is suspicious. 
Also, it indicates a lot of strength because he was not a sophisticated 
opponent so if he bets full pot it's not with a medium strength hand 
mixing it up and he is not sophisticated enough to trap by checking 
the flop and turn with a good hand that often. Even given all of these 
factors it is still a hard call to make, given the board and the weakness 
of my hand but in HU poker and you can't let scare cards get to you 
and you can't let yourself get run over. I called and he had 6V-9V. 


Example 6 

$10/$25, same opponent, he has $1,300 and I cover. He limps on the 
button, I raise with K-K to $75, he calls. The flop is J*-104-3V; I bet 
$150 and he calls. The turn is the 7V and it felt like he would fold if I 
bet and he might bet so I checked hoping to check-raise but he 
checks behind. The river is the 8V. I check and he quickly bets $450. 
Again my instincts said his bet was off partly because of his bet tim¬ 
ing. But it's also based on straightforward hand analysis. He could 
have a flush but this is a backdoor flush and those are hard to come 
by HU. He could have a straight but that means very specific hands 
for him like 10-9 or J-9 or Q-9. The big question is how sophisticated 
he is, e.g. would he bet two pair on the river against me to get value? 
A tough player would bet many two pair hands on the river as well 
as a flush or a straight so his hand range is a lot wider. But in this 
case the opponent isn't sophisticated and would only bet a straight 
or flush or a bluff, which makes it a lot more likely I'm ahead. I 
called and he had 5-3. 


153 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 7 

$10/25 six-handed, I raise in MP with A¥-9V to $85 and only the SB 
calls. The flop is 3*-104-24, check-check. The turn is the 4*, check- 
check. The river is the 74 and the opponent quickly leads out the pot. 
What is he representing? Well he didn't bet on the flop or the turn so 
based on that it doesn't seem that strong. And if he had a medium to 
weak made hand wouldn't he check the river and hope for a free 
showdown? So he's representing a flush, but people don't get 
flushes all that often - additionally he might be betting with that on 
the turn. I called and he had Q4-J4. 


Example 8 

$5/$10 HU, opponent has $400 and I cover, he is bad and loose. I 
have A4-54 and raise on the button to $30, he calls. The flop is 
5V-94-64, he checks. In NLHE it can be hard to protect your hand 
sometimes - for instance if we bet the pot of $60 then he will not call 
with worse hands but he could bluff or semi-bluff us and he can call 
with better hands. And if we changed our bet size to protect the pot 
to something like $20 then it would give a lot of information away 
about the type of hand we have and he could outplay us. So nor¬ 
mally to be deceptive we are forced to check in this situation. How¬ 
ever given that he is especially bad here I bet $25 for the purpose of 
protecting my hand since he is so bad he won't be able to take ad¬ 
vantage of my obvious bet size. 

He called and it's unclear what he has at this point. The turn is the 
34, he checks and I check behind. The river is the 94 and he leads out 
$110 quickly. Let's do some hand reading - he quickly bet out the 
pot so he's representing a good hand, which here would be a flush 
or a nine. Its not likely that he back-doored a flush so does he have a 
nine? Well, because we bet so small on the flop his flop call does not 
prove to us that he has a nine. And particularly in light of the fact 
that he's so bad and part of the reason we bet $25 is because he's ca¬ 
pable of calling it with garbage. Things get a little trickier if his hand 


154 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


range expands to include a pair of sixes because that expands his 
range significantly and makes it more likely he has one of the hands 
that he could be playing it that way that beats us. Fortunately this 
player is not sophisticated enough to make such aggressive value 
bets with weak hands. I called and he had J-Qo. 


Changing gears 

Changing gears has a lot to do with being in the "zone". The ques¬ 
tion is are you focusing on the poker game, or mindlessly playing 
standard poker? If it's the latter then you're in trouble. You might be 
doing fine but then cards will fall a certain way - for instance you 
get a few good hands in a row and raise the opponent and he folds. 
Now he doesn't know you had good hands each time - in fact he'll 
be pretty sure you didn't have it one of those times because mathe¬ 
matically that is the most likely scenario by far. And if you raise him 
again soon he'll be even more sure you are bluffing, thus you need 
to adjust. Your standard system of play isn't going to work in this 
situation because an odd run of cards has your opponent suspicious 
and he is going to adjust, so you need to adjust to that adjustment - 
and that is what changing gears is about. 


Example 1 

$10/$25 HU, opponent has $2,200 and I cover. I open to $75 with 
A-K and he calls. The flop is A*-K>-104 and he check-calls my pot 
bet of $150. The turn is the 5* and he checks. If he has some sort of 
draw or made hand/draw combination I want to entice him to con¬ 
tinue the hand and also entice him to do so on terms unfavorable to 
him so I bet $300 here and he calls. 

The river is the 3* and he leads out the full pot for $1,050 and my 
initial happiness and confidence about the hand quickly went away. 
My hand was so strong that I had to call, but the decision was either 
to call or go all-in. In a spot like this where his bet really surprised 


155 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

me it's easy to let that affect my decision and make me call or go all- 
in without thinking. But don't do that - be meticulous, think and 
hand read. 

He seems to be representing a strong hand but no really strong 
hands make sense here. The issue is that if he has a straight or a set 
from the start his hand is strong but vulnerable and so he would 
have raised at some point. Action like this could be a pocket pair 
that hit a set on the river but there is no way he could have called 
the flop and turn with 3-3. One hand that does make sense is A-3, 
but fortunately we beat that hand. So in the end it's impossible to 
put him on a hand that beats us, so we raise all-in. He called with 
A-4. 


Example 2 

A couple of hands after that the opponent is playing with a $1,200 
stack. I raise the button to $75 with Q-8o and he reraises to $195. 
Normally this is an easy fold, but given his complete recklessness 
and the fact that I have position and that he doesn't make a full pot 
raise it makes sense to call here and see what develops. I call, the 
flop is K-8-7o and he quickly bets out the pot of $390. Again this is 
normally a spot where people lose a lot of money by getting 
dragged into a hand early on, and then when they hit a hand they 
think they have to go with it. 

Well I don't have to go with it given his quick full-sized pot bet felt 
strong to me and the king is one of the worst cards that could come. 
Also the stack sizes make it awkward. However, the most profitable 
play is not always the easiest play and that is the case here. The sim¬ 
ple fact is that his previous play with A-4 was just so crazy and he 
lost his whole stack, so he could be tilting even more here and that 
makes it a call. I called and without putting any more money into 
the pot won against his 9-4o. 


156 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Miscellaneous 


Example 1 

$25/50 six-handed, button raises to $175, the SB calls and I call in the 
BB with 8-9o. The flop is A1P-9V-4*, it is checked around. The turn is 
the 6* and the SB leads out for $400. This is a peculiar bet from him 
because when he has a good hand he has bet the pot in the past. A 
lot of the times people will bet smaller with their best hands but 
short-handed people rarely make huge hands. Basically, there are a 
lot of different hands he could have but because of his bet size it 
doesn't feel strong. Another factor is the math. Some people in this 
spot will bet out and you'll bluff-raise and they'll always seem to 
have a good hand. Other people will fold often. The key to seeing 
how often they have a big hand or not is how often they call pre-flop. 
If they rarely call then they are already filtering their hand selection, 
so if they bet the flop often and have it often, it's because pre-flop 
they already dumped the trash. If they call pre-flop a lot then bet the 
flop frequently they are going to have many weak holdings. 

Now, all three options are viable here. I could certainly fold - some 
opponents are suspicious and some are weak. This particular oppo¬ 
nent is weak and doesn't put up much of a fight with mediocre 
holdings. I could call but he could have a lot of mediocre hands that 
still beat me, and there is also a player behind me. Also, he could 
bluff the river if I call. If I raise he'll have a hard time calling with his 
mediocre holdings. Also if he does show up with a hand I probably 
have outs. Plus if I'm a better player then I can raise and if he calls, I 
can plan on outplaying him based on his timing, the river card, and 
his river action. Another advantage is that he could call with a draw, 
which is the best of both worlds. My decision to raise here is a com¬ 
bination of many marginal factors, and the play itself is quite mar¬ 
ginal but it illustrates the thinking behind this sort of play. 


157 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Example 2 

$3/$6 six-handed, UTG raises to $21,1 call with red jacks in the SB 
and it's HU. The flop is AV-10V-9V, I check and he bets pot for $46. 
The opponent is a decent player who is giving me a lot of respect 
and this is a good time to use that respect to end this pot right now 
instead of playing more streets out of position, which will get con¬ 
fusing. A raise is good here because if we just call we will not know 
exactly where we stand in the hand and it makes playing future 
streets uncertain and confusing. If the opponent has an ace without 
a heart we can also bluff him. Also, after a check-raise we could get a 
free turn card even though we're out of position. 


