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More Good Questions

Strategy conversation with a student

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Feb 18, 2011

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In my last column, I explained that the questions a client asks are a good indicator of how much progress he is likely to make from my instruction. I now would like to continue my conversation with a client who has shown a lot of promise by asking good questions.
Client: My post-flop play pays close attention to your philosophy about the number of opponents being very important when deciding whether or not to make a continuation-bet. In making my bet/no-bet decision, I also factor in heavily the texture of the flop. Now, I want to pick your brains and have a discussion about bet-sizing. I am referring to when you have one pair, good kicker, and think it’s the best hand. As a general rule, if the flop is draw-heavy and I have the lead, I am going to value-bet just a tad less than the size of the pot against one to three players; against four or more players, I might check and await developments. If there is a possible made straight, and especially if there is a possible made flush, I would be even more prone to check into several players. If the flop is ragged, with no flush draw, I would normally bet a tad more than half the pot. If I like the turn card and want to bet, it will usually be about half the pot. However, I might decide to check on the turn to exercise pot control.
Bob Ciaffone: If I see a neutral turn card and want to bet when there was a flush draw on the flop that failed to arrive, I bet 80 percent to 100 percent of the pot size. I will drive my opponent out or likely know what he has if he calls me. In my opinion, turn betting is the most important decision in hold’em. I am very aggressive when I do not get a show of strength from my opponent on the flop. Pot control as I define it is trying to get control of the pot! (The usual meaning is trying to avoid overcommitment by checking or making a relatively small wager.) I usually either check or fire a big blast.
Client: Having said all of the above, I want to bring stack size and commitment into the discussion. Using the above sizing guidelines, if you agree that they are correct, how large or small would your stack have to be to just go all in instead of making that size a bet?
Bob Ciaffone: As a rough rule of thumb, if the pot size is half the size of my remaining money or greater, and there is a plausible draw on the board, I normally blast the whole thing, or not at all. Important exception: If the board is paired, this takes a lot of the sting out of a draw, so I am much less committal. Someone can slow-play with a paired board a lot easier than with an unpaired one, because there are few cards that will beat him if he is ahead.
Client: I am also having some difficulty in determining the proper bet size in situations where it is pretty clear that I have the best hand but am vulnerable to possible draws. If there is more than one player, it is even more difficult. I don’t want to lose value by betting too much and blowing everyone out of the pot, nor do I want to bet too little and give someone the right implied odds to call. And how do you adjust your decision if there is more than one player? For example, in a $1-$3 blinds game with $300 effective stack sizes, you hold A-K, raise to $15 preflop, get three callers (not the blinds), and will be first to act with $64 in the pot. What would your thinking be if the flop came K♥ J♣ 8♥?
Bob Ciaffone: I seldom look to play a big pot with one pair when three other players stay for a flop like that one. There are too many potentially potent adversaries when the flop comes that high. You run into a big draw, two pair, or a set all too often. I would probably check. If I bet, the natural amount would be $50. I like to bet round numbers, and often bet close to the pot size. If I am called by someone, the pot is now $164 and I have $235 left.
On the turn, I would either move all in or check-fold. Betting $135 and folding to a raise is against my religion, so I am apt to bet it all.
As for my opponent, on the flop, if he is any kind of a player and holds a draw, he will either raise all in or fold. So, you can see that against good players, my whole stack may well be in action if I bet on the flop.
In a tournament, you get only so many good hands, so I might prefer to play my hand strongly. For money, I am more cautious. I may check a flop like this if I face more than two opponents, especially if it is suited. Any flush draw other than the nut-flush draw is very likely to have at least a gutshot-straight draw or a pair to go with it. However, a non-suited flop is still very dangerous, because a player with a straight draw is more likely to play it strongly if there is no flush draw, and there are a lot of straight draws with this flop. Your opponents may put you on a hand of less than top pair if you check. But they fear each other, so the field may get a free card. If that card is a blank (offsuit, 6 or lower), I am likely to bet the turn. So, checking the flop is not a complete