Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Two Flop Bets
Miller breaks Down Two Hands From Live Poker Show
I recently watched an episode of the excellent live poker show Live At The Bike when I saw two pots played in quick succession that neatly illustrate a critical no-limit hold’em hand reading concept.
The game was $5-$10 with a $20 straddle under the gun. The stacks in the game ranged from about $1,500 to over $5,000. The action was very loose preflop, and most pots were raised. It was typical for a hand to be raised to $80 or $120 preflop and for there to be two to four callers.
Here’s the first pot. (I’ve changed a few small details of the hands, but the changes don’t affect the action in a strategically meaningful way.) A player two off the button opens to $65. The cutoff and button call. There’s $230 in the pot, and the effective stacks are about $1,500.
The flop comes 8 4 2. The preflop raiser bets $80. The first player calls, and the second folds.
The turn is the A. The preflop raiser bets $140, and the second player calls.
The river is the 3. The preflop rasier bets $300, and the second player raises to $850.
Before I get into the analysis and tell you what each player had, I want to describe the second pot.
A player limps for $20 from under the gun. Another player makes it $115 to go from two off the button. The small blind calls, and so does the straddle. The limper also calls. There’s $470 in the pot and about $2,000 behind. The small blind is the preflop raiser and post-flop bettor from the last hand.
The flop comes 9 5 3. The small blind bets $500. Everyone folds.
So those are the two hands. Before I continue, give your hand reading a shot. Try to figure out the sort of hands the post-flop bettor was likely to have in each pot. (Remember that it’s the same person in both hands.)
I’ll start with the second hand since it’s simpler. The small blind player had Q-Q that he failed to reraise with preflop. He just called preflop, and then after he caught a favorable flop, he donk bet out for slightly more than the size of the pot.
Now let’s talk about the first hand. On a very similar flop to the second hand, he continuation bets $80 into a $230 pot.
The turn comes an ace, and he bets again—just shy of double the amount he bet on the flop. Then the river bricks the flush draw, but puts a four-card wheel on the board. He bets $300, which is just more than double the previous bet. At the time of the river bet, there is $670 in the pot and a little over $1,200 behind.
What can he have in this situation?
Well, he almost certainly doesn’t have a flopped overpair. The $80 into $230 is a tiny bet—much smaller than most $2-$5 or $5-$10 players would be comfortable making while holding an overpair. We see this assumption validated on the next hand where he whacks at the flop with a $500 bet holding an overpair.
If he doesn’t have an overpair, what does he have? He could have missed overcards, a draw, maybe a small pair like 7-7, or perhaps a semi-slowplayed set like 9-9.
The turn comes an ace, and he bets again, but it’s still relatively small. At this point it’s somewhat unlikely that he’s bluffing, since typical $2-$5 and $5-$10 players don’t double barrel often enough. (And they usually make at least somewhat bigger bets than these if they are truly bluffing.) It’s also somewhat unlikely that he’s got the flopped set, since I’d expect a bigger turn bet with that hand.
I’d expect at this point for the player to have usually either a pair of aces or a draw.
The river bricks the flush draw, but completes a possible four card straight. I’d expect at this point either a strong ace or occasionally a five (in a hand like A-5). A busted flush draw is possible, but that hand requires the player to have run a three-barrel bluff with small bets the whole way. Not impossible, but unlikely.
It turns out he held A 10 for a flopped flush draw and turned top pair. He called the river raise and caught his opponent bluffing with 9-8 (flopped top pair that didn’t look like much by the river).
These hands neatly illustrate how powerful bet-sizing tells can be. In the first hand, where the player flops a draw, he bets $80 into a $230 pot. On a very similar flop, where the player flops an overpair, he bets $500 out of turn into a $475 pot. In the first hand, he’s betting to try to win the pot, but because of the big draw, he’s not that worried about getting folds. Hence, he makes a very small bet. He figures that the bet might get people to fold, and if it doesn’t work, no big deal—he can hope to make his flush.
In the second hand, he’s worried about having his overpair drawn out on and wants to charge the maximum immediately.
This is typical thinking in live games at this level, and this sort of flop play is extremely exploitable. The exploitation in the second hand is simple—if you can’t beat an overpair, you just fold. In this way, you avoid giving the player any significant action on his big hand. (He didn’t reraise Q-Q preflop—presumably with the partial goal of keeping his hand disguised. And yet the moment the flop hits, he unmasks the power of his hand.)
In the first hand, the exploitation is that you can play your opponent for overcards, which is the likeliest possible holding once you can rule out an overpair. Then on most turn cards, you can take the pot away. And when an ace comes (like in this hand), you can know it’s fairly likely your opponent made a pair with the card and proceed accordingly.
I feel like the preflop raiser’s two opponents in the first hand both missed opportunities to make better plays. One of them folded to the $80 flop bet—and it turned out he was holding A-K. This fold was way too tight, not only because there was a decent chance on this ragged flop that A-K was still the best hand, but also because the weakness implied by the small bet made it likely that the button would be able to steal the pot with a turn bet. I would have called with A-K on the flop as the button.
The second opponent stayed in the hand—but his bluff attempt was ultimately poorly chosen. By the river, it was clear that the preflop raiser held at least an ace. And he had enough confidence in it to bet $300 on the river. As the player with 9-8 in this hand, I probably would have folded to the ace on the turn. ♠
Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.
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