Example 3 

$25/$50 HU, I raise on the button with A-Ko and my opponent calls 
which he does often, we have $5k stacks. The flop is 3-5-10, he 
checks. Normally always continuation betting ace high here is a leak 
because people can simply call with better or fold worse hands but a 
few factors in combination made it a bet against this player. He calls 
the flop quite often, so it could be a value bet against a weak ace or 
some weird hand he wants to float with. Also he is passive, so if I 
bet he probably won't check-raise the flop and I can get to see two 
more cards if I want by checking behind on the turn, and I can 
choose the bet size. And finally he calls the flop a lot but is weak on 
the turn and has folded to many continuation bets, so if the turn 
card is scary I can keep bluffing. In the hand he called, the turn was 
a Q, and he folded to my turn bet. 


Example 4 

$5/$10 six-handed, two limpers and hero raises to $55 with A-A, 
one limper calls. The flop is 94-JV-8V (hero doesn't have Ay), villain 
checks to hero. What plan does he have here, what sort of pot does 
he want? On the flop he most certainly wants a small one. The prob- 


158 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


lem is if the villain has a piece of this board he is somewhere around 
even money to beat A-A on the flop and if he has a big piece of the 
board then he crushes the hero, so there isn't a lot of value in betting 
this flop. 

So if the opponent has nothing our action doesn't matter because he 
only has a few outs to outdraw our aces and supposing he isn't a 
better player than us, he probably won't be able to bluff us out. So if 
we bet and he has nothing, he'll fold and if we check and he has 
nothing we'll just win the hand on a later street and our action 
doesn't matter. And if the opponent has a very strong hand then 
checking is good because we aren't putting money into the pot 
against it. 

The reason why this hand is so tricky and why checking has value is 
if the opponent has a strong draw. If the opponent has a strong 
draw he can raise us as a semi-bluff on the flop and we'll have to 
fold because on this board the villain wouldn't go all-in with noth¬ 
ing. So we gain a lot more equity by waiting for the turn to see if our 
aces are still good, and we can see what his action is because we 
have position. 

If you were the opponent and had middle set here you probable 
want to lead out and do the betting yourself, since a top 
pair/overpair hand will usually check behind here, or bet with the 
intention of folding to a raise. Value betting top pair is dubious on 
this board because hands worse than top pair can't call very often 
but if the pot stays small top pair has a better chance of being the 
best hand. Of course, this is all highly situational depending on the 
way the game is playing and the opponent but this illustrates the 
way you should be thinking about hands. 


Example 5 


$25/$50 HU, opponent has $7,500 and I cover. I have A-6o and raise 
to $150, he calls. The flop is 4V-64-8*, he checks, I bet $225 and he 
check-raises to $525. I'm not sure exactly what's going on at this 


159 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

point but I'm a lot better then the opponent with position and can 
outplay him, and also he is not a nit and there's a good chance he 
doesn't have a big hand so I call. The turn is the 24, he bets $475 into 
the $1,350 pot and his bet size gives the game away as when he bets 
small he is weak so I raise to $1,900 and take the pot down. 


Heads-up matches 

Finally here are complete hand histories and commentary from three 
heads-up matches. A couple of notes here. You'll see that I don't 
play perfectly and I'll make no attempt to hide it - no one does. 

Even when someone is playing their best poker they are still making 
a lot of sub-optimal plays, which is part of the beauty of the game - 
the fact that everyone always plays bad in comparison to the "per¬ 
fect game" means that there is always room to play better and earn 
more money. 

It's impossible to analyze poker hands and come to definite conclu¬ 
sions about what was a good play, what was a bad play, and by how 
much was it good or bad. The value of this section is not so much in 
the final judgments I make and the corresponding good or bad plays 
that occur but in seeing all the factors that enter into a decision. 

Then you can take all the concepts involved and start weighing 
them into your own decisions and over time, with much study and 
repetition, your judgment will improve. 

Another point is that everyone plays differently. It is another beauti¬ 
ful part of HU poker that it allows for people to play in extremely 
different ways and still be skilled and win money. For this reason 
also it's important to focus not so much on the specifics of the lines I 
take but on the thought processes and ideas behind what is happen¬ 
ing. 


160 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Heads-up match #1, $25/50, 
$5,000 starting stacks 


Hand 1 

I open on the button to $150 with 8*-7*, the opponent reraises to 
$450. It's the first hand and he reraised which makes me suspicious 
so far based on the facts that he is loose and aggressive. However, 
even with that being so it's a bit suspect to put in 10% of my stack 
pre-flop with low cards, even if they are suited connectors. To put in 
so much pre-flop we generally want high cards, and of course hope¬ 
fully suited and/or connected ones. However, I felt like gambling a 
bit and since the decision is close it really doesn't matter too much 
one way or the other. If I call it will lead to a looser gambling game 
with big pots and higher variance, and if I fold it will be a smaller 
pot game with less variance. 

I call and the flop comes AV-J*-8* and he leads out $900, and I fold. 
Just because I have a pair doesn't mean I need to go with it. He re¬ 
raised preflop representing high cards, then the flop comes with 
high cards and he continues to represent his good hand by betting 
the pot on the flop. I believe him and even if I didn't it would be a 
lot of money to commit in a very precarious position, so the flop fold 
is straightforward. 


Hand 2 

Opponent on button folds. This is pretty common point about game 
tempo actually. After winning a big pot like that the opponent will 
fold pre-flop the next hand more often than they would normally. 


Hand 3 

I raise 7-9o to $150, he calls. Flop is j4-Q^-84, he checks and I check. 


161 














Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

I want to wait for the turn to gain more information before risking a 
bluff. Also if he calls it's likely I have no overcards and just a gutshot 
draw to hit a ten which has no implied odds because it's so obvious. 
Also it's a bad board texture to bluff because if the opponent has a 
hand there's a higher chance then normal it's a decent hand with 
outs. For instance on a more normal looking board like K-J-6 if the 
opponent had 6-7 it's just bottom pair, but in the actual hand if the 
opponent has bottom pair with something like 8-9 or 8-10 he also 
has a gutshot draw and can continue more readily. Similarly com¬ 
pare how J-10 works on both boards. If we bluffed the flop on the 
K-J-6 board he'll call, then say the turn is a two. If we bet again he'll 
probably fold even if he's suspicious we're bluffing as it's hard for 
him to call because he has no outs. However on the Q-J-8 board if 
we bet the flop and he calls then the turn is a two and we bet again 
and he's suspicious, it's a lot easier for him to call because he has 
outs. So the board texture takes away some of our options. 

The turn comes the 74, he checks. Now it's not worth it to bluff. Be¬ 
fore we paired the sevens a bet would make sense to make him fold 
ace high, king high, and pairs below sevens. Now if we bluff we 
have to make him fold hands better than a pair of sevens to be worth 
it. And the only hand out of those he'd fold is probably a pair of 
eights. So we check and also give ourselves a chance to improve our 
hand. River is the 54 and he leads out $50. At this point if we raise 
him our hand does not represent anything. We checked the flop and 
turn showing weakness and the river card doesn't change the board. 
So the way to interpret it, is one of two things. Either a stupid bet 
that makes no sense with ace high or some random hand - in which 
case simply calling is the best course of action. Or as a made hand 
that knows we are weak and is trying to extract $50 of value and 
might even hope we raise as a bluff, because he knows we are weak 
and will call the raise. I called, he had K-J. 


Hand 4 

He raises to $150, we call with Q-lOo. This is a good hand to mix it 


162 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


up and reraise because we have two relatively high cards to pair, 
and also can take it down pre-flop; however, it feels like this is the 
type of opponent who will call a lot. If he'll call the reraise a lot this 
play loses a lot of it's value. The flop is A4-Q4-7V, I check and he 
checks. Turn is 34,1 check and he checks. If you felt the need to put 
money into the pot on the flop or turn simply ask yourself what will 
it accomplish? What hands is he going to call, and what will he fold, 
and how does that help you? The river comes the K4, and if the card 
was a rag my plan had been to value bet because he checked twice 
so he doesn't have an ace. Now the king scares him if he has a worse 
hand so he won't call, and also he could have very easily hit that 
king. Check-check, he has 8-8. 


Hand 5 

I raise to $150 with K-lOo, he folds. 


Hand 6 

He folds. 


Hand 7 

I raise to $150 with A-lOo, he folds. This is the sort of opponent I like. 
If he keeps this up it's so easy to play versus him. His hand range is 
smaller, he's predictable. I won't need to force anything post-flop 
because I can make an easy profit pre-flop against him. 


Hand 8 

He min-raises to $100; again this weird play reinforces my belief that 
started to grow from the last hand. This is a poor play pre-flop 
which is easy for me to play against as he isn't putting much pres¬ 
sure on me with a min-raise. He can make up for it with better post- 


163 














Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

flop play but it's a good sign for me. I call with A-8o. Flop is 
34-54-K4, check-check. Turn is 74, check-check. Maybe a bet is good 
here but it's early on in the game, I don't have much of a read on the 
opponent and don't know what his flop check means so I'll take it 
slow and check. River is the Q<4, again a bet here is probably good 
but I made a mistake and let the inertia take over from the turn. I 
checked the turn so it's easy to check the river, too, it's also particu¬ 
larly easy to check since our hand has a little bit of showdown value 
which allows us to be lazy. This shows how you have to always be 
alert and this is very important as a player. He checked behind and 
won with 2-2. 


