– Online or Live –
– Cash Games, Tournaments, or Sit ‘n’ Gos –
– Full Ring or 6-Max –
– Low, Medium, or High Stakes –
– Beginner Tutorials or Advanced Discussions –
No matter the subject, Elite Poker University is home to quick, impactful lessons that will improve your skills and make you a better, more profitable poker player!
Now that we’re a few weeks into our poker content here at ESB, I’ve had the opportunity to play a few hundred hands with many of you (through our private Elite Fantasy Network Poker Club on PokerStars, see the pink box below for details on how to join!), and I’ve come away with a few thoughts:
1. Most of your playing styles are way too far toward the ends of the two spectrums.
2. This makes it too easy to establish a strong read on you. In many cases, notes I’d saved after the first ~10 hands we played didn’t need to be changed throughout the sessions. This is pretty unusual, as I generally refine my notes on each player every time they show their cards or even play a pot.
3. Preflop hand selection, in particular, seems to be the weakest part of most of your games.
Mistakes like these, particularly that first one, cost you a lot of money in the long run. You wind up in hands that seem promising, but are really lost causes, and because of this you end up missing opportunities you could otherwise take advantage of. Your lack of aggression — or hyper-aggression — keeps you from maximizing your payoff when you have the best hand — or causes you to lose way too much when you have the second best hand or even a hand so weak you shouldn’t be involved at all.
A simpler approach, one positioned much more moderately on the spectrums, will make it harder for people to establish strong reads on you, which gives you a lot more room to “play around”, using aggression to take advantage of tighter, more cautious opponents, but then pulling back and “picking your spot” against wild ones, allowing them to “hang themselves”, so to speak.
This simpler approach creates a situation in which your opponents have no easy way to exploit you, since the body of evidence they have of your “style” doesn’t paint a clear picture: You’ve shown strong hands that you played aggressively, and strong ones you’ve played passively. You’ve won pots with premium top pairs, with wide-open draws that have tons of outs, with flopped sets, and even with nothing at all. There’s no way they can ever narrow down your possible range of cards, since they’ve seen you take every approach to every situation with every different type of hand.
With this in mind, today’s lesson at Elite Poker University is called “Keeping It Simple”. We’ll walk through some very basic things you should be thinking about when you’re at the table that will help you simplify your game so you get in fewer and fewer “tough” situations, get deeper into multi-table tournaments, and make more money.
Starting Hand Selection
By and large, I’m seeing everyone playing way too many hands. An important “advanced” poker statistic is called VPIP, which stands for “Voluntarily Put (Money) In Pot”. It’s expressed as a percentage, and it’s simply the number of hands you have chosen to put in money divided by the number of hands you’ve been dealt.
# of hands you choose to put in money
# of hands you’ve been dealt
Posting the SB/BB does not count as choosing to put in money because posting the SB/BB is not optional. Completing from the SB (it getting around to you with only folds and/or limpers and you simply “calling” the BB) does count, and would add 1 to the numerator, and checking from the BB does not count, and would not add anything. Every hand you are dealt, whether you’re in the blinds or not, adds 1 to the denominator.
Don’t obsess over this — we’re wanting to keep it simple, remember? — but know that a nice, solid VPIP is between 15-25% if we’re talking about a full table (8+ players). If you’re at a shorter table (5-7 players), that range scooches up to 18-28%. Those 10-point ranges very accurately mirror the middle of the Hand Selection Spectrum: Having a VPIP outside of those ranges would put you onto the far left and far right edges of the spectrum, making your play more predictable and easier to exploit.
While I’m not saying you need to keep track of this number (at least not if you’re just playing for fun), I do think you need to consider its implications. For you to be playing somewhere in the optimal VPIP range:
1. Over a complete round at a table (we’ll say 9 hands), it’s likely you should only be reaching for your chips 1-3 times (other than when you’re posting the blinds).
2. Over those 9 deals, it is more likely you’ll receive ZERO playable hands than it is that you’ll receive 4 of them. More times than not, you’ll get 1 or 2 playable hands over every 9 deals.
I’ll get away from the math for a bit, because reducing this game to numbers makes it un-fun for recreational players, and turns it into just another job for serious ones. The point I’m trying to make is this: If you’re reading this, you probably need to be folding preflop more often.
If you’re wondering whether I’m talking to you, I probably am.
On the other hand, if you’re reading this and you think there’s no way I’m talking to you, you’re probably right: In your case, you probably need to be folding preflop less often.
