This text is based on episode 7 of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Welcome back to the show poker players! Let’s level-up your game. I’m Mike Brady and I’ve got Gary Blackwood on the line to discuss the most valuable discoveries that poker players have made since the advent of poker solvers.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls, as Mike said we’re discussing solvers today. We’re going to talk about all of the things that we have learned from the solver.
Mike: I asked the poker community on Twitter, and reached out to a number of mid- and high-stakes poker pros with the following question:
What is the most consequential strategic concept or mechanic that poker players have learned because of solvers?
The Top 7 Solver Discoveries
1. The Betting Lead/Betting Initiative Really Isn’t a Thing
Mike: Back in the day, you used to always check to the aggressor from the previous street, because they have the betting initiative. There would also be a discussion around keeping the betting initiative, which would even be a reason to make a play for some people.
It turns out that’s not really a thing. Obvisously, you often do check to the preflop raiser, or to the aggressor on the previous street. But it’s not because they have the betting initiative. It’s for a different reason.
Gary, what is that reason?
Gary: So the main reason we would be checking to the preflop aggressor, or to the person that bet on the previous street, is because the equity advantage lies with that player.
For example, the button opens and we defend in the big blind, and the flop comes down K-8-2. We’re not checking there because the button has the betting lead, we’re checking because our range is at a serious disadvantage, and we can’t justify doing anything other than checking.
There are a lot of instances in poker where we are supposed to go against the betting initiative, i.e. where we’re supposed to donk bet. Normally, six, seven, eight years ago, if somebody led out without the betting initiative, they’d immediately be tagged as a recreational player. But solvers have shown us that in a lot of instances, leading out is the correct thing to do.
For example, UTG opens, the big blind defends, and the flop comes down 6-4-3. The big blind is supposed to lead there, because it’s one of the few flops that the UTG player isn’t destroying the big blind’s range. On flops like 6-4-3 and 5-3-2, the big blind’s range can support a lead.
These examples can happen on a variety of streets. For example, the button opens, the big blind defends, and the flop comes down 8-6-2. The button is supposed to use a large c-bet size when betting, and with that the button’s range is a little more condensed, i.e. they’re not betting their entire range.
So they’re not going to bet their 6x hands, for example. That means that when they do bet, and the big blind calls, and the turn is a 6, you’ll see a lot of players leading out. Because all of a sudden, the big blind has more of a 6x advantage.
Mike: If you want to learn more about that turn leading concept, like leading out on middle pairs and bottom pairs on the turn, just Google “Upswing Poker Cheat Code” (or click here). I wrote a pretty in-depth article about that concept; it’s something that Doug Polk’s team had been doing for a long time before solvers. One of several examples of Doug’s heads-up team being ahead of the game there. If it’s something you can add to your game comfortably, you can add some nice extra EV.
2. Small Bets Weren’t Small Enough and Big Bets Weren’t Big Enough
Mike: Gary, I assume you know what we’re talking about for this answer, so can you go ahead and explain?
Gary: So the first small bet we’re going to talk about is the biggest of all the small bets, the 33% pot bet. It was relatively commonly used before solvers, but nowhere near as much as it is in this day and age. There are a lot of instances now where we bet 25% pot (for example in 4-bet pots)
I read a brilliant article on Upswing the other day on when to use a 10% bet size. So our small bets go all the way down to 10%.
For example, in a 4-bet pot, say the flop comes down A-A-2 or A-Q-3. We’re supposed to use really small bets that nobody knew about before solvers. Lots and lots of players are now using really small bets because they’re so important. You’re supposed to use 10% and 25% in a variety of instances.
And on the flip side, you see a lot of big bets in this day and age. A lot of 150% and 200% bet sizes. Mainly on the turn, and a lot of the time on the river as well. We got confirmation from the solver that going all in for 2x pot wasn’t that crazy.
As a result, a lot of competent regs have really massive sizes as part of their arsenal, and it’s backed up by the fact that the solver uses them as well.
Mike: All true, and the next thing we’re going to talk about is kind of the reason we bet small and big. But quickly, I want to point out, sometimes you’ll even see some savage players jamming for like 10x pot in some situations.
