Not too long ago I heard a brilliant saying that I would now like to quote: the man who understands how will always have a job, the man who understands why will always be his boss. Much like leading the horse to water, this post is not just going to be about what I think is good to do, but more importantly, why it should be done. In the poker world, and often even among many low-mid level professionals like myself, there is an obsession with how to do things and emulating the people who do them well. Those that developed these concepts and strategies did so because they understand why they work. If you can follow and understand the "why's" that I will provide below, you should soon be developing similar strategies on your own and will gain deep insights to the intrinsic nature of the complexities of poker.
I will begin by explaining what I like to do on the button and then follow it up with a rather long, yet easy to understand explanation. The good news is that you can easily execute the "how" for a profit without understanding the "why", yet fully grasping the "why" is necessary if you want to excel.
THE HOW: I open min-raise ANY 2 cards and follow it up with a 2BB c-bet if against only one opponent. If both blinds call, I give up unless I hit something good.
THE WHY: Stealing the blinds is important. In fact, it's huge. As David Sklansky has said in several of his earliest works, all hands of hold'em begin as a battle for the blinds. This concept is so simplistic and obvious that the fact alone makes it easy to overlook. Those who believe that the game is just about winning huge pots are slowly losing money to people who are comfortable with this very basic truth about the game. Min-raising makes this very easy, as it is a simple odds play and therefore only needs to work 57% of the time to break even since it is so cheap to do. I can already guess what some of you might be thinking: if this is so easy and effective to do, why not do it all the time in any kind of game? To answer this, we must now ponder the flip side of this equation by asking "why not?"
WHY NOT? What prevents you from doing this normally is your table image. This is one of those concepts that I had previously explored in theory for short stacking (in which case it is a very sound strategy and some players actually use it or something similar). Even otherwise nitty and uncreative players would soon go to great lengths to prevent you from doing this and though your great hands would get payed off nicely, your marginal to medium-strong hands would suffer greatly after the flop, as it would be very difficult to figure out what to do with a hand like QJ when the flop is J95 and you face a large check-raise by a TAG. Naturally, much more of your hands fall into the second category.
WHY NOW? The constant shifting tables in a large player base make it very unlikely that you will face the same lineup in the blinds in the same steal situation more than a couple of times per session at most. The small blind, who has made half the investment as the big blind, has little incentive to stick around with a couple of turds in the mere hope that he can make a 3-bet bluff to pick up your $2 raise when he can fold immediately and hope to pick up aces on the very next deal...even if he knows what you are up to! Given that he can move on to the next hand with precious little thought, it is easy to assume that this is exactly what he will do, approximately in the ballpark of 60-70% of the time on average. Essentially, this means that you are only facing one opponent over half of the time and his cards are completely random and you will have position on him the entire hand. Knowing this, as well as the strong incentive to try to cash in on another lotto ticket immediately if he folds makes him more inclined to refuse to get tricky and just pass.
Attempting to steal the blinds in Rush poker is very similar to a back alley mugging in the real world. With no witnesses around, your crime is not only more likely to succeed, but also very importantly, it is less likely to face retributive action from others. Once they have folded their hands, the other players have been moved away from the crime scene and allow you to do your dirty work without their scrutiny. While this has no bearing on the current situation, it makes it more probable that you can continue to get away with this for a long, long time.
But doesn't raising the minimum give him great implied odds? Absolutely not...in fact, his implied odds are very poor. A little known secret about implied odds is that they are only available when you choose to cooperate with your opponent and pay him off with a lesser hand. Therefore if you are raising with trash, I recommend that you only commit a large portion of your chips if you make at least two pair or better. Too many people instinctively believe that implied odds are a necessary component of specific two card combinations like 98o or 54s. Unfortunately for them, flopping a large hand with their own breed of trash will occur very rarely and far more rarely will you have a hand that you are willing to commit with yourself. The likely result is that they will frequently call with their pus and then fold to your tiny continuation bet. Furthermore, by keeping the pot very small, you can fire another cheap bet of around 1/2 pot if your opponent check calls and a scare card comes on the turn.
The min-raise also has a very strong and yet subtle psychological aspect to it. When you make this play, since calling is very cheap and folding feels compellingly weak, your opponents will often become indignant and call with a hand that has no post-flop potential out of stubbornness alone. The small post-flop pot combined with a complete lack of information of you as a player makes them more likely to fold than normal because the incentive to play the hand out with some potentially very difficult decisions is simply not worth the hassle to many players.
WHAT ABOUT FACING LIGHT 3-BETS? The question is: is it really light? Here is how I would recommend determining if the 3-bet is indeed light.
1. The small blind has 3-bet you. For the reasons above, the incentives for the small blind to both plan and execute this kind of bluff are simply not there. He also does need to be at least somewhat concerned that the BB might have picked up a large hand behind him, and although not likely, this is just one more facet to discourage this play.
2. His stack is below 100BB. Since short stacking is not allowed in these games and the typical reg is always sitting with a full stack, you must assume that anyone with less is either A) almost broke B) playing on scared money and C) just not all that likely to be very good. Playing with a stack of 20BB or less can give you an automatic advantage and 100BB or more gives you maximum maneuverability against most players at the table. Anything in between is no man's land and all good or aspiring players know this. What's more? Good players are also the ones who understand that defending your blinds matters. Therefore, if a player has less than 100BB, be apt to give him credit for what he is representing.
3. You see that your opponent in the BB has more than 1 entry in the game and you see him playing day after day. This is the one who is most likely to be pushing back at you with air.
It is important to realize that the advice I am providing here is not new or original. It took me about 15 minutes of play to realize that this was possible and therefore it was no surprise to be reading about it by other more well-known players. When advice such as this becomes wide spread, good counter strategies are likely soon on the way. The obvious solution would be to start light 4-betting opponents who fit the above criteria. This was also very clear when I noticed that my legitimate 4-betting hands were causing most 3-bets to fold. In light of this observation, I find that flat-calling with your best hands is preferable to 4-betting.
Originally, I was hoping that HUD's would never enter the scene. This is not because I don't believe in them as a strategy tool. After my rants against them this past summer, I came to grips with the fact that I must suck it up and learn them or put myself at a serious disadvantage to those who harness their power. I did not want them in this game because I felt that this gave me a better edge against certain sectors of my competition who would be weakened without them. I am also concerned that they will hurt the profitability of the plays recommended above, but these plays are sturdy and powerful enough in their own right that they should be effective in this particular arena regardless.
Given the news that PT3 and HEM are now offering fixes to make their HUDs usable in Rush poker, I will have to take this advance into consideration as I delve further into this game. At this point in time, I have not had the opportunity to incorporate the new HUD features into this game and therefore am not qualified to comment on their effects (or lack of) at this time. Hopefully, you guys who are reading this and experimenting with this game will try this out and share some of your insights on its effectiveness. In a future post, I will supply and examine some hand examples in these situations with some in-depth commentary. Best of luck!