Whether you are playing short-handed or full ring, you know the positions of the poker table. You probably have them grouped in your head “early, middle, late position and the blinds”. Have you given much thought about the small blind? How much do you win there? What strategy do you employ? Playing from the small blind is difficult for several reasons whether you know it or not. This article will explore why it’s challenging and why I think it’s the worst spot at the table.
Battling with the Big Blind
Blind battles are prevalent in both cash games and tournaments. The psychology involved in blind battles is almost as important as the quality of your hands. The problem is that being out of position from small blind puts you at the disadvantage. When it folds to you in the small blind you know you are getting a fantastic price to play the hand, regardless of your hand. This leads to many players opting to raise with junk in a bid to steal the pot. Here’s the problem, any half decent player knows this and is liable to defend or 3 bet with impunity. Then we are getting into the “I know that he knows that I know” to infinity…. This can potentially lead to a lot of unnecessarily large pots and lost money.
First to Act Every Round
You want to act last when you play poker don’t you? Well playing from the small blind means you are first to act, on every round of betting post flop. This is less than ideal to put it nicely and completely sucks to put it truthfully. You can’t pot control, extract full value or gain information when you are the first one to act all the time. You can throw in a check raise or try to trap an aggressive player but other than that, you’re pretty limited in what you can do. Gus Hansen’s style of donk leading into raiser’s is an interesting strategy but rarely the optimal play.
Of the 6 or 9 spots at the table, the small blind will be the one you lose the most money or win the least. Unless you’re very weak at some other spots at the table, then it’s almost certainly going to be the worst position from a win rate perspective. There are ways to mitigate your loss or help improve your win rate though. Without delving too much into technical poker here is a quick guide to help you:
Throw away the hands that look pretty but play awful heads up e.g J 8s
Adapt to who is in the big blind. If it’s a nit, steal. If it’s a LAG, play solid
Play careful, let the strength of your hand do the work
Limit your bluffing, when you don’t have someone checking to you, it’s harder to narrow ranges
It’s one of the most important skills to develop as a tournament player – stealing the blinds. Players don’t seem bothered about stealing the blinds early on. However, soon as the blinds and antes rise and represent more value, the best players are fighting over them. It’s a skill that will help your in the money rate and ultimately your long-term profitability in tournament poker. When I started playing online, it was a secretive thing that was not discussed. Most players did it without divulging the information. Even in live tournaments, you’d steal from the button, the big blind would show just an ace and you’d muck… but claim a better hand. Things are a little different now but it’s still a critical skill to learn and implement on European, Asian and USA friendly poker sites.
How Can I Keep Stealing the Blinds in 2020?
Sometimes stubbornness and being relentless is a good thing in poker. I see players attempt a couple of steals, get 3 bet and go into a shell. They have the mentality that they will tighten up, hope to get 3 bet again, yet still get paid. There are worse things to do but it’s not great strategy in my book (I haven’t actually authored a book yet!). I always tell players to continue with what you think is right. People seem to forget the beauty of the small open raises. It allows you to raise more frequently as you need a lower success % for it to be profitable. Why bother raising so small if you are only doing it with the top 15% of hands? To answer the question though, we can try several things.
3 Bet the Cut-off from the Button
Players know that the button is the prime spot for stealing, so many players are widening their range from cut-off instead. It looks like threatening doesn’t it when you see a raise from there? Guess what? A lot of players know this and are effectively “stealing the button”. A simple counter play is to 3 bet from the button. The beauty in this play is that cards are almost irrelevant and it has a high success rate. Yes, there are players that pick up on this if you do it too much but these are few and far between. This works best against those who have demonstrated a lot of activity from the cut-off but even against solid players it can be profitable. Consider a tight player in the cut-off with A-9. They will gladly open raise this but fold without question. The best part of the 3 bet in this spot is that most people are less inclined to play 3 bet pots out of position so a lot will just fold pre flop.
Min Raise from Early Position
This is a tricky play that should be used sporadically and only with the right table makeup. A min raise from early position screams strength to most online players. They respect early position and the min raise too. By opening raising the minimum from under the gun, you are telling the table you want action and this sends alarm signals. You might be surprised how often this play will get through. Sometimes you get the big blind defend but even then, it’s ok, you have the perception of strength and position. A continuation bet will work a high amount of the time in this situation.
