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Q&A: Beginner Preflop Strategy, Better Calls, AK Missed the Flop #214


Sky Matsuhashi

on December 5, 2018

In this episode, I answer 3 questions about beginner preflop strategy (what they MUST consider before entering a pot), how to make better calls and what to do when AK misses the flop.

In episode 213, I discussed my profitable results from playing in the 14th Annual Turkey Shoot tournament.

Q1: What beginners should think before entering a pot (5:20)

From: Brad Olson

Q: One thing I am starting to notice is that as a beginning player, I am not as positionally aware as I should be. Sometimes I will see a decent flop UTG and start betting on instinct without thinking things through. When I am on the button, it’s a lot easier as I see the action folding in front of me. How can I keep my head in the game and be more aware of where the button is during online play?


This is a great question because it’s a common problem for beginning players.

YouTube video (please subscribe and ding the bell):

Take action:

In your next five play sessions ask and answer this question before you enter any pot preflop:

“What situation am I likely to face on the flop?”

These four factors should be part of your answer:

  1. Your relative position
  2. The likely opponents
  3. The pot size
  4. How your range compares

Example 1: you are considering a 3bb CO open-raise with QJs.

The BTN is a nit, the SB is passive and the BB is a nit. Everyone has 100bb stacks.

Your answer to the question might be:

“I will be in position on the flop versus a weak passive player with a deep enough stack to get good value out of my stronger range and decent holding.”

Because this is an appealing situation to be in, go ahead and open raise here with the QJs.

Example 2: same situation as above except all 3 players love to call and see flops.

New answer:

“I will be in the middle of 3 other weak passive players. It's gonna be hard to bluff these 3 off of the flop, so I might end up just folding with this speculative hand if I hit nothing.”

Because this is not a great situation to be in, instead of raising to 3bb's, you might make it 3.5 or greater in an effort to limit the callers.  Or you could just fold the hand and observe the action.

The choice is up to you, but the critical thing is that you analyzed the situation and made a play based on the likely outcome of entering the pot right now.

Over time, these thoughts will become 2nd nature and you won't even have to think about this question. There are many other things you can think about besides these 4 factors, but those will come to you with time and practice.

Side note re: last week's episode.

I made a really good chop with my 4th place finish in the 14th Annual Turkey Shoot!  My $537 deal was $122 better than a “fair” ICM chop (according to's ICM Calculator).


Q2: Improving Preflop Calls (10:15)

From: “Jay”

Q: Calling 2bets pre with a negative win rate in all but the EP; Calling 3bets pre, negative in all but the BTN.


Jay's win rates are terrible when calling 2bets and 3bets preflop. This is the first thing Jay needs to work on.  Listeners: see if these are leaks you suffer from as well by running quick 2bet call and 3bet call filters in your PokerTracker 4 database.

Over your next 5 sessions, utilize the calling ranges you already have.  If you don't have calling ranges yet, I give them to you in Preflop Online Poker.

Before every click of the CALL button (even if the hand falls within your range), complete this sentence:

“Calling in this spot is a profitable play because ____.”

You don't have to be able to come up with a mathematically sound reason or an infallible argument. You just have to complete the sentence with any logical answer before you click CALL.

Good answer: 

“Calling in this spot is a profitable play because they're opening with every Ace and every King, and my ATo is ahead of that range.”

Bad answer:

“Calling in this spot is a profitable play because… I don't know. I just don't want to fold my big blind.”

To actively work on these leaks, you need to play your poker sessions with a calling focus.

Create 2 hand tags in PT4 for tagging call-related hands. The first will be called “NoCallPreflop” and the 2nd will be “CalledPreflop”.

Use the first tag, “NoCallPreflop” every time you think about calling, but decide not to because it’s an unprofitable situation to be in. Use the 2nd tag, “CalledPreflop” when you made the call.

In your study sessions, pull up the hands with these tags and review them. Take the time off the felt to justify your decisions. Write down the reason for every call or every fold in your poker journal.

At the end of the week you might have 50 lines written because you’ve reviewed 50 tagged hands. Examples:

“I called because I ended the action in the BB and my hand plays well post-flop.”

“I called to set mine with greater than 20x implied odds.”

“Didn't call because I didn’t want to go 5-ways to the flop with J8s.”

“Didn’t call because the CO and BTN are very aggressive and they love to squeeze from those positions.”

Calling is less profitable than raising, so hopefully by the end of your studies you’ll have more sentences that being with “I didn’t call” than sentences that begin with “I called”.

Start your audiobook learning by picking up ‘Preflop Online Poker' through Click the pic above to begin your free 30-day trial or to purchase the audiobook version if you're already a member.

Checkout Splitsuit's post on the best poker audiobooks.

Q3: What to do when AK misses the flop (16:15)

From: Ryan Cain

Q: How do I play AK from the blinds after 3betting a late position steal, completely whiff the flop? I feel like I'm check/folding too often. Love the book and online content so far!


This is a great question, and it's asked by so many people. So many, in fact, that there's a ton of content already created out there regarding it.

