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Chardrian’s Guide to Small Stakes Live Poker (Part 4)

It is finally time to start getting to the nitty gritty.  My previous posts have dealt more with getting you psychologically prepared for the game, and that is a very important part of the game, but most people reading this are likely to be more interested in finding some sort of chart so that they can start playing.  I am always wary of playing by charts since there are numerous factors in how we should play a hand, but I have to admit that one of the biggest factors is hand strength.  So I am going to provide some starting hand preflop guidelines.  A huge CAUTION sign should be noted from the outset – these are guidelines only; some hands will have marginal EV (expected value) in a loose game and negative EV in a tight game.

1) OUR BIG HANDS (AA-TT and AK)

If you are the first person to enter the pot (that is you are either UTG or it has been folded to you) you should ALWAYS raise with these hands from any position.  If others have entered the pot and they have all limped then you should ALWAYS raise with these hands from any position.  The reason we do this, is because these hands have +EV and we want to maximize that expected value by raising and getting more chips in the pot for us to win.

There are many players out there who will tell you that this is bad advice.  They will give you an example and hypothesize that you are in the Big Blind with TT and that 4 other players have limped into the pot and you now have the option to check or raise.  They will tell you that you should just check because you are going to lose way more often that you will win so raising there is just throwing money away.  They are correct that you will lose way more often then you will win, but they are incorrect when they tell you that raising is throwing money away.  Raising here is correct because even though we will lose more often then we will win, raising makes us more money in the long run.

This is where pokerstove is such a useful tool and comes to my rescue.  Against a pretty standard wide range of any A, any broadway, any pair, any suited, and some connected cards, our TT has about 31% equity versus 17.25% equity for the four remaining other players.

hands          equity              win              tie                pots won            pots tied
Hand 0:     17.243%      16.48%     00.76%           16822655        779506.58   { 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 92s+, 82s+, 72s+, 62s+, 52s+, 42s+, 32s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o, 87o, 76o, 65o }
Hand 1:     17.239%      16.48%     00.76%           16818642        779267.58   { 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 92s+, 82s+, 72s+, 62s+, 52s+, 42s+, 32s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o, 87o, 76o, 65o }
Hand 2:     17.241%      16.48%     00.76%           16819794        780089.25   { 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 92s+, 82s+, 72s+, 62s+, 52s+, 42s+, 32s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o, 87o, 76o, 65o }
Hand 3:     31.032%      30.67%     00.36%           31312291        366488.07   { TT }
Hand 4:     17.245%      16.48%     00.76%           16823541        780722.32   { 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 92s+, 82s+, 72s+, 62s+, 52s+, 42s+, 32s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o, 87o, 76o, 65o }

So even though we know that we will lose close to 70% of the time when we raise here, we still raise because our hand has the most equity and by raising we get more chips in the pot.  And in the long run those chips come to us.

Raising also diminishes the effect the rake has on our game.  If we were just to check preflop here in the BB.  Then the pot would have 5 SBs which would suddenly become only 3.5 SBs after the rake and our $1 tip for when we win the hand.  3.5 * .31 = 1.085.  So if we check our expected value in the pot is 1.085 SBs.  Since we already put our one SB in as the big blind this means that we would expect to gain .085 SBs by checking.  So checking is a +EV play.

But look what happens when we raise.  When we raise, we are almost certain to get the four remaining players to call (and their call would be correct since they would be getting 5:1 to call).  Now the pot will have 10 SBs minus the 1.5 SBs for the rake and we have a pot of 8.5 SBs.  8.5 * .31 = 2.635.  This time our expected value in the pot is 2.635 SBs.  And this time we have put in 2 SBs (our Big Blind and our raise).  So our expected profit when we raise is .635 SBs.  Since .635 SBs is more than .085 SBs, raising is clearly the more profitable play and the correct one to make.  Raising earns us .55 SBs more on average then if we were to just check our option preflop.  One half of a Small Bet may not seem like much (in a $4/8 game it only comes out to $2), but limit poker is all about exploiting small edges and failing to exploit those edges means that you will end up losing money in the long run.

Against a raise, then you should ALWAYS 3-bet with KK and AA, and ALMOST ALWAYS 3-bet with QQ-TT and AK.  The reason I say almost rather than always for the other hands is that against certain very tight, or very passive players, a raise from EP from them signifies that they have AA-QQ only.  Against most players we still want to 3-bet our remaining hands because we likely still have the best hand and want to add chips to the pot since they likely will be coming back to us, and we want to keep others from entering the pot so that our equity edge remains higher.

These hands will be our longterm biggest profit makers by far.  We want to raise with these hands preflop to get more chips in the pot and exploit our equity edge.  Do not open limp these hands.  Raise them.

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