Poker Strategy
Shifts In Poker Strategy With Ping Liu
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In the nearly two decades since poker experienced a boom thanks to Chris Moneymaker’s historic World Series of Poker main event victory in 2003, the strategy surrounding the game has evolved at a pace never before seen. With online poker, the game’s best players were able to see more hands quickly and develop more complex strategies to win. Bet sizing, aggression levels, and even something as basic as preflop hand selection has changed drastically since the game went mainstream. Chicago native and Southern California resident Ping Liu has been playing long enough to see most of these changes. With his first significant cash as a pro coming back in 2011 and experience playing online before that, Liu emerged as a true force in 2018 as a contender for the World Poker Tour Player of the Year title. Not only did he finish fourth in the Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $599,147, but he also took fourth in the Rolling Thunder main event for another $97,510, and fifth in the bestbet Bounty Scramble for another $73,734. Last year, Liu picked up a win at the LA Poker Classic, while also final tabling the $10,000 super turbo bounty event at the WSOP and finishing third in the WSOP Circuit Planet Hollywood main event. He now has $2.1 million in career tournament earnings, and is currently accepting students for poker coaching and can found on Twitter @PingDotCom. Liu sat down with Card Player to break down a couple hands from the 2007 WPT Borgata Poker Open main event final table, which featured Mike Matusow, Eugene Todd, Mark Weitzman, Haralabos Voulgaris, and eventual winner Roy Winston. The Action: Roy Winston raised to 230,000 on the button and Mark Weitzman called out of the big blind. On the flop, Weitzman led out for 400,000 and Winston raised to 1,400,000. Weitzman folded. Steve Schult: Before we even get into the hand itself, the first thing I noticed is the ante size. The blinds are 40,000-80,000, but the ante is just 5,000, meaning there is 30,000 in the middle in antes at the six-handed final table. Nearly all poker tournaments now use the big blind ante, which would put 80,000 in antes in the middle. So how should the ante size dictate your preflop hand selection? Ping Liu: It’s pretty simple, intuitively, that if there is less dead money in the pot preflop, then you have less to win by raising and trying to steal the blinds. Therefore, you are less incentivized to voluntarily put money in the pot, and because of that, you will be opening slightly tighter ranges. SS: Should it affect how large or small you raise? In this hand, Winston raises on the button to 230,000 and nowadays you would see something between 160,000 and 200,000 in this spot. PL: If there is less money in the middle, your raise size should go down as well. If there is less in the middle, and you’re still raising three times the blind, you’re risking more to win less. So, it’s kind of similar preflop where you can just think of what you’re raising by a percentage of the pot. Let’s say you were in a cash game and the blinds were $1-$2 and you’re raising 2.5 big blinds to $5. That is 62.5% of the pot. And obviously with more dead money in the middle, 60% of the pot gets bigger and bigger effectively. The bigger the antes, the more you should be raising preflop, because you stand to win more if you take the blinds down right away. That being said, back in the day, people really did raise close to 3x as the standard and I’m not really sure why that was. And I think over the years, preflop raise sizes just started getting smaller and smaller all the way down to just a min-raise, which I think started happening around 2014. SS: Winston raises to 230,000 and Mark Weitzman calls out of the big blind. Weitzman started the hand with 1.75 million, or about 23 big blinds. I remember a mantra from this time period with regard to stack sizes which generally said that with around 10 big blinds you should be open-shoving and with about 20, you should find spots to just three-bet shove your stack. Should Weitzman have much of a flatting range? PL: The first thing is that you’re right that 13 years ago, people usually played 20-big blind stacks a lot more like you described. They would just shove over an open. But over the years, [we have realized] there is still a lot more play anywhere between 10- and 20-big blind stacks. You can flat and take your hand post-flop. But that is also a function of what we were talking about before. If someone is min-raising, and you have 20 big blinds in the big blind, you can still defend and have a decent amount of playability. But when people are opening to 3x, and now you have to call two additional big blinds instead of one, it does make a big difference. Once they start tripling the blind, your risk/reward for just shoving becomes a lot better. If they fold pre to your jam, you’re going to win another big blind plus what’s in the middle. I think there has been more play post-flop recently at the shorter stack sizes, but that’s also a function of the raise sizes preflop going down. SS: Weitzman calls and the flop