In recent years, the poker landscape has been transformed by the emergence of solvers. These powerful tools have revolutionized the way players approach the game, giving them access to a level of analysis and insight that was previously unimaginable. In this article, we'll explore how solvers have changed poker strategy, and what impact they've had on the game as a whole.
What Are Solvers?
Before we dive into the ways in which solvers have impacted poker strategy, let's take a moment to define what they are. In simple terms, a solver is a computer program that uses algorithms to solve complex decision-making problems. In the context of poker, solvers are used to analyze game situations and provide optimal solutions based on mathematical principles.
The development of solvers has been a game-changer for poker players, particularly in the world of online poker where the speed of play is so fast that players have to make split-second decisions. By using solvers to analyze hands, players are able to gain a much deeper understanding of the game and make more informed decisions.
The Betting Lead/Betting Initiative Really Isn't a Thing
In the world of poker, there used to be a belief that the player with the betting initiative held a significant advantage. It was common practice to check to the preflop aggressor or the player who bet on the previous street, as they were perceived to have the "betting lead".
The reason for checking to the preflop aggressor or the player who bet on the previous street isn't because they have the betting lead, but rather because they hold an equity advantage. For instance, if the button opens and we defend in the big blind, and the flop comes down K-8-2, we would check not because the button has the betting lead, but because our range is at a serious disadvantage and checking is the only justifiable move.
In fact, there are several instances in poker where going against the betting initiative is recommended. Donk betting, or leading out without the betting lead, is no longer considered a sign of being a recreational player. In some scenarios, leading out can be the correct move.
For example, if the UTG opens and the big blind defends, and the flop comes down 6-4-3, the big blind is supposed to lead out. On such flops, the UTG player isn't necessarily destroying the big blind's range, and the big blind's range can support a lead. Similarly, if the button opens and the big blind defends, and the flop comes down 8-6-2, the button is supposed to use a large c-bet size when betting.
These examples demonstrate that the betting lead or initiative isn't always the deciding factor in poker. Instead, understanding the equity advantage and making calculated moves based on it is crucial. By going against the traditional norms, players can gain an edge and take their game to the next level.
Small bets big bets
The size of the bets played a significant role in their success. The bets that were deemed small in the past are no longer as small as they used to be. For instance, the 33% pot bet was once considered a relatively small bet. However, in today's game, even a 10% bet is considered small, and it is often used in specific situations.
For example, in a 4-bet pot, if the flop comes down A-A-2 or A-Q-3, players are expected to use extremely small bets that were not used before solvers became common. The use of 10% and 25% bet sizes has become widespread in various instances.
On the other hand, large bet sizes, such as 150% and 200% bets, are frequently used today. This is especially true on the turn and often on the river as well. The solver confirmed that going all-in for 2x pot was not a crazy move.
As a result, many competent players have included massive bet sizes in their strategies. The reason why both small and big bets are used will be discussed shortly. It's worth noting that some players have even gone as far as jamming for 10x pot in certain situations.
The optimal betting frequency and sizing relies on the equity advantage and nut advantage
To ensure a clear understanding, let us define some key terms:
Equity Advantage (also known as Range Advantage) refers to the range of hands with the highest equity.
Nut Advantage pertains to the range of hands that contain the strongest possible combos.
The concept of equity advantage and nut advantage lies at the core of every strategic decision we make. The presence of an equity advantage dictates our preferred approach and betting size.
In cases where the nut advantage is present, we are more likely to lead out or overbet. Conversely, when an equity advantage exists, we typically adopt a different strategy and betting size.
It's worth noting that, generally, the preflop aggressor has the equity advantage, as seen when the button opens and the big blind defends. Rarely does the big blind possess an equity advantage.
However, the nut advantage can overshadow the equity advantage in some instances. For example, if UTG opens, the big blind defends, and the flop shows 7-5-3, the big blind possesses the nut advantage, while UTG holds the equity advantage.
This nut advantage allows the big blind to lead out and take control of the hand, defying the assumption that one should check when lacking an equity advantage. Instead, a substantial nut advantage allows us to play in a specific way.
