10 Must-See Strategy Chats from the Upswing Engage Community

When it comes to improving at poker, few things are more effective than discussing strategy with friends.

For meaningful discussions about poker from all angles of the game, you need look no further than our Lab members-only group, Upswing Poker Engage.

With over 3,100 members and dozens of new posts every day, it’s easy to pop in the group to expand your knowledge of the game in a just few short minutes.

To give you a glimpse of what’s been going on in the group, today we’re showing off 10 top Upswing Engage discussions from 2018 so far.

You can gain access to this community (and the Upswing Lab content library) by joining the Lab here.

Let’s begin!

1. A hand with a loose cannon

This seems like quite an ambitious play at first glance. Let’s dive into the comments to see what Lab members had to say.

Chris L. commented:

I like it. Only concern is this hand making your check-raise range too wide on the flop.

Chris’ concern is reasonable, because, rather than 65s, we have so many better bluffing hands to choose from with backdoors. Hero can use hands like QJs, JTs, QTs or even AQ with a backdoor flush draw as bluffs.

In any case, this is not a prime spot to attempt an aggressive bluffing strategy since most live players have a tight 3-betting range, and thus they will have very often have a very strong hand on this board.

Moderator/member Libertine S. (who is a great player and an even better guy) commented:

Fold flop. If you had any type of equity I’m on board with a call, but you don’t.

Libertine makes a very good point. Sometimes folding yields the highest expected value (EV). This is the case with 65s on this flop because it has no direct outs––it’s only hope is to improve to a real draw on the turn, and then hit on the river, which happens extremely rarely.

Keith H. commented:

[Preflop] is kinda whatever in my opinion. I lean towards call, but it’s going to be marginal. Don’t think it’s a big mistake either way.

Flop is super spewy. I’m fine raising some hands, but this is just way too low in your range and not enough equity to even consider a raise.

As played turn I guess go for it and hope he folds AK/AA, but you should never really be in this spot.

Keith is one of the most knowledgeable and active members of the group, and he is spot on with this analysis.

Preflop will indeed be a marginally profitable call, but it will likely be a losing call if you misplay it in this manner on the flop.

As played, shoving once you turn a flush draw is good. In Villain’s eyes, this is a good case for you because the most likely bluffs in your range (JT, QT, QJ) have hit either a pair or a straight.

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2. GTO or GT-NO?

Lab coach and cash game crusher Fried Meulders, who answers many questions in the group, chimed in with the following comment:

Always exploit whenever you can. But know why you make a certain exploit (try to know what a GTO response would be for villain and know how he/she deviates from it => this is what you exploit).

As with all of Fried’s comments, this is excellent advice. The GTO strategy is often something you should use indirectly rather than directly when playing.

Tyler W. commented:

Don’t play GTO at NL10 or even NL50, as the tables are still full of players who, for the most part, are just clicking buttons. There are regs at 50NL but they still aren’t at the point in their game where they are going to be exploiting you for over folding. In addition, a ton of the pots you play will still be multiway and the fish who is coming along with his top pair with a weak kicker just isn’t folding to bluffs. You end up lighting money on fire if you focus too much on GTO play.

Great comment from Tyler. I would add the following:

You should learn GTO and think of it as a good baseline strategy––a very solid strategic structure on which you can build. However, if you try to play with only that baseline strategy in highly raked micro stakes games, your edge will probably not be large enough to make up for the rake.

What you need is to add exploitative elements to your already solid baseline strategy. That upgrade will help you win a few more big blinds per 100 hands, which will put you above breakeven and into the profit zone.

So, in short, you should play an exploitative strategy as much as possible in order to maximize your winnings. This is actually a necessity if you want to get out of the micro stakes. But you should also make an effort to understand the GTO strategy so that you can identify and take advantage of your opponents’ fundamental leaks.

3. Scuba diving deep stacks

Terence Y.’s opening comment sums up this spot nicely:

Sounds very set over set.

John C. commented:

I would play GTO and use [the minimum defense frequency]. He bets 1000 to win 226 so 226/1226 means you should play 1/5 of your range. This hand is the top of your range so even if you of course lose some of the time, I think it’s an easy call.

This, however, is a common misconception about how to use minimum defense frequencies (MDF). Here’s a rule to remember:

You should MDF as a guideline––but not a lifeline.

MDF is the minimum percentage of your range you must continue with in a given spot to completely protect yourself from being exploited by bluffs. It’s an important concept in poker theory, but it is way overused in practice.

(By the way, I wrote all about how and when you should consider MDF in a recent article. Check it out here.)

Let’s now consider the important facts about this hand.

Villain is a regular who open-raised to 6 big blinds from UTG (very strong), got 2 callers, and decided to fire a c-bet into two very strong ranges on a board that gave him a nut advantage (very strong).

With Villain showing so much strength, you should not raise your set (although doing it exploitatively––e.g., if Villain is a calling station––is fine). Once you’ve raised and your opponent decides to 3-bet shove 500 big blinds into a pot of ~100 big blinds (a massive overbet), you can be fairly certain your opponent has either TT or AA.

