How many of you consistently take into account the worst player at the table? As you move up in stakes this skill become more and more important due to the lack of poor players and the general increase in skillful play. In this month’s article I’d like to discuss a few important situations where the location of the worst player at the table should play a significant role in how you play your hand. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that we’re in a 9-handed 5/10NL game with seven other very skillful (nearly game theory optimal) players, and one very poor player (the whale). Stacks are $2,000 and there is no significant history between players.
Flatting vs 3-betting
In this first example, let’s say it folds around to the cutoff who opens to $35. You’re on the button with A♣ K♣. You’re aware that you should generally 3-bet with this hand for value but you glance to your left and see that the whale is in the big blind. This is a situation where 3-betting and flatting are both profitable. It’s just a question of which one is more profitable?
In my experience 3-betting in this situation will earn you a couple of big blinds while flatting in this situation will often earn you several streets of value from the big blind. When confronted with a situation where you can 3-bet a big hand against a good player or flat a big hand to get a whale involved, you should happily choose the later. After all, he’s the reason why you’re in the game.
Betting a Normal Size vs Building a Pot
So let’s say you flat and sure enough the whale calls out of the big blind making the total pot $110. The flop comes A♥ 8♣ 4♠ and both players check to you. This is a situation where I often see respectable players bet something like $60. There is nothing wrong with this sizing. I would say it’s likely the best way to find a GTO c-betting strategy on this board.
But why use a GTO strategy when someone in the hand is clearly breaking all the rules by calling with way too many hands? My argument is further solidified when you realize that the CO will often c-bet his entire range of bluffs and value-bets on this board – leaving his weaker hands exposed when he checks. So when the CO is much less of a factor why would you continue to use a GTO strategy? In this situation I would simply bet $100 I expect the big blind to call with any pair and any gut-shot.
Balancing Your Range vs Getting Max Value
To continue with my example, let’s say you bet $100, the big blind calls, and the cutoff folds. The turn comes the 2♣ giving you top pair, top kicker with the nut flush draw. The big blind checks, you bet $300, and he calls making the total pot $910. The river is the 7♣ giving you the nuts. The big blind checks to you and now you have a decision to make. Like I said, starting stacks were $2,000. That leaves both of you with $1,565 left to play. Now what sizing should you use?
“…when you’re playing against whales I think you can
often throw balance out the window…”
If you were trying to develop a balanced river betting range I think a size like $600 would often be a good place to start. But when you’re playing against whales I think you can often throw balance out the window. Is a very poor playing going to fold top pair here? Occasionally, but is he ever going to fold two pair? No. A slow-played set? No. A backdoored flush? Never. Why not ship it? Just go for max value. The times you get the whale to call it off with two pair or better far outweigh the times he folds top pair. So much so that I truly believe you’re leaving value on the table by not 2x’ing the pot.
Putting It All Together
I’ve been in all three of the situations above too many times to count. I put together this sample hand history to illustrate one very key point. The reason you play bigger games is so that you can target bigger fish. Consequently, you need to be aware of situations where you can get the fish involved. Passing on these opportunities will often leave you in a neutral EV situation against one of the other solid players at the table.
I think a lot of people get too caught up in trying to develop GTO betting ranges for each bet size. Don’t get me wrong, a solid understanding of GTO play is crucial when you’re playing against players that are better than you; however, when you’re in a game with a player that consistently ignores GTO play, you need to adjust your strategy accordingly and it often starts by value-betting bigger.
If you enjoyed this I will be elaborating on these concepts in future articles and videos on my new site – checkshovepoker.com. Thanks for reading and as always, make sure you run good, have fun, and constantly look for ways to improve.