Getting Hard

Strategies in cash games are lazily labelled bad and good, but an equally vague label, Hard vs. Soft, is actually a cunning insight because it is simple while still having true descriptive power.

A soft strategy is a pot controlling, bluff catching strategy.  It encompasses Small Ball poker.  It involves mixing up ranges and playing highly exploitably, if only because it is so hard to balance.  We’re reacting. Look at this hand in the forums.  At every point, the poster has made a reasonable decision but, without knowing results, he is likely burning up a bet on the turn, probably more than his whole hourly.

What is going on here?  It’s not bad to check into three opponents.  It’s not bad to take 8:1.  The problem is, by going down the route of keeping the pot as small as possible, while still taking part in its growth, we do three things, all of which are related:

  • Our range is destroyed. In order to have a check/calling range in this multiway spot, we have to not bet a bunch of aces.  This means we can’t protect our hand.  It means we can’t represent flush draws even though the top card favors our range.  OP has grasped that the price being offered is good, and he is taking advantage of this, yet in doing so, he sacrifices too much.
  • We lose all fold equity. Fold equity, an odd duck of a term that does not really roll off the tongue, is in fact the basis of all poker plays, even though it is disguised as an advanced or at least non-novice concept, wrapped in its obscure jargon.  Whenever we put our opponents to a decision, we are playing the game at the most basic, fundamental level.  If we act first, it is the most obvious error they can make.  Using the phrase fold equity a bit like teaching our child to ambulate rather than walk.
  • We misuse the board and do not think ahead. What cards will get us paid on the river?  What cards give us RIO?  What are we accomplishing that a spin on the roulette table is not accomplishing?

All these tactics create a whole which strikes me as Soft. It’s not bad, which is too vague, nor it is in fact Bad.  Playing this way can win the money.

Hard strategy may still lose the pot.  It might even be incorrect in the circumstance.

Betting flop here is possibly a disfiguration of our overall range, as some hands have to be a check, but it is representing hands we should have.  It is possibly a monkey bet, disregarding other players, but at least we are not slaughtering our range by check calling this hand.  However, it’s tough on our opponents and puts them to a test, even if we have arranged our continuing hands poorly.  We can’t always have everything our way or pick the number of opponents.  If it’s a mistake, it’s a good mistake.

Folding the turn is also a Hard strategy.  We acknowledge this is not a runout that favors us, and we abandon the field.  We do not gamble or take passive spots with streets and unknown actions to come.  We look ahead tactically to the runout.  We keep our range intact, even if that means achieving zero share of the pot.

Check raising here is still something of a mystery to me, because it’s not much of a draw and we are against stations, but one thing it would not be is a Soft strategy.

I think this is going to be my new favorite shorthand for looking at lines.

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