Now, you could call the shove if Villian is an extreme maniac, but he is obviously not since he was labeled as a regular. So, the correct line, in my opinion, is to call the flop, and if you do raise, to happily fold versus the shove.

4. Set mining gone right

As Zach N. put it:

Raising flop is so so bad.

The poster is at a nut-disadvantage in this spot, so raising is not appropriate. In other words, UTG+1 has more very strong hands in his range; he can have any set and top two pair, while Hero can only have 99 (Hero would have 3-bet preflop with AA, KK and AK).

Moreover, the board is not too dynamic. In spots like this, you should be flatting your whole range versus the c-bet. Otherwise, you risk forcing out most or all worse hands in UTG+1’s range, leaving only hands better than 99. This is especially true when playing with deep stacks (more on this below).

Taylor T. wrote:

I would overbet shove [on the turn]. Hopefully getting value from AK or other A hands that [UTG+1] won’t fold. You could easily take this line with a missed flush draw so I think you can get called down as light as AJ. Overbetting here balances with your FD bluffs well I think.

Also it makes sense with your line… you made a decision with your turn sizing to play for all the money so play for all the money!

This comment displays a common misconception––namely, that you are committed to shoving on the next street in these scenarios. This thought process will lead you to make huge mistakes.

It’s along the same lines as saying, you shouldn’t call on the flop because you might have to fold on the turn. Instead, you should play each street separately. Some hands gain value, some hands lose value, and some retain their value depending on what the next card is. You should play each and every one of them accordingly.

The big problem with Taylor’s comment is the range he believes UTG+1 will call an overbet shove on the river for a total pot of 400 big blinds. It’s important to be realistic in your assessments, otherwise you’ll end up having contradicting thoughts in the same spot. For example, you might start thinking that he calls too many hands when you are trying to get value, but that he folds too much when you’re trying to bluff.

If you believe that UTG+1 is the type of player who will call a river shove with a hand as weak as AJ, you shouldn’t be trying to bluff. So, you cannot use the argument of betting to balance the bluffs with missed flush draws.

(Side note: Hero probably doesn’t have any missed flush draws in his range, except QJ of clubs, which rivered a straight.)

The bottom line is this: UTG+1 raised preflop into 7 players (which represents a lot of strength), got two callers from players in earlier positions (two strong ranges), and decided to c-bet the flop into those two players on a board that gave him a nut-advantage (extremely strong). Against such a line, you should hope that he doesn’t triple barrel because it often times will mean that you’re beat. Raising shouldn’t even cross your mind.

(Editor’s note: With all that said, if you have a reliable read that UTG+1 is a big time calling station, then raising on the flop in an attempt to get his stack is a smart move––just make sure it’s a reliable read.)

Knowledgeable contributor Rudy E. summed it up well:

I wouldn’t raise the top of my range, when it just gets coolered by the top of villains range, especially when 200bb deep. Villain is going to have a lot of sets when he opens this large from early position. Raising here is more about hoping Villain has a hand that you beat.

When hero gets stacked, ‘oh it’s just a cooler’.

You also weaken your entire calling range if you raise all your strongest hands here. Villain can make reads that he can comfortably value bet thin and bluff against your calling range because it can’t handle river jams

‘Oh but it’s live poker they suck blah blah’––yes you can make these plays when you have exploitive information about your villain being a station that we don’t have, but raising here isn’t particularly great strat.

5. A squeeze gone wrong

Regarding preflop, Gabriel B. comments:

Don’t like the sizing much. Pre is too small. Go to about $75 online. This is live so go for $90.

I would agree with Gabriel here if we were deeper. But on this stack size, I think going for $65, which is a pot-sized raise, is the correct amount to risk in order to optimize the risk-reward ratio.

This hand could play well as a flat-call, too.

Regarding postflop, David P. shared these concerns:

I like the 3 bet pre and the relatively small flop cbet size. I don’t think I would jam turn though, because a huge percentage of villain’s flop calling range will call the turn jam. You’ll fold out some weaker aces, if villain has any in his 3-bet calling range. I think his range is mostly good aces, sets, and nut flush draws on the turn. I don’t see much of that folding.

David is pretty much spot on.

On the flop, I think Hero should check his whole range since he has the weakest range of the 3 players in the pot. He can’t have 88 or 66, which either of the callers can have, and his range contains a much smaller proportion of very strong hands compared to the other 2 players.

Betting is fine, though I would opt for a slightly smaller size. If going with the aggressive line, I would prefer around $60.

After getting called, I think it’s time to check on the turn since the button’s range is much stronger than you might expect. 88 and 66 (and apparently AK) make up a decently large percentage of his range and, consequently, shoving is a pretty spewy play.

As for the hand showed down by the button, Sergey T. drew the following conclusion:

Competent reg on button calls… Villain tanks and reveals AcKs. Eh, I would scratch this guy off your ‘competent reg’ list.

Agreed, Sergey.

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6. Deep (stack) issues

Once again, Fried Meulders shared his expert opinion:

I think that when stack depth increases from 100 to 200+bb, the big blind’s EV just drops even without the button changing its strategy.

