The Cards Spoke

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Back to the Drawing Board: Abdul Jalib's strategy

There comes a time in a budding poker player's career when he realizes that starting hand requirements are flexible, and vary widely based on changing table conditions. In my case, I've been starting to play a little too loose, relying too much on "feel" and too little on odds.

So I'm going back to the best pre-flop poker strategy available (and it's free). Abdul Jalib's definitive guide to preflop play is probably my favorite poker strategy writing I've come across. However, it's taken me about 10 readings to really get a good understanding of it. I've read on RGP that Abdul Jalib is the pseudonym for a well-known pro, but no one seemed to have any good guesses as to who.

What follows are the highlights of the document, broken up by section.
1. General Concepts
--Domination: "A hand is dominated if it has 3 or fewer outs against another, like AJ against AQ. Second best offsuit hands are what make you money in hold'em - when other players play them."
--Implied odds: "Small pairs, suited cards, and zero and one gap hands (examples: 22-66, A6s, and JTs and QTs respectively) thrive on "implied odds", a term coined by David Sklansky, meaning they will frequently be folding after the flop unless they flop big, and so they normally want to see the flop cheaply."
--Reverse implied odds: "Offsuit hands have "reverse implied odds", since they cannot usually bet and raise with confidence towards the end of the hand. Normally, an offsuit hand likely to be best should make it expensive to see the flop, in order to harm the hands that would have good implied odds to see the flop cheaply. Big pairs have reverse implied odds as well, but they are much more robust, since they can win unimproved, or by making two pair with a low pair on the board, or by making a set or full house."

2. Opening
Note that a lot of people use Abdul's preflop openers table as a starting hand chart. This is a mistake-- it applies ONLY when no one ahead of you has bet, as it is an OPENING chart.

--Blind stealing in tight games: "When opening in tight games in any position or loose games in late position, your attention should be on getting heads up with a blind or outright stealing the blinds."
--The value of big hands: "Most hands are worth less than the blinds and so for most hands stealing the blinds is a coup; hence, raising is correct for most hands. AA is worth about four times the blinds if it gets some action, so stealing the blinds with it and your other very strong hands is a major disaster. Without other concerns, in a tight game you should raise with marginal hands, and limp (and usually reraise if raised) with your strongest hands."

--Always open-raising: "In games where a raise generally gets 1 or 2 callers, but rarely steals the blinds, open-raising with any playable hand is very reasonable and helps avoid leaking information."

3. Facing Limpers
--General advice: "You should raise an opened pot when you will win the pot more than your fair share of the time or your hand would play better without additional players in the pot. Consider whether calling would lure dominated hands to call after you (or additional hands period to give you odds for your draw), or whether raising would drive out dominating hands after you or allow you to get heads up (or almost so) versus a hand you dominate."

4. Facing a raiser
--General advice: "The key concept when facing a tight raiser is: "run away and live to fight another hand." Most players raise with their best hands, limp with their worst hands, and you can exploit this by deftly sidestepping their raises and punishing their weak limps with raises of your own. You need a hand a couple levels higher than the raiser's minimums to consider playing. Offsuit aces are especially vulnerable to being dominated by a tight raiser. The implied odds of suited zero or one gappers are trashed by raises. Medium pairs can easily be dominated by bigger pairs, and otherwise it's usually a crapshoot against two overcards. Versus a tight raise, you can only three-bet profitably with AA, KK, and AK. Therefore, to avoid giving away information, flat call with these hands preflop and go for a raise on the flop."

Ok, so how can this help my game? Well, the first thing I recognize is that I haven't been thinking about domination enough. Depending on the looseness of the table, do we really want to call a raise with AJ offsuit? If the table is very loose, then maybe... but would a typical player raise with AT suited? I need to stop playing KQo for 2 bets, even in late position.

The second thing I realize is that I haven't been raising enough with my big suiteds, e.g. QJs, KTs. These hands will win more than their share of the pot when it hasn't been opened, so bring it in for a raise when you open.

Abdul focuses on "balancing" play a lot, so he advocates liberal use of the limp-reraise. With online play I don't think balancing is as important--it's very hard to get a good profile on players, because you rarely play with the same set of opponents. I love the limp-reraise for purposes of confusion rather than balancing-- it's great to see the long pause after a limp-reraise.

Ok, so I have to clean up my pre-flop game a little bit, and Abdul's breakdown of opening hands should help. Your play shouldn't be dictated by a chart, but knowing the odds of good/marginal preflop hands winning (e.g. QJs) can help you play better. The other thing I need to do is start counting the number of bets in the pot. I have been lazy with this, and it has not yet become automatic, since I often play 3 tables simultaneously. Multiple tables = bad habits!

Exhaling... ok, not sure how that little exploration of theory space went, but if nothing else, it made me realize my game has gotten a bit sloppy. Gotta get back to disciplined play. Yardley's book (although completely outdated) basically says that the key to winning is to (1) play only hands that are strong favorites, and (2) find a table with at least 4 suckers. I've heard many times that table selection is the most important skill in poker, and I definitely don't spend much time trying to be seated at the most profitable table. I suppose if I was playing as a pro, I would spend the extra 10-20 minutes scoping out the best table, but for now I have to sit wherever they stick me (sometimes I have a choice of $3-6 tables, but not often).

Got an email from LondonFroggy, who is out there blogging for all those UK poker players. I think I'm more of a fan of British poker than American poker, I must confess. Alvarez and Holden were both Brits, and I guess they've made me think of the British players as more intellectual than the ramblin gamblin Texans who (supposedly) invented Hold 'Em. Then again, Devilfish seems like a twit, so who knows. Check out LondonFroggy's blog at the link on the right.

Ok, I'm going to take a page from Iggy's blog and start offering y'all a "picture of the day" link. For the first offering, I'm gonna have to "serve up"
an interesting pic of our favorite tennis player doing what she does best

Ok one more, just to show you how much I miss the east coast:
Real fans, who would drive to the Laker game even if it was drizzling

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