I recommend that you study the following links in this order: I like how this article simplifies 3 different types of flops and how you should generally approach each. I like how Ben Hayle dives a little deeper than the Upswing Poker article, and he gets into Villain types as well and gives a good hand example. This one gets a bit deep, and if you like it, consider getting Splitsuit's latest book, Optimizing Ace King

I recommend that you study these 3 items and take notes on the most important things. Then, come up with strategies to practice in-game. Putting what you're learning into practice is the most important part.

Some of my advice:


Your question revolved around post-flop play, but every hand starts preflop, so that’s where you should always begin analyzing a situation.

First, about AK itself. I’ve trained myself to look at AK as just having an Ace and a King. Too many players see this hand and $$$ start flashing in their heads. Don’t allow your expectations of making money to suddenly skyrocket when you look down at this hand.

Before you make that 3bet with AK, know what you’re trying to accomplish with it. This isn’t a hand that needs to be 3bet every single time. It can be a very good calling hand because it’s ahead of most cards your open-raising opponent has. It’s a good idea to mix in calls, especially if you’re in the BB and your call ends the action and you're HU to the flop. HU with AK in a 2bet pot is a great spot to be in, even though you’re OOP.

Before you click RAISE on a 3bet, ask yourself, “How will my opponent respond?”

If you think they’re folding most of the time, great! Your simple 3bet just made 3.5bb+.

If you think they’re going to call, prepare yourself for post-flop play.

  • How does your opponent play the flop versus a cbet IP?
  • Are they capable of calling here solely with the intent of betting once you check?
  • What 3bet calling range will this opponent have?

What is your Cbet stat in 3bet pots? Maybe your opponents know you’re flop honest when OOP in 3bet pots.  They can use this tendency of yours to call every 3bet with the plan of taking the pot down as soon as you check the flop. You’re flop honest if your Cbet is at 50% or lower in this spot.

These are the things you want to ask and answer in order to prepare yourself for post-flop play, and the answers might even sway you to call the raise instead of making the 3bet.


Let’s work with the idea that you 3bet and they called.

Here’s something important to know about AK: it only hits a pair 33% of the time on the flop. The other 67% of the time it’s simply to overcards (with possible fd and sd potential based on the board).

So, when you’re dealt the AK, don’t have crazy expectations of 3betting it, getting called, flopping a top pair hand in getting 3 streets of value. More often than not, 2 out of every 3 hands (67%) will find you missing the flop. So now that you know this, be prepared for it.

Because you missed the flop, a cbet here is actually a bluff cbet. There are two things you need to answer now:

1. Will my opponent fold to a cbet?

What is your opponent’s Fold to Flop Cbet stat when IP in 3bet pots? How does this board hit their range? Is it an extremely wet board like Tc9s8s, or is it a dry board like Q73r?  The wetter the board, the less likely they’ll fold. The dryer the board, the more likely they’ll fold.

2. How much will I have to make it?

If you think they can find a fold, determine the sizing you need. You’ll likely have to go at least half-pot.  You're in a 3bet pot and if SPR is low (3 or less) then your bet has a smaller chance of succeeding.  Because of this, you might have to make a larger cbet bluff.

In bigger SPR pots, it's easier to bluff so you might be able to use smaller bluff bets.


Challenge (23:45)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:   Before every preflop call in your sessions this week, complete the sentence, “Calling in this spot is a profitable play because ____.” Then, make your play and tag the hand with “CalledPreflop” or “NoCallPreflop”.

Take the time to review each of these hands and try to justify your decision. Write down the reason why you made your play in your poker journal. Let’s see if you can’t write down 50+ reasons this week. And hopefully, you’ll have more “I didn’t call” sentences than “I called” sentences.

Now it’s your turn to pull the trigger and do something positive for your poker game.


Support the Show

So many Black Friday/Cyber Monday supporters two weeks ago!  I appreciate each of you so much.  Thanks!!!

The Smart HUD for PT4: Dan B., Al Mathews and Jean-Bernard Morin

Getting the Most from PokerTracker 4 Webinar: JP Lebeuf, Omar Gutierrez and Perttu Leinitty

Mashing the Micros Webinar: Laura Sadowski and Lewis Sterling

Poker Mathematics Webinar: Mihai C., Chuck Broyles and Alex Sauter

How to Study Poker Webinar: Laura Sadowski

Expert Hand Reading Webinar: Perttu Leinitty

Opponent Destruction Webinar: Eric Anderson

Rejamming Like a BOSS Webinar: Greg Vogelsperger

How to Study Poker Volume 1 PDF: Paul Treveyne and Ben Leclair

How to Study Poker Volume 2 PDFPaul Treveyne and Perttu Leinitty

Preflop Online Poker (PDF and audiobook combo)Raul G. and Lewis Sterling


Up Next…

In episode 215, I interview Steve Fredlund of the RecPoker Podcast and we discuss his history, podcast and LIVE tournament poker.

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


Sky Matsuhashi

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