3. Equity Advantage and Nut Advantage Are at the Heart of the Optimal Betting Frequency and Sizing
Mike: Some quick definitions to make sure we’re all on the same page:
- The range with the most equity has the Equity Advantage (AKA the Range Advantage)
- The range that contains the most combos of the strongest possible hands has the Nut Advantage
Gary, can you expand a little bit more on what we’re talking about here?
Gary: I like the way this is worded because it really is at the heart of everything we do. When we have an equity advantage we tend to do XYZ, we tend to bet a certain size.
When we have the nut advantage, we tend to be able to lead out for example. We tend to be able to overbet. We tend to be able to do all of these different things.
You’ll find that the equity advantage lies with the preflop aggressor for the most part. For example, when the button opens and the big blind defends, there are virtually no boards where the big blind has an equity advantage.
But there are a lot of examples where the equity advantage goes out the window because of the nut advantage.
For example, when UTG opens, the big blind defends, and the flop comes 7-5-3. The nut advantage lies with the big blind, but the equity advantage lies with the under-the-gun player.
The big blind can lead out because they have that nut advantage. So it’s not a case of having to check all the time because you don’t have an equity advantage. If you have a significant nut advantage, you get to play a certain way.
On the flip side, if you have a significant nut disadvantage – for example the button opens, you 3-bet from the small blind, the button calls, and the flop comes down 6-5-4. The nut advantage very much lies with the button, and as a result the small blind has to check there about 75% of the time, despite having the equity advantage.
4. How to Play Properly Out of Position
Mike: This answer was a suggestion from Uri Peleg, the coach from Upswing Poker’s Elite Cash Game Exploits course.
The out-of-position (OOP) strategy for the preflop raiser involves a lot of trapping, a lot of check-raising, and a lot less c-betting. If you go back 7-8 years ago, if you opened, and the button called, and you’re OOP against that player, even good players were going to be c-betting in that situation quite frequently.
What we’ve learned from solvers is, you have to play pretty defensively and passively at first (we talked about this in our last episode about playing flush draws quite a bit). Once you do check (playing defensively and passively), and your opponent bets, you kind of end up going crazy. You include some traps in your checking range and you’re going to do a lot of check-raising.
Naturally, if you’re check-raising a lot for value, you’re also going to be check-raising a bunch as a bluff. So you get to play pretty savagely OOP, but that savegry starts with a check.
Gary: The difference between how we play OOP now vs. 7-8 years ago is astronomical. Why do we play so passively OOP? Because we’re out of position.
For example, if you open the cutoff, and the button calls, every flop that’s ten-high or below, that’s not paired, you’re supposed to check your entire range.
Another example – you open the small blind, and the big blind calls. The flop comes down K-6-4. The small blind is supposed to check there like 65% of the time. Nobody was doing that 7-8 years ago. They’d probably be betting close to their entire range.
You have to check so often in these OOP spots. Because of that, you MUST have a solid check-raising strategy. Say the flop comes 8-5-2, you’re value range to check-raise with is really easy to work out. You have your overpairs, your sets, top pair with top kicker, all of those sorts of hands.
But you must also be finding these check-raises with KT/QJ suited with a backdoor flush draw, 76s, A4s. If you don’t have an aggressive check-raising strategy, your opponent is just going to be able to steamroll you.
Mike: And they’re not just streamrolling you by value betting and bluffing a lot. They’re also just going to realize too much equity. If you’re never check-raising them, that means that they’re always seeing the turn. And they can check back the turn and always see the river.
5. Unintuitive Removal Effects
Mike: Back in the day, if you had a flush draw going into the river, and you missed, you were probably going to bluff, because you missed your draw. These days we now know that the solver doesn’t like to bluff those hands. You’re blocking the missed flush draws in your opponent’s range, which in a lot of cases makes it much more likely that your opponent is going to call your river bet. So in many cases, you don’t want to fire a triple-barrel bluff with a missed flush draw, as the solver suggests it’s best to give up more than often than not on the river.
On the flip side, as the player who’s facing a bet on the river, you actually want to have blockers to the missed flush draw, because your opponent is not supposed to be bluffing with them. So if you’re blocking the missed flush draw, you’re unblocking your opponent’s bluffs.
Gary: This is a conception which solvers have absolutely brought to the forefront of the game, but not a lot of people apply it. It’s largely the mid-to-high stakes players that apply it.
There’s one more thing I want to talk about that’s somewhat complex. You hear the term “blockers” a lot; “unblockers” are just as important.
