3 Situations to Slow-Play Pocket Aces | Upswing Poker Level-Up
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This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike Brady (00:00):
What’s up? It’s time to Level-Up your strategy with the best starting hand in poker. I’m Mike Brady alongside Poker Pro and Upswing coach, Gary Blackwood.
Gary Blackwood (00:09):
Welcome to the podcast everyone. We all know how to play Aces as aggressively as possible, but today we’re going to talk about the other side of the coin when you should be slow playing with pocket Aces.
Mike Brady (00:20):
Playing your strong hands aggressively is usually the best way to maximize profit. We constantly preach that advice here on the Level Up podcast and in all of our content on Upswing Poker. Generally speaking, fast playing equals more money…
…but you are about to discover three situations where you’ll actually make more money by slow playing with pocket Aces in both tournaments and cash games. At the risk of sounding like a Buzzfeed article, the third situation might surprise you. Before we get into it, you should know that Black Friday is happening now over on upswingpoker.com.
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Now let’s get into the first situation in which you should consider slow playing when you’ve got those beautiful pocket Aces.
Situation #1: When the pot will be big relative to your stack, consider just calling with Pocket Aces versus preflop aggression
Situation number one is when the pot will be big relative to your stack, consider just calling with pocket Aces versus pre-flop aggression.
Gary, can you expand on this and give our listeners a cash game specific example before I cover some tournament stuff?
Gary Blackwood (01:33):
So when we’re playing a hundred big blinds effective, if we’re in position and we face a four bet, we almost always flat with pocket Aces.
The reason for this is that the stack to pot ratio is going to be so small when we go to the flop that we can comfortably play for the rest of the money that we have over two streets, three streets very, very easily we can get the money in. And it’s just a disaster if we five bet jam and make our opponent fold.
Remember our opponent’s going to have a lot of four bet bluffs that we really heavily dominate like Ace King, Ace Queen, Ace Jack, Ace Five and also hands like King Queen, King Jack, all those types of hands that we want to allow our opponent to keep in their range and as mentioned, the stack pot ratio is really low. We can comfortably play for stacks and we’re in position. Playing in position is of course much easier than playing out of position so you get to sort of dictate the action when your opponent starts to slow down. So when we’re in position facing a four bet a hundred big blinds effective playing cash games, we almost always flat with our pocket Aces. Really, really nice hand for us to slow play it and trap our opponents.
Mike Brady (02:34):
It’s worth taking note of the stack to pot ratio should you just call that four bet. Let’s say your opponent raised to 2.5 big blinds, you three bet to eight big blinds in position with pocket Aces and then your opponent four bets to 21 big blinds if you just call the pot is going to be about 43 big blinds and you’re going to have about 80 behind. So the stack to pot ratio is less than two. You have less than two pots in your stack going into the flop. When that’s the case, it’s just going to be pretty damn easy to get all the money in post flop. So there’s really not as much of a need to jam it in before the flop.
As we move on to a tournament example here, you’re going to notice that it’s a very similar stack to pot ratio should we just call.
So example number two, you’re playing a tournament and your stack is 50 big blinds you raised to 2.2 big blinds with pocket Aces, which is a pretty quote unquote GTO size in tournaments and then the small blind three bets to 8.8 big blinds. Should you just call in this spot pot is going to be about 18 big blinds and you’re going to have about 40 in your stack.
That’s roughly a stack to pot ratio of 2.1 to be exact in this scenario. So you can kind of see now we’re facing a three bet in a tournament, but because the stacks were shorter to begin with, it’s actually a very similar stack to pot ratio to the versus four bet scenario that Gary was just talking about.
That’s really a key takeaway here, consider what the stack to pot ratio is going to be, should you slow play with your pocket Aces pre flop and then decide is that a stack to pot ratio that’s low enough that I’m easily going to be able to get the money in post flop so I really don’t have to put in that extra raise before the flop?
Gary Blackwood (04:09):
Yeah, it’s always great to be trapping your opponent’s pre flop and everything that we’ve just spoken about. You could also apply that to cash games as well. Some of us play against some short stacking regs who play 50 big blind stacks and if they’re three betting you and you’re in position, the same logic applies. You want to be able to trap your opponent sometimes and keep in their King Queens and their King Jacks and their Jack Tens and things like that. So the tournament example is fantastic, but we can also apply that to when we’re playing against good solid short stacking players who are playing 50 big blind stacks.