comes jack-high with two clubs. He then donk-bets (betting from out of position into the aggressor) for 400,000. Can you explain the rationale of why you would want to donk-bet? PL: The rationale behind donk-betting is that you connected with that particular flop stronger than your opponent did. You’re saying that you have the range advantage on that board. Usually, if someone is the preflop raiser, you are going to have the strongest hands in your range. You’ll have A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K. And if you just flat the raise preflop, then those hands aren’t going to be present in your range because you most likely would’ve put in a three-bet. So very often, the player who defends from the big blind, won’t have a big hand. Because the top of their range isn’t going to be present. There are certain, pretty specific board textures, where the big blind theoretically could have a range advantage, but those are going to be on the lower board textures. Something like 4-5-6 with a flush draw. That’s a board where it is more theoretically optimal to construct a donk-leading range out of the big blind, because you’ll have a lot more of the 4-5’s, the 4-6’s, the 5-6’s, and also more straight combos than the button. The button probably isn’t raising 4-6 offsuit, but from the big blind, you could defend it. In terms of what I actually think he’s doing here, I would guess that he just has a hand that he is looking to go with at this point. He’s just trying to protect it and take the pot down right away. SS: How have you seen the donk-bet strategy change throughout the years? Is there more or less of it now than when you started posting results a decade ago? PL: I do think the amount of donk-betting has gone down over the years quite substantially. Most moderately studied players know that when you defend out of the big blind, the most common play is to check to the preflop raiser and then react accordingly. That’s something that all the solvers have proven. Checking your range is going to be the best play. Back then in the pre-solver era, people didn’t understand how ranges interacted and they just started donking on boards where they shouldn’t have a leading range on it. The main problem with doing that is it turns your hand face up. Let’s say you’re playing with a relatively weak player and they donk on this board and you have nothing, so you just fold. Then the next time you play a hand with them and you get a similar board texture, and now they check. Because you know they have a donking range and they put their strong hands in it, their checking range becomes unprotected. Every time they check, you can just c-bet (continuation bet) everything and expect to get a lot of folds because their range will be significantly weaker. SS: Weitzman had 14 big blinds behind, and there was another player with about 18 big blinds. Is this a good spot for Winston to apply ICM (Independent Chip Model) pressure or does he usually have a hand here? PL: I think he has to have some equity. He can’t just do it with air because I think the big blind is showing a significant amount of strength by donking so big on this board without much behind. He shouldn’t expect him to lead this big and fold. More likely than not, he’s got a strong top pair. The Action: The action folded to Haralbos Voulgaris, who completed the small blind. Weitzman checked his option from the big blind. Both players checked the flop and Voulgaris bet 155,000 on the turn. Weitzman called. Both players checked the river and Weitzman won the pot at showdown. SS: Action folds to Haralabos in the small blind, who completes. Open limping is still somewhat prevalent in today’s game, but what were the types of hands you would generally see people limp with? PL: Open limping is definitely part of a pretty viable preflop strategy, even in 2020. And you’re going to see it a lot more once you get to a sub-20 big blind stack depth. You can have some open limps from the cutoff with like 15 big blinds or so. And the same thing for the button. But specifically, in this spot, blind vs. blind, the optimal strategy does include a lot of limps from the small blind. Especially with an ante in the pot, the small blind is getting such a good immediate price to complete, they really are going to be incentivized to play a lot of their hands. And because their ranges are going to be so wide, often times, the small blind will often play a limp-only strategy and then respond accordingly if the big blind does choose to raise. SS: Weitzman checks his option and the flop is A-K-J with two hearts. Both players check and the 9 comes on the turn. Voulgaris decides to take a pot-sized stab with his deuces. I remember a limp-stab strategy being implemented in these spots. Is this just a delayed limp-stab? PL: With deuces, nowadays, the standard play preflop would be just to shove when the big blind has 20 big blinds and you cover him. The low pocket pairs don’t play particularly well post-flop, especially against the big blind. As played, most players would take a stab right away with deuces on the flop. On an A-K-J board texture, when the big blind checks back, he is going to be really capped and not have any of the strong hands in his range. Those are the hands he would’ve raised or shoved preflop. It’s unlikely that the big blind has an ace in his hand, whereas the small blind can still have some of the stronger hands in his range that was going for a limp-raise. It’s a better board texture for the small blind, so I think the better play would be to stab the flop. Even just for one big blind would be fine. If the big blind has two unders, they aren’t going to continue regardless of what size he chooses. When we get to the turn, he’s probably thinking the same thing. The big blind probably doesn’t have that much, and he’s just going to bet his hand and deny some equity. I think the pot-sizing is not super effective. What he’s trying to…
