(Un) Blurred Lines

Blurred Lines

To play winning poker, you must execute sequences of plays rather than make each decision independently.  A lot of intermediate players focus too narrowly on their immediate decision while failing to consider the rest of the hand.   In disciplines like poker, chess and billiards, it’s important to stay conscious of how the rest of the hand/game/rack might unfold.  We often refer to this critical yet misunderstood concept as “playing lines”.

The benefits of playing lines

Although it is impossible to play every single hand in “lines” (for instance, you can’t play lines when folding or when in shove or fold mode), the benefits of  doing so as much as possible are huge.

Here is a short list of benefits you will reap from thinking in “lines” at the poker table:

No surprises

Seeing that you  must consider your opponent’s next move(s) in order to formulate lines,  you will rarely be caught off guard.  Playing lines will promote your anticipation skills and will vastly reduce the number of times you will be caught by surprise by your opposition’s actions.

Active thinking

Have you ever caught yourself playing poker in “cruise control mode”?  The tendency to mindlessly go through the motions of playing poker without focus is pretty common.  Long sessions induce fatigue, bad beats cause tilt and creative players apply constant pressure.  These factors rob players of their concentration.

Playing lines forces you to actively think about the key aspects of the current hand.  It keeps you focused on your opponents, their tendencies, stack sizes and other factors that you must constantly monitor.  Focusing on lines will keep you focused and sharp at the table.

Lines are repeatable

Playing lines not only helps us exploit our current opponents, it also teaches us how to handle similar situations in the future.  For instance;  you might decide to 3-Bet/fold  to a frequent preflop raiser while planning to play aggressively on the flop (especially if he tends to give up on flops that miss him).  While formulating this line, you have figured out a strategically sound tactic in a very common scenario.  When formulating lines for the current hand, you are solving poker problems that will occur frequently in your future sessions.

Formulating optimal lines

The first step to formulating winning lines is to determine your goal(s) for the hand.  Your goal(s) will guide your actions and point you towards the type of lines to seek.   The list of possible goals for a hand is plentiful and you can have multiple goals for a hand.  Following is a short list of common goals for a poker hand and a brief summary of lines you might consider for each.

Extracting mode

When you hit a huge hand in the early streets you will seek  to win a big pot.  It is easier to commit to this goal against aggressive players (they are more likely to pay you off) and when the effective stacks are shorter.  Bet/Raise type lines are obviously valuable when looking to chip up, but at times you will want to consider more deceptive Check/Raise type lines in order to induce bluffs and to exploit overaggressive opponents.

Cheap showdown

When your hand is a bit too strong to turn into a bluff, yet it’s strong enough to withstand one or two streets of betting, your goal will often be to get to showdown cheaply.  Here, an obvious choice is to play Check/Call type lines, but sometimes early aggression will slow your opponent down and give you some free cards in the later streets.


When the stack sizes are deep enough and you are playing against nitty players, you will often find yourself looking to win the pot with the worse hand.  Often this calls for bet/fold,  bet/fold , bet/fold type lines (commonly referred as double or triple barrelling).  In other spots you might want to call an early street bet in order to take the pot away later with a lot of aggressions (often referred to as floating).  Check/raising aggressive opponents is also a strong line when you are trying to “steal” a pot.

An example

You are on the button in a low limit cash game and have 100 Big Blinds.  Everyone folds to you and the small blind has vacated his seat and surrendered his small blind (not a common scenario but works well for this discussion).  You raise 2.5 times the amount of the big blind with 10H 6H.  The small blind is folded and the big blind, who has 100 BB as well, defends your raise with a call.

Before the raise, you’re already anticipating your opponent’s next move and thinking of ways of countering .  In this example, your opponent  has two options that you must consider.

  • He might 3-bet
  • He might call

When he 3-Bets

Let’s assume that your opponent very rarely 3-bets in this spot and has an extremely strong range when doing so.   You decide you will fold to a 3-bet, but you are not very concerned about it because his 3-Betting range is so thin and you will rarely need to fold.  So when our opponent 3-Bets we are playing a line of:


When he calls your preflop raise

We also need to decide how we will play the flop if our opponent calls.  In this case we figure we want to avoid playing fit or fold in raised pots, so we decide to C-bet  most flops that are checked to us, with most flops meaning:

  1. Uncoordinated flops
  2. Flops that don’t hit our opponent’s range too hard
  3. Flops that hit our range of hands

So our line is:

Preflop Raise/Fold             (Flop) CBet/Call most flops

In the rare occasion that our opponent “donk bets” the flop, we will raise just about 100 percent of the time as we feel that donk bets are generally weak holdings.  If we get 3-Bet we can safely fold our hand.  Our line has now turned into:

(Preflop) Raise/Fold          (Flop) Raise/fold to a donk bet

Continuing with the instance where your opponent checked the flop, let’s look at some post flop lines.  In our example our 10h 6h hit a small piece of the flop:

9c – 2c – 6s

As you can see, this flop isn’t all that coordinated, it doesn’t hit our opponent’s range all that hard and we did catch a small piece of it by hitting 2nd pair with our 10-6 of hearts.  As planned, we lead out after our opponent checks, with the plan of folding if he check raises (let’s assume he is not very creative and we see his check/raising range as being extremely strong).  Our line becomes:

(Preflop) Raise/Fold          (Flop) Bet/Fold

Possible lines for the turn and river

Continuing with our example, we only have the instance where our opponent calls our C-Bet to consider (one of us folds in the other scenarios).   Let’s say that we like our showdown equity in this hand and our goal is to get to showdown cheaply.  Our most straightforward line for the turn and river could be:

(Turn) Check behind or Call           (River) Check behind or Call

Another possibility for this spot is to show aggression on the turn with a raise when our opponent bets and a bet when he checks.  This aggression often slows down our opponent and gives us a free card on the river:

(Turn) Raise when he leads or Bet when he checks                       (River) Call or Check behind

The takeaway

As we previously stated, you must have an underlying goal for your hand and you need to  consider variables like your opponent’s tendencies in order to formulate winning lines.  Once you get into the habit of playing in lines, not only will your immediate results improve, but your game will progress at a much faster clip because you will be working on your strategy while playing the current hand optimally.

