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Poker Strategy – The Isolation Play

Poker Strategy – The Isolation Play

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The isolation play is one of those simple yet amazing poker strategy moves that allow you to generate an edge at the table with minimum effort and maximum efficiency. Isolating your opponents is always about ruining the pot odds for the other players, thus getting them out of the way and radically increasing the odds in your favor.

The best way to understand how and why isolation play works is through a simple example. Suppose you're in the later stages of a poker tournament, sitting on the button with an Ace Jack off-suit in your hand. The player in the cut-off is sitting on a short stack and you have him pretty much read: he is a decent player who understands the mechanics of the game and who doesn't usually commit haphazard maneuvers. He is also not about to allow himself to be blinded out the tournament. When this guy's turn comes, he makes a raise obviously looking to pick up the blinds/antes, thus adding to his stack and staving off elimination.

What is the correct course of action against such a player in this situation? Suppose you decide to only call. In this case, you will put the player in the big blind in a situation which offers him excellent pot odds thus tempting him to tag along with a marginal hand. If, on the other hand, you decide to re-raise the original raiser, you will destroy the pot odds for the big blind and you will discourage him from taking part in the hand.

If you go up against a player with a wide range of raising hands on an A,Jo (let's just say he has a K,Qo) you will have an edge of about 60%. If you let the player in the big blind tag along with something like 5,6 suited, your odds will take a major hit, falling to around 35%.

When is the isolation play best employed? The most basic situation which practically begs for the isolation play comes about in tournaments. When a player is short stacked, he is forced to commit chips on marginal hands in an effort to chip up. This is the guy begging to be isolated. The interesting thing is however that by isolating him, you are in fact doing him a favor as well. The players who drop out of the pot won't just stop chipping away at your odds, they will also leave his odds untouched. It is in fact recommended for those pushing their last few chips into the middle in a last grasp effort to stave off elimination, to forget about going for value and only get the goods into the middle against a single opponent.

The isolation play is also called for when playing against maniacs. By isolating them, you will turn their aggression against them, because you will be able catch them playing a wide range of hands out of position. Another situation when it pays to isolate an opponent is when you're going up against a weak player who enjoys limping a lot. The game is the same in this case too: catch your opponent out of position while he's playing a wide range of hands.

The bottom line: the isolation play is a truly basic piece of poker strategy “hardware”. It’s easy-to-use and it is in fact quite self-explanatory when it comes to the mathematics behind it.

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