Monsters Under The Bed


What’s enlightening about the game of poker is that despite years of play and experience there’s always the potential to learn something new. These novelty items can come in the form of re-invented strategic ideas, new game types or more common initiatives like terminology or related news. With these newfound areas comes the potential to research and explore, two behaviors the best players in poker readily engage in.

Although it can be lackluster at best, I try to keep up with the latest happenings in poker as best as I can to stay current. Understanding that the more you know the better off you’ll be in terms of overall knowledge and intelligence; it’s advantageous to apply that same concept to poker. Because people love news (gossip included), keeping on top of what’s happening not only in my local area but across the globe in poker can not only provide comical table banter but help stimulate me mentally for what’s ahead in the game.

I’ve been more and more involved with the TwoPlusTwo community, and because it’s given so much back to me I often spend more and more time giving back to them. Through sifting various threads and making posts, I stumbled upon an interesting acronym – MUBs. So what is a MUB? It simply stands for “monsters under the bed”.

While in the real world “monsters under the bed” easily refers to a childhood fable your mean brother or sister would suggest lives in your bedroom, in poker it means something completely different. “Monsters under the bed” commonly refers to situations in which players see something that is not there – usually a particular hand our villain cannot have – as they’re playing a hand with which they’ve either encountered severe aggression or at least, modest resistance. Because we’re trying to formulate a picture of our opponent’s play that is simply not feasible or at worst, rarely applicable, we refer to this situation as seeing “monsters under the bed”.

So who sees MUBs?

Well, to be honest, I think nearly every poker player on the planet sees MUBs at one time or another. Because of the way poker develops, usually street by street, as hands escalate to conclusion hand strength and bet sizing typically parallel one another. Because of the increased aggression by our opponents, we naturally begin to wonder whether or not our opponent’s increased aggression is a signal of strength. Because people bluff in poker, we have to analyze these situations in their entirety to estimate our actual hand’s strength versus both our opponent’s taken line and possible holdings, and their overall range.

I didn’t intend on going into great detail about ranges, but I think it’s an important idea to understand in order to move forward for those who have little to no concept of them. In order for players to progress and reach the highest levels, they need to understand ranges. Ranges basically allow us to gauge our opponent’s entire scope of possible hands, given the line they’ve taken – betting, raising, checking, calling and from which position they’re doing this – are all concepts of range analyzing. Without understanding ranges, the best players around the globe could never avoiding seeing MUBs; this is because those who have no concept of ranges will always be restricted to seeing what’s on the board. By not thinking in totality, when your opponent shows aggression on troublesome boards such as four-flushes or four-to-a-straight, we’ll be relegated to always believing them if our hand isn’t particularly strong and can’t withstand much pressure. This way of thinking is particularly exploitable, and one of the reasons why professional players have an immense advantage over the average recreational foe.

It’s disheartening in a way, but players who suffer the worst from MUB syndrome are those who are beginners, and have little understanding of ranges. If the board reads 2h3s4c5d6h, your opponent stayed until the river and then made a substantial bet, even though it’s impossible for them to have the hand they’re representing a player suffering from MUBs would still fold because that board presents danger. Players who have this tendency are the ones we can extract the most profit from, because they become intimidated in situations where it’s impossible for us to have them beat. They call down bets, and when a scare card arrives, they fold. It’s essentially printing money to those who are most aggressive.

But this isn’t to say the players of extraordinary talent don’t experience their cases of MUB syndrome too. During bad spells of play, or when our opponents are so crafty that their ranges begin to merge or balance, we can see things that just are rarely possible. Particularly when our smart opponents are running well, they can just run over us if they’ve made a few fortunate hands and are now using it to their advantage. Seeing MUBs doesn’t necessarily mean you should now go around calling every river bet you encounter, I’m simply trying to suggest that we analyze each situation independently so that we can arrive at the most profitable decision.

Why do we see MUBs?

The primary reason is a lack of hand reading. Probably one of the most difficult tasks in poker, being able to correct judge your opponent’s hand strength is sometimes revered as an innate skill, available only to those who have the ability to mind read at astronomical levels. Um, well no. While hand reading can be fickle, it merely takes practice and focus to apply. We’ll look at a few examples later in this article.

Where do we see MUBs?

MUBs are found in all types of poker situations, both pre-flop and post-flop, but most of the situations should occur after we’ve seen the board. After aggression picks up on later streets is usually when players begin to fear strength.

As we play more and more poker, we’ll begin to witness boards in our sessions where it seems impossible for our opponent not to have us beat. While in many instances if the board has four cards to a suit and our opponent comes out betting, they actually DO have the goods. But depending on the situation and the profile of our villain, it’s feasible that instead they’ve used our psyche against us and manipulated their line in a way which forced us to make terrible fold. Generally speaking, you could find MUBs on any “wet” board where there are scare cards, or one of the players involved has represented strength. Dry boards can present MUBs too depending on what the action is!

Let’s Remedy Our Fear of Monsters…

So how can we work on avoiding seeing monsters under the bed? Let’s work on our hand-reading skills! Let’s look at an example hand:

We’re playing $2/$5 No-Limit Hold’em at our local casino 7-handed. We’re sitting with $800. We’ve had a reasonable session thus far, picking up many small pots before showdown and playing pretty well. We’ve picked up some big hands thus far, many of them sequentially, and despite us playing TAG our opponents view us somewhat loose. The table has lost a few players, so we’ve adjusted by playing more hands and increasing our level of aggression. You could say we’re playing LAG at the moment.

Analyzing the players at our table, there’s mainly fish left who have managed to get wealthy by coming from behind, and there’s a few good-average regulars in the game as well. In particular, we’ve noticed one player who seems to be in control, is probably a winner overall but has gotten unlucky tonight. Even though it’s late and he’s stuck, he’s not pushing too many skeptical hands to get his money back. In fact we’ve only seen him play a few hands, flopped trips and two pair, but he pushed the action strenuously both times. We’re against him in this hand. We’ll call him the “competent player”.

