In its purest form, poker is a game that can be played by anyone. As you delve deeper into the nuances of the game, you will indeed get a feel for it being a game of skill. Of course, there are plenty of situations in poker when you are compelled to gamble. However, in between all of that, you will encounter many complex situations and be required to ﬁnd solutions to these problems.
Once you have spent sufﬁcient time honing your skills and started beating the low stakes games, you may feel ready to play against tougher opposition. There is no substitute for putting the hours in practising at the tables - and most of the top internet pros have played hundreds of thousands, or even millions of hands, to get to the level they are now playing.
‘there will arrive a time when you will need to compete and beat tough opponents’
In terms of raw proﬁtability, playing low stakes games will usually be the softest route to the easiest proﬁts. However, to improve your game, it is also necessary to challenge yourself against tougher opponents, and a get a real test of your current level. If you would ultimately like to be playing professionally, or at least to a high level, there will arrive a time when you will need to compete and beat tough opponents.
By studying hand reviews and analysing the play of some of poker’s brightest minds, you can gain an insight into high-level poker thinking and performance. Each person has their own natural style, and this is the case in poker too. You should seek to adapt any sophisticated philosophies you learn and implement them into your own game - but do not merely copy everything you hear. Try different things out and see which strategy options ﬁt nicely into your own game and the ones which you feel comfortable using.
‘you need to be ready to go to war and take absolutely no prisoners’
Your poker journey may now be gathering at pace, and it is important to be continually adapting; retain an open mind and remember that poker is a simple game, yet one which has complex strategies. As you move forward, you will see that next level thinking requires you to understand your opponents on a deeper level. You are now entering into a battle ﬁeld with more robust, stronger and more dangerous opponents. Come prepared: you need to be ready to go to war and take absolutely no prisoners.
As your game develops, it is essential to have an understanding of poker theory - and some level of knowledge about GTO (game theory optimal) poker. For example, you will want to know what it means to play a ‘range game;’ how your range interacts with that of your opponents in any given situation.
Let’s look at an example: You raise from UTG and everyone folds except the BB, who defends. The ﬂop comes A92 rainbow: who do you think has the range advantage on this ﬂop? It is a very dry board with no ﬂush draw, and only a possible gutshot straight draw for the speciﬁc holdings of 34, 35 and 45.
‘this gives us a lower price for our bluffs’
If we are the UTG player, we have two things to consider: do we want to continuation bet and, if so, what should our sizing be? In this example, we clearly have a range advantage as we have many strong aces in our opening range; we have all the combinations of AA and 99 and perhaps 22 depending how wide we are opening at this stage, which will be determined by a few factors such as stack sizes and how aggressive the table is playing.
Our opponent may have some more combinations of A9 and A2 - as we will likely be folding the offsuit combinations of these hands and they will probably be defending with all of those combos. However, they rarely have AA (just the occasional trap), and 99 will be a mix between them calling and sometimes 3b shoving if they are short-medium stacked.
However, despite the fact they can have good hands here, we should be using this board to continuation bet at a very high frequency. In terms of sizing, there is little reason to bet big on such a dry ﬂop, and we tend to want to bet smaller when we have a very high continuation bet frequency, as this gives us a lower price for our bluffs. On wet boards or ones which favour the ﬂatter more than this example, we may want to size up our bets as our betting range will be stronger, and we will include more ﬂop check backs.
‘advanced players will triple barrel in a variety of situations and put you to the test’
Something between one quarter to one-third of the pot should be an adequate sizing - and we may want to c-bet our entire range on this ﬂop texture. We will still want to continuation bet most of the time with hands like pocket fours, as this will enable us to fold out hands with equity such as JT. If we check behind a hand like 44 and the turn comes an 8, our opponent will often bet the turn, and we will have to fold the best hand. He also has six outs to take the lead with a pair.
As you start to play against tougher opponents, you are also going to be put in some difﬁcult spots and will need to be prepared to make some thin call downs; advanced players will triple barrel - both for value and as bluffs - in a variety of situations and put you to the test.
