Betting and isolating for value, with weaker hands, in terms of G bucks

by ~ July 22nd, 2009. Filed under: General poker strategy, Philosophy and approach, Poker aggression.

Slowly, slowly, slowly I’m starting to get more and more of a grasp on the separation between playing your hand based on expected value as separate from what happens afterwards. I’m more familiar with the idea of expected value given the situation and opponent’s range versus what actually is the hand your opponent holds, and not being results-oriented.


When I re-read what I’ve written it sounds like the same thing but there’s a subtle difference that I’m just starting to get. The second example starts from a hand analysis/post game review perspective. I can carry it to current decisions, but mostly to post flop play and to 3 bet preflop situations where the hand ranges narrow somewhat. Maybe what I’m beginning to grasp is applying it to basic preflop actions as well.

The prototypical example is probably raising a big ace hand preflop. Only one out of three times are you going to catch something on the flop. This is still fairly simple; dry flop, one opponent, continuation bet, re-evaluate if called. Similar applies to other situations, like raising limpers, stealing unopened pots from late position, 3 betting from the blinds, isolating bad players, as well as folding marginal made hands or check/calling wa/wb situations. Overall these will be +EV if done appropriately, though sometimes it won’t work out. Sometimes your bad player with catch an unlikely two pair, or the blind will have a big hand, or the quiet player will have bet you off the best hand.

But take a hand like KJs. Doyle Brunson talks about how hands like KJs are trouble hands, and others talk about how they give off big reverse implied odds because they are potentially dominated hands. This means that if someone else holds AK and you play KJ and the community cards are King high, your hand is at risk of costing you a lot of money. Similar thing if the board is a flush and you have KJ of the suit but the other player holds the Ace of the suit. Players are more likely to hold the Ace because playing a suited Ace for nut flush value can be +EV depending upon your opponents.

So in full ring I’ve gotten in the habit of folding potentially dominated hands to preflop raises, hands like KJ/QT/AJ and sometimes even AQ, just to stay out of trouble.

On the other hand I’ve seen coaches talk about raising KJs “for value” against a bad player who has limped in or 3 betting it from the blinds against a late position preflop raise. The reason that you can raise KJs for value against a bad player is because the bad player is more likely holding KT/K9/K8/J9/J8/J7 than holding AK or KQ or AJ and so your hand is ahead of the range for your opponent’s hand. Because you are ahead, you should try to increase the size of the pot.

Sometimes the board will come K82 and you will lose to K8. But,

  1. you have to be able to get away from this when you think that your opponent has a better hand and pay him only the minimum. This is where the coaches talk, as they make the preflop play and before the flop comes out, about not stacking off with top pair. There are exceptions but these exceptions are based on player reads and the specific board.
  2. you have to get reasonable value from him when you both have a medium strength hand but you are ahead,
  3. you have to get something the times neither of you have anything but because of your preflop play and postflop skill you take the pot down

The unfortunate part is that often the bad players don’t have a full stack and can get yourself stuck making a pot odds crying call.


But the point overall here is that the principle of raising KJs against a loose player is the same general idea as raising AK preflop. You have a good hand and it’s likely better than the hand your opponent holds. It’s even possible that you have his hand dominated (KJ against his KT/K9/K8/K7s/K6s/K5s/K4s/K2s/K3s/J9/J8/J7s ect. type of hands) because he’s willing to play very weak hands.

It’s a more marginal play to raise and isolate with KJs than with AK as

  1. the gap or difference in hand strength between your hand and your opponent’s hand range is not as wide (according to PokerStove AKo against a 30% hand range minus AA/KK/QQ is a 65/35 favorite while KJs is only a 53/47 favorite), and
  2. you are potentially giving off reverse implied odds by playing a potentially dominated hand

so the card value edge is small and it has potential dangers, but if it’s combined with a positional edge and a skill edge as well as an aggression edge (because he open limped and you raised, or without the position edge if he raised and you 3 bet from the blinds), then it all adds up.


Skansky says in his theorem that every time you play a hand differently than you would if you had known what cards your opponent held, you make a mistake. And those mistakes add up to dollars. These are often referred to as “Sklansky dollars” or “Sklansky bucks” but will eventually be reflected in real dollars.

You can extend to that when you don’t know exactly what your opponent holds but you put your opponent on a range of hands. Every time you make a play or don’t make a play when you should against the range of hands that your opponent might hold given the situation, you make a mistake, and the same applies to your opponent and your range of hands for the situation. This is what Phil Galfond refers to as “G bucks”. When you raise KJs over a loose preflop limper, he makes a mistake by calling you with his J8s or his K8s. The mistake is small, but the danger is that early small mistakes can easily lead to larger mistakes later, like folding bottom pair just because I raised preflop and c-bet, or worst of all calling down with a dominated top pair.

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