Getting the most out of your winning hands with “Value Targeting”

graphIn this article, I will examine the topic of maximizing value through value targeting.  Value targeting is identifying the hand or set of hands from which you are attempting to get value.  Let’s look at a hand to discuss this topic:

Pokerstars $2.20Level 50/100 + 10

The villain in this hand was tight passive. His line was 15/8/0/0 26 hands.

EP1 EP2 MP1 MP2 MP3 CO Button SB BB
1,395 9,287 2,210 2,399 3,020 14,479 2,860 2,174 4,540
Villain Hero
7♦ 7♥
Preflop (240) 2 folds, villain calls, 5 folds, Hero checks
Flop (340) 7♣ A♥ 4♦ – Hero checks

This is the part of the hand that I want to focus on.  Hero flopped a big hand.  When you flop a big hand you want to grow a big pot.

In this hand, Hero decided to check.  He was attempting to slow play and make his hand look weak, hoping to get some value from the weaker part of the range that the villain may have in this spot.  In my opinion checking this flop is an error.

When you flop a big hand you should attempt to play a big pot.  You do not flop big hands too often in Texas Hold’em.  When you do, you should attempt to play a big pot.  When you want a big pot, you should put the chips in there yourself, don’t expect your opponent to do it for you.

You should set a value target.  When you flop a big hand, you should set a value target.  This is a range of hands you are hoping will pay you off.  The value target should be for the probable second best hand that your opponent can expect to have.  Hands that are just a few notches weaker than your hand.  In this hand, the hands are a few notches weaker include 44, A7, A4, 74s, and finally Ax hands.

Determine how many bets your opponent will pay off with a target hand.  With all of these target hands, we should expect our opponent to possibly pay us off for three streets of value.  The possible exception would be maybe the weaker aces may fold by the river, but we should get two bets out of even the weaker aces.

Ignore the hands not in the value target.  While it is possible that your opponent may have air or maybe something like a middle pair like 88 in this hand, we should ignore these hands for the moment.  When we slow play, what we are doing is attempting to get an opponent with these hands to maybe put a bet in the pot, where we may not get that bet if we play this hand fast.  However, the value that we miss when our opponent has one of the hands in the target range is exponentially larger than the small value we may possibly get with one of these weaker holdings.

You should size the bets for maximum value.  In this hand, taking note of your opponent’s stack is very important.  When you want to play for stacks, two important markers are 10% and 30% of your opponent’s stack.  If on the flop, you can bet 10% of your opponent’s remaining stack, you will be able to get all in without your opponents help if he calls your bets.

On the flop, your opponent’s stack is 2,100.  The pot is 340, so a bet of 210 is about perfect.  If he calls the flop, there will be 760 in the pot, and your opponents stack will be 1,890.  30% of 1,890 is 550.  If he calls that bet, the pot on the river will be 2,990 and his stack will have 1,360 left, making him pot committed for the river shove with showdown value hands.

Therefore, when you flop a big hand, your goal should be to build a big pot.  This reminds me of the old adage, big hands = big pots and small hands = small pots.  Too often, players flop big hands and check, which will result in small pots.  You do not flop big hands very often in Hold’em.  When you do, you should make it your standard plan to build a big pot.  Don’t expect your opponent to do it for you.

To get maximum value, you should target a set of hands.  These are the set of hands just below or a few steps below your hand.  Then ask yourself: how many streets will he call with the hands in the target range.  If the answer is three streets of value, then it is usually an error to slow play.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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When and why to make a continuation bet

online-pokerThis article will look at the topic of continuation betting. I once attended a poker seminar in Atlantic City where the presenters spent a very short amount of time on the topic.  The advice given was this: “Continuation bets work, just do it.”  Then the hands went up from the audience, but what if … ?  “Continuation bets work, just do it.”  Then another question followed by the same response “Continuation bets work, just do it.”

A continuation bet is a bet made on the flop (or on the turn in the case of a delayed continuation bet) by the person who made the raise before the flop.  It is continuing the aggression that was shown before the flop.

So it is obvious that the lesson I related above stuck with me to this day.  I have to say that the true answer is not far from that.  In fact, I have come to believe that if you are on the flop and you were the aggressor before the flop and you are not sure if betting or checking is the right response, err on the side of betting.

I’m sure by now that most of you know the math of continuation betting and why it is so profitable.  If you bet half pot for a continuation bet, it only needs to succeed 50% of the time to break even.  Most of the time you don’t have to bet any more than half the pot.  Further, you should know that your opponent will miss the flop more than 60% of the time when you are in a heads up pot.

Since the default strategy is to make a continuation bet in most situations, what you really need to study are those times where it is best to not to make a continuation bet.  Examples of spots to check are flops where you are either way ahead or way behind, dry flops where you have show down value against an aggressive opponent, and flops that totally miss your perceived range but nails your opponents range.

Way Ahead or Way Behind Boards – a good example of this is A 9 4 rainbow board when you have KK.  If he has an Ace, 99, or 44 you have only two outs.  If he has a 9 or 4 at most you are giving 5 outs and if he has another pair, you are giving him 2 outs.  Against certain opponents it makes perfect sense to check here instead of making a continuation bet.

