In a loose – passive game where many people see the flop and then play poorly after that.
1. Play more hands than you would if the players were better, especially if you can get in for a single bet.
2. Frequently keep it to a single bet before the flop.
Let’s discuss this in a little more detail. Even if you have a good hand, you should be a little less apt to raise than if you were against better players. This is not only because the hand doesn’t play well against many people, but for a second reason: With a hand that is pretty good but not great, if you don’t raise and thereby cost yourself a little bit of money at that point, you gain it back plus some because had you made the pot bigger there would be less opportunity for your opponents to make significant mistakes later on.
Here is a general example. Suppose you know that a raise with two particular cards gains you $7 in expectation. It could still be wrong. The problem is that by putting extra money in early you may make your opponent’s flop play accidentally correct or close to it. This might cost you more than the small amount gained preflop. Thus while you should play more hands than almost all pros do, a lot of the hands that seem like automatic raises should not be raised because you want your skill to mean more on further rounds.
There is a bit of a two-edged sword here. If you’re playing against extremely terrible opponents, it’s hard not to raise with pretty good hands because even though you’re costing yourself money on the later streets, you’re gaining so much before the flop because your hand is usually so much better than theirs. In other words, if people are coming in with absolutely everything, you have got to raise with an AQ simply because your hand is so much better on average than so many of the other players.
But if these players are just playing a little looser than what they normally should, a reason not to raise with many of these hands is that when you make the pot larger, you are now making some of your opponents play correctly. This is in addition to the fact that some of these hands, such as the AQ just mentioned, don’t play well in multiway pots.
Finally, there is also another reason why you want to play a few more hands in these loose, good games: It is the fact that since you’re playing a lot of hands, even if these extra hands don’t show much long term profit, your opponents will see this, and when you do have a top quality hand they won’t throw their hands away as much because they are frequently seeing you in the pot.
Suppose you start with: AQ You should not raise with this hand in many situations because of a variety of reasons. First, you give your hand away. Second, let’s say four people limp in and you are on the button. You should probably not raise. Now let’s say the flop comes: 10 6 2 rainbow and everyone checks to you. You should bet virtually every time. You likely have the best hand since everyone checked (to a non- raiser), and probably have six outs if you don’t.
And by not raising you are more likely to have someone bet into you, and if you do flop an ace or a queen you can raise and force people out who would otherwise have called, getting their price.
One of the problems with raising with this hand is that everyone checks to you on the flop, you bet (assuming you make a pair), and they are getting the proper price to call you with middle or bottom pair (assuming they have a different kicker). So they are no longer making a mistake on the flop when they call.
You should not raise with off suit hands (other than AK), except if you have a chance to isolate a weak opponent. That is, you think you can knock out the players behind you and (hopefully) the blinds. Once you know you can’t knock people out, it is often better to just call.
(We are talking about how these hands should be played in a weak game. In a tough game you might wind up playing it the same way but for different reasons. Now the problem with AQ is that it is not that much better than your opponents’ hands. So it also may not be right to raise with AQ for a different reason, though a raise would knock people out.)
In poker, there are a lot of hands that when a player on your right bets and you know you can knock people out, you should raise. But if you know that you can’t, now you should just call and maybe even fold.
For instance, in a weak game where many players are playing too many hands and going too far with their hands, if the player under the gun limps in and you have AJ and there are several players still to act behind you, you should fold. In fact, even if you were the player under the gun you should probably fold.
However, on the other side of the coin, if you are against people who play badly, there is not a lot of raising before the flop, and because of the fact of the way these hands materialize, you should play a lot of hands, especially suited hands.
For example, if four people come in, you should play Kd5d
You do this because:
1. Four people have come in.
2. There was no raise.
3. They play badly.
4. You are going to play it well.
That means if you play Kd5d, four people come in, you’re to the right of the button, and the flop comes: Kc 9s 8s
The first guy bets, and someone calls, you fold. You use your skills to keep yourself from getting trapped.
One of the reasons not to play K5s is that it can be a problem if a king flops. In other words, you can be trapped with this hand. But, if you are a good player, you won’t get trapped. You should be able to play K5s, flop a king, and still often fold.
If the flop comes Kc 6s 2d you are going to have to get involved. Likewise, if the flop comes Kc 9s 8s and everyone checks to you. But there are many cases where you would get away from the second flop.