LPT Invitational Power Rankings



Here is a blog post of interest to seven guys that have a chip and a chair in the first ever LPT darts invitational tournament.  I have decided to rank the seven known participants (we will be adding an 8th player).  No hard feelings if you rank lower than expected, you will have plenty of opportunity to stick it to me next Saturday.

Tier 1 – The contenders

Two players are ahead of the pack in the race to become our groups first dart champion.  Tim was a cinch to head this list up to 3-4 months ago, but from what I have heard and witnessed last night, Shane has made significant strides in challenging Tim as the best dart player of the group.  I feel hard pressed to imagine a scenario where neither of these 2 take the title, on paper this is definitely a 2 man race.

1 – Tim Drisdelle


Can the Golden Boy make LPT history once again?

As I mentioned earlier, Tim was the clear front runner before the last couple of months or so.  He had been totally dominant over the rest of the field, but he has been having problems versus Shane in recent outings.  Tim has a killer instinct in these competitions that the rest of the group can’t seem to shake off.  Expect much of the same next Saturday.

2 – Shane Leighton







Shane has made the jump from being the obvious leader of the 2nd tier to becoming a legitimate threat to Tim’s reign.  He has had good results versus Tim recently, and when he starts scoring well he is hard to stop.  Don’t be shocked if he takes this coveted title.

 Tier 2 – The peloton

The 2nd tier features 3 players that have an outside shot of winning the tournament.  All three need to play at their best and could capitalize on the fact that the tournament features short matches.  These guys could all surprise and win the tournament, but it’s a bit of a long shot.  The 3 players in this group are very tightly grouped.

3- Chris Fournier


Chris seems poised to “shock the world”

Chris is an interesting wildcard in this tournament.  He hasn’t played many matches against the rest of the group, but from what I hear, he gives Tim headaches when they play.  Based on that, we need to rank him at the head of the 2nd tier.

4 – Josh Richard






Josh is sort of the godfather of the LDT.  He is the one that got Shane interested in play more darts and in turn Tim followed suite.  Has not been playing a whole lot up until very recently.  Has he had enough time to refine his game to contend for the title?  I think Josh can make some noise in this tournament, but like the other 2 in this tier, he needs to catch some big breaks to win the tournament.

5 – Jeff Mcintyre

Jeff_ The Good_2






As much as I have made strides since Tim infamously beat me left headed in cricket, I am not quite ready to contend for the title. I might have an upset or two in me, but a middle of the pack finish is to be expected

Tier 3 – The underdogs

I don’t expect either of these two players to win the tournament, but they both can certainly upend members of the second tier and have a middle of the pack finish.

6 – Donnie Saunders


Best money player in the game?







There is something scary about seeding Donnie this low and I had serious thoughts of putting him in the middle of the 2nd tier.  He definitely can throw with anyone in the field, but I think lack of practice might be his undoing.  Donnie can be very clutch in key situations and is a threat to make me look like an idiot for ranking him this low.

7 – Stefane Richard





Stef is in tough in this tournament.  He admitting hasn’t played a whole lot of darts.  He does have the ability to win a few matches and if he finds his swagger he could surprise.


Play Poker Like Derek Jeter


jeter-throwShortstops are at the heart of any great baseball defense.  Always in the middle of the action, these athletes need a rare combination of physical tools and advanced baseball intelligence in order to play their position well.

Baseball’s shortstops are required to make numerous split second decisions throughout the course of a game.  The slightest hesitation allows the runners to reach their base safely, kills potential double plays and costs their teams valuable runs.

The key to playing shortstop is also a vital skill for poker players.  The skill of anticipation must be mastered to become proficient at both.

How shortstops do it

Experience, baseball sense and focus enable elite shortstops to work out every meaningful scenario before the pitcher even starts his windup.  They prioritize the most probable and most relevant possible outcomes and determine how they will act accordingly.

A good shortstop will take a series of variables into consideration in order to anticipate how a play might develop.  He constantly assesses:

  •  The pitch count
  •  The number of outs
  •  The score and inning
  •  The current hitter’s tendencies
  •  The speed of the current base runners

Considering these variables, a shortstop works out how he will handle common and difficult situations:

  • A sharply hit ground ball to his left
  • A slow 2 bouncer hit to his right
  • His pitcher throws a wild pitch
  • A runner at first takes off to steal second
  • A line drive hit directly at him

Anticipation helps shortstops work out these problems prior to the action and avoid the errors induced by time pressure.  A great shortstop is very rarely caught off guard.

Anticipation in poker

Like shortstops,  poker players must master the art of anticipation.  Time pressure is less of a factor but  poker forces players to make numerous difficult decisions under stressful conditions.  Tricky players threaten their stack at every turn, an early street error is magnified in the late streets and every decision has a direct impact on the bottom line of their current session.

Pressure makes it difficult to focus and it clouds judgement. Once a player’s judgement becomes clouded he is vulnerable to making huge errors.  Instead of trying to chip away at small edges throughout the session the unfocused player needs to focus on avoiding making huge blunders.

The prepared player is ready to tackle this focus problem.   Hand planning is a crucial skill that helps elite players avoid stress related errors.   The first step to formulating a plan is through anticipation.

How poker players do it

Knowledge of opponent’s tendencies, experience and a superior understanding of poker strategy enable advanced poker players to anticipate how the action will unfold.  Just as in playing shortstop, there are numerous variables that must be monitored in order to anticipate the action:

  • The pot size
  • The effective stack size
  • Position
  • Table images
  • Game flow considerations

Most struggling poker players lack in the skill of anticipation.  These players tend to play the streets of a hand “in a vacuum” instead of making decisions in a strategic sequence.  This is a major leak that causes numerous hardships at the poker table.  Anticipating the action and thinking about the sequence of plays to be made (also known as playing lines) reduces the chances of a good player to crack under the pressure.

