This is the final instalment of a four-part series of articles covering basic strategy for PokerStars’ new game Fusion in a street-by-street manner. If you’d like to start from the beginning, the first article is here. If you’re not sure how Fusion is played, a comprehensive description and review of the game is here.
Fusion was a bizarre game on earlier streets, especially on the flop. A lot of the conventional wisdom from either Omaha or Hold’em would have served you poorly early in the hand. By the time you arrive at the river, however, the strategy is much more like a standard variant. Only a single community card was dealt, no more or less than either Hold’em or Omaha, and players already had full information about their own hole cards when making their betting decisions on the previous street.
You’re therefore going to go through the same river decision-making process you do in those other games, but taking into account how you got here. Although I said in the last article that the turn is the street in Fusion where players should tighten up, you shouldn’t expect that players have tightened up so much that their river holdings will resemble Omaha hands, nor should you have tightened up quite so much yourself. On the other hand, with four hole cards, no matter how loose someone plays, you can expect them to have better hands than you’d see in Hold’em.
Fundamentally, all you need to know to make pretty good river decisions in any game are two numbers: the percentage of your opponent’s range that your exact hand beats, and the percentage of the time a random hand from your range beats a random hand from your opponent’s. There are more considerations than just these, particularly if you’re considering multiple possible bet sizes, but a ballpark estimate for those two numbers will help you establish a baseline strategy from which you can adjust.
The importance of the first number is obvious: how else would you go about deciding what to do if you didn’t know how often you were ahead? The general principle here is that the further you are from 50/50, the more frequently you should be betting. When you know you’re winning most of the time, you should be betting for value, and when you know you’re losing most of the time, you should be attempting to bluff. When your hand could go either way, that’s usually the time to try to take it to showdown cheaply and see if it’s good, because you don’t want to make a bet that’s mostly going to get worse hands to fold, while getting called by better hands.
The second number is subtler, but reflects how strong your opponent is usually going to think he is against your range. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the more different the two numbers are, the more frequently you should bet, as this is how you add deception to your game. That is, when your range is strong but your exact hand is weak, you should include more bluffs as they’re more likely to go through. Conversely, when your range is weak but your exact hand is strong, you can go for value with hands that are seemingly more marginal, as your opponent will make more hero calls with weak hands of his own.
Secondly, the relative strength of your range versus your opponent’s range dictates how you can size your bets without giving away information. If you base your bet size on your exact hand, that can help your opponent narrow your range, but if you base your bet sizing on the range you assume your opponent already puts you on, you give no information. The general principle here is that the stronger your perceived range is, the smaller you size your bets.
With a strong range, you want to milk value from your opponent when you’re strong and don’t need to size your bluffs very large to make them convincing. With a weak range, you’ll be bluffing a lot, so you want to maximize both your fold equity and the value you get from those times you’re holding a well-concealed monster. If that doesn’t make sense, try turning it around and looking at it from the opponent’s standpoint: it’s easy to fold to a big bet from a strong range, and easy to snap off a small bet from a weak range. However, small bets from a seemingly strong range and big bets from a seemingly weak range make for more difficult decisions, and one major goal of poker strategy is to put your opponent on tough decisions.
That all sounds easy enough, but of course the hard part is figuring out what those numbers are, because that means working backwards through the hand to establish a range for both yourself and your opponent. In practice, given how many weird hands are possible in Fusion, this is going to mean relying heavily on intuition and psychology.
When did the Gears Change?
Because so much changes from street to street in Fusion, you expect to see more changes in the lead throughout the hand, and therefore more decisions by players to speed up or slow down. Aggressors from previous streets may elect to check rather than continuing to bet, while non-aggressors may suddenly throw in a raise.
It’s important to keep track of when these changes happened, and what the board texture was like at the time. On a wet flop or turn, the change may well mean the same thing is does in Hold’em or Omaha, that the board has gotten better or worse for the player’s holdings. On dry boards, however, you have to consider the possibility that the player may have received a particularly good or a particularly bad card in the hole.
One example that’s specific to Fusion is a player unexpectedly raising on a seemingly blank turn. As I said in the last article, players will very often flop hands with one pair and some other sort of equity, and these hands will make a well-disguised set on the turn about 4% of the time. Because that’s virtually always a possibility, when a player calls the flop and then raises on a dry turn, it’s something you need to keep in mind for the river, as it means you have to assign more sets to their range than you would ordinarily.
Position and the Check-Raise
As it was on the turn, position is important on the river. This is perhaps even more true in Fusion than in most games, just because it’s so common for players to have backed into some mediocre two pair or similarly marginal hand. In Hold’em, a marginal river hand most likely began as a marginal flopped hand, while in Omaha, most ranges will be quite polarized by the river. In Fusion, it’s just so much more likely that you’ll find yourself in a spot where you started with a decent draw and ended up with something with some showdown value, just not the hand you were trying to hit.
Those hands can be exceedingly tricky to play out of position, whereas in position, especially against a straightforward opponent, it’s a lot easier to make good decisions about whether to check back or go for thin value when checked to, or bluff-catch or make a lay down when the opponent bets. Naturally, when you do find yourself out of position, this means that you don’t want to be too straightforward.
As it is in all games, the check-raise is the primary tool for the out-of-position player to counteract his opponent’s advantage. It’s important, when checking out of position on the river, to have check-raises in your range, and for those check-ranges themselves to be balanced. Most of them should be for value, but even a small check-raise should be a sneaky bluff some small percentage of the time, and a full pot-sized check-raise should be a bluff one-third of the time and a nutted hand the other two-thirds in order to make the decision as hard as possible for the opponent.
Not all of your opponents will be capable of doing this, but the higher in stakes you play, the more you should expect it, as it’s an important part of the game. Knowing which opponents are likely to be check-raising and which are more straightforward is key to deciding how to play your own marginal hands when checked to on the river in position.
Small Multiway Pots
All of the above assumes that the pot is heads-up by the time it gets to the river, which isn’t a particularly good assumption in Fusion. However, if a hand does reach the river multi-way, it’s likely because there was a lot of checking on the flop and turn. Furthermore, if there was much betting, then unless players were very deep-stacked to begin with, it’s likely that multiway action either has players all-in, or else with less than a pot-sized bet behind, either of which simplifies matters considerably.
So, ignoring the deep-stacked, multi-way monster pot which is both rare and beyond the scope of this article, the situation we’ve been overlooking and must now address is the small multiway pot after at least one street has been checked all the way around.
The main thing to realize in these situations is that the four hole cards times three-plus players make it unlikely that no one has at least top pair, but that the lack of betting makes it unlikely anyone has anything better than two pair, unless it’s a very scary board. Ergo, the best hand in these situations is very often going to be something in the range of top pair, an overpair, or a bad two pair. If your own hand is either better or worse than that range, then you have a pretty good idea of where you stand.
Overall, that means that when you’re in that range you should tend towards checking and thinking about possibly trying to snap off a bluff, while when you’re outside of it you should be thinking about betting either as a bluff or for value.
The decision to bluff should take into account the board texture, as you need your opponents to believe that you’ve either been slowplaying or have hit something on the river. Consider also that bets from out of position tend to be given more credit than bets after everyone else has checked, and that check-raises (both bluffs and for value) become more common on wet rivers. All of these factors, plus opponent tendencies will guide your decisions about things like whether to turn top pair with a bad kicker into a bluff, or go for thin value with a mediocre two pair when you feel the situation is such that someone’s likely to look you up.
Putting all this together, what you’re doing on the river in Fusion is very much the same as with other games, but with the caveats that it’s harder to narrow opponents’ ranges than in other games and that position is therefore even more important. The short checklist of things to keep in mind is:
- You usually want to be betting hands that are either very likely to lose a showdown or very likely to win one, and checking the ones in between.
- When your actual hand is significantly stronger or weaker than the bulk of your range, you can bet more for deception.
- Don’t base your bet size on your holdings, but on your perceived range. When you do bet, bet less with a strong range and more with a weak one.
- Even more so in Fusion than other games, the timing with which an opponent switches from aggression to passivity or vice versa, and the board texture when it happens is going to define their range. A switch to aggression on a seemingly dry community card can indicate an improvement in hole cards.
- Because ranges are wide, the last player to act holds a big advantage. To counteract this, check-raise the river more in Fusion than in other games, and expect the same from experienced opponents.
- When pots are checked multiway to the river, expect the best hand to be in the top pair to weak two-pair range and play your own hand accordingly.
Hopefully this series of articles has been helpful in getting you started with Fusion. Keep in mind that like any poker game, there are layers of strategy that can’t be covered in a few thousand words; consider all the books that have been written about No-Limit Hold’em, for instance. However, a lot of advanced poker strategy like range-building, range-reading and bet-sizing comes down to mathematical concepts that can be applied to any game. The goal in this series was to point out the ways in which Fusion differs at an intuitive level and help you adjust your heuristics when you’re starting off. Ultimately, however, there’s no substitute for experience, so get yourself to the tables!
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.