When you have a marginal strength hand – On a dry flop such Q 9 4 rainbow board above and you have a hand such as 77, you may want to check instead of c-betting to try to get to showdown cheaply.  Granted this line is unbalanced, but against many opponents you do not need to worry about balance.

When the board misses your range, but nails your opponents range – a board with 3 middle and low cards is the type that will tend to hit a loose callers range, but miss a range of the a raiser.

When you dominate the board – a final spot to consider checking instead of betting is when you completely dominate the board such that statistically there is little left for your opponent to hit.  An example may be raising AK before the flop and the flop comes A A K.  Unless there is a flush draw, there is nothing for your opponent to have hit on this board, you have the board monopolized.  I’m not a fan of slow playing big hands, but this one spot where you must slow play.

Multi-way pots – In a pot with 4 or more players, I usually do not continuation bet as a bluff.  In a pot with 3 players and at least one player checks to me, I will still make a continuation bet.  In this case you have position on one player and are out of position to one player or you may have position on both.  If you are out of position to both players, I prefer to check instead of making a continuation bet as a bluff.

So in conclusion, you should make your continuation bet often.  It works.  You will pick up the pot quite often.  When you are unsure whether you should bet or you should check, err on the side of aggression and make the continuation bet, you will correct in betting more often than you are wrong.  In case you missed the message of this article, let me repeat: “Continuation bets work, just do it!”

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 6 Practice Hands

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesNow that I covered all the details, we are ready to look at some practice hands.  As you go through these, remember the process.  First you develop a general read by trying to eliminate or limit one of the general categories.  Then rebuild the hand from the beginning using all the clues along the way for a specific read to a final range of hands.  So let’s get right into the hands.

Hand 1

Harrah’s Daily MTT

Level  – 50/100

In this hand, hero is sitting in EP1. Villain 1 is in MP2 and has been playing loose passive.  Villain 2 is in the BB and he is an older man who has been playing TAG.

EP1 EP2 EP3 MP1 MP2 MP3 Cutoff Button SB BB
Hero       V1         V2
11,000       8,000         10,000
A♦ K♣                  
Preflop (150) Hero raises to 300, 3 folds, V1 calls, V2 calls.


Flop (950) J♥ 8♣ 4♥ V2 checks, Hero bets 500, V1 calls, V2 folds.


Turn (1,950) K♠ (J♥ 8♣ 4♥) Hero checks, V1 bets 700, Hero calls.


River (3,350) 6♦ (K♠ J♥ 8♣ 4♥) Hero checks, V1 bets 1,000, Hero?


Question 1 – What is the general range of V1?

Question 2 – What is his specific range?

Question 3 – What is Hero’s play?


Hand 2

Cavendish Charity Tournament

Level 50/100

In this hand the villain in question sat in the big blind.  It was Michael Shahade, chess professional who learned poker from Dan Harrington.  He’s tight and will get aggressive when he thinks he has the best of it.

EP1 EP2 EP3 MP1 MP2 MP3 Cutoff Button SB BB
            Hero     V1
            3,100     4,000
            Q♥ T♥      
Preflop (150) 1 fold, EP2 calls, 1 fold, MP1 calls, MP2 calls, I fold, Hero calls, SB calls, BB checks.


Flop (600) Q♣  9♥ 5♥ – 5 checks, Hero bets 400, 1 fold, V1 raises to 1,200, 3 folds, Hero?


Question 4 – what is his general range?

Question 5 – What is his specific range?

Question 6 – What is hero’s play?


Hand 3

Showboat Saturday Night MTT

Level 100/200

Villain 1 is a middle aged Greek player.  Button up shirt with top 3 buttons open, showing off gold jewelry around his neck.  He was very loud and boisterous and attempting to be intimidating the whole night.  He was playing loose.


Villain 2 is a friend of mine who has played in WPT events and Parx Deepstack events.  Pretty decent player.  He is generally LAG

EP1 EP2 EP3 MP1 MP2 MP3 Cutoff Button SB BB
  V1       Hero       V2
  14,000       9,000       15,000
          6♥ 6♠        
Preflop (300) V1 raises to 400, Hero calls, V2 calls.


Flop (1,300) A♦ J♦ 3♠ V2 checks, V1 bets 400, MP1 folds, Hero calls, V2 raises to 1,200, V1 calls, Hero folds.


Turn (4,100) 6♦ (A♦ J♦ 3♠) V2 checks, V1 bets 600, V2 calls.


River (5,300) 2♣ (6♦ A♦ J♦ 3♠) V2 checks, V1 raises all in, V2 tank calls.


Question 7 – What is the general range of V1?

Question 8 – What is the specific range of V1?

Question 9 – What is the general range of V2?

Question 10 – What is the specific range of V2?



Hand 4

Harrah’s Daily MTT

Level 4000/8000 + 1000

This is a final table hand.  The BB is the chip leader and I was second in chips.  There were 6 left.  The top 7 were paid.


The BB was a solid player, opening his share of pots and playing pretty well post flop.  I haven’t seen him make an obvious errors.

EP1 EP2 EP3 MP1 MP2 MP3 Cutoff Button SB BB
            Hero     V1
            200,000     300,000
            J♣ 9♦      
Preflop (18,000) Hero raises 17,000, V1 calls.