Attack the Small Blind
A great spot to pick up chips is actually in blind battles, specifically if you’re the big blind. The psychology involved in blind battles is fascinating but it boils down to aggression and position. If the small blind raises, you know, that he knows, you have a random hand and is likely stealing. Now you know that, you can just 3 bet him and likely win. What if he limps? Raise again, you know he probably would have raised himself if he had something so just bet and pick it up. Blind battles are less about hand strength and more about wanting that pot.
Take the Nothing Pots
Online poker may not be as easy as it was, but there is still a heck of a lot of favourable spots in tournaments. There is an abundance of nothing pots around. Pick them up throughout a tournament and you will increase your chances of success. It doesn’t take much, just bet at them and see. Most players are not giving the game enough attention. Perhaps they see a 4 big blind pot and don’t care or maybe they are watching Netflix. They are probably playing too many tables and only playing their cards. Take advantage of these nothing pots. I mean the pots where it’s a limped pot, it’s checked round and maybe you’re in the big blind with nothing. Take a stab and win the free chips.
Don’t Stop Raising Your Button
The last tip I can give is the simplest of all. Don’t stop raising your button. Soon as you stop, you’re beat and only waiting for luck to help you. People may 3 bet you, but they won’t every time. If they start 3 betting too much, that’s fine, they are risking more than you are. You can choose to take a stand with a lesser hand and make him show you better or you can play patient. The reality is, the small open raise is still incredibly profitable from the button. A competent post flop player won’t mind the blinds calling and is also happy to steal the blinds. Either way, you’re golden in the long run. Keep opening your button and don’t give up.
Stealing the Blinds Summary
Blind stealing is essential to being a successful tournament player. It reduces the variance and ensures you’re not just relying on good cards to see you through. The best tournament players are looking for profitable scenarios, not just profitable cards. This means thinking on your feet, adapting and perhaps being innovative. This may mean 3 betting the cutoff, trying a tricky minimum raise from early position or pounding on the small blind. These are all little strategies that you can incorporate into your game to help you have a better chance of surviving the increasing blinds.
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Most poker players don’t want to play short stack poker. They know their edge increases on their opponents as their stacks do. Whilst a strong player can still have an edge with shorter stacks, it takes time and a lot of volume for it to bear fruit and help one’s ROI. Some players prefer playing a short stack. They know their push fold charts off by heart and decision making is easy. After all, your decisions are often limited to move all in or fold. Easy game huh? This article will look at some tips to help you play short stack poker well in the future.
The Stage of the Tournament
Some players will tell you that short stack poker strategy does not change, regardless of the stage of a tournament. I couldn’t disagree more. You’re not going to win every tournament, that’s a fact. Adjusting your strategy sometimes will help your ITM, ROI and ultimately your bankroll. If you are short stacked at Level 4, on the cash bubble or eeking up the final table money, your strategy should change. Everyone is playing poker to make money so whilst shoving A-9 off suit with 11 BBs at Level 4 seems fine because you’re far from the money and it’s a +EV move, it isn’t necessarily profitable or wise to do likewise when you on the bubble of cashing with 100 people less short stack or if you are close to making another $1K on a final table.
First In & Fold Equity
An obvious tip when playing short stack poker but one never to be forgotten. Being first in is far more advantageous than calling all in. Fold equity is probably the most key concept to playing a short stack well. This is especially true later in the tournament with antes. Picking up a round of blinds and antes is essential to playing a short stack. I would much rather shove K 8 off suit in the small blind than shove Ace Ten from early position. I know when I shove from early position on a full ring table, I am likely to get called. I must get my shove through the entire table or hope to get called by worse. When I shove from the small blind, I know it’s a random hand I am against and the chance of picking up the blinds and antes are increased significantly.
Calibre of Opponent
This is often overlooked by tournament experts but a useful tip to remember. If you are on a table of fishes, you should look to minimise your risk, stay in the game and chip up risk free where possible. Against experts, you can’t expect the same ease or comfort. They know how wide you are shoving and have adjusted their calling ranges. They won’t want to double you up lightly if you are a strong player but will also be keen to bully you so long as you short stacked. If you have your cards turned face up and have a 50% chance against an expert, you should take it. If you are on a fishy table and are 52% to double up, you probably should turn it down. This may seem controversial, but the truth is you can sometimes chip up your stack to average or better without being all in and called. I have accomplished this countless times in low stakes online tournaments.
