. The remainder of this article shall serve as a short discussion on the aspects of my game that have improved the most over the last few months.
Core tools of improvement
Bet sizing: For something so crucial, bet sizing is severely underplayed in most training videos that I have seen. I now seek to find the optimal bet size dependent upon the opponent, his perception of my range and the board texture in each situation. I list the opponent first because this is usually the most important factor. A decent regular should be aware that your UTG triple-barrel range is really strong on a run out of AQ293 with a missed flush draw possible on the river. However a loose-passive player who is ignorant of relative hand strength will call A2xx on the river here (and other picked up two pair besides). The loose-passive will also show up with many more bad flush draws than the decent regular. If you have a “standard” river bet size with your whole range in this spot for all opponents you have a massive leak. What compounds this leak is that you often think you are playing well because having the same size with your range means you are “balanced” here in your mind. Rather you should pot with AQxx or better against the loose-passive and consider a bet of 40-60% pot with air if he has enough missed draws in his range (especially if he calls two streets with KQJx/QJTx/AJTx etc.). How to bet against a decent regular is a longer discussion, but you should be aware (work it out yourself) of what happens to his river range if he call/call/folds AQxx and tends to raise sets before the river.
Another common situation where bet sizing can be highly exploitative is in 3bet pots. If, after you 3bet and are called, your opponent tends to play raise/fold on the flop you should size your continuation bets smaller with your whole range. In this way you are reducing the amount of money he makes when you fold (fold equity is a key component for his strategy to be profitable) and increasing the money he gets in bad if he is shoving pair+gutter into your bet/calling range. His correct adjustment is to call the flop wider, but many PLO regulars are so comfortable with the ranges that they have played for hundreds of thousands of hands that they are too stubborn to change over a little thing like a change in bet size. Against players who call wider you will now need to work out your turn and river ranges. Congratulations! You now get to play some poker rather than enjoying a variance war. This last point segues into…
Focusing on a high win-rate: At first glance, listing this as a concept sounds trivially tautologous, “Thanks Quad, you tell me I can win a lot of money by focusing on winning a lot of money!” However, the point I am making is rather more subtle and crucial for the poker player who uses PLO as a revenue stream. Being a marginal winner in PLO is hell, you will experience significant downswings on a weekly basis and never know whether a given day/session is going to bring the next vomit-worthy run of beats and coolers. The most popular way of “beating variance” is to play a ton of hands, either by mass-multitabling, playing Zoom, playing monster sessions or some combination of the three. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t stop the downswings, it just seeks to out-run them. In fact, since you are playing so many hands the downswings can be even more severe over the short-run. Since we all have greater or lesser mental leaks, some of these downswings cause us to play badly. This lowers our win-rate (possibly turning a marginal winner into a loser) which makes the downswing even more severe. I am writing of course, from experience, and indeed one of my biggest mental leaks when I suffer a run of beats is my tendency to open up a ton of tables to try and get the money back as quickly as possible. My solution (and one of the factors which prompted me to start this blog) is to increase my expected win-rate to the extent that downswings are less common and less severe. The only way to do this is to get much better at PLO (and at the mental game) than my opponents. By improving my theoretical understanding of the game and then practicing that at the table, my expected win-rate has improved substantially. By way of example, on more than one occasion in June I ran 10 buy-ins below EV in a session, got repeatedly out-flopped by glorious South-American regulars set-mining against my AA in 4bet pots, and still won 10+ buy-ins in the session. This was huge for my confidence, and the combination of winning/breaking-even when running badly, as well as being able to observe the theoretical leaks in my opponents games, allowed me to play my ‘A’ game for longer periods. Finally, focusing on improving allowed me to worry less about the daily swings, and indeed checking my results at then start of July was a pleasant surprise. Most of this graph was achieved by playing 7-8 tables, which gave me time to notice +EV spots I would otherwise miss such as…
Barreling fish: This bears repeating, you have got to fire the river against players who call the flop and turn light if you want to maximally exploit them. I had often had this concept pass through my mind, but it was only when I started running the numbers on my opponent’s ranges in these spots that I gained the confidence to start doing it regularly. Because of the NLHE-inherited bias towards pre-flop stats it seems counter-intuitive to fire a river barrel with total air against a player playing 80/3. Nevertheless, the fact that these players often have so many draws and weak made hands in their turn calling ranges, coupled with the fact that PLO is a game where people fold one pair on the river, means that such opponents are often calling only 10-30% of their range to a river barrel. Indeed some players call the flop and turn so wide that we can triple barrel any river card with air, since they fold all their missed draws on a brick and fold all their weak made hands on a completed draw. I cannot emphasize this point enough, continually picking up these 40BB pots on the river with a bluff pads your win-rate to the extent that losing a few 70-30s will roll off you like water off a duck’s back.
I would like to conclude this article by thanking any of you who have been directing people to this blog. I have experienced another surge in readership over the last week and I am very results-oriented with my blogging. Building a broad readership base keeps me motivated to keep posting, and writing regularly on PLO theory has helped my game enormously. So thank you all for reading, and please continue to introduce your poker buddies to this blog. If you haven’t subscribed already, please do in the sidebar. Fair warning: the subscriber article will change next week, so if you haven’t read it by then you will miss out!