Poker Dogma: Trustworthy but not Foolproof

Almost every poker player has a set of things they believe to be true. Some players believe you should always limp-reraise AA. Others may think that they should always 10x JJ preflop since an overcard is likely coming on the flop. The better the player, the closer to reality their "poker dogma" becomes. These dogmatic beliefs generally guide winning players towards good decisions. However, sometimes these beliefs can lead us astray, particularly in situations ripe for exploitation. In this post, I'll explore some common beliefs held by winning players and examine their effectiveness at the lower stakes.

Thou Shalt Not Limp

This is a wide-held and fairly healthy belief among strong players. In many games, limping will make your likely weak range extremely transparent. Strong players will exploit you heavily for this behavior. If one never limped, that could hardly be considered a giant strategy flaw.

However, at the lower stakes, limping can often be a great play. The main reason to avoid limping in the first place is that our opponents can abuse our limps. If our opponents won't consider our limping range at all, then there is no reason not to limp hands other than that we think raising or folding will be more profitable against our opponents strategies. This is actually always true. The only thing that really matters is our opponents' strategies. When we play against tough players, we are assuming they will adjust their strategies to make limping unprofitable.

In $1/$2, $1/$3, and soft $2/$5 games, I'm often limping hands like suited aces and low pairs in early position. This is because I feel like I have very little fold equity preflop and my hand will play very well in a multiway pot. I can also call a raise against most opponents in these types of games but I may not be able to profitably call a 3-bet had I opened these hands.

Thou Shall Play With Great Patience

Here's another good rule of thumb. Poker isn't a game where you can force things to happen. You may be able to predict outcomes, but you certainly will not be able to dictate them. Therefore, the old adages "pick your spots" and "poker is a game of patience" help to serve us as reminders that we can't always force things to go our way.

The danger in this dogma is that it can have a tendency to justify passing up too many edges during a session. Sure, we can always wait for the best spots and eek out a small winrate. However, if you really want to crush the game, you are going to have to take some higher variance edges. Therefore, patience is not always a virtue in the game of poker.

Thou Shalt Never Vary Thy Preflop Raise Size

If you have ever heard an episode of the podcast, you probably know what I'm going to say. If your opponents call your raise size often, bump it up. When you are taking a range advantage to the flop, you want as much money in the middle as possible. If you know your opponents are calling way too wide, there is no excuse not to raise more. 

Splitting your preflop raise into multiple sizes should be reserved for the most exploitable opponents. Still, don't be afraid when the time is right. Recently, I was playing $2/5 NLHE with a guy who was very reluctant to fold his straddle. It folded to me on the button holding QQ. My standard open size vs a straddle is 35. However, I'd already been bumping it up a little bit and decided that he would call 60 with whatever he was going to call 45. Key in this assumption was that he wouldn't adjust enough to the large raise size on future streets to make up for putting in 15 more dollars with a huge disadvantage against my specific holdings. He called, which doesn't mean I'm right, but is definitely evidence towards my being right.

Thou Shall C-bet When Thou Misses the Flop

A better version of this rule would be "always consider one's range advantage and fold equity when deciding whether to bet or check the flop as the preflop raiser". When you are the preflop raiser, you can often get away with betting low equity hands relentlessly on the flop. However, this is conditional on your opponent folding too much. If your opponent doesn't fold too much, whether it is a general thing or just on certain board textures, then it is not a good idea to c-bet all hands that missed.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be c-bet bluffing at all. It just means we should be bluffing hands that make good double barreling candidates since we won't get our opponent to fold very much on the flop. Not every bluff is a good double barreling candidate. If we don't have enough fold equity, we will need some other form of equity, likely from a draw, to put our bet into the black.

Thou Shalt Not Bluff a Calling Station

This is another rule that lacks the detail to be very useful. A calling station is a descriptor that can mean a lot of things. Some calling stations call too much on every street. These are the type to avoid bluffing. However, some calling stations may be call-happy on the flop but not the turn. Others may call appropriately on the flop but almost never fold the turn or river. A nice amendment to this rule would be "know when to stop bluffing against a calling station".

If you have other dogmatic poker beliefs, please share them in the comments. I'll do my best to debunk them, or at least give some common scenarios where they may not be applicable. As always, email me with any questions at jack@justhandspoker.com.