I’ve noticed there is some embarrassment associated with not “knowing everything” within micro/low stakes poker, but, due to my massive ego, I have never been ashamed to say “durrr… what?”.
I’m really happy to say that people message me all the time, men and women, to ask a question, obviously a question they feel embarrassed to ask elsewhere.
In the last few weeks, I have received a higher volume of questions, and I think this may be due to the GPL broadcasts, where the action moves fast, and both commentators (GrifGraf) are very wise and experienced poker players, so hardcore poker terms fly around like babywipes at an orgy.
I know why people don’t just type the question in the chatbox on Twitch; because if they do, they might be made to feel like an idiot.
The Twitch chatters think some of the best players in the world are “donks” and that GrifGraf, with $15mil tournament earnings between them “have no clue what they’re talking about”, so just imagine what they’d have to say to a micro-player who willingly admitted they didn’t understand!
No-one likes being made to feel stupid, so I’ve decided to put together a short list of terms that I’ve been asked about in the last few weeks.
As always, I think and write about micro-stakes, large-field MTT play only, and some terms were outside my immediate understanding. However, I do come from an academic background, and have taken a bit of time to research some alien concepts, improving my own knowledge, and hopefully now yours.
When a poker player notices a certain thing that another player is doing and changes their own play to make more profitable decisions against them.
For example, if you notice a guy always c-bets in position, you may start to check raise his c-bets in a spot you wouldn’t have normally. You’re probably doing this already without referring to it as “adjustment”, and if you’re not, you need to make sure you’re paying full attention to the behaviour of your opponents.
Balancing Your Range(s)
Easy to understand in concept, hard to do in practice.
If you always play the same hand strength in the same way, your range (the possible cards you might be holding at any given time in the hand) is unbalanced and more exploitable (because you’ve become a bit predictable).
If you play different strength hands in the same way and/or same strength hands in different ways, your range is balanced, and making decisions against you in all spots will be much harder (because there’s apparently no rhyme or reason to any action you make).
Two things must ye know about range balancing:
- It’s only important against thinking opponents who will pay attention to what you’re doing and adjust accordingly, which is not common in micro MTTs, certainly in the early/mid stages. If your opponent doesn’t care about your range, then neither should you! If they are folding to your bluffs and calling your value bets without any adjustment, then just keep on doing what you’re doing.
- This is not something to introduce into your game overnight. How to do it is easy, when to do it requires practice, a clear understanding of your opponent’s thought process and off-table work to examine where your own ranges may be weighted.
A hand you call with that only beats a bluff.
Making use of this concept requires attention to an opponent’s possible range of hands.
Think about how many value hands he has that you lose to, then think about how many possible bluffs that you beat. If he has more value hands, you should fold, if he has more bluffs that you beat, then you can call.
I type “bluffs that you beat” and not just “bluffs”, because sometimes an opponent may feel like they need to turn their weak strength hand into a bluff because they’ve read your range incorrectly, but that weak hand still beats yours.
I cannot stress how rarely I believe micro-players bluff on the river. I could be wrong, maybe I’m getting bluffed all over the shop in $5 tourneys, but I don’t think I am.
When you encounter a micro-bluffer, they are normally just maniacs who love to get their chips in for any reason, they’re not really bluffing (because a bluff is a considered and deliberate play made for specific reasons with a view to make money in an exact way), they’re just punty gamblers, and good luck to them!
I have encountered some micro-players who I have had a suspicion are actual sharks, but they are rare, so call me a pussy if you want, but I just stay out of their way and target the weaker players.
It is frustrating to lay down middle-pair on the river and be shown a random, funky bluff, but in micro-stakes poker, make a note, adjust the ranges you assign him accordingly and know that you’ll get him eventually.
Stacking off with A-high might make Fedor Holz think twice about river-bluffing you in the future, but it will have no effect on “FishyMcTardo$1” because he is not paying attention, so save your chips for a better micro-spot.
ICM: Independent Chip Model
In short, this is poker game metaphorical dick measuring and is uncommon at micro-stakes, because your average opponent hasn’t yet grown his/her poker penis.
Anyone holding cards and chips can be said to be playing poker at “a level”; as far as I am aware, there is no fixed criteria for this, although if anyone can correct me on that and ship me a definitive link, I’d be thrilled.