Short stack poker is an eventuality in many tournaments you play. It’s an inconvenient reality due to the blinds, antes or losing key showdowns. You may skirt by playing an average and big stack well, but you should want to play short stacked poker well. It will help you in the long run and can turn tournaments you gave up on into winners. This article has looked at a few easy to refer to tips. Consider the stage of tournament and whether it’s more profitable for you to be patient, whether you are first in or calling off your stack and whether the opponents at your table are generally bad or not. By adding weight to these factors, you will make better, more informed decisions that will help you make money.
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Knowing what hands to fold in poker doesn’t come easy to most players. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably concerned that you play too many hands, call too many raises speculatively or on the contrary, play too tight and need some guidance. We can’t all play like Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan and expect play a wide range of hands profitably. This article will give a basic guide on what hands to fold in poker.
Playing Situations, Not Just Cards
Before I get into the hand groups you should be folding. Let me preface it by saying that, as your experience, table awareness and proficiency in Texas Holdem develops, you will often be looking for profitable situations instead of just playing solid poker hands. This is something I always tell players I mentor but this article is designed to help those of you who are having difficulty with pre flop hand selection and want some general advice on what hands to fold in poker.
Ace rag is almost definitely the most overplayed and overrated hand in Texas Holdem. Even professionals will occasionally overplay the ace if they’ve been dealt junk for hours. The truth is, unless you are in position or shorthanded, these hands are unlikely to generate you much money or help build your stack much. They don’t play particularly well post flop and you are unlikely to extract 3 streets of value if you make top pair. Sometimes when you think you will, you end up finding yourself outkicked.
Low Paint Cards
This may surprise you but the Queen Jack and King Jack hands are not as powerful as you think. Granted, you have two paint cards and have the opportunity to make straights but if you are calling raises with these hands, particularly against early position open raises, you are often going to find yourself outkicked or against a higher pair. If a strong player is opening from under the gun and you are tempted to play Queen Jack from the small blind, think again. The range of hands you are likely to be up against have Queen Jack in bad shape. To make this clearer, if you are against an Ace Jack, Ace Queen or King Queen, you are approx. 25% to win the hand in a showdown. Let’s also not forget you do not have the pre flop lead.
Hands like 4-5, 6-7 and 3-4 are hands to fold in poker. I make a distinction from suited as they play so much better, but the offsuit low connectors are unlikely to help your ROI. You may have seen some professionals call raises on High Stakes Poker with these hands but that doesn’t mean they were right to and it doesn’t mean you should. Unless you make a hand stronger than one pair, you are unlikely to feel secure with low connectors so just throw them away.
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First of all, lets understand what nit poker is. A nit is a negative word that describes the tightest and most risk averse poker players around. It’s a term that can be heard in poker rooms all over the world, when a player loses action or folds a big hand and derides the opponent by calling him a nit. We know a real nit is an insect that can be found on children’s heads. They are itchy, irritating and suck the blood out of the head. I am not sure why this was twinned with the most prudent of poker players, nevertheless, this is what they are.
Nits Are Predictable
A nit is very easy to play against for several reasons. You know they won’t be bluffing; you know they only play a small range of hands and you know they won’t gamble. Poker is a game of missing information, with a nit, by process of elimination, you have a lot of information already. They play their range of hands and they play them the same way most of the time. If you are playing predictably, you are making it easier for your opponents. This is contrary to what you are trying to achieve, you want to be difficult to read, to enforce errors from your opponents.
Nits Miss Out on Value
Due to the cautious nature of a nit, they will miss out on value a lot of the time. Even an intermediate player will be prepared to fold a strong hand if a nit is putting a lot of money in the pot. They also miss out on value by checking back hands they should be value betting or playing flop and turns cautiously when they should be betting and inflating the pot for value later.
