Preflop Leaks - Poker Strategy
Apart from bad calls and bad bluffs, a great part of your winrate against other regulars is decided by things less obvious. When compared to the hands you play against fish, you will see a lot less showdowns against these better players, and it is not always easy to see exactly why a player is winning or losing more than you although you hardly ever see a showdown. Identifying these mistakes (leaks) in someone's game can be very profitable, not just because you often play against other regulars, but also because it can often take a while before a player detects this sort of leak in his own game. Often a player will be unaware of this leak because he doesn't realise he's losing money with it, and he will only realise his mistake once someone makes him aware of it. Today I will discuss a couple of preflop leaks that I often come across against other regulars, how you can exploit these leaks and how you can identify them in your own game.
Flatcalling too many hands against steal attempts
When playing against aggressive preflop raisers in late position (button and cutoff), it is essential for your own game to defend your own blinds aggressively. If you give up these pots too often while the same opponent will play back at you aggressively after your open-raise on the button, then you will lose money as a result of this. The mistake a lot of players make when trying to defend their blinds is that they too often just flatcall. Against good opponents it can be very difficult to play marginal hands out of position with 100BB stacks profitably, even though your hands might be stronger than his opening range. The positional advantage when playing with 100BB stacks is much more important than your hand which might be a little stronger than your opponent's before the flop.
If I know there is a player sitting in the big blind who will often flat call me and try to play 2-bet pots against me out of position, I will start opening more loosely. In most of the cases my opponent will not hit, and that combined with my position and my role in the pot as the preflop aggressor will often enable me to pick up the pot here without having to see a showdown.
The best way to defend yourself against aggressive open raisers is to re-raise more hands, rather than just flatcalling. You will often just pick up the pot here because your opponent will be raising here with a very wide range. If he does call, you still have a hand with value, and if you keep up your preflop aggression after the flop you can often still pick up the pot at a later stage in the hand. This strategy will also widen your re-raising range, as a result of which your monster hands will get paid off more often.
You can easily identify these leaks with the help of some useful statistics. A program like HoldemManager will give you statistics about a player's SB Defend Steal % (normal percentage is around 13%), SB Reraise Steal % (9%), BB Defend Steal % (16%) and BB Reraise Steal % (9%). You do need to make sure to select button/cutoff as the position of the first raiser in the handfilter, otherwise the program will also include blind battles in its stats.
Mistakes with implied odds
When calculating preflop implied odds players often make mistakes. One example: a regular opens on the button to 3.5 x BB and you are looking at in the big blind. You will flop a set about 1 in 9 times, and seeing as you will have a hard time winning a pot with if you don't improve on the flop, we are only playing this hand for setvalue. You invest 9 x 2.5BB = 22.5BB. Therefore, if you do flop a set, you need to make sure to win at least 22.5BB in order to make the call profitable. However, the average regular will open about 1 in 3 hands on the button, and against a wide range like that you will never win 22.5BB every time you hit your set. Players often talk about the 5/10 rule, which means that if you invest less than 5% of your stack preflop, it's always a call, and if you invest more than 10% it's always a fold. But in my opinion it's much more about the range of your opponent. The tighter an opponent plays, the better your implied odds and the more hands you can play.
An even bigger mistake that is often made is calling re-raises with these implied odds hands. A normal re-raise will require you to call (roughly) an extra 8.5BB, which means that you will have to stack your opponent every time you hit if you want to make the call profitable. Even if this opponent only re-raises with AK and QQ+, this is a –EV move, as even with a tight range like this you won't get paid off every time you hit the flop.
If I see a player regularly calling re-raises with small pocket pairs I will immediately make a note about this. You can now re-raise this player with all kinds of hands, because he calls preflop thinking he has good implied odds and will often fold if he misses. In reality he is completely wrong here because you are re-raising with all kinds of hands and as a result, your opponent is making a huge mistake. It's better to call a re-raise with a suited connector than with a pocket pair, seeing as you will flop something more often, and even though you wont always hit a monster, it will often be good enough to play back at a wide re-raising range. The best is still to call re-raises with hands that can flop good top pair-style hands, seeing as the money will often go in pretty comfortably in re-raised pots with only one pair.
A new statistic in HoldemManager is the Vs-3bet-fold%. This stat can be very handy but also inconvenient. The average value for regulars is my database is 65%, but I know that two different player, both of whom have a value of 65%, re-raise with different kind of hands. With players who are close to this average it is difficult to find out their hand ranges from this information, so you will have to make additional notes, but for players who deviate a lot from this average it will be easier to determine their hand ranges.