On the other hand, if you are playing against bad players who will call with any pair, you want to stay in, and you will of course bet it in those situations where it appears that your hand is good. When they call with middle or bottom pair they are almost certainly wrong.
Do you see why we advised earlier in the text to play a hand like Q5s if there is no raise and you are on the button? In the right spot, if you play this hand correctly, it can be profitable. But remember that “correctly” can mean that you hit your hand and still throw it away.
Looking at Some Odds.
Continuing with the concepts of the previous chapter, if someone bets into a multiway pot on the flop and there was a preflop raise you would usually be getting approximately 12-to- 1 to call. If there was no preflop raise you would only be getting about 7-to-1. That means that it is often correct strategy to call with bottom pair if there was a raise, but not if there was not a raise. Bad players, however, will make this call no matter what the size of the pot.
Therefore, with a hand like K5s it makes a big difference if you can get in for no raise. This is because if you flop a king and you get paid by the lower pairs, they are incorrectly paying you.
You make money on their calls. So when the game is good, you should play more hands, specifically suited hands, but only if it appears that you can get in cheaply with them.
(The extreme case of this is no limit. If you ever saw a good no limit player against weak players, you will find that he is constantly limping in. He is playing about 1/3 of the hands and limping with almost all of them. He’s giving up a little bit before the flop because he can outplay them later.)
The trap that you don ‘t want to get into is calling with hands that won’t make enough profitable situations. So you throw away a hand like A9. In fact, you frequently should fold AT or KT in these very loose games.
On the other hand, if you are in a loose, passive game where they usually call, but only occasionally raise, you should play any Axs under the gun. You should also be playing a hand like J9s under the gun, and anything better. You should play these hands because you are going to win a lot when you hit them. That is, you take advantage of bad play. You would also play all pairs.
Conversely, you often shouldn’t raise with your AK or AQ in spots where you would raise in tougher, tighter games.
When the Pots Get Big.
When the pots get big, this fact should dominate your approach to playing the hand. Large pots create tricky situations from the flop on. Basically your number one priority is to win it. Not to win more money, but to win the pot. However, winning the pot is not that simple. It isn’t just a matter of thinking “I have the best hand, therefore I bet.” It might be better to check in order to get someone in late position to bet so that you can check-raise. It might be better to bet hoping someone else will raise. And, it might be better to set this up on the previous round. For instance, suppose you have KK or QQ in the BB. The player under the gun raises, and six people call. Our preferred way to play this hand is to not reraise, and then when the flop comes to bet out, unless it includes an ace. You should come out betting enlisting the original preflop raiser to be your unwitting partner to knock people out.
For example, if the flop is 10 8 2 rainbow instead of reraising (before the flop) and giving your hand away, and then betting on the flop where most of your opponents will now correctly call you, you should just call (before the flop) and give up a little preflop equity in order to bet on the flop and have the original raiser on your left knock out all those people who were getting the proper price to chase.
It’s so important to increase your chance to win the pot that it can be right to bet a hand that you know is beat. For instance, if you have 10s9s and the flop comes Ad 7c 6s and the pot is pretty big, it is almost mandatory to bet if you are in early position. You do this not only because you might make a straight, but because it is important to get hands like KJ, K10 out. You would bet even if you knew that someone had a six or a seven in their hand and was going to call you all the way. If a nine or a ten comes on the river you want to maximize your chance of winning. (You should be even more inclined to bet if you have a backdoor flush draw as well.)
This is something that very few players are aware of. In other words, your bet adds some possible ways of winning because when you bet, hands like KJ and K10 will fold. The general concept is that if an ace comes and you have the upper end of a gut shot you should usually bet to prevent over cards to your cards from coming, even though they are under cards to the top card, and to fold out someone who shares one of your cards but has a higher kicker.
You must understand that there is a difference between winning a pot 11 % of the time and 14 % of the time. This may sound like no big deal, but it can often swing a fold to a play. 11 % means an 8-to-1 shot. 14 % means a 6-to-1 shot. Getting back to the above example, what’s the chance that a 10 or a 9 will come in that spot? You have 6 chances twice which is about 25 %, and if you bet out as we recommend you will win a decent proportion of those times when you make a pair, whereas before it wouldn’t have won. You also have about a 15 % chance to make your gut shot. So you go from as little as 15 % to probably over 20 % because you bet that 10 9 and knock out these type of hands.