Mike Brady (04:37):
I’ve pulled up the pre-flop master sheet from the Road to Victory tournament course on upswingpoker.com. It’s an amazing course that was made by Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo, two of the world’s top tournament players earlier this year and I’m looking at a versus three bet spot button versus small blind.
The exact example that I just gave you where we slow play pocket Aces, these are solver generated charts that were hand tweaked by the coaches and the solver never wants to put in that four bet with pocket Aces here. Interestingly, it also slow plays Kings with a hundred percent frequency and mostly slow plays Queens. About 75% of the time Queens just want to call and set the trap and they actually four bet shove the other 25% of the time.
Quick background story about this specific spot. I’ve kind of had light nightmares about this situation for a couple of years because in the WSOP Main Event in I think roughly 2019, I had pocket kings on the button with a 50 big blind stack.
I raised the button the small blind three bet and I just shipped it in, and I was going to ship it in 100% of the time. I was never going to trap, my opponent quickly folded much to my chagrin and then later on I checked the spot and saw that it was a 100% frequency call and I felt like an idiot and I really felt like I cost myself a lot of chips there.
I didn’t give my opponent that chance to c-bet on the flop, which he was probably going to do at a super high frequency. I didn’t give him a to make top pair with a hand like queen jack if he had it. So that really goes to show how important it is to trap in this scenario.
The solver really, really likes to always just call with these big pocket pairs when the stack to pot ratio is going to be really low going into the flop.
Gary Blackwood (06:13):
Wow, you must’ve been really deep in the main event for that to be bugging you after all these years. Must have been day six, day five, day seven?
Mike Brady (06:19):
It was day one, it was day one, but hey every hand matters Gary. It’s all a journey to that final table that I know one year I’m going to make.
Moving on to one more pre-flop example here, you’re going to notice that it’s a quite different example but the stack to pot ratio going into the flop should we trap is pretty much the same.
So this third example is when you’re playing versus an open and you are very short. So in this case you’re playing a tournament and your stack is 12 big blinds. The cutoff, let’s say they have a 40 big blind stack raises to two big blinds and you are in the big blind with pocket Aces.
This is a spot that the solver also traps 100% of the time with pocket Aces. With these stacks, if you just call that two big blind raise pre-flop, the pot’s going to be 5.5 big blinds, you’re going to have 11 behind. So the stack to pot ratio is exactly two. I can verify this with another chart from the road to victory course.
We don’t have 12 big blind ranges in there, but we do have 15 big blind ranges, so a little bit deeper, but even with those few extra blinds in your stack pocket Aces traps 100% of the time versus a cutoff raise when you’re seated in the big blind and it’s a very similar concept where you really want them to c-bet on the flop and you can get those chips, you really want them to hit a top pair or flop a draw that you’re able to double up through.
So these hands really, really need to be trapping pre-flop. You’re just not going to make as much money on average if you jam it in. Before moving on to the next big situation in which you should slow play pocket Aces. I want to look through a few more charts from Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo’s course Road to Victory because those are not the only scenarios where you slow play with hands like Aces pre-flop.
So I’m just going to kind of click through those and talk about them as we go. So another scenario that I found pretty interesting is that you will also occasionally slow play with pocket Aces pre-flop against a three bet when you’re out of position. The examples that Gary and I used for versus four bet and versus three bet we were in position which makes sense, it’s a lot more comfortable to slow play when you’re in position because you can kind of drive the action should your opponent slow down on the flop turn or river.
But there’s also some scenarios where Aces mixes in some traps even when you’re out of position. So the one I’ve pulled up now is when you’re 30 big blinds deep and you raise in middle position and let’s say someone in position three bets you, like the button. So you raise middle position button three bets pocket Aces will call half the time and four bet shove the other half of the time and that’s at 30 big blind stacks. Another somewhat surprising one is another big blind defense spot this time with 20 big blinds against every single position. If you’re in the big blind and you have a 20 big blind stack, pocket Aces is slow played by the solver 100% of the time versus that two big blind open. That one is pretty surprising to me because if you call there the pot’s going to be 5.5, you still have 19 behind.