Flop (44,000) K♥ 9♣ 8♦ – V1 checks, Hero bets 17,000, V1 calls.


Turn (78,000) Q♥ (K♥ 9♣ 8♦) V1 checks, Hero checks


River (78,000) 5♠ (Q♥ K♥ 9♣ 8♦) V1 bets 20,000, Hero?


Question 11 – What is V1’s general range?

Question 12 – What is V1’s specific range?

Question 13 – What is Hero’s play?



Go through those problems slowly and thoughtfully for the best results and practice.  Then you can place your answers and any discussion on these problems in this topic:

I hope you enjoyed this series.  Also if you have any hands you would like to discuss as part of these lessons, feel free to post them in the above topic.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 5 Poker Tells

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesUnderstanding poker tells is an important tool in hand reading.  It is the presence of these tells that help us to narrow down ranges.  Each tell is a clue to help us put the puzzle together.

In general there are categories of tells.  Betting patterns, bet sizing tells, timing tells – both live and online, and live physical tells.

The most useful of tells are betting pattern tells.  Many poker players exhibit tells in their betting patterns.  In fact, this is the most usual type of tell.  Picking up on a players betting patterns can often give you clues to help put him on a range of hands.

The first betting pattern to look for is the raise/continuation bet/check surrender line.  Be on the lookout for this player, they make excellent targets to float.  They will raise before the flop, bet the flop then play face up on the turn.

Another betting pattern tell is what I call the “tricky trappy” line.   This is someone who loves to slow play big hands and only spring the trap on the river.  They will play the hand passive/passive/aggressive.  Be on the lookout for this player and remember sudden unexpected aggression can indicate a monster.

The next betting pattern tell is taking a pot control line.  They will check the flop or the turn with a marginal strength hand.  On a draw heavy board his line may go bet/bet/check.  This line is usually an indication of hand that has potential to win at showdown, wants to get some value, but at the same time, does not want to play a huge pot.  In general, their strategy is to attempt to get to showdown as cheaply as possible.

Other betting patterns are picked up on how the player likes to play draws.  Some players like to take the aggression with their draws and others like to play them passively.  It is important to figure out how your opponents like to play their draws, so it can help to limit their range.

Watch out for the passive raise.  The player could be tight passive or loose passive, but aggression from these guys is usually strength.  They are capable of semi-bluffs when they are first to act or if it is checked to them, but if there is aggressive action and they raise, beware.

Another betting tell is sizing tells.  Sizing tells are not the same for everyone.  Some players bet small with a monster and large with bluffs and there are those who do the opposite.  However, once you figure out which way a person does go it is usually a reliable way to exploit them.

There is also combination of sizing and pattern that can be used.  One such combination is the bet/bet/bet line post flop, however, the first two bets are tiny and the last bet is huge.  In general, this is how some players play their draws.  That make a cheap semi-bluff on the flop and turn and bet huge on the river.  If the draw misses, it is usually a bluff, if the draw hits, they are trying to extract value.

There is another type who uses the above line for players who flop the nuts.  They use the first two as feeler bets then try to extract value.

The next tell on the list is timing tells.  Timing tells can be used online or in live poker.  They typically follow the old dictum – strong means weak and weak means strong.  In general if a player is attempting to look weak, their hand is strong and vice versa.

In general, here are the basics of timing tells:

A long pause and a check – weakness who is attempting to dissuade you from betting by making ti seem they were contemplating betting themselves.

Insta call – they are on a draw.

A long pause then a bet – they have a monster.  They wanted to make it seem like they had a hard time in contemplating whether to bet or not.  Feigning weakness.

The final type of tell we will discuss are the live physical tells.  Again, remember the dictum strong means weak and weak means strong.  Players try to “act.”  Unconsciously, they are attempting to act to make you believe the opposite about their hand.  Here are some live physical tells.  The first two are reactions to the board tells.  When the dealer deals out the board, do not watch the board, look at your opponents for their initial reaction to the board.

Glance at the chips after the flop – When they flop a big hand, players will sometimes make a quick sudden glance at their chips or your chips.

Stare at the board and don’t move – this usually means that they missed.

Now, let me give you a secret about physical tells.  After a player acts in a hand, if you stare him down, it makes most players uncomfortable to be stared at and they will usually react.  This reaction is a tell.  Here are some of the generalities of physical tells:

Stare at you – this is generally weak.  Remember strong means weak, he is attempting to be intimidating by staring at you.  Just beware the cagey players who use this as a reverse tell.

Look away – they are strong.  They don’t want to discourage you from calling.

Gravity defying tells – They are strong and confident.  Gravity defying tells are sitting straighter in the chair and moving in to the table, hands in a steeple shape pointing up, arms behind head, and any other movement in the upward motion.

Covering mouth – this means weakness.  Sometimes a general touching of the face can mean weakness, but not as high a degree as covering his mouth.

Feet in or feet out – When you are sitting next to players, take notice of how they place their feet in general when not playing a hand.  If the feet move forward and under the table, it is a sign of strength, if they move away and under the chair it is a sign of weakness.

Breathing – if they are holding their breath, it is usually a signal they are bluffing.  If they are breathing comfortably, they are comfortable with their hand.

