The Upswing Digest is a monthly publication containing the best strategy questions of the month submitted by our Lab subscribers. Doug Polk and Ryan Fee provide their thorough answers and then they’re all compiled into one easy to navigate package.
Starting this month with Volume 1 (originally released to subscribers in July), we are making the Digest available to everyone. Flip through the pages below, download it below that or check out the text version!
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(Note: Ready to get serious about poker? Then check out the Lab! Learn from our extensive training course and get your questions answered by Doug, Ryan and the community!)
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News & Announcements
- July saw Doug and Ryan each take down World Series of Poker bracelets in the $1,000 buy in Tag Team event. The guys took home over $153k for their efforts. Check out the video here!
- Doug announced and has since began his Bankroll Challenge, where he is attempting to turn $100 into $10k on WSOP.com using proper, conservative bankroll management.
- New modules for August include “How to Play the River” with Ryan, and a “Tournament Play & Explain” with Doug
MP+1: 23.31 BB
Hero (BB): 38.88 BB
Hero is dealt Kd Td in the Big Blind
MP+1 raises to 2 BB, Hero calls 1 BB
Flop : (5.3 BB) Jd 4c 9d
Hero checks, MP+1 bets 3.54 BB, Hero calls 3.54 BB
Turn : (12.37 BB) 2c
Hero checks, MP+1 bets 8.25 BB, Hero raises to 33.24 BB and is all-in, MP+1 calls 9.42 BB and is all-in
River : (47.72 BB) 7h
MP+1 shows Kc Ks (One Pair, Kings)
Hero shows Td Kd (High Card, King)
MP+1 wins 47.72 BB
[FEES] Uh oh, tournament hand! We have very few big blinds 🙁
[PREFLOP] Clear defend in the big blind.
[FLOP] Check/call or check/raise and get it in are both reasonable when we flop the world here.
[TURN] You have to just check/call here. You really have zero fold equity once your opponent bets. I would just call, draw and hope for the best.
16nl on PokerStars
Hero (BB): 137 BB
Hero is dealt Kd Ts in the Big Blind
UTG raises to $0.32, Hero calls $0.16
Flop ($0.72) Ks Tc 9s
Hero checks, UTG bets $1.28, Hero calls
Turn ($3.28) 8s
Hero checks, UTG bets $2.40, Hero calls
River ($8.08) 5h
Hero checks, UTG bets $4.16, Hero folds
[PREFLOP] UTG minraises and we defend KTo, totally standard so far.
[FLOP] We check and face a big overbet from UTG. Nothing to do here other than call.
[TURN] The turn completes the flush, but I don’t think UTG will overbet a spade draw on the flop too often. In fact I don’t even think the turn is that bad of a card. We also have some flushes in our range here. Clear call vs the 75% pot bet.
[RIVER] We face a half pot bet on the brick river and fold. Ewww, you just can’t do that.
Fold top pair? Yeah, maybe… sure. But two pair? No way, gotta call. There’s no chance you’re not good here at least 25% of the time.
Villain has taken a strong line, but you beat some hands, namely Kx Qx, Kx Jx, Ax Jx, Ax Qx. We’re here for the gamble and this hand is way too good to fold… so definitely call.
Hero (UTG): $29.20
Hero is dealt Jd Td UTG
Hero raises to $0.75, only BTN calls
Flop ($1.85) Kd Jh 6c
Hero checks, BTN bets $1.15, Hero calls
Turn ($4.15) 6s
Hero checks, BTN bets $3.08, Hero raises to $8.75, BTN calls $5.67
River ($21.65) 2c
Hero bets $18.55 all in, BTN calls $18.55
[PREFLOP] We 3x raise UTG and the button calls, looks good.
[FLOP] We flop middle pair with a backdoor straight and flush draw. Classic C2, clear check/call.
[TURN] We check/raise on the board pair, basically repping 6x Xx. It’s really not crazy, but we would probably rather check/call trips here and check/raise all in on the river. For that reason I would rather bluff this hand in that fashion.
[RIVER] Once we get here we gotta go for it. Ship it in and pray for a fold.