We could say my mum is a level 0 player.
If I registered her for a tourney, she’d sit in front of the computer and click ‘call’ or ‘raise’ or ‘fold’ with no real idea what’s going on. Maybe she likes Hearts, maybe she thinks that Queen is pretty, maybe she is getting a bit tired or bored or drunk… who the hell knows?
With a bit of practice my Mum might become a level 1 player, she now knows the difference between 2 pair and a straight and knows J-high isn’t a great hand. She will not think about any situational differences, and will be entirely inelastic and unbalanced. She’s only thinking about what cards she has, and nothing else.
Most often at micros, certainly in the early stages of MTTs, I’m a level 2 player, pretty much raising good hands and folding bad ones, although I’m always aware of not only what I have, but the possible ranges my opponent has.
I understand when I’m value betting or bluffing, I understand why I’m doing it and my average opponent does not present too much more of a challenge than assessing his average range and playing accordingly. I don’t consider my opponents to be thinking about what I have
At level 3 it’s time to starting thinking about what your opponent thinks you have. A level 3 thinker considers how their action has made them look too, and will adjust accordingly.
They won’t need to do this against a level 0/1 player, in fact it would potentially be expensive, because those players are not thinking about their opponents’ hands.
Level 3 is for outthinking level 2 players; if you are playing level 3 thinking against my mum, you are “levelling yourself”- if you thought she’d lay down bottom pair because you trebbed her with A-high and assumed she’d think about what that meant, it’s your mistake.
I’m not capable of playing at level 4 and don’t really understand, the “what does he think I think he has?” stage, but at my regular stakes, I don’t need to worry about that!
Some of the big name players have probably invented levels 5, 6, 7 and beyond, and that’s your levelling war!
They know eachother, they know how they think and that’s the cue for headfuck poker time. “He knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows….” Ad infinitum until everyone is a broken shell of a human being.
“Meta” is a prefix, Greek in origin, and the specific meaning in modern English is largely contextual. The use of the prefix has ballooned in the last 50 years to the point where it has become a mainstream reference, largely due to annoying film students cracking one out over 4th wall breaks in Woody Allen movies whilst skinning-up on their books about post-modern deconstruction.
The original Greek preposition “meta” is usually accepted to be translated as meaning “after” or “beyond”, and this is how it is best applied to poker.
In poker, “metagame” should be taken to mean a part of the game that is “outside/beyond” the mechanics and correct mathematics of an individual hand.
For example, you are facing a marginal decision against a river bet, you may find your decision to call is gently influenced by the opportunity to get information on your opponent and possibly create a certain type of image for yourself that may be profitable later on in the game.
This is not an excuse for spewing chips all over the place and smugly saying “metagame” to a table full of 50p/£1 cash donks so you look mysterious.
If you’re playing against people who will not pay attention to any image you create and will not change their playing style for any reason at all, then there are no metagame considerations to be had at that table.
Making profit from metagame plays is also dependant on a level of familiarity between you and your opponents, which is unlikely in a 3500 runner micro MTT.
That said, I have noticed that I am occasionally running into micro-regs in the last 10 tables of a large field MTT, and at that stage any extra info is useful.
If you’re a very regular player, you’re probably already taking notes on your opponents’ behaviour, and I think this is where the concept of metagame may become relevant to your micro-poker MTT grind.
If you find yourself deep in a tourney, against a good player, don’t just take notes on him, put a note about how YOU behaved. If you make a daft bluff and get caught, or are getting dealt a storm and look particularly active/mental then write this in his notes as well.
Odds are, the best micro-players are using a HUD, and taking notes on you too, and next time you play the guy deep in a tourney, a note in his profile indicating what he may incorrectly think about your style of play might be profitable in one marginal decision; deep in an MTT, that is valuable.
Polarised (or Polarized if you’re American and obzezzed with Zs)
A bet that puts a player on a hand at one end of the spectrum or the other; a polarising bet is one that seems to be unlikely to be made with a medium strength holding, it looks like it’s the nuts, or a bluff.
This is tricky one to relate to micro-stakes poker, because there are a lot of beginner players at this level, and they are not capable of evaluating the relative strength of their hand.