Nits Are Restricted to Lower Stakes
A decade ago, nit poker may be enough to get you moving up the stakes. By employing a cautious style against players who are playing 10 tables and not paying attention, you could still have a decent win rate and move up stakes. This is simply not the case anymore. A nit can’t crush the mid stakes so they are restricted to the lower stakes. Everyone is better now than they were. The game is always evolving and getting tougher. It’s survival of the fittest to get to the higher stakes and the fact is, nit poker won’t cut it in today’s poker world.
Nits Are More Likely to Get Bluffed
As a nit, your range is pretty well defined before you even get to the flop. An experienced player will know the range of hands you are playing from all positions at the table. As such, on certain board textures, they will abuse a nit. In deep stacked cash games, a nit may hold Q-Q on a 5-7-8 and be forced to fold by the river if an astute player recognises that the nit is holding a one pair hand and liable to fold to big betting. The worst part is, the nit probably thinks they have made a good fold in this spot when they have in fact lost money.
Nits Lack Ambition
This is contentious point but I mean this from a theoretical and intellectual point of view. Anyone who wants to employ a strategy that involves playing less than 15% of hands are not very ambitious, in my humble opinion. Most strong poker players are profitable simply because they have played so many hands in different scenarios. They are able to adapt to difficult situations.
This article is not meant to pass judgement on nit poker. I am simply highlighting the drawbacks of the nit poker style and how it is unlikely to generate much money in 2020. There are games where nit poker will win you money and that’s fine. I am hoping to reach players out there that are keen to improve their game and understand that they can increase their earning potential and poker ability by modifying their strategy. My intention was not to upset anyone who identifies as a nit.
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You could walk into half a dozen different casinos and find different house rules on the poker straddle but the basics don’t change much. A poker straddle is where the player who is meant to be under the gun, puts in an unforced bet (usually double the big blind). It is usually in No Limit Texas Holdem or Pot Limit Omaha. In order to straddle, you usually have to affirm this verbally before the cards are dealt so the dealer knows. Alternatively, you can just put double the blind before the cards are dealt. Again, the rules vary from one casino to the next whether that is binding. As the player doing the poker straddle has put in the optional bet, the action will start from UTG +1 and the poker straddle will have the final action pre flop. This is contrary to everything you may have learnt in poker and confuses many beginners.
Reasons to Embrace The Straddle
Anyone willing to start putting in blind bets when they don’t have to, are likely to be the kind that will pot bet pre-flop with weaker hands. They are the type that will stack off lightly.
It increases action, this is always a good thing, particularly a dead game.
It gets nits off their game. Nitty players don’t like games with straddles as it increases the stakes.
Reasons Why Some Dislike The Straddle
Turns skills game into more chance. The stacks to pot ratio is smaller.
Harder to get to the flop as people try to to win the bigger pot before the flop
Increases the stakes, not something some players want, otherwise they would just play higher stakes.
Some people go a little crazy in hands involving a poker straddle like Tony G and Phil Hellmuth.
My Take on Poker Straddle
I love when players straddle. They are investing money they don’t have to, blindly. They may as well play at 3king.online if they want to play slots or blackjack. I don’t have to change or alter my strategy much and it changes nothing post flop. That’s an important thing to remember. One of my favourite plays in a game with straddles is setting a trap, I will happily over limp or flat call a strong hand like A-K or Q-Q if the player straddling is prone to trying to win the pot pre flop. This is something you will often see from those that straddle. They know they have final action before the flop and will use this to exercise a big bet to win the pot. It’s an effective strategy at many tables but strong players can adjust accordingly and widen their stacking off range.
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Two cards in sequential order of the same suited are suited connectors. They are appealing on the eye and have great value under the right circumstances. Many a professional’s have suited connectors as their favourite hand in Texas Holdem.
When Not To
This is not the time to play the 56 suited. You want big cards that fare well in pre flop confrontations. These types of hands will do poorly against hands the likely hand ranges you will face. Let’s look at 4d 5d. It is about 41% against an Ace King and 22% against a pair of 9s. Not scenarios that work well for the 4-5 suited. The same is true if your opponent has a short stack, you can’t play the suited connector for full value.
Out of Position
Suited Connectors are difficult to play effectively out of position. The fact is, you cannot control the betting or pot size how you wish as well when you first to act. If you flop a draw or a low pair, how do you proceed? It’s tricky isn’t it? It’s hard to get the full value when you do hit too so be careful playing these hands out of position.