Shaking when making a bet – This usually indicates a rush of adrenaline with a monster.  But beware this one, some players have a neurological disorder that causes them to shake all the time.  There are many other tells, but these are in general the ones you may pick up the most often.  If you are starting out in looking for physical tells, just looking for these could be daunting enough.

To conclude this lesson on tells, what should you do when you spot a tell.  Tells are not the end of the analysis.  They are only one of the clues in putting the story together.  In general, if every other clue is going against the tell, I will still go with the rest of the clues and act appropriately.  However, every once in a while you are in a really close spot.  The tell is the clue that may tip your decision one way or the other.

For homework today, here is a list of article by Joe Navarro on poker tells for you to read:

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 4 Developing Specific Reads

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesNow we are going to move on to the next step, how to turn your general read into a specific read.  To recap, we have learned to put our opponent’s on a general read of hand strength into three categories: monster hands; marginal or showdown hands; and air or draws.  Once we have the general categories, we need to develop a specific read based on those general categories. 

Let’s look at a hand history we will use for this lesson:

Daily MTT

Level 1 25/50

Effective Stacks t10,000











TAG           Hero      

Preflop (75) EP1 raises to 150, 5 folds, Hero calls, 3 folds.

Flop (375) 9♣ 6 3♠ – EP1 bets 200, Hero calls.

Turn (775) (9♣ 6 3♠) T♣ – EP1 checks, Hero checks.

River (775) (9♣ 6 3♠ T♣) K– EP1 bets 300, Hero ???


The action is on Hero.  He has to call 300 to win 1,075.  Hero needs 22% equity for a call to break even here. 

When we examine his betting line, our read is leaning toward a marginal hand with showdown value.  A post flop line of c-bet/check/small bet tends to look like a marginal hand.  It resembles a pot control line with a thin value/blocking bet on the end.  However, we cannot eliminate a possibility of monsters or air.  A monster once in a while takes this line for deception or if he has a read that you are weak attempting to get a crying call on the end with a bluff catcher.  Or alternatively, this could be a desperate bluff attempt on the end with a read that you have a weak hand. 

So how do we progress to a specific read here.  It would be a mistake in this hand to think that his monsters include QJ, 66 or 33.  It would also be a mistake to think that his marginal hand range include hands like JT or his bluff range includes hands like 75s.  We have to work from the action before the flop and work forward.  Our opponent is a standard TAG opening from early position.  So I would estimate his opening range to mostly be hands like 99+, AJs+, and AQ+.  Of course, he could randomly be throwing in hands like 55 or 65s here once in a while, but for this example, let’s assume not often enough to make a statistical difference. 

So among his total range we can divide his hands in these groups:

Monsters: KK, 99, and TT.  (9 total hands)

Marginal Hands:  AA, AK, QQ, and JJ.  (30 total hands)

Air:  AQ and AJs.  (20 total hands)

This makes up his total range of hands.  If he is making the same bet on the end with his entire range, we have a pretty easy call as we lose to 39 total hands and we will win against 20 hands in his range, giving us 33% equity. 

To properly determine his range, we have to eliminate some hands that may not play the hand in this manner.  First, we can assume his entire range makes the continuation bet on the flop. 

With his turn check, we can eliminate some of the monsters.  KK was not a monster until the river, but 99 and TT were monsters on the turn, additionally, with a flush draw and a straight draw present, he should be betting these.  Let’s assume he will bet at least 50% of the time with a monster on the turn.  So we can reduce 3 of the 6 monsters on the turn from his range.  This reduces his monster range to 6 hands. 

What can we say of his marginal range on the turn.  AA, KK, QQ, and JJ will double barrel at least some part of the time on this board.  Let’s say at least 33% of the time, so we can reduce his marginal hand range. Remember, he did not have AK in the marginal range on the turn, so we only have 18 marginal hands on the turn.  Let’s eliminate 6 hands.  His total marginal range now consists of 24 hands. 

What can we say of his air range?  Well much of the air range may check the turn. And evaluate your action.  However, there were 3 possible hands I can see double barreling – A♣K♣, A♣Q♣ and A♣J♣.  Let’s assume he bluffs at least 33% of the time with these so we can reduce his air range by 1 hand. 

Going into the river let’s recap the ranges with the updated hand counts:

Monsters: KK, 99, and TT.  (6 total hands)

Marginal Hands:  AA, AK, QQ, and JJ.  (24 total hands)

Air:  AQ and AJs.  (19 total hands)

Again, if he is betting the river with this entire range, we have an easier call than before.  But we must perform the same actions for the river bet and see what our results indicate the best action to be.

First, let’s examine his monster range.  His bet sizing is small.  I think with his bet sizing, we can reduce the monster range by a lot.  In fact I would say that maybe 4 of the 6 hands he bets half pot or larger on the river.  So our monster hands now are only 2 hands. 

With his marginal range, we can expect most of this range to bet the river this way, especially with the action given.  However, he does check behind some part of the time.  Let’s assume he checks behind half the time with QQ and JJ, reducing his marginal range by 6 hands. 

Finally, the most critical analysis for our decision.  How often is he bluffing.  Is he bluffing a quarter of the time he gets to the river with air?  Is he bluffing half the time?  This is absolutely player dependent.  But let’s assume we determine he will bluff a little more than 25% of the time.  So let’s say he is going to bluff 5 hands with air. 