Hand 9 

I raise with J-9o and he folds. 


Hand 10 

He folds. Looking good for me. 


Hand 11 

I raise to $150 with A-Ko, he calls. He has folded a lot pre-flop so it's 
sometimes tempting to limp and trap him. But limping doesn't build 
a big pot; A-K has the potential to win a big pot so even if he folds a 
lot pre-flop we have to risk it to try and achieve the potential of A-K 
here. The flop is 9*-10<4-Q4, he leads out $50. Not sure what this 
means, but I think it's weak. If I call and he leads out on the turn on 
a rag then things get awkward to play. Here after a $50 bet he's 
probably not going to three-bet me so I don't need to worry about 
missing my drawing chances. A big part of the reason I raise here is 
that if he calls, I will check behind on the turn and take another card 
for free. He folded to the pot raise. 


164 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 12 

Opponent folds. At this point he's playing bad. First of all it's very 
unlikely he hasn't had a hand good enough to raise pre-flop. And 
secondly even if all of his hands are 2-6o (which they aren't), he can 
still raise as he can use his position and his growing image as a tight 
player to do that. 


Hand 13 

I raise A-6o, he folds. 


Hand 14 

Opponent raises to $150,1 have 8-10o. It's so easy to play against 
him there is no need to mix it up for strategic reasons with a hand 
like 8-10o out of position so I folded. 


Hand 15 

8-2o, I fold. Raising is probably profitable here but I've raised every 
hand so far and he keeps folding. I like the way he's playing, which 
is tight and bad, and don't want to change it by raising every hand. 
So I fold marginally profitable hands that could raise like here. 


Hand 16 

He raises to $150,1 fold 7-2o. 


Hand 17 

I raise 4-5s he folds. 


165 
















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Hand 18 

He limps and I check with K-8, although in all likelihood if I raised 
to $250 here he would probably fold so that is valid to consider. The 
flop is AV-A4-K4. I check and he checks. Turn is the 74, and here 
perhaps a bet would be good, because he doesn't appear to bluff and 
semi-bluff much. The river is the 9V, and again he doesn't seem like 
a bluffer or even an aggressive value bettor, so here I bet out $50 and 
he folded. 


Hand 19 

I have 8-Qo and raise to $150, he calls. Flop is 24-44-5V, he checks, I 
check. Turn is the 64, he checks. A bet here by me is kind of suspi¬ 
cious because what am I representing, a straight? First of all I need 
to have raised pre-flop and have exactly that card in my hand to 
make a straight. But also I probably would have bet the flop if I had 
the three as a semi-bluff, which all makes a turn bet rather odd by 
me. But as stated above he appears to play pretty straightforwardly, 
and he doesn't seem to hand read and play suspiciously, so I go 
ahead and bet $300 and he folds. 


Hand 20 

He limps, I check with A-3o. The flop is 74-A4-64.1 checked the flop, 
which is the standard play here because the BB didn't commit any 
money to the pot pre-flop so I have a completely random hand 
which is supposedly bad and doesn't contain an ace. As SB he 
limped and is more likely to have an ace, and thus represent an ace. 
That is why checking is the standard play; however, as stated this 
opponent is either too lazy or uncreative to represent hands so in 
this case betting the flop and trying to get value when he has a lower 
pair or even when he does something weird like try and float me 
with 8-10 or 5-9 would be okay. 

But in the hand I checked, he bet $100 and I called. The turn is the 8V, 


166 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


I check and he bets $300. Given how little aggression he has shown 
so far and given the fact that I have no redraws, and that even if he 
doesn't have me beat he most likely is semi-bluffing with redraws, 
and given that it was unraised pre-flop this is a pretty easy fold. 
Originally our plan was to trap him, but that changed. It's a tough 
road to walk because once we show weakness it's important not to 
get bluffed out because that's exactly what we tried to induce the 
opponent to do. But on the other hand by trapping with a weak 
hand we might just be trapping ourselves. Versus an opponent I re¬ 
spected I'd probably call him down and follow through with the 
plan, not giving myself a chance to outguess myself and be out¬ 
played. But versus a bad player like this opponent, I am confident in 
my ability to read his hands and not afraid of outguessing myself. 


Hand 21 

4-8o. In retrospect perhaps this is a raise by me but I folded in the 
game. He had just won the previous hand, and often when people 
win a hand they loosen up a bit with their extra money and confi¬ 
dence and for that reason I folded. 


Hand 22 

3V-9V, he raises, I fold. Note we've played 22 hands already and 
there hasn't been a big pot - that is the way games go sometimes. 
Don't force big pots, patience and precision is the key. 


Hand 23 

10-2o, I folded and in retrospect this is almost certainly a mistake 
given how much he folds to my pre-flop raises and how straight¬ 
forwardly he plays post-flop. This is an example of the opponent 
having the momentum and it getting me off balance and playing de¬ 
fensively. 


167 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Hand 24 

Opponent limps, I check with QV-3V. Note before he went through a 
cycle where he folded a few hands in a row, and now he likes to 
limp - this is probably because he has won a few pots in a row and 
has the momentum. HU poker is very much a game of having mo¬ 
mentum and the psychological advantage. The flop is 7*-j4-K>, we 
both check. Turn is the 44,1 check and he checks. River is the 5V, I 
check and he checks and wins with 5-6. The fact that he checks be¬ 
hind on the turn with a hand that has no showdown value but is 
great for building a pot or taking the pot down there is evidence he 
is passive, and evidence he is a bad player. 


Hand 25 

24-94,1 limp and he checks. The flop is 54-J4-54, he checks and I bet 
$100. Against a tricky opponent I'd be more likely to bet $200 be¬ 
cause the bigger bet size is more likely to deter him from floating or 
raising me with wacky hands (which he'd be correct to do), however 
this opponent doesn't see my bet size and the board and think what 
he can do to me. He sees he has no hand, and simply that I placed a 
bet and folds. 


Hand 26 

He folds. 


Hand 27 

I have A¥-4¥ and raise to $150, he calls. The flop is A4-6V-9V and 
this is sometimes a good spot to trap, the idea being that if I bet now 
I'll force him out when he has weaker hands and build the pot when 
he has a better hand than me. And if he has a good hand I should 
just check and wait until I hit my hand and build the pot then. How¬ 
ever, against this type of player who isn't going to go wild if I hit a 


168 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


flush and he has a lesser hand, and who isn't going to get too ag¬ 
gressive when I show signs of weakness on the flop, it's better just to 
bet straight out. I bet a little less than the pot, $235, to give him room 
to stay in there with weaker hands, but he folds. 


Hand 28 

He limps, I raise to $150 with QV-J4. He seems pretty straightfor¬ 
ward post-flop so it's okay to raise out of position. Q-Jo is a better 
hand than what he has so it's a raise for value. The flop is A4-94-74,1 
check and he bets $300.1 figured he would have raised pre-flop if he 
had an ace in his hand, thus that makes his bet a bluff probably. So I 
raised him to $1,200. However, given his reluctance to make bluffs 
before this I should have given him credit for a hand that I was un¬ 
able to put him on, just because he doesn't seem to bluff. He called. 

The turn is the 34. Now this is an interesting time to bet for sure as I 
think he gives me respect, so if he has a pair of aces he will fold 
them. However, if he has a pair of aces and a spade then he'll proba¬ 
bly call. The pot is $1,500, so if I bet say $1,300 and he calls then the 
pot becomes $4,000 and he will have $3,000 left and so will I. So 
given the pot size and stack sizes it becomes quite natural for him to 
raise me all-in which will scare me or fold, and less likely for him to 
simply call. This changes my play from a semi-bluff (with my J4) to 
a bluff, which might be okay but is a tough decision. I checked and 
so did he. The river is the 24 and the action I probably want vs. this 
opponent is check-check and I win the showdown, which is what 
happened. He showed 8-6o. 


Hand 29 

Opponent now has $3,750 and I cover. I have K-K and raise to $150, 
he calls. Flop is 84-54-24. At the time I was hoping he was tilting 
from the last hand and would overplay his hand if he had some¬ 
thing here and bet out $300 when he checked to me, but he folded. 


169 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

To be considered is that he probably has two overcards, so I could 
give him a free card to trap him. However, that has disadvantages as 
he has to hit a six outer to trap himself and then we only have two 
streets to build a pot. If I bet the flop and he decides to overplay his 
hand then his whole stack is gone, which is what I was hoping for 
and the right thing to do here. Here the game broke up. 


Heads-up match #2, $25/50 vs. maniac, 
$5,000 starting stacks 


Hand 1 

I raise to $150 with AV-5V, opponent calls. Flop is 9*-jV-104, he 
checks and I check. It's easy for him to have a hand. Turn is the 94, 
check-check. River is the A4 and he bets $300. He appears to be 
happy with his hand and he could very well have checked a good 
hand on the flop or turn to trap me. But it's hard to put him on a 
specific hand that beats me and importantly if he has a pair of aces 
to have a better kicker he needs A-K or A-Q, which he'd reraise pre¬ 
flop - with all other pairs of aces we split the pot. I call, he has J-Q. 
His river bet simply makes no sense. So at this point I will be play¬ 
ing under the assumption he's bad. 


