A BEGINNER’S COURSE IN TEXAS HOLD’EM – PART 6
This is the sixth and last in a series of columns aimed squarely at
beginning hold’em players. The goal is to introduce new players
to this exciting game and give them enough background to make them feel
comfortable playing casino poker.
What Should I Do When I Make My Draw?
Many hold’em newbies automatically check a good flush from early
position, hoping to checkraise, thereby trapping their opponents for
an additional bet. Others will always bet. These are two very different
strategies. Which is correct?
General Rule on Checkraising
Here’s part one of the general rule on checkraising. Do it when
you believe you will have the best hand most of the time you are called.
Part two of the general rule on checkraising states that you need to
be certain your opponent will bet if you check. It’s no fun to
check a big hand only to have your opponents check behind you, especially
when you know they would have called if you had bet.
If you are not certain you’ll hold the best hand if you are called,
or you aren’t sure one of your opponents will bet if you check,
do not checkraise.
Top pair on the river
An enduring dilemma is what to do when you’re holding top pair
against one or two opponents and all the cards are out. Now you have
to decide whether to check or bet, or if your opponent acts first, whether
to call, fold or raise.
If you’re observant, you will have noticed that some opponents
will almost always bet top pair on the river, unless there is a strong
threat of a flush or straight. Others seldom bet one pair, even when
the board is not threatening. Most, however, fall somewhere in between.
This is a judgment call. There is no formula to help you determine the
best course of action, but there are some things you can do to clarify
Suppose you are first to act and raise before the flop with A-K. Two
opponents call. You bet the flop and the turn. Now the board shows A-Q-4-7-9
of mixed suits. All the cards are out, no one has folded, and it’s
your turn to act. Should you bet or check?
You’ll beat any pair, but lose to any two pair. Unless one of
your callers held a pocket pair of nines and made a set on the river,
you can probably dismiss the notion that there is a set out against
you. If one of your opponents either flopped or turned a set, he would
have raised on the turn — when the betting limits doubled.
Your real concern, of course, is whether one of your opponents holds
two pair. If an opponent held A-Q he probably would have raised before
the flop, called on the flop and raised your bet on the turn. An opponent
holding A-7, A-4, Q-4 or Q-7 would probably have raised on the turn.
If your opponents would raise with any two pair and call with lesser
hands, like A-8 or Q-J, you’ll want to bet. If they had made two
pair on the turn, that’s when they would have raised. Except for
the chance that they are holding A-9, Q-9, 9-7 or 9-4, your bet on the
river will elicit a call, and you’ll win.
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time your opponent is first
to act. If he bets, should you fold, call or raise, and if he checks,
should you bet?
If your opponent is very aggressive and tends to overplay weak hands,
you can raise if you suspect he is betting a weaker hand than yours.
If he is a tight player, just call his bet. If he is a real rock who
seldom, if ever, bluffs, then throw away anything less than top pair
with a very big kicker if he bets on the river.
The key, of course, is to know your opponents and their tendencies.
Top pair on the river is a very common situation, and it is critically
important that you learn to play it well.
When the Pot Gets Big
Pots sometimes grow quite large, particularly when there has been a
raise before the flop. This can tie a lot of players to the pot, and
if the flop provides a flush- or straight-draw to your opponents, you
can be certain they’ll be there to the end.
If the straight or flush cards fail to come, a bet will usually drop
any opponents who were drawing. Often there are only two or three opponents
contesting a very large pot on the river.
You might be in there with second pair, or perhaps top pair with a
marginal kicker, and your opponent comes out betting. You’re holding
a hand you’d throw away if the pot were small, but with all that
money in it, what should you do? Suppose you’re playing in a $3-$6
hold’em game and the pot is $90 by the time you reach the river.
If your opponent bets, the pot now contains $96, and is offering you
16-to-1 on your money. If you call and are beaten the cost is only an
additional $6. If you throw your hand away and your opponent was bluffing,
you made a $96 mistake.
The answer ought to be obvious. If you believe this to be a situation
in which your opponent would bluff more than one time in 16, go ahead
and call. Only if you are sure your opponent would never bluff, can
you comfortably throw your hand away.
You’re always better off committing the small error of calling
with a losing hand, than the catastrophic error of folding a winner.
In the situation cited above, even if your opponent would only bluff
one time in ten, you are far better off calling than folding.
If you were to call ten times, you’d lose $6 on nine occasions,
for a loss of $54. On the tenth occasion, you’d win a $96 pot,
for a net profit of $42. If you divide that $42 profit by each of the
ten times you called, your decision to call is worth $4.20 each time
you make it — regardless of whether you win that particular pot.
If you are second to act, and think there’s some chance you have
the best hand, even if you don’t consider yourself the favorite,
you might want to raise if your opponent comes out betting. By doing
this, you may get the third opponent to lay down his hand. If your first
opponent was betting a fairly weak hand in hopes that you might fold,
he, in turn, may now fold if he suspects you’re holding a powerhouse.
A play like this also adds some deception to your game. But like all
deceptive plays, you have to use it sparingly.
TIPS FOR NAVIGATING THE RIVER
Navigating the river can be tricky. Follow this map and you’ll
avoid the sandbars along the way.
1. Once the river card is exposed, your hand
no longer has any potential value. Its value has been realized.
2. Your decision to check or bet if no one
has acted, or fold, call, raise, or reraise if there has been
action, can only be based on your hand’s realized value.
3. When you make two pair it will usually
be the best hand. But if the turn or river brings a third suited
card, be careful, your opponent could have made a flush.
4. When it’s heads up, and the pot is
large, it’s better to err by calling with the worst hand,
than by folding the winner.
5. Overcalling requires a hand strong enough
to beat legitimate calling hands.
TIPS FOR WINNING HOLD’EM PLAY
If you play hold’em correctly, you’ll have incorporated
all of these tips into your game.
1. Play few hands from early position. You’ll
throw lots of hands away, but you’ll be saving money.
2. Position is critical in hold’em.
Certain hands that you would fold in early position can be raising
hands in late position.
3. Fit or fold: If the flop does not help
your hand, consider folding, regardless of how sweet it may
have looked before the flop
4. Many of your opponents will play A-K as
strongly as a pair of aces or kings, but it is not. A-K is a
powerful drawing hand, but it usually needs help on the flop
to win the pot.
5. Hold’em only looks like 7-card stud.
In reality, it’s a is very different game due to the use
of community cards, the positional aspect of the game, and the
fact that on the flop you will see 71 percent of your hand for
a single round of betting..
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