Upswing Lab cash game coach Fried “mynameiskarl” Meulders continues to crush 500NL Zoom ($2.5/$5) on PokerStars, the toughest game consistently running online.
His win-rate since the beginning of the year, across 250k hands, is an impressive 4.16 big blinds per 100 hands. And over the past 100k hands he’s won a staggering 8.08 big blinds per 100 hands–an unsustainably good win-rate. Here’s a graph:
In case you missed it, Fried made his YouTube debut last week with an instructional session, playing two tables of Zoom with commentary:
(If you like this video, you should subscribe to Fried’s new YouTube channel here. If you’d like consistent, advanced content from Fried, join us in the Lab here.)
Fried’s commentary is top notch, and there’s plenty to learn from his session. For today’s article, we’ll discuss 6 tactics from the video that will refine your cash game strategy.
1. Simplify your strategy
For players in the thick of improving their games, it’s tempting to overanalyze spots in which there is a theoretically better or worse decision to be made but, as a practical matter, the best decision is to ignore the fine details, make a play, and move on.
In these spots, it’s best to think in terms of simplifying your strategy. The idea is to worry about making better decisions more often, and to stop worrying about making the absolute best decision every time.
Fried provides a great example of this in his opening hand example.
Fried opens the Button (BTN) with A♦ 2♦, the Small Blind (SB) folds, and the Big Blind (BB) calls. Approximately $500.00 effective stacks. We know only that Villain is an aggressive regular.
The flop comes: J♦ T♦ 2♠
Villain Checks. Hero…?
As Fried notes, he has a couple of options on this flop: c-bet small, around one-third pot; or c-bet large, perhaps full pot.
Against this particular opponent, however, he admits being unsure about what the optimal play was. But rather than guess at Villain’s tendencies to work out what to do, Fried considers the tendencies of the player pool and c-betting theory more generally.
He makes three observations:
- Many players fold too often when faced with a c-bet on the flop after defending from the big blind;
- A small c-bet size works well against these players; and
- A small size allows him to c-bet much or all of his range in position—i.e., in addition to strong hands and semi-bluffs, plenty of medium strength hands and pure bluffs.
Without any more information about how Villain plays, a small c-bet makes sense. The action that follows is interesting, but not relevant here. (Watch the video to see what happens!)
What’s important is that Fried’s strategy is tidied up by a kind of big-picture reasoning: he considers each possible line, both GTO and exploitative, but then pays special attention to how his overall strategy will be affected by each line.
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2. Account for reads and adjust
Many players, even very competent ones, often fail to account for reads or fail to adjust properly in light of their reads.
During his session, Fried emphasizes this point just after folding A♦ 4♦ in the small blind versus a raise from the hijack. Against most opponents, and according to the charts in the Upswing Lab, A-4 suited is a slam dunk 3-bet; however, in this case Fried’s opponent was an aggressive regular who rarely gave up on pots easily. Thus folding was the better option.
Granted, this is a plain example—making reads and adjusting in-game can be much more difficult. Sometimes you’ll have insufficient or imperfect information. Other times you’ll overlook good information, be distracted, or perhaps hesitate to make the right adjustment until it’s too late. But your win-rate depends on making accurate reads when you’re able to, and adjusting accordingly.
Read this article for more specific examples of read-based adjustments that practically print money.
3. Diligently look for opportunities to bluff
Most poker players don’t bluff enough. (That probably includes you, I hate to say!) This trend is why you should be extra vigilant when looking for spots to bluff.
Here’s a good example from Fried’s session.
With K♠ Q♥ in the BB, Fried calls an open from a short-stacked player in the SB.
The flop comes J♥ 6♦ 7♦.
The SB checks, and after checking back his two overs, Fried notes that he’ll be looking for an opportunity to bluff on later streets. Sure enough, the turn is the T♣, giving Fried an open-ended straight draw.
The SB checks again.
As Fried notes, there are two reasons why this is a clear opportunity to bluff:
- His opponent has shown weakness by checking twice (and fairly quickly).
