Breaking all the poker rules, and players’ bankrolls


By Mike Wolf

There comes a time in a poker player’s life when he must get creative. There are three main reasons to change gears in mid- to high-stakes cash games.

1. It keeps your play unexploitable.
2. It makes it more difficult for opponents to put you on a range on hands.
3. It helps to get you paid off more with nut-type hands.

Do you think Phil Ivey got to the nosebleed stakes by check-folding every flop he missed with A-K? Heavens to the naw, Brah! As you progress through the stakes you must learn how to turn your made hands into bluffs, learn to overbet in certain spots and make huge laydowns, but most important, you must learn to think outside the box. Keep in mind my fellow three-bettors, that this example deals with (out)playing the players at mid- to high-stakes cash games. Take note these types of plays are fairly useless at $1-$2 and $2-$5 no-limit because your opponents will not realize how unbalanced your range is in certain spots. Oh, and make sure it’s “nut” heavy and not “air” heavy.

This example comes from a $5-$10 NLHE game at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla.

The situation

I’m playing my normal super-tight strategy in a full-ring game when the other super-tight player at the table opens in early position. He has played two pots all day, one with a set and one with pocket kings. He raised six timees the big blind to 60, with about $900 behind. I have him covered and, on the button, I peek down at the {a-Spades} and his good old pal the {a-Diamonds}.

The problem

He’s tight, but I’m even tighter! Just three hours ago he folded Q-Q face-up to my three-bet. Granted, I had A-4 suited, but he doesn’t need to know that. Man those fours look like aces! (Next time you bluff, try thinking in your brain that you actually have the hand you’re representing; physical tells and bet-sizing tells will disappear just like your opponent’s chips.) Long story short, he’s a squeaky clean, straightforward, tight player who will never get out of line, especially from early position.

The solution

To flat the button with A-A. I would never recommend flat-calling with aces when a player with a strong perceived range has opened six times the big blind from early position. But here’s the thing: He’s going to fold every hand except pocket aces which, considering I have two of them, card-removal thinking would dictate it’s highly unlikely. The only way I keep those strong hands that I dominate in the pot is to flat-call. His range is tight and I have a solid read that he is an ABC player who overvalues top pair and overpair-type hands. Plus when ol’ straightforward me (or so he thinks) just calls his raise it looks like I have 8-8 through J-J. He might push Q-Q way too hard if the board runs out harmless, which of course is good for me.

The flop comes 5-8-K rainbow. As the dealer puts out the flop, the villain sort of leaned eagerly to see the flop. In my experience this is usually a non-made (non-paired) A-K or K-Q. He wants to see if he hits his hand.

He bets $75. The ABC tag, how I love you so, for your range is so tiny and easy to play against. The weight of his range goes like this: K-K = 2 percent; A-A = 2 percent (card removal); A-K = 75 percent; K-Q suited = 21 percent; 8-8 and 5-5 = 0 percent as he would’ve limped with these hands.

The problem, Part II

If I raise I slow him down and he might check-call down and not commit his stack. He may sense 8-8 and fold. Disastrous. So I flat and will re-evaluate the turn. Did I mention I have position?

Turn is a 5: Good card for him because he can take 5-5 out of my range.

He bets $100. If I raise I look incredibly strong because he knows I know he’s tight. I decide to flat again and keep A-K and K-Q suited in the pot with the betting lead.
River is a 2. Brick city. He bets $175. It looks like a standard value bet on his part. I decide to shove for two reasons.

1. I am fairly certain I have the best hand and it’s the best way to build the pot.

2. He invested a decent percent of his stack and might “have” to call.

He hems and haws, then sighs and exhales. He picks up his cards, flicks them back and forth and says, “I hate this hand.” I know now he has A-K. He says, “I’m going to lay down a huge hand here because you know that I’m strong and you still raised.”

It hits me like a rack to the face that I must do something to induce a call. I smile and flip up one ace knowing he will never put me on pocket aces given that I called down the entire hand. He says, “I guess it’s a chop,” and immediately calls. He tables A-K suited and I flip up the other ace to scoop the pot. I hope Mike Caro is proud.


I danced a fine line with giving free cards with a one-pair hand, but because I had reads and knew exactly my opponent’s hand I could pick and choose the best line to maximize value. As the players are getting better and better nowadays sometimes you have to break all of the rules to get their stacks. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when getting creative:

• Against an unknown player, always reraise with A-A.
• Adjust to the board texture.
• Take your time and weigh each possible decision.
• Reads are everything.
• Free cards are not the horrible things they are made out to be so long as you know your opponent has a tight range.

Next time you’re on the river in a heads-up pot, think about showing a card that’s relevant to the flush draw or previous action in the hand. You may just be able to manipulate your opponents into making incorrect decisions. Catch you next month with my article on focus and preparation. Until next time, see you on the road.

— Mike Wolf is a poker professional living the dream. You can email him at