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Finding the Pain Threshold

Poker is a game of tough decisions. That’s why the best way for us to get an edge is putting in the time to study different spots so that we can analyze the odds and make the best +EV decisions.

However, besides maximizing our own choices, we can also try to maximize our edge off our opponent’s choices. Basically, we want to force them into situations where they have to make tough decisions, thus giving them more opportunities to make mistakes. After all, besides profiting off our own good choices, we also stand to rake in the chips when our opponents make bad calls.

One of the best ways to put your opponents into this kind of situation is by using the concept of a pain threshold. The goal is to use your play to put your opponent into literal pain or distress to cloud their judgment and persuade them to make an emotional decision instead of a logical decision.

Attacking the Pain Threshold

One of the basic tenets of winning poker is playing an aggressive style. That’s why we want to 3-bet effectively, stop limping pre-flop, and raise more often than we call. When we play passively, we either make the right decision by calling or folding. However, when we have the initiative, then our opponent also gets the chance to make a wrong decision.

To maximize the effectiveness of our aggression, we want to figure out what our opponent’s ‘pain threshold’ is. Basically, we need to figure out how big we need to bet for them to feel trepidation.

Think back to a time when someone put you on blast. Remember that feeling in your gut? That’s your pain threshold.

Our goal is to fill our opponents with that feeling, and, hopefully, get them to react according to the feeling in their gut instead of the thoughts in their head.

It’s All in the Raise

One common mistake when raising is to raise too small of an amount. For instance, if you open to 2x the BB pre-flop, how much are people going to stop to think about it? What if you raised 4x instead? How about 5x or 6x? Play around with different raise sizes and figure out how often people fold, call, or raise against these different sizes.

In the later streets, though, is when things get really interesting. If your opponent makes a big bet, say pot-sized, they are making a statement that they have a good hand. How much of a raise would it take for them to get scared of a better hand in this situation? Probably a pretty big one.

In this spot, if you’re going to fire back, you’re going to need some guts. You might need to shove your stack or even raise 3x+ their bet to find their pain threshold. The important thing to keep in mind is that, when you do go for it, you need to commit.

Always try to attack the pain threshold without holding back.

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