A few examples where anticipation is valuable

When betting out in a heads up pot:  Before betting out we need to estimate how often and with what range of holdings our opponent will call behind, raise and fold.  In the instances we get called, what will we do on the turn?  Will we double barrel most turns?  Will we check fold?   In the instances where we lead bet and get raised, will we call, fold or raise?   Is getting raised bad for us?  If so, do we get raised often enough to make checking better than betting out?

Knowing how close our opponents are to being pot committed:  If we push the action, are we forcing our opponent(s) in a shove or fold predicament?  If so, are we ok with playing for stacks?  Keeping track of current stack sizes is crucial and knowing how pot committed our opponents are is a key reason.

When trying to control the pot size:  When holding a hand with strong showdown value, (a marginal hand that has a decent chance of winning at showdown) it is beneficial to know how our opponents react to passive lines.  Some opponents tend to pounce on early street checks but will call/fold against small bets.  This means that at times making a small Cbet is better for pot control than checking into aggressive opponents.

A big river bluff:  When contemplating a bluff on the river, we need to anticipate how our opponent will react.  Do we ever get raise bluffed?  Does he tend to make big lay downs?  How does he view our table image?  Anticipation is key to estimating fold equity and to bluffing profitably.

Far too often we get caught off guard at the poker table.   Constant monitoring of game variables, observation of our opposition’s tendencies and a feel for game flow allow us to anticipate how the action will go.  Take advantage of these skills and play poker like a shortstop.

Beware of the “Story Equity” trap

Grass grow > Your bad beat story

Grass grow > Your bad beat story

Poker being a game of incomplete information, equity assessment is a central aspect. Pot equity is assessed to measure the value of our holding, fold equity is measured by estimating how probable it is that our opponent(s) will fold, and showdown value appears when we have decent pot equity with a marginal hand.

Properly assessing these equities is essential in making winning poker decisions. A poker hand calls for us to make numerous assumptions about our opponents’ hand ranges, our perceived ranges and about how everyone will act/react during play. This makes assessing pot equity one of the toughest skills a winning poker player must master.

But the goal of this article is not to tackle difficult equity estimation problems. My goal with this article is to convince you to follow the simplest of poker advice; I plead with you to stop adding value to your hands due to story equity!

What is Story Equity?

I coined the term Story Equity to describe the act of giving value to marginal hands due to the fact that we might have a good story to tell after losing a big pot with it.

Not only does story equity have negative chip/cash value, the “story” part is also vastly overrated. YOUR STORY IS NOT NEARLY AS COMPELLING AS YOU MAY THINK. Your poker buddies, tablemates, co-workers and relatives will be extremely underwhelmed.

Forms of Story Equity

In order to help you recognize the spots where you might commonly assess Story Equity to your hand, here are the 3 most common forms.

Crying Calls

When a tilting player gets robbed by the deck, he wants the table to witness the visual evidence. Coolers and bad beats are easily the most common poker stories overheard in home games and card rooms. People can’t wait to share these stories with the world, and they need to get felted to make the story complete.

Sick Bluffs

Famous TV players like Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan and Gus Hansen have made huge bluffs look like the Holy Grail of poker strategy. Fact is, these players don’t bluff blindly; they pick optimal spots to do so. Bluffing someone out of huge pot and showing the table afterwards might sound like a winning play, but doing so primarily for the sake of having a story to tell is a losing proposition.

Pet Hands

This form of story equity is less common than the others, but it can be just as costly. Players fall in love with specific raggedy hole cards, and feel the need to overplay them.

Doyle Brunson famously loves to play 10-2 since clinching two WSOP bracelets with the hand. A few years ago, I saw Doyle confess on TV (I think it was during an episode of Poker After Dark) that he has lost tons of money with his favorite hand. He feels like he has to play it to continue the story and he pays dearly for it.

Personally, I have a weakness for 10-6. This started about 5 years ago when I was playing a session of heads up freeze-outs with a good friend of mine. Our table was two cardboard moving boxes and we were sitting on beer coolers playing in the empty house I was moving into the next morning. It was a weird session and my anxious mood (I dread moving) had me begging for a light moment. When I played a very loose 10-6 in a huge pot and bluffed him on the river, I showed the bluff and hilarity ensued. My buddy overreacted and I rubbed it in emphatically. I now refer to 10-6 as being the nuts to anyone willing to listen. But the hand is a big loser for me and will continue to be so unless I let this story die.

The Bottom Line

Poker is a complex, psychological game that tends to present conflicting goals. Winning chips/dollars/tournaments should be the ultimate goal for any competitive player but the journey often blinds us from the destination. The need to demonstrate our prowess or the frustration this beautiful game inflicts upon us can be overbearing. Fight these urges, and save the story telling for your losing opponents.

Specific Poker Tendencies

post-it-note_pay-attentionIn our quest to refining our understanding of our opponent we need to stay conscious of his playing style while we get a clearer picture of how he approaches specific poker problems.  We can’t just blindly paint two players with similar playing styles with the same brush. For instance, two different TAGS  may play similarly in some respects, but they will inevitably handle a number of poker situations quite differently. Understanding some of the most valuable differences will help us play each of our opponents optimally.

What to look for

It is impossible to track every single poker scenario for each poker player you encounter.  This approach would quickly overload your cognitive resources.  All information is valuable at the poker table but some is more valuable than others.  This makes player reading an exercise in prioritization.   We need to focus on the tendencies and patterns that will give us the most “bang for our buck”.  Scenarios that come up often and that are exploitable interest us the most.


Grouping similar situations together

There is no value in tracking our opponent’s actions in situations that rarely come up. For instance, players get dealt pocket aces too seldom to track how they play them.  It’s more compelling to track how they play big pairs (AA to JJ), as most tend to play each of those holdings similarly.  It is better to track how our villain plays a flop where he has top pair top kicker or an over pair (this situation embodies big pairs). This is common poker scenario and it provides more value than tracking just one holding.  But even better is to monitor Villain’s C-bet (continuation bet, the act of raising preflop and following up with aggression on the flop) frequency and ranges.  Every hand that has been open raised will have an opportunity for a C-bet and players tend to do so with varied frequency.  These two factors make tracking C-bet frequency quite valuable.  To track just one of the 4 poker situations above, the last one would definitely be the most useful.

