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Q&A: Calling Post-flop, A Newb Focus and Prioritizing Studies | #281


Sky Matsuhashi

on March 5, 2020

What should a newb focus on? I answer this question, another about prioritizing 5 different study topics, and what to consider before calling post-flop.

Question 1: Post-flop Calling

From: Jack Davis

I need to improve my knowledge on check/calling ranges on the flop. I don’t understand the theory behind it or if there’s an optimal defense frequency I should follow.


Whether you're IP or OOP, the logic behind calling is the same, so I won't address specifically just check-calling.

Here's the most important thing: DO NOT treat calling as a default.  That’s how fishy players play.  They don't know what to do, so they call. When they hold any draw, they call. They hope you’re bluffing and their 4th pair is good, so they call.

Do NOT be a fish. Have a good reason to call cbets.

There are only 3 reasons to call:

1. You have a value hand

Your hand is ahead of their betting range and winning often enough at showdown. For example, you hold TPTK and you know they can bet weaker TP hands or lesser pairs. You also don’t want to bloat the pot yet and you have no reason to suspect they’re drawing to a better hand, so there’s little need to raise and charge them right now.

Or, your hand is just strong enough to beat your opponent's bluffs (call to bluff-catch). If they can bet their busted flush draws and Ace-high hands, you can call with your 1 pair hand. But, you want to be sure they can bluff in this spot, so hopefully you've seen them bluff here before and you've taken note of it. Don't just guess or hope they can bluff.

Lastly, your hand is incredibly strong and you don’t want to let them know just yet.  If your call deceives them into thinking your hand is weak, you may gain more value from future cbets.

2. You see an opportunity to bluff later

Maybe you know they’re honest on the next street because you see their Cbet statistic goes from 75% on the flop to 45% on the turn. So, you can call on the flop with the plan to bet once they check the next street.

Or, if it’s a wet board and your call reps a draw, you might be able to steal on the turn when a draw-completing card hits like a 3rd spade.

It’s important to note that if you're planning on bluffing, generally, the sooner the better.  As the hand progresses and cbets and calls are made, the pot is growing.  Bluffs are more expensive on the turn than on the flop, when raising versus betting and in 2bet pots versus 3bet pots.

Hand History Review: Finding Calling Mistakes

3. You have a good draw and the price is right to call

Do not just call because you have a draw.  Your opponent is setting a certain price to call, so make the call if you’ve done the outs and odds math and the price is right.  Fishy players call with any draw regardless of price.  You’ve got to have standards if you want to profit in this game, and the break-even point for calling is a perfect line in the sand to draw.

I don't believe in following some sort of minimum defense frequency (MDF).  My job is to make the best decision possible given all the relevant factors of the hand.  It is NOT to make sure your plays aren't successful against me.  If they align, then great!  This might be like calling with 2nd pair being the mathematically correct play and it also seems like the right play because I know you bluff a lot here.

Other times, maybe MDF math says I should call with 2nd pair on the flop. But, I'm OOP and you're super aggressive and capable of firing 3 streets against me. I don’t have much equity and my call on the flop emboldens you to fire the turn then the river. I don’t want to call multiple streets with such a weak hand and potentially give you value. I’d rather exit the hand now.

Taking action on and off-the-felt is the only way to plug your poker leaks

Use a Calling Tick Sheet

With every post-flop call you make this week, have a good reason to do so. Use a tick sheet with 3 columns. 1) Value hand; 2) Bluff Later; 3) Good Draw Price. Make a tick under the relevant column before you call. This will force you to put more thought into your decision to call.

Question 2: What should a Newb focus on?

From: Mark Moore

I am fairly new to the game of Texas Hold’em and currently play small stakes cash games with friends on a monthly basis. I would like to improve my skills in 2020.  What are the top one or two areas of the game that you think are most important for a novice to focus his improvement efforts on. Pre-flop opening ranges by position, bet sizing, poker math, … something else?


For somebody new to HE, you nailed it with preflop ranges being the first thing to focus on.  Check out my epic post on preflop ranges for help.  Make sure you take action with the action steps to practice your preflop range use.



Next, you MUST have a reason for every play you make post-flop.  There's so much to study and learn but if you start with this, you'll have a head start on cbetting or check-raising or 3betting or board textures or bet sizes or folding when necessary.

Before every button click, complete one of these sentences:

I'm calling here because ___.

I'm raising here because ___.

I'm betting here because ___.

I'm folding here because ___.

Because you’re a Holdem newb, you might not be able to voice a good reason yet. But, developing the habit of always having a solid reason behind every play is will help your poker journey immensely.

If you say, “I’m betting here because, well, I don’t know. Why would I bet here?” When you can’t voice a good reason, you’ll realize it’s probably not the best play to make and you’ll do something else instead.

Always Voice a Reason

Over the next week, and for the rest of your poker journey, voice a reason before every button click. For LIVE players, voice a reason in your head before knocking the table, committing chips or mucking your hand. Work to train this as a habit now.

Question 3: Prioritize Studies to Avoid Overwhelm

From: Jeff Silver (In a prior email, Jeff told me he’s overwhelmed by all he’s trying to study.)

I’m trying to catch up on your 5-minute coaching videos, learn to work with stats and PokerTracker 4 and Flopzilla. My hand reading and understanding of combos and blockers also needs a lot of work.  And, I have downloaded several different preflop ranges and I am trying to “get a feel for them”.  I have a lot of time to study in the snowy winters.


That's a lot of items to study and it's no wonder you feel overwhelmed. Just take on one thing at a time.  For that list of items, here's how I would prioritize them:

  1. Use preflop ranges to get a “feel” for them. Do these one at a time (ignoring the other ones) and for maybe 5 sessions each. Start with the ranges that are the tightest (probably my KISS ranges which I attached here) then test out wider ranges next and so on.
  2. Focus on ONE stat from the Smart HUD for each session you play. Write down the definition and the formula and write down what you think “high” and “low” frequencies are.  The higher or lower a player’s stats, the more likely there’s a way to use it to exploit them.
  3. Hand reading practice with Flopzilla. Watch one of my hand reading videos and copy what I do. 66 Days of Hand Reading on YouTube.
  4. Watch the 5-minute coaching videos. One at a time, take notes and practice what you learn before watching another video. Maybe one video every 3 days.
  5. Work on combo understanding and blockers.

Do nothing but #1 above for this weekend and probably for the next 2 weeks.  Use one set of ranges first for 5 days (start with the tightest) then choose another set of ranges for the next 5 days and so on.

You've got all the time in the world to study everything you want to, but not all the brain space to do more than one thing at a time (nobody does).

Take action to plug poker leaks

Prioritize Your Studies

Make a list of the things you want to study and prioritize your list. Start with #1 and ignore everything else. Work on this until you feel your skills are solid, then move on to #2.

Support the Show

Rogier Luijnenburg picked up PokerTracker 4 (get it here to support the show), the best poker tracking software.  I love it and use it everyday!  In appreciation, I sent him a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4.  With an ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.

Eric Smith & Ryan Morse bought the Smart HUD with a 1.5 hour webinar for PokerTracker 4.  It’s the best online poker HUD in the business with every critical stat in the HUD and the 7 custom popups. This is what every online player needs to maximally exploit opponents.


Sky Matsuhashi

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