Here's an interesting hand from a bankroll building session I had recently with a student:
We're playing in a full ring $100NL cash game online. Effective stack sizes are relatively deep at 200bb. We are playing pretty snug, and in fact for the last few orbits we haven't played a single hand. There's a lot of good, solid play at this table, with light 3betting in position and lots of aggression by the bad guys. There's really only one moderately fishy player, who is on our right, but he's playing pretty tight so we're not even able to get involved with him much. The table is bad (hard) enough that we've decided that we're going to wait for the big blind to come around and then we're going to leave this table in search of softer action elsewhere.
The action folds to us in the HiJack seat. We've got QsTh and we open-raise to $3. We get called by the CO and Button. The blinds fold.
Flop comes down A-5-3 rainbow.
We C-bet to $6.75, obviously representing an Ace in our range. First villain folds, but second villain, who is a TAGgy, relatively good L2 player 3bets us to $23. What's our play?
Short answer is a 4bet to $65, but we will fold to a 5bet re-shove.
At these levels, if villain had a set, he'd probably let us fire again on the turn before making his move; i.e., try to get us a little more pot committed before raising it up. Instead, he's repping an ace, but we can assume it's not a very strong one, and it's probable he'll fold to aggression by us. Here's why:
Reads (preflop): We can rule out AA, KK, AK from his range. Why? Because he would have most likely reraised us preflop. Same is true probably for TT-JJ. We hold a Q and T, so it's less likely he has QQ, TT, AQ or AT (though it's possible). Hands like A9o and lower are probably getting re-raised by villain preflop to squeeze us out, or, more likely, just folded. He might be cold calling with a suited AJs and below. All pairs nine and below are in his range, as are some of the weaker broadways and suited connectors. Worse case, call it something like:
Note that this range is significantly ahead of us on the A-5-3 rainbow board. If we were playing L2 poker, we'd realize this and just fold. But because our opponents are solid L2 players, we're having to play L3 poker. What this means in practice is that we can represent a big hand that will be hard for the villain to continue against unless he has a monster. Remember, he's a solid L2 player, putting us on a preflop range, which probably looks something like this to him (again, worst case):
When we 4-bet him on the A-5-3 board, he has to put us on either monsters, big aces, or air, and given our image at the table, it has to be weighted toward the former end of things, not the latter. And given that we're 200bb deep, our re-raise puts a ton of pressure on a large part of villains range, especially all those weak aces. Unless he's crazy (and we have no reason to believe he is) he really can't continue against us unless he's smashed this flop, which as we said is a relatively small part of his range.
For those of you interested in the results (which is a bad practice to get into), Villain tanked down and then folded to us. We did leave the table when the big blind came around, and we ended up finding a nice soft $50NL table with lots of L1 players.
Poker is all about adapting to the skills and abilities of your opponents. If you're at a tough table, the villains are putting you on ranges and lines, just like you're doing to them. The key is recognizing this fact, and then using it to your advantage. Step it up one level of thought above them. Read, Estimate, Decide, and Implement. And then ship it.
All-in for now...