3 Most Important Preflop Concepts in Poker

poker Nov 28, 2018

Summary of the 3 concepts that I think are most important for you to improve your preflop game.

  1. Steal Blinds

The first one is that poker is completely about stealing the blinds. In a model without any blinds, what would happen at equilibrium? You could try to play KK, but people are just going to fold until they get AA - then they’re going to win against you. When you understand this, you realize that poker is mainly about stealing the blinds.

In Texas Hold’em, everybody has some incentive to steal the blinds and the blinds need to defend against those steals. When the button is going for a steal, he only has to worry about the blinds behind him. The Cutoff has 3 players to act behind him, where the Button is added in. Therefore, he can’t steal as wide because if the button has a hand as strong as the cutoff’s range, he has positional advantage and he can play those hands profitably.

When you understand how this translates from Button to Cutoff, you realize that as you go towards UTG, it is the same. You just have to play tighter and tighter as you go further away from the button because there’re more people left to act behind you.

  1. Realisable Equity

What it means to have realisable equity is for example, if I am In Position (IP) with AK and Out of Position (OOP) has pocket 2s, it’s a spot where the IP player will realize much more equity because AK is a lot easier to play and OOP player can’t be sure that you only have AK in this spot.

There are many different factors in terms of how much you can realize your equity. The first one is that whenever you have position, you realize more equity as acting last allows you to make more accurate decisions. *See illustration in video @ 07:15* Hence, you should be playing extremely tight in early positions. If you’re in a late position like cutoff/button you get to realize a lot more equity therefore you can play quite loose.

Another factor is that if you are more polarized, you end up realizing more equity.

  1. Polarized Range vs Linear Range

A polarized range is to split your range into a top & bottom part for value while taking a more passive action for the middle portion; a linear range is to take your top chunk to play and leave the rest for passive action. *See illustration in video @ 12:20*

Majority of the time, playing a linear range is much more effective. Why would you put money in with your weaker hands when you can do so with your better hands?

The only position where you can implement a polarized range is when you’re in the BB, somebody has raised, and you are last to act. *See illustration in video @ 14:35* 


FULL TRANSCRIPT

Hey my friends, this is Wayne Yap and today I would like to share with you 3 of the concepts I think are most important for you to improve your preflop game.

  1. Steal Blinds

The first one is that you really need to steal the blinds because to be honest, the game of poker is completely about stealing the blinds and the reason this is so is that - if you imagine a model where the poker game just starts with the button and nobody is putting in any kinds of blinds or antes, what would happen at equilibrium? You can just let somebody play a weak hand and let’s say we give people the category of hands A, K, Q, J & T (whereby A>K>Q>J>T), what happens is that at the end everybody will only start playing the A. If one person decides to play the Q and another person decides to loosen up their range a little bit to exploit that player by playing the K, what happens is that he will lose money against all other players who are only waiting to play the A. In the long run the only strategy that works is to play only A.

When that comes to Texas Hold’em, people can’t even play KK if there’re no blinds. People will just keep folding and folding. You could try to play kings, but people are just going to fold until they get aces - then they’re going to win. If people started incorporating KK into their range, they will just be bleeding money since when other people get AA, they are going to win your money. So, playing with KK is -EV and when you understand this, you realize that poker is just all about stealing the blinds. If nobody is putting in dead money, you wouldn’t put any money into the pot either.

And then, we come to a game of poker where there is a Small Blind (SB) and a Big Blind (BB), we’ll just have a simple model where there’re no antes for now. In this model, everybody has some incentive to steal the blinds and the blinds need to defend against those steals. If you think about it, the Button has lesser people to act behind him. Basically, when the button is going to go for a steal or a raise first in, he only has to worry about the SB and BB behind him, therefore his steal percentage usually goes between 30-60%, depending on what kind of strategy you’re running.

As the positions get worse – position next to Button is the Cutoff, as you would imagine, the Cutoff has 3 players to act behind him now, where the Button is added in on top of the SB and the BB. Therefore, he can’t steal as wide because if the button has a hand stronger than the cutoff or even a hand as strong as the cutoff’s range, he has positional advantage and he can play those hands profitably. On top of that, the button really can’t just keep waiting for a spot to steal the blinds because if that were his strategy, then the players who have worse position than him are going to steal a lot of the blinds more often than they’re supposed to. Therefore, it is quite important to protect your button as well.

When you understand how this translates from Button to Cutoff, you realize that as you go down from Hijack to Lowjack to MP, UTG +2, UTG + 1 and UTG, it really just is the same. You just have to play tighter and tighter as you go further away from the button because there’re more people left to act behind you. That’s why in a 6-max game where there’re only 4 positions before the blinds, you can still play relatively loose compared to a 9-max game.