Conversely, if one is at a significant nut disadvantage, such as in a situation where the button opens, you 3-bet from the small blind, the button calls, and the flop shows 6-5-4, then the nut advantage lies with the button. In such a case, the small blind must check about 75% of the time, even though they hold an equity advantage.
The key to an effective out-of-position (OOP) strategy for the preflop raiser is to focus on trapping and check-raising, while reducing the frequency of continuation bets. In the past, even skilled players would frequently c-bet in this scenario, but solver data has shown that a more defensive and passive approach is necessary. By checking and playing cautiously, you can set yourself up for aggressive moves later on, including a lot of check-raising both for value and as a bluff.
However, this approach requires you to check your range more often than you might be used to. For example, if you open the cutoff and the button calls, you're supposed to check your entire range on any flop that's ten-high or below and unpaired. Similarly, if you open the small blind and the big blind calls, you should be checking about 65% of the time on a flop like K-6-4. This is a major departure from how people used to play OOP.
To make this style of play work, you need to have a solid check-raising strategy. It's easy to know what hands to check-raise for value, like overpairs, sets, and top pair with a good kicker. But you also need to be willing to check-raise with hands like KT/QJ suited with a backdoor flush draw, 76s, and A4s as bluffs. Without a strong check-raising game, your opponent can take advantage of you by realizing too much equity and easily making it to the river.
Unintuitive removal effects
The concept of "Unintuitive Removal Effects" is an important one that has been highlighted by solvers. In the past, if a player missed their flush draw on the river, they were likely to bluff. However, solvers have shown that bluffing with a missed flush draw is not optimal, as it blocks these draws in the opponent's range and makes it more likely for them to call the river bet. Therefore, it is often best to give up the hand in such situations.
On the other hand, if a player is facing a bet on the river, having blockers to the missed flush draw is advantageous because the opponent is unlikely to bluff with these hands. This is a concept that is not widely applied, but is utilized by mid-to-high stakes players.
Furthermore, it is important to understand the role of "unblockers". For instance, when 3-betting from the small blind against the button, and the flop comes down Qd 7s 2c with hearts, the player is supposed to barrel the turn. This is because the opponent is expected to float with clubs, diamonds, and spades. Therefore, having hearts unblocks these floats, causing them to fold on the turn.
Block betting refers to the act of placing a small bet to prevent an opponent from making a larger bet.
On the river, splitting your range and using both a small block bet size and a larger one is crucial, particularly when out of position. The small size offers several benefits, as demonstrated by solvers, which highlight the ability to block bet more widely in a variety of situations.
The traditional reason for block betting, which was to prevent opponents from making larger bets and to avoid check-calling, is no longer the sole justification. The primary advantage is that it allows you to bet an extremely wide range, including fourth and fifth pair, and even some ace-high hands for value.
In such scenarios, a bigger bet size is necessary, in addition to the smaller block bet size. The bigger bet size is used for top pairs in a button versus big blind example, while in an MP versus big blind scenario, smaller sizes are used for top pairs. Essentially, you build two ranges around the hands that are most suitable for each range. In the block size range, you include hands like middle pairs, bottom pairs, and ace-high hands that seek to extract value and obtain a cheaper showdown. You must also balance this range with bluffs and protect it with strong hands. The larger size range includes strong value hands and bluffs to balance them.
Q: Are solvers accessible to all poker players?
A: While solvers were originally only accessible to high stakes players, there are now more affordable versions available for a wider range of players. However, they still require a significant investment in terms of time and resources to learn and utilize effectively.
Q: Are solvers legal to use in online poker?
A: Yes, solvers are legal to use in online poker as they do not violate any terms or conditions set by the poker sites. However, players should always check their specific site's rules and regulations to ensure compliance.
Q: Can solvers be used in live poker games?
A: While solvers are primarily used for online poker, they can also be used in live games. However, it is important to use them discreetly and only as a tool to aid in decision-making rather than relying on them completely. It is also important to respect the rules and etiquette of the game.