One of the basic plays that expert No Limit Holdem poker players frequently make, is to “isolate” weak or readable players before the flop. This is done by making a raise in position after the weak player limps in. The goal is to force all of the other players out, and wind up alone in the pot with the weak player, with position and the initiative. This play is known as an isolation raise, or “iso-raise”.
Depending on your skill level, you can make an iso-raise with a wide variety of hands — far weaker than your standard raising range. There are several reasons for this: First of all, your opponent is weak, and liable to have a poor starting hand himself. Secondly, since your opponent is weak, you presumably have a good read on him, and will be able to play expertly against him if he takes the flop with you. Third, you have position on him. Fourth, by raising you have taken the initiative in the hand. And finally, for all of the above reasons, your opponent is highly likely to miss the flop and simply check and fold.
That’s the biggest reason this play is so profitable. The great majority of the time, you will simply take the pot down uncontested post-flop.
A hand I recently played at Casino Matrix in San Jose illustrates how this play works. My opponent in the hand was actually not a weak player per se. He was a solid young pro. But when he limped into the pot under the gun, he made a weak play that allowed me to take advantage of him with an isolation raise. I raised it up with J♥T♥ in middle position, everyone else folded, and he decided to call. The flop came A♣9♥5♣. He checked, I bet, and he folded.
Simple, easy, and profitable. But did I just get lucky in this hand, or was it a good play? I think it was a good play, and here’s why:
From observing this opponent, I knew that when he limped under the gun he was very likely to have a small pocket pair. He could also have, perhaps, a suited A-x hand or even a suited connector that he wanted to see a cheap flop with — but this player was very tight and not on tilt, so I discounted those hands somewhat. And he might also of course be slowplaying a big hand like pocket Aces — but those hands were a very small part of his range.
I also knew that by raising the pot, I was immediately going to get a better read on my opponent’s hand. He would almost certainly re-raise a big pocket pair, and he would likely fold more speculative Ax and suited connector hands. This was a solid opponent who knows that those hands play terribly out of position against a raiser in heads up pots. So when I was called, I strongly suspected that I was against a small pocket pair, looking to flop a set.
The A♣9♥5♣ flop, although it missed my hand completely, was actually a very good flop for me. The ace hit a big part of my actual raising range in this situation, and hit an even bigger part of my “perceived range” — that is, the range that my opponent puts me on in this situation. This makes it very unlikely for him to be able to continue in the hand. So long as the 9 or 5 didn’t make him a set, I can expect an automatic fold. And that’s what I got.
One other thing worth mentioning about this play: I really like making it with a suited middle connector like JT. The reason is this: the very worst flops to standard raising hands like big pairs or AK are flops with three middle cards. Good opponents are likely to give you very little credit on these flops and make it difficult for you to continue. But hands like JT absolutely crush middle-card flops. They effectively balance your isolation raise range, and can give your opponents a very nasty and costly surprise.
And, of course, I can always represent AK any time an ace or a king flops. Like this time.
The “Stop and Go” is a fairly unusual play in holdem, and particularly in limit holdem, which is what I was playing tonight when a very good female professional player employed it against me. And I’m pretty sure she made a chump out of me with it, though I can’t be positive as the hands weren’t shown.
Stop and Go occurs when an out-of-position player leads at the flop, gets raised, just calls (stop!)– and then leads again on the turn (go!). It’s unusual because when a player really likes their hand they are far more likely to re-raise the flop and continue the turn. And when they are doubtful about their hand, they will just call the flop raise, and then check on the turn. Stop and go is employed far more frequently in no-limit holdem — where it can be used as a way to control the pot size without ceding the initiative — than in limit hold’em. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been faced with the play in the six months since I returned to playing limit holdem.
At any rate, here’s how the hand went down: Read More→
Today when playing $40-80 limit holdem at Bay101 I used my knowledge of a player’s tendencies to bluff him out of a hand. In a previous hand I had seen him just call a raise from a middle position opener while in the small blind, and lead out at an Ace-high flop. The raiser folded, so I was left to surmise that he had called with an Ace-high hand, and led out when he flopped top pair. (Neither of which play I recommend. When heads-up, playable Ace-high hands should be three-bet from the small blind, to seize the initiative, force the big blind out, and create dead money in the pot. But as played, I would usually check-raise the flop to win an extra small bet from the original raiser.) I made a mental note that this player simply called some Ace-high hands in the small blind heads-up. Read More→
Regrettably, due to the DOJ’s enforcement action against US-facing poker sites, I will be taking a break from posting to this blog. The next year should be an interesting one concerning the future of online poker in the United States. I believe, based on my reading of the federal statutes, that online poker is not illegal. Nor should it be. Poker is a game of skill, and forbidding the playing of it is an unwarranted government intrusion into our personal liberties. I hope that the affected sites have the courage to fight this battle in the courts.
I’m currently working on teaching myself Pot Limit Omaha online, multi-tabling the $1-2 stakes. Since I’m also working on increasing the number of tables I play at once (up to 20), I have also taken to “short-stacking” the games, which makes my decisions easier. That’s not to say they are easy, by any means. PLO is an extraordinarily complex game, as the following hand I played recently illustrates:
Yesterday was the $215 buy-in Pokerstars Sunday Million 5th Anniversary Tournament. They put a $5 million prize money guarantee on the tournament, which means they needed 23,225 entrants just to get their money back! Not to worry, 59,128 players entered, and the total prize money was $11.8 million, with $1.6 million and a lamborghini reserved for first place. Crazy. Read More→
It’s time for me to start writing a little about poker tournaments, and I think the best way to get started is to write a regular feature on how I happen to get broke in the Pokerstars online $215 NLH tournament ($1.5M prize money guaranteed) every Sunday.
There’s a lot more to poker than simply understanding the strength of your own hands. If you want to be a winning player, then you have to understand the strength of your opponent’s hand as well. You should know when you have a chance to steal the pot, even though your hand is weak. And you should know when your hand is beat, even though it is extremely strong.
This last point is the subject of this post. In no limit holdem especially, it can be very dangerous to “fall in love” with your big hands. Falling in love with the wrong hand — like falling in love with the wrong person — can lead to financial ruin!
Here’s a hand I played a couple of days ago that illustrates my point: Read More→