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Gaining Poker XP, Bubble Dominance, Blind Stealing, MTT TAG Play, Multiway Equity and ICM Considerations | Q&A | Smart Poker Study Podcast #86


Sky Matsuhashi

on August 11, 2016

In this podcast I feature 6 Q’s from the Ace-High Poker Group about some wide-ranging topics: gaining poker XP, bubble dominance, blind stealing, MTT TAG play, multiway equity and ICM considerations.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


Gaining Poker XP, Bubble Dominance, Blind Stealing, MTT TAG Play, Multiway Equity and ICM Considerations

All of today's questions from the Ace-High Poker Group over there on Facebook.  John runs a great group of poker people with over 2,000 members.  Just hit 'em up, ask John to join, and get to discussing da pokers!

Question 1 from Dan ‘Big Country' Hudson (3:20)

For new players like myself what is best way to get better and more experience?
Online games, LIVE games, what to read or who to watch ie Phil Ivey etc.

There are four things that beginners should do:

  1. Start with an attitude of “I’m playing to learn; not to earn.” Your goal in the beginning is to learn to play better poker with every hand dealt, every decision you make, every video you watch, every poker discussion you have and every moment of time you devote to studying the game. As long as you work to improve your game a little bit every day, the money will eventually come to you.
  2. Play a lot online. Start out at the micro stakes (up thru .10/.25) or the low stakes (up thru .50/1.00). You want to choose a number of tables where you don’t feel rushed and can devote enough time to make proper decisions. Give yourself the best chance to learn by thinking through your decisions. And I recommend online b/c with just one table you can put in 60+ hands per hour, but LIVE you’re lucky to get in 20 hands. More hands = more experience.
  3. Use tracking software like PokerTracker 4. Tracking software allows you to review your hands after the fact, analyze your game and your opponent’s games, tracks your progress and gives you hand histories that you can post in the FB group or in forums to get opinions from others. There’s also the heads-up display (HUD) that gives you real-time statistics on the way your opponents play the game.
  4. Develop opening ranges by position. The number of hands you should be willing to play will increase as your position becomes later (ex. BTN range should be much wider than your UTG range). Use a program like Flopzilla (the best but $$$) or Equilab (free) to decide which hands you’ll open raise from every position.

Question 2 from Stephen Taylor (7:00)

Would love to hear others thoughts and discussion around play during bubble time on MTTs. Either live or online I feel this can be a time to make a big change to your stack if you are willing to accept the risk/reward.

The bubble is a great opportunity to run up your chip stack, but that’s normally the case if you’re chip leader.  As CL, you can open pot after pot, 3bet the medium stacks relentlessly and in general be a pain in everyone’s ass with increased aggression.  When you’re at a table full of 10-20bb stacks and you’re sitting on 100 bigs, then this is your opportunity; your time to shine.

But, as a medium or short stack you can’t really do this.  You want to make the money at this point and survival is critical.  It’s said that the best players play to win and they don't concern themselves with cashing, but I have to disagree with that.  I say you should play to cash, then go for the win.  If you take unnecessary risks like shoving light into the big stack or calling off your stack just to flip for your tourney life, then you’re not setting yourself up for MTT success.

Question 3 from Shane Vaters (9:00)

How has an open blind steal changed with the popularization of an almost ATC BB defense? It seems the concept is a dinosaur with almost every player type defending wide. They seem impossible to get through as a steal these days. Do we still make the attempts but play a bit tighter post flop, check flop but bet/raise turns to make the lines look stronger, try from other late positions instead of the BTN so the steal looks a little less obvious, etc…. They do not have the effect they once did so I've been working on approaches and I don't feel the change in the BTN vs blinds landscape have been properly addressed.