Keeping in mind the need to group common exploitable situations together, here are some suggestions of what to look for when transitioning from knowing our opponent’s playing style, to tracking how he plays specific situations.


The vast majority of players naturally track how many pots their opponents play.  It’s a winning idea, but the reasoning behind it needs to be reinforced.  The most value you will extract from tracking preflop tendencies is from getting a sense of your opponent’s hole card ranges, which will be useful THROUGHOUT THE HAND.  This is the reason players commonly groan how tricky unraised pots can be as limping ranges can be quite wide and they make hand reading difficult.

Open raise frequency

How often does your opponent open raise the pot?  Does the frequency vary much depending on position?  Does he like to raise multiple limpers in order to “punish them”? How often does he fold to 3-bets?

The Payoff:  As mentioned above, figuring out our Villain’s PFR (Pre Flop Raise) frequency lets us define his range and give us useful information all the way through showdown.

Also, if we know that our opponent’s PFR range is very wide, we can 3-bet (expecting a lot of folds) or call him (expecting to be ahead of his range) more lightly.  If we know his PFR range is very narrow, we can play very tightly when he raises and set mine (calling with small pairs in hopes of flopping a set) if the stacks are deep enough.

Limping Frequency

How often does your opponent limp in unraised pots? Some players tend to limp a lot while others favor open raising more frequently.

The Payoff:  Having a sense of your opponent’s limping range is crucial.   Carving out his PFR range from his limping range is an essential part of hand reading and will pay dividends in most hands you are involved in.

3-bet frequency

Although it will take considerable time to build significant data, it is quite valuable to track how often Villain 3-Bets, because they result in bloated pots.  Does Villain 3-Bet often?  Does he do so differently versus different types of opponents?  Does he seem to balance his 3-betting range (always for value or also sometimes for a bluff).  These are all relevant questions that need answers in order to exploit your opponents.

The Payoff:

As mentioned above, 3-bet pots bloat quickly.  Being able to gauge your opponent’s preflop range in big pots is crucial.  Stealing pots postflop on frequent 3-betters is extremely profitable.

Knowing your opponent’s 3-bet range also pays immediate dividends preflop.  You can 4-bet light when your opponent is 3-betting wide and concede when facing a 3-bet from a narrower range.

The flop

The flop is a pivotal street.  It provides the first glimpse at board texture and it sets up the tone for the rest of the hand.  Today’s game is so aggressive, it is important to figure out which of our opponents C-bet frequently and how often they play passive lines in order to faint weakness.

C-bet frequency

C-betting is a widely understood strategy.  After taking the betting lead preflop, when the action is checked back to you on the flop, betting with air will often pick up the pot uncontested. It is such a common situation that there is a lot of value in understanding how often your opponent will C-bet when given the opportunity.

The Payoff:

The higher the frequency of C-bets, the more bluffs are in Villains range.  Understanding your opponent’s C-bet bluff vs. C-bet for value ratio will allow you to attack the weaker ranges and to proceed with caution against the narrower ranges.

Does he slow play when he hits the flop hard?

Some players love to slow play when they hit big flops.  Some have “slow playing ranges” of top pair top kicker or better on most boards and some will do so with 2 pair or better on non-coordinated boards.  Knowing how often and what type of hands your opponent likes to get “trappy” with can be quite useful.

The Payoff:

Knowing how fond players are of trapping huge flops can save you from losing big pots.  As mentioned earlier, some will C-bet most of the time, and a chunk of their non C-bets are big made hands.  This tendency extends beyond C-bets as will gain value out of this knowledge in limped pots as well.

The Turn

The Turn is aptly named because it is typically the turning point of a hand (when the stacks are relatively deep).  Players pot commit, represent a fairly narrow range of hands, commit to bluffs and exercise pot control (slow down the betting with marginal hands) on this street.  The turn is where the bigger bets come into play and this induces more deception.  It is of value to understand what hands our opponents are representing and how deceptive they tend to be on the turn.

Double Barreling

After taking the betting lead on the flop, via a C-Bet, a donk bet or a bet in a limped pot, the action will often be checked to the aggressor.  The aggressor now has an opportunity to bet again (a double barrel) or back off his aggression.  Opting to double barrel is quite telling because it shows a big commitment to the pot.  Your opponents will double barrel with varying frequency. Some will do so with strong made hands only, some will add a lot of draws to their range and others will double barrel a wide range of holdings.

The Payoff:

As not every hand has betting action on the flop, double barreling opportunities are not as frequent as C-betting chances.  But there is still plenty of value in paying attention to double barreling frequencies because the pots are bigger on the turn.  It is a crucial street, and establishing the range of hands your opponent is willing to double barrel is crucial.

Are they aggressive with draws?

Having a decent draw on the turn brings up an interesting spot.  Even the best of naked draws don’t offer much pot equity when there is only one card left to come.  Semi bluffing  is always an attractive option.  Some players will automatically semi bluff their turn draws without taking stack sizes, implied odds and proper folding equity into consideration.  Others will semi bluff turn draws a lot less often, choosing to take a free shot at their draw instead.

The Payoff:

When players make a bet on the turn they will do so with varying ranges.  Some of them will contain more draws in their range than others.  The more draws we can add to their range, the weaker the range’s pot equity.  The weaker range means you don’t need to respect the double barrel as much as ranges that include strong made hands only.

Pot control range

Most players recognize the value in taking passive lines with marginal hands.  A cheap showdown is a major win when you have just enough showdown value that you don’t feel like bluffing is a profitable option.  The perception of which hands are of “pot control” strength varies greatly between players.

The Payoff:

For the less creative players, knowing when they will “shut down their aggression” is extremely valuable.  Once you get a sense that they are slowing down the action in a hand, you can put them on a fairly narrow range, allowing you to value bet when you feel like you are ahead and even make some over bet bluffs when you feel you are behind.

The River

Showdown ranges

How “sticky” is your opponent? Does he like to showdown a lot of hands?  What percentage of his showdowns does he win?  Pots that go to showdown are typically big. The tendency to show down too many or too few pots is exploitable and having a grasp of which side of the spectrum your opponent sits is quite valuable.

