Sunday, July 22, 2007

There Is No Correct Play Style

UTG+1 limped.
You are sitting on the CO with Jack of Spades Ten of Spades.
What do you do?

Answer: It depends…

In NL Holdem there are many different play styles to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

A solid TAG will be making money because of having the best hand quite often. In a large % of the times where they are continuing postflop with a top pair hand, they will have the better kicker. Further a TAG will be trying to take a fair share of pots where they miss with continuation bets.

A smart LAG will be trying to take more than his share of the pots pre and postflop by trying to gauge the strength of their opponents hands and taking down pots when they have good folding equity. The second strength comes from getting paid off very well when they actually have a strong hand and someone with a hand like TPTK just doesn’t believe them anymore paying off for up to multiple buyins.

Tight-passives, also known as rocks, generally have a strong preflop hand when they play, and silly enough, a large part they lose compared to other play styles, which is taking down pots when they missed, they make up for by getting bluffed at too often. Even with an unimproved AK or AQ, they don’t seem to mind check-calling the flop, turn and sometimes even river.

These are the most common play styles, though there are many more like ultra-aggressive, loose-passive calling stations, ultra-nits and others.

I estimate most novice and intermediate poker players will try to figure out which play style works out the best for them, and stick to it as default play style.

But I think sticking to a default play style is a mistake. Even if one works out very well for you, it has certain disadvantages. Observant players can adjust accordingly after figuring you out, which is pretty easy for them if they use a HUD. Further, using a single play style can make you play hands in a sub-optimal way.

In my eyes someone who wants to become an advanced player should look at each situation individually and try to estimate the most EV way to play it. Think outside the box, and don’t even use logic such as “I am going to establish a TAG/LAG image and then change gears in a bit.” That logic may work for live tournaments/cash games, but has its flaws for online cash games. Image building doesn’t work on every player, since some people do not use HUD’s, and some people only look at their own cards and their TV.

Starting out with a default play style may have its merits when joining a new table without any info on the players yet, or if you multitable without a HUD. But if you want to be more flexible, you can avoid even this with some preparation, at least if you use a HUD and play on a PT-enabled site.

Before starting to play, open up a bunch of tables from your favorite site and let it datamine for about 30 minutes. In the meanwhile just browse some forums, check some hand histories from last session, watch some porn or at the very least do something other than sitting down at a table.

Even while you won’t have many hands on the players when you do sit down at a table, every bit of information is better than nothing, so use it properly.

Now take a look at the hand at the beginning of the article. You hold JTs in the CO, UTG+1 limped, what do you do?

Let’s say your HUD shows UTG+1 is relatively loose preflop, passive postflop, and folds to over 50% of all c-bets. The people to your left are not overly loose, and the BB doesn’t seem to be someone defending his blinds to steals all the time. The most EV move here would probably be to make a raise that would get called by UTG+1 most of the time and hopefully not by the blinds, so to something like 4xBB total, and c-bet any flop. Size of c-bet depends on flop texture.

If UTG+1 folds to c-bets less than 40% of the time or if the blinds seem loose, the correct move would probably be to just call and hope for a multiway pot with that holding.

Some people to your left with exceptional high PFR ratings? Fold unless you are effectively deep stacked.

Good table selection may be a way to maximize winnings when sticking to a certain play style, with basics such as people who like playing LAG looking for tight people to their right, TAG’s looking for loose people to their right.

But with a more flexible approach you will be dominating more tables by adjusting correctly. You will try to play every situation for maximum EV. A nice side effect is that your own stats don’t give dataminers at your table enough info to exploit you. At some tables you may look like a complete maniac, at another the biggest nit ever, but hopefully on both tables sitting behind a nice big stack.

More important, playing like this should increase your pre-, postflop and hand reading skills at a faster rate than sticking to any standard play.

Yours truly,

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies to your right."


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