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Two weeks ago, I started a discussion
Back in Elite Poker University, Lesson 4, I discussed why keeping it simple is the key to playing profitable poker. By sticking to the fundamentals you will find yourself in fewer “tough” situations, making it easier for you to steadily make money, survive deep into tournaments, and be a more profitable player. That lesson focused on preflop decisions, as I feel it’s the weakest area of the average player’s game.
Two weeks ago, in EPU Lesson 16, we began discussing postflop decisions, in particular focusing on the most common postflop situation we (should) face: When we have the lead and are facing 1 or 2 opponents.
This week, we’ll continue our postflop discussion with a look at the second most common situation we (again, should) find ourselves in: When we’re a passive participant in a hand against 3 or more opponents.
Your 2nd Most Common Postflop Situation – You do not have the lead and are facing 3 or more opponents
Let’s be clear: Having “the lead” does not refer to the strength of your cards, it refers to the fact that you are currently the most recent aggressor in the hand, and therefore have made the move that represents the most strength. In almost all hands, the person with the lead (the person who makes the bet/raise that everyone else calls in order to see the flop/turn/river) will be checked to on the subsequent betting round, giving them the most “power” in the hand, as they’ll usually get to decide how much it will cost everyone to continue playing.
For example, it is rare to see someone in an early position check on the flop, then call a bet made by another player, then come out and bet on the turn: If they check-called on the flop, it is very likely they will also check on the turn.
Since we’re following a solid, tight-aggressive strategy before the flop (right?), most of the flops we see are going to feature us as “the lead”, because about 80% of the time we enter a pot it’s going to be with a preflop raise, not a limp in.
A majority of the rest of the time, though, we’re going to be heading to the flop as a passive participant — someone who limped in along with multiple others in a hand that has no clear “leader”. We’ll see this a lot when we’re holding low and middle pocket pairs or suited connecting cards — hands that usually don’t win big pots unless they get a lot of help from the board in the form of sets, straights, and flushes.
Luckily, our tight-aggressive preflop approach (right!?) will mean we’re playing those speculative hands only when we’re in late positions and/or when multiple players in front of us have already limped in. Staying disciplined in these situations is paramount to playing profitable poker, as getting over-excited any time you see a pocket pair or suited connectors is a surefire way to leak money, which leads me to today’s lesson:
When we go to the flop passively, our goal is to avoid a big mistake.
Since it isn’t a situation we’ll be in often, there’s no need to approach it with any sort of “attitude” (like we do when we’re in the lead and we know we’re betting, regardless of the cards) — we want to treat each of these hands as unique, and navigate them carefully.
We’re going to the flop with several opponents, all of whom have limped in, completed the SB, or checked the BB: This means there is a HUGE range of hands in play out there (the BB, especially, could have literally any two cards), and the chances that none of them caught any piece of the flop is pretty low. There’s no need to start throwing chips in there to “take control of the pot” like some macho asshole.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re looking to always play this type of hand passively, only trying to make the cheapest play available. Depending on your environment read, you may very well want to make a standard bet at the flop if everyone checked around to you and you have good reasons to think you can pick it up right there. Remember, though, that “everyone checked around to me” is not a good enough reason for you to bet. By betting, you’re inviting everyone to make the pot larger and more unmanageable, and keeping the pot manageable is the key to avoiding a big mistake.
Think about it like this: You aren’t going to lose your entire $100 stack in a $10 pot, it’s 1000% bigger than what’s in the middle and you’d never make that big of a mistake. In a $40 pot, though, that stack is basically the size of one bet and raise, and could disappear quickly with one stupid decision like “taking a stab” at a pot in which no one has taken the lead.
If you stab at a $15 pot on the flop just because “everyone checked around to me”, and two of those people call you, you’re heading to the turn card with $45 in the middle (assuming you made a reasonable bet of $10), and now they’re going to check to you again and it’s going to cost you $30+ to take another “stab”, and at this point you know you can’t just check behind them because it would tell them you’re definitely weak. Now you’re in for over $40 trying to bully people for a pot that used to be only $15. Proud of yourself, tough guy?
This is why the lesson for today is to simply avoid big mistakes in this situation. Don’t get caught up trying to “win” a pot from someone who is clearly more attached to his hand than you are.
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