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An Introduction to Abstract Thought in Poker (Part 2)

An Introduction to Abstract Thought in Poker (Part 2)


Back in my very first edition of this strategy column, I outlined what I believe to be a very efficient method for approaching the process of learning in poker. Later on, I expanded on these ideas in late 2014 in my original article An Introduction to Abstract Thought in Poker. I still believe that this is an excellent approach for all players to take, but I’m going to take this a step further by approaching abstract ideas in this way instead of concrete concepts like continuation betting, 3-betting, defending the blinds, double barreling, etc.

A Tree of Concepts

The more you study poker in a strong way, the more you start to develop a feel for how play should happen. You’ll start to notice patterns based on how things feel due to the influences of your study on your intuition, and this is the source of real growth as a competitor. One of the ways to jump-start that is to be introduced to more difficult concepts than what you’re used to. However, this has to be done in a logical way so that the parts build on each other. For example, you couldn’t really understand double-barreling before you have studied continuation betting in some amount of depth.

Along these lines, I’m going to offer a number of suggestions on how you can progress through learning different parts of poker using the outline in Part 1 of this series. The idea here is to take beginning players into the beginning of the intermediate levels.

Pre-Flop Play

You have to start with position and the idea of why you want to be playing more hands with fewer players left in the hand. You need to understand the relationship between the button and the blinds, and this includes why it’s better to be on the button even though the blinds act last on the first street of play.

From there, you can look at the idea of wanting to usually be open raising, calling a raise in position or 3betting. This is more along the lines of not wanting to open limp as a general rule. This rule should later be broken once you understand the weaknesses of open limping and how easy it is to exploit.

Concepts to learn and study at this point include stealing blinds, basic 3-bet bluffing and how to exploit players who open limp often. After this, you can look at defending against heavy 3-bettors and how much of your value pre-flop comes from the times that everyone just folds, leaving you the blinds.

Flop Play

Beginning play on the flop has to start with learning about flop textures and how different types of ranges hit different types of flops. If you start with this foundation, then everything else becomes much easier, and your study on all other post-flop topics will become much more effective to an extreme extent.

Once you understand flop textures, you can really dig into continuation betting and the various defensive lines to take against it in heads-up situations. Along similar lines, you can also study the idea of leading the flop in heads-up spots, how to defend against that, and what the differences are between leading and continuation betting (hint: not much in theory, but practical play tells us otherwise).

After understanding these situations, you can expand to looking at how they work in multi-way hands.

Turn Play

The relationship between flop play and turn play is really important, and you can look at things like the free card play as a good example of how those mechanics come together. This is a really good starting place for understanding post-flop position and the advantage it gives you in having the flexibility to make plays like this if you want.

On the turn, double barreling is probably the most basic topic to start with. This topic will teach you about how different turn cards affect your range and the range of your opponents, and it will also teach you about when to build a big pot heading into the river and when you should try to check through and limit the size of the pot instead.

You can also look at the flop and turn together and think about multi-street lines for extracting the most possible value from a hand.

River Play

The first place to start with river play is to learn the simple math involved with calling a river bet that ends the action. Once you learn this, you can build all of your other river play ideas around it.

River bluffing is the second thing to learn. Because there are no cards left to come, you’ll really simplify the process, and you can learn to estimate your profitability very easily based on how often you think your opponent will fold and what your bet size is like relative to the pot. Notice that this is the real starting point for learning how to bluff on the flop and turn because it forms the foundation for semi-bluffing.

From there, you can move towards studying triple barrel scenarios and how it relates to continuation betting on the flop and double barreling on the turn. This provides the basic skills you need to evaluate ranges across multiple streets.

Moving Forward

Moving forward from those basics listed out, you can start to study ranges in general and how game theory influences balance and exploitation. This is where we start to get into more abstract parts of the situation, and this will be the topic of a future part in this series on abstract thought in the game of online poker.

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