Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bug's REDi System

Hold'em seems like such a simple game. You're faced with just a handful of choices whenever the action gets to you at the table: Check, Call, Bet, Raise, or Fold. And only two of these (Bet and Raise) require further thought: how much to Bet or Raise. Seems easy, right? Yeah, right. Try telling that to the 85% of people who lose regularly, or even the 10% on average who barely break even over the long run. Poker is a lot more complex than it first seems when we sit down and learn the mechanics of the game. And the more we play, the more complex it seems to get.

So how do the winners learn to win? Simple: they master the three primary ABC edges of the game (click here to read about them). And chief among these edges is the second one, Technical Proficiency, or learning to Read, Estimate, Decide, and Implement. I invented this so-called "REDi" method a few years ago when I was stuck in that ten-percent group of players who didn't lose, but didn't win either. I wanted to take that leap up the food chain from break-even player to winner, but I didn't know how to do it.
Some of the books and experts talked about putting players on hand ranges. Some others focused on evaluating pot odds and equities. Still others talked about how to choose bet sizes and bluff. But none really put the whole process of playing a hand together. How would one go about figuring out whether to Check, Call, Bet, Raise, or Fold?

The way I solved this riddle was by imagining that I had a poker superpower: X-ray vision. If I could see what cards my opponent held, then certainly I could figure out a way to use that information to maximize my profits (and minimize my losses), right?

For example, let’s pretend that we're dealt a pair of Kings in middle-late position. People start folding in EP, so we are preparing to open-raise when the action gets to us. Ah, but a fairly inexperienced player immediately to our right open-raises instead. When we peer at his hand with X-ray vision, we see that he has been dealt two Aces. We then look to our left and see that our other opponents all have bad cards and are going to fold.

Our Kings are dominated by the Aces. According to PokerStove, we're something like an 18:82 dog, so we consider folding and moving on to the next hand. But after a little thought, we decide a better strategy might be to just call the villain’s bet, with the hope of hitting a third King on the flop. There is approximately a one in eight chance of hitting a King (actually 7.5 to 1, or one out of every 8.5 times). This is obviously not a very big chance, but our opponent has a giant stack of chips in front of him, is inexperienced, and he likely will pay us off with most or all of his stack if we do hit a King (and another Ace doesn't hit the board).

Many beginning players fall in love with their big pairs like Aces, and if your set of Kings is disguised, he will probably think he still has the best hand after the flop, and he will be willing to commit all of his chips. If we don’t hit a King on the flop, however, we can easily fold and move on. We will invest a relatively small amount of money before the flop with the hope of hitting our hand; if we don’t hit, we can fold. If we do hit, we can win a large amount.

Said another way, we know where we stand in the hand relative to our opponent’s cards, and then we  make the best postflop decisions and actions based on this information.

What we've done in this hand can be broken down into four distinct steps, which are Read, Estimate, Decide, and Implement. In this specific hand, the first thing we did was “Read” our opponents’ hands (via our X-ray vision). We put the villain on our right on a pair of Aces, which he undoubtedly liked very much, and we put the other players left to act on weak hands that they were likely going to fold.

Second, we “Estimated” how strong our Kings were compared to the villain’s Aces (answer: not very strong preflop), how much money we would have to invest in the hand to try to hit a King (answer: the amount that he raised, which is a modestly small amount compared to the stack sizes), how likely it is we would hit one of the two remaining Kings on the flop (answer: one out of every 8.5 times), and how much money we could potentially win if we did (answer: the villain’s entire stack).

Third, we “Decided” on a speculative course of action that could potentially pay off big; i.e., we decided to draw, or set mine, in an effort to hit one of the two remaining Kings in the deck. We also decided to fold if we didn’t hit a set of Kings.

Fourth and finally, we “Implemented” this plan of drawing to a set in a way that minimized our loss (i.e., if we didn’t hit a King) and maximized our potential profit (if we did hit your King). We also implemented it in a way that disguised our hand (the vast majority of people reraise with Kings). We did this by just calling our opponent’s raise preflop.

In other words, we Read, Estimated, Decided, and Implemented. These same four steps—R, E, D, and i—is exactly how professional poker players are able to make sound decisions at a poker table that earn them money; they use techniques and thought processes like REDi to logically work through the best course of action for their current situation. This in turn maximizes their profit and minimizes losses.
REDi is what the technique part of poker is all about. Now of course we don't have X-Ray vision, but we can learn various techniques to do the next best thing, which is accurately put our opponents on a fairly narrow range of possible hands. We can also often figure out what he or she wants to do with that range of hands. We do this via deductive logic, and it can be surprisingly accurate.

Then, given that deduced information, we can estimate how strong our own two cards are against this range of possible holding. Again, this part is actually quite easy; it's just some basic math and memorization. And from there we can choose a course of action--and carry it out-- in a manner that maximizes our profits and minimizes our losses.  It turns out we actually don't need X-ray vision; we just need to know how to do the individual steps of the REDi process.

© 2012 M. Warner

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