The Payoff:

One of the most exploitable types of poker players are the ones that like to play a lot of flops, call most flop bets (it’s too early and too cheap to fold yet), folds to more turn bets and folds to most river aggression.  These players assist in building medium sized pots to then relinquish them over to you.  On the other side of the spectrum, some players absolutely hate to get bluffed on the end and love to make thin “hero calls” on the river.  Obviously you need to tone down your bluff frequency against these types.  In the middle of these 2 extremes you have those who don’t go to showdown quite enough and those that tend to give up too easily before showdown.  Pressure the former with a barrage of thin value bets and bluffs and tone down the aggression on the river against the latter.

River betting  ranges

With no more cards coming, betting on the river is done exclusively for value or as a bluff (on other streets sometimes you don’t mind lesser hands folding).  Dissecting your opponent’s river bluff (most don’t bluff enough) frequency and his river value bet range will help you avoid making mistakes in big pots.

The Payoff:

An opponent’s river value betting range is useful because it helps set the bar on how lightly you can call them.  Most won’t value bet without very strong hands and will opt for check/call lines when they feel they are ahead but are scared of getting blown off the pot.  More seasoned players understand the benefits of value betting a little lighter; we need to adjust accordingly.

An opponent’s river bluffing range is also quite telling.  Most players won’t bluff enough, and you can fold most marginal hands against them. Others will bluff on the river more often.  Obviously, consider calling these players more lightly, or better yet, look for spots to raise their river bets as a bluff.

This list is not exclusive

This list of tendencies is not exclusive but it is a great starting point.  Once you feel comfortable with monitoring how players handle the situations mentioned above you can definitely add some more.  For instance, you can track how often players check/raise (only doing so with strong hands or sometimes as a bluff), how often they like to donk bet (bet into the prior street’s aggressor), and how often they fold to C-bets.  This list will grow as you get more skilled at observing the action at the table.  You should never have the feeling that you have observed your opponent enough to be able to stop paying attention to him.

Defining Your Opponent’s Playing Style

LAG?After putting our opponents on a set of tendencies via first impression reads, the focus turns towards his table actions.   We will use our first impression reads combined with observed patterns in his poker actions in order to identify our opponent’s playing style.

An example of how this transition from first impressions to playing styles works:

If we observe a very timid person (first impression)  folding 15 of his first 20 hands played (a poker pattern), we have very strong indicators that he plays a Nit style of poker (defined below).   Recognizing our opponent’s  playing style allows us to make fairly accurate assumptions about his play.  Typical Nits have these tendencies:

  • They don’t play a lot of hands and 3-bet very rarely
  • They prefer passive lines (check/call)
  • They bet/raise mostly for value (as opposed to bluffs).

The concept of playing styles offers a very powerful means to assess our opponent’s tendencies quickly.  However, far too many players stop observing their opponents once they put them on a playing style.  Knowing your opponent’s playing style is crucial, but the task doesn’t end there.   The next step (discussed in the next post) is to keep our villain’s playing style in mind while tracking his individual tendencies in key poker situations.

In this post, we define the 4 standard poker playing styles, which tendencies and table actions typically indicate this style of play and a brief summary of ways to exploit each style.

1) TAG (Tight Aggressive) –  TAGs don’t enter a lot of pots, but when they do, they fight fiercely to win them.  The TAG style has long been regarded as the “holy grail” of winning poker but the game has evolved where this is no longer necessarily the case.  Current table conditions often call for a LAG style (explained below) of play.

Tendencies:  Good players or wannabes. Marginally risk averse (the reason they play few pots is more about strategy than about being risk averse), creative (aggression forces them to play tough lines)

Table actions to look for:

Preflop:  Enters a limited number of hands, very few limps, a lot of raises and 3 bets.

Postflop:  Cbet’s a lot, will double barrel some, will make thin value bets.

How to exploit:  A good TAG is difficult to exploit.  Try to keep the pots small when you have marginal hands and bloat the pot with big hands.  This is obviously good advice at any time but is crucial when playing against a TAG.

2) LAG (Loose Aggressive) -  A high volume player.  He enters a high number of pots and throws a lot of chips around.  Likes to put constant pressure on his opponent.  Typically not risk averse, could be in the bad player/whale category.  At the extreme, a LAG plays with total reckless abandon (known as a maniac).

Tendencies: Very little risk aversion, creative (plays a lot of big pots), good players, wannabes and whales.

Table actions to look for:

Preflop:  Plays a lot of hands, a lot of limps and raises/3bets

Postflop: A lot of post flop action.  A huge number of Cbets, will double and triple barrel, puts constant pressure on opponents.

How to exploit:  Isolate them and use their aggression against them.  Don’t be afraid to play check/call type lines when you have the goods in position.

3) Nits -  Plays too tightly.  Doesn’t enter a whole lot of pots, likes to limp as much as possible and very rarely 3 bets.  Often has the intent of playing a TAG style but is too risk averse and falls short.  Gives up too easily post flop and likes check/call type lines when they have a made non nut hand.

Tendencies: Very risk averse, values grinding not creativity, typically wannabe’s but can also be scared new players.

Table actions to look for:

Preflop:  A lot of folds.  A few limps, very rarely 3 bets.

Postflop:  A lot of checks and  folds.

How to exploit: Run them over.  Put constant pressure with an array of value bets and bluffs until they show some aggression.

4) Calling Station (or loose passive) -  Plays a lot of pots.  Doesn’t like to get bluffed so he will call bets very lightly and will go to showdown often.  He plays very passively and won’t bet/raise marginal hands.  Playing this way is rarely profitable unless you are playing a total maniac.

Tendencies: Mostly non risk averse, not very creative, mostly fish/whales

Table actions to look for:

Preflop:  A ton of limps and not much of anything else.

Postflop: A lot of check/calls.  Doesn’t show much aggression unless he has a huge hand.

How to exploit:  Don’t be afraid to make thin value bets, avoid bluffing.