Similar advice applies for a pair (except small pocket pairs). If you are first, the pot is large, and you have a pair, you usually should bet it even if you knew that you were beat. You are not trying to win it right there. If the pot is big enough and you know that you are going to call anyway, you have to bet it. You do this not just because there is a slight chance that you might win if you bet, but also because betting gets out those hands that will cost you the pot a small percentage of the time when your hand improves. Remember, you were going to call anyway. This means a lot when the pot is big. The point is that when a lot of bets are in the center of the table you don’t worry about saving bets. You do everything possible to maximize your chance of winning.
As we have seen, as pots get bigger and bigger, all that matters is doing whatever is necessary to win, and that usually includes a diversity of plays. Sometimes it can get extreme. For instance, if the pot is really large, you might play a hand strangely and seemingly miss bets or raises.
Suppose on the flop the player on your right bets, you have top pair, but you know that if you raise four or five players will come in behind you anyway. If the pot is very big you should just call.
Now when the player on your right bets again on fourth street, you can raise and thus force those players who are drawing to beat you, to call two double size bets.
Here’s a specific example. You have Ad Kd you are on the button, and there are 7 people in for a triple bet.
Now the flop comes: Ac 9d 4h
This may sound insane, but if the player on your right is the first to bet, rather than raise right there, you should often just call and go for the raise on fourth street because that raise will knock people out. The raise on the flop won’t.
Now it’s true that when you just call on the flop someone will often make two pair. But that’s just the point. They were going to call even if you raised and because of the size of the pot they are right to do so. In addition, had you raised and then bet on fourth street, they would call again, and once again be correct. However, if you play the hand as we suggest, while they can still make two pair to beat you on fourth street, they may not have the opportunity to make two pair on the river. Thus you at least keep them from drawing out on the last card. Here’s another variation of this same play. Suppose you have AA on the button, many players are in, the pot is very large, the flop comes J 8 7 rainbow and they all check to you. The play is to also check! Then when someone bets on fourth street you raise – unless a 10 or a 9 comes off. Again, if someone is going to draw out on you on the turn you can’t prevent it anyway. By playing your hand this way you’ll be able to stop him from drawing out on you on the end. The general idea is that these plays may be correct when no one is going to fold for the bet on the flop, but you think that a raise can knock them out on fourth street. But they are not foolproof. The danger is that occasionally someone who would have folded on the flop picks up a backdoor straight or flush draw and now beats you, or maybe he has a small pair in the hole and would have folded, and now makes a set. Another drawback is that you don’t collect those on the flop bets when your hand does hold up. But as the pot gets bigger and bigger the pros to these plays usually outweigh the cons.
Just to recap a bit, the most important aspect of these very large pots is to play your hand in such a way that no one will draw out on you on the end. That one edge more than makes up for any missed bets. By sometimes playing in an unorthodox way you can get players out who would have beaten you on the river card because you have managed to cost them two double size bets on the next to the last card. That is worth giving up a lot of other small profits.
It’s Important to be Suited.
If your hand is suited in these loose games it is a giant advantage. One of the nice things about raising with suited cards before the flop (especially the ace suited), is that when you flop a flush, or for that matter a four-flush, you welcome all bottom pairs calling. They may be right to call, but it doesn’t hurt you. They may be making money by calling on the flop because there are other people involved. But they are not taking money from you. They are making you money.
The Fundamental Theorem of Poker states that if somebody is gaining money they are taking it from you. That’s true in a heads-up pot, but there are exceptions multiway. For instance, in a four handed pot it could be possible that the fourth player in is gaining 1$ from the second player in, 1.5$ from the third player, but giving 0.75$ of it back to you.
So if you flop a four-flush, especially an A-high four-flush, and a player calls getting 12-to-1 with bottom pair, he may be costing whoever holds top pair money because of the odds that he is getting, and perhaps even costing someone who holds middle pair a little money, but he is not costing you anything. He is rather making you something. Thus, one of the reasons to raise with these flush cards is because if you flop the draw, by your making the pot bigger, people now play hands that can’t win against your hand if you hit it. (This is also why if there are many players in, it is right to raise with small pairs on the button.)
