I haven't posted any articles on here since my Continuation Bet article quite some time ago, so I thought I'd share another with you, since the others have had such popular responses. As always, if you have any comments or suggestions, don't be shy. Hope you enjoy.
Playing good poker is more than just playing your cards and perhaps your opponent’s cards. It’s really about playing the opponent you’re up against. What that means is that while the cards are important, you can win a lot more pots if you pay attention to how your opponent plays the game. When you pay attention by taking good notes, you can apply this information to sometimes win when you don’t have the best hand. In some cases this information can also be used to get away from a good but obvious second-best hand, push a marginal hand, or make a bold bluff that you wouldn’t normally make against most opponents.
In this three-part article we’ll focus on what kind of notes to take on your opponents and how to apply these notes in order to make good reads on your opponents. The reads you make influence the action you should take on your hand. We’ll discuss how your reads translate into making the best play in order to maximize the value of your hand and minimize your losses.
Types of Notes to Take
One of the biggest advantages of playing online for the good poker player is the amount of data and notes you can take on an opponent seemingly instantly. Most sites offer an area where you can click on an opponent’s name and type in some notes about that player. It’s not quite as easy to do in live play, and when you do this in live play people know that you are aware of that hand and how it was played. In online play, no one knows if you’re watching TV or intently watching every hand and making pages of notes.
It’s best to view taking notes on your opponents as the “work” aspect of playing profitable poker. While it’s possible to play profitable poker without taking notes, it will inevitably be more profitable to take as many notes as possible for the following reasons:
1. When a similar situation or hand arises, you’ll have more information available that can help you make the best decision possible.
2. It will help you in getting an overall read on how your opponent is playing.
3. Even if you never play against that particular opponent again, it will help you in understanding how to play against a similar player in the future.
We’re going to begin by outlining some of the general things you should look for while playing poker. Each type of play will have an abbreviation that you can use which will help if you are multi-tabling and only have a couple of seconds to jot in a note. You can expand these and/or type in the entire meaning of the play when you actually make your own notes during play.
List of Abbreviations (Brief Overview)
ATC (Play any two cards) – Whenever a hand goes to showdown it’s always good to note what hands your opponent was playing and from where. This always provides a lot of insight into how he thinks about the game. When you see someone play 95o from middle position, you can label him as ATC. The more you see this from him, the more solid your read will be.
FC (Flush Chaser) – A lot of opponents love to chase flushes. When you see someone calling large flop and turn bets with an obvious flush draw, but he folds to a small river bet, you can be pretty sure he was chasing his flush. Also, if you see an opponent calling large bets and then connecting with his flush, you’ll want to note this. It’s also important to note whether he CHECKED his flush on the end or bet it.
SOOT (Likes to play any two suited cards) – This is similar to FC except there are some players who also like to play any two suited cards from nearly anywhere. When see opponents play K4s from early position, or J6s from middle position, you can be pretty sure they’re a suited player. This is good to know if there’s a flush draw on board and you have a marginal hand, but they’re still calling large bets. It’s also good to note if they call raises with these hands too. Some people will call large raises with Q8s thinking that they will bust you if they hit their flush. We love to play against these types of opponents.
AK (Will bet turned unimproved) – Nearly everyone will bet the flop with any two cards if they raised before the flop. Not everyone, however, will bet the turn unimproved. This is very good to know if you’re holding a marginal hand and your opponent is still firing. This read will be a bit harder to make, because you definitely need to see a few showdowns to confirm this for sure.
CRW (Calls raises with weak hands) – This opponent will call large raises, for example, with QT out of position, or perhaps even a re-raise with KJ or some other dominated hands. He could also call a large raise with A4o or even a more speculative hand like J8o.
LAF (Will lead into pre-flop raiser and fold to a raise) – Some opponents will call raises out of position with the intention of betting the flop to steal the pot. Some opponents will do this with small pocket pairs, and some will do it with air. If you get a chance to make the distinction between the two, it will be very helpful with your flop play. However, when you see someone do this, then you’ll want to make some generous raises on the flop when you have a hand, and sometimes when you don’t have a hand.
Ax (Will play any ace from anywhere) – A lot of opponents fall in love with the Ace. If you see someone playing A3 from early position or A8 to a raise, or a hand like A9 out of position to a raise, then you have an Ax player. This just adds more insight for you as to how your opponent understands the game, and you can also get away from your pocket kings if this opponent is sticking around on an ace high flop because he’s not folding his weak ace.