  • For sure, people are defending their blinds much more as well as fighting back OOP more with donk leads and c/r on the flop. Strong lines are good, but you’ll tailor the line that you use to the opponent you’re up against.
  • I recommend keeping your steals to the CO, BTN and SB. If you’re multi-tabling, make your decisions easier by sticking with mostly value-oriented ranges in the earlier positions and stealing only in the CO and later.
  • One thing about stealing is bet sizing; never min steal.  Break-even math tells us the BB should call with almost ATC in cash games and definitely ATC in MTT's.  (Cash, the BB has to call 1bb to win 4.5bb’s which is only 22% equity needed.  MTT's is 1bb to win a pot of 5.5bb’s, which is 18% equity needed.)
  • Sure, they can call with ATC, but you're stealing, so make it 3bb's to more likely get the fold you're looking for.
  • Know your opponents in the blinds. You generally want to steal vs guys who fold a lot, as well as guys with post-flop weaknesses that you can take advantage of.
  • Here are some stats that will help you determine what type of players you have in the blinds:
    • FOLD TO STEAL – this is the most important stat initially to determine how profitable an outright steal is pre-flop. If there’s 1.5bb’s in the pot and you open to 3bb’s, your steal has to work 67% of the time. If your opponent’s fold higher than this at a decent sample size, then every steal you make is outright profitable.
    • 3BET – the higher this is the more likely he’ll fight back against your steal attempt. Make sure you have this in a popup by position so you can see how often he 3bets from the SB and BB specifically. Make a plan ahead for how you will defend vs certain 3bet %’s.
    • FOLD TO FLOP and TURN CBET – this will tell you how flop and turn honest they are in general. If they fold a lot, then throw out those bluff cbets. You want to see which street they get honest on and make sure you’ve got the chips to barrel bluff them off on that street.
    • FLOP and TURN DONK BET – you generally hit a board with something decent roughly 35% of the time, and only about 10% of the time do you hit it with something worthy of bloating the pot OOP. If your opp’s Flop Donk % is 10-12%, you can safely fold all your crap hands as he’s doing this for value. If he’s donk leading with a stat over 30-40%, then he’s often full of it and a 1-1.5x raise will often blow him off, especially if you’ve got a tighter image.
    • FLOP and TURN CHECK/RAISE – same thing as the donk bet stats, think of these %’s as about the same and you’ll have a good idea if his c/r is for value or as a bluff.
  • Another consideration is thinking about your opp’s calling range and how it interacts with the board. If his range hits the board pretty well, then bluff cbets will be much less effective.
  • Practice your stealing at lower stakes and steal with ATC at every opportunity. But don’t just make it 3bb’s and hit the raise button. You need to look at your opp’s stats first, consider how likely your steal is to work, how you can exploit him post-flop if it doesn’t work, then hit the raise button. Focusing on these things one steal at a time will improve your stealing and stat reading skills.
  • Alex Fitzgerald at Poker Head Rush made a great webinar called ‘You Flat Too Much’ where he discussed the LP steal/blind dynamics prevalent today. I recommend you purchase that from him.

Question 4 from Chas Kearns (19:00)

Has the game developed far beyond TAG style insofar that even in the early stages TAG just isn't cutting it anymore… MTT wise

  • Playing a TAG style in MTT’s is prolly still the most common style of play.  It’s still profitable vs all the nits and LP fish out there playing MTT’s.  But, many players have been able to take the LAG approach to MTT’s and be profitable with it.  In the MTT’s I play online it’s normally the players who play lots of hands and use lots of aggression that become CL’s.
  • LAG’s build massive pots that they take down with aggression or through playing hands that can crack big starting hands.
  • One of the things that Ed Miller discusses is the need to play differently from most of your opponents at the table.  If you’re surrounded by TAG’s, you’re better off playing a LAG style and pushing them off of pots and getting extra value when they don’t believe you’ve got something.  If you’re surrounded by LAG’s, playing a TAG style is pretty profitable.
  • Whatever style you choose, your success will depend on how well you adjust to the players at your tables.

Question 5 from John Thomson (21:00)

Any tips or formula for working out equity in multi way pots?

  • Repetition is the answer here with a program like Equilab from  Actually, it’s repetition with a purpose.  And that purpose is to find the cut-offs for different situations.  Cut-offs are the hands that are profitable given your assumptions of what your opponents are playing.  Any hand worse than the cut-off hand should be folded.
  • Here’s a sample scenario for finding the cut-offs in multiway pots: you have 10bb’s in the BB, there’s a CO 12bb all-in and a call from the BTN.  You want to know the worst pp, Ace and King that gives you the requisite equity to call.  The math tells us there’s 2.5bb’s in pot, 12bb shove, 12bb call, and your 10bb call will win a pot of 32.5 (with a 4bb side pot you can’t win).  So you need 27% equity (9/32.5).

cut-off hands

Question 6 from Richard White (24:15)

What should be your ICM thought process when looking at the pay jumps on and near the final table? John Juanda really opened my eyes when I saw him fold kings pre flop on an EPT final table bubble!! Big stack on big stack with a few shorties!!
Always heard go for the win, as money is top heavy!! But avoiding huge flips when stacked means folding TT to a shove even if you knew he has AK??
Your thoughts would be appreciated!! Thanks in advance!!

  • The pay jumps are definitely worth shooting for as an MTT player, so everyone should be looking to ladder up.
  • You need to consider the stack sizes left at your table and the player type that controls each.  The nittier the player, the less likely they have a weak hand when they gii.  The looser the player, the harder to steal from as they can call you with much wider ranges.  You want to figure out who you can steal from and who will fight back.
  • Push the middle stacks around if you’re the big stack.  Chip up by shoving vs the middle stacks as the small stack.  Don’t attack big stacks as the small stack (unless they’re super nitty).  Never lightly pay off the short stack shoves as the big stack.
  • Watch to see who’s coming up on their blinds.  Be ready for short stack shoves in the blinds, CO and BTN.
  • You also need to consider the pay jumps.  The bigger the jumps, the more important it is to you and your opp’s to ladder up.
  • Run ICM calculations in your off time to learn what you should be shoving and calling shoves with.  Use an ICM calculator with actual pay jumps at the FT’s you’ve played.  This will really help to foster your understanding of ICM implications.

Up Next…

In podcast #87, I'll start my new series of strategy podcasts all about poker’s minimum effective doses, or MED’s.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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