Top pair on a four flush board is still “the nuts” in their eyes, so an action from Jason Mercier that “polarises his range on the river” cannot be directly translated to “1stGameEverGuy164” in a $5 MTT in the same spot.
The main reason to consider whether an opponent’s range is polarised is to take that pot to showdown with a bluffcatcher.
It is my experience that micro-players are very rarely bluffing the river, and if they are, it is part of an overall maniac approach and before long they will put themselves in a position where you can call them off with greater equity.
A massive river bet in itself is not automatically “polarising”, it must be accompanied by other information collected from what he’s been doing on the river, and in other spots. If the guy is a total rock, a river bet does not polarise his possible range, we already know he only bets the stones.
This is a very advanced concept, and is only relevant against sharp minded, thinking players. It could also be said to be a purely metagame concept, both of these mean that it’s not something that micro-stakes MTT players should be losing too much sleep over.
It’s a tricky idea to get one’s head around. I’m going to be blunt here, if you are not already thinking in some depth about ranges and frequencies, then you’re not ready to worry about range-merging. Some of the most profitable off-table work you can do is to learn to recognise and react to the possible ranges of different opponent types.
Because I don’t believe this concept is massively relevant to micro-MTT players, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure I understand the idea 100% myself, I am going to provide a very short, idiot’s definition of range-merging, and if you feel you are ready to consider this as part of your game, I would suggest reading about it from people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about.
We are merging our ranges when we make a bet that we primarily think is for thin value with a mediocre holding, but we’re not entirely sure where our opponent’s at. We want our bet to look polarized so that we will get called by bluffcatchers and fold out a better hand occasionally.
In the 2+2 thread that reportedly birthed the concept of range-merging, the phrase used is “valuebluffing”, which is now widely discredited as a term, but I think helps a micro-mind get to grips with it.
To be in a position to consider our bet a successful range-merge, we have to be confident our opponent believes we are only making the bet with absolute air, or the nuts, be the type of player to understand a bluffcatcher hand and call with it, and that when they do call us with a better hand, they will see our mediocre holding and mistakenly believe they need to adjust and call us lighter in later pots.
I like to think of thin-value betting as the active version of bluffcatching.
You’re going to use the same principle, ie: working out how many hands you beat and how many hands you lose to and the smaller the gap between those two groups of hands, the thinner your value bet.
If you have a big hand, it’s easy to know you’re value-betting and you want to get called. If you have scabby rot, then it’s easy to know you are bluffing and do not want a call.
If you have a little bit, it’s easy to try to “play it safe” and check behind, but you are missing value, and given how tough it can be to make profit from poker, it’s not a great idea to ignore even small value spots.
I think this is one concept that is actually very relevant to micro-stakes play, because you are more likely to be playing against people who cannot lay down total bumholes.
I don’t think bluffing is a huge part of micro-stakes MTT poker, maybe in the last few tables, and occasionally there are some good opportunities along the way, but as a general rule, at these stakes it is so easy to extract value, that there’s no need to be a bluff machine.
If that is true, then it stands to reason that it’s worth making thin value bets in micro-MTTs, because if we don’t believe we garner enough folds from weak hands to make bluffs, then the logical antithesis of this is that we must get enough calls from weak hands to make money from thin-value bets.
I personally like to target players for thin value bets after I’ve seen them call off other players in other hands with very ropey holdings. I don’t like spending my own money to test out how light they call- I get the information before I make the play.
This has been quite a long blog, and has probably been very boring for some people. If you just want to play poker for fun or gambling, don’t worry about any of this crap. None of it can be used against you anyway if you’re just enjoying a gambling game of cards- you carry on and enjoy yourself.
If you are a serious micro-player, but all of this was insanely alien to you, don’t worry- it is my honest belief that you are not encountering enough opponents who have the thinking and elastic style needed to make these plays useful or profitable against them.
If you feel any of these concepts are relevant to your own developing game, please do not stop here, this was only ever intended as an introduction and a way to prove micro-players don’t need to stress about understanding all these terms.
I haven’t covered all the questions I’ve been asked, as I don’t want to bang on too long, but these terms were the main ones asked about, so if I’ve missed yours, I’m sorry! I will no doubt collect a few more and write another similar blog in the future so we can all keep learning together!