Fill In These Blanks When It Is Your Turn to Act

Alex Fitzgerald wrote to subscribers to his email list recently, about betting and calling bets.

When considering betting, he says, we should fill in the blanks in these sentences:

If it’s a value bet the sentence is, “I am betting X into Y because I expect __ (hands) to call.”

If it’s a bluff bet the sentence is, “I am betting X into Y which needs to work Z% of the time because I expect __ (hands) to fold.”

… [O]nce you fill out these sentences test them for validity. If you’re doing a value bet, can you add more to the bet? Will those hands really call? If it’s a bluff bet, do you think those hands will really fold to that bet? Imagine things from your opponent’s view.

And, when contemplating calling a bet:

[I]f there is a bet and you want to call fill out this sentence: “I am calling X into Y which means I need to be right Z% of the time because I am beating these _ hands. I expect this to happen on the next street, which will see me doing this .”

Alexander Fitzgerald, “How to Think Quickly During Poker Play,” daily email newsletter of 7 February 2020,

There is no doubt in my mind that being able to fill in those blanks in the heat of battle would be a great addition to my game. But when I contemplate doing this at the table, I come up short. There is too much that I do not currently know how to do.

In order to name the hands that I think the villan would call with or fold with, I need some idea of what the villain’s range is. I need to a good idea of how that range interacts with the board. And I need a good idea of what the villain will do with which parts of their range.

Unfortunately, live cash game players like myself do not have access to HEM or Poker Tracker, and we don’t have a HUD to pass us real-time data about how our opponents are playing. We have to make do with our own observations, our recollections, and whatever notes we manage to take.

We can range villains by the hands they show down. It doesn’t tell us much if they had put the pedal to the metal on all streets and shown down pocket aces; aces are at the top of every uncapped range. If, however, they opened the pot and wound up showing down suited ten-eight, or offsuit king-nine, these give a solid view of how wide they are playing, even if it is a single data point.

It would be good to be able to answer this question during game time: given that the villain showed down this particular two-card combination in this spot, what is the smallest likely range they could be playing that includes this hand?

As for how ranges interact with boards, this is one of the things that Flopzilla is for. Working many hold’em problems with Flopzilla is probably the best way to develop intuition of how ranges interact with boards and figuring out how to pick out checking, betting, calling, raising, and folding ranges.

This is the basic problem of hand-reading, and it can be broken down into pieces, and we can practice those pieces and get better at them.

This is purposeful practice in a nutshell: looking at a major skill, breaking it down into learnable chunks, and by working on those chunks individually over time, gain the component skills of that major skill.