Let’s be specific. Suppose you hold A8s
If there are five or more people in front of you who have just called, you should raise if you are in a game where the players are fairly weak. However, if they are tough you should just call, and if they are terrible, you should again just call When the other players are terrible, there is no reason to make this raise in order to attract their call on the flop because they will stay in anyway. If they are tough, it’s not that great a play because they won’t play that badly on the flop, and they will have better hands.
When many players have limped in (before the flop), a raise with an A8s would be a close decision if you were all in at that point. In other words, if you gave yourself an A8s and you dealt it out against their hands, you probably would break approximately even whether you raised or just called. However, the reason you should sometimes raise is because of how it affects future play. If the raise will get people involved so that if you do flop a four-flush and then complete it you win a giant pot, then that’s a valid reason to do it. But if it doesn’t achieve this desired effect or if you don’t need to build up the pot to get extra calls, then you probably shouldn’t do it.
Let’s look a little closer at AQ (and similar hands). If you hold hands like AQ in early position, you should probably not raise if you are in a game where your raise will fail to cut down the field. In fact, if you are in a good, loose game, you are under the gun, and you choose to only raise with hands like big suited connectors that play well in large multiway pots, there would be nothing wrong with that.
To see why this is correct you must ask yourself when you are in a game like this, “What am I trying to accomplish by raising?” For your raise with AQ to be correct, you must be able to limit the pot to only a small number of players. If you can’t do this, then you must hit the flop to win. You will need to flop an A or a Q (or some other reasonably good hand) to continue. It would be different if you could limit the field and thus sometimes expect to win with just ace high. But once the game is loose that’s usually not the case. Look at it this way. Suppose you raise with AQ several players call, but your raise causes another player with 87 the to fold. Are you happy that he folded?
If you were heads-up you might be happy that the 87 folded. But once many players are in, you have to flop an A or a Q, and the 87 is only going to hurt you if he catches two of his cards while you also catch. Thus he has to hit two out of four cards instead of one out of five so you no longer really want him out.
So if you knew your raise with the AQ would force the 87 out, but a call will not, that’s not a reason for you to raise. (Of course it would be different if your AQ was suited. Now you should raise for some of the reasons that were discussed previously. A large multiway pot is what you are now aiming for.)
There is also a second reason which very few players know to take into account. It has to do with what is known as a protected pot.’ When you keep a bad player in on a close decision, you won’t have to guess as much when a good player bets. He is far less likely to bluff because he knows that even if you fold, the other guy will call. This will have the effect of slowing him down, and you should take advantage of that.
You can sometimes reverse this concept when a bad player is in the hand. Suppose you have A2 in the big blind, and the flop is A 9 4 rainbow. You check, a good player bets, and a bad player calls. You should always go for the check-raise because it will be difficult for the good player to put you on a bluff since you are check-raising not only him, but the bad player as well. And, you both know that the bad player will call you all the way. By making this check-raise the good player won’t try to get fancy with you. Not only will he throw away a middle pair, he might even muck a hand like A5s and allow you to play the bad player heads-up. And if he does reraise you know you are beat. So by reversing this process you can sometimes take advantage of those times when the good player knows that you’re not going to bluff the bad player.
It is true that if you are playing your normal tough game and assume that your opponents are playing well you should still win money in these easy loose games. But you won’t win as much as you would if you made some adjustments. The right strategy to beat loose games is very different than what many people think. The idea is not to immediately punish someone because you happen to have an edge. It is often correct to wait till a later round where your edge might be bigger to make your move. On the other hand, you may discover that your advantage has disappeared and you will be happy that you did not put in those extra bets earlier. Bad players who play too many hands and go too far with their hands are ideal opponents. But you must make significant adjustments to exploit them to the fullest. This includes what hands you play before the flop, which hands you raise with and which hands you don’t, and how you play those hands on the later streets. It’s always important to keep in mind that when the pots become very large the most important aspect to your strategy should be to win them. However, as we pointed out in the text, winning some of these hands is not just a matter of betting. Sometimes, as we have shown, it may be best not to bet at all so that you can try for a raise on the next round. To conclude this section, we want to point out that there is no shortage of loose games. In fact, at the time of this writing, the majority of hold ’em games in cardrooms around the country are of the loose variety. Of course, on average, the small limit games are looser than the higher limit games, and the quality of games does vary with location. But, if you understand the ideas in this section you should be able to exploit these games to the maximum whenever you find yourself sitting with weak players who play too many hands and go too far with them.