€20NL on PokerStars
Hero (BB): 236.5 BB
CO: 176 BB
Hero is dealt As Qc in the Big Blind
MP raises to 3 BB, CO calls, SB calls, Hero raises to 14.5 BB, MP folds, CO and SB call 11.5 BB
Flop (46.5 BB) Kd Tc 7c
SB checks, Hero checks, CO checks
Turn (46.5 BB) 5c
SB checks, Hero checks, CO bets 29.5 BB, SB folds, Hero calls
River (105.5 BB) Ah
Hero checks, CO bets 69 BB, Hero calls
[PREFLOP] I like our squeeze from the big blind a lot. Well played.
[FLOP] I think I probably just bet the flop. I don’t know how many weaker hands I would have here and I’d have a lot of strong hands. Checking isn’t not the worst play, but it’s going to get a bit dicey on this texture.
I just think it’s such a good board for your range, so betting makes sense. Plus this isn’t really a typical C2 Ace-high, you’re not really going to be able to win this if you check.
[TURN] You could turn this into a C3 bet as well. We probably don’t have the best hand as it’s very likely someone has a pair or pocket pair. We check/call which isn’t ridiculous.
[RIVER] On the river we face another bet and I think the problem with calling here is, what do we beat? 9x 8x, Jx 9x, Qx 9x or like 6c 6x? Eh this is a bit tough.If you’re calling the river you’re really just hoping he has 9x 8x or Ax Jx.
I think this is why it was a solid flop to just bet because there’s no easy, obvious straight-forward solution on the turn.
25c-50c 6max Online, $50 effective
Hero is dealt Ah 2h in MP
Hero raises to $1.50, BTN calls, SB reraises to $6.50, Hero reraises to $20, BTN flats, SB folds
Flop ($44.65) HU- Ac 8h Kc
Hero shoves all in for $26, and Villain calls
[PREFLOP] Our 4bet is way too big here. Hell his 3bet was really big. I would have went with ~$15 instead of $20. To add to the craziness, the button flats and the SB folds.
[FLOP] I just check the flop.There aren’t many draws other than perhaps a couple of flush draws. I don’t know what the hell the Button has. He’s probably just a fish.
Anyway, I would probably just check the flop with everything in my range here. I don’t think it’s a bad spot to give the fish some rope to hang himself with.
6max NL25, 100 BB deep
Hero is dealt Qd Qx in the BB
LJ opens $0.75, HJ calls, Hero raises to $3.75 from the BB, LJ folds, HJ calls.
Flop ($8.35) Jd Jx 4d Hero check calls $2.64
Turn 2d ($13.63)
Hero check calls $8.63
River 5c ($30.89)
LJ bets $14.67 Hero??
[PREFLOP] Squeeze looks good, I like the size. It’s funny, in all these hands the preflop raiser always seems to fold and the other guy always seems to call. That’s not usually how it goes.
[FLOP] I like the check/call on the flop.
[TURN] Clear check/call on turn.
[RIVER] River is really tough spot honestly. Having the Qd means we block a fair bit of his possible flushes, which is good. I think, given the odds, I would probably call this combo of Queens.
50nl on PokerStars
Hero (BB): 210 BB
CO: 296 BB
Hero is dealt 3d 2d in the Big Blind
CO raises to 2.54 BB, Hero reraises to 10 BB, CO calls
Flop (20.5 BB) Ah Qs 5d
Hero bets 13 BB, CO calls
Turn (46 BB) 9d
Hero bets 33 BB, CO calls 33 BB
River (112 BB) 8s
Hero bets 154 BB all in, CO calls 154 BB
[FEES] I think you took a great, well balanced line here. The one critique I have is the river sizing.
[RIVER] I think your opponent can have too many easy calls on this river to justify jamming. CO can have a ton of two pair combos and at least 4 straight combos. I would just bet smaller, like 75% pot.
5NL, Villain is unknown
Hero is dealt Jx 8x in the Big Blind
BTN opens 2.5 BB, Hero defends in BB
Flop (5 BB) Kx Jx 8x
Hero checks, BTN bets 2.5 BB, Hero raises to 9 BB, BTN 3-bets to 22 BB
[DOUG] I think flop is close. I usually lean towards playing hands like bottom two as check/calls. The problem with check/raising is once you raise, on later streets your hand becomes marginal and often it becomes difficult to make decisions.
If you do get 3bet on the flop, I would recommend playing your entire range as call or fold. I don’t see what jamming accomplishes. If he is bluffing you want him to continue to do so, and jamming just folds those air hands out of the pot.