So the stack to pot ratio is like 3.3 thereabouts and the solver still chooses to slow play a good amount of the time. So the stack to pot ratio doesn’t need to be exactly around two for slow playing with Aces to be the right play pre-flop. It can also be a little bit deeper as well. Another fairly surprising situation where pocket Aces gets slow played pre-flop is when you’re a hundred big blinds deep and you’re facing a three bet and you’re in position. So say you raise from middle position, the small blind three bets and then you have pocket Aces in position there, it actually slow plays a chunk of the time around 25% of the time and then four bets the other 75% of the time. I do want to talk about a major caveat to this. When the solver comes up with these ranges, it’s playing against the solver and finding the equilibrium strategy and the equilibrium strategy is very, very aggressive.
So when the solver slow plays with pocket Aces, it’s assuming it’s going to face a lot of post flop aggression where the player in the small blind is going to bet the flop very aggressively, do a bunch of aggressive check raising, barrel the turn, barrel the river, things that your real life opponents won’t be doing nearly as often as they should be. So if you want to just simplify and always four bet pocket Aces, especially against a fairly tight player who probably just has a good hand and they’re probably not going to fold, definitely go for it. But I still thought it was interesting enough to share that pocket Aces even slow plays with stacks this deep against a three bet sometimes.
Alright, so situation number one was kind of three situations in one. Now let’s move on to our greater situation two.
Situation #2: When you’ve slow-played Aces preflop, you should often continue slow-playing on the flop versus a bet
And this is really a continuation from situation number one, when you’ve slow played Aces, pre-flop, like in those scenarios we’ve just discussed, you should often continue slow playing on the flop versus a bet.
Gary, can you expand on this and continue your four bet pot example from spot number one?
Gary Blackwood (10:57):
So one of the things I mentioned when we spoke earlier about when you face four bet when you’re in position, I briefly added it because it’s very important we’re in position. So when you’re opponent c-bets it might be a little tempting to raise on certain textures and I’ll talk about those textures in a little second. But remember that you’re in position so you don’t have to fast play on a variety of textures because you’re in position and you get to dictate the pace of play on future streets. When you’re out of position, sometimes you flat four bet when you’re out of position, for example, small blind versus button, you’re much more inclined to fast play and that’s because you’re out of position. But when you’re in position you want to just call your opponent’s c-bet on a variety of textures, even some that might look like you want to very much fast play and it’s down to being in position and being able to dictate the action on future streets.
So let’s talk about some of those textures that it might be really tempting to fast play. You’ve called the four bet and the flop comes down 654 for example. You might think that’s a really connected flop. I don’t want my opponent to get there, I want to protect my hand, all those types of things. But when you really think about it, your opponent’s four bet range, say we’re talking about button versus cutoff, the cutoffs four bet range doesn’t connect with 654. Your opponent is not going to have hands like pocket fours or eight seven suited, some hands like Ace five, Ace four, but you heavily block those when you have pocket Aces. So you might think to yourself, this is a really wet texture, I don’t want my opponent to get there with a straight. But if you really think about it, your opponent’s range doesn’t really connect with this texture.
So there’s no need for protection, there’s no need to fast play. You want to just be calling there in position when your opponent c-bets a variety of textures, the really low connected ones like the 654, the 754, et cetera, even the really high boards like KJT, KJ9, all those types of boards, you’re still much heavily favoring a flat when you’re opponent c-bets. There are some textures where if you’re opponent bets, you do want to start to fast play and they’re not the low boards and they’re not the high boards, they are the kind of high middling boards like T87 flush draw, those types of boards where your opponent is going to have a lot of gut shots, a lot of straight draws, a lot of flush draws, all those types of textures, but the vast majority of textures that your opponent c-bets on where we want to just slow play our Aces because we’re in position we can comfortably play for stacks if we want to on the turn in the river.
So yeah, we flatted the four bet. Let’s be sure that we’re comfortable enough flattening the c-bet in a variety of situations and not just sort of panic and fast play because the board is somewhat wet or connected. We want to think about how narrow our opponent’s range is and how it doesn’t actually interact with a variety of textures and even on the textures that our opponent does interact with, we still want to be trapping them to allow them to bluff or to think that their one pair hand is good. On the flip side, when your opponent checks to you, you are not necessarily slow playing there when your opponent checks, they’re not always check folding so don’t get into the habit of thinking, well they’ve checked, they’ve probably got a weak hand, they’re just check folding. Your opponent is doing a lot of check calling in four bet pots.
