John Beauprez is a PLO cash game pro and entrepreneur who splits his time between Denver, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada. He won a WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em tournament in 2013 for a cool $325,000 in cash.
John founded the PLO training site PLOQuickPro in 2010 to help players learn the core fundamentals of PLO, improve their non-showdown winnings and move up in stakes. Last year he created the Bracelet Hunter podcast dedicated to interviewing the most successful WSOP players in today’s games, and allowing them to reveal the proven strategies for succeeding at poker tournaments. With his wealth of live poker experience and his success at the World Series, I’m delighted to have him feature as a guest writer on the blog today.
In this article he explains some key adjustments that online players need to make when they hit the live tables. He covers a ton of ground that will make you feel more confident the next time you play PLO offline.
Three Live PLO Adjustments for Online Players
For online players, there is an understandable lure to playing in big live cash games. In poker, nothing feels better than sitting on a mountain of chips in either…
a big high stakes cash game…
or deep in a big live tournament…
Right now it’s the season for online grinders to make the pilgrimage to Las Vegas to compete in the biggest PLO tournaments and cash games in the world, so naturally the timing is perfect to write about live PLO strategy.
As a self-proclaimed PLO pro, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career was making the transition from aggressive online short-handed games to full-ring deep stacked passive play. Assuming that most of the readers here are primarily winning online players, my goal is to educate you on what I’ve observed to be effective adjustments to playing live poker, all of which I implement in my own game today.
Tip #1: Choose Your Buy-In Based On Table Aggression
Most players mistakenly choose their buy-in amount based on stake, but in reality, selecting the optimal amount of BB’s to come in for depends heavily on the level of table aggression. In the early days of online poker, short-stacking in NL was a highly effective strategy. The combination of “openy” players and their inability to properly adjust to the all in move made 20 tabling an easy task.
In live PLO, limping and passive preflop play is more commonplace. And with the pot-sized re-raising restrictions in place, short-stacking loses its effectiveness because you can’t simply jam over limpers, or re-jam all in like you can in NL. Furthermore, those who choose to buy in short are surrendering an equity edge, because there’s significant profit to be had from “over-nutting” opponents when deep stacked. The average caliber of player is typically lower at small and medium sized games when compared to online, so it’s common to find players who overvalue middle sets and mediocre draws.
Therefore, I typically recommend that competent players buy in as deep as possible (assuming they are adequately bankrolled). Often I advise players to buy in shorter when shot-taking, but that’s not simply because of the monetary buy-in amount, but because shot-taking inherently means higher stakes where from more aggressive games are common. As the number of aggressive openers and three-bettors increases, a short stacking strategy becomes more effective.
Tip #2: The Straddle changes everything
I’ve played games as small as .50/1 and as big as 25/50, and in every game the stakes played considerably bigger than a typical online six-max game. The primary reason is due to frequent and highly encouraged straddling. This is somewhat true in NL as well, but PLO is legendary for it’s gambling nature and the action-starved patrons it attracts. For a recreational player, nothing gets the blood pumping like picking up a big hand on the straddle.
Most Vegas casinos only allow UTG straddles, but in many other casinos (including the Rio during the WSOP) and underground games, Mississippi straddling (straddling the button) is also permitted. Occasionally you’ll even see double straddling. In fact, years ago I played a game at Aria that began as a typical 2/5 game.. But by the end of the night, we changed it to a mandatory straddle of 2/5/10/20/40/80!
Needless to say, frequent straddling results in more action.. Lighter stack offs.. Frequent rebuys.. And deeper stacks than are seen in both online PLO and live NL. For example, buying in for 1.5k at 2/5 is normal, as is coming in for 2-5k at 5/10.
The lure of straddling is derived from having the last option pre-flop. In NL this has some merit when facing loose-passive and straightforward opponents that will either:
- Limp/Fold to a raise
- Call your raise and play passively to c-bets
In PLO, the latter may be true in some instances but generally straddling only incentivizes multi-way action, thereby virtually eliminating any preflop fold equity (since the maximum bet isn’t enough to drive anyone out of the pot). Although straddling is usually –EV, here’s a few situations where it can become +EV.
- When everyone is doing it.
Clearly, if the straddle is on every hand, no player holds an edge from a game-theory standpoint. When this happens, note that the stakes have effectively doubled.
- To keep the fish in the game.