2/5 live $500 effective stacks
Hero is dealt Qs Qc UTG
Hero opens to 15. HJ calls. SB calls
Flop ($45) 7s 6s 2c
Hero bets 30. HJ raises to 80. Hero calls.
Turn ($205) 2s
Hero checks. HJ bets 125. Hero calls.
River ($355) Tc.
Checks through, he shows Ts 8s
[FEES] Shout out to my $2/$5 live grinders!
[PREFLOP] Would probably open to $20. Live poker players tend to call a lot and 3bet not a lot, so we want to make their calls worse by raising larger.
[FLOP] Flop bet size is good, and I would probably call the raise.
[TURN] Definitely call the turn bet with the spade so it’s less likely your opponent has a flush (and so we can maybe hit one).
[RIVER] He didn’t bet, but if he did, you’re kind of flipping a coin. You’re going to have some flushes and you’re going to have some boats but if you really want to call down with a big pair, I don’t think that’s a crazy line.
General and Theoretical Questions
Hey guys, which category do you place the following hands in:
Example 1: Kh Qh on a Jh Th 2s board
Example 2: 9h 8h on a Th 7h 2s board
Example 3: 5h 4h on a Ks 7h 6h board
[FEES] All of these hands are category 3 hands. They’re not a made hand so you can’t technically value bet, but obviously they all have huge equity.
Some draws like this are weird because if you bet you’re going to be a favorite to win if they call. There’s 2 reasons for this; you can win the pot by getting there or forcing a fold when you continue barreling. It’s tough to go wrong with these hands.
Rob has chosen some “slam dunk” hands in the above examples. Here are some hands that would be trickier to categorize on those same boards:
Kh 5h in the first example
Qh 9s in the second example
Js Ts in the third example
These are all probably C3, but definitely borderline. But in the examples you listed, probably just bet and barrel most of the time.
Which tracking software do you guys prefer between PokerTracker 4 and HoldEm Manager 2?
[FEES] We aren’t sure if it will be a separate product or included in the Lab, but at some point we are going to be doing analytical stuff using Poker Tracker. I recommend that if you are in the market for a tracker or if you have HM2 and are kind of whatever about it, go with PT4.
Editor’s Note: This is a hand history, but I’ve placed it in the theory section because we get this general question a lot and the answer is simple and fairly black and white.
100NL Bovada Zone, 100bb effective stacks
Hero is dealt 5x 5x
Hero raises from MP to $2, CO 3-bets to $7.50, BTN cold calls, Hero calls.
Flop ($21) Tx 5x 3x
Hero checks, CO checks, BTN bets $12, Hero and CO call.
Turn ($57) 3x
Checks to BTN who bets $20, Hero and CO call again
River ($117) Kx
My question is do we ever just lead, jam here? I feel like with their respective ranges it makes sense.
[DOUG] Let me make sure one thing is clear. You CANNOT lead here at ANY point. I cannot stress that enough. The reason is because in general, you are going to have weaker hands here that will lose to overpairs, hands like ATs/KTs/JTs/T9s.
If you lead jam with your sets, what does it mean when you check? Not to mention now your opponent can always jam his hands like AA for value and not have to be scared of getting trapped.
I think I would have no C1/C3 range on flop/turn. In situations where your opponent is representing overpairs and you do not have many hands that beat those overpairs, you should play your entire range conservatively to protect yourself from hands like AA.
[FEES] Yeah, Doug says you pretty much can’t ever lead here and I agree. I don’t think anyone has like a King. Maybe they see it as a scare card when it’s not, but you can’t really lead here. Check and hope for the best.
There’s a lot of people breaking the rules and leading and shit. Don’t ever lead unless we’ve outlines specifically. Stick to the plan and you’ll be fine.
How do you deal with having too many C2/C4 hands on certain flop textures?
Say you raise with 4x 4x, button calls and the flop is Qx 9x 7x. What’s the plan?
[FEES] There are some boards that are going to be favorable for the preflop caller. In general I believe questions like this come from players who were used to cbetting too often, and now they’re not and their whole world is turned upside-down.
Let’s take that Qx 9x 7x. In that instance it’s a pretty good board for the caller’s range. 3 overcards to the Fours is in general not a great flop. That’s okay.
You obviously didn’t do anything wrong preflop, and there’s nothing wrong with checking it back and folding postflop.
It’s the same thing with Ace-high hands on more dynamic boards like Kx Jx 9x. Sometimes you just gotta throw in the towel.