Hand 2 

K>-84, opponent raises to $150,1 call. The flop is K4-84-54; since he 
appears to be crazy there is no need to take the lead away from him, 
especially since I dominate the board. I check, he checks. Turn is the 
54, a bad card as it could make him a better hand, decreases the 
strength of mine, and most important of all, doesn't improve his 
hand. I check, he checks. River is the 2*, I bet $300, he folded. 


170 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 3 

Q*-2V, I raise to $150. It's a marginal hand but it's the beginning of 
the game and I want to establish myself as aggressive and take the 
lead in the game. He calls, flop is 6^-4>-84. Here I figured since it 
looks like he is the type of opponent who calls everything pre-flop, 
he probably doesn't have a good hand here. And even though I 
don't have anything he wouldn't be able to stand a bet. So I bet $300 
but he called. I guess that was a mistake as he appears to be the type 
of opponent who not only calls everything pre-flop but then is also 
crazy post-flop. 

The turn comes the A*. Then I figured that if he is crazy pre-flop 
and on the flop that means he still probably doesn't have a hand, the 
board is scary and the turn is a scare card. So I will go ahead and 
play more aggressively than him to muscle him out of the hand and 
here I bet pot for $900. It's quite possible for two opponents to be 
loose and aggressive and skilled, and then some pretty wacky hands 
can happen quite frequently. It involves a lot of aggression, bluffing, 
semi-bluffing and close decisions. That's what I was forcing myself 
into here, although it turns out the opponent is not skilled so strate¬ 
gically I didn't need to force these tough high variance decisions. He 
is loose and aggressive but not so skilled so I can just wait. In the 
hand he raised me to $1,800 and won the pot. 


Hand 4 

He raises to $150,1 fold K-2o. 


Hand 5 

I raise $150 with 2-2, he folds. 


171 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Hand 6 

He raises to $150,1 reraise to $450 with A-Qo. This is a standard re¬ 
raise for value because my hand is far better than his range of hands. 
The flop is 84-K>-2V, I bet $700 because since he appears to be 
wacky it will be tough to try and showdown ace high and win the 
hand, and so I want to bet and end it right away. He would try and 
steal it from me at some point if I checked and then if I wanted to 
fight him for it I'd have to put in significantly more than $700 to 
fight for the pot. He calls. 

The turn is the 6V, I check and he checks. Since he didn't raise the 
flop or bet the turn, there is a pretty decent chance he doesn't have a 
king. But the combination of the fact that he might have a king, and 
that he might call a river bluff even without a king makes my plan 
to check down and lose the pot. The river comes a queen. It's close 
and I want to bet but given that we've only played six hands so far 
my read doesn't seem strong enough to justify making such a thin 
value bet. The pot is pretty big by now; I reraised pre-flop and bet 
the flop and he called that, so if I'm going to bet the river it's going 
to be a sizeable bet and if I'm wrong quite costly. I checked and he 
checked behind 8-9s. 


Hand 7 

I fold 5-2o. 


Hand 8 

He raises to $150,1 call with J-9o. The flop is A*-2*-34,1 check and 
he bets $300. He's too aggressive for me to sit back and wait around, 
and this is a good spot. My read is that he raises a lot pre-flop, so 
there's a quite good chance he doesn't have an ace in his hand. And 
he will need an ace to continue vs. me if I raise. So I am playing the 
math here and raise him to $1,000, he folds. 


172 













Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 9 

I raise Q-3s and he reraises pot, I fold. 


Hand 10 

He raises to $150,1 call with Q-9o. I think he is loose and a suspi¬ 
cious type who will float me when I bet with weak hands so I lead 
out into him on the flop of 10V-10<£-9V for $300 and he calls. This is 
all part of the plan and I am happy as my hand is reasonably strong 
and he is loose so a medium strength hand is pretty good. 

The turn is the 24 and I'm pretty sure my hand is best so I bet $700 
here to get value and protect my hand, he calls. This is about the pot 
size I want to win with this strength of hand, as with a pot any big¬ 
ger and I'll have to worry that he's been trapping me. The river is 
the 54,1 check and he bets $550. Given the pot size it will be tough to 
fold here, especially given the first hand where he shows he makes 
bets that just don't make sense. I call and he has 10-8. There is noth¬ 
ing to be unhappy about here - it was a set up. He is a nutty player 
and he got a very good hand vs. my good hand, so it's inevitable 
that I'm going to lose money. In fact even though he won the hand 
I'm pretty happy as I could have easily lost more. He should have 
bet more on the river, and the board is draw heavy on straights and 
flushes so the fact that he wasn't aggressive with his good hand is 
promising. Rather than being upset about losing the pot I am excited 
about the rest of this match. 


Hand 11 

I open to $150 with J-6o and he calls. The idea is that since he plays 
bad pre-flop, I want to build the pot and take advantage of my posi¬ 
tion, and in my judgment he plays so bad that even raising with J-6o 
is profitable. He calls, the flop is 9*-Q4-10V, he check-calls my $300 
bet. The turn is the 44, he checks and I bet $900. My logic is again 
that he calls so much he could easily be weak and fold, and even if 


173 













Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

he calls it's okay because I probably have a good number of outs and 
vs. a player like this there are implied odds even though the draw is 
obvious. Also it allows me to maintain and build a quite aggressive 
image when in actuality it doesn't cost me much. 

He calls, the river is the 24. This is a reasonable spot to bluff again. 
The factors to consider are that he is probably weak and I could eas¬ 
ily have had a strong hand the whole way, but on the other hand he 
is loose. It's a close decision, and I have to be prepared for decisions 
like this when I play the way I did on the flop and turn. In the hand 
I checked and he checked behind with Q-7o. It's unclear what he 
would have done had I bet. 


Hand 12 

He opens to $150 and I fold J-7o. He is happy to play every pot I 
open out of position, so I'll focus on those pots and just try and play 
in position as much as I can. 


Hand 13 

I open to $150 with A-lOo and he calls. The flop is A4-94-JV, he 
checks and I bet $300 - obviously versus this opponent I will not 
trap or slow-play. He check-raises to $600 and I'm not sure what 
that means exactly but I feel pretty good about my hand. The turn is 
the 84 and he checks. Time to make a decision here - he is bad but is 
he so bad that if I get all my money in here I am happy? I don't think 
so, and since I have a good draw it would be bad to bet the turn and 
have to fold. Also by checking and being deceptive there is a definite 
chance it could trap this player for value on the river whereas on the 
turn he'd fold. So I opted to check behind. The river is the Q*, he 
checks I bet $1,050 and he called with A-3. Again his play is so bad 
and weird that it's unclear whether I should have bet the turn be¬ 
cause he's so bad or if he just made the bad play because he got con¬ 
fused by the turn action. 


174 












Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 14 

His stack is $6,000 now and I cover. He raises to $150,1 call with 
6V-5V. The flop is 94-8V-2V, I lead out $300 into him because I'd 
rather keep the flop to one bet than two. If I check against this op¬ 
ponent there is a good chance he not only bets but he calls my 
check-raise, which puts me in an awkward position for the turn, so I 
try to opt out of that by leading into him, and there's a good chance 
he'll call but my hand is so strong I don't lose much equity, and 
since I'm building the pot it's not bad at all. 

The turn comes the 9 <4, here I checked just because I didn't want to 
put more money in. However I didn't have a plan, and if I had taken 
the time to think out what my plan was I would have seen that had 
he bet I'd have to call, and there's a decent chance he'll bet here. Thus 
it makes more sense to just make the bet myself (and control the bet 
size), and also to gain some fold equity. The disadvantage is that he 
could raise, which would be quite bad. And in the game that's why I 
didn't bet -1 was afraid he had a 9 and would raise. In retrospect 
with more thought this fear seems unfounded based on how he 
played his previously. Earlier on when he had trip tens on the 10-10-9 
board he called me twice without raising me. In contrast when he had 
top pair on the flop the A-3 vs. my A-10 hand he raised the flop. Both 
those factors lead to the idea that I need not be afraid of a turn raise. 

I checked and he checked behind, which was nice. The river is the 
104 and now I have a decision to make. The timing on when he 
checked behind on the turn made me think he had an 8. The ten is a 
perfect scare card because the exact sort of hands people lead out on 
the 9-8-2 board are semi-bluffs like 10-Q, 10-J or 10-7. So I bet out 
$750 and he called with A-8. The fact that he would call there means 
my read on him and my play was bad, especially considering my 
read that he could have had a hand like 10-Q himself, and thus defi¬ 
nitely call my river bluff. There are two parts to reading a person - 
first there is reading what hand they have, and next what they are 
likely to do with it. My ability to read him for A-8 is useless if I can't 
then read that he's going to call me when I bluff. 


175 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

Hand 15 

I raise to $150 with Q-4s, he reraises pot and I fold. Against someone 
like him I want to wait until I get a better hand to make a stand be¬ 
cause not only will I be calling the pre-flop raise, if I want to go to 
showdown there is a good chance I'll need to invest a fair bit more. 
Also it appears as if there will be plenty of chances to play reraised 
pots with him pre-flop. 