NPR (Will raise a non-premium hand) – Some opponents will raise a non-premium hand from anywhere. The range which they take this to the extreme will let you know how loose and aggressive they are. Opponents who raise a hand like KQ from late position are good to know, but not as loose and aggressive as someone who raises Q9s from middle position.
LRR (Will limp re-raise big hands) – Some opponents limp re-raise every once in awhile, and some do it habitually. Anytime you see someone limp re-raise with KK or AA from EP make a note and know that it’s unlikely he is making a play if he comes back over the top of your raise.
LA (Look-up artist) - This is a very profitable opponent to play against. He will typically call nearly any flop bet you make but will fold to further aggression. He tends to like to see how you’ll react after he calls your first bet, but folds a large percentage of the time to a second bet.
Applying your abbreviated reads to situations
Now that we have an idea of some of the things to look for, let’s look at how to use this information in a real money game. We’re going to take the above abbreviated notes, expand them a bit more, and show how they’ll apply in actual hands.
ATC (Any two Cards)
Players who literally play any two cards are divided into three types of players, and you need to be aware of the differences between these players. The commonality to which you see all of these variations will depend on the stakes you are playing. Typically, you will only see ATC 1 & 2 at small and mid stakes.
ATC 1 (No grasp of hand strength) – The first group of players who play any two cards really has no solid grasp of hand strength, position, or why to play certain hands in some situations and not others. These players are commonly called “fish” because they’ll put in too much money with weak hands and pay off against dominated hands. You should like playing with them, but you need to be aware that if you miss the flop, they may have hit it, and they may also call you down with any piece of it. So you don’t normally want to bluff players in this category unless you see them folding a lot to a second bet (or third). You do, however, want to value bet your made hands against them as they will nearly always pay off with weaker hands or dominated hands.
ATC 2 (Some grasp of hand strength) – You’ll see a lot of these players primarily in short-handed games, but they also show up in full ring games. These players will play any two cards, but they generally won’t invest too much into the pot unless they have a good hand after the flop. They’ll commonly call raises with a hand such as K6o on the button (note: this is different than CRW – see above) with the intention of either bluffing you out of the pot or nailing a big hand hoping to bust you with your large pocket pair. These players will be very visible, because they’ll be involved in a lot of pots, and they’ll usually be fairly aggressive. If they have some kind of hand strength, then they are getting involved in a lot of pots for a reason, and that reason is usually because they believe they can bluff you out of the pot, or bust you with their unusual T4o hand. These opponents can be more dangerous, but a lot of times they will still go too far with a top pair hand, thinking you’re bluffing (even though you have a better kicker than they do). You want to bet into them when you have a strong hand and hope they don’t believe you and make a move in the wrong spot. Make your bets big and strong against these opponents, because they tend to not believe people betting into them. You really don’t need to slowplay against these opponents.
ATC 3 (Good grasp of hand strength) – These opponents are almost non-existent at small stakes, you will sometimes see them at .5/1 NL and above at 6 max. This player can legitimately be called a solid LAG (loose-aggressive) player. These players will play nearly any two cards, because they know how to read situations well and win a lot of hands even when they have the worst hand. They can also read well when they have a good second-best hand and minimize their losses. Playing this style requires excellent hand reading and making a lot of difficult decisions. For these reasons you’ll typically run into a lot of people that are of the former two types of ATC’s described. Some will be ATC’s that have some concept of hand strength who think they are good LAG players but really they aren’t.
So, when taking notes, make sure you know what type of ATC you are facing. Make the appropriate additional note. When you are playing against an ATC 1, you know this opponent is just basically “fishy” (bad player). When you are against ATC 2, this player tends to be more on the aggressive side. He is usually in a lot of pots because he is impatient and is an “action junkie”. If you happen to be unlucky enough to see an ATC 3, just try to stay out of pots with them unless you have a good hand until you’ve developed your post-flop skill to a high level.
In the above example, you and your opponent both started the hand with 100BB. It was folded to you and you raised 5x the BB from MP1 with AcQc. The action folded to the button who called the raise and the blinds folded.
You look at your notes, and you notice that you put down that your opponent was an ATC 2. You don’t have any other notes beyond that, and you’ve only played eight rotations with this opponent. The flop comes: 7c,3d,Tc and you make a ¾ size pot bet with your nut flush draw and two overcards. Your opponent then mini-raises you on the flop, and you call the raise. The turn comes the 6c, giving you the second nuts. Do you slow down? No! You should continue to bet this hand aggressively against this type of opponent. It’s very likely that he may try to represent the flush by raising your bet. You don’t however, want to bet too aggressively in this particular situation. A half-size pot bet will invite a possible raise-which is what you want. Give your aggressive opponent a little room to hang himself, but don’t get fancy and check. Just continue to bet into this type of opponent.
