Modern Trends in Poker Strategy
In the “old days”, everything we learned from poker came from books or re-runs of the WSOP. Before the coaching sites, youtube videos and twitch, only basic strategy was really discussed on a couple forums and the best players held on tightly to their secrets.
Nowadays however, even the poker elite will put their ideas out for free. Doug “WCGrider” Polk, the self-proclaimed top HU player in the world, regularly streams his play. And just yesterday I watched an in depth strategy review by Daniel Negraneu (on Jason Somerville’s twitch channel) of his recent victory in the WCOOP HORSE tournament. He held nothing back in his analysis.
Today the discussion of strategy is far more open and flowing than it has ever been before. As top players figure out new and better ways to play, the knowledge trickles down. Trends emerge and quickly get disseminated.
This has been especially true for play from the blinds. The commonly accepting playing style from these positions has changed significantly over the years.
Thou Shalt Steal
In the beginning, we coined the term “steal” because it seemed so easy to raise in late position and take down the blinds. The reality was that players folded too much in these positions.
So we did some math, and figured out that the SB should defend X% and the BB should defend Y% when the button makes a pot sized raise.
Then what happened?
The button figured out if he made a smaller raise he could beat that strategy. Button raise sizes went from 3.5x to 3x to 2.5x and to min.
The reality was (and still is versus many players) that the blinds simply weren’t defending wide enough versus the smaller raises.
Around that time, 3-betting also become very popular. Players were figuring out if they simply 3-bet ALL THE TIME, they could print money. And the phrase “re-steal” entered the vernacular.
Naturally as players 3-bet wider, players started 4-bet bluffing, and even 5-bet bluffing as crazy dynamics developed between hyper aggressive regulars (à la Full Tilt, pre-Black Friday).
Players worked out what they considered to be unexploitable pre-flop strategies and used them across the board versus most regulars they encountered. From both blind positions, this meant carefully balancing a calling range and a 3-betting range when facing a steal.
Depolarization: Un-capping the Small Blind
Then some smart players started to notice a couple problems with this strategy from the SB. When they called, they would often get squeezed, and it was difficult to defend when their calling range was so “capped”. Also, even when the big blind folded, there seemed to be a multitude of flops where they were unable to realize enough equity to justify the preflop call.
So these players switched to a new strategy. They depolarized their SB ranges meaning they would either 3-bet or fold when facing an open. And this trend spread quickly through the poker community via the plethora of poker strategy channels.
Game Theory Optimal Strategy
Next came the GTO solvers. And with them, players were able to figure out how to play comfortably out of position. It became easy to build counter-strategies against players who over-extended their in position aggression.
And now equipped with powerful out of position strategies, it was once again possible to start calling again from the Small Blind.
Not only that but players also started to realize that they could play a FAR wider range in the blinds than ever before (à la Ben “Sauce123” Sulsky) and still manage to profit with some very weak hands.
No longer was it a matter of simply defending enough so the blind thieves couldn’t auto-profit. The question became: what is the trashiest hand I can play and still lose less than my blind?
What’s the Best Way to Play Today?
Of course our best strategy will vary greatly depending on the game. At the smallest stakes, 4-bet bluffing is uncommon. And in the biggest games we still encounter whales where it makes no sense to 3-bet bluff.
Yet in most games, there is a modern blind strategy that will defeat a more dated approach. Today ranges are far wider than ever before. This in turn necessitates smart, careful postflop play.
We now use a hybrid of historical styles. Versus certain player profiles and table make-ups we employ more depolarization, but in other scenarios we opt for less. And the emphasis is more on exploitation than ever before.
I recently taught a group class on specifically this topic. There is a recording of this in my shop.