Hand 16 

He raises to $150 and I fold JV-2V. Note the power of aggression. He 
keeps raising and reraising me and it works because this is HU and 
people don't get good hands often HU. Also note that his strategy of 
calling my bets a lot has worked for the same reason. It can be hard 
to play against someone who raises and calls a lot because playing 
HU you don't often get hands. 


Hand 17 

He now has $7,500 and I have $5,000.1 raise to $150 with 9V-7V, he 
calls. The flop is 104-84-3*, he check-calls a $250 bet. Turn is the J4, 
he check-calls $750. River is the 94 and he checks. Well, he could 
have a queen, a seven, two pair or a set and there is no way of 
knowing. On the basis that he is bad and likes to call with bad hands, 
and also on the basis that he cannot bluff me here because it's so 
risky and perhaps reckless for him, I went ahead and made a thin 
and aggressive value bet of $1,750, which he promptly proceeded to 
min-raise and I folded. 


Hand 18 

He now has $10,000 and I of course immediately reload my stack to 
$5,000. He opens to $150 and I call with 9V-JV. The flop is 24-4V-2V, it 
goes check-check. Turn is the 34 and with my two overcard outs and 


176 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


flush outs I lead out $250, he calls. Since he didn't bet the flop I think 
he is floating me with a weak hand on the turn. The river comes the 
64, which is a scary card for weak hands and overcards. Note how 
much easier this would be if my opponent was a predictable tight 
opponent - but he isn't, he's a loose unpredictable one who gives us 
tough decisions, like should we bluff here? 

The 64 seemed like such a good card to do so, so I bet $625, and he 
called with 6V-QV. So it turns out my read was right - he had some 
weird overcard hand not a good made hand, and he would have 
folded but he just happened to hit the river card, which was impos¬ 
sible for me to know. This was an okay line and I just got unlucky. 
You should be evaluating all the hands to see who is outplaying 
who and if you should keep playing someone, if you should quit the 
game because they are outplaying you, or if they are bad but their 
style somehow matches up well against you and you just need to 
adjust. 


Hand 19 

I open to $150 with J4-24, he reraises to $450,1 fold. Now it's obvi¬ 
ously time to really start adjusting my pre-flop play, and this per¬ 
haps should have been obvious to me the last time he reraised me 
but I will begin the adjustment now. Poker is a game of adjustments 
to opponents - if I had adjusted before this hand and realized I 
needed to tighten up pre-flop and limp and fold more against this 
opponent then I would have saved myself $150. 


Hand 20 

He opens to $150 and I fold K>-2¥. This is standard, now my plan is 
to tighten up and just wait for good hands pre-flop and get value 
post-flop. 


HI 












Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 21 

I open to $150 with A-Qo, he calls. Flop is 84-34-34, he checks and I 
bet $250 because my hand is probably best, and this opponent is bad 
enough to call me with worse. He calls, the turn is 8*, check-check. 
The river is 7V and he leads out $550. Given my read and thoughts 
on the flop, and also that the board texture is extremely dry, it's 
quite hard for him to have hit that flop so I think there's a good 
chance my hand is best and that he called the flop to represent a 
hand later on. So I call, he has 64-94. 


Hand 22 

He has $11,000 and I have $5,700 now. He opens to $150 and I re¬ 
raise to $450 with A-A; he folds. 


Hand 23 

I open to $150 with 7-8o and he calls. The flop is 104-64-104, he 
checks and even though I have a lot of outs he calls so much that I 
can't really profitably bet here. The turn is the 8V, he checks, and 
now my hand is almost surely good so I bet pot for value and he 
calls. The river is the 54, a good card in my opinion as I still think 
my hand is good so I bet as much as I think he'll call which is $700 
and he calls with 6-3s. 


Hand 24 

He opens to $150,1 fold 7*-104. My strategy is to play hands in posi¬ 
tion. 


Hand 25 

I open to $150 with 84-4*, he calls. The flop is 64-K4-24, he checks 


178 















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


and I want to build the pot or make him fold so I bet $300 and he 
calls. There are two reasons to bluff here - the combinations of him 
folding enough times to make it profitable and the times I outdraw 
him and the implied odds. The difference between this and hand 2-3 
is that the implied odds are better (I'm comfortable playing a bigger 
pot with a flush then a pair of eights) and I have more outs. 

He min-raises to $600 - not really sure what he has, but it's commit¬ 
ting too much with a flush draw and no overcard to reraise him and 
get it all in so I call and the turn is the 8V, he bets $650. After I call 
there will be about $3,100 in the pot. Semi-bluffing is a possibility 
here. I opted for less variance, wanted to hit my hand first and then 
get the money in later, which is possible vs. bad players, plus my 
hand could very well be good so I called. The river is the 9V he 
checks and I check. He shows 10-Q and losses. 


Hand 26 

I fold 2-4o. 


Hand 27 

He raises to $150,1 fold K-6o. 


Hand 28 

I fold 4-7o; normally I like to raise a lot pre-flop, regardless of my 
hand strength. And normally I can and do, but against this oppo¬ 
nent I need to adjust and fold more. 


Hand 29 


He raises to $150,1 fold K-2o. I can afford to play weak-tight pre¬ 
flop and give up equity because post-flop the opponent plays so bad 
and gives so much away there. 


179 














Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 30 

I limp with 4-8o. He checks, the flop is 10V-9*-2*, he checks, I check. 
Turn is the 64, he bets $100 and I fold. 


Hand 31 

He raises to $150,1 have 7*-7V. Reraising is a possibility for value 
and to mix it up but he is so loose it will be problematic to play post¬ 
flop. So I call, the flop is 2*-6*-6*. At this point my hand is probably 
good, and he calls a lot so I lead out for $250. He calls, the turn is the 
J<£, there is no reason to think the jack hit him, and no reason to 
think he had a hand as strong as a flush draw so I bet again for $600, 
he calls. The river is the 8*. I have a flush, but even against him this 
flush is too low to value bet. I check and he bets $850. The pot is 
$2,000. It looks like a value bet but given his history of making bets 
that make no sense it's a call because of the pot odds. He has 24-K* 
and wins. In retrospect there isn't much to regret though. We put 
$1,000 in when we were significantly ahead, then he got lucky 

Hand 32 

I raise to $150 with QV-jy, he calls, the flop is 9*-24-2*. He checks, I 
check. The turn is the 9*, he bets out $300 - it's not clear what he has 
but whenever I bet and raise he likes to call so I'll just wait until I 
have a hand and not bluff him here. 


Hand 33 

He raises to $150,1 call with A-2o. The flop is KV-34-3V, I check he 
bets $300. Again will just wait until I get a hand because he likes to 
pay them off. I fold. 


180 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 34 

I raise the button to $150 with 84-94, he calls. The flop is Q*-94-64, 
he checks and normally I'll check behind here with second pair for 
deception because generally only better hands call and worse hands 
fold or raise me out of the pot. However, given the opponent's ten¬ 
dency to call, I value bet $250 and he raised to $750. He could be 
semi-bluffing but even if he is he has so many outs (with a hand like 
10-K) that it's not worth it to call. I fold. 


Hand 35 

He raises to $150,1 fold 4♦-74. 


Hand 36 

I raise to $150 with Q-J and he calls. The flop is A4-84-A4, check- 
check. The turn is the 54, he leads out $300 and I fold. Basically we 
are getting a cold deck here, and there is nothing to do but wait it 
out and lose as little as we can. 


Hand 37 

He raises to $150 and I have K-Qo. I reraise to $450 for value and to 
mix it up to disguise my better hands. He folds. He's folded the two 
times I have reraised him pre-flop, so I should start reraising him 
more to take advantage of his weakness there. 


Hand 38 

I raise to $150 with 9-8o, he calls. Flop is 24-64-74, and he leads out 
into me for $300. I'm not sure what that means with him. So I'll take 
a standard line here and raise him. Calling him is also reasonable. I 
raise to $1,000, the idea being that I've made the decision I am 


181 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

happy to go all in vs. him with my two overcards and open ended 
straight draw. Probably what will happen is he will call or fold. And 
if he calls then I can take a free card on the turn. 

He calls, the turn is 2*, he checks, I check. The river is 2V, he bets 
$1,300 and I missed my draw, and there is no reason to think I can 
make a play here, and fold. Again we played fine but just didn't hit. 


Hand 39 

He raises to $150; I fold 34-Q*. 


Hand 40 

I open to $150 with K*-7*; he calls. The flop is KV-64-Q4,1 have top 
pair and will just value bet vs. this opponent. He folds, unfortu¬ 
nately. Some opponents are solid and if you bet with K-7 there you 
wouldn't even want a lot of action, but against this opponent we bet 
with the intention of getting action. 


Hand 41 

I fold 4-6o. 


Hand 42 

He raises to $150; I have 9-8o, and normally I'd call cause it's decent 
but strategically there is no reason. He calls all my bets when I'm on 
the button so I can just wait and only play those hands and my best 
hands OOP. 


