Opening Up Your Game

by trikkur

The following article was found on the 2+2 forums. The original post by the user AJFenix is titled Opening Up Your Eyes and Your Game (very long) and can be found here.

Recently I have had some interesting discussions with a few regulars, and some interesting points were brought up from which I learned quite a bit, and I figured it might benefit players on here if I shared a little of what I learned and observed.

A lot of players seem to be stuck in a mode, whatever that mode may be. They have gotten to midstakes playing a particular way, and even though they may have somewhat adjusted to the different dynamic of this game, they are still unwilling to open their game up whether they recognize it or not, and/or its simply hard for them to do certain things differently as it has all become routine. This generalization encompasses a lot of solid midstakes players, and it is whom I am directing this post towards.

These players may have pretty big leaks in their game (that may very well be unknown to them, and really not that big of a deal to them at this point in time as far as the games they are playing in go) and still be winning players or even be doing very well, simply because the vast majority of their opponents are not exploiting their leaks, and also have much bigger leaks themselves. As these solid players move up, they encounter more players that are capable of exploiting their leaks and that also possess fewer themselves. Just as the solid grinder is preying on the fish to pay off his big hand, the 30/20 in the 10/20 Party game is preying on the solid grinder’s leaks. I don’t think people realize how crazy the dynamic at a game like the 10/20 6max on party can be, and after all, midstakes are (hopefully) only a gateway for you, getting you ready for the next level. I will touch on this game dynamic within the next few parts.

1) Reraising Preflop

Many midstakes players have a very tight reraising range. They will reraise their big hands, and even though their range is so slim, they still make far more money on these hands than they should be making, given how well defined their hands tend to be in certain spots. These same players are content to just call preflop with certain hands, and even though their decision to call may be +EV, they don’t even consider their third option, which is to reraise. In certain spots calling may even be your worst option. When you are on the SB facing a button raise or even button facing a CO raise, what do you accomplish cold calling a raise with the majority of your hands?

Sure, calling may be +EV in some of those situations but many don’t even consider the +EV situation a reraise would set up for them and how much greater that EV would be than that of calling (the same thing often applies in many spots as far as raising vs overlimping, where both may be +EV but raising may be a much better option). You likely have a +EV situation right there preflop, and if you get called you will often have another +EV situation postflop, even disregarding your actual hand. By reraising you gain momentum, you overrepresent your hand and force them to make a hand, and your reraising range obviously increases, both decreasing the implied odds of your opponents calling and trying to crack your big hand, and increasing your action on your big hands as observant players will realize that you are capable of reraising light. The higher up in stakes you go, the more observant players you encounter.

As far as calling, with clunkier hands like KQ/AJ you will often be folding the best hand when you miss (which will be most of the time), and even when you do get a favorable top pair flop, you will often be unsure of your hand if you are facing a lot of pressure in certain spots. Your hand carries reverse implied odds. With more deceptive hands your actual implied odds to call the LP preflop raise are generally very poor, as LP’s raising ranges tend to be very wide. You are also going to be missing the majority of the time, or getting forced off of your more marginal hands (which will often be the best hand) by aggressive players. In both cases you also lack initiative. You have to ask yourself what you are really accomplishing by calling with some these hands.

Just about all of the biggest winners in the 10/20 games on Party have a very “opened up” game. To be even more specific, I believe 4 of the top 5 have close to 30/20 stats, and one is an amazing 47/29. They are awesome post-flop players, and their analysis of situations is dead-on the majority of the time. One other thing that they are very good at doing is spotting and setting up profitable situations preflop – Over and over and over and over. The reraising ranges of some of these top players are astounding. These players are squeezing (see Squeeze Play) each other left and right, and have absolutely no problem reraising/rereraising light. You will see full stacks go in with relative garbage. If you didn’t know any better, you may chock it up as donk-on-donk violence, when the hand may have just went down between the 2 biggest winners in that game. And believe me, fireworks do fly when they are at the table together. And they aren’t the only ones you will see this kind of action from, either. Their preflop game is so much different than what the average midstakes player is used to that it can really be amazing. Their variance shoots up, but the number of +EV situations they are involved in does too, and of course their profits do as well.