Generally you’re doing a lot of small stabbing, so we’re not necessarily checking back there. Remember just because your opponent has checked doesn’t mean they’re check folding. They do a lot of check calling here and we do want to start building a pot here with our pocket Aces.
Mike Brady (13:54):
Going back to when you were talking about facing a bet, there’s another really nice upside of slow playing on a board like 654, which is not only do you let them continue bluffing with a hand that may have missed you also let them catch up. I mean if they have the King Ten suited four bet bluff, if they have the Ace Queen off or Ace Jack off four bet bluff and they turn a Jack or they turn a Queen or whatever top pair, you’re playing a four bet pot and your opponent just turned top pair, you are going to stack them now.
So you give them that chance to hit just enough of the board to pay you off and then like Gary said, those scary looking turns really aren’t that scary on 654. If the turn is a three in a four bet pot, neither player is very likely to have a seven. I mean as the in position player, you’re actually the one who’s more likely to have a seven. You don’t really have to worry about your opponent having it too often. Yeah, once in a while an opponent will do a weird thing and they’ll show up with a hand that you wouldn’t expect, but for the most part in a four bet pot, if it comes down 654 and the turn is one of those nasty looking threes or nasty looking seven, it probably just isn’t going to matter that much. No one’s going to have a straight, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to have a set, so you don’t really have to worry about that sort of protection.
Moving on to a couple tournament examples, again, we’re going to be continuing those pre-flop examples that we talked about a few minutes ago. So situation two. Example number two here is a three bet pot in a tournament, 50 big blind stacks, you raise to 2.2 big blinds with pocket Aces. Let’s say you have black pocket Aces, the small blind three bets to 8.8 big blinds and you call, so the pot is about 20 big blinds. You have about 40 behind. Suppose the flop is 644 with two clubs and your opponent bets. This is a spot where you’re pretty much always going to slow play with the pocket Aces very similar to Gary’s four bet pot example. You want your opponent to continue bluffing on the turn. You want your opponent to potentially catch a top pair that now stacks off and doubles you up and that stuff can’t happen if you raise the flop and force them to fold all of their misses.
So in that spot, once you’ve slow played pre-flop in position versus that three bet with 50 big blind stacks, you’re going to continue slow playing on most flops generally speaking. Moving on to situation number two, example number three. This is a single raise pot. This is the one where you defend your big blind off a 12 big blind stack with pocket Aces versus a cutoff raise. Again, let’s say the cutoff had a 40 big blind stack to start the hand flop comes Q72 you check and your opponent bets, they’re usually going to be betting quite small in this scenario and the best option for your pocket Aces is pretty much always going to be to slow play. They’re going to continue barreling on some turns. If they pick up some sort of straight draw, they can potentially catch up with a hand like King Jack.
If they turn a King, if they have a Queen, you’re probably going to stack them no matter what. So all of that adds up to mostly wanting to slow play with pocket Aces when you’re facing a c-bet in this scenario, keep in mind there are going to be some spots and some boards where you do want to put in a small check raise or even a check raise shove with the pocket Aces. But generally speaking, especially on these dry boards, you’re going to want to continue slow playing on the flop.
Before we get into the final spot to slow play, I want to let you know that we put together a special sneak peek page on upswingpoker.com for Black Friday sale week. If you go to upswingpoker.com/peek, you can find links to sneak a peek inside most of our courses. There’s also a bunch of free preview videos for each course, so go check that out.
You can get some free value and get an idea of the coaches and see which ones are right for you. The final spot to slow play is a bit different.
Situation #3: When stacks are deep and the pot is small, slow-play on connected flops that are good for your opponent
Situation number three, when stacks are deep and the pot is relatively small, slow play on connected flops that are good for your opponent.
So far we’ve only been talking about scenarios where the stack to pot ratio is going to be low going into the flop, but these are the opposite. These are situations where the stack to pot ratio is going to be quite high. There’s going to be say five, six big blinds in the middle and you’re going to have 95, 97 big blinds behind. So really, really deep stack spots here.
