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Tactics vs. Strategy (Part 4): Practical Use of Strategy

Practical Play

After part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series, you’ve probably seen that we’re working a lot more within the realm of what’s practical than trying to get into heavy, mathematical explanations and range analysis. This is mostly out of necessity since the vast majority of readers don’t want that type of content since it takes too much time and effort to implement. To this end, we’ve been looking at ways that you can start to change your game to incorporate more strategy right away, and we’re really going to dive into this with this week’s edition of this strategy column.

Strategic Play Points Out Tactics

The main lesson to learn this week is that the use of strategic play will point out which tactics that you should be trying to use. When you’re able to think about the situations you come up in from a strategic standpoint, then the right tactics to use will be obvious. We’re going to look at a couple of examples where a very, very small amount of strategy points out which tactics to use and why a deeper stategic understanding is needed to use these tactics more effectively.

Classic Example #1: Betting Into a Calling Station

A calling station is typically the type of player who has a low fold frequency. A low fold frequency means two things from a tactical point of view, and these are the two things that you’re always told to “just do” to take advantage of these players. The first thing is that you don’t bluff, and the second thing is that you value bet a wider range.

In this example, you know what types of things you’re supposed to do, but you don’t know exactly how often you’re supposed to do them. This is the weakness of the purely-tactical approach to the game.

Classic Example #2: Facing a Raise From a Passive Player

If you run into some player who’s like 23/12 or something, then you will usually peg them as being a pretty passive player. Against passive players, you’re taught to fold a lot more than you normally would when facing a raise. The reason for this is that you assume that a passive player will raise you with a range that’s mostly value hands, and even if you will be facing some bluffs, it won’t be enough of the range to justify staying in the hand.

What you’ll notice is that there’s a very real strategic explanation for why you should be using this tactic. However, it doesn’t really tell you what types of hands you should be folding, only that you should be folding more than usual. This pattern happens a lot with people who play from a purely-tactical standpoint, and it causes them to miss out on a lot of value that could be had by knowing just how much they should adjust to exploit their opponents in these scenarios.

Going Deeper With Strategic Play

One of the problems with strategic play is also what’s so amazing about it. You absolutely must get into the math and deeper range analysis if you want to be able to use strategy for more than merely indicating the type of tactics you should be using. While this is a problem in the sense that it requires a bit of learning and effort, it’s a great blessing because it allows you to get some major advantages over your opponents since you can rest assured that the vast majority of them will not put forward that type of effort for poker.

A Brief Introduction to Folding Frequencies

If you want to start to get a little deeper into strategy, then folding frequencies are the first place to start. Let’s say you’re going all-in on the river against a single opponent. The pot is $7.50 before you shove, and you’re going to be shoving $5.75. Without taking into account the rake, the number you need to know here is the alpha value which is $5.75/($5.75+$7.50) which gives you 0.434. This means if your opponent folds more than 43.4 percent, you’ll have profitable bluffs. Likewise, if your opponent folds less than 43.4 percent, you will not have profitable bluffs.

A Balanced Approach

So supposed that you’ve analyzed your ranges to the point that you believe your opponent will be folding about 55 percent of the time. This will make all of your bluffs profitable, so you’re going to want to push things so that you’re bluffing a good bit on the river. However, if you want to get deeper into this, then you’re going to have to get on the studying wagon. Thankfully for you, I have a few resources to get you started with the game theory required to get deeper into strategic poker.

EV Calculations Tutorial Series

This series starts here and gives you a simple way to do extremely calculated EV calculations. You’ll need to know how to do this stuff if you want to get anywhere in poker, and I’ve broken it down in a way that all you need to know how to do is addition and multiplication.

Practical Game Theory in Poker Series

Starting here, this is the first in a series that breaks down why game theory works, how it works and what you can do to really start getting into it without necessarily needing to learn a massive amount of difficult math. This is one of my favorite series that I’ve ever done as a part of this column.

Game Theory Shortcuts

In this final resource, I offer up a fun system of shortcuts that allow you to find important values really quickly that can tell you how to play your ranges strategically. In short, you can estimate the unexploitable bluffing and folding frequencies for heads-up scenarios using this system of shortcuts that I’ve provided at this link.

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