Putting your opponent on a playing style is a very important step in player reading.  It is vital to be extremely attentive to his table actions from the first hand he is dealt.  Take note of how many pots he enters, take note of his hole cards when he is in a show down and review how he played them, examine how frequently he gets to showdown,  and get a feel for his level of aggression and  how differently he plays when he is in position.  After playing a few orbits with your new opponent, you should have a sense of his playing style.

First impression reads


Live poker provides such a valuable opportunity to astute observers.  Most opponents give off a huge amount of nonverbal tells throughout their session.  Observation of your opponents is critical; you can gain important information about your opponent’s mindset even before the first hand is dealt.

In this post, we are going beyond the “older players and women play conservatively, young oriental males play recklessly” approach.  We are going to analyze our opponents’ tendencies and values that are perceptible early on (you get your first clues while greeting someone at the table) and that give us insight into how they approach the game of poker.

Early reads serve as a baseline view of your opponent’s tendencies.  Some of your early assumptions will undoubtedly be inaccurate. By the same token, these insights will also be more accurate than the “average poker player” baseline you must start with.  As you spend time with new opponents, you will be able to narrow down their tendencies.  Avoid being rigid with your initial reads as they are just a starting point and must progress along with your session.

The knowledge gathering table image

Before we get into the specific tendencies of interest, it’s important to discuss how to present yourself at the table.

The optimal table image for information gathering is of a mild mannered, polite, talkative, noncompetitive player.  Poker players feel less guarded around friendly people.  Also make sure to stay away from the strategy discussions.  If you give off a competitive vibe, players will be alarmed and will clam up.

Baseline Traits

Below we will have a look at some of the typical poker player characteristics and what we can deduce from them. We will discuss why the trait is important, what type of indicators we are looking for and examples of how to capitalize on this new found information.

Risk Aversion

One of the most valuable traits to determine from your opponents is their risk aversion.  This is a slight yet significant variation to the ever so popular Tight/Aggressive spectrum. Assessing one’s risk aversion is more than just determining how frequently your opponent will see a flop and how hard he will fight for the pot once he has entered; it touches on a much deeper level of understanding of your opponent.  Once we understand how risk averse our opponent is, we can determine how he will act under certain conditions.  Will he give up too quickly on bloated pots?  Is he willing to make a big bluff in order to win a huge pot?  How early will he take a “shove or fold” approach while short stacked in a tournament?  These are a few examples of important tendencies we can extract from assessing our opponent’s risk aversion.

If a player is quiet and very much in a “go about his business” type of shell, he tends to be risk averse.  These players are NOT trying to get “reads” on their opponents, they don’t initiate talk at the table, they are focused on the game and don’t want to risk giving away information.  Also, observe how these players carry themselves at the table.  If they handle their chips and announce their actions timidly, if they seem to be counting their chips excessively and take a lot of time before deciding to put chips in the pot, they are most likely very risk averse.  The key to exploiting these players is to put pressure on them and give them an excuse to fold their marginal hands.  You can run over these players with aggression.

Grinders vs. Creatives

Some players value hard work and grinding as the way to gain an edge at the poker table.  Creativity and psychological babble is worthless to these players; opponents are apt to do anything at any given time and it is senseless to try and read them. They feel that adopting a standard “ABC”, no nonsense approach will lead them to victory.  The best way to exploit these players is to take advantage of how obvious their holdings are.  When they bet, they really like their hand, when they check, they are unsure.  Your task against this group is to play optimal lines versus your opponent’s most obvious range of holdings.

The opposite holds true, players that value creativity as the ultimate poker skill tend to play an aggressive style. For these players, high level creative thinking is the goal.  Poker as a risky game by definition, and to just sit there and avoid risk is an extremely poor strategy in their minds.  Look for 3 barrel bluffs, light 3 bets and high risk lines.  The best way to counter over creative players is to give them enough rope to hang themselves.  Prone to getting themselves in tough situations, let the creatives bloat the pot when you have the goods and don’t be afraid to make timely big bluffs on the river as these guys love to make big nonstandard lay downs.


Some of the less competitive poker players play honestly.  It’s not that they don’t want to win, but they FOOLISHLY don’t want to compromise their integrity at the poker table.  These players feel like big bluffs and lying about what they were holding in a mucked hand indicates bad sportsmanship; something to be avoided.  Look for players that show a lot of disdain for bluffs and for “lies” at the table.  If you suspect you have a player with this mindset at your table, definitely show them a bluff if you can, their reaction will confirm your suspicion.  Obviously these opponents won’t bluff very often so you can fold when they show any aggression and you can run over them whenever they don’t.

Good player/Wannabe/Just here for the cheap drinks

The Good player

Some players just seem to be at total ease.  They interact with other players, they act fluidly and you can tell this isn’t their first rodeo.  They inconspicuously observe the action and follow the game flow quite easily.  Assume these player are relatively good  at poker, they care about winning and have concrete ideas on how to do so.  Seasoned players tend to play a Tight-Aggressive (TAG) style.  They won’t play a high volume of hands, but they will contest pots fiercely.  Try to avoid playing a lot of big pots with these players until you can get more details on their playing patterns and tendencies.

The Wannabe

Some poker players read all the books, they know all the strategy, but they are not quite refined enough to be winning poker players.  These players ruffle chips at the table awkwardly, they talk strategy at the table (wanting to demonstrate their prowess) and most importantly they play a bit too weakly post flop.  The wannabe tends to try to play a TAG type of game but falls short.  These players fear not playing “by the book. They want to play an aggressive style at the table, but they don’t compete enough for the big pots.  They will fold to a lot of 2nd bullets after a C-bet and you can float them and take pots away on later streets.

Bad Players

Even though they are less prevalent than during Poker’s heyday, there are still plenty of bad poker players.  Some of these players make it obvious that they don’t have the knowledge and skill to compete.  We have 2 subgroups for these players.

Nitty Newbies

New poker players tend to avoid risk.  They feel cramped by their lack of hand reading skills and never quite know the value of their hand (except for rags and the absolute nuts).  Fearing major blunders, new players tend to be very tight (when in doubt folding can never be a big mistake).  Bet early and often against the newbies, winning a lot of small pots and showing up with the goods in a few big pots is the best way to exploit them.


