How to Beat Cash Games

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Cash games are arguably the hardest poker discipline to master because there is no hiding place. If you or your opponents go bust you can simply reload and start again. The only time you need to stop is when you run out of money, although it’s good common sense to stop a long time before that. Unlike in a tournament, the blinds remain at fixed stakes throughout the game, meaning there’s always a level playing field. As such it is frequently a game of waiting for other people to make mistakes.

Once you have a good grounding in them, full-ring (nine or ten-handed) no-limit cash games are considered to be one of the best ways of making a solid living from poker, not least because they are the most prevalent form of poker found in casinos. If you’re an online player, it also makes a lot of sense to play full-ring games as you can play on multiple tables with relative
ease and make your decisions based on the action rather than just what cards you have.

The nature of cash games, with their fixed blinds and the ability to reload, also makes them the form of poker where luck has the least effect on the long-term result. You can afford to take mathematically-sound risks because you are playing a long-term game. That is what cash games are – one long game that only ends when you want it to. It’s poker at its most pure. But before you can start dreaming about all the fancy plays you’re going to make, it’s crucial that you know the fundamentals of cash game poker.

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Continuation-Bet: Betting the Flop as the Pre-Flop-Raiser (Part 3)

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6. How should I react against a flop raise of my continuation bet?
Generally, if you have to ask yourself this question and are legitimately confused about the answer after having continuation bet a given hand, you have made a mistake by continuation betting in the first place. Ideally, we want to be able to predict our opposition's raising frequencies well enough, bet hands with which we know how to react, and check hands with which we know how to react to a bet in order to check-raise, to check-call, or to check-fold. Against a very good player who balances his flop calling and raising ranges well for bluffs and for value, there are inherently going to be tough decisions for his opponents after they continuation bet. You're just going to have to outwit people here, or "soul read," as we like to say, usually based on some combination of the opponent's tendencies, meta-game considerations, and stack sizes.

Continuation-Bet: Betting the Flop as the Pre-Flop-Raiser (Part 2)

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5. When should I not continuation bet? What should I do with my hand if I check the flop as the pre-flop- raiser?
This is a question for which the answer will be dependent on your history with your opponents and your reads on their tendencies when the pre-flop-raiser checks to them. Your decision here is somewhat based on what your actual hand is and has a lot to do with how you think your opponent will view you at this point in the game. On very connected boards on which you may often give up, it may be a good time to check- call as a trap, and likely continue to do so on future streets depending on the board if the following criteria are met:

  • Your opponent bets when checked to very often
  • Your opponent is capable of betting all three streets for thin value, thinner perhaps than he might call you down with

Continuation-Bet: Betting the Flop as the Pre-Flop-Raiser (Part 1)

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For those of you who are newer to poker and are unfamiliar with the definition of a continuation bet, a continuation bet is a bet that follows a pre-flop aggression in order to represent a strong range of holdings post-flop.

There are many questions that surround the anatomy of a flop continuation-bet in a single-raised pot (ex. we raise pre-flop UTG and the button calls). Here are the questions that we plan to examine every single time we ever consider a continuation bet along with their respective explanations:

Pot Equity

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Pot equity is a term which has too many different meanings. Some players say pot equity when they really mean pot odds or Expected Value. Others use pot equity to express a player’s share of the pot. Some say it is how much investment a player has in a pot. We will define pot equity as a method of comparing a player’s share of the current round of betting to the probability of that player making a hand.

There are three steps for using this concept of pot equity: First, a player estimates how much he must put in — that is his share — during the current betting round and compares that to what he thinks his opponents will put in — that is their share. He then calculates his share compared to the total and arrives at a percentage.

Second, he calculates the probability of making his hand.

Third, he compares the percentage of money he is putting into this betting round to the probability of him making his hand. If his percentage is greater than his probability, he folds. If his percentage is less than his probability, he calls, or may raise. The easiest way to understand this concept is with examples.

Behind a Raise in a Normal Game

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In a perfect world, no one raises at the table but you and you always control the action. Well, the last time I looked, this wasn’t a perfect world. For the sake of having a complete pre-flop toolkit, then, we have to give some thought to how to respond when others raise. Fortunately, like everything else we’ve looked at, we can break this down. We can examine it logically and consider it in light of the fundamental goal of making our decisions easy and the other guys’ hard.

The most common raise situation you’ll face is when someone opens the pot for a raise and it’s folded around to you. Forget about the blinds for now and think only about what to do when you have position on the raiser.

Game Selection

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Game selection is very important in poker and this is especially true as the number of players decreases at a table. At a full table if there is one really bad player the benefits of his lack of skill will be shared by the entire table. At the other end of the spectrum is heads up play where 100% of the equity an opponent gives up will go straight to you.

Additionally, at a full table it will take more time to reap the benefits of playing against a bad player because everyone plays so many fewer hands with more people at a table, and thus there are fewer occasions when you and the bad player are in the pot together where you are earning money because of his mistakes. Of course, the opposite is true and if you are the inferior player in a heads‐up match you will lose your money faster. Therefore, especially in heads‐up play, it is important to find the good tables and to leave the bad ones alone.

Just how important this is, is obscured by the idea of win rates. Take the amount of money won and divide by hours played and this is your hourly rate. It is helpful information but it is an aggregate of other information, and thus misrepresents what really happened. It can be used productively, but must also be used carefully. This is because the notion of “hourly rate” makes it look like for every hour played the expected value was the stated amount, and that for any given hour in the future the same expected win rate holds true.

Texas Hold'em Tournament Tips

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Avoid Drawing Hands
Suited cards and connected cards are less valuable in a tournament than they are in a ring game. In a tournament, if you lose all your chips you are eliminated. Your chance of winning becomes zero. Not so in a ring game where if you miss a few of your draws you simply reach into your pocket and get out more money. In a tournament, you want to have the best hand right now or you want to be bluffing. You do not want to turn into a calling station. In tournaments, bluff or have the best hand, but avoid drawing hands like the plague. It is not unusual to miss three or four drawing hands in a row. In a ring game this is OK, but in a tournament you are eliminated. Good drawing hands are high variance. This means that although they are profitable in the long run, they will result in big swings over the short term. If one of those down swings breaks you, then you are out of the tournament.

As the Tournament Progresses, Players Get Tighter
In the early stages of a tournament, players have a lot of chips relative to the size of the antes or blinds. Consequently, the fear of going broke and being eliminated is not all that immediate. Most players will be playing their usual ring game style. As the tournament progresses, the size of the blinds and antes gets bigger and bigger to the point at which they feel oppressive. The fear of going broke becomes very immediate. Players get scared. When they get scared, they tighten up. They play fewer hands.

Practical Tips for Tournament Play

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Protect your hand
It should go without saying that you must ensure that no one else can see your cards. Even at huge buy-in events, you see people who do not know how to look at their cards without showing them to their neighbors.

Practice protecting your cards by sitting around a table with a friend and taking turns looking at your hands. Have your friend sit on either side of you so he can tell you if there is any angle at which he can sit and see your hand. If he can see your hand, you aren't looking at it correctly. Practice different ways of looking at your hand until you get it right.

I should also talk about using card protectors to cover your cards once you look at them. Card protectors, when used by nonthinking opponents, can lead to hugely profitable tells. Some players always cover their hand when they plan on playing it and some only cover monster hands. I suggest not using a card protector. I never have and never will. As I mentioned before, anything extra you do can give away information.

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