It’s no secret that when fish get bored, they swim away. Particularly in short-handed games, I make it a point to adhere to any demands the fish may have. If straddling is the difference between landing a fish or watching him swim away, I’ll gladly fulfill his request.
- Four-handed with a tight player on your left.
This is an ideal situation, because you basically get the button twice per orbit.
- Three-handed button straddle.
Last Action Preflop (information advantage) + Dead Money From Limps/Raises = $$$
- Heads-Up button straddle.
Even an opponent with a balanced limp/raising strategy has a difficult time countering the advantage of a HU button straddle.
Tip #3: Open Limping And Early Position Opening Ranges
Although 9-handed PLO runs sparingly online, full-ring PLO is practically all that runs live, so it’s important to understand how to modify your default preflop hand selection and open sizings. In any setting, I generally try to enter as many pots as I can without getting exploited. And while overall I believe that a “tight is right” preflop approach is good in full ring, the following are a few useful tips I’ve found to help increase my range from early position without being exploited.
Because of the deeper stacks, variable straddling positions, and 9-handed structure, open limping is more common in live PLO. Whether I decide to limp any given hand is determined by the number of aggressive players left to act. As a default I always open premium holdings, but with complete maniacs behind I like to balance my open limps with limp/raises.
Limp/raising is effective because typically many calls will follow an aggressive player’s isolation raise. This makes a limp-raise strategy profitable because of the weak cold calling ranges of our opponents, the dead money we capitalize on when the cold callers fold, the dead money we collect when we c-bet the flop, and the stacks we win our money goes in ahead postflop.
The quality of any preflop decision is based almost entirely on creating the most profitable postflop situation in terms of position, SPR, and number of opponents. With low three-betting frequencies and deep stacks, we can assume that the majority of the time we’ll be left OOP in single-raised pots. So besides the obvious premium starters, what kind of hands are we looking for?
- I prefer to fit in as many polar hands as the table will allow me to get away with. Conventional wisdom says that QQ** hands are worthless, but as long as I have backup I believe they have value. I’ve found that in loose games players are more willing to play weak pairs that appear to be good NLHE starting hands. From EP I have no problem playing AQQ5ss, QQ98ss type hands. As long as you are getting thin value and/or losing the minimum on KQx and AQx boards, as well as pot controlling on dynamic QT6s boards, they can be very powerful.
- While I prefer to play them in position, if the table will let me min open or limp for cheap, I like 9987ss and TT86ss hands. These hands can connect very strongly on the flops where people overvalue middle sets and are capable of winning pots. In position they have good straight blocker potential and are quite valuable.
As a default I prefer pot-sized opens when I choose to enter the pot raising. Here’s a few reasons why:
- Abiding by tight open range standards in full-ring, our hands will have an intrinsic equity advantage, and therefore building a pot for the maximum size works to our advantage. Furthermore, the amount of three-betting is typically lower in live play, so I’m less concerned about opening and folding or getting exploited in this way.
- In particularly aggressive games, switch to min opens or limping in. As long as you stick to proper hand selection guidelines, you’ll reap the benefits of a tight strategy and in multi-way pots will mostly gain profit from over-nutting opponents.
- Here’s a strategy that works both online and live. Maniacal players will oftentimes look for reasons to three-bet, and often are deterred from doing so when you open for pot. With 1+ maniacs at the table I often min open the pot to induce three-bets. I’ve observed much wider squeezing ranges facing min opens than when potting it. Therefore, a good spot for min opening is when we have mediocre aces that benefit from both a high-SPR multi-way scenario when we do not get three-bet, and when we do, we are able to put in a large four-bet (assuming there are callers and cold-callers).
- Also take into consideration that choosing to min-open can often allow you to see a cheaper flop than limping. Let’s say for example we open for 2bb. A hand that someone may have chosen to isolate against your limping range will likely just call now. If we limp for 1bb and several other players limp, an isolation raise can cost 4.5-6bb, whereas a min open costs only 2. Therefore, if I notice low three-betting frequencies I will simply min-open hands I otherwise would’ve limped in order to see cheaper flops.
Most online players view live PLO as a huge grind (and it certainly can be). Although full ring PLO certainly has its disadvantages (only seeing 30-45 hands an hour for example), there is serious profit to be made for the online players willing to implement some of the adjustments outlined above.
QUESTION(S) OF THE WEEK: Before you get back to the grind, leave me a comment below and let me know how you adjust to playing live PLO. If you don’t presently play live games what changes would encourage you to join them more often?