How do you know that you are truly a poker pro? The answer to this question was posted on your Youtube channel former 888poker Ambassador and 2014 WSOP Main Event champion Martin Jacobson. The Swede identified three features that make it easy to distinguish a pro from an amateur – below you can read his opinion and examples to understand how to start progressing in your poker mindset.
Difference # 1: The amateur is guessing about opponents hands
Unlike a professional player who operates with ranges, an amateur thinks only about specific hands (his and his opponent’s) in each situation. But poker is a game of incomplete information and it is almost impossible to narrow down your opponent’s range to one particular hand or combination, especially when you are faced with an unknown range.
For many recreational players, the concept of range is too complicated – they play hand against a hand or even a board, so they often get frustrated when opponents show completely different hands and end up not being successful at poker.
Difference # 2: The hobbyist seeks confirmation of a guess.
This comes from the first difference: if rational thinking is at the forefront of the professional poker player and he analyzes the hands, trying to better understand the style and ranges of opponents, then the recreational player relies on guesswork and “gut”, looking for confirmation only of his conclusions. He is not embarrassed that conclusions most often come from selective memory and the desire to pass off the wishful thinking. In particular, he mistakes his mistakes for bad luck, opponents’ luck, or “lucky bluffs,” but may not even know if the play was a real bluff.
Professionals sort out their hands based on one simple concept – the interaction of ranges with each other. The key here is understanding what range of hands your opponent might have and how he “stands” against your range. Also, the player must take into account the advantage of the range – the presence in a particular situation of a larger number of strong hands in someone’s range. Understanding whose range has the upper hand helps you better choose your bet sizes – calculating how much you can bet and what would be the ideal betting frequency in a given situation. The lover does not consider all this.
Difference # 3: the hobbyist repeats the same mistakes
Repeated wrong actions, wrong judgments and decisions never bear good fruit in the long run. By simplifying the game by reducing it to several dimensions, the recreational player is at a loss, while maintaining the confidence that he is simply unlucky. Often he tries to achieve something that is only possible in theory (read: in his head), basing his decisions on guesswork and ignoring the facts.
A professional, on the other hand, always remembers that he can be wrong, so he tries to find and eliminate errors. The starting point for this is to work on understanding your opponent’s preflop strategy in various positions.
How to Think About Ranges: Martin’s Examples
By determining which strategy the opponent has chosen to play preflop, the player can narrow his range from one street to another using the information he receives during the game. It clarifies and makes decision-making easier, adds confidence in the game, as opposed to the stress of guessing about hands – because you can never be sure that you interpreted / understood / read / guessed correctly, because you do not know what might be from your opponent.
But professional poker players are not born with the necessary knowledge and skills – they need to be developed, first of all, by understanding how the game against each other in ranges works.
Let’s take a look at one of the clearest examples of range differentiation – the UTG raise versus the BB defense.
Usually UTG has a tighter range, since the game starts out of position, and after that there may still be 7-8 players who have not done anything. At the same time, BB, on the contrary, is forced to defend quite widely – after all, it has good pot odds (you can see the charts in the screenshot below).
If you compare these charts, you can see quite clearly that different boards will fit ranges in a very polarizing way – that is, there can be bluffs and nuts in different situations.
For example, if the board is small, then even with a wide BB range, UTG still needs to be very careful, because he lacks a range of hands to match the cards on the table. In such a situation, the advantage of the range and the probability of the nuts is higher for BB, which can have several options for a straight, two pairs, sets, and so on – while UTG simply cannot have them.
In the opposite situation, when the board consists of high-value cards, the advantage is already on the side of UTG, because its narrow range matches the cards on the table much better.
Example # 1: how to determine the benefits of a range
We have UTG 88, flop AJ4… Before deciding whether we want to check our hand or do something else, we need to ask ourselves a very important question: “Who has the range advantage in this spot?”
In many situations, as preflop raisers, we have a very large range advantage, so we are just willing to bet full range. Once we bet the flop and get called, our opponent’s range becomes more specific and often even drops. Next, we can decide to attack such a range on the turn, for example, by overbetting, in order to put pressure on an opponent with a cap on the range. Another option is to check to see the river for free. That is, we have options that our opponent simply will not have – this makes C-bet a powerful tool in this situation.
Example # 2: how to choose hands for beta
We have the same hand on UTG – 88but the flop is now 754… We no longer have a range advantage, so we should better select the hands we will bet with. This will protect ourselves from check-raises and getting into difficult spots where we will not have enough strong hands to continue playing. In this scenario, we can bet with a part of the hands, but the question arises: “Which hands should I choose?”
When we decide which combinations we want to bet with, these should be:
- Hands from whose protection we get more benefit;
- Combinations that block the opponent’s strong hands by combining with the board;
- Hands and combinations that have the potential to improve.
In our example, a pair of eights fits all three types. First, it is beneficial to bet with it as a defense against overcards – for example, if BB has JT or even AJ, he will be forced to check-fold, since the board does not suit him. Forcing a person to fold when we have a middle pair in such a situation is a big win, since our opponent has 6 outs to improve.
Secondly, a pair of eights blocks a lot of strong hands in the opponent’s range, reducing the likelihood of having cards of the same denomination.
And thirdly, of course, the pair in this example has every chance of improving, right up to the nuts, which gives us the opportunity to continue playing even if we do get check-raised. This is very valuable because the last thing we want to do is bet and then fold a hand that has a lot of equity, especially in position.
If I have a pair of aces in my hand – in theory, a much stronger hand than eights – in such a situation it will be more suitable for checking, since it does not fall under any of the types listed above.
If you summarize all these examples in a list of short tips, it looks like this:
- Always determine your opponent’s range;
- Evaluate the likelihood of finding possible combinations with him before making a decision.
Until you think about the ranges, you cannot consider yourself a professional poker player – even if you are sometimes lucky to win large sums in it.
For high-quality work with ranges, use special programs, for example: