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Sometimes the board runs out in such a way where a very strong hand becomes just a bluff catcher
The nuts change street by street. Good poker players realize that sometimes their very strong hands may only beat a bluff with the given action. Weaker players do not know that their own hand strength is actually irrelevant in certain situations – your opponent either has what he is representing or he does not. Let us take a look at an example. Say in a $1-$2 game with effective stacks of $300 we raise with Q Q to $10 and three people call. The flop comes out very favorably for us – Q 3 2. We bet out $30 and one person from out of position calls. The turn is a 10. Our opponent checks, we bet $70, and again he calls. The river is one of the absolute worst cards the deck, the 6. Our opponent now open moves all-in for $190. So many times I hear inexperienced players say in this situation, “I have a set I have to call,” not realizing that their own hand strength does not matter. Their opponent either has a flush, straight or is bluffing. The fact that they have three queens is basically the same as having A-Q or, to a more extreme extent, ace-high (if we think that our opponent either has a flush or a busted straight-draw like A-5).
It is very difficult for lower level players to fathom this concept, yet it comes up all of the time. In many cases, your very strong hand has the equivalent hand strength of ace-high given the action of the hand combined with what your opponent might be representing. They simply have it or they do not. Now, this is a very extreme example and sometimes a set may beat a lesser holding that your opponent may be value-betting, but especially when the scare card comes on the river – and often it is a third suit – people shut down with anything less than a flush. If they are betting big they ether have the flush or are trying to represent it. The strength of your own hand is irrelevant and a second-nut holding may become just a bluff catcher.
Let us look at another example. We raise in position with K Q over one limper and get the pot heads up in a $2-$5 game with effective stacks of $500. The board runs out 10 9 3 2. We bet both the flop and turn and are called on both streets. The river comes a 4 putting four hearts on board. Our opponent now bets big into us on the river. We know that he is relatively passive and would not bet anything less than the king-high flush. Even though we hold the second nuts, our hand is basically the equivalent of holding no flush at all. He is either bluffing or has the nut-flush. We know that he is not betting anything weaker for value.
Just because you call the turn doesn’t mean you have to call the river when nothing changes. The fact your opponent bets again is change enough.
Whoever came up with the phrase “if I called the turn and nothing changes I have to call the river,” is not experienced in big-bet poker. In fact, you can make some very tough folds on the river because you called a big bet on the turn. Most opponents, especially at the lower levels, are incapable of three-barrel bluffing or value betting thin when the pot is large. Because of this we can often come to the conclusion that if our opponent bets big on the river after we call the turn, he has a strong hand. Let us take an example – With effective stacks of $700 we raise from under-the-gun to $20 with A A in a $2-$5 no-limit game and get two callers. The board comes out J 5 2. We bet $40 into $60 and the big blind check-raises us to $140. We call. Turn is the 6. The big blind bets out $200 and we call. River is the 10. The big blind moves all-in for $360.
The 10 on the river here is a pretty inconsequential card. Most likely if we are beat we were beat before the river. Why do we call the turn then? The answer is simple – to evaluate if we have the best hand and so that we can safely fold the river. Our turn call looks so strong, and, because we appear to be getting decent pot odds on the river, we gain information about the strength of our opponent’s hand by the shear fact that he has bet once again – especially if it is all-in.
We can use the same technique if we are playing a hand from out of position. Most low-level players love to go to showdown on the river with their medium strength hands especially as the pot gets big. Let us say we were out of position in the above example. We bet $40 first to act and are raised to $140 on the flop. We call. Our opponent keeps the pressure on us and we check/call $200 on the turn. On the river we once again check, and our opponent checks back A-J. You see this type of play all of the time. Lower-level players get scared when the pot gets big and are frightened that they may get raised off of their hand when they bet the river. For this reason they often go to showdown with hands that are worth value-betting. Because we have this information we can safely check fold a lot of rivers because we know that this type of opponent will only bet his monster hands and check back all of the holdings that we beat.
It’s really a weak play to check raise two pair out of the blinds in limped pots. Often you get everything worse to fold
People at small stakes live no-limit games fall into a lot of predictable patterns. One of the most common is the propensity for them to check-raise two pair out of the blinds in limped pots. There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be a weak play. We will use the following hand as an example. Say it gets limped around five ways and we check J-4 off-suit in the big blind. The flop comes out J 7 4. We check and the under-the-gun bets out $15 into $25. One player in the field calls. It gets back to us and we check-raise to $100. The under-the-gun better quickly folds and the cutoff tanks for a bit shows K-J and also folds. Is what just happened really a good thing? We did win the pot and we avoided some difficult decisions later on if the draws had come in. However, we have gotten an opponent from whom we could have extracted multiple streets of value to fold.
I have mentioned the adage “way ahead way behind” in some of my previous columns. You never want, in no-limit hold’em, to make such an aggressive action or bet where you get everything that is weaker than your hand to fold and only better to continue on. This is one of, if not the most important concept in no-limit hold’em, and people make bets that break this rule all of the time. I go into a detailed explanation of this in my latest free episode of Deuce Plays titled “Deuce Plays Premium – Why So Much?” By check-raising with two pair out of the blinds, often time you will get weaker top pair types of hands to fold and only better hands to continue. A better line would be to come out and bet from the blinds with these types of holdings and get a hand like K-J to call. You then build a pot up, and can extract even more value from weaker hands on subsequent streets.
Obviously, there are some hands that you can get value from by check-raising two pair (like draws). However, people at the lower levels seem to size their check-raises too large. They want to “protect” their hands from the draws instead of trying to extract value from them. You actually want the draws to call you so long as you do not pay them off later on in the hand if they complete. ♠
Want Card Player and Bart to provide analysis on a cash game hand you played? Send full hand details (blinds, stacks, street-by-street action) to @CardPlayerMedia. If we choose your hand, we’ll send you a Card Player subscription.
Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on twitter @barthanson. Check out his podcast “Deuce Plays” on DeucesCracked.com and his video training site specifically for live No Limit players—CrushLivePoker.com. He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at LivettheBike.com
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