FC (Flush Chaser)
A lot of No-limit Texas Holdem players just love to make flushes. There’s something about looking down at J8s that looks so much better than J8o to a lot of opponents at small and mid stakes. We know, however, that the suited cards only out perform their off-suit counterpart by 2% (if all the money went in), but our opponents don’t seem to mind, or more accurately, don’t know that.
Now, let’s not get confused between the FC player and the SOOT player. The FC player likes to chase his flush, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll play any two suited cards. You may have an initial read of FC, and then later find out that the player is really more of a SOOT, but make sure that you make the distinction because it matters.
Most FC players will still play reasonable cards, but they’ll call large flop bets (pot-size or more) with their flush draws, which isn’t terrible on the flop. But they will also typically call large turn bets with their draws, which is bad. It’s bad for them, but good for you. When you see a person checking and calling and then check/folding the river to a bet, you can be pretty sure he was chasing, and you can make a note of it (I suggest putting a question mark next to the read meaning it’s not confirmed yet, but you suspect this to be the case).
If you are lucky enough to get to see a showdown and their cards, then also make a note whether they chased with a flush that had likely overcard outs, or they chased with just a flush draw that likely had no overcards. An example of this would be if they held 8d9d, and the board on the turn read AcTd4d2h. If they are calling large bets on those kinds of boards when they only have as many as nine outs, then you can put an exclamation on their FC note because they are a definite flush chaser.
SOOT (Like to play and two suited cards)
You’ll run into these opponents a lot at small stakes, but there are some at every buy-in level. These opponents have so fallen in love with the flush that they’ll play any two suited cards, and often from any position. If you happen to see someone showdown a J4s from early position, you can rest assured you’ve found one of these opponents.
If you get involved in a hand with a SOOT, and there are flush draw possibilities, bet the hand hard. Sometimes even overbetting the pot (on flop and turn) is appropriate, if you have a strong hand. Don’t be afraid of chasing him away, he’ll continue on if he has any hope if hitting his flush. If you have a marginal hand, bet the flop and turn harder than normal, but always make sure not to go too crazy. Just because you’re in a hand with a SOOT, and there’s a flush draw, doesn’t mean he absolutely has a draw. Make sure to always exercise caution, but look for the telltale signs of a draw, such as your opponent checking and calling.
When you have position on a SOOT with a good hand, and he’s limped in front of you, make sure you “pop” the pot pre-flop with a nice raise. You want to make him pay as much as possible for trying to hit his improbable hand (a player flops a flush less than .08% of the time). SOOT players are always fairly loose, so you want to maximize your advantage by getting in a nice raise before the flop.
Also if you’re involved in a hand with a SOOT, and a flush draw comes in, don’t pay it off. He won’t know that you have this kind of read on them, so they likely won’t be bluffing you. Again, if your opponent is checking and calling and a flush draw completes, and he suddenly bets or check-raises, you should fold. Same thing if you’re out of position and he’s been calling your bets, and a flush draw completes on the river, it may be best to consider folding, unless he bets a very small amount.
EX2 Both opponents start with even stacks of 150BB
In the example, a noted SOOT limps into the pot and you pick up AdQh in the Co and raise to 6BB. Everyone folds back to the limper who calls the raise. The flop comes as shown: 2c9hQc. The SOOT checks to you and you bet 10BB. The SOOT calls and the pot is now 33BB. The turn comes the 7d. The FC against checks and you bet 25BB. The FC calls and the pot is now 83BB. The turn now comes the 3c and the FC bets 50BB. You should fold.
If this were any other kind of player, you may consider calling. Since you know however that this opponent plays a lot of suited cards and he was checking and calling the entire way until the flush hit on the river, you should let it go. It’s very unlikely that HE’S AWARE that you know he plays a lot of suited cards. It’s also unlikely that he checked and called all the way with some weak hand like QJ or worse and now decided to just represent the flush and lead the river. When you make a read, trust it and go with it. You will save yourself, and also make much more money in the long run.
AK (Will bet turn unimproved)
Nearly all opponents who raise before the flop will follow it up with a continuation bet on the flop. Not all opponents however will fire the second bullet with an unimproved hand. When you get a rare chance to see a showdown when someone bets the turn with an unimproved hand, you should make a note of this and most importantly, write down what the bet size was in proportion to the pot size.
