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Combating Geometric Escalation in NLHE

If you are going to be successful at a form of poker, like NLHE ring, then being aware of how the pot can escalate with certain types of hands is critical to your success. I think that there are probably tournament players and six max players who struggle to adapt to this whenever they sit in full-ring games. Tournament players are used to playing with far shorter stacks and this means utilising different strategies with certain types of hands.

Also six max players will encounter different levels of aggression, especially as the levels increase. There is a fine balance in full-ring between value betting and protecting your hand and escalating the pot to a level that is totally out of sync with the strength of your hand. Quite often winning poker in full-ring entails having to balance certain concepts that seem to clash with each other!

Let us take a look at an example in which we have a player sitting in a NL400 game with a stack of $430. It is folded to him and he has the As-Qs and he makes it $14 to go. The player to his immediate left cold calls as does the small blind. There is now $46 in the pot and both the caller and the small blind have $400+ stacks. The flop comes Ah-10c-3c and the big blind checks. Now our hero sees that he has top pair with the second best kicker and the likely best hand. There are several drawing hands that could connect so he decides that he needs to bet to protect his hand. He makes a pot sized bet of $45 which he deems to be enough. The player to his left folds but the small blind calls making the pot now $136! The turn card is the 3d and the small blind checks again. Still convinced that he needs to charge the drawing hands, our hero makes another near pot sized bet of $120 which to his dismay gets called again. The pot is now $376 and our hero only has $251 left which is much less than the pot size. The river card is the Qh giving him the top two pair. His opponent moves all-in for his remaining stack which is roughly the same size as our hero’s. With a pot of over $620 and getting around 2.5-1 immediate pot odds, our hero sees that he can make a call here even though he isn’t entirely happy doing it. He calls and gets shown 10-10. I remember something that Layne Flack once said which highlighted what actually happened here. He said, “Why do the pushing when the donkey will do the pulling?”

In this hand the small blind didn’t have to worry about getting his opponent committed because he did that all by himself. Many players would say that our hero was doomed to lose money on this hand……of course he was and that’s obvious.

But the fact remains that he lost the maximum when he didn’t have to and that’s simply not good poker. Let’s take another look at that hand once again and see where his play could have been improved. His pre-flop raise to $14 was pretty standard, some players would argue towards making a 3xbb or even 2.5xbb raise but there is nothing wrong in raising the pot at that stage.

On the flop, with $46 in the pot, he really didn’t need to bet the pot and a $30 bet would have sufficed. This would have reduced the pot size on the turn from $136 to only $106 which is highly significant. When his flop continuation bet gets called he then needs to proceed with care.

When the 3d came on the turn and the small blind checked again, our hero had two options. He could have checked the hand back and used pot control or he could have made another semi-defensive bet of between half pot and two thirds of the pot. These bets can be interpreted quite easily as value or milking bets by your opponent so they may be extremely reticent to move over the top of you if they perceive their fold equity to be poor.

Checking the turn keeps the pot at $106, however it does allow your opponent to hit his hand for free or it can lose you value if your opponent has a weaker hand that they would have called with. But remember what I said about conflicting concepts and the balance that you need to find.

Betting something like $60 would still only have put $236 in the pot by the river instead of the $376 that there was in the previous situation. Only betting $60 on the turn could have enticed his opponent to raise and thus revealing his strength fearing that he may not get a chance to stack his opponent. Many people would argue that this result couldn’t have been avoided, but they are wrong. Getting all-in in deep stacked NL ring with two pair against an opponent with who you have no read is literally asking for trouble.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson is an ambassador for Cake Poker and can be seen at cakepoker.com/thedean and on his blog at www.pokersharkpool.com.

Carl Sampson

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