I’m often asked should I be 3-betting AJo from the button or what range do you call a 3-bet on the button with vs a big blind 3 bet? My answer is always the same and most good players will have the same response. It depends. What does it depend on? Your opponents tendencies. Don’t know any of them? Think all regs are just “standard”? Well, I have news for you. There’s no such thing as a “standard” regular. You’re just not paying enough attention which brings me to my first point.

Take good notes. My system of taking notes is to have three sections, which I stole from dodgyken which he may have stolen from someone else I’m not sure. But anyways the sections are PREFLOP, POSTFLOP, 3-BET POTS so I can easily and quickly locate the information I need when making a tough decision. In today’s games and perhaps with no limit hold’em in general preflop is by far the most important section that you should be paying attention to.

How many tables are they playing? Before I go into specific preflop tendencies I’d like to quickly add that you should at all times know how many tables each of your opponents are playing. On pokerstars this is more difficult because you can block yourself from the search field so you have to guesstimate, but on fulltilt you can easily search each opponent at your table and find this information out. You can make a lot of broad assumptions once you know how many tables people are playing like usually someone one tabling is a fish or weaker player, while someone 12 tabling is a nitty regular playing roboticly and is unlikely to run a huge bluff on you because they know they can just wait another 2 minutes until they get dealt aces on one of their other tables.

Once you know how many tables someone is usually playing, note it. It’s the first section of my notes above the other three main sections so my notes might look something like this.

8 tables
PREFLOP – 3 bets 67s sb/btn
POSTFLOP – floats in position on dry boards
3-BET POTS – hates giving up

Facing an opponents open. After an opponent opens and the action comes to you, you will have the options of folding, calling or 3 betting. It’s your job to select the option that will yield you highest expected value. This depends on a lot of things but the main ones are:

1. What is your opponents vpip/pfr? If a villain is playing extremely tightly like 18/14 you’re really better off just folding the vast majority of your range. There’s really no reason to call with or 3 bet any speculative hands such as 67s or K5s. Even a hand like JTs you may want to fold depending on relative positions. Let the blinds do their work and bleed them down. Don’t give them any action when they have hands. That’s how they make their money.

Conversely if someone is playing extremely loose, say 27/20 you need to be playing more hands and punishing them for this by 3 betting and flatting them more to take advantage of all the times they have a weak hand and can’t continue with the hand.

2. What is your and their position at the table? You want to play as many hands in position as possible. That does not mean that you should play 100% of your buttons when utg opens however. You need to combine your opponents vpip/pfr numbers with what position they are in to guesstimate what their range is and how they will play it post and preflop which brings me to my last question you should ask yourself before acting.

3. What is your image like? Don’t place too much emphasis on this because most people are just playing their cards and their game, not thinking too much about what other people are doing but it’s worth mentioning. For example, some people 5 bet jam 88+, AQo+ from the blinds vs a button 4 bet regardless of who it is or how tightly they are playing but thinking opponents will realize that a 4 bet from one reg means a lot different than a 4 bet from another reg and will adjust their range accordingly.

4. How will your opponent react to a 3 bet by you? Suppose someone is one tabling, playing 30/20 and opens from the cutoff. You are on the button and not sure whether you should 3 bet or not. Well if someone is one tabling and playing this loose they are going to want to see flops. They did not logon to fold for hours so I would argue that you should be 3 betting the vast majority of your value range here. If they rarely fold preflop you can often infer that they will rarely fold postflop (though you will have to confirm this through play). If this is the case you want hands that can win at showdown. 3 betting in this spot with a hand like 57s is just plain terrible which is a mistake I see regs make all the time. You want to 3 bet hands like 88+ and ATo+ here. Here’s some pokerstove numbers vs the top 30% of hands.

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 64.007% 63.51% 00.50% 1652930160 12972789.50 { 30% }
Hand 1: 35.993% 35.49% 00.50% 923826341 12972789.50 { 75s }

equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 39.373% 37.73% 01.64% 28712827290 1251814399.50 {30%}
Hand 1: 60.627% 58.98% 01.64% 44888607495 1251814399.50 {10% or 88+, A9s+, KTs+, QTs+, AJo+, KQo }

Now suppose someone is 12 tabling, playing 21/17 and opens from the cutoff. You are on the button and not sure whether you should 3 bet or not. This is what people usually describe as your typical “solid regular”. Well in this spot most regulars are going to be 4 betting or folding because they’ve learned that playing 3 bet pots out of position is usually unprofitable so in anticipation of this you should be polarizing your 3 bet range to air or hands you are willing to 5 bet jam all in. The tricky part is figuring out how loose your 5 bet jam range should be. How do you determine this? You need to pay attention. Regulars adjust to 3 bets by you in different ways. Some don’t adjust.

