Poker Strategy In Terms of Rhos

Poker Concepts, Strategy

August 1, 2007

In a previous post I discussed the use of rho structures to describe game strategies. Now it’s time to apply that theory to the practical subject of poker strategy. Unlike the previous post, I’m now going to describe strategies in a more general sense rather than the formal definition I provided earlier. This doesn’t change the basic fact that strategies form rho structures.

Here is the most fundamental rho structure for poker. It’s actually a single head with three different tails included in the same picture. This structure applies equally well to all forms of poker – it’s a basic feature of the game.


(click to view)

Of course, that isn’t very informative since I haven’t told you what any of these strategies are. Let’s describe these three “good” strategies from the head of the rho first:

Strategy A could be described as an emphasis on odds-on calling for value & slowplay. It’s the least aggressive of the good cycle strategies, since the goal is to induce an aggressive opponent to bet into you with hands that have little or no showdown value. Strategy A employs the widest calling range of the 3 good strategies. It’s the perfect defense against maniacs, and their more rational cousin strategy C because those strategies will bluff if given the opportunity. It’s also the most closely related good strategy to the common (and bad) “calling station.”

Strategy B is fundamentally selective in terms of hands on all streets. Strong hands are bet aggressively for value, and weak ones are folded. Strategy B avoids the pure bluff. Strategy B is all about the value bet – getting someone to call with a weak hand after you wait for a superior hand. Strategy B is the perfect counter for calling stations and strategy A because they are vulnerable to the value bet and Strategy B is fairly immune to slowplay. Strategy B is essentially a thinking and more aggressive version of the “rock.”

Strategy C is all about attacking weakness and selectivity in opponents. It bets strong hands and draws for value, but also bets and raises weak hands and pure bluffs anytime an opponent indicates weakness. Strategy C is the perfect counter for Strategy B and especially rocks, because they are selective and bluff vulnerable. Strategy C is related to the maniac, but the difference is that maniacs will continue to bluff strength, while Strategy C attacks apparent weakness.

And now, the bad strategies:

Calling Stations have a tendency to call bets with any hand or draw. They rarely if ever bet their own hands, and as such miss bets when they have a made hand and their opponent has a draw. This strategy is the most common mistake seen in low limit games. Calling stations are somewhat related to strategy A, and as such are somewhat effective in countering manics and are probably about break-even against strategy C. Calling stations lose consistently to strategy B. The difference between strategy A and a calling station is that strategy A calls when hand strength and and odds merit it, and becomes aggressive to get the last bet in on the last street. The calling station is just perpetually passive and, well, calls a lot.

Rocks are basically cowards. They are passive even in the face of substantial evidence that their hand is good and as a result miss numerous value bets. They usually fold to action unless they hold the nuts or close to it and similarly can’t be induced to bet unless they are near the nuts. They are moderately effective against opponents who will call their rare value bets and who won’t bluff them, but lose horribly to maniacs and strategy C. Rocks are a degenerate form of strategy B that puts too much emphasis on selectivity and not enough on value betting.

Maniacs are aggressive in most if not all situations. You bet, they raise. You check, they bet. Unlike strategy C, their agression is not tempered by what cards they hold or indications that their opponent is strong. They just barge ahead. This strategy is very effective against rocks, and is moderately effective against Strategy B. Maniacs are probably the second most common type of bad player.

Now, that we know what the strategies are, let me say that this structure is the most fundamental insight I have into poker strategy. It will be the framework for all future discussions of poker strategy on CardSharp because the rho explains so many things that confuse most players. I believe this confusion arises mostly from the poker literature, which primarily advocates strategy B with a smattering of strategy C. This makes a bit of sense – at the lower limits, most opponents are calling stations, so it makes sense to adopt the strategy that best counters the calling station, strategy B. And your fellow winning players are adopting strategy B, so little bits of strategy C are needed against them.

That simplified view of the poker universe is well suited to beating low limit games, but it has some substantial flaws. For example, most book-educated players are ill-equipped to deal with maniacs because the necessary strategy (A) isn’t in most books, and furthermore is similar to the calling station tendencies said books rail against.

The rho structure of poker strategy also explains why most newly book-educated players get very inconsistent results. Good results are heavily dependent on their opponents being calling stations, and while that’s often the case, it’s not always true. So these players have inconsistent results due to a game selection issue they likely understand only vaguely.

This rho structure is a superior alternative to the standard method of classifying players by level of aggression and tightness. Rhos are a better model for several reasons. The standard classification system glorifies tight/aggressive play, which correspond to strategies B and C, as the only winning strategy. That of course isn’t true. Furthermore, the rho system makes a key distinction between two different types of loose play – strategy A’s tendency to call down with mediocre hands, and strategy C attacking pots when opponents appear weak. These both result in playing a lot of hands on later streets, but in different ways and for different reasons.

Next up, I’ll write on the topic of changing gears, and what the rho view of strategy has to say about it.

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