Gary is full-time cash game pro. So this is really his area of expertise. Take it away bro.
Gary Blackwood (17:53):
You know that scenario you get where you’re playing live poker and you get stacked with Aces and somebody turns to you and says Aces is just one pair bro and it’s really infuriating.
Well, that actually is very much going to apply to what we’re looking at here. Single raised pot you raise under the gun and the big blind defends. There are a variety of textures where you’re just always checking back pocket Aces and the reason is that the stack to pot ratio is huge. You have pocket Aces, which is just one pair and most importantly the board connects really well with the big blind. For example, you open under the gun, the flop comes down 642, 753, all these really low, really connected textures. Quick tangent, you’re not supposed to just check back with your Aces, but your entire range is checking back. Some of them are just range checks. Some of them we’re checking 80% of the time, some of ’em we’re checking 60% of the time. But your pocket Aces is one of the main hands that you want to check back and there are a few different reasons for that.
One, the stack to pot ratio is really, really high here, so your Aces kind of shrivel up a little bit. That’s something that Mike and I have talked about in previous episodes. Two, the board connects really well with your opponent’s range. They’ve got a lot of not only flopped two pairs and sets and straights that you might not necessarily have, but a lot of pair plus straight draws and pair plus flush draws that you don’t have. So lots of really high equity hands. And three, there are a decent amount of Ace highs that your opponent can call with when you c-bet and obviously you block those hands. So let’s quickly break down how we construct our pocket pair c-betting range on this scenario, if the board is something like 654 you’ve opened under the gun, the big blind calls, you’re supposed to check back virtually your entire range.
If the board is something like 853, your Aces check back the most and it kind of ladders down. So your Aces will be virtually always a checkback. Then your Kings will bet a little tiny bit more, Queen’s a little more, Jack’s a little more and so on until your pocket nines are the pocket pair that you bet the most and that is purely down to protection. Your pocket nines need a lot more protection than a hand like pocket Aces. So that’s how we construct our over pair range there. But your Aces very, very high frequency check backs. Moving on to the next part, that’s not just under the gun versus big blind. It’s not just MP versus big blind. There are even scenarios cutoff versus big blind where we’re supposed to check back. Our Aces virtually always, if we’re on the button for example and we raise and the big blind calls, we do a lot of checking back with Aces on a variety of textures.
They are really quite similar to the boards that we’ve just looked at. They’re really low connected, 642, the 763, even the middling boards like the 975, the 864, all those types of textures. Now our c-bet frequency is going to go up a little bit with pocket Aces here because we’re not as terrified as we are under the gun versus big blind, but we’re still checking back our Aces at a very, very high frequency. And the reason is that we have just one pair. The stack to pot ratio is huge and our opponent connects really well with these textures. So we’ve got to be really mindful of checking back. And the last thing I want to say is that your Aces need no protection. We’ve spoken about the laddering effect, if you like, with your pocket pairs, but remember your Aces don’t need to protect.
If your opponent has Queen Jack off suit and you’ve got pocket nines, that Queen Jack has got 30% equity. So when you c-bet your opponent is never calling with Queen Jack offsuit. So you deny that 30% equity when you’ve got pocket eights or pocket nines, but your Aces don’t need that protection. They don’t want to protect against the 30%. If anything, they want to check back and allow your opponent to turn top pair. So there’s a variety of reasons here as to why we want to slow play our Aces, but just remember when the board is not that great for your range, the stack to pot ratio is really high, your opponent connects with the board really well, pocket Aces are the number one pocket pair that you want to be checking back. Moving on to talking about three bet pots. There are some scenarios where we might want to slow play our Aces.
Now obviously we don’t flat three bets when we hold pocket Aces unless we’re playing against a 50 big blind short stacking reg. But when we’re playing three bet pots and we hold Aces, we’re always the preflop aggressor. There are some spots where we want to start off with a check even with this middling stack to pot ratio. Now let’s talk about, say for example the button opens and we three bet in small blind and the button calls the flop comes down really low and connected like 643 or 765. They’re really bad boards for our range and our range is forced to do a lot of checking because if you think about on 643, let’s do 653 for example, we very rarely have six five suited. We very rarely have got a flopped set. We don’t have a variety of hands that our opponent has that connects really well with this board.