Yes, most of you are doing it wrong, but don’t worry: We’re going to fix you right now. For all situations below, assume we’re at a full table (9 players), playing NL Hold’em, and we don’t have particularly strong reads on anyone.
Positions 1 & 2 after the BB: It’s extremely likely you’re folding. You’ll know the times you aren’t folding because your heart will speed up when you look at your cards: They’ll be a pocket pair, AK-ATs, AK-AJo, or KQs.
87s? Toss it.
I’m not saying you should always follow those ranges, I’m saying you should follow them a great majority of the time. There will be times when an EP raise with that 87s is just a beautiful thing, but those times will be very rare and, until you know your fundamental skills are super sharp, very hard to identify. In fact, I’m making a note right now to cover that type of situation in a future lesson. To summarize, if a raise from the guy on your left would make you go “ugh, son of a bitch…”, you’re holding a hand that needs to be folded from these early positions.
Positions 3 & 4 after the BB (middle position): You’re still probably folding. You just rolled your eyes. Don’t question me. Open the above ranges to pairs, AK-A8s, AK-ATo, KQ-KJs, and KQo.
This range and the next are probably the most negotiable of the bunch, as the dynamics of the table (remember the “environment read”?) will play a huge role in your approach to the middle and late-middle seats. If the first two people to act limped in (just called the BB), you’re finding yourself in a spot where — depending on a LOT of variables — you could make an argument for joining them with even a speculative hand like 86s. Like the EP raise with 87s above, though, this move will be rare and complicated to manage correctly.
Positions 5 & 6 after the BB (middle to late position, aka the Hijack & the Cutoff): If it has folded to you at this point (unlikely given the skill level of the average low-mid stakes players), there’s a decent chance you have playable cards. I’d be willing to play pairs, AK-A4s, AK-A6o, KQ-K9s, KQ-KTo, and around 50% of all of the other suited hands I could be dealt.
Unfortunately, it almost certainly has not folded to you. Your preflop play from these positions, and the 3 positions still to act behind you, will have more to do with what has happened in the hand so far than it will with the cards you’re holding. An UTG limper, followed by two folds and then a 4x raise from MP will put you in a spot where only the most premium of the premium hands will suffice (we’re talking AA-TT and AK only!). A fold followed by 3 limpers in a row, though, could open up your range to include all kinds of suited connectors and gap hands (52s, anyone?). These situations are why having reads on your opponents is vital to successful play.
The Button: If it folds all the way to you on the button, and you don’t have any info indicating the players in the blinds are unpredictable maniacs or experienced pros, my advice is to try to abuse them. If it’s very early on, and no one really has a feel for the table, this is an ATC situation (“any two cards”).
Your actions from the button, in general, will depend more on your reads and on the image you believe you have (we’ll discuss “table image” in the future) than on your cards.
Of course this probably won’t come up often, since most players pop stiffies at the sight of any two suited cards or, God willing, a lone, almighty ACE, and the idea of 6 of them in a row folding to your button is almost unheard of. Like in the Hijack and Cutoff, the action from the players before you will dictate what range of hands is acceptable for you on the button. Having that button is powerful, though, so don’t be afraid to get involved if it looks like you’ll be able to play a small-to-medium sized pot with only a couple opponents and a speculative hand, just try to avoid the cards that tend to make second-best hands (unsuited aces, suited aces below AT, weak K and Q hands, unsuited connectors and gappers).
The Small Blind: Don’t get carried away here. Yes, it may only be “half price” to call from the SB, but once you do you’re going to have to act first in a pot with (probably) multiple opponents. This is a recipe for disaster, and when your shitty 84o catches a small piece of a flop by making a middle pair or inside straight draw it’s much more likely you’re going to lose a big pot than win one. Don’t worry about the fact that you “already have some in there”. Make your SB decision based on the situation and the cards: If you wouldn’t have limped in with the hand from MP or LP, you shouldn’t be completing the SB with it.
The Big Blind: Check. Just check. Short of having a truly top-tier hand — or trying to defend your blinds from a LP villain — raising from the BB usually makes the hand ahead of you much harder to navigate than it has to be. In the event the BB has been raised, follow the advice from above: If you wouldn’t have played it from MP or LP, you probably shouldn’t be playing it from the BB.
We’ll stop there for today, since we have a ton of new info to digest, and pick up in the future when we discuss keeping it simple after the flop!
The EPU Course Catalog
Use the tabs on the left to navigate everything EPU has to offer!