trip reports

The Spirit of Solve For Why, Part II

I grabbed the keys from Steve: time for hospital. Downstairs, Jason was suffering. Earlier that morning, he had identified a ring of pain around his lower abdomen. I instinctively felt this was not gastric from the area he pointed out – yet how could it not be the Mexican Journalist’s abject legacy? We overlook small things in poker, things we ourselves see but ignore, then want to explain to others that we really did know what we knew – but who can trust us? I didn’t believe me, either.

Jason led us immediately out of the house, straight by the curious film crew (you could tell this was serious from his most rare impatience, no wonder he can teach high school), past the armored house mascot and out the door into the still pre-heating morning hour. I followed as he tumbled into the car, moaning and scowling, likely as much from pain as from vexation at missing the first day of a lecture he could measure in dollars per minute. Maybe frustrated to be a burden, on top of everything. Months of planning, he must have thought, and now this.

Small grace in the midst of disaster: by coincidence, Berkey’s gated community is just a mile or two from hospitals and health care centers. A few long blocks of unbuttoned, Western American roadway closed very slowly at their perpendicular, telescopic intersections: fifty miles per hour on the baking flat feels like twenty-five in the cold. I could hear in my mind the rubber of tires sticking to the asphalt griddle in a few hours when the sun reached temp. Forced coherent and wide-eyed from pain, Jason gripped his abdomen while guiding us to the emergency room traffic circle. Once I parked and caught up with him, I observed his consultation and watched a redundant triage. After a half an hour of leisurely inquiries, they rolled away Jason, who was now seated in a wheelchair. He waved, somewhat humorously, as he disappeared beyond the double swinging doors into more serious parts and places.

Back to Spanish Trails. Green grass. Landscaping trucks. Pets and people. An artificial stream.

Berkey’s door was secured only by the Knight’s quotidian vigil when I returned. (I wonder if Berkey and his house mascot bring just a touch of unintentional Bobo to this nouveau riche gated protectorate. Or is a gambler in Vegas always just another lizard in the shade?) We hear the details of a life in its outwardly projected philosophy: Berkey would soon expound upon his own “no attachment” axioms. But if Berkey has gone broke many times, what is he now? He likely doesn’t own this house, I realized: it’s not money as commonly thought of.  And what about the other things – the sofas, the chairs, the tables, the armored sentry? What are the finances of a man who puts everything on the line? Is it all lease first, ask questions later? Is the bank account full one day and depleted the next? If skill is currency, as Berkey theorizes, what means the furniture, man toys, even the RFID table – could they all be whisked away in an instant, mere shekels of his skill? There is an aspect of the poker life that simply doesn’t translate easily to the natural accumulation of the Protestant work ethic at the heart of America, no matter how hard one labors in our field.

I stopped for coffee in the kitchen: one of those cartridge cup things, naturally; checked off the list of the leasing agency or maybe thrown in as a gift? I found cream hiding in an absolutely packed refrigerator bearing traces of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, where Steve had already satisfied his urge to stuff our own condo’s icebox. Nutrition was emphatically not skimped upon in this house: the poker player’s approach to money is not the average citizen’s, if only because the respective attitude of each would make the other sick in the stomach. I shudder to think of how much I have spent on food since going pro – they should probably add that to the Poker Income Tracker.

We’d soon hear about Jordan’s up and downs, too. The Solve For Why guys are a little like George Carlin’s conception of God, it seems. All-powerful, all-seeing but just not good with money! Always needing more money! Only Soto seemed to have had the ideal slow upswing of the winner: overall, the fighting spirit the Solve For Why team espouses seems to have a slightly antagonistic relationship with a healthy savings account. The Keurig finished spitting out my shotgun corporate coffee. I headed straight upstairs, where the Car vs. Skateboard conundrum had just completed.

It’s not the most deceptive or profound concept, this thought experiment on risk and reward. Invariably, those who would come to this place and drop $3500 on poker lessons are inclined to take the more adventurous route, if not through inclination, than through pride or peer pressure. One of my students did contrarily chose the Car – let’s be honest about the realities of zipping around Las Vegas, folks – but one who did go Skateboard, to the slight amusement of the group, a local who was not staying with us back at the Desert Paradise and Mexican Journalist crime scene, was Bill.

If Christian H. was the least experienced player in the academy, Bill was very likely to be its most venerable. A lucid and robust enough seventy-nine year old (“Fifty-Three” as he likes to insist), Bill has been retired longer than most of us have played the game. He came to poker by way of horse betting, which was a pleasant and lucrative enough hobby for him until the day came when he sat at his first limit poker table. Now a widower and custodian of a beloved dog and house still serenely decorated by his late wife, Bill has decided to get out of the one-two poker nit trap and investigate potentially stronger approaches. His logical mind, a career in a scientific field, and a pronounced predilection to seek out qualifiers in conversation and argument give him a great poker upside, even at fifty-three.

Berkey, supplemented by Soto, and Young, went through the basic background of the strategy (“Intangibles”), setting the table with the assumptions that their work and style revolve around. Much was still ahead, but by the end of the academy, I’d come away as impressed as ever, primarily because two distinct thoughts and concerns were met with a happy resolution. The first was that much of what I had deduced about their ideas was accurate: I was relieved to see I was not off track.

However, more importantly, I came to understand more fully that Berkey’s ideas were comprehensive and even better than I had imagined. This is no trivial thing. The great anxiety within us, when we make a leap of faith, is that our intuition and even our reasoning might be wrong. We can’t always trust ourselves as much as we like: perhaps some part of me worried the Solve For Why approach was not so coherent after all. After all, I’d seen Soto play many times and what struck me was its precision, not its aggression, yet that was not the word on the street about S4Y, which was supposed to be all aggression and big bets and “breaking the game.” Worse, maybe it was a bait and switch, as with many pedagogues in poker and life: the fear that we would see more of the mystery and less of the answer.

