Solvers are Great for Pre-Flop and Flop Strategy

The idea here is that playing theoretically sound poker on the turn and river (at least the solver version of it) is less important. Readers might wonder why this is the case.

Solvers are Great for Pre-Flop and Flop Strategy

1. Is Applying Theory More Important on the Earlier Streets?

It may seem counterintuitive, but the optimal strategy becomes more complex the earlier the street.

This increased complexity comes from the vast number of possible outcomes at the start of the game tree: 1,326 , 19,600 different flops, each flop has 47 possible turns, each turn has 46 possible rivers, over 50 different pre-flop positions (like BB vs. BTN, SB vs. CO), a wide range of possible stack depths (especially in tournaments), whether there is an ante, and so on.

In other words, we can take millions of different “paths,” but only a few will lead to victory. The sheer number of options makes it extremely difficult for us (as humans) to determine the correct . Fortunately, tools like PIOSolver and PokerSnowie can help us estimate the correct pre-flop and flop ranges.

Back to the point, having theoretically sound ranges on the first two streets is crucial because, without them, we might find ourselves in losing situations.

Moreover, our opponents naturally have more experience on the first two streets (since they occur more frequently), so we can expect them to make fewer basic mistakes here. Therefore, making our strategy theoretically sound is more important.

Let me illustrate this with a few examples:

Pre-Flop Example:

Consider QTo. If you're just , this might seem like a hand you can play from middle or even early position: two Broadway cards, potential for straights.

However, after extensive database analysis and subsequent PokerSnowie simulations, we know that open-raising this hand is not profitable. Doing so can lead to many unfavorable outcomes later in the game tree (such as losing a lot of money due to a dominated top pair).

Flop Example:

The combination of each player's hand ranges, the many different possible turn and river cards, and the various SPRs make it very difficult to master the or checking of specific hands on the flop. As humans, we can't see that far ahead.

This is where software can help, as it can simulate these situations 40 times per second. Within minutes, it will have run over 10,000 battles on every possible turn and river. The software knows the best line for every hand, often in ways we can't deduce because it has repeatedly seen what happens at the end of the game tree.

We must humbly accept our limitations and try to understand why the solver's results are what they are.

I immediately thought of a flop example where I was surprised by the solver's results. Suppose you have J♠J♦ on the button, and the big blind calls. The flop is 8♥5♥4♦ (100bb). When the big blind checks to you, what do you do?

I guess you would c-bet, because that's what I would do too.

So, let's put this situation into PIOSolver and see its solution.

Summary of the Solver's Strategy:

  • C-bet 28% of the time, check 72% of the time
  • Frequently bet with 99, strong top pairs, sets, straights
  • Most bluff hands include 7, 6, or backdoor straight draws, but even these have a certain frequency of checks
  • High overpairs (JJ+) and weak top pairs check frequently

The solver wants to check our J♠J♦ 96% of the time. We can infer why:

  • J♠J♦ doesn't gain much from protection, as only A, K, and Q are overcards. This is why you see the solver betting smaller overpairs more frequently and larger overpairs less frequently.
  • J♠J♦ can't extract three streets of value on most runouts.
  • Getting raised is painful because we now face many strong hands, and many turn cards are bad for us (any heart, 7, 6, 3, A, K, or Q).
  • Note that combinations with backdoor flush draws bet more often, possibly because they have slightly higher equity and are less likely to be raised as we hold a heart.

2. Is Applying Theory Less Important on the Turn and River?

Using the same logic as in the previous section, it's easy to see why we can rely more on our intuition on the later streets:

  • Ranges are smaller, making it easier to accurately assess our opponent's range.
  • SPR values are lower, reducing the complexity of the situation.
  • On the turn, estimating what will happen on the river is easier because there are “only” 46 possible cards left (whereas there are 2,162 combinations of turn and river cards).
  • Players' strategies are not as balanced as they are pre-flop and on the flop.

Let's use a river example. You defend the big blind against an under-the-gun , and your opponent fires three barrels on A♥Q♠T♠6♦8♠.

On this river, it's hard for your opponent to bluff because nearly all his semi-bluff hands (flush draws, J9, etc.) have made a hand. Unless he is a high-level player who planned this situation on previous streets, he will rarely have bluff hands here.

Of course, the solver's results include enough bluff hands on the river, as shown below:

  • The hands marked with blue borders are used for bluffing.

Humans find this very difficult to execute.

Summary of the Solver's Strategy:

  • Bet 40% of the time, check 60% of the time
  • Value bet with flushes, straights, and some sets
  • Bluff with varying frequencies using KTs, JTs, T9s, 99, 77, 55

You can see the solver bluffing with some pocket pairs (55, 77, 99) and some bottom pairs (KTs, JTs, T9s) at certain frequencies.

As humans, we don't understand poker this way, so we may not have as many bluffs on the river. This isn't to say we should try to play exactly like the solver (which is nearly impossible), but we can mimic the solver by mixing in some hands on the earlier streets that will become profitable bluff hands later.

Thus, if you're up against a solver (or a solver-like player), on a board like A♥Q♠T♠6♦8♠, you can call with some bluff-catchers on the river. However, against most players, it's better to exploitatively fold those bluff-catchers.

Another point is that the solver's turn and river strategy is based on the strategies used on the previous streets and is quite fragile. This means if our human opponents deviate from the solver's strategy on the earlier streets (which is more likely in most cases), then the solver's river strategy is likely to fail.

3. Should We Completely Ignore Theory on the Turn and River?

Absolutely not. If your opponent is a good player, you need to be armed with this knowledge to have a chance of beating them in the long run.

Against weaker players, you still need to understand and consider theory to accurately assess their deviations from the correct strategy. With this knowledge, you can easily implement winning counter-strategies.

On the other hand, if you don't know what's correct, it's hard to identify and exploit your opponents' mistakes.

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