After this he leaves. What happened here is that the opponent was 
bad, but his style was quite different from most people and hap¬ 
pened to match up well against how we played. It took too long to 


182 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


adjust, and we also made some imprecise plays and were unlucky. If 
he stayed forever that would be great, but alas he did not and thus 
we finished down over $5,000 to him. 


Heads-up match #3, $25/50, 
$5,000 starting stacks 


Hand 1 

He opens to $150,1 fold 6-9o. 


Hand 2 

I raise A-5o to $150, he folds. 


Hand 3 

He opens to $150,1 fold 6-9o again. 


Hand 4 

I raise 6-8o to $150, he calls. The flop is A4-QV-5*, he checks and I 
bet $250. A check is reasonable, too, especially given the board as 
opposed to if it was A-3-5 where it's less likely he has paired up. It's 
also possible he'll just fold his pair immediately. He called in the 
game. Turn is the 9V; I just have a gutshot draw, which isn't many 
outs to semi-bluff with, at this point I have pretty much given up on 
winning the pot. River comes a JV and he leads out $425, and given I 
have no read it is quite risky to try and bluff raise him so I fold. 


183 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 5 

He raises to $150,1 call with 8*-Q*, a standard call. The flop is 
A*-104-24,1 check, he bets $300 and I fold. 


Hand 6 

I raise J-3o to $150 and he folds. 


Hand 7 

He raises to $150 and I fold 9-2o. 


Hand 8 

I raise K-5o to $150, he folds. 


Hand 9 

He raises 2¥-84 to $150 and I fold. Tve been playing pretty tight so 
far so I am looking to take advantage of that soon by reraising him 
pre-flop as a bluff. 


Hand 10 

I raise Q-lOs to $150, he folds. 


Hand 11 

He raises to $150; I fold 9-4o. I am tempted to raise but this hand is 
just too weak, especially against an unknown. 


184 

















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 12 

I limp with 8 - 60 , he checks. Flop is 2*-9*-KV, he checks and I bet $75 
as I would on any flop he checked to me. Fie folds. 


Hand 13 

Fie folds. 


Hand 14 

I open to $150 with K-3o, he calls. Flop is 10*-34-4y, he checks and I 
check. If I bet and he calls me I will not be happy and if he folds it 
won't help me too much so I check to see how things go. The turn is 
the he leads out $300. This is a good board for him to semi-bluff 
with ace high, since he has the gutshot draw, which gives him four 
additional outs. Since I checked the flop I think he could be bluffing 
or semi-bluffing so I call. The river is the 8 *, he leads out $425. On 
the turn I made a decision that I was probably ahead, but on the 
river I have no information, and his bet felt like he was value betting 
so I folded. 


Hand 15 

Fie folds. 


Hand 16 

I fold 3-8o. 


Hand 17 

Fie raises to $150 and I call with 104-9*, which is standard. This 
hand deserves to be played FiU. A reraise as a bluff is to be consid- 


185 
















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

ered but he's won all the pots so far and when people are winning 
they can loosen up with their extra money and also play better, so 
that is a bad time to be reraise bluffing out of position with a mar¬ 
ginal hand. The flop is 24-34-K4,1 check and he checks. The turn is 
the 44; this is a bad card to bluff because if he has ace high he can 
call now. If the turn was the 7«4 then to call with ace high he would 
have to think he's best a good amount of the time. Now he can think 
that he has the best hand a little bit of the time and the other times 
that he can outdraw me. So I check, he checks. The river is the 7*, 
I'm not sure what he has now - I think it could be nothing but in this 
situation I don't really need to risk a lot to bluff. If he has any pair at 
all he might call a full pot bet because we checked all the previous 
streets. If he has a high card he will probably fold to me, and fold to 
any bet at all. A big bet isn't necessary vs. him if he just has a jack 
high, queen high, and maybe ace high. So I bet $50, he folded. 


Hand 18 

I raise to $150 with 10-6o, he calls. The flop is J4-KV-64, he checks, 
and I check too. If he calls I'm probably beat. The turn comes the 34. 
He leads out $200; this bet could be any sort of made hand, his hand 
range is wide here. Since his hand range is wide and not strong this 
is a good opportunity to bluff raise him. There are also draws on this 
board, so a few things could happen here. He could call me with a 
strong made hand, like a pair of kings. He could fold a weaker made 
hand like a pair of jacks. Or he could call me with a straight or flush 
draw. If he calls me with a draw that is good because he doesn't 
have pot odds - he thinks he has implied odds but he really doesn't 
because we aren't giving him any more action. The problem with 
this play arises in a couple of cases - first when we misjudged his 
hand range and he has a strong hand a lot of the time or when he 
calls us with a weak made hand a lot of the time. In this case he 
folded. 


186 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 19 

He raises to $150 and I have K4-104 and reraise to $500. Raising to 
$500 here in itself is probably a breakeven play more or less, but I 
want to ensure that he gives me action when I reraise with a good 
hand. The reason I raised to $500 and not $450 is I wanted to try and 
get him to fold, but he calls (which isn't really too bad). The flop is 
104-Q4-4*, I check and he checks. 

The turn is the 54, it seems like my hand is best and there are a fair 
number of cards that are bad for me - a nine, a jack, or an ace. Not 
only that but on the flop if I checked and he bet there's a decent 
chance I'd just fold. However, on the turn since he checked behind 
on the flop there is more doubt in my mind (and fewer streets to 
build a pot and force me out) so I am willing to put a bet into the pot. 
I have to decide what is better, to check-call or to bet and get called. 
Betting and getting called is a better way to get money into the pot 
so I do. He calls, the river is the Ay. 

This is an interesting spot to bet because after he calls the turn there 
is a fair chance he has a pair of queens. It could be A-Q in which case 
he is calling my bet, but it could also be Q-K or Q-J or even Q-9, in 
which case he folds. Even if he has a hand like A-J that was peeling 
the flop lightly because he thought he might be ahead, and even if 
he wasn't he could outdraw me, he will have a hard time calling. 
He'll have a hard time calling because I'll bet close to the pot at 
about $2,300, and also because after I reraised pre-flop and bet so big 
on such a high coordinated board that is showing a lot of strength, 
and it's completely consistent and believable. In the end though I 
decided not to bluff because my hand could be good now, and if it 
isn't my bluff is mainly to make him fold a pair of queens 

However, after further consideration a bet is best because there is 
little downside since his hand range is so wide and weak. He could 
have a pocket pair J-J or below tens that can't call my bet or 
wouldn't be able to bluff me. He can have a straight draw or flush 
draw and if he had the flush draw with ace high there is very little 
chance he can call my bet - the only thing he has that is good is the 


187 











Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

K-J but that is just one hand. A-4 and A-5 which would give him 
two pair he probably folds pre-flop or on the turn. A-Q gives us 
trouble but there are fewer hand combinations of A-Q than there are 
of Q-K, and we can also combine Q-K and Q-J to give us a lot more 
combos of pairs of queens he could have that will fold the river in¬ 
stead of call. 

After I checked he bet $825, apparently a small value bet from a 
small made hand like A-K, A-J or A-x with a flush draw. It could be 
a big hand making a small bet to be tricky and gain value but as we 
already established from hand reading it's hard for him to have two 
pair. It's probably not a pair of queens going for a thin value bet, as 
it takes a special kind of player to make such an aggressive value bet 
and they are not too common. He could also have some random 
hand that is impossible to put him on. Given that we're getting such 
good pot odds of 3/1 a call is justified. Although given his hand 
ranges it makes sense to check-raise all-in because a likely hand for 
him to have is a bare pair of kings, and given the scary board and 
our reraise pre-flop and turn bet, it would look strong. However, I 
ended up folding because I had vague worries about him value bet¬ 
ting a pair of queens, and if that's true it widens his hand range 
significantly and makes it a fold. But after thinking things through 
it's clear he isn't betting a queen so I should have at least called. He 
showed 7-6s. 


Hand 20 

It's important now to tilt as little as possible. He might think we are 
tilting so we should take advantage of that by making thinner value 
bets. Also the fact that he would underbet bluff the river there and 
show a bluff is a bad play and it made me lose respect for the oppo¬ 
nent so I will adjust accordingly. I have K-Jo and raise to $150, he 
calls. Flop is K*-104-Q4, he check-folds when I bet $300, my hand 
was pretty good so I wanted value. 


188 











Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 21 

He folds. Sometimes people loosen up after winning because they 
have a big stack and don't realize the value of the money any more 
since there is so much, and sometimes they tighten up to protect 
their winnings. This is an indication he is tightening up but we will 
learn more soon. 


Hand 22 

I raise to $150 with K-6o, he calls. The flop is 84-54-JV; he checks and 
I check. The turn is the 44; he checks and I check. The river is the 94, 
he bets $175, kind of suspicious but I'm not sure, and without a read 
bluffs are bad so I fold. 


Hand 23 

He limps, I check with 44-94; the flop is A4-4V-54; I check fold to his 
$100. Just because I hit something doesn't mean I need to continue - 
it's a weak made hand with not many outs (if I'm behind), and I'm 
out of position. 