No hand history, but it’s more of a general question about river check/raising.
We defend the BB against a button open and face flop and turn bets, both of which we call on a board of 8d 3s 2s 2h 6c
Our range looks really weak by the river, very few value check/raises. How do we go about selecting bluffs when our range is so wide? Do we only check/raise 8x 6x since it blocks the most full houses?
[Doug] You can’t check/raise 86 on the river, it’s too strong in your range. I think you should check/raise 1 or 2 of your weakest 8x Xx here as a bluff. This will balance out your 2x Xx+ hands you want to raise for value as well and you won’t bluff too much
Hey guys, concerning the BB defense video, I was wondering what some of you are including in your ranges as hands that will realize their equity enough to defend properly against a 3x button raise in a vacuum.
So, this would be pretty specific to zone/zoom poker, (which I tend to mostly play) but against say, a 40% button open range, a hand like K4 suited has around 40% equity, but will it realize that equity enough to defend with it? If so, how do I decide what other hands to include when I’m constructing that range (besides the obvious hands. This question is more about hands that we wouldn’t typically think of using to defend with, but will realize their equity enough to make them good hands)?
When it comes to defending the BB, how do I decide what hands to include when I’m constructing a range against, say a 40% button open range? A hand like Ks 4s has 40% equity, but will it realize that equity enough to defend with it?
Hope this makes sense. Thanks.
[FEES] First let’s start with a pot odds calculation and then move into a raw equity calculation. So in this example we’re in the BB facing a 3x and it’s folded to us. There’s 6.5 BB in the pot and we have to call 2 BB, 2/6.5 = .31, so we need 31% equity to call.
Now let’s look at a raw equity calculation using Poker Equilab:
Now when it comes to how much equity this hand will realize, there’s going to be a lot of guesswork. There’s no way around that because if there wasn’t, you’d essentially have solved poker.
Suited and connected hands realize better than their offsuit and unconnected counterparts. I would take 8s 5s over Kd 2c for sure. You’ll realize less equity against an opponent who plays good and aggressive postflop, and more equity against a passive opponent who lets you see free cards more often.
Anyway, I would call Ks 4s for sure, in fact pretty much any Ks Xx suited in this situation will realize enough equity. Play around with this, watch the big blind videos and you should be okay.
[DOUG] – To add a bit to Fee’s thorough answer, generally speaking I tend to lean towards being maybe a bit too loose, so that my opponent does not try to steal my blind in the future. Things like how tight your opponent is, how much rake is in the game, and what size did they open to, will all be by far the most important factors in deciding if you should call or not.
One thing I’m having a hard time grasping is how often we are betting/raising our C3 hands postflop. By that I mean the frequency of our bluffs.
In the live low stakes games I play (1/1/2, 2/3/5), I feel it’s pretty suicidal to play a lot of my C3 hands aggressively. You just get called down and the opponent has no understanding of your range except ‘lol flush missed, check/call with my top pair bad kicker’.
In these games, is there a way to determine a good C3 bluffing frequency? I feel like I just bleed money bluffing in these games, but then of course that means I always have it when I am going for big value. The games are loose, passive with lots of calling stations. My typical strategy is to just hope to make hands and hold, lol. The times I find bluffs work well is when c-betting against an opponent heads up if you managed to isolate.
[FEES] – Great question. This is partially why we introduced the live section of the Lab. In my Bovada Zone videos there’s very little bluffing going on. You need to bluff in games on Stars and such because for years, pretty much everyone is competent on some level. That’s not true for the small stakes spectrum of poker.
You need to be willing and able to adjust to make your strategy fit these games. What I’ve always said and am going to continue to say is PLEASE go through all the Lab stuff, then play online in a tough game that’s going to be sort of Tight Aggressive and play a lot of hands. Get good and learn what to do and how to beat these players. Like how to play for pots. Whose range is where and what do you do and really challenge yourself.
You don’t even have to do it for like a lot of money. ACRs low-mid stakes games are perfect because the regs are good enough to help you get better but bad enough that the games are easy to beat.
It’s important to challenge yourself. If you play exclusively live or in easy games, you’ll have horrible habits. I have never met somebody that plays live who I think is good. Like they’re all bad.
Ivey’s like good, but he’s not great. And he’s the only one. Just to give you an idea.