Against The Best Players
Calibre of opponent is always a consideration at the table when you are entering a pot. Whilst suited connectors are a joy to win big pots with, sometimes you need to tighten up and play premium hands. If there is an amazing player at your table who can hand read well and difficult to extract value from then playing the suited connector to one of his raises might not be wise.
When You Can
Deep Stack Poker
They are great when stacks are deep and you can crack a big pair or top pair top kicker hand that your opponent is overplaying. This is where implied odds are brilliant. You can afford to call a 2.2bb raise if you know you can win 125 bbs.
Position is the best isn’t it? You can get away with playing hands you just wouldn’t if you were having to act first all hand. This is true for suited connectors too. I will happily call a raise on the button with 8s 9s against a tight player, knowing their range and able to get value or take it away later in the hand. This is why you can play suited connectors in position, because you have more opportunities to bluff or semi bluff later in the hand.
The open limp is where a player will enter the pot with by flat calling the blinds. It is the cheapest way to enter the pot and generally used by beginner players to see how the rest of table will act before choosing to invest more before the flop.
Why is it so Bad to Limp in Poker?
I’m willing to stick my neck out on this one and say it’s almost always bad to open limp in tournament poker. There are scenarios where it can be ok – I make exception from the small blind, but every other position I will almost never advocate an open limp. If you are a member of our training video membership, you will see an open limp from an opponent at my table will a instantly justify a weak tag on them. Judgemental? Yes, but with good reason. Let’s take a look at some reasons why open limping is bad poker strategy.
Players can often be grouped into several categories, each one with distinct traits that separate them from others e.g. tight aggressive and loose aggressive. The style of poker that involves open limping is generally weak passive, one of the worst traits to have. Why? Winning poker strategy almost always means playing aggressively, you can achieve this with different pre-flop hand selection but you must be aggressive when you do play (generally). Adopting a weak passive style is likely to see you getting bullied out of countless pots, as the reality is, you will not hit enough strong hands to command a decent post flop win %.
What are You Representing?
By open limping, you are telling the table you have a weak to medium strength hand. Any decent player will immediately recognise that you want to enter the pot cheaply as you are not coming in for a raise. The reason this is bad is simple, a table of good players will isolate your limps and take pot after pot from you. You cannot legitimately represent premium hands when you open limp/call which makes post flop play tricky for you too.
I always ask students, are the ingredients of the hand on your side when you are involved in a pot. The ingredients being ; position, pre-flop lead/aggression, hand strength and ability. This can be converted to questions as follows:
Are you in position?
Are you the pre flop raiser?
Are you likely to have the stronger hand?
Are you the better player?
Now let’s answer the questions above when you open limp As
6s from early position:
Are you in position? (No – unless they fold to the blinds)
Are you the pre flop raiser? (No)
Are you likely to have the stronger hand? (Maybe – only if it folds to the blinds)
Are you the better player? (Unlikely if you are the type of player to open limp)
Clearly the ingredients to winning the hand are not on your side by adopting a limp in style of poker. That doesn’t mean you won’t win the hand but you are handicapped somewhat.
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Limping in is a poor poker strategy. It makes playing post flop poker harder, you are less likely to win and more likely to get bluffed out too. By adopting this style, you are inviting better players to abuse you before and after the flop and put you in awkward positions. There are professionals that have attempted this style of poker in the past with a view to setting traps but it is rarely profitable and to be used at your peril. Even with the relentless aggression in online poker, the limp in style of poker is not one to be seriously considered yet. It’s possible in 10 years, that limping in might be a strategy to consider (but I doubt it!).
A phrase given to a pre flop play in Texas Holdem where a player will re-raise over an initial raise and one or more pre-flop calls. It is usually with the intention of picking the pot up before the flop without showdown. When executed properly, the poker squeeze is one of greatest pre-flop plays.
History of Squeeze Play
Twenty years ago, the squeeze was not even a play as such, a few of the best players probably did it without giving it the name but it was seldom used. Then Dan Harrington brought out his tournament books and with it, a revolutionary concept. Tight aggressive players found a new weapon to use and exploit opposition with. However, poker is an evolving game with trends and once this strategy was being used all the time, winning players started taking note and with it, a shift in mentality. No longer could the squeeze play be used with impunity as you were likely to get 4 bet by a competent and thinking player. Or they would flat call an open with AA/KK from an aggressive player, hoping you would squeeze. The pendulum has swung back again though and it is not a move mentioned too often and it’s used less than the aftermath of its revelation to the poker world. It’s a brilliant move to use but only if the ingredients are there and you don’t over use it.
