behavior session


I had hoped to be writing a very different post than this one. Back in the days when I was obsessed with thin value betting, thinking that was the pinnacle of poker excellence, I was, naturally enough, equally in thrall with playing perfect sessions. Getting all the value. This goal is not as unreasonable as it sounds.

First off, live poker sessions do not feature that many hands. If you are not a maniac you may not even play thirty hands over a whole shift – doing your very best isn’t just pie in the sky, it’s a necessity if you are going to pull money out of the games on a regular basis.

Second, mistakes and runbad are correlated. I learned, during this time, that there was another, less known stop loss that would keep me out of trouble (I’ve never lost more than a few buy ins in a session): mistake maximums. I learned to allow myself up to three mistakes. Hit the fourth, I will always call it a night, if not before. The games are forever, after all, and spew is controllable. Therefore the perfect was not the enemy of the good in this case, but encouraged maximum focus and effort.

So, when I was about halfway through last night’s session, I found myself amazed: I had not made a single mistake in four hours. I wasn’t winning much, unfortunately, as I had not run well, but I had saved several buy ins with great folds of two seemingly unmuckable hands; played a tough deepstack spot how I wanted it done; and called down a pot plus sized river bluff with second pair correctly after doing a thorough analysis, unflustered and accurately. I was thinking about just how razor thin the margins are for the professional poker player, having eked out a profit in very trying circumstance , and how getting these spots exactly right are the kinds that not only make the difference, but are the difference. This got me thinking about that wonderful film, based on the legendary Somerset Maugham novel, that Bill Murray cared more about than anything else he had ever done. Could I pull it all together in one snazzy post?

If I had left then, you’d be hearing about those hands. And The Razor’s Edge.

Instead, for the first time since late December, I went on tilt, paid off several value bets in utter incompliance with my strategy, and wasted an important night to earn.

It started with a bad read that I used to give myself me permission to make exactly the kind of gamble I had lamented not making as a part of my regular. After opening up a suited connector with a stellar image, three action players flatted me at 5/5 and about $700 effective (the game was not that good). I flopped a gutter and a back door flush draw and was ready to win this pot.

A friendly new player to the game surprised me by leading out for one quarter pot. He was one of those guys who seems like they should be wide but never is: he uses his youthful, confident appearance well to cover his general nittiness, which I had learned about at my first session with him last week. (A very tough and disappointing fold, having already check raised for value and protection, which turned out to be right as he accidentally flashed his cards.) With two players behind me, I did not foresee a bluff raise getting through very often, so I took the good price and called for all the backdoor equity and playability. The Banker in the cutoff called indifferently, a little too easily, but because he often thinks in prices, and calls pre with a ridiculously wide range, he could have an even worse draw than mine. The button folded.  I had been planning on pulling the trigger on any diamond or other cards good for my range, but the Banker was very sticky on the whole, so his presence made me uneasy despite the unlikelihood that he held anything beyond a weak pair: this was the moment my night “turned.”  Fourth street was an 8, giving me up and down, and now the SB again led, this time for 100 into 220, a strange bet into two people that I felt had to be for value. I was in the middle and took the temperature of the Banker.  He seemed uninterested and was fussing with his chips, as if he were an ox grazing slowly and hoofing at a stone. I was not getting direct odds but if he called it would be closer and the SB had paid off several players already. I felt that folding was too weak, but I abandoned my plan to raise, incorrectly, based on my optimistic evaluation of the CO.

However, I was completely wrong about his action if not his hand, and he came alive, moving all in. The SB folded, and now I was priced off my draw, having used false assumptions to justify my passive play.

I proceeded to melt off my profit and get into the red, splurging on a bluffcatching spree after a questionable check raise attempt failed. If everyone has a B game, that’s mine: not letting go. Industry grade Persuadeo, unbottled, unpalatable, and left to oxygenate for about thirty crucial minutes of donkey poker.

What happened to me and my perfect session? In one down, I had gone from impressed with myself to looking like the table mark.

While I steamed, D’Artagnan made the most of a surprise appearance, having broken out of shortstack hell when a seat opened, and joined us at the slightly bigger if not better game.  He was rewarded. First he sent the Sommelier home by correctly calling off a four bet shove with AQ versus the super aggro winer, who will have 66+, A10+ in that spot.  Soon after, D’Artagnan wasn’t scared by the button clicking Banker who went crazy in a three bet pot, unable to resolve how to play his range, with an underpair. (The Banker beats these games but it’s more what they do, than him, if you follow me. His overplay is sometimes pretty brutal to watch.)  In one spot, D’Artagnan raised a bad turn card for no real reason and gave a little back to a sticky opponent; that one stank and I didn’t even have to see the cards.  Overall, however, thanks to a little discipline, bravery, and good reasoning, D’Artagnan killed the game and made my point from earlier this week: the reward for even modest skill in deeper games is disproportionately large when measured against smaller ones.

I took a break. Three mistakes. Up against the wall. Late night. Getting tired.  Now, I could just leave. I had no more errors to give, and I was actually upset. Every dollar counts, every screw up hurts.  Worse,  bluff catching a player who is scared of me and has mostly just rolled over for a year is just bad strategy and psychology.

I found a way forward. I decided to return to the game on one condition, a homework assignment: I instructed myself to write out a strategy document, in exchange for returning to the game. I can’t be slipping into B Team mode like this, ever. You bring what you prepare to the games, and I think I just haven’t got the Hard Strategy I envision, the unifying theory of everything I know about poker, in my bones yet. The edges in my life are razor thin, and that 100 bbs I dusted off with passive play has real meaning.

Oddly, as much as I like to write, I’ve never tried to spell out a coherent “mission statement,” but that’s what’s one the table. (Can’t make it public, of course!)

Postscript: It’s not that important, but I got most of the money back, bearing down on myself, before giving up from fatigue.  I ran poorly shorthanded, where I usually shine, by not even picking up hands at the bottom of my bluffing range.  Maddening. However, that’s just the cleanup details, and no one cares, not even me. What I don’t want do is just fade away like that again, midsession.

Time to do my homework.


  1. What do you consider errors? Is it just simply when you recognize when you make a mistake? Sometimes I feel like I made the right play that just didn’t work out. But maybe I just screwed up.

    1. In the central hand, I do not like my play at all, so that is an error and not a results oriented regret. I had the opportunity to raise the flop and turn, which based on all factors and on the balance, would have been much better than allowing the button to have final say on the flop and turn. It would have been thin but better than passivity. There is nothing good about that hand; even the open with less than 200 bbs to play for and action players behind me, was bad. A mistake, for certain. In a poker hand, one small error leads to the next, and that’s the story here.

  2. My question was more geared towards what do you consider to be errors in a general sense. I was thinking about your stop loss rule of 3. Perhaps my question is too vague.

    1. Trickier question than it seems. The errors I am talking about generally fall into 1) lapses in strategy, such as falling into the passivity in this hand 2) severe lapses in attention, which means I’m not engaged and my expectation is lowered, or 3) being rather obviously wrong in immediate retrospect. I let some small things go but I’m pretty picky on the whole.

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.