For example, say you 3-bet from the small blind against the button. And the flop comes down . You’re going to c-bet your entire range on the flop. You’ll find that you’re supposed to barrel the turn with hearts, because your opponent is supposed to float with clubs, diamonds and spades. Therefore when you have hearts, you unblock those floats, which now fold on the turn.
6. Block Betting
Mike: Block betting is betting small to prevent your opponent from betting a bigger size.
Gary made an in-depth module covering how to block bet; how it works and why we do it. You can join the Upswing Poker Lab if you’re interested in that module. So I’m not going to talk about block betting at all because this guy studies it extensively!
Gary: When you block bet on the river, it’s important to split your range and have a big size as well. When you’re OOP on the river, in a lot of scenarios you want to have a small size (aka a block bet size) and a big size as well.
There are a lot of advantages to having that small size. Using the solver has showed us just how important it is to have that small size, and just how wide we get to block bet in a variety of situations.
People used to block bet to prevent their opponent from betting a bigger size. It would save us from check-calling against a bigger bet size. That’s not the only reason we block anymore; there are a bunch of advantages to blocking.
The main reason is that you get to bet unbelievably wide. Say you defend the big blind, and the flop and turn go check-check. You get to bet fourth and fifth pair. There are some scenarios where you get to bet ace-high for value.
You’re going to have some strong hands and some bluffs in that scenario as well, so you also need a bigger bet size (in addition to the smaller block bet size). In a button vs. big blind example, as the big blind a lot of your top pair go into that bigger size. Whereas in an MP vs. big blind spot, a lot of your top pairs go into your smaller (aka block bet) size.
Mike: You’re essentially building two different ranges around the hands that most want to be in that range. For your block size, the hands that really want to be blocking are like middle pairs, bottom pairs, and ace-highs that are trying to eke out a little bit of value, and get a cheaper showdown potentially. Then of course you have to balance that with bluffs. And you have to protect this range with some strong hands, otherwise your opponent could just raise you every time you use the block size.
With your bigger size, you have strong value hands, as well as bluffs to balance those hands.
7. How Gangster the Equilibrium Strategy Really Is
Mike: It’s mind-blowing to see how the solver plays certain spots, and how aggressive it is. Even the most aggressive players from back in the day can’t hold a candle to how aggressive the solver plays. The solver is a savage, and we’ve learned a lot from it. That’s why you see guys like Michael Addamo, Doug Polk, guys who really take the aggression to the next level. That’s because they have the confidence to do that, because they know it’s right.
Gary: Even solid mid-stakes regs who play online now, they still don’t play as aggressively as the solver plays. They don’t call nearly as much as the solver does. They’re still very good poker players, but the solver strategy is so gangster, it’s so aggressive, it folds so little, that these guys are still not reaching the heights that the solver is able to find.
For example, button opens, big blind defends, and the flop comes down 7-7-3. The big blind is supposed to check-raise there 25-30% of the time! The best humans will find 15-18% at the very most.
The solver never folds, it calls down super light. It’s splitting it range between small sizes and big sizes very evenly. A very well-balanced multiple-size strategy is impossible to play against.
As Mike says, the solver strategy is absolutely gangster, and a lot of humans aren’t getting close to it.
Mike: I don’t know if we ever will to be honest.
Gary: I try my best, but the solver finds new ways to amaze me every day.
A Note on Using Solvers for Poker Study
I want to end this episode with a quick warning.
Solvers are an incredibly valuable and powerful tool, but the interface can be difficult to navigate. What’s more, we often see poker players make mistakes when using solvers, and those mistakes actually make their strategy worse and cost them money in the long run.
That’s why we’ve created the new PioSOLVER Crash Course in the Upswing Lab. The entire thing takes just 2.5 hours to complete and by the end you’ll know how to use PioSOLVER like a pro.
Sign up for the Upswing Lab to get instant access to the Crash Course along with 90+ other poker strategy lessons.
Keep in mind that when you join the Lab, it’s risk-free because your investment is backed by a 30-day, 100% money-back guarantee. We know if you go through just a small part of the Lab, you’ll see improvements in your game.
Thanks for listening to Level-Up, we’ll see you next week for the final episode of season 1.
If you want to check out more episodes of Upswing Poker Level-Up, scroll down on this page to find them