However, we’ll focus this question as if you are specifically a live player. I understand that there are a lot of skills that you have. Stuff like table image, talking to the fish, talking to the regs and knowing what they’re doing. That stuff is important and I don’t want to neglect that or take anything away from you if that’s one of your strengths.
But certainly your weakness is the technical aspect of the game. Definitely watch my live play videos. You’ll be able to get a lot from that as I will do a lot of things that you would probably never think to do. Couple that with the online advice above and you’re gonna be golden.
That said, there are definitely live games where I am not bluffing. I’m waiting for top pair, maybe second pair/good kicker and I’m betting it real big. I do this in the Bovada videos I mentioned.
You can play loose preflop. That seems to be a common misconception. Just because a game is loose doesn’t mesan you have to play really tight preflop and then really tight postflop. That really hurts your image and you’ll also miss out on playing some profitable hands.
You get to play loose preflop because you can over-realize your equity in two different ways: forcing folds or getting paid way too much.
So my strategy with the Bovada videos to getting 3-bet a lot was just to raise, play a lot of hands and then when I made a hand, I was betting big and I was going thin for value. It was basically me just sorta trying to break even or lose a little bit in the small pots, but then just drop the hammer in the big pots.
The cliffs are you can underbluff or overbluff a ton if you think it’s appropriate. You don’t have to adhere to strict regulations.
The Lab is a guideline, not a lifeline. It’s meant to be an example of how we think. This is how we approach things. Take what’s valuable and what’s useful to what you play, apply it and you’ll see results.
What is a good point to look for a private coach and how would you go about finding/selecting coaches?
[FEES] – While there is no substitute for coaching, I do have two problems with it.
First off, I would tend to be skeptical of most people who are doing paid hourly work for coaching. My understanding from others who have done it is that most of the best coaches wouldn’t coach. They just play poker and win money. They don’t really teach anybody how to play like them. So I think it’s going to be tough to find somebody in that type of market in general who would be worthwhile.
The second thing is that coaches are not going to play like us. They are going to play however they play so you’re sort of going to have conflicting material with conflicting information. So I think if you can get a good coach and pay a reasonable amount, it could be a worthwhile investment. But I also think that it would be difficult to find somebody who would fulfill that criteria.
I think you’re much better off making friends within the poker community. That’s really how I got good, when I met a “poker crew” or group of friends and began studying with them.
Now we have The Empire. With everyone sort of working together in their clique, you just sort of get benefits from it because there are going to be things that you get that your friends don’t and vice-versa.
You should be looking to make friends. The Upswing Engaged section of Facebook (for Lab users only) is a great group and includes a lot of like-minded poker players who just sort of want to get better at poker and hone their strategies while following along. There’s even I Skype Study Group, so I would start there.
I feel that in some boards I’m playing face up with my C2 hands, and in others I’m allowing my opponents to play perfectly.
What is your thought process to decide to realize your equity in C2 spots?
[FEES] – We get questions like this a lot. It’s the idea that because you never check two pair or top pair/good kicker that you’re somehow exploitable. Or that players are going to go crazy and take advantage of you when you check.
We strongly believe that this is not the case. I think there’s a lot of discomfort because it’s a rough transition to go from raising and c-betting everything to a comprehensive strategy with balanced checks, bets and such.
You have to be really privy to all this stuff because, as you’ll see in our videos, we do make adjustments. You’ll see us overbluff, underbluff, overcall, undercall, and that comes with experience. Commit to the material and tweak it as you go.
With that said, the strategy that Doug and I will use against tougher opponents is going to be a bit trickier than the Lab strategy because our opponents will be more willing to do things like overbet, 3-bet wide for value or bluff us when they think we can’t have a certain hand in a spot. In order to combat their adjustments, we’ll play slightly differently and trickier.
That just won’t be the case with most of your opponents and honestly for the sake of learning that’s not necessarily the best way. If you just play solid 100% of the time and don’t really just YOLO-off for a buy-in every once and a while you’re gonna do great.
I understand that for a number of you it will always be a challenge because you think, ‘Oh, they’re attacking me’ when that’s really not the case. I would say play less tables, perfect the strategy, make sure you have calls and folds everywhere. See what they have, learn, figure it out and grow.
The small and mid-stakes online games are not full of sicko gangsters that are fighting or killing for every pot. If anything it’s the opposite that people are just too nitty as it is.
(Ready to get serious about poker? Then check out the Lab! Learn from our extensive training course and get your questions answered by Doug, Ryan and the community!)