2) Firing the Second Barrel

Everyone knows and loves the continuation bet. Far fewer people fully appreciate the value of his big brother, the second barrel. They make use of him from time to time, but far less than they should. The continuation bet is a transparent play that tends to work often enough on its own merit, even though everyone is fully expecting you to bet at almost any flop with any hand you came in raising with. If you are raising a fairly wide range of hands, and betting at a lot of flops, someone might actually put 2 and 2 together (!!!) and realize//exploit the fact that you don’t have anything on the flop a good amount of the time you are betting. If you run into a player that is playing back at you light, and you simply give up on the turn the majority of the time when you get called on the flop and you don’t have anything, you are begging him to keep running you over and you are throwing money away if you yourself are coming in light and then playing bad postflop. If you would be giving up the pot by checking, but you realize that firing the turn will probably get him to fold often enough to be +EV disregarding any outs you may or may not have, there really isn’t a decision to be made as far as what your play should be.

Not only is the situation itself +EV, but future implications are there as well. When your opponent realizes that he has to expect a turn bet from you a high percent of the time and you aren’t just giving up whenever he calls you and you don’t have a very good hand, he is going to be much less inclined to contest pots against you with weak holdings. Now your continuation bets are going to be getting more respect from this player, and you are further bettering your overall situation. This also leads to forcing your opponents into making mistakes, and also leads to you getting more overall information in various subsequent situations and reading hands better. Everything leads to you making more money, though.

That being said, I am not advocating players to fire the second barrel without considering all of the important factors, and firing again will be lightning money on fire in many spots (as their hand will already be well defined as unfavorable for you after their flop call in a particular spot and/or the situation is not a profitable one for other reasons). I am simply pointing out that this is a very common spot in which players are passing up on clearly profitable situations and are really hurting themselves in the long run. They can become much stronger players by utilizing these situations.

Going back to the discussion of higher stakes games, the top high stakes players are generally firing that second barrel at a drastically higher rate than the solid regulars at mid stakes, and there isn’t any hesitation. That isn’t to say they are just brainlessly firing away, although some spots are so clear that it really doesn’t require much thought. They simply play very well postflop, and playing very well postflop indicates that they are good at spotting +EV situations, which the turn brings very often. The second barrel is really just the tip of the iceberg, though.

3) Give Yourself a Bigger Cushion

I have observed the bankroll discussions on this forum and have a few comments on the subject. If you asked me a couple months ago whether I could have a 10 buyin downswing playing my normal game without any real tilt in there, I really doubt I could foresee it happening. Now 10 buyin downswings are not only a possibility, but they are expected/inevitable, as are long breakeven stretches. Poker is very good at painting an illusion because of how deceptive and subtle variance in poker can be, and how many small things go into running bad and running good that you do not pay attention to. Swings are inevitable over the long run. This is obvious and everyone thinks they realize this, but people don’t fully grasp it. Swings become exponentially more violent as you move up and your winrate drops.

Some people are perfectly fine with giving themselves a small cushion, and have no problem hopping up and down in limits at a crazy pace on the whim of their latest upswing or downswing. Others give themselves a small cushion without knowing what can possibly happen. A 2p2 regular who is a consistent winner at 5/10NL moves up to 10/20 with 30-40 buyins, and gets crunched for 10 buyins. That can seriously be devastating to that person. To give a point of reference, the biggest winner in one particular game was apparently recorded as to having TWO 25 buyin downswings last month alone. More than one very good player has been known to run at almost breakeven for 100k hands.

Some posters have said that your “move up” shouldn’t be a big event. You should gradually move up, and be willing to play multiple levels as your bankroll allows whenever you spot a good game. You can’t really argue with that, but most people do have a “regular” limit for them where they put in the bulk of their hands. When they make the next level their “regular” game, some people do not give themselves enough cushion because they do not realize that a big downswing near the beginning of their move up is very well within the realm of possibility. The players who were moving up from 100NL to 200NL and from 200NL to 400NL very quickly as soon as they attained 25 buyins for the next level probably have never experienced a decent sized downswing, and they think that if they drop 5 buyins at 5/10NL it will prove to them that they are not ready for that level. As I have been pointing out, they can lose far more than that and still have evidence of absolutely nothing if they do not analyze their situation properly.

What it comes down to is realizing what goes into variance and what it is capable of, and adjusting according to what you are willing to accept. If you like the rollercoaster, that’s up to you and it’s your choice. But if your goal is a nice steady ride up the money hill with a few bumps that aren’t going to wreck your ride in more ways than one, then you may want to consider giving yourself a bigger cushion.

4) Conclusion

Hopefully this post helps people realize what’s in store for them at the higher limits, helps some people become more willing to open their game up and attempt changing their thinking a little and getting better, as its really going to be necessary if they want to continue moving up in stakes and doing well in the higher games, and hopefully those players that aren’t trying to ride a rollercoaster both emotionally and bankroll-wise have a slightly better grasp of the capabilities of variance. I also want to add that I am nowhere near the skill/experience level of some of the players discussed here at this point in time. I am simply relaying my thoughts and observations.

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