Noting that your important will fire multiple bullets with a non-paired hand is important, but it will be rare that you’ll be able to see them showdown a hand often enough to know the rate they do this. Of course if they fire multiple bullets in nearly every pot they’re involved in, then you can be quite sure they make this play often. The most important thing that you can take away as a read within a short session against an opponent is how he bets his made hands versus his bluffs.
Some opponents will have a very definitive pattern here. So, if you get to see an AK opponent go to showdown with an unimproved hand, and then get to see them go to showdown with a made hand, you want to note the differences in how they bet these two hands. A lot of opponents (especially at small stakes) are not very balanced in how they bet their bluffs versus their made hands. Note everything you see about the differences, and try and relate their betting pattern to a ratio of the pot size.
For example, if you see someone bet an unimproved hand on the flop for a ½ sized pot bet on the flop, but they bet a made hand for a full sized pot bet on the flop, this will likely be a pretty reliable betting tell. If you get to see it more than once, you can almost ink is, as again, a lot of opponents don’t think to alter their play. You’ll know in this example when your opponent is betting weak, they’re weak, and when they bet strong, they’re strong. You might for example, see the opposite of this, or any other combination of betting patterns, and different ones also on the turn. So don’t only note that this opponent is an AK, but how they bet their hands as well (you should do this with all opponents of course, but especially true when you see opponents who are firing multiple bullets).
The best thing to do if you are up against an AK player is to raise the flop if you have some kind of hand modest hand, or lead the turn. You don’t want to invest too much with mid pair or an under pair to the board, unless you feel VERY confident in your read. If you hit the flop hard and have position it’s best to call their flop bet and raise the turn when they bet again. Otherwise you can check and call out of position and check-raise the turn.
EX3 Both opponents start with even stacks of 120BB
In the above example a noted AK raises to 5xBB pre-flop. The action folds to you in the CO and you decide to call the raise with AsJs. Everyone else folds and the flop comes: Ac9hJd. The AK player makes a bet of 7BB and you call the bet (pot is now 25BB). The turn comes the 6h and your opponent makes a bet of 15BB. Now is when you should raise and commit them to the pot. It doesn’t need to be a pot sized raise as they may call with top pair. Pushing is also an option here, but between the two making a nice raise on the turn is the best play.
The key to this hand against this type of opponent though is waiting until the turn to raise. Remember that because we're labeling them AK, doesn't mean that they have only AK, but that this type of opponents "double barrells" a lot. Against a lot of opponents it’s usually best to raise the flop so that you can easily get all the money in as soon as possible. Against an AK opponent it’s best to wait until the turn since you know they are aggressive and may fire again with nothing. You might as well wait in case this is true so that you can pick up the extra bet. On this particular flop, we hope they do have something and will be willing to go too far with it.
CRW (Calls raises with weak hands)
Against opponents who will call raises with weak hands, you want to do your best to see how much they’ll call before the flop and maximize your edge by raising as much as they’ll call. You’ll see some players that will call 6xBB-12xBB and occasionally even more with weak hands in the hopes of catching some fluke flop and busting you. In order to make their play as unprofitable as possible, you want to raise continually when they’re in a hand with you, especially if you have position. There are a lot of CRW players that will limp and call large raises with weak hands like J9o, T7o, 56o, etc..
When you notice that a player is calling a lot of raises, pay particular attention to the hands they showdown and note how much they called with those hands. When you have a big hand and raise, continually try an increase the size of that raise until you can find a size that will fold them out. Then do your best to stay within the range that will keep them in the hand with you.
Most importantly, just make sure you are aware of this type of player and know that they will have a wide range of hands that they’ll play in missed flops. That means that if you raise with AK and miss, and the flop comes something like: J83. It’s likely that it may have hit your opponent. If they have position on you, it’s still OK (if it’s heads up) to take a stab at the pot, but shut down if you’re called.
Another major advantage you’ll have over this type of opponent is that they’ll commonly go too far with top pair and sometimes middle pair hands. They tend to be somewhat on the more aggressive side generally, and also don’t believe opponents have the hands they’re representing. If you hit a nice flop, you can pummel them with big bets and win a nice sized pot. Even top pair and top kicker is good enough to get a good sized pot formed against them.