So our opponent essentially has the nut advantage on this board, which means that one we’re out of position. And two, it’s a really bad board for us. Our range is forced to do a lot of checking. We do some betting on some of these textures and again, the example I gave earlier with the pocket pairs laddering down, our Aces need virtually no protection, but our pocket nines need quite a lot of protection. So the nines are more inclined to bet compared to the pocket Aces. So really think about how your range wants to play. If you three bet out of position and the board comes down really poorly for your range, you have to do a lot of checking and pocket Aces is the prime candidate for doing a lot of checking because it doesn’t need any protection. Very quick side note, this is really, really important.
If you’re implementing a high frequency check strategy on a board like 643, you must back it up with a solid aggressive check raise strategy because you cannot just check relentlessly and then check call or check fold. You must be in there check raising with the pocket jacks and the King Ten suited with the backdoor flush draw, these types of hands and your range can support it. You’re checking virtually your entire range on the flop, which doesn’t mean you’re capped when you check, you have Aces, you have maybe pocket sixes sometimes, you have Ace five suited for the strong draws. You’ve got a variety of hands that are still very strong here. So just because you’ve checked doesn’t mean you have to play passively. You get to play really aggressively. You’re supposed to check this 643, like 75% of the time, you’re supposed to check raise it like 25% of the time.
One separate example, which is a little different here is the Ace Four Three flush draw. It’s still the same sort of concept. This is not a great board for our range. Obviously we connect well with the Ace, but we don’t have pocket fours, we don’t have pocket threes. There are a lot of pocket deuces, pocket fives, five six suited, all those types of hands that have high equity on this texture that our opponent has that we don’t. So again, there’s a really big difference between Ace Four Three flush draw and Ace Nine Deuce rainbow for example. Ace Nine Deuce pretty good for us. We get to c-bet that very, very often. But the Ace Four Three, our range is checking here like 60% of the time on average. So Pocket Aces is a really nice hand for us to check with because we block so much of our opponent’s calling range and our range is forced to do a lot of checking.
So pocket Aces makes a lot of sense. There are also some spots where we actually want to do a little bit of checking in position and it’s really important that we acknowledge that this is not always a check with our pocket Aces, the 653 out of position we’re always checking pocket Aces there in theory and we’re doing a decent amount of check raising, but we’re always starting off with a check. We’re not always starting off with a check when we’re in position in three bet pots, say for example cutoff opens, we three bet on the button and the cutoff calls. There are a lot of middling textures that are not great for our range and we like to protect some of the King Queens and the Ace Queens that are forced to check. And the best hand for us to protect with there is our pocket Aces because again, hand like pocket nines needs a lot of protection.
It’s much more inclined to c-bet. But a hand like pocket Aces doesn’t need any protection. It also, nines don’t want the Queen turn for your opponent to turn top pair, but Pocket Aces very much do. So not always checking our pocket Aces on these examples, but they are still in there sometimes. And again, just a really low connected boards like 643. We don’t have very many flopped sets on 643, the 765, which is really connected, our opponent’s got a lot of high equity hands on that board. Our pocket Aces just kind of like to control the size of the pot a little bit. Even a board like Eight Four Deuce and I want to really reiterate that point. We’re not always checking back Aces on Eight Four Deuce so don’t go out there and start doing that. But we do mix in some checks on a variety of these low middling textures with our pocket Aces because it’s not a great board for us.
We want to have some check backs in our range to protect those weaker hands that have to check back very, very often and most importantly, really, really important. I’ve said it a lot throughout this podcast, but your pocket Aces don’t need protection. The other middling pocket pairs very much benefit from generating that protection. But Pocket Aces really don’t need any protection. So it’s a nice hand for us to have in our checkback range in the correct situations.
Mike Brady (26:05):
You now know the money making spots to slow play with Pocket Aces, both pre-flop and post flop both in cash games and in tournaments. If you enjoy this podcast and want to support it so we can justify keeping it going, go check out the Black Friday sale happening right now on Upswing Poker.
Gary and I are only able to put out this podcast for free because it helps promote Upswing Poker. You’ve only got a few days left until the 25% off sale expires. So head over to upswingpoker.com and upgrade your game with courses from our world class team of poker pros. Thanks for listening. Let’s Level-Up again next week.