‘typically you should call more often against smaller bets and less often against bigger bets’
Deciding between hero calling and folding our hand may not be a straightforward decision. You will need to weigh up certain factors: the size of the bet you are facing - typically you should call more often against smaller bets and less often against bigger bets, which are polarising their range between bluffs and monster holdings; you should also consider your relative hand strength - how high up are you in your potential range of hands?
If the board is reading A92cKcJ and you have T9, your relative hand strength is very weak and if you have 22, it is very high. You would always be folding T9 and continually, at a minimum, calling with 22. However, if you have a hand like AQ, then you have a more moderate hand strength and will have an extremely difﬁcult decision to make when faced with a triple barrel.
‘we have to analyse what kinds of bluffs they could have’
At this stage in the hand you may want to consider two things: are you holding blockers and, considering the tendencies of villain, how likely are they to be blufﬁng? These are complex situations, as things are working both for and against us regarding accurately reasoning what to do in this situation. We block some of their strongest hands like AA/AK/AJ, which is nice. However, given the board texture, you would expect them to have some showdown value with a lot of medium strength hands that do not need to barrel the river. Therefore, we have to analyse what kinds of bluffs they could have; perhaps they continuation bet a hand like pocket sixes and decided to turn it into a bluff on later streets? Maybe they had T8 of clubs and picked up a ﬂush draw on the turn; in this case, the river would be a great card for them to continue blufﬁng.
As you should have established by this stage, making continuation bets is a fundamentally important part of the game. As the pre-ﬂop raiser, we will typically have the strongest range and, in No-Limit Hold’Em, there is only approximately a one in three chance of ﬂopping a pair. Therefore, it is crucial to be following through with post-ﬂop aggression. That being said, if you take this too far, it could be a mistake: you should not automatically ﬁre continuation bets without thinking it through - and there is another option you have at your disposal: the delayed c-bet.
It would be best if you considered a delayed c-bet when your hand is not robust enough to go three streets of value - but good enough to go for two bets. Perhaps we can include a weak top pair hand and incorporate this into our delayed continuation betting range.
‘you could also choose to be tricky and disguise your hand’
Here is an example: you open raise K6hh on the button and see a ﬂop of K72 after the BB defends. Indeed, your hand is way ahead of your opponent's range and can, of course, be wagered on the ﬂop. However, you could also choose to be tricky and disguise your hand - which is not a monster anyway - by sometimes checking. This will comfortably allow you to bet turn and river for value on many run-outs and potentially confuse your opponent, who may start blufﬁng turn or feel obliged to pay you off with inferior holdings further down the streets.
Given that we have plenty of better Kx hands which we can choose to c-bet almost always, as well as some sets, etc, we still have many hands we can opt to bet 100% on this ﬂop for value; as well as having plenty of ﬂop stabs with the rest of our opening range. We are so far ahead of many of villain’s ﬂop give up hands - such as T9 - and there is a decent chance of getting one or two streets from them on turn or river.
‘you may even be starting to get inside their heads a little bit’
You are now at a stage of becoming a very tough opponent to play against; mixing up your game, confusing other players with some tricky plays yet retaining your solid approach. Thinking more creatively and theoretically than previously, your game is developing to a more advanced level. Your game has progressed to an extent which makes opponents aware of how difﬁcult you can be to play against - you may even be starting to get inside their heads a little bit.
Seeing the improvements in your game and how they can pay off for you ﬁnancially, is an exciting part of your poker development. There is no better feeling than possessing the knowledge you can stand up to tough opponents and counter their strategies effectively. Just be sure to retain a level head; conﬁdence is excellent but be aware that there are still going to be players more experienced and skilled than you. Keep working hard on your game and seeking to improve so that you are continually elevating yourself to a higher level. You can achieve much if you believe in yourself, follow the correct processes and play your best game as often as possible.