- His hand picked up equity on the turn.
This is again a simple example, but it highlights a spot to play aggressively that many otherwise decent players might overlook.
For instance, some players might be tempted to check back and reasses on the river, hoping to hit their draw. Another mistake is to simply give up too often, when putting pressure on an opponent with a turn bet and river barrel would actually work a large percentage of the time.
4. Adjust your bet sizes and ranges when deep
Consider another hand from Fried’s 500NL Zoom session:
Fried is dealt K♥ K♦ in the BB. It folds around to the BTN, who opens to $12.50. SB folds.
Without any other information about the hand, a 3-bet of roughly $55–$60 seems appropriate, here. However, Fried began the hand with over $1,400.00, and his opponent more than $2,300.00. Being so deep, Fried notes that he needs to use a larger 3-bet size. So, Fried makes it just under $70 to go.
In addition to 3-betting larger, Fried implies that he would 3-bet less frequently with hands that are awkward to play in big pots and with deep stacks behind. He doesn’t specify which hands those are, but he likely means hands like 99 or AQo.
Why does Fried advocate for a larger 3-bet size? Because it reduces the stack-to-pot ratio, which helps mitigate his positional disadvantage. Also, with so much money behind, the BTN has good incentive to call with a wide range. A larger 3-bet discourages him from doing so.
Anyway, the BTN calls and both players take a flop:
Q♣ 2♥ 2♦
Fried’s default bet size on a dry paired board like this would be around $46 (33% pot), but again, because of the deep stacks behind, he chooses to bet a larger size with his range: $78 (57% pot).
The BTN folds and Fried takes down the pot.
5. Tighten up your multi-street value betting range in multi-way pots
Here’s another more specific tactic. Consider this hand from Fried’s 500NL Zoom session:
Fried opens UTG with A♠ T♦ and gets called by the BTN, SB and BB.
The flop is A♣ K♦ 3♥
The first decision to be made here is whether to c-bet, and if so how much. Since we discussed c-bet sizing earlier in this article, and have discussed c-bet sizing in multi-way pots extensively in other articles (such as this one), we don’t need to linger on reasons why a small c-bet is appropriate.
Briefly, we can just note that a small bet makes the most sense because it further defines everyone’s ranges, and it will be called by worse hands, such as A5, A2, KQ, etc. By contrast, a large c-bet would make it less likely his opponents call with marginal hands. And checking leaves everyone’s ranges less defined, in turn making the rest of the hand difficult to play.
More interesting is how Fried’s hand plays across all streets with this many players in the pot. Against just one or two other opponents on this board, A♠ T♦ is strong enough to bet for two, or maybe even three streets of value.
However, just one additional player in the pot changes things dramatically. On the flop, calling ranges are markedly tighter, and so is Fried’s betting range. Consequently, it’s very risky to go for three streets of value, even with a hand apparently as strong as top-pair-third-kicker. The lesson here is to tighten up your multi-street value-betting range in multi-way pots.
6. Use consistent and solid open sizings
Something important to notice about Fried’s play is that he opens to a consistent size: $10.95 (2.2 big blinds).
This sizing is well-thought-out; it allows him to play a wider range of hands, whereas an open of, say, $15.00, would force him to play a tighter range because his pot odds are worse. Presumably, Fried adjusts when he needs to, but it would be surprising if that happened very often.
Generally speaking, an optimal opening size will allow you to play as many hands as you can profitably play. The time to adjust to a bigger opening size and a tighter range is against noticeably loose/aggressive opponents.
A final thought about these tactics, something to tie them together: no matter what adjustments you make, and no matter how well you play, the pot will go to your opponents some percentage of the time.
This isn’t just to remind you that poker involves variance—the point is more strategic than that. It’s to remind you that bad outcomes are built into every strategy. So, you should learn to expect those outcomes in a strategic context.
I like the way Fried casually put it after losing in a standard spot: “Sometimes you have to call and you will lose.”
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