Hand 24 

I raise to $150 with 8-6o, he folds. 


Hand 25 

He raises to $150,1 fold 4-5o. 


Hand 26 

I fold 4-2o. 


189 
















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 27 

He folds. 


Hand 28 

I raise 4*-9* to $150, he calls. The flop is A4-10V-Q4, he checks and 
he checked so fast it felt like he was just hurrying to get to the next 
hand because he had nothing, so I bet $250, he folded. 


Hand 29 

He raises to $150,1 fold 10-6o. 


Hand 30 

I raise to $150 with QV-7V, he calls. The flop is 24-10V-24, he checks 
and I check. Since I've raised pre-flop a fair amount I think he will 
be suspicious of me on a board like 2-2-10 since it is so uncoordi¬ 
nated it's unlikely I hit. The turn is the 64, he leads out $300 and I 
fold, not much I can do there. 


Hand 31 

He raises to $150 and I fold J-3o. 


Hand 32 

Now he has $7,000 and I have $5,000.1 raise to $150 with 44-54 and 
he folds. 


Hand 33 

He raises to $150 and I have 10-4o and fold. It's about time to reraise 
him again to mix it up but we need some semblance of a hand. 


190 

















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 34 

I raise 8-60 to $150, he folds. 


Hand 35 

He folds. 


Hand 36 

I fold 4*-10<£. It would be quite easy to raise here with the mindset 
of "I'm here to win money." But I'm playing to simply play the 
game of poker and play the game as best I can. Sometimes when 
playing the game as best I can I have to lose money, as if I'm getting 
bad cards I can't force myself to win money - it doesn't work like 
that. I just have to keep playing my best and be proud of that, and as 
a result money will come. 


Hand 37 

He folds. 


Hand 38 

I raise 4*-9* to $150. The way I like to break people down is by ap¬ 
plying pressure to them, annoying them, and forcing them to fight 
back and do something. He calls, the flop is 5V-74-Q*, he checks and 
I check. The turn is the 10V, he bets $300 and I fold. That is okay; if 
he is going to bet all the turns after I check the flop I can adjust. 


Hand 39 

He folds. 


191 
















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 40 

I fold 2-9o. 


Hand 41 

He raises to $150,1 have 10-10. Calling is reasonable and so is raising, 
but I choose to raise because I almost certainly have the best hand, 
and since he called me before when I reraised, I thought he'd call 
again. He folded. 


Hand 42 

I raise to $150 with Q-8o, he folds. 


Hand 43 

He raises to $150,1 reraise to $450 with 9-9.1 reraised because my 
hand is almost certainly better than his hand. Also because I am not 
afraid of playing this person out of position with a tricky hand like 
9-9. He calls, the flop comes K*-Q*-Q4,1 check and he checks. There 
is not much for me to accomplish with a bet. The turn is the 7V, I 
check and he checks, again there is not much for me to do with a bet. 
The river is the A*, I check he checks and mucks 6-7s. Note how vs. 
a good player we would have lost this pot (and also how our reraise 
preflop would have created problems for us post-flop) but against 
him we won money and had no problems. That should make us 
happy to be in this game. This hand is a good example of where we 
just won $450 not because of how the cards happened to fall, but be¬ 
cause we play better than our opponent and we earned the $450. 
Now we have good momentum which means I will play better and 
he will play worse. 


192 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 44 

I raise to $150 with A-8o, he calls. The flop is Q4-K>-3V, we both 
check. The turn is the 104 and he leads out $200. He keeps leading 
out when I check behind the flop and he can't always have a good 
hand, also he bet less here than normal which could be weakness, 
and also we have outs, so I chose here to semi-bluff raise pot to $900. 
He folded. 


Hand 45 

He raises to $150,1 fold K-4o. 


Hand 46 

I limp with 2-5s, he raises to $150 and since I have the momentum 
and am playing well and have position I call - if it wasn't suited I 
would fold. The flop is 2*-j4-34, he bets $300.1 have position, a pair 
and am not convinced that he has anything so I call the $300. The 
turn is the 5V and he leads out $450. We have two pair which, HU, is 
quite a strong hand, but still he bet just $450 and we both have 
$5,000 left so if we are going to get it all-in that is a lot more, and 
also our two pair is a low two pair. We have to decide if we are 
happy to get it all-in here. Given that he doesn't seem to be too 
skilled an opponent, and that it's a little hard to put him on a better 
hand, it would be okay to get all in. Also our hand is quite vulner¬ 
able, so I raised to $1,700 and he folded. 


Hand 47 

He folds. 


Hand 48 

I raise to $150 with 8-10, he folds. I have $7,000 and he has $5,000. 


193 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 49 

He folds. 


Hand 50 

I open to $150 with 5-Qo, he reraises to $450 and I fold. 


Hand 51 

He raises to $150.1 fold K-9 (which I wouldn't normally do but my 
computer crashed!). 


Hand 52 

He folds. 


Hand 53 

I fold 3-2o. 


Hand 54 

He raises to $150,1 fold 3-6s. HU big cards are good and small suited 
cards don't have that much value. Playing HU a bad strategy is to 
call pre-flop with speculative hands, hope they hit, and hope you get 
a lot of money into the pot when they do hit - because most of the 
time they won't hit and you will just have to fold and lose your pre¬ 
flop investment. In HU hold'em if you are going to loosen up pre¬ 
flop you have to also loosen up post-flop and fight for more pots. 


Hand 55 

I raise to $150 with 8-6s, he folds. 


194 

















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 56 

He raises to $150.1 fold 10-7. 


Hand 57 

I raise to $150 with Q-6, he reraises to $450,1 fold. I've been opening 
a lot pre-flop so his last two reraises of me were good skillful ad¬ 
justments by him, which cost me some money. 


Hand 58 

He folds. 


Hand 59 

I fold 5-2o. 


Hand 60 

He raised to $150, and I called with 7*-9*. I check and he bets $300 
on a board of 94-54-5*. Normally I would call because it's not that 
strong a hand but since the board was so dry I thought a raise might 
be deceptive and look like a bluff. In retrospect I probably just 
wanted to mix it up and build a big pot because I was bored from all 
the inaction. He called, which was my plan, but really it is a suspect 
plan. My standard line of calling is good for a reason, and there's a 
reason why I almost always do it instead of raising. The reason is 
that my hand isn't that good and once he calls me I can't be too 
happy. 

The turn comes the 5V, I check and he bets $525. My hand is de¬ 
cently strong and with those pot odds a call is quite reasonable. He 
could have a pair of nines, some wacky bluff or a low pocket pair 
protecting his hand and going for a free showdown on the river. I 


195 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

called, the river is the Q4,1 check and he bets $2,400. Given the inac¬ 
tion in the game so far, and the fact that I'm still down $500,1 really 
wanted to call to win a pot and to see a showdown and almost did. 

Fortunately, however, I took some time to think it through. He 
called my flop bet and then made a small value bet on the turn then 
bet big on the river. That is basically him showing strength, and my 
hand is quite mediocre. It's quite possible he has a pocket pair above 
nines, and even possible he has quad fives because the flop wasn't 
5-5-5, so it's more likely he has a 5 in his hand. Also his turn bet 
makes sense with a five because his hand is so strong he is trying to 
get any action he can, unafraid of any cards that come. I folded and 
he won the pot. 


Hand 61 

I raise to $150 with K-2o, he calls. The flop is KV-K>-34, he check- 
folds to a $250 bet. Checking is reasonable, too. Note that we don't 
flip a coin to randomize the decision so we become "unreadable" 
and "unexploitable" by the opponent. Since we are better than the 
opponent we out-think him and keep adding in pieces of informa¬ 
tion and analysis until we can decide which is a better play in this 
specific hand. 


Hand 62 

He folds. 


Hand 63 

I fold 10-3o. 


Hand 64 

He raises to $150,1 call with 2-2. The flop is A*-QV-4*, I check, he 


196 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


checks. The turn is the J4,1 check, he bets $300,1 fold. The board is 
so coordinated and my hand is so weak this is an easy fold. 


Hand 65 

I raise to $150 with J-9o, he calls. The flop is 2^-A«£-10V, he checks, I 
bet $300, he folds. It's good to continuation bet bluff some of the 
time. 


Hand 66 

I have Q*-10*, he raises to $150 and I reraise to $475, he folds. It's 
okay if he folds or calls and it's also an okay play for me to flat call. I 
reraised here because he plays badly, so I'd rather he played badly 
with me in a big reraised pot than in a small pot so I can win more 
money faster. 


Hand 67 

I raise to $150 with Q-7o, he folds. 


Hand 68 

He folds. Now I have $6,700 and he has $5,300. 


Hand 69 

I fold 2-8o. 


Hand 70 

He folds. 


197 
















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 


Hand 71 

I fold 9-3o. 


Hand 72 

He folds. 


Hand 73 

I limp with A4-9* to mix it up. He was losing and we had just 
played a lot of small pots so I thought he might get frustrated when 
I limped and raise me, and then I could reraise him with position. 
He checked. The flop is 10*-84-Ky, he checks, I check. The turn is 
the j¥. He bets $100,1 fold. 