 

 

  1. Realisable Equity

Now that you’ve understood that poker is about stealing the blinds, the next concept I’d like to explain to you is realisable equity. In order to understand realisable equity, we first have to understand what equity is. Equity is basically if the game ends at that spot (let’s say Preflop we both go all in), I have 22 you have AK, we are almost a coin-flip. If it was on the flop, it would be that when the flop comes, the game would have ended (in a way both players are promising to check it down). That is actually how much equity you have – the percentage of the time you win the pot is your equity.

What it means to have realisable equity is for example, if I am In Position (IP) with AK and Out of Position (OOP) has pocket 2s, it’s a spot where the IP player will realize much more equity because AK is a lot easier to play and OOP player can’t be sure that you only have AK in this spot. So, when OOP player is playing against a range that has some AK sometimes, AK is able to realize more equity.

There are many different factors in terms of how much you can realize your equity. The first one is that whenever you have position, you realize more equity. This is because you have the chance to act after the first player has acted. Or in a multiway spot, you are the one who gets to act last. The reason is that acting last allows you to make more accurate decisions. Imagine a spot where both players have pretty equal kinds of ranges. The OOP player – it’s very hard for him to play well because if the OOP player bets his strong hands and some bluffs, the IP player can react perfectly already seeing the OOP player has bet. If OOP is splitting between betting and checking, his checking range in that spot will just be a lot of very middling hands and the IP player can polarize his range extremely well – which means he can bet his value hands and fit in just enough bluffs to make the OOP player indifferent. And when OOP player does bet that polarized range, the IP player now just has a lot more hands that he can call as compared to OOP as he doesn’t have to remove the top part of his range before defending with the bluff catchers. When IP is able to bet more frequently with a correct polarized strategy, IP gets to realize more equity. Hence, acting last gives you more equity. *See illustration in video @ 07:15*

Another important point of when you get to realize more equity is that if you are more polarized, you end up realizing more equity. How this realisable equity situation translates to preflop – there are 3 things – being OOP, not having a polarized range and having a weaker range. All 3 of these factors contribute to having less realisable equity. You can apply this to your preflop game by realizing that – if you’re defending on the BB against a Button or Cutoff steal and you’re calling here – even though your raw equity when you input it into a program shows that it is quite high, you have to apply a significant discount because of that 3 factors. Therefore, polarized or not, depends on the flop that comes out (which you can’t control and usually you don’t have a polarized range). Since you have all 3 disadvantages, you usually have to discount yourself by 30-50% in terms of realisable equity. What that means is you just have to play a lot tighter than your equity allows you to play from on the BB and SB.

But, given that you’re on the BB and SB and you have that dead blinds in play, you actually get really good pot odds and you don’t need that much realisable equity in total to play – it’s like a trade-off and you end up playing fairly loose in those spots. Next is that if you are an in early position in a 9-max game especially, you usually have a strong range, but you don’t get to realize so much of your equity because you’re going to be OOP. When you raise and IP calls, there’re a lot of boards you’re forced to check really often (for example Ace-high boards). Since you’re realizing so little equity OOP, you are really far from the blinds and you have a lot more people to worry about for stealing the blinds, you should just be playing extremely tight in those early positions.

Lastly, if you’re in a late position like cutoff/button you get to realize a lot more equity so therefore you can play quite loose. So realisable equity stacks up with the concepts I have explained in Point 1 – makes you able to play a lot looser in late positions. Perhaps intuitively possible if you don’t understand the statistics or game theory aspects of the game.

  1. Polarized Range vs Linear Range

The last thing I want to mention to you is Polarized Range vs Linear Range. A polarized range is to split your range into a top & bottom part for value while taking a more passive action for the middle portion; a linear range is to take your top chunk to play and leave the rest for passive action. *See illustration in video @ 12:20* There are times and places for both of these.

Majority of the time, in Holdem & PLO, playing a linear range is much more effective. Why would you put money in with your weaker hands when you can put money in with your better hands? For example, when stealing blinds preflop, you always want to use a linear range. When you’re UTG, you want to use the best 10% of hands in poker and play them. You don’t need 5% good hands and 5% bluff. Maybe you have some hands with different equity i.e suited connectors sometimes for more board coverage, but that’s another factor for another time.

Regarding interesting spots of when to use a linear/polarized range, the thing that’s worth discussing more in greater detail is a spot where somebody has raised or somebody has limped. Let’s just stick with the topic where somebody has raised and you’re thinking whether to 3-bet him or not, I’d say in all positions, it’s a lot simpler to play and a lot more resilient of a strategy to use a linear range and 3-bet with those.

The only place you should be aware of where you can implement a polarized range is when you’re in the BB, somebody has raised, and you are last to act. You’re 3-betting the top part of your range as well as the bottom part of your range that are not profitable to call with. By widening the total number of hands that you can play with, it increases the total EV of your game tree. *See illustration in video @ 14:35*

 

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