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No-Limit Hold’em — Poker Evolution

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Sep 01, 2010


Over the last couple of year’s poker has changed a great deal. The watershed moment was the U.S. government passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which made it very hard for their citizens to play poker online, thereby vastly reducing the amount of bad players playing online. The average player now understands a lot of important concepts that were only grasped by the better players at the time.

One example that springs to mind is checking on the river to a player you feel like is on a draw. Typically, you raise preflop, hit a strong hand on the flop (like an overpair or a set), bet the flop, and turn, getting called the whole way, all the draws miss and you check. Years ago almost no player could resist shoving their stack in hoping you would fold. The two key parts to this hand was to make a large (but not too large) bet on each street, charging your opponent the maximum to hit his draw, and then checking on the river giving him a chance to bluff at it. It would often be a mistake to bet the river yourself, as you would be not letting the villain bluff.

I remember first utilising the strategy, and then over the years seeing it become more and more commonplace. It’s so well known at this stage that most players, even mediocre ones, will not fall for the obvious trap. These days it’s more common for a player to be more aggressive at an earlier stage of the hand, thereby balancing their range against the times they have a strong made hand and not just a draw. This is one of the ways in which the game has gotten harder, you need to be more subtle and sophisticated to get chips from your opponents.

I played a hand recently where I took advantage of what I knew about my opponent’s thought process. It’s a pretty simple hand, but shows how to manipulate the typical player’s thought process these days.It was $1-$2 no-limit hold’em on a site with U.S. players.

The villain, who was a pretty tight, thinking player that I had played with a lot raised preflop from under the gun. We both had around $500. One other player called and I called along on the button with sixes. The flop was J-7-6, with two hearts. This is a very dangerous board, there are loads of draws. It’s also a board that is not very good for continuation betting for the under the gun player, as it hits the two cold callers ranges pretty hard. Either of us could easily have 66, 77, 67 and possibly JJ (which would be three-bet a certain percentage of the time). Under the gun bet out and the other caller called. At this point I would usually raise, for obvious reasons. However I thought that a) he would probably just fold an overpair to a raise here, possibly calling one bet and shutting down afterwards, and b) he would never expect me to call with a set here, closing the action, with such a good chance of being outdrawn. So I called.

In a perfect world the turn would be a blank. What I’m doing on the flop is really gambling for a blank on the turn so that I can stack an overpair. However the world is far from perfect, and the turn was the three of hearts. This completes both a somewhat unlikely straight draw, and the obvious flush draw. Under the gun then leads out for around half the pot. When he bets here his range is pretty narrow. From playing with him I don’t think he would bet an overpair, even if he had the ace of hearts. (He would check call so as to induce a bluff and make sure he isn’t blown off his hand/forced to stack off, as he would also do with a set). He could certainly semi-bluff here with a hand containing a high heart, but I would expect him to bet a bit bigger. It’s definitely part of his range, but what I really put him on was a flush, and a high one since he raised from under the gun. The caller in the middle thought for a while and folded, probably folding a jack or an underpair.

I smooth called the turn bet, planning on folding to a river bet. Thankfully though the river was another three, pairing the board. The villain led out with a pretty large bet. Clearly at this stage he put me on a flush, and was trying to get maximum value. Had the river not paired the board I think he might bet small, or check, so he could stack my lower flush, but he bet big thinking I would just call with my flush, fearing he had a house.

Under normal circumstances, I don’t think he would call a raise all in here with a flush — these deep bluffs are pretty uncommon — and he knows I’m good enough to not overvalue a low flush here, but the whole hand hinged on my flop call, I thought he wouldn’t not believe that I had called along with my set. So I thought for a little while, hopefully giving him the impression I was contemplating something, then shoved my entire stack in. He thought for a while, nearly timed out, then called with K-Q of hearts.

We talked about the hand afterwards (he got most of his money back when we both managed to get all in preflop with A-K and he hit a flush) and he said that when I called the turn he put me on a flush or A-J, with the ace of hearts. He was worried I had the nut flush, but didn’t think I would overshove it on a paired river, when I shoved he convinced himself I was turning A-J into a bluff.

Maybe he had read one of my previous articles! Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.