We often talk about poker being a ‘situational’ game where, typically, certain elements of a hand, such as position or bet sizing, or who takes what action at what time, and so on, can have a decisive impact on proceedings. This is an important way to look at poker as it helps hit home that there’s far more to the game than the cards themselves.
The subject of this article is how we can make the most of our chances pre-flop, which sounds like something too fundamentally obvious to even bother with but is, in fact, a crucial part of the game that tends to be mishandled by many players. Another word that we can use in poker, but one that is rarely heard, is ‘opportunity’ which, given the nature of the game means countless opportunities are bound to present themselves, is surprisingly underused. This is a pity because, just as our mere awareness of poker being situational keeps us alert to certain circumstances that we can try to exploit, it would also be very much to our advantage if we could better appreciate the importance of making the most of opportunities when they arise.
Don’t automatically fold
During the pre-flop phase, it’s easy to focus too much on both our hole cards and what our opponents are trying to do. The latter element tends to combine with the strength/weakness of our cards to influence what we decide to do and, usually, when we have a trash hand or a hand that we deem too weak to compete with the probable strong holding that the opposition is raising with, for example, we simply fold and wait for the next hand to begin. This, of course, is a perfectly natural and understandable way to play, avoiding as it does getting into problematic situations with a poor hand.
However, things are not that simple! As sensible as it is to get used to folding rubbish hands and having the self-control to not be tempted to go into battle when too far behind, it’s a serious mistake to do so blindly, to habitually fold immediately whenever we’re dealt a poor hand.
And this is because by doing so we’re missing out on potentially advantageous opportunities brought about by situational elements that don’t require us to have strong hands. One such important tactic that we can use regardless of what cards we’re dealt is the bluff squeeze play. Before looking at the squeeze part of this strategy, let’s remind ourselves what a squeeze is. This is a specific pre-flop 3-bet that comes after an original raise has met with at least one call. The aim of the exercise is to ‘squeeze’ out the (likely) dead money contributed by callers while putting pressure on the original pre-flop raiser. Typically, the callers will not have strong hands (otherwise they wouldn’t voluntarily leave themselves exposed to such a move), and find themselves in a difficult situation where they usually won’t be able to justify the often significant investment required to stay involved in a hand. Meanwhile, many players open with a wide range, so these, too, can be put in vulnerable spots. In practice a squeeze can arise as follows: There’s an open-raise from the player UTG that’s called by the next player and the Button, and the Small Blind is then in a position to execute a squeeze with a 3-bet.
Squeezing with air
It’s logical that the wider the original raiser’s range, the more likely they are to give up to a 3-bet, and it’s this and the fact that callers tend also to be not sufficiently strong to withstand a concerted challenge that points to bluff squeezing being a perfectly viable and justifiable strategy to employ. And this means being aware of such opportunities presenting themselves, and being prepared to actually make the play!
This is, after all, a bluff, so the more we appreciate that it can be carried out with trash hands, the more chances we’ll have to steal.
Have fun at the tables!