Poker Strategy: Proper Bet Sizing With Premium Pocket Pairs
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The Pros: Alex Fitzgerald, Jonathan Little, and Ryan Laplante Craig Tapscott: When you have a big hand preflop (aces, kings, or queens) in late position and a player has already opened UTG+1 at a full table, what are the variables that determine what your bet sizing will be when and if you raise?  Alex Fitzgerald: If I’ve got an extremely loose player behind me who is calling down big bets with any pair, then I’ll definitely consider calling preflop. If that loose recreational player is in the big blind, then I’m even more inclined to smooth call. They will likely call with close to anything while in the big blind and getting a discount. While multi-way pots are messier, I’d prefer a multi-way pot with one guy who will pay off with any pair as opposed to a slightly bigger heads-up pot with one great player. If the initial opener is fantastic post-flop, he’s probably not going to give me a ton of money anyway if I three-bet him, so that is also a time I will consider flatting. That said, the vast majority of the time I will three-bet. I find Americans love to call three-bets out of position with anything they opened, so I love taking advantage of that. You want them to put as much money in the middle as possible, obviously. The art form is figuring out who can’t fold preflop. Typically, people who are always limping, cold calling, raising, and trying to see flops are the types of people who get really touchy when you try to deny them a flop they want to see. You might know 4-6 suited is a fold, but they don’t. They really want to see that flop with their high VPIP (Voluntarily Put $ in Pot). So, in that case, you can even pump it to 3.5 times their opening bet, because they’ll still call you. With regs who are comfortable folding preflop, you can shade the bet down a little smaller.  Jonathan Little: The main concerns when you have a hand you want to potentially three-bet are the initial raiser’s range, and the stack depths. As stacks get shorter, there is usually some merit to calling with aces, and perhaps kings, because you really want to get value from those hands, and calling allows you to call with a slightly wider range of hands that flop well, like 9-8 suited. As stacks get deeper though, you should almost always three-bet with your best hands because you want to build the pot and extract value. You typically want to three-bet to about 2.5 times the initial raise when you are in position and to about 3.5 times when you are out of position. If someone raises to 500 and you are in position, make it 1,250. If you are out of position, make it 1,750. As stacks get really deep, perhaps 100 big blinds or more, you can instead three-bet to 3x in position and 4x out of position. Ryan Laplante: When playing a tournament, you will generally be between 40-80 big blinds deep in this type of situation. When considering what to three-bet, and the size, we need to think about three main factors.  What is their opening range, how deep are the effective stacks, and are we in position or out of position? Let’s say we are 60 big blinds deep, and we are up against an early position raise. So, their range should be somewhat tight (8-18% of top tier hands depending on the player). Because of that and how deep we are, we need to make our three-bet size somewhat large.  A general rule of thumb to follow against a single raise with no callers is that 2.5x equals tiny, 3x equals small, 3.5x equals medium, 4x equals large, and 5x equals very large. Where x equals their open bet size. So in this situation, I would three-bet to 3.5x or 4x their opening bet and do so with a range of 10-10+/A-Q+ for the most part and might mix in some bluffs like A-5 suited, K-9 suited, or J-9 suited. Now, if we were in the small blind or big blind I would three-bet to 4.5×. So, if they opened to 2,000, and we were in cutoff I’d three-bet to 7,000, while if we were in the small blind, I’d three-bet to 9,000 or even 10,000.  Craig Tapscott: Please breakdown your thoughts on how you determine bet sizing on the flop with an overpair heads-up, including all various different board texture considerations. After you are called on the flop, how is your sizing on the turn or river determined versus one player that you have position on?  