Some will fold too much to your 3 bets. Vs these players you should be 3 betting all your trash and flatting all your playable hands. This includes all your big hands. If you 3 bet your big hands like aces here you are really just hoping to cooler them with QQ or AK. This is not going to happen very often and you are better off flatting strong hands to get value postflop from their air when they cbet or stack them anyways when the board comes out low vs TT or whatever. You should be 3 betting trash and only trash because they are going to fold vs you loads pf and it’s immediately profitable. Forget everything you ever learned about balance vs these types.

Some will start to 4 bet bluff you more. By this I mean they will 4 bet fold a lot. Vs these players it’s easiest if you polarize your 3 bet range, but if they bluff a lot then their 4 bets are going to be really profitable. You are going to have to throw in a couple light 5 bet jams which are super expensive and risky. This is not fun, I suggest cutting out your 3 bet bluffs almost entirely vs these guys and only 3 betting your strong value hands you are prepared to go all in with. Again, forget everything you ever learned about balance vs these types.

Some will start to 4 bet you lighter for value. By this I mean they will 4 bet/call a 5 bet with hands like 88 and AJo if you really start getting out of line with the 3 bets. Vs these types you are best off widening your 5 bet jamming range to include a slightly wider range that still beats their light stack off range like 99+ and AQo. That is to say completely unpolarize your 3 bet range vs these types and just 3 bet wider for value which you plan on 5 bet jamming with. Again, forget everything you ever learned about balance vs these types.

Some will start to both 4 bet you bluff you more and 4 bet you lighter for value. These are the really solid regs. I suggest just polarizing your 3 bets vs them and not messing with them too much. These players will adjust with a near optimal range and it will be virtually impossible to gain a preflop edge vs them. I suggest flatting a lot of your range and playing postflop poker where you hopefully can get some kind of edge there where they have postflop leaks like peeling cbets too much, cbetting too much, barreling too often, calling down too light etc.

I won’t go into postflop leaks at this time as this article is getting rather long. Ideally you want to be in the last category which means you have no preflop leaks and you are correctly adjusting your preflop range to everyone at the table. Remember, there’s no such thing as “standard” play, a “standard” table or a “standard” reg. Everyone is different and its your job to pay attention and figure out how and how to exploit it. Take good notes and figure out how different people adjust or if they adjust at all.

5 Responses to “No Limit Hold’em: Playing the player”

  1. LuckySOB says:

    Nice article. Smart Buddy will get you around the “hide from search” that people do on Stars.

  2. btimm says:

    Very nice post. I have a question about really feeling comfortable in diagnosing villain’s 4bet range. How do you determine this when you see so few showdowns? Or is it that there are just so many more showdowns in the higher stakes than at 100nl and 200nl? Do you just sit with Holdem Manager and diagnose regs to feel solid about whether they 4bet mostly with air, mostly for value, or mostly balanced? It seems like a challenging portion of the game to diagnose 4bet ranges to me. Postflop seems so much easier to gain an understanding of players’ tendencies.

  3. andr3w321 says:

    You have to pay attention to the hands that regs showdown not only vs you but vs other people at the table. You also have to make guesstimates based on frequencies of how often you are 3 betting and how often they are 4 betting. I don’t really go through and dissect specific regs’ games after I play but if someone 4 bet calls AJo cutoff vs btn you better believe I’m noting it.

    Also, at lower stakes there’s a lot more cold calling preflop where at higher stakes it’s raise/fold a lot more and fewer flops.

  4. […] marius@thehendonmob.com (WSOP 2009 News & Reports) wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIn today’s games and perhaps with no limit hold’em in general preflop is by far the most important section that you should be paying attention to. How many tables are they playing? Before I go into specific preflop tendencies I’d like … […]

  5. […] been awhile since my last no limit strategy posts Playing the Player and Exploiting a Regular and people seem to enjoy them so I thought I’d give another one a […]

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