The big blind is out of position with a higher stack-to-pot ratio, which will increase the button’s advantage and makes it harder for big blind to realize its equity.

Power of position gets amplified with stack depth.

You can raise bigger as an exploit, as some players seem to think their implied odds increase, 300bb deep in the big blind. What about reverse implied odds? Seems arrogant to think button will pay you off, but not the other way around.

Pure gold. I have nothing to add.

Tanner W. commented:

Theoretically you don’t ‘have to open bigger’. You start raising 4x OTB with 80% of hands, you’re now making a massive preflop mistake and can get 3-bet to death because now you’re risking more to make the same amount preflop.

Tanner makes a great point. Raising to a bigger size preflop with the same range allows the blinds to exploit you by widening their 3-betting ranges. The mistake is even more costly if you choose to raise a wider range of hands.

Put these two comments together and you can clearly see why raising bigger while deeper is an unnecessarily risky and usually bad strategy.

7. The guy was just a d**k

F. L. commented:

When this kind of things happen, you have to be prepared for the big swings. Just pray and call with a solid range. I would never leave the table I’d actually buyin max like 5 or 6 times before leaving.

Jason W. also replied with some live poker-specific wisdom:

Sometimes the big spot in the game is a huge dick. It’s not a coincidence either. Usually it comes from the feelings of resentment and hostility he experiences towards winners. As well as feelings of his own inadequacy. So often such players will try to fuck with you verbally/psychologically because that’s the only weapon they got. If you want to stay in this juicy game and take his chips then you need to be able to deal with this hostility well. If you can’t then maybe you should leave the game. Your psychological well-being is priceless.

Now as to how to play against the guy in your situation. Since he’s shoving every time you raise then he basically has a random hand. You can play around with PokerStove and see what range is a certain % favorite vs that hand. Let’s say: you want to be 70% favorite. So you find a range that’s 70% favorite vs random and you only raise and then call off that range. Or you could choose 60% favorite but then you would experience much more variance. Or you could choose the low variance route and look for a range that’s 80% favorite – that range would be very premium obviously.

P.S. Make sure you always cover the guy if possible. And if you keep getting stacked keep rebuying until you run out of money 🙂 If you run out of money hold your seat for as long as is needed to go and get more money ASAP. Don’t quit the game before he quits. It can be a rough ride and you may well end up being stuck many buyins and have him quit on you laughing at you – hey it happens, it’s poker. All you can do is play well.

I have one obvious thing to add: don’t raise light when the guy on your left is shoving every hand.

8. A question about software for studying

Rudy E. shared an opinion on two powerful pieces of software:

PIO is a great tool if you know how to use it. I dislike it only because I’ve seen a lot of people totally misapply it’s usage. PIO you have to understand how to use it, AND how to apply it. Snowie you just have to figure out how to apply it.

I fully agree. But I want to add that it’s not a matter of choosing between them, it’s a matter using both because they are two programs that work synergistically.

You can use PokerSnowie to build a solid preflop strategy for a variety of different stack sizes, positions, ante or no ante, and then use them as input for PIO Solver. This way you can be sure you are on the right path.

We’ll have a guide to poker software up on the site soon for those of you who want to learn how to use these modern tools.

9. A gentleman’s argument

Here is a quick and easy way to calculate how often your bluff needs to work to break even: take what you are risking and divide that by how much you stand to win (including your wager) when Villain folds.

So, in this case you would divide $1,060 (your raise) by $1,060 (your raise) + $150 (Villain’s bet) + $482 (the pot before your raise).

Required fold equity = 1,060 / 1,060 + 150 + 482 = 0.6264 = 62.64%

Sorry, it looks like your friend was right.

10. Get your frequencies right

Fried Meulders had the perfect answer:

1) Upswing Core Strategy approach: This is a Category 4 hand, so check back.

For 30-40% pot size c-bet approach:
2) Solver approach: there will be some c-bets with Category 4 hands & some check backs with Category 3 hands. 98cc c-bets like half the time [according to the solver]. Range advantage doesn’t always translate into a super high c-bet% for the solver. There’s actually a lot of checkbacks here–it c-bets less than 30% of the time.

3) Solver with exploit/simplification:
   •Villains don’t defend enough & not aggressively enough (compared to the ‘solver villain’ in point 2).
   •You can just c-bet more in position without a big EV loss in general & especially so when villains underdefend.
   •You can do this by trying to go for either a near-100% c-bet (simple), or you can just bluff more on the flop while keeping a check back range. So, for example, go from 30% c-bet to 60% (more complex, but higher EV).

Again, Fried’s answer is so good I have nothing to add.


In today’s poker ecosystem you just cannot have too much knowledge or too many poker friends. You need to stay on top of your metagame, and up to speed with what the newest strategies are. The Upswing Engage Group is a very good way to gather both––and it’s only growing!

Join our community of Lab members here!

That’s all for today! I hope you’ve found this article useful, and, as usual, if you have any comments or feedback use the comment section down below.

Good luck, grinders!

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Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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