Our total count is now:

Monsters: KK, 99, and TT.  (2 total hands)

Marginal Hands:  AA, AK, QQ, and JJ.  (18 total hands)

Air:  AQ and AJs.  (5 total hands)

If this were in fact the total distribution at the end of our analysis, we can see by this that we cannot call.  We need 22% equity and our hand beats 5 of the 25 total hands he bets this way, giving us only 20% equity on a call.

When decisions are this close, it is usually a tell that can swing the decision one way or the other.  Did he make a timing tell or a bet sizing tell.  If he bluffs large, you can reduce the bluffs in his range making this a clear fold.  If he bets large with his monsters and bluffs small, you can lean toward a call here.   What there a timing tell?  Is it live and did he give off a physical tell?  These will be the topic of my next article. 

For your homework this week, go back to your 10 hands that you pulled to do your homework previously. In the last exercise you were supposed to determine a general range for your opponent.  Now attempt to take those hands and reduce the general range to a more specific range. 


Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

Register at and keep the conversation going!

Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 3, Air Draw or Bluff?

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesIn this lesson, I am going to take a closer look at one of the three general categories, specifically the air/draws/bluffs category. I will give some general ideas when that category can be higher in proportion to the rest of their range.

In the past lesson you learned there were three general categories of hands in Andrew Brokos’ hand reading method. The three categories were monster hands, marginal hands, and draws or air hands. If you did the recommended homework and sorted through 10 of your own hands in your database you should have learned that quite often the draws/air/bluff category appeared alongside one of the two other categories most often. In other words, the bluff was the least often eliminated category.

You will often find yourself against a range that looks like it is monsters or bluffs. In this article, we will take a closer look at the draw, air, and bluff range. This reduces your decision to a math problem. Is your opponent is bluffing often enough for a call with a bluff catcher to be profitable?

First let us examine Harrington’s Law of Bluffing. That reads: “The probability that your opponent is bluffing when he shoves a big bet in the pot is always at least 10 percent.1” He explains that it is so because everyone bluffs, and because everyone knows that they are supposed to bluff. His premise is that everybody bluffs and everybody knows they are supposed to bluff, therefore, when your opponent makes a big shove there is at least a 10% chance they are bluffing.

If we extend his premises, we find that since everybody bluffs and since everybody knows they are supposed to bluff sometimes, that even the most passive of players will have air and draws in their range when they bet. However, be careful how far you stretch this concept. I can easily think of situations where certain players bluff range is so small that it is almost inconsequential to the decision. Consider this line by a tight passive player: raise before the flop, bet the flop, bet the turn, bet the river, get check raised on the river and 3 bets the check raise. I would consider his chances of bluffing in that situation as being close to zero.

Now let’s look at some common situations where the percentage of bluffs can be high. It is in these general spots, that the chances your opponent could be bluffing and indeed you must keep the bluff range in as an option.

The most obvious is the continuation bet. Almost everyone has a continuation bet in their arsenal. Since the release of Harrington’s books, players generally now know that if they raise the pot before the flop, they are supposed to make the perfunctory attempt to bluff at the pot on the flop.

Another situation is on a draw heavy board. Most players understand the value of a semi-bluff. If there is a possibility of straight draw or a flush draw, there is a possibility of a bluff.

Bluffing frequency depends on the aggression of your opponent. This should seem like a no brainer, but I included this for completeness. The more aggressive the player, the higher the probability that there is some bluffing in his range. Knowing the aggressive tendencies of your opponent is important in being able to determine how many bluffs are in their range. While passive players bluff, they are the ones at the lower end of the scale, but the aggressive players are always on the lookout for a spot to bluff. In general, the more passive the player, the more you can expect to only be bluffing in traditional bluffing spots, like the continuation bet or semi-bluff. The more aggressive the player, the more you should expect additional bluffs to be in his range.

Betting when a scare card hits could be indicative of a bluff from stronger players. Whenever, the value of top pair diminishes on the card dealt, there is a chance a good player could fire a bluff.

Sometimes betting tells can indicate if the bet is likely a bluff or not. Some players bet small as a bluff. A cheap attempt to steal the pot. While others like to bet huge to scare you away. It is based on the mentality of the player. If you learn their pattern, when you see the sizing, you can increase the possibility it is a bluff.

Finally, we can expect the bluffing frequency to go up when our line induces a player to bluff. When we are taking a line that has a lot of passivity, our opponent may take that as a license to bluff. If we take a pot control line with a showdown value hand, it looks weak to our opponent and will induce a bluff. Knowing this is important. First we have to know that we induced a bluff and we have to call, but we can also create situation against the right opponent where checking has more value than betting.

These situations listed in this article are among the most frequent of bluffs you may come across. Of course, nothing can be better than actually knowing your particular opponent’s tendencies, but in the situations they are still generally unknown to you, this list will help you pinpoint some good spots for your opponent to attempt to bluff you.

1. Harrington, Dan. Harrington on Hold’em, Volume 1. Two Plus Two Publishing, 2004.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 2 the Story of Xopods

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesThis week we will taking a closer look at developing a general read. If you remember from last week, I discussed using Andrew Brokos’ method for developing a general read. Last week’s homework assignment was to read his article, which I have linked at the bottom of this lesson. I first came across his method at Tournament Poker Edge where he has a series of videos explaining his method in depth. I would recommend a month at that site if only to watch his series on hand reading.

