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Post-flop Play – VI

This is the last installment in our extended discussion of the psychological nuances of NLHE, the game designed to be played after the flop.

In the early years when few played NLH, the conventional wisdom was only see a flop with a premium hand. David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth became the most respected teachers in the game because they understood this principle first and developed it to a higher degree than anyone else.

Obviously, this is no longer the case. Players now open with a far wider range of hands than they used to. They will raise and call raises with hands that your “standard” poker text-books tell you should be mucked. Three-bets, even four-bets, have become routine and often made with a wide range of holdings.

The more successful of the modern players know and understand post-flop play deeply and as long as they sense that they have an edge after the cards hit the board, they will want to see flops. And it isn’t just the world-class pros. The new generations of Internet players are rapidly developing these skills. They are sitting down in $1-$2 and $2-$5 NL games and they can make you squirm in your seat.

Even if you know the post-flop strategic gambits we’ve covered in previous columns, employing them isn’t easy. Many call for more aggression; others require taking more risks and establishing looser calling criteria. All increase variance, a factor that will impact you on two interlocking psychological planes: your emotional well-being and your bankroll.

Emotions: Emotional states have a far greater impact on the “bottom line” than most players realize. High levels of emotional arousal are, for most of us, not good. Arousal is a stressor; stressors elevate blood pressure, cause hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances, compromise decision making and make us feel, in a word, shitty.

When you first begin to use some of the ploys we’ve discussed in previous columns, you’re likely to find them less than satisfactory. They aren’t going to work every time (duh!) and when they don’t they’re going to cost you. Mistakes become expensive. Trying to negate what you suspect is a float with a check-raise is going to cost you a chunk of change if your opponent hit the flop.

If this possibility concerns you, the best approach is to avoid ploys that call for excessive aggression. This will help keep variance down and your emotions in check. Begin with ones that reduce the post-flop difficulties rather than those that increase them and introduce the others only gradually. This approach will help at first, but it has an acknowledged down side: opponents will suss you out and you won’t get much action when you have a hand. Over time you should find yourself getting better at handling the larger swings. If not, there’s usually a limit table waiting for you.

Bankroll: You have to be sufficiently ‘rolled to go down this road. Even after you’ve dealt with the emotional elements you still have to deal with the financial. Playing more hands and playing them more aggressively means you need a bigger base or you’re liable to ‘get broke.’

Bankroll issues have been discussed to death although, alas, not always very insightfully. As Kristin (one of the more insight folks in our poker discussion group) notes, there are “playing ‘rolls” and there are “life ‘rolls.” For a pro, these are the same —- like the asset base of the green grocer on the corner. If you lose it, you’re out of business or trying to raise another stake.

But for most of us they are different. Our bankroll is a much squishier thing because our game is actually funded from outside. For the typical, online recreational player it goes like this: You buy in for XX dollars. That’s your playing ‘roll. If you lose it, you click on the deposit button and —- viola, you have a new ‘roll. Live play is similar but the button in on the ATM.

How much you buy in for, how much the new stake is, how much you can lose without hurting yourself, whether to move up if you start accumulating cash in your account, when to pull out the profits —- these and a host of other questions are not ones that I, or anyone else, can answer. Only you can answer them and you can only do so for yourself.

My counsel? I fall back on that old, hackneyed line: “Know thyself.” Know the level of risk you can deal with psychologically, understand what your comfort level is, filter these issues through basic parameters like your age, your other responsibilities, your non-poker income. Bankroll management is tricky and it is personal. And I am rarely happy when I read the advice others offer.

So, that’s it from this end. I appreciate that a lot of the strategy covered was more relevant to cash games than tournaments. I also recognize that most of it dealt with live play rather than online. It also focused primarily on hold ‘em. Space was limited and, I suspect, so is your patience.

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