These bad players are generally experienced but they don’t play very well.  The fact is most members of this group don’t care.  They think poker strategy is foolish (you can’t control the cards), or they don’t want to bother learning.  They play for the social aspects, the rush of gambling and other noncompetitive reasons.  Whales hate folding (they are notorious calling stations), so don’t bloat pots for no reason and don’t try bluffing them.  Value bets are the way to extract value against these players.  Value bet a broader range of hands and don’t let up.

In Summary

Making educated initial assumptions about your opponents is a crucial poker skill.  These assumptions will serve as a starting point for profiling your opposition’s poker tendencies. Once you establish these baselines you must seek constant tweaking.  Although the starting point is important, concrete poker experience with your tablemates trumps these early assumptions and is much more reliable.

Instructing Poker’s Weekend Warriors

ReadsWhen it comes to teaching strategy, the poker community practically ignores a huge segment of its players.  People play poker due to a multitude of motivations, but the tendency is to fit all poker players in one of two buckets.

  1. Those who play exclusively for entertainment purposes (Whales, once a month social players, occasional casino players).
  2. Those who play exclusively for financial gain (Grinders, professional players).

The fact is, the vast majority of poker players fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  Most players are competitive but would never dream of “turning pro”.  They play poker for the entertainment value, but they extract part of that value from competition and the challenge of self-improvement.  The value of improving your poker skills is not exclusively measured in dollars and cents.  Some want to learn poker strategy for other reasons:

  • They want to be competitive in their home game.
  • They don’t mind losing but want to feel like they have a fighting chance.
  • They enjoy the strategic part of the game.
  • They are seeking gradual improvements in their results, without expectations of making a steady income from playing poker.

Most poker strategy resources (a couple of exceptions are Ed Miller’s books and pokerstrategy.com) fit into one of three categories, which are practically useless for Poker’s Weekend Warriors (PWW):

  • They teach new players about the basics of the game.
  • They teach players how to be profitable enough to quit their day job and become professional poker players.
  • Attention grabbing nonsense aimed exclusively at generating traffic in the hopes of selling referrals and affiliate commisions.

Golf takes care of its “Weekend Warriors”, most golf clubs across the world feature an in house golf pro to provide instruction to the masses.  I feel strongly that the poker community needs to do the same.

Why we need to teach PWW

The poker economy needs to see a shift.  Once “weekend warriors” get discouraged with their lack of  progress they get disengaged and reduce their amount of play or even worse they stop playing completely.  The more active PWW we have playing, the healthier the poker eco-system.  Without this crucial group, there is a bi-polarity at the tables; we are left with Sharks feasting on guppies.  You can see how much trouble we are in when we see professional players 20 tabling at the online low limits to fleece beginners.  The poker economy needs a healthy number of engaged, competitive intermediate players to act as a bridge between these two groups

A glimpse into what this looks like

It is in my opinion that PWW most dire need is to solidify their fundamentals.  PWW are lacking in fundamentals because they are encouraged to dive into advanced concepts before they are ready. They must build a solid foundation, otherwise progress stalls.  As Jared Tendler states in “The Mental Game of Poker”, poker players need to take an “inchworm approach” to their poker progression.  They must take care of the backend of their knowledge (the fundamentals) before they can inch their way forward to more advanced concepts and strategies.

These aspects of poker strategy must be somewhat complex, counter intuitive or difficult to apply to PWW.  Otherwise, most poker players would master these fundamentals at the initial stages of their poker learning.

The key concepts

In my opinion, most PWW need to focus on a specific set of fundamentals.  As I alluded to earlier, the most basic and intuitive concepts should already be mastered, otherwise there are tons of resources available to bridge that gap.  There are three major topics that I recommend focusing on (along with the numerous amounts of sub skills that come along with them).

Hand Reading

This is the most essential skill.  Poker players from all levels must continuously work on hand reading.  Stripped down to its purest form, poker is a game of information.  The more information you can deduce from your opposition’s tendencies, actions and patterns, the better your chances of playing poker profitably.

Hand Planning

Every hand of poker played must be guided by a plan.  Hands are folded preflop because a profitable plan of action cannot be formulated, huge hands come with plans of extracting maximum value,  and marginal hands call for a plan of bluffing or getting to showdown cheaply.

Many PWW struggle with hand planning, they play hands in a vacuum and treat each street independently.  This tendency causes problems like unwillingly getting pot committed, slow playing at the wrong time, and trying big bluffs in the wrong spot.

Executing like a winning poker player

It’s one thing to win the “information battle” and to then formulate a winning plan, but theory without execution doesn’t get the job done.  Execution is more difficult than it may seem.  Poker is a game filled with psychological land mines such as Tilt, misinformation and heartbreaking variance.  A short list of the main mindset flaws that hurt their execution follows:

They don’t understand randomness

Failure to understand the randomness in poker leads to Tilt.  PWW typically:

  • Expect to hit a flush draw after missing on the last five.
  • Figure they are due for a good pocket pair after being dealt rags for a while.
  • Fail to understand the relationship between variance and randomness.

These tendencies lead to false expectations, and when not met these expectations lead to Tilt, and as we all know Tilt is the enemy.

They can’t assign probabilities to their beliefs

As Frank Lantz explained in his Tedx talk, it is counter intuitive to assess the limits of our knowledge.  In poker, not only must you formulate an opinion on the variables involved,  you also need to assign a degree of certainty to this opinion.  Very few other games or life endeavors favor this type of approach.  PWW need to learn this way of thinking as per the following examples:

  • Determining your opponent is on a flush draw isn’t enough.  You must assign a probability to this assumption.  Does he have the draw 60 percent of the time?  80 percent of the time?  Virtually every time?  The distinction is crucial to making a profitable decision.
  • Facing a half pot sized bet on the river, it’s not enough to determine if you are probably ahead.  For instance, facing a half pot sized bet, the pot odds are enough if you are ahead 40 percent of the time.  In this case, you are probably behind, but you should call based on pot odds.
  • In tournaments, ICM theory is quite counter intuitive.  Shoving 15 BB’s late in a tournament from the button with any 2 cards is probably losing chips.  But it is the proper play in most instances.