A quick review of his method is that he uses three general ranges: monster hands, marginal hands, and air or draw hands. During the hand, he attempts to eliminate one or two of the ranges by process of elimination.

His first grouping is monster hands. Monster hands are all the hands where your opponent is willing to play a big pot. His hand is strong enough that he can bet confidently and expect to be called often by worse hands.

The clues that you are against a hand in the monster range is that your opponent is taking aggressive actions. He is betting and raising. He is raising in spots that have to be a monster. Additionally, for players who like to slow play, unsuspected aggression is a clue. When your opponent plays the hand passive/passive/aggressive it can mean a slow played monster. When your opponent is making large bets attempting to get a lot of money into the pot, he could have a monster.

His next group of hands is the marginal or showdown range. These are hands that your opponent expects that he may have the best hand, however, it is not strong enough to play big pots. These are hands where your opponent may make a value bet on one or maybe two streets, but mostly they want to get to showdown. You may be against a marginal hand when your opponent checks one or more streets, when your opponent is just calling bets and not raising, and especially if you opponent checks in good spots to bluff. If your opponent is making a blocking bet, especially on the river, it can mean a marginal hand.

His final group of hands is air and draws. These are hands that need improvement to be able to win the pot. This range is a little harder to pin point and it can be very player dependent. Some players will play a draw like a marginal hand with a check – call line and some will play them to look like monsters with bets and raises. Bet sizing is sometimes a good indicator on bluffs. Many players will bet on the smaller side with bluffs and larger with monsters. However, there are the exceptions to this where the players with a monster will bet small to try to induce a call and bet large with their air to try to induce you to fold.

As an example let’s look at the following hand taken from Xopods on the forum:

*You can enlarge the image by clicking on it*


We are going to go through this exercise for both players, Xopods and for his opponent. On the flop, I would assign Xopods all three categories. He is making a continuation bet and that doesn’t disqualify anything from his range. However, I can say that the sizing of his bet appears to be slightly on larger side and I would suspect a semi-bluff to be in the 240 range. So his air or draws range is slightly decreased.

His opponent calls the continuation bet on a seemingly wet board. His range on the flop appears to be a draw or marginal range.

On the turn Xopods checks then calls. We can start to eliminate monsters from his range. It is starting to look like a marginal hand with showdown value, but it could still be a draw.

The villain bets small on the turn. He could have checked behind with his marginal range and this bet looks small to be for value. It appears he is starting to look like a bluff or air.

Xopods checks the river. We can pretty much eliminate monsters from his range at this point. If he is being sneaky and pulls some sort of weird river check raise line, we can re-evaluate his line at that point, but I’d be pretty confident he does not have a monster if I was his opponent.

His opponent bets big on the river. Let’s put this together now. He almost never has a marginal hand here. Marginal hands are not hands where the opponent try to put a lot of money in the pot as your opponent is trying to do now. His range is now looking like it has to be a monster or a bluff. This is what is meant by a polarized range. It looks like the nuts or nothing.

Xopods calls. We can now say the following about their ranges. Xopods has a marginal hand. Good enough to beat the opponent’s bluff range, but not good enough to value bet on his own. His opponent has a monster or air.

This is how we work through the hands. What story does the betting tell us? Then we eliminate the categories that are not consistent with the story.

To conclude this lesson, we use the three general groups and look to narrow down their range. I covered some clues on what to look for during the hand to help eliminate or pinpoint groups.

For homework you should find about 10 hands in your database that go to showdown. Then go through the hands street by street as I did with the above example and attempt to develop a general read on the opponent. What did his betting line tell you about his range?

If you have any questions or examples you want to discuss, post them in forums and I will get to them.

Andrew Brokos – Hand Reading Made Simple:

Tournament Poker Edge:

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Hand Reading Part 1

Love-Marriage-Palmistry-LinesI am starting a series of lessons on hand reading. This is an important skill that everyone must perfect to become strong players. I am not sure at this point how many lessons this will involve, but I can foresee at least the next month or maybe two will be spent on this topic. I will present this in an organized format, one piece at a time. I will also provide study materials with the articles, in an effort to give you as much information as possible with one goal in mind: to make you an accurate hand reader.

First, before I get into the specifics of hand reading, I want to quickly discuss a common misconception of hand reading. Hand reading is not being able to tell that your opponent has a specific hand such as AK or 99. Whenever you hear someone say, I called you because I put you on AK, they are not hand reading, they are guessing.

Hand reading is simply using a process of elimination to pare down the possible holdings of your opponent. Hand reading is using the information available to you to try to reduce the total number of hand possibilities down to as small a list as possible. It is being able to deduce a range of hands your opponent may have, by eliminating all the possible hands that he cannot have.

Hand reading is important, because the smaller the list of hands we can correctly deduce that your opponent can hold, it allows us to make the best decisions possible. Imagine how easy poker could be if you always knew what hands your opponent held.

The most obvious spot of hand reading is analyzing whether you can call a bet made on the river. It is simple, we compare our hand versus his hand range and determine if we win often enough to justify a call.

