I’ve always enjoyed picking apart hands and it’s something that I have done regularly with my students. Sometimes the most effective part of a lesson starts with:
I had a hand that made me think of you this week. I took notes on it. Here’s how it went.
In addition to the written description of the hand I break down in this article, the video embedded below includes more in-depth analysis. Often a video using a hand replayer can really assist you in understanding a hand and absorbing the concepts that I’m talking about. Such analyses will help you increase your own win-rate and understand how to beat live cash games.
This particular hand focuses on ranges and attacking your opponents in a very exploitative way. No GTO range balancing here. That’s not what I do in $2/5 games. I find weak players and I attack them. And so should you.
The hand took place on a Thursday night at the Wynn poker room. The game was pretty good, only a few backpacks and headphones, and none of them were particularly strong. The button was tight, the big blind was passive, and the small blind, who was my primary opponent, was new to the table but clearly wasn’t a strong player.
How did I know he wasn’t a strong player?
He was a white male in his mid-forties, he was wearing a conservative collared shirt and an expensive pair of jeans. He was from out of town, and he wasn’t shuffling chips, listening to headphones, or wearing any poker clothing. He was comfortable at the table, and he wasn’t terrible, but he was clearly not someone who would spend a lot of time on a poker training site or working with software to improve his game.
He was a successful person and almost certainly well educated and intelligent. But those things do him as much good at the poker table as they would on a basketball court. In fact, they are probably a detriment. He has had enough success in life that he expects to be smarter and more hardworking than most people he meets. Given the scruffy appearance of many poker players, he likely feels superior to most of them as soon as he sees them because he’s used to being the king of his world.
Appearance reads are a big part of my game. While I’m comfortable with things like game theory optimal play and range balancing, I find that being very exploitative is the most profitable way to attack cash games below $10/20.
The action folded around to me in the cutoff seat with king-seven of spades. This is an easy raise in this spot. With multiple aggressive players behind me, I might consider folding this hand. The button folded as I expected she would more than 90% of the time. The small blind called my raise and the big blind called as well, almost certainly because the small blind called and gave him good odds on his call.
I talk more about their ranges and combinations in the video, but I did know that neither of them had a big hand preflop. Give it a second and think about why and you will probably agree with me. No one likes to play out of position, and they were both sharp enough to know that my opening range from late position would be fairly wide. A real hand would have reraised from the small blind to isolate me, possibly win the pot right there and avoid playing out of position. The big blind would certainly have reraised a big hand because there was already $45 in the pot and he was likely to win immediately with a three-bet to around $90. They both just wanted to see a flop.
The big blind’s range is wider and could include hands like four-seven suited and ace-five offsuit as well as better drawing hands, anything with two big cards, and any pair. The small blind’s range will be hands like ace-ten, king-queen, small and middle pairs, and suited aces. When a small blind flat calls a late position raise you know a few things.
- They probably aren’t very good. A strong player will raise or fold almost all the time there. I don’t remember the last time I cold-called a raise from the small blind without multiple opponents in the pot.
- They have a range that includes medium strength hands. There are no weak drawing hands and no big pairs. Ace-king is a rarity too because it would usually reraise a late position open.
I was pleased to see the flat calls from the blinds. This leaves them with no definition of my hand while I have a pretty good feel for their ranges as well as the huge advantage of position. This is an excellent situation for me.
The flop of T44 with two diamonds was very good for me. This may seem strange because it missed me completely, but the flop will usually miss a hand like king-seven suited. The reason I like it is because it usually misses my opponents too, and I have the initiative as the preflop raiser, and position. On a wet flop like 79J with two diamonds, I would probably check behind unless I saw that my opponents really hated the flop. Their ranges hit a wet board much too often and my continuation bet will usually fail.
I bet $40 on the flop after both my opponents checked. If either of them had bet I probably would have raised. I talk more about that in the video. Since they checked, I bet, expecting folds fairly often. If one of them had check-raised me I would likely have reraised with nothing because their check-raise will usually indicate a ten and my reraise will tell a fairly convincing story about an overpair.
The small blind called my bet and the big blind folded. This was an excellent result for me. Now I can put the small blind on a fairly narrow range and the big blind, and his much wider range, are out of the picture.
The turn was the three of clubs, a complete whiff. Since I have my opponent on a smaller pair, two diamonds, a ten, or a frisky call with just two overcards, I know that the three of clubs doesn’t help him unless he has a pair of threes, which is going to be very rare compared to the rest of his range.
I bet $85 to keep the heat on. If he has a flush draw I am probably ahead or will be able to steal the pot about 70% of the time on the river. If he has a ten or a small pair I will almost always be able to steal the pot on the river. And I can always catch a king to win the pot, and even a seven may win it for me. If he does hit his hand, I expect him to bet into me and let me know that he has me beat so I don’t lose a big pot. Players like this will almost never check-raise the river. It’s too frustrating for them when someone checks behind.
He called quickly, which told me that he probably had a flush draw, a middle pair, or a ten with a good kicker.
When the ace of hearts fell on the river, I was in great shape. If he had an ace, it must be ace-ten and he would bet into me with his top two pair for fear that I would check behind with a hand like two jacks or queen-ten and he would make nothing extra on his big hand. When he checked, I knew the pot was mine.
Many players will check behind here and be glad that they aren’t facing a bet. King high is good here often enough to be happy with a showdown right?
I do this for a living. I have bills to pay. And I can win this pot almost every time instead of thirty to fifty percent of the time. All I have to do is make a big bet. His behavior tells me that the best hands he can have here are a suited ace of diamonds or king-ten. And I have told a pretty convincing story about having a big hand. If I bet $150, those hands will often call me, but what if I overbet the pot?
If I overbet the pot, he is going to fold even his top pair hands because he will think that the worst hand I can have is an ace with a better kicker. And he will fold his small pairs, hands like king-ten and queen-ten, and of course all of his flush draws. He will fold almost his entire range. (For more information on overbets versus capped ranges, PRO members might like to start with this video.)
My appearance read is important here. If he is a calling station, an overthinker, or just very stubborn, my bluff is no longer profitable. But in that case I would have played the whole hand differently.
I bet $440 into a pot of $310, knowing that he will see the overbet as a sign of real strength. He’s probably called those overbets on the river a few times in the past and been shown monster hands.
He not only folded, he said “I think I was ahead until the river”, meaning that he had a pair or a ten. My reply of “No, that ace cost me money” convinced him that he made the right fold and didn’t clue the rest of the table in to the fact that I might actually fire that many barrels with nothing. Everyone believed me. Even the regulars know that I won’t usually fire three barrels without a hand. I don’t do it often, and when I do I am usually pretty sure that it’s going to work, so I don’t get caught very often at all.
This is a classic example of playing my opponent’s range instead of my own cards. I never really had a hand, but on every street I had a good reason to bluff. If the river had been a rag like the six of clubs I might have given up and checked behind, hoping to beat a busted flush draw. But that ace was mine. A perfect card to bluff against an opponent who would bet if he had two pair or better.
Just remember that you have to know exactly why you are firing again if you are going to fire every barrel. Don’t start firing piling chips in on every street just because you can find a reason. Do this because you know your opponent’s ranges and you know who they are and how they see the game. Then you can destroy them.