We’ve picked up Ac3c on the button. There were two limpers ahead of you, one fish and one competent player in the cut-off. You decided to isolate them by raising to $30. The blinds fold, and both players call.

Flop ($97): AhTd9d

Both players check. You bet $50. The fish folds, the competent player calls.

Turn ($197): 5h

The competent player leads for $100. You call.

River ($397): 2s

The competent player bets $200.

Hmm, interesting. So let’s look at what we know. We’ve been playing somewhat LAG, and it’s likely that the competent player knows this. Because we’ve been pushing the action as of late, he’s probably willing to call our raises a bit more liberally pre-flop. Seeing as though our villain is competent, however, it seems somewhat odd that he didn’t raise pre-flop if he had a good hand to isolate the fish himself. I suppose it’s possible that our opponent tried to slow play a big hand against us, but he would have to be thinking intuitively about the game’s flow to pull off such a maneuver. (To explain: Limping with a big hand instead of raising would require our villain to be thinking ahead. If he limped with the intention of both trying to keep the fish in the pot, but also expecting us to raise because we’re playing loose, aggressive and we sensed weakness after two limps, would be an ingenious play. It would take a lot of observation, knowledge and planning to employ such a maneuver intentionally. We don’t think our villain is this smart. We deemed him as competent, not brilliant.)

It’s more likely that with the limp/call pre-flop, our opponent had a hand of questionable value and didn’t think it was could enough to raise. However, because of our image and aggression, if he calls our iso-raise and hits a hand, he probably expects us to pay off.

The flop of AhTd9d is interesting. We’ve made top pair, but our kicker is miniscule and this board is particularly wet. However, we have straight and flush draws apparent, and we should recognize that if our opponent does have a drawing hand, it’s a great time to extract value. We bet $50. Our opponent called.

The turn is the 5h. Not a terrible card for us. If we were ahead on the flop, it’s likely that we’re still ahead on the turn. But our opponent does something strange, he leads out into us. What would our villain be doing this with?

If you would, go back to what we originally stated about our villain. If you were paying attention, we said that in the two hands we saw villain play, he played them particularly aggressively. So let’s apply that knowledge to our situation.

On a flop of AhTd9d, would we expect our opponent to try and slow play strong hands? It’s very unlikely. Because that board presents danger, particularly from an opponent that’s raised on the button, we would expect our villain to be raising strong aces, two pair, and even sets. Add in the fact that we’ve witnessed our adversary already value town both trips and two-pair, and we have even further validation.

Given this read, a bet on this turn truly signals one thing… a blocking bet. Rather than allowing us to inflate the pot with our own bet which would likely be larger, if our opponent has a weak hand or a draw, he wants to see the river for as cheaply as possible. They can accomplish this by making a modest stab at the pot, hoping we won’t build it by raising. It’s not a bad play overall, but it can be exploited by players who see through its intention.

We call the turn.

River: 2s Complete blank. But our opponent bets again! Oh no! We should re-evaluate!

No, actually we shouldn’t. Nothing has changed. Sure our opponent could have an oddly played two-pair or set. Maybe he’s a bit better and more creative than we thought he was. But we SHOULDN’T STRAY FROM OUR READ! Even if we’re wrong given the information that we know about our villain and the play up to this point, we’ll likely be ahead more times than not. In order to break-even we only need to win this pot about 33% of the time. Let’s make the call, and expect to be good most of the time.

We call.

Our opponent flips over Jh8h. We scoop the $797 pot.

Being Confident in Your Post-Flop Play… An Underlying Issue

When deciding how to reduce the amount of MUBs you encounter, we should think about improving our overall post-flop play. This includes hand reading, range estimation and thin value-betting. All three of these components take time to master, but they’re such essential parts of being a great player that you need to add them to your repertoire.

While this will take time, if players are looking for a more immediate fix (or at least a patch) to their current leak of weak post-flop play then they should consider playing only stronger hands pre-flop. This will assist in post-flop play because by playing hands that possess immediate value, their strength will manifest immediately on the flop. If you have a premium pair and the board very dry, it gives you the easy decision of continuation-betting for value. If you’ve raised A-K and the flop brings an ace on a dry board you’ll be looking to bet all three-streets. If you’ve raised a strong suited connector such as JTss and you’ve flopped a combo draw you’ll size your bets to get stacks in as soon as possible. By playing better hands, you’re decisions will be simple and you won’t have time to worry about MUBs.

Tightening up, however, has its own disadvantage in some situations. Some players might use the idea of playing a tighter range as fit-or-fold, which I’m definitely not advocating. In the tougher games, using a fit-or-fold style will be impossible to employ without getting torn apart. It will be costly, because smart players will have a general idea of when you’ve hit the flop and when you haven’t. Regards of what they have, they’re going to put you to the test.

Playing LAG isn’t a cakewalk either, because it puts you in many more situations of questionable hand strength after the flop. Even if you’ve raised with KTs in position, and hit a K-high board how good is your hand if you encounter resistance? Employing this style takes much more patience and post-flop experience, if you’re not capable of playing this way effectively it can be costly long-term – not to mention give you MUB nightmares.

When you’re loose and aggressive you’ll always be in tough spots because of your image and lessened hand strength. But with this disadvantage comes the potential to flop completely hidden monsters – the monsters we’ve described that many of our opponents fear to death.

In conclusion, we should play to our strengths until we feel comfortable enough to broaden our horizons and begin exploring more profitable play. Just don’t start seeing plays and hands that just aren’t there.

Good luck, and I hope to see you at the tables.

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