Another important spot that players fail to take into consideration as an important hand reading situation is when you are making a value bet on the river. If you have the nuts and want to extract value from your opponent, the amount you decide to bet is based on the range of hands your opponent can have. If for instance, he only has marginal hands with bluff catching value, you do not want to bet too much, since he will only be able to call smaller bets. If however, his range is made up of monsters or air, you can bet large on the river. He is folding his air to any bet, but with his monster hand, he will call almost any bet. You would be missing a tremendous amount of value here if you bet too small.

A third opportunity that good hand reading allows you is to find a good spot to bluff. Imagine a situation where your opponent has air or a monster, however, the situation dictates that he has air much more often than he has a monster, this presents a great time to bluff and win the pot.

Finally, good hand reading allows us to spot good opportunities to make a thin value bet. If we read that his hand is mostly marginal hands and we have a hand near the top of the marginal range, we are now in a great spot to make the thin value bet and get paid.

In general, a good hand reading technique involves starting with some very general reads and moving into more specific reads. The general reads I will use in this series come from Andrew Brokos’ hand reading method. The three categories he uses are: 1) monsters; 2) marginal or showdown hands; and 3) draws and air. Our goal at this stage is to remove by process of elimination one or more of these general categories from the list.

After we determine this general read, we then attempt to compile a finalized specific list. An example may be a generalized read is that your opponent’s river bet is monsters or air and we can make a specific list such as: he has AhXh for the nut flush or he has a busted straight draw with 98s, 85s or 54s. Compiling a list such as this allows us to see how often he could have the flush and how often he could have the busted draw.

Simply, you should look at the betting pattern and determine if you can eliminate one or more of the categories. Sometimes, you will not be able to totally eliminate any part of the range, but you can decide that one or two categories are much more likely than the third. For example, consider a hand where he check called the flop, checked called the turn and checked the river. This does not look like the line of a player with a monster, however, this player does like to slow play monsters, so we cannot completely eliminate the possibility from his range of hands. Although we can reasonable say that his range is most likely marginal hands or air.

In this series, I will look at the generalized reads in detail. I will show how to turn those general reads into specific reads. I will discuss the different player characteristics and how we make different reads from the same betting patterns from each different type. I will examine different betting patterns and see what those betting patterns tell us. We will look at bet sizing. I will discuss and examine Harrington’s Rule of Bluffing. Finally, I will put all of this information together and discuss specific hands and reads and give you some practical examples.

It is my hopes through this series of lessons to make each one of you adept hand readers. I will give homework for each lesson. I want this series to hit home with everyone.

For the homework for this lesson, study this article by Andrew Brokos:

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Lessons in Poker: Calculating Expected Value

online-pokerIn this lesson, I am going to teach you some poker math. I am going to use a situation of a re-raise all in to teach you how to measure your expected value in a hand.

For this lesson, you will need the following tools, a calculator, pen and paper, and a poker equity calculator. Pokerstove is one of the most well-known equity calculators and if you have that it is fine. I prefer Equilab. A link to Equilab can be found at the bottom of this article.

Let’s look at a hand that we will use as an example for this lesson.

Parx $120

Position: Big Blind

Level: 1000/2000 + 300

Hand: AQ

EP1 EP2 MP1 MP2 HJ CO Button SB BB
Villain               Hero
35,000               32,300
Preflop (5,700), EP1 raises to 5,000, 7 folds, Hero raises all in.

If your opponent will open 22+, AJs+, AQ+, and suited connectors JTs – 54s and he will call a shove with 99+ and AQ+, what is your expected value to shove?

Let me show you the answer first, then I will explain where the numbers come from so you can see how the numbers fit into the equation:

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%[(67,700 * 35.60%) – 30,000] = 2,479.17

First, we have to understand the formula used for expected value in this situation. It is simply Fold Equity + Call Equity = cEV.

The fold equity side of the equation is the percentage of folds multiplied by the amount currently in the pot. In this example, the fold equity half of the equation is in bold:

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%[(67,700 * 35.60%) – 30,000] = 2,479.17

. The first thing we have to determine is how often he is folding and how often he will call. We do this by opening our equity calculator, plugging in our hand first, then we plug in his total range. That gives us a total percentage of 10.71% of all hands. Next we eliminate his folding hands and we are left with 5.13% of all hands. We divide 5.13/10.71 and get 47.90% he will call. Therefore his fold percentage is 52.10%. The total in the pot is 10,700. We have the 5,000 bet by the villain, 3,000 in blinds, and 2,700 in antes.

Next we have the call equity half of the equation. That half is in bold in this example:

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%[(67,700 * 35.60%) – 30,000] = 2,479.17

Now let us look at the call equity side of the formula. If his fold percentage is 52.10% that means his call percentage is 47.90%. The size of the total pot when he calls will be 65,700. We get that from the 10,700 in the pot, our 30,000 bet, and his 27,000 call. Our equity against that range is 35.60%. We learn this by running our hand versus his range in our equity calculator. The size of our bet is 30,000.

