NLHE Poker Strategy Part 2 (Intermediate)

by Magnus Martin

Magnus Martin’s No Limit Texas Hold’em Poker Strategy Part 2: The Next Step

Now that you have a solid understanding of the game and have practised simple, effective strategies to play winning poker, you should feel ready to take the next step. Poker is a game which is relatively easy to learn but takes years of practice and hard work to begin to master. A skill game that requires technical ability, intuition and patience in abundance. 

Poker can feel lonely sometimes - it is not a team game. If we are having an off day, we cannot rely on someone else being there to bail us out. However, it is not a journey that you have to undertake entirely independently. Having peers that you can discuss hands with, or a coach that can help to analyse your game can be of significant value. 

‘If you can do a little bit of work on your game most days, you will eventually reap the rewards’

Studying away from the table is an essential part of the improvement process. If you can do a little bit of work on your game most days, you will eventually reap the rewards on the felt. Even world famous professionals like Daniel Negreanu have spoken about how their game suffered by not working hard enough, which highlights the significance of being pro-active with your studying methods.

As you progress from beginner to intermediate level, you will likely start playing slightly higher stakes, which generally means an improvement in the calibre of opposition you are facing. If you are playing online, it is important to take notes on the other players at the table. You can colour code different player types and put them into categories; this will enable you to quickly recognise who the stronger and weaker opponents are at the table.

‘Good table selection is a skill that can be crucial to your win rate.’

This can be especially important if you are playing cash games, as you will be able to make informed decisions on which tables are good to play. If a table is full of solid regulars, you may want to skip it and look for another one with some slightly splashier opponents. Good table selection is a skill in itself and, over the long term, can be crucial to your win rate.

With MTTs, it is going to be less relevant since you will be automatically assigned to a table and can be moved to other tables at any stage of the tournament. That being said, you can still scan the MTT lobby before the start of an event and check out which players have registered. If you regularly play on one particular site, you will build up a good understanding of who the tougher opponents are - as well as the softer ones - and can label them accordingly. 

‘Aggression is an important aspect of being successful at poker’

Hopefully, you are feeling confident in your game and playing solid, patient poker. As you are gaining experience you should be playing a TAG (tight aggressive) style; this approach is when you do not play a considerable amount of hands, but the pots which you do enter are played aggressively. Aggression is a fundamentally important aspect of being successful at poker; without it, you will struggle to win enough pots or get maximum value from your big hands.

Your poker journey is no longer in its infancy - and it is time to step up and be counted. No one likes a bully; in poker terms, you also cannot allow yourself to be bullied, and this should be reflected in your play. You should still refrain from entering pots with marginal hands, for the most part at least, but should now be open raising a slightly wider range of hands: any pair or suited ace from all positions, especially if you have a stack with decent playability. 

You can start to add in some more suited combinations to your opening range. A hand like K8hh may not immediately seem like a great hand - but if your raises are getting a lot of respect, then you may be able to take down the blinds and antes without much of a fight. Moreover, if you do get called, your hand plays fine post flop. 

‘As your quality of opposition improves, consider what you want to be doing in certain situations’

As your quality of opposition improves, consider what you want to be doing in certain situations: do you want to make more, or less, continuation bets; do you want to exert greater pressure on later streets. This is something you may wish to experiment with a little, as better opponents tend to be capable of making more significant laydowns. Therefore, you may find that you get much more respect for your turn and river bets. 

It would help if you looked to semi-bluff in situations where you have decent fold equity; this is when there is a fair likelihood that your opponent will lay their hand down. It’s better to bluff with hands which have the potential to improve when called. For instance, if you have AK and c-bet on a flop of T45, you may then want to consider barreling on a Q turn: your hand can improve to a straight on a J river or to top pair on an A/K. Moreover, the queen is a card which is stronger for your range than that of your opponent, as your pre-flop raising range will include many hands like AQ/QK/QJ. A second bet will put a lot of pressure on their flop calling range and often make them fold better hands, such as a pair of 5’s. Moreover, you may even have the best hand already as they can have hands like 67, which flopped a straight draw.

As your game is progressing and you are beginning to play slightly higher stakes, you may find it valuable to buy some poker software. This will help you to review your play and analyse specific hands or a tournament you have recently played. Alternatively, you may want to get a subscription to a poker training website, enabling you to learn and watch how some of the world’s elite players go about their business. 

‘having a sound grasp of calculations will give you an edge on some of your opponents’

If you intend to become a top player, then you will need to have a sound grasp of the mathematical percentages that regularly play an important part in your decision making. For instance, if you flop a flush draw and someone moves all in against you, it is vital that you be able to accurately determine the percentage chance you have of making the flush on the turn or river. 

Although it can initially seem a little daunting, having a sound grasp of important calculations will give you an edge on some of your opponents at these levels; many players will call with flush draws regardless of the size of bet they are facing and their direct/implied odds, which is a mistake in a number of instances. 

Mathematically you should also be able to figure out the number of times you need to be right to make a call and how that impacts on your decision making. Example: you defend a raise from the big blind with T9, and the flop is T5(h)2; you check-call a continuation bet and the turn is the 8h, bringing a flush draw; once again you check/call. The river brings the 2h, completing a backdoor flush draw. There is 3000 in the pot and villain goes all in for 2500 chips. So you have to pay 2500 to win a pot of 5500; this means you have to be right 45% of the time (2500/5500) to make this a profitable call.

'factoring in the price you are being laid will undoubtedly help you to reach a decision'

Although you can not be entirely sure what the correct play is here, factoring in the price you are being laid will undoubtedly help you to reach a decision. Being aware of villain’s tendencies will also be important in helping you decide: are they capable of bluffing here? How often would they bet three streets on this run out? What potential bluffs do they have? 

You need to try to figure out some potential bluff combinations in your head and then work out the hands which they may value bet three streets with on this run out. If you think they have a lot more value combinations than bluffs, then you should be able to throw your hand away without too much stress. Otherwise, you may wish to try and bluff catch.

You also need to ensure that you are three betting to appropriate sizes. You will sometimes see a weaker player making a minimum sized re-raise after someone has made an initial raise. This is not something you should replicate, as you are giving your opponent the correct price to call every single time. 

The three bet sizes you want to make will not always be the same, as it will depend on how deep the stack sizes are. However, as a general rule, you do not want to be three-betting smaller than 2.5x the initial raise when you are in position - and probably want to be making at least a 3x re-raise most of the time. When you are out of position and three-betting from the blinds, make your sizings bigger as you will be at the disadvantage of playing out of position post-flop. Your three bets should be no smaller than 3x the initial raise and probably 4x, or bigger, in many situations.

Carefully consider which hands to include in your three betting range. This range will, of course, be heavily weighted towards solid hands (AA/KK/QQ/AK, etc); but it is essential to think about balancing your range and including some semi-bluffing combos. The reason for doing this is that it makes you much less predictable and tougher to play. 

If you only three-bet with premium hands, your opponents will be able to play much more effectively against you

If you only three-bet with premium hands, your opponents will be able to play much more effectively against you in these situations, as they will have a very clear idea of which kind of hand you have. If you start mixing in hands such like 98ss, they will find it more difficult to define where they are at post-flop accurately. Three betting hands such as this - and even hands like 65ss - also gives you board coverage on low and medium flops. 

If your three betting range is face up, an opponent can easily fold a hand like AJo to your re-raise, knowing that they will always be dominated. Once they begin to see you showing a full range of hands, this will make them second guess such decisions. Adding these extra dimensions to your game will see you enjoy a good amount of success and help you to take the next step in your poker journey.