When is the Right Time to Squeeze?
The squeeze play loosely rests on the assumption that the open raiser is unlikely to be holding a premium hand. The theory being that a flat caller is also unlikely to be super strong, otherwise, they surely would have re-raised themselves. Whilst the logic is reasonable, you need certain to ingredients to be on your side for the squeeze have a reasonable chance of success. Please consider the factors below before squeezing.
There is no use squeezing and committing your chips and having to call an all in because you’ve priced yourself in. Have a close look at the stack sizes when you are considering a squeeze. It’s entirely plausible that a flat caller is setting a trap when short stacked or that either player will just go with their hand if they are short stacked at the start of the hand.
Your Table Image & Reputation
If you have a reputation for pulling off a lot of 4 bets and tricky aggressive moves then it far less likely to work. It’s better to have a solid table image at the time of making a squeeze. Your squeeze has to be credible i.e. your opponents need to believe that you are likely holding a premium hand.
Calibre of Opponent
If your opponent has shown no inclinations to fold before the flop, do not consider squeezing. Whilst your logic that they are weak pre flop is true, it does not mean they will fold. You can still squeeze if you wish but be prepared to play a big pot.
As always, position is important. It’s better to be squeezing in position than out of position as you will get to play the hand in position for the rest of the hand. It’s not 100% essential to be in position when squeezing as the intention is to pick it up pre flop, however, it is another factor to consider.
There’s no use turning very playable hands and positive scenarios into wasteful ones by squeezing. If you are holding a suited connector or a little pair in position, multi-way, then it’s best to play the pot and try to get value. A squeeze is usually better to do with a hand of little value or good blockers, e.g. Ace Three.
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You may have heard the phrase 3 bet watching poker on TV or at your local casino and wondered what it meant. A 3 Bet is the term used in poker to describe a specific re raise. A 3 bet is typically made before the flop but can also be performed post flop. It is the third bet on a specific round. Check out examples below: Example 1 (Pre-Flop) Player A calls £5 before the flop, Player B raises to £20, Player C re-raises to £65 from the small blind. This raise by Player C is a “3 bet”. This is effectively the third bet, hence the phrase “3 bet”.
Example 2 (Post-Flop) Player A raises to £20 and Player B calls from the big blind. The flop is Jh 7s 2d. Player B checks, Player A bets £30 (1st bet) , Player B re-raises to £75 (2nd bet) and Player A puts in re raise to £225 (3rd bet or “3bet”).
What Can 3 Betting Mean?
A decade ago, a 3 bet before the flop usually meant a premium hand (Pocket Jacks or better) however, with the evolution of online poker and aggressive poker strategy, this is no longer the case. A pre flop 3 bet now can be given less credence, particularly with certain players. The context, table demographic and opponent 3 betting are the key factors to be looked at when considering what to do in the face of this move. It is now used to isolate weak players, steal the pot pre flop, exploit a player opening too wide, balance a player’s re raise range or just to have the lead in the hand. This is why observing your opponents, taking notes and understanding their strategy is key to winning. If you know player A knows you are opening 90% of hands on the button and is an observant, thinking player, he is likely to open his range of 3 betting range from the blinds.
When Should One 3 Bet?
Context and history is very important. If you are facing a player that is super tight when facing a re-raise, you can 3 bet almost with impunity. On the other hand, if you are facing a maniacal player who has shown tendency to move all in before the flop and 4 bet lightly. You should be more wary about 3 betting with nothing. Perhaps consider lessening your stacking off range and be prepared to hold on.
A 3 bet is an important weapon in a winning player’s arsenal. When used effectively, it can make you feel unbeatable, particularly when you’re doing it with rags. The key thing to remember when 3 betting or facing 3 bets, is making a calculated decision before the flop. Is your opponent likely to be holding a weak hand or not? If not, you are more often than not facing the dreaded Aces or Kings. Playing the player is critical when it comes down to 3 bets.
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