Now that we know where the numbers all go in our formula, how do we go about solving this. To solve this, we have to remember that we must use the mathematical order of operations to get to the accurate answer. I use the acronym PEMDAS. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%([67,700 * 35.60%] – 30,000) = 2,479.17

1) Solve the parenthesis first. I start with the inner most parenthesis first:

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%(24,101.2 – 30,000) = 2,479.17

2) Next I complete the parenthesis:

cEV = 52.10% * 10,700 + 47.90%(-5898.8) = 2,749.17

3) There are no exponents, so next we do the multiplication from left to right:

cEV = 5,574.7 – 2,825.53 = 2,479.17

4) Finally, simply add or subtract:

cEV = 2,749.17

That’s all there is to it. Once you understand the formula and attempt it for yourself a few times you will see how simple it becomes to work with.

I will leave you with a few examples to practice yourself.

Example 1

Position: Small Blind

Level: 400/800 + 100

Hand: J9

EP1 EP2 MP1 MP2 HJ CO Button SB BB
              Hero Villain
              19,000 12,100
Preflop (2,100), 7 folds, Hero raises all in. 

If the villain’s calling range is 22+, Ax, Kx, Qxs, and any two cards 8+, what is the expected value of the hero’s shove.

Example 2

Position: Big Blind

Level: 800/1,600 + 200

Hand: 65s

EP1 EP2 MP1 MP2 HJ CO Button SB BB
            Villain   Hero
            40,000   35,200
Preflop (4,200), 6 folds, Button raises to 4,000, 1 fold, Hero raises all in.

If the villain’s open range is 40% and his call range is top 15%, what is the expected value for the hero’s shove?

I will provide the answers in a few days in the forums.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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Poker Strategy Corner: Exploiting paired boards

online-pokerIf you read my last article: Picking Spots in Poker Tournaments, you understand by now that the recipe of running deep in multi-table tournaments is finding good spots to invest your chips. This article will look in detail at one of those spots – paired boards, specifically paired high card and a low card board.

This hand comes from a live tournament at Harrah’s in the Saturday morning tournament:

Harrah’s $65.00 Daily

Level 3 100/200

Position: Big Blind

Hand: J♠ 10♣

Relevant Stacks

Hijack – 12,000 – Villain – Standard 20 something player.

Big Blind – Hero – 12,000

Preflop (300) 5 folds, MP3 raises to 400, 3 folds, Hero calls.

Flop (900) K K♠ 5♠ – Hero checks, MP3 bets 400, Hero raises to 1,000, MP3 calls.

Turn (2,900) (K K♠ 5♠) 3♠ – Hero bets 1,500, MP3 folds.

Before the flop, the action folds to the player in the hijack seat. This player was a standard 20 something kid. He raised the minimum to 400. I decided to call.

I think calling with JTo against this villain from this position is pretty standard. My call here is based on how wide his range could be in this spot. Further, my plan for the hand is not clearly fit or fold. I will be looking for ways to win the pot post flop if the opportunity arises. If I flop a pair, I will evaluate my chances to get to showdown.

When the board flops a paired board, especially with a paired high card and one low card, it presents an interesting opportunity to win the pot with aggression. This is a very good spot to try to take the pot away. First, with this type of flop, it is very hard for our opponent to have hit the flop very hard. Especially, when you have an opponent who has a wide range. Second, if he doesn’t have a king or pocket 5s, he will be hard pressed to make it to showdown.

My first choice is how to approach this. My preferred choice is to plan a check raise on the flop. The reason is simple: if I have a hand like KQ, am I leading out or am I check raising? I would check raise my monsters here, so of course, I want my bluffs to tell the same story.

I check to him and he bets the same amount he bet before the flop. At this point, I have to consider what hands are in his range. He has monsters, marginal hands, draws and complete air in his range.

I choose to raise 2.5x the size of his raise. What does my range look like to him? My range looks like a monster hand or a draw. He would probably expect me to check/call with most of my marginal range.

He calls my bet. What do I think of his range now? I think most of his range is made up of mostly marginal hands. He also has draws in his range. Of course, he can have a monster, like KX or 55, but notice that there are many more marginal hands in his range than KX or 55. Further, we can slightly reduce his monster range and draw range here as there is some chance he will re-raise me with those hands.

The 3s is not a bad card for me. First it does not improve his range unless he has a flush draw or 33. Therefore, most of his range is still made up of marginal hands. Further, it gives me outs enabling me to double barrel and have outs if he calls again. If he has a hand like 77 here and calls my turn bet, I still have 15 outs to win this hand.

Quite often, I would expect this opponent to expect me to be able to check raise the flop as a bluff. So a thinking players plan would be to call that check raise and use his position on the turn if I don’t continue my aggression. Given the card and this spot, I decide to double barrel. Going back into last week’s article, to me this represents one of the #3 spots, where you do not expect to win the hand often enough based on your bet and you may not get enough total folds in this spot, but combining the equity of the two makes it a profitable semi-bluff opportunity. He folds and I win the pot.

When you are planning to make a move like this on the flop, you cannot always give up if it does not work right then and there. You have to follow that up with at least one more barrel a certain amount, just so that you do not become predictable.

So the next time you are heads up with a paired board, consider making a move at the pot. Tell the story. Of course, if your opponent happens to hit the paired card, there’s probably nothing you can do to win the pot. But if he does not have the paired card, he’s in a tough spot.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at 

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