Welcome back, Pennsylvania! Here’s what you missed, strategy-wise

November 04, 2019inPoker

With Pennsylvania finally coming back to PokerStars, an update is needed on what has changed since Black Friday hit in 2011.

Like a frozen man who emerges from his pod 200 years in the future, you might find that the world is barely recognizable. Let’s be honest — it would be impossible to cram all the developments in poker strategy over the past eight-plus years into a single article, but here are the most important ones.

The Small Continuation Bet

One of the major revelations of the last decade is undoubtedly the unearthing of the 33% pot-sized continuation bet.

In 2011, it was customary to bet at least two-thirds of the pot on the flop. Anything less was considered silly and pointless. But what we failed to understand back then was that there are many hands in the preflop raiser’s range which crave protection. That is to say that they benefit greatly from making the preflop caller (usually the big blind) fold worse hands which have reasonable equity.

For example, when the flop is K♠7♥3♠ and big blind checks to the button in a heads-up pot, there many hands in button’s range which do not want to allow a free card, but also suffer from making a big bet.

Take A♦Q♠, for example. This is a hand which wants to fold out live cards such as an eight, a nine, or a jack. It is also capable of getting called by some worse hands as long as it bets small enough. Other hands which benefit from betting small are medium pocket pairs, 7-x, and 3-x. If these holdings bet large, they will create an unfavorable situation where too many good hands continue and all the worse hands fold.

We used to check these hands to get around this issue, but that allows Villain to realize too much equity. Betting small is the solution.

Cold-Calling Has Gone Out of Fashion

It used to be customary for the cutoff to build a calling range against an under-the-gun open, but these days, we understand better the impact of rake on our bottom line, and in addition, squeezing has become quite popular.

These days in tough games, many regulars have reverted to a “three-bet or fold” strategy instead of flatting. This entails taking a range like [88+, AQo+, KJs+, QJs, JTs, T9s, A2s-A5s] and three-betting a small size to isolate the opener and avoid being squeezed.

It is not that all these hands should always be three-bet against an UTG open, but that the range should contain all the combinations of the strongest ones with the weaker hands being mixed between folds and three-bets.

Fear not! Exceptions to the “three-bet or fold” rule are often made when there are loose players who call too much behind us. If there is a recreational passive player in the big blind, then I will often start cold-calling like it’s 2011.

The Turn Overbet

The rigid boxes of 2011 prohibited us from making very big bets just like they excluded small bets. These days, with the help of solver programs, we have discovered that overbetting works very well when you have an uncapped range and your opponent’s range is capped. This situation occurs a lot when the out-of-position preflop caller check-calls the flop on a favorable board for the raiser and then the turn does not help his range.

Take the flop of K♥Q♠3♣, for example, and imagine that the action goes check-small bet-call.

The flop caller’s range is now very capped on the 4♣ turn because this innocuous card has not bailed his range out. The caller would have raised most of the K-Q and 3-3 combinations on the flop, as game theory dictates he should, and so, on this turn, he has far fewer strong hands than the preflop raiser does.

The preflop raiser, therefore, applies a lot of pressure with a polarized range of value bets and bluffs. His weapon in doing so is the overbet which gains EV when he has far more nutted hands than his opponent.

The 2011 skeptic will undoubtedly protest that it is impossible to get value with such a large bet, but then the aggressor will simply add lots of bluffs to his range. If the preflop caller folds too much to the value overbet, then he also folds too much to the bluffs!

Blind Defense Has Sky-Rocketed

Back in the day, our understanding of blind defense and pot odds was unsatisfactory. In 2011, when I was first making my ascendancy through the stakes, it was customary that when the button raised 2.5x, you folded your Q-6 suited in the big blind. These days, though, such a hand is considered a very standard call against an aggressive opponent.

The reason is that when you only have to invest 1.5 big blinds into a pot that will be 5.5 BB, you will need to recoup just 27% of the pot to break even on your investment. Your hand is likely to have 40% equity or so against a wide button steal range, so unless you play far worse than your opponent, calling is likely to be better than folding.

A decade ago, people were so obsessed about the discomfort associated with playing out of position, they neglected the simple mathematics of the situation.


Welcome back, Pennsylvania! Now get your small c-betting, three-bet or folding, turn overbetting, and big blind-flatting shoes on and hit the tables!


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