Mailbag: Playing Well

Q: I’m a member of Poker Savvy Plus and have been watching your High Stakes Review series videos. I enjoy them and find them helpful. One stupid question I have is when you say a particular hand “plays very well” in a particular spot or “doesn’t play very well” what exactly does that mean. I know it’s situational, but does “play very well” simply mean you’ll know where you stand pretty accurately where as “not playing very well” means you’ll often be in the dark as to the strength of your hand? Thanks in advance!

A: You’re on the right track. The question I’m asking myself is “What kind of hand will I be looking to make on a future street?” and that’s a function of a few things: stack depth, position, opponent type, etc. With 30BB, KTo is generally a better hand than T7s. This is because in a raised pot, top pair with a good kicker is usually a good enough hand to get all in. With 200BB, I’ll take the T7s. When I play for stacks I’m mostly going to have straights, flushes, or draws to these hands. The T7s does a better job of making those kinds of hands than does KTo.

With 500BB, neither of these is a good choice for playing out of position. With such depth you must in general be much more careful about playing out of position but more liberal about playing in position. When I’m out of position with stacks that deep, I need to make NUT straights and flushes, or at least draws to those hands. So I’ll take A2s over AKo.

Of course there are other factors to consider as well but that’s a good example of how stack depth can influence whether a hand plays well.

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5 thoughts on “Mailbag: Playing Well

  1. Very interesting topic. More interestingly, I was thinking about this after my yesterday’s session, seeing how some vilain adjusted to my play in some spots.

    I guess, vilain’s pot flop tendencies is one of the “other factors to consider”. Like, if vilain is double barreling too much on boards with no broadway on we could call more with small PP and SC I guess, hoping to get at least 2 streets of value a lof of the time we hit.

  2. Guess i´t my turn to try the mailbag.But before posting my question I need to say that I also found out about you at PokerSavvy and eventually became a big admiror of your work.

    Ok, so this is a live $125 buy-in SO. I have a calling station to mi left, and a solid (though fairly straightforward) player next to him. I tank flatted a river bet with the 2nd nut full house two orbits ago just for image so they probably see me as tight. Most important, BB is a crazy Russian guy who is hipper aggressive. The past orbit I made a squeeze raise because just about every pot was 5 handed and 2 player´s followed my lead in the next 5 hands. This hand I´m HJ and again there are 4 limps so I raise 6x w QJo (26 BB´s eff). The station to my left of course calls, and I see the glimpse of a smile in the BB´s face who shoves when his turn to act comes (he has everyone covered).
    I can´t call here even though his range is super wide, I estimated something like:
    JJ-22, A2s+,K2s+,Q2s+,J7s+,T8s+,97s+,86s+,75s+,65s,A8o+ (maybe even any ace),KTo+,QTo+,JTo
    His actions and body language made me think that QQ+ was not in his range. I am tempted to call because of his range being this wide, although QJo is about 47% and I don´t feel like flipping with it.
    My real question is, however, what to do if I am suited?
    I know I don´t have a considerable edge over anybody at the table since, I rarely play(ed) live, have the calling station to my direct left, the best player next to him, and the Russian maniac right after him. The one thing that I have going for myself is that I am paying far more attention to every action than anyone else is at the table. I´m thinking that if I lose I can look for another tourney since it´s Vegas, and if I win I will have the chips and the image to run over the table. I just kind of hate myself for gambling for all my chips.
    Your thoughts?



  3. When playing live what sort of mental notes do you keep on people? Do you give them labels and those labels are associated to hand ranges, raising tendencies, calling tendencies, etc, etc?

    I remember my first couple of live tourneys I was trying to keep track of what people were calling down with in what position. What kind of boards they were folding cbets to in what positions. But for me keeping track of all this information didn’t make the game very enjoyable and at the end of some of them I was just mentally exhausted.

    Do you have any tips on maybe what you should be focusing on to begin with and what slowly to incorporate?


    • In most non WSOP / major events (and even some of those) i’d start with the following assumption: Everyone sucks until proven otherwise.

      I think focusing on what board textures people are folding to c-bets is good, but not all that useful, especially because situations will always be different. Just because the CO folded to a c-bet vs UTG on A74 doesn’t tell you a whole lot, and you probably won’t build up enough of a sample size to determine he folds on dry boards a lot.

      What i’d recommend taking mental notes on are the following:

      -Who has obvious leaks in there game? What are they? Does a player call to much? Does someone bluff too often? Does he defend too wide out of the blinds?

      Most of these questions can be answered with a few sample sizes. If a guy calls 4 raises an orbit and shows down a speculative hand, you can make some pretty safe assumptions about his game. If a guy defends his BB with 75o, you can make some assumptions, etc etc.

      -Who seems to understand stack sizes? Board texture? SPR?

      In many live tournaments you’ll see players flatting raises for 10-20% of their stack with hands like T8s and A3s. Clearly these guys don’t understand SPR, and are probably not good players.

      -Who can hand read, and who cant?

      Pay attention to hands that go to showdown. Did someone make a light call? If so, could you deduce it was a good call, or a stationy one? (Did draws miss/his opponent rep a narrow range? or did he call 3 barrels with TPWK b/c he’s a fish)

      Most of these questions are fairly easy enough to answer. Identify players w/ leaks, and work on exploiting them. Its in your best interest to maximize your value vs the weak players at your table, rather than look for leaks in competent players who – if they have leaks – are probably not big ones that are easy to exploit anyway.

  4. Shawn – thank you for a great question. I have the same problem at live tables. I feel like i try to keep track of way too much stuff and eventually it all becomes a big, unusuable mess in my head. It seems like a big element of becoming a better live player is learning to extract ‘important’ information only, discarding the fluff, and incorporating the ‘important’ stuff into your decisions….I’d also love to hear what Andrew’s thoughts are on this.

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