Alex Fitzgerald: I tend to focus on games where I know people are playing their hand, not my hand. If I’m ever playing a player who is effectively ranging me, then I have to ask myself why I’m in that game. Because there’s always looser money out there and I’ve discovered over time that 90% of my job is game selection.  In the games I like to play, I look at the board and I ask myself what the chances are my guy has a pair. If the flop is J 9 7, for example, that is a board where my opponent has a ton of pairs and draws with their three-bet calling range. On that kind of board, I’ll blast it, because most of the people I play with can’t raise without two pair or better. Occasionally, they’ll raise a big combination draw, but I’ll let them get away with that. It’s fairly basic what they do, as usually with a draw or pair they call, if they have better, they raise, and if they bricked, they fold. After they call, I judge the turn and river cards and go for the kill with big bets. If I know the guy can’t fold top pair and that’s his most likely holding, I’ll overbet. You trap them this way. Most guys can’t fold a pair of any kind to just one continuation bet. Most guys can’t fold a pair they liked after investing huge on that flop. If they only called a 33% pot-sized bet after you 2.2x three-bet their open, they could get away, but if you play it like this you get the bad regs and recreational players trapped. The draw misses and you bomb again. They’re not going anywhere with that much money in the middle because they feel committed. If the board comes J-5-5 however, that’s a super hit or miss board so you’re going to have to cajole them with a different bet.  Jonathan Little: On the flop, you pretty much always want to bet with your best made hands and draws. And as the board is better for your range, you should bet with an even wider range of hands including your marginal made hands and junky hands. When you are betting less often (usually when the board is excellent for your opponent’s range or when the board is very coordinated), you should typically bet using a large size of about 75% pot. When the board is uncoordinated, you should bet more often, usually using a smaller size of about 33% pot. You should also tend to bet smaller when the board is uncoordinated but you lack the nut advantage, such as when you raise from UTG and the big blind calls on J-6-6. There, you have a big range advantage, but you completely lack the nut advantage because you have almost no trips in your range whereas your opponent has some. This should lead to you betting a tiny amount, about one big blind. After you bet the flop and get called, you should usually continue betting the turn and river with most of your best made hands and draws, again betting somewhat large due to betting somewhat infrequently. Ryan Laplante: Our flop continuation bet size will be based generally on how dynamic the board is. The more dynamic the board, the larger our c-bet (continuation bet) size and more frequently we might have to check back our ace highs, while the more static the board the smaller we c-bet and the more often we c-bet.  Static boards, like 7 6 5, are difficult for the best hand possible to change. With dynamic boards, like Q 9 5, it’s easy for the best hand possible to change. Let’s say I had K K, and we are 60,000 deep, and I had three-bet to 7,000 from the cutoff against an early position raise, and they called. The pot now is 16,500, and the stacks have 53,000 behind. On the static flop of 7 6 5, I would c-bet 25-30% of the pot, or 3,500 to 5,000. But on a dynamic Q 9 5 flop, I’d c-bet 50-75% pot, or 8,000-12,000. What we do on the turn will be largely based on whether the turn is a good card for our range to barrel, or if it is a better card for them. On each of these boards I will be very likely to bet the turn with jacks plus, and more apt to check pocket tens down. Any time you are considering what type of decisions to make preflop you need to consider your opponent’s range, stack depths, and your position, as that will heavily dictate both bet sizes to pick and how to build your range for bluffs and for value. ♠ Alexander Fitzgerald is a former commercial fisherman and freelance writer who became a professional poker player in 2006. He writes a daily strategic poker newsletter at www.PokerHeadRush.com for real working-class people who want to learn poker. He is the author of Exploitative Play In Live Poker, as well as The Myth Of Poker Talent. Jonathan Little is a professional poker player with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, including two World Poker Tour titles. He is the author of 15 best-selling poker books, and the 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year award winner. Sign up a free account today at his training site www.PokerCoaching.com/CardPlayer. Ryan Laplante has been a professional poker player for more than a decade and has more than $5.5 million in combined live and online tournament earnings. He has made eight WSOP final tables, and earned a bracelet by taking down the $500 buy-in PLO event in 2016. If you want to learn from him, you can do so easily and affordably through his website www.LearnProPoker.com.       .
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