Raising too much with (good) shortstacks at the table
Especially on PokerStars you find many winning shortstackers who buy in with 20BB, which can be very irritating if you're sitting at the table with 100BB, because is it next to impossible to win money from a good shortstacker. While he will always be playing with an effective stack of 20BB, the rest of the table will constantly have to switch between 100BB and 20BB, which has a big impact on preflop hand selection. Most of the money made by shortstackers comes from winning money preflop, without seeing a showdown, by re-raising all-in against a wide opening range. In order to defend yourself against this you can start playing tighter and opening smaller. If, for example, you are on the button and you have two shortstacks in the blinds, make a minraise instead of raising to 3-4 x BB, and stop opening with deepstack garbage hands like 5-2s. This way you can call all-ins more often and lose less if you have to fold, while not much changes for the shortstack seeing as he will fold to a 2BB raise almost just as often as to a 4BB raise.
3-betting when there is more value in a call
The thought that exerting aggression is a fundamental part of playing winning poker is basically true, but you don't always have to play raise-or-fold. Preflop there are often situations where it is better to just flatcall, but instead players often re-raise while this is a less profitable play.
Players usually take a very tight approach when confronted with a re-raise out of position, because it can be very difficult to play a big pot against an aggressive opponent profitably. Hands that play well against somebody's opening range don't necessarily play well against someone's range with which he calls a 3-bet out of position. Take , for example, a hand like KQ against a cutoff raiser. If you re-raise here, not many worse hands (like KJ and QJ) will call here, although your hand plays very well against this opening range.
Another situation in which you would rather flatcall than re-raise is if you expect a multiway pot to form. Your position now doesn't play that big a role because multiway pots are usually less aggressive because there is a bigger chance that somebody hit a good flop. Furthermore, by flatcalling, you invite more bad players into the pot because they think they now get better pot odds. This is also a concept that is often misunderstood: although your pot odds obviously go up when more people are in the pot, your chances of winning also go down.
Another example: If the button raises and a fish in the small blind calls, it isn't interesting for you to re-raise with a hand like 56s or 44. There is a lot of value in a flatcall, and if you re-raise the button will often call because he is expecting a 3-way pot with a bad player involved, and he is in position. The fish will call often enough with any pocket pair or two face cards, and it will be hard to get him off his hand once he hits, something you don't want when playing a hand for fold equity.
A third situation is when a player limps in a 6-max game. Every regular will assume that this is a bad player and will try to isolate him (raising with the intention to come heads-up against the limper) with a wide range of hands. You wont always need a monster to play back at his range here, but especially when you have position it is again better to flatcall and play a 3-way pot against two wide ranges. Although you will often pick up the pot with a re-raise preflop here, this way you keep the fish on the hook, which can often lead to more winnings.
Limping in the Small Blind
Players who limp are, in most cases, weak, and good players will almost always raise against players limping in the small blind. Forget about your 3:1 pot odds. Although it might look very appealing, it doesn't compensate for your positional disadvantage in this common situation. When playing in the small blind against the big blind, knowing that there's a good player in the big blind, I will only raise or fold, and if a player in the small limps limps to me in the big blind I will always raise preflop or bet the flop, depending on the game flow. With this I mean that if I just raised him three times in a row in this position, the fourth time I would rather bet the flop than raise again preflop. By doing this you force your opponent to play a larger pot out of position, and you will find that there is a lot of fold equity in these bets.
4-betting too big
Once you have some 3- and 4-bet history with a player you might want to start bluffing him every now and then. A normal re-raise is usually around 12BB, and when playing with stacks of 100BB, a 4-bet to 27BB is usually enough to make an opponent play push-or-fold. If you do this with all your hands, it will be impossible for your opponent to distinguish your bluffs from your monsters. This way you save money on your bluffs and still get max value out of your monsters (seeing as your opponent is playing push or fold). You do need to make sure not to bet too little as some payers might have the tendency to flatcall, leading to some strange pots postflop.
4-betten with the wrong hands
Because almost all preflop 4-betting situations are played push-or-fold, there is nothing wrong with having a polarised range. This means that, when 4-betting, it doesn't matter whether you're doing this with a monster or a complete bluff. If your opponent rarely flatcalls, and you will fold your JJ to a shove anyway, it doesn't matter whether you're playing JJ or 32o. However, hands like JJ, TT, 99 and AQ do play well in 3-bet pots if you just flatcall. You are ahead against most 3-betting ranges from your opponents, and seeing as you will often flop a top-pair kind of hand, your hand is also quite simple to play. If you decide to 4-bet with these hands, you only do this with the intention of calling all-in, otherwise you are completely giving up the value of your hand.
I hope you didn't recognise yourself in too many of these examples, but if it was the case, at least you now found out a couple of things a bout your game that are worth thinking about. Once you gain more experience it will be easier to detect these mistakes from other regulars, which can result in a lot of extra money for you. If you enjoyed this article and managed to learn a couple of things you should check out my next article about postflop leaks as well.