LAF (Will lead into pre-flop raiser and fold to a raise)
These opponents aren’t very easy to spot. You have to pay special attention (which you should be doing) to the particular dynamics of the hand that’s occurring and note why they might be making the play they’re making. Generally however there are two types of LAF’s if you are keen enough to spot them. They are:
LAF A – These opponents tend to be somewhat aggressive and like to apply the pressure to their opponents by leading into them and seeing if they can “steal” the pot from them. They tend to know that since most opponents will miss the flop a majority of the time, they’d rather take the initiative being out of position and see if they can take down the pot with a bet. They are only somewhat aggressive because they will nearly always fold to a raise unless they have a big hand.
LAF P – These opponents tend to be a bit more passive, but will take stabs at the pot with their mid pocket pairs or middle pair type hands. They will fold instantly to a raise however fearing the worst of their opponent’s hands.
Both of these opponents present a unique opportunity for you to pick up some extra big bets. When these players bet on the flop, you should raise with nearly any two cards. You don’t want to completely overdo this concept, but you do want to apply as much pressure as possible to these opponents. Since they tend to be able to fold their weak hands, you want to test them as see how much they really like their hand and how far they’ll be willing to go with it. Just make sure that if you do overdo this concept that you are attempting to set them up for a raise when you have a really big hand hoping that they’ll be ripe to “take a stand” against you and re-raise.
Anytime that you see someone put a bet in on the flop and fold to a raise, make a quick note of it. Just because someone does it once or twice doesn’t make them a LAF. That’s why these types of opponent’s tendencies are much harder to pick up on. In only one session, you may not really know for sure if someone is a LAF. This is much more of a long term read that you may have to make against a regular player. There are times however when you will be able to make this read within a session, and it will be quite obvious when that time occurs.
Ax (Will play an ace from anywhere)
There are many opponents at small and mid stakes that will play A (and any other card) from any position. They’ll limp A4o from early position, or call a raise with A6o out of position. They’ll also tend to be “sticky” to these top pair hands if an ace flops. These players you want to note for a couple of reasons.
1. It will give you some insight into how they think about the game. Meaning you know this opponent is over valuing hands that really aren’t that strong. So when you have a modest hand, and they are still involved in the pot with you, there’s still a very good chance you have the best hand.
2. If you’re in a pot with them and have a high pocket pair, but an ace flops and they give you action, you can be nearly 100% sure you’re beat.
3. When you flop an ace with a good kicker, you’ll know that they’ll pay you off with a weaker kicker, so get a lot of value bets in.
Be aware of these opponents and make sure to steer clear of them if there’s an ace on the flop. At the same time, if there’s an ace on the flop and you hit a nice hand like two pair or better, make sure to do your best to formulate a plan to get all the money in the middle. Remember, opponents who play weak aces a lot tend to be in love with these hands. They are playing them for a reason, and that reason is primarily because they believe that if they flop top pair they’ll have the best hand.
Ex4 Both opponents start with even stacks of 100BB
In the example, a noted Ax limps into the pot and you pick up the KhKd in late middle position and raise 6xBB. The rest of the table folds to the Ax opponent who calls the raise. The flop comes As7d6h. Your opponent checks to you. You should make a small stab at the pot (you don’t need to make a big bet). Either they’ll have the Ace and call or fold. It’s plausible they may call with some sort of straight draw, but the Ace is the biggest concern against this type of opponent.
You can make a flop bet as small as 5 or 6BB and that will accomplish the task. If you are called, and your opponent checks the turn then you should definitely check the turn. If your opponent leads into you on the turn, then it’s best to just fold You want to get to showdown as cheap as possible and calling the turn usually means you’ll have to call a river bet too. If your opponent has checked the turn and you’ve checked as well, and now your opponent fires on the river I would heavily lean towards folding. If it’s a pot sized bet, then definitely fold. Any other sized bet will really depend on other reads you have on your opponent. If they are overly aggressive and a noted Ax, you may consider calling.
You have to consider three important things on this kind of hand. One, it’s very likely you were out flopped against an opponent you know will call with any ace in their hand. Second, your opponent called a flop bet on a very non-descript board. It is possible that they are calling with some kind of small pair or draw. Yet when you have a good read, you should trust it. Third, your check on the turn indicated weakness. If your opponent is very aggressive, they may take that as a sign to steal the pot on the river. So you have to balance all of these things when making a decision about calling a river bet.
Quote: I use DNB - Do Not Bluff, more than anything. They even get a special color in the FTP menu.
That's good to know, but you also want to know why you shouldn't be bluffing them. Meaning, just putting down that someone is bad, a fish, don't bluff them, leaves out a lot of details, but it's a start at least.