Hand 74 

He folds. 


Hand 75 

I raise A-Qo to $150, he folds. 


Hand 76 

He raises to $150,1 call with 10-8 - it's not the best hand but I ha¬ 
ven't called many of his raises so he should give my call a little re¬ 
spect, which will give me room to manoeuvre post-flop. The flop is 
54-44-4*, I check, he checks behind. The turn is the J4 and this is my 
opportunity to try and take it after he checked, so I bet $275 and he 
calls. Maybe he hit a pair of jacks - that is most likely and it will be 
very unlikely that I can push him off it so I pretty much give up on 
the hand at this point. The river is the 24,1 check fold to his $450 bet. 


198 
















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 77 

I raise 54-94 to $150, he calls. The flop is 4V-64-J4, we both check. 

The turn is the K4, he checks. He kept betting when I checked on the 
flop, so now he doesn't bet I interpret it as him having no hand so I 
bluff $300 and he folds. Unless he has a pair of jacks or kings it's 
hard for him to call and given his history of betting out on the turn 
so much it seems like he would lead out with kings or jacks. 


Hand 78 

He folds. 


Hand 79 

I win with a raise to $150 with 94-24. 


Hand 80 

He raises to $150,1 fold K-7o. 


Hand 81 

I fold 6-2o. 


Hand 82 

He folds. 


Hand 83 

I raise to $150 with A-K; he calls. The flop is 7*-K4-7V. Some people 
always bet here, and a smaller group of people always check here. 
Some people might say flipping a coin to randomize is the best thing 


199 

















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

to do but none of them are right. The best player first of all adjusts to 
his opponent and for some opponents a bet is better here, and for 
some a check is better. And they also adjust to how the game has 
been playing lately to make this decision. Versus this opponent a 
check is probably better since he seems to bet out on the turn so 
much. If an opponent doesn't bluff often it's better to just bet the 
flop and try and get value. Some opponents are smart and if they 
have J-10 and hit a pair of tens on the turn won't lose a lot of money 
because they will see our flop check for what it was, a trap. Others 
will lose money. These are some factors to consider in whether to bet 
or check here. I bet, but that was an impatient mistake - as I said 
since he bets out on the turn so much this is a good spot to check. 


Hand 84 

He raises to $150,1 fold 4-10o. 


Hand 85 

I fold Q-2o. 


Hand 86 

He raises to $150,1 fold 5-6o. He's playing okay poker but I can out- 
wait him. Also he played bad in our one big pot earlier and it's only 
a matter of time before he does the same again. 


Hand 87 

I raise 5<£-94 to $150, he calls. The flop is J<£-6V-7<£, he checks, I check. 
The turn is the 9*, he checks, I check. A reason not to bet here is be¬ 
cause our hand could be good and because we have draws and if he 
raises us on this sort of drawy board it could be a semi-bluff. How¬ 
ever this opponent seems to be quite passive. Because of that fact a 


200 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


bet should be considered to gain value against worse made hands 
and draws or combinations of the two, and to prevent him bluffing 
me on the river, and also we then have flexibility in how we play the 
river if he calls us and has a better hand. However, I didn't think 
through all that and just checked, which is my standard play. The 
river is the 34, he led out $300 and I folded. This is a close decision 
but he doesn't have a history of bluffing a lot so I folded - it's impor¬ 
tant to play precise poker and save these small- to medium-sized 
bets when possible. 


Hand 88 

He folded. 


Hand 89 

I fold 9-2o. 


Hand 90 

He folds. Now I have $7,000 and he has $5,000. 


Hand 91 

I fold 4-3o. 


Hand 92 

He raises to $150,1 call with K*-5<4; this is a standard call as K-xs is a 
decent hand. The flop is KV-74-44; I check, he checks. The turn is the 
54; this is a good time to check. I want to get as much money into the 
pot as I can and after I check two times it becomes more tempting 
for him to bet. The board is kind of coordinated so he can bet the 
turn with a lot of made hands, draws, and combos of them both. 


201 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

And when I check-raise given the drawy nature of the board he 
won't know whether I have a made hand or am semi-bluffing. 

I check, he bet $300 and I check-raised the pot to $1,200, which he 
called. The river is the 9*, so now it's time to bet as much as I think 
he'll call, which felt like $2,400. He called with K-9, and made a bad 
play by calling my turn check-raise. He got tricked by my play and 
should have just folded as he's either behind or I have a lot of outs. 


Hand 93 

I fold J-6o. Now I have $8,200, he has $3,200. 


Hand 94 

He raises to $150,1 fold 10V-3V. 


Hand 95 

I limp with 5*-74,1 thought he might be steaming and more likely to 
call my raise or reraise me and 5-7o isn't a good hand to deal with 
those possibilities. He checked. The flop is 7V-54-24, he bet $100. It 
felt like he had nothing so I wanted to let him hang himself and just 
called. Raising the flop is the standard play, as there are straight and 
flush draws that both outdraw us and also ruin our action. But the 
reason I just called was because he was probably steaming and had 
nothing and if he had absolutely nothing just calling is the right play. 
The turn is the Qv and he check-folds. 


Hand 96 

He raises to $150,1 fold Q-4o. 


202 














Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 97 

I raise 9-9 to $150, he folds. 


Hand 98 

He raises to $150,1 fold J-4o. 


Hand 99 

I raise K-lOo to $150, he folds. 


Hand 100 

He raises to $150,1 have A-A . Normally this is a reraise but given 
that he has raised every hand since losing the big pot and is appar¬ 
ently tilting, he probably does not have a hand so it's unclear what 
he'll do against a reraise (probably fold). Also since he is tilting he 
will probably commit too much to a pot post-flop with one pair 
hands or top pair hands. So I just called. 

The flop is A*-94-104,1 check and he checks. The turn is the 2V and I 
lead out. A check-raise might be a nice play here but it's pretty risky 
that he'll check behind pairs of tens and nines that he might call my 
bet with. Also he'd fold those to a check-raise, which is bad, so we 
just bet out. He calls and the river is the A4. From his perspective 
this is a mixed card - it makes it less likely we hold an ace but it 
does make the flush which is something we could have had. There is 
nothing we can do here but bet and hope he calls. I bet $750 and he 
called with K-lOo, so clearly he is tilting. 


Hand 101 

I open 10-Jo to $150, he reraises me to $450, and strategically there is 
no reason to force marginal situations now. He is playing very badly. 


203 















Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

I don't want to let him double up and then he will start playing bet¬ 
ter. It's much better here to play tight and wait for a clear winning 
situation. I folded. 


Hand 102 

He folds. 


Hand 103 

I fold 5-2o. Now he has $2,000 and I have $10,000. 


Hand 104 

He raises to $150,1 fold K-7o. 


Hand 105 

I raise Jy-Q* to $150, he folds. 


Hand 106 

He raises to $150,1 fold 3-6o. 


Hand 107 

I raise 8*-6* to $150, he folds. 


Hand 108 

He folds. 


204 

















Other Concepts and Hand Histories 


Hand 109 

I fold 4-6o. 


Hand 110 

He raises to $150,1 call with A-5o. It's reasonable to fold this hand 
pre-flop, but here I call since he's playing bad, and also since he only 
has 40 big blinds that will make our decisions easier if we hit top 
pair. I call, the flop is 4V-24-84, I check, he checks. The turn is the 3*. 
I don't think he's calling, and if he has nothing I want to give him 
the chance to hit something, and if he has something a check-raise 
line here is nice too for trying to win more money. He checks behind, 
the river is the 34. It doesn't seem like he has anything to call my bet. 
So I tried to trap him for a bluff again, or if he did have something I 
can check-raise and he will probably call, which is key to this play, 
since our check-raise looks so suspicious. Unfortunately he checked 
behind with ace high. That is a hand we missed value in as he 
probably was calling a turn bet with his two overcards and straight 
outs, and also he might have even called the river on such a dry 
board with ace high. 


Hand 111 

I raise to $150 with 10-8o, he folds. 


Hand 112 

He raises to $150,1 call with Q-K. It's reasonable to raise but if he 
goes all-in (which is relatively easy for him because of his stack size) 
things are awkward for me. Also vs. this bad opponent a low 
variance approach is good so he doesn't get a chance to get even and 
play better or leave. The flop is Q*-8«4-jV; this is a good situation to 
win all of his remaining $2,000.1 have a good hand, good enough to 
go all-in with and the board is coordinated so he can have lesser 


205 














Secrets of Short-handed No Limit Hold’em 

hands. There are a lot of hands here that will check behind on the 
flop like a pair of jacks or eights, or a pair and a gutshot straight 
draw, or an overcard and gutshot straight draw so I bet out $250 
and he called. 

The turn is the 6* and there is no way to trap him really, although in 
a way we have by betting out on the flop when he is tilting and a lot 
of the time people lead with semi-bluffs. If we check here it makes a 
lot of sense for him to check behind with all of the hands we want to 
gain value against so we just have to bet out again and have him 
make a decision. So I bet $800 and he went all-in, and I called obvi¬ 
ously. He had A-J and lost his last money. 


206