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We all want to be involved in poker’s monster pots – whether it’s for a monster stack in the $150,000 Guaranteed during the Sunday Majors or just to sneak into the money in a Daily Majors tournament. Every pot in poker is worth fighting for but sometimes getting your opponent away from the pack is the smart play. While more players means more money, your chances of winning also decreases. Two is company in poker, but three can be problematic. We’re going to show you how and why you should be isolating your enemies.

What is isolation?

When trying to isolate, you want to go to the flop heads-up with just one opponent. Doing this will maximise your chances of winning. Isolating also gives you more control of the action after the first three community cards fall. Bluffing an opponent off a hand is tricky, but bluffing two or three off the same hand is significantly more difficult.

You’re looking, when raising pre-flop to isolate, to get a weaker player to follow you alone to the flop and it helps if you have position on them at the table. You want them out their playing on their lonesome. And you don’t want to be isolating a strong opponent who has position on you. Weaker players are far more likely to call which can be used against them in a number of ways:

  • You can extract much more value when you perceive your post-flop hand to be stronger than theirs.
  • Your hole-cards become less important if you improve their table image and know their range.
  • Whether it’s check-raising or walking away from a hand, you can play position against the, especially if inexperience reveals the strength of their hand.

Protect Your Premiums

You’ll only get dealt pocket aces once every 220 hands, so you know how seldom you’ll be looking down at one of the so-called ‘premium’ poker hands. You’ll go through periods at the table where you think you’ll never see a pair again as long as you live. So when the big hands come along, it’s vital to protect them. Depending on your position at the table, you really want to make sure limpers get out of the way, and ideally, head to the flop against a player you know you’re ahead of, a player who will likely pay you off. By raising pre-flop, you’re announcing that you’re in control of both the pot and the betting action. Just make sure you know how to sustain it.

Being prepared

Like every good Boy Scout you need to know what to expect. In this instance, let’s talk about your opponent pre-flop. Your hand may not improve on the flop or a premium hand, such as Q-Q, could run into a flop of A-K-3. The strength of your hole-cards can change so knowing that you can bully your isolated opponent off the pot with a big continuation bet (or c-bet), even if you flop fresh air, is important to know before making the move. For this reason, in tournament play at least, you should make isolation plays only after studying how your opponents play.

Fighting fire with fire

You should also isolate super-aggressive players, those who refuse to give up without a fight. Getting into personal battles in poker costs chips, so it’s crucial you make players that do this pay. In the majority of cases you’re isolating to then steal the pot post-flop as your opponent gets out of the way to your c-bet. Most players will call you with ‘strong-looking’ cards (connecting picture cards or AcTc for example), and if a flop comes A-K-J you have isolated intelligently with any of those pairs. You’ll likely get paid off by a player who called you pre-flop with A-T or K-J. Crushing an opponent on this sort of flop gives you the chance to learn about isolating players who might have folded Q-T and forfeited their chances of flopping Broadway. You can make players who weren’t even in the hand go on tilt when the flop comes. Winning!

Isolation ever after

Many players, after learning how to isolate their opponent, restrict their play by limiting the times they use the technique pre-flop. The reality is that some isolation plays won’t work until post-flop play. If your original move to push players off the pot before any community cards have been dealt is ruined by three players seeing a flop you connect with, change your game plan and isolate post-flop. More players does mean more danger but with an increased pot value, it’s most profitable to take advantage by isolating one opponent with a worse kicker or drawing hand and taking them all the way to the river at the expense of the third or fourth player involved pre-flop. So, what are the rewards for utilising isolating post-flop?

  • Increased control over the pot to the turn and river
  • Enhanced table image in play across future hands
  • Bullying players who like to play drawing hands into calling less thereafter

While you want to become the best player at the table by utilising the isolation play, over-playing it could end up costing you a lot of pre-flop folds to players who grow wise to your tendency and start to look you up. Conditions for an isolation play always need to be right for you to take advantage of your opponents.

Good luck!

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