They ignore Tilt

Poker Tilt is a problem that needs to be understood and dealt with.  PWW need to figure out the sources of their Tilt and arm themselves with tools to deal with it.  We need to teach them how to:

  • Recognize the conditions that induce their Tilt
  • Learn how to play well under difficult conditions
  • Learn how to minimize the effects of Tilt (play a better C game)

It’s time to make poker instruction accessible.  A big segment of players are beyond learning the basics of play and are not realistically looking at turning into professionals.  Poker tables across the world are full Weekend Warriors eagerly looking to improve their play. This is my contributing to the cause of teaching them.


The NHL has a problem


Player safety is a huge concern for the NHL.  While we are learning more about concussions and just how debilitating they can be for the long term, the league is looking to reduce hits to the head and the subsequent concussions that come with them.  The opinions on what is causing all these concussions vary:

I tend to agree that lack of respect on the ice is the main culprit.   It seems like players are taking more and more reckless cheap shots at their opponents and getting away with it unscaved.  The instigator rule certainly factors into the problem.  A lot of teams have strong offensively talented power forwards that can hit and fight, but teams cannot afford to lose these players to lengthy penalties and suspensions.  Teams can no longer use intimidation to “deter” others from taking cheap shots at their stars.  The Edmonton Oilers current situation demonstrates the problem perfectly.

The situation

Gagner_Broken Jaw

In last week’s preseason game Zack Kassian of the Vancouver Canucks totally destroyed Sam Gagner’s jaw with a vicious errant stick to the face.  Gagner needed an operation to repair his jaw and will be sidelined for 2 months or so.  Here are a few other things that add to this volatile situation:

  • The Oilers have been known to be soft the last few years and for watching their stars being run game in and game out without any consequence
  • The Oilers have a new Head Coach in Dallas Eakins, who is surely looking to show the league that he is not ready to watch his team get run over
  • Vancouver is a natural rival and the teams play in the same division
  • The 2 teams play October 5th, on national television and they won’t meet each other again before a couple of months

The new season is approaching, the Oilers are trying to turn their franchise around, they have a bunch of good young talent, but they have to play without one of their top 6 Forwards for 2 months.  How they react should be interesting.  In my opinion they have 3 options on October 5th (a 4th option would have been to target Kassian, but he is suspended and won’t play):

  1. Do nothing, let the league keep on running their stars without consequence
  2. Dress their goons, have them fight early and often
  3. Retaliate by targeting their best player(s)

Let’s have a look at the Pros and Cons of each option

Let bygones be bygones; do nothing

Pros: It’s the sensible thing to do.  They will avoid suspensions/fines from the league.

Cons: The reputation of being soft will gain momentum.  The other Oiler’s stars will get similar treatment.

My View:  It’s important to set a precedent.  The Oilers have a new coach, a new captain and are trying to incorporate a new attitude.  The whole league is watching;  it’s important to pass the message that the Oilers won’t let their star players be intimidated on the ice.

Get’ em Sea bass! (Dress all of their talentless goons and let them run wild)


Pros: If there ever was a game to dress Luke Gadzic, this is the one.  Even if the league suspends a guy like Gadzic, it’s not a huge loss.  It will send a message to the Canucks and the rest of the league.

ConsIt requires we dress guys like Gadzic instead of one of our talented Forwards.  Does having the goon from Team A fight the goon from Team B really accomplish anything?

My View:  I don’t buy into the idea that having staged fights somehow warns teams not to mess with your stars.  The only way a goon works as a deterrent is if you put him on a line with your superstars (a la Dave Semenko back in the 80’s).  Offense is so difficult to come by these days; teams cannot afford to assign talentless thugs to their first line.

An Eye for an Eye (Take runs at their star players)

ProsClearly sends a message not to mess with your star players.  Intimidation is valuable.  Other Oiler stars will feel more comfortable on the ice.

ConsTwo wrongs don’t make a right.  The league frowns upon this type of retribution (heavy fines and suspensions are likely).  The situation can escalate quickly (resulting in even more injuries).

My View:  I know it sounds vicious and extremely unsportsmanlike, but the Oilers need to target the Sedins on Oct 5th.  I’m not saying they need to injure them, but they need to make sure they hit them hard and hit them often.  A couple of double minors or even a game misconduct is in order.  The rest of the league needs to learn that if you run one of the Oilers small star Forwards, they won’t stand pat and will seek forceful retribution.

Your Turn

What do you think the Oilers should do on October 5th (if anything)?  Who/what do you think is to blame for all these vicious cheap shots we are seeing all over the league?  I want to hear your opinion in the Comments.

How Good Can Josh Gordon Be In 2013?

Josh Gordon

(This is a guest post by Fanduel.com)

The Cleveland Browns picked up their first win in 2013 against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, despite the odds stacked up against them. Not only were they already starting third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer, but they were playing their first game after the controversial trade of Trent Richardson. However, instead of focusing on who they were missing, it is better to focus on the fantasy football standout who made his return: Josh Gordon.

While the talent has always been there for Gordon, struggles with drugs have always held him back. He was suspended from Baylor for drugs, and he was forced to miss the first two games of this season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. In his season debut, he was able to quickly make people forget about all of that with a breakout performance.

Against the Vikings, Gordon caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 19 times during the game, and while that might not hold up, that would be a great recipe for fantasy football success. His biggest play was a 47-yard touchdown grab, in which he made it look fairly easy.

Due to the Browns making the move with Richardson already this season, some are speculating that Gordon could be the next to go. Right now, management is denying that, but it could be a ploy to make his stock rise even more. There are certainly a number of teams that could use a talented wide receiver with size. Despite the win, the Browns are not going anywhere in 2013, so it might be in their best interest to stockpile draft picks in what should be a pretty solid draft.

From a fantasy football perspective, Gordon is worth the waiver wire pickup. If he stays in Cleveland, he will be a top offensive option all season long. If he is traded, it will be to a team that needs him to perform. As long as he keeps his head on straight with his past drug issues, the remaining 13 games for Gordon should be pretty good.