In fact, there would be some of this – the logical lines and actions as prescribed by Berkey would not be discussed until the third day, when the academy was nearly over. This, Berkey would explain to me much later, while the team relaxed and their work done, was an important aspect of his pedagogy. He wanted to go to pains to not leave students with plug-and-play tactics in the quest to open their minds to the greater possibilities in no-limit play. To find lines that fit our purposes. Our work, in other words, to implement had only just begun by the time we were saying our goodbyes.

That’s not to dismiss critics or those who proffer and promote a different vision of how to win at poker. There are many doubters, who, armed with their books and solvers and databases, don’t really like Berkey’s ideas. After all, clear away some of the underbrush and a certain natural doubt may creep in: raising for “visibility” purposes… can someone say “information?” Forcing them “to show up with a hand” … can someone say “put a man to a decision?” And those leverage points? Didn’t Brunson cover all that back in the horse and shotgun days? What’s going on here?

However, skip those who actively doubt the Solve For Why philosophy of the game, because, in fact, one of the annoying aspects of being associated, even vaguely, with Berkey, are his fanboys and believers themselves. It is ceaselessly irritating to hear about how happy some players are about finding a different path together. How many times, after listening to these fellows go on about their new independent, brave course, going into uncharted waters and defying the “masses,” must the next phrase be, “So… what’s our range in this spot?” “So… what do we do here…?” May that the new masters might whip us better than the last, apparently.

Forgivable enough, I suppose. The fact is, poker players love playing on teams – just search field Game Theory or trawl through 2+2. Poker players espouse freedom but crave authority – just look how worried they are that some book is “out of date,” as if clear thought just expires like a giant burrito on a heat rack. Nevertheless, the Berkievers had gathered for more than just lectures and inspiring thoughts – they’d come to compete and get direct coaching, however novel the format. And with preliminaries over and our first luncheon behind us, it was time to play ball.


The film crew’s leader caught Berkey mid-conversation in the kitchen – they were ready to go. The players took assigned seats at the RFID table. Jordan Young, pale and polite, would be operating the card software from there, while Berkey, Soto and the observers, including myself, headed into an adjacent back room, packed with video monitoring equipment and computers. From here, Berkey and Soto would deliver commentary on the action, recorded for the students’ benefit and a big part of the appeal of the academy for many players.

I found a barstool to the left of the small, puffy vinyl couch from where the two would work their expertise. Viewed through the monitor, the players appeared nervous. They’d be playing a hybrid game where the chips were not cash but in which they had every incentive to win and play their best. First of all, they were counting on the commentary to prove to be top shelf. Good news: it was. While I was invited to comment and did, I could barely keep up with Berkey and Soto. While I can analyze spots well enough, am waist-deep in the philosophy of the game, and Berkey has liked many of my posts and thoughts, I do all this from the comfort of my computer, with a backspace key and a “save draft” function.

Berkey and Soto, on the other hand, offered world-class reactions to every spot off the top of their head: this is a significant clue about the nature of the poker elite. While both were very attuned to game flow, Berkey himself was never at a loss as to what the players were doing, no matter how ill-advised or unpredictable. The following hours made clear that the soldier of poker is in fact a Master of the Deck. It was in that stuffy little poker command room that I realized Solve For Why – this house, this table, their mascot, all the objects (leased or bought), compose an atelier for poker players – a model that will become more and more necessary as the game, even at the mid-levels, becomes harder and harder.

Second, real rewards were on the table: hours of coaching for the daily and overall winners. With Berkey clocking in at a modest $1000/hr (and the others still more than the cost of cashews, eggs, and all those other elite poker player essentials) this day was to be serious.


Then, sudden resurgence: Jason appeared. With that same, perpetually concerned expression, he simply walked in through the front door and took his seat. He explained that it was not the Mexican Journalist that had doubled him over, but something far more troublesome – a stone chose this weekend to descend from his kidney. One of the most painful conditions known to man, relieved only when its journey out through the ureter is briefly paused, Jason had a trial before him: diagnosed, but the stone was far from passed. They had loaded his nervous system with pain killers before he ride-shared back to Spanish Trails. My initial intuition had been right – gotta trust yourself, but really, how could that burrito possibly not take someone with it down the Rio Grande?

Soto greeted the camera: “So, welcome back, Berkey!” “Welcome back? Where did we come from?” retorted Berkey. The comedy of friends, although Berkey would prove to have an extremely rough sense of play with his partners: the most human and moody of the bunch, Soto, would have to shake off some very strong “jokes” at his expense over the three days. The door was necessarily but regrettably closed, as the air-conditioner for this room was down. Nothing will stop poker players from their passion however. I remember when a player, after taking a bad beat, got up and said he was going to get his weapon and shoot all of us. Nobody budged, of course: gotta meet that hourly.

Kidney stone or no, Jason three bet the first pot, but it was the fifth of my brigade, Greg, aka Porter, who set the tone. A studied and calculated player, he was a favorite to both do well in the game and learn much – it was freedom and imagination that we were here for, after all. Not actively under my wing nor needing it, we had worked together on fighting certain opponents, with very favorable results. Nor would he falter here: Greg responded, his early position range well protected, and stuck in the four bet with A4hh, knocking Jason off his merged isolation play. A little smile from the circumspect and often expressionless victor, who gathered in his first pot under the eye of the atelier’s trio of masters.



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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.