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Strategy Vault: Applying Leverage with Amanda Musumeci

Amanda Musumeci

Digging deep into the PokerNews strategy archives can lead to a buried treasure, so we'll be unearthing a few gems for your viewing pleasure. In this edition of the Strategy Vault series, Amanda Musumeci discusses the concept of applying leverage — an effective tactic she uses in tournaments throughout the world.

PokerNews: For those who don’t know, can you explain exactly what leveraging is?

Musumeci: There are a couple types of leveraging. Stack leveraging and positional leveraging are the two most common examples. Stack leveraging can be used by either betting or raising to a size that either (a) implies and represents to our opponent that this pot is growing rapidly, and that a huge bet is likely coming on the turn and river, or (b) can be used by raising or reraising to a size that gives the illusion that you will call your opponent’s reraise or shove, meaning that you are giving the illusion of being pot or stack committed. Positional leveraging is using position to your advantage to threaten your opponent's stack and put them in tough spots.  

Let’s talk about stack leveraging. Can you further explain in what situations you might use this tactic and how you would apply it?

The point of leveraging is to represent a bigger hand that we won't soon be folding, and we do so by making increasingly larger bets on proceeding streets of play. Let’s say we’re in a three-way hand and each player has 2,500 in chips with blinds at 25/50. We raise in middle position to 125 preflop, a middle-to-late position player flats, and another late-position player calls. The flop is dealt, and it doesn’t really matter what it is. The pot is now 450, so we continuation bet the flop about three times what we raised initially (once for each player in the pot). I think a bet of about 350 is good. One opponent flats, and the other folds. The turn is dealt, and we now have to bet large enough that we're making a clear illusion to our opponent that we're either close to committed to this pot, close to calling off to a shove, and/or that we're setting up for a big river bet or shove.

So on the turn, the pot is 1,150 after he calls the flop. Your opponent should have about 2,000 chips remaining after this action. Here, we could do something chumpy like bet 400-600 on the turn, or we can apply leveraging by making a powerful bet that implies we're committed, or that we're definitely planning on going all in on the river. The bet should be about two and a half to three times what we bet on the flop. In this case, the bet should be more like 700-900 on the turn. I like going with a bet of 775. We would both have about 1,200 behind if our opponent flats the turn, leaving him or her thinking that we are going to shove the river or be committed to call if they shove.

It sounds effective, yet risky.

It’s a strong play and can cost big chips sometimes if played in the wrong spot or versus the wrong type of player. The idea is that the pot starts small and cheap for your opponent, but you make it very large early in the hand, putting pressure on your opponent to feel like they need a very strong hand to continue in a pot of this size, at this level, and so deep stacked.

Another common situation which we might apply both positional and stack leveraging would be if there is an aggressive player to our right who opens in middle position and we three-bet him in position to a size that implies we're probably calling a shove. We can also make bets like this post flop if they flat-call us. We can make bets versus our opponents that compromise enough of their stacks that they should feel you're committed to them and to the pot. It's all part of the illusion you're creating. In actuality, you likely have a hand that is rags if you're taking this line, so it's easy to fold when your opponent tries to take control of the action in an already inflated pot.

So by using leveraging, we are basically taking away our opponent's ability to make a play at us, so if he or she does shove against us, it’s for value and we can fold right? Also, because you need to commit so many chips to use this tactic, how do you know it is profitable?

Well, since they usually won’t have a big enough hand to put their whole 2,500 stack at risk at 25/50 level, this means that a high percentage of the time they fold on the flop or turn, and we pick up nice pots. Also, you can raise smaller preflop to get more weak hands involved, isolate limpers, and assume that anyone who had ace-king would definitely three-bet such a small opening raise, especially if there is a flatter or two. That makes it an easy fold preflop for us to a three-bet. Hands more likely to flat small raises preflop are hands like weak aces, mid pairs, marginal broadways, suited connectors, etc. People like to see cheap flops with those types of hands and won't usually try to three-bet preflop with them, so I think their range is partially polarized when you open small and receive all flat-calls in response to the open.

For example, say the flop comes ten-high. A player with pocket sevens will usually calls your continuation bet on the flop, but if you put in a big on the turn, implying that you’re going all the way with this hand, it usually gets pocket sevens to fold. It’s the same idea if a player hits top pair with a weak ace on the flop. When we continuation bet, our opponent usually calls once. If we bet huge on the turn, he has to really consider if he wants to take a weak ace all the way to river. Plus, for their stack sizes (using the 2,500 starting stack at 25/50 scenario), flatting a turn bet for 775 leaving 1,200 or so behind isn't appetizing if you're planning on folding the river for the rest of your stack after having committed over half of it. So typically, mid-thinking players will simply give up to this strong bet on the turn with many of the holdings that they would proceed on the flop with.

How does pot equity fit into the equation? What happens if you turn a lot of equity with a card that gives you straight and flush draws?

Then, you can change your plan accordingly and play your nuts or draws the same way you normally would feel comfortable doing so. If we bet huge on the flop with backdoor stuff, and we turn an out, and we typically check and shove or lead and call, then just change your plan on using leveraging and instead revert to the plan of putting your chips in with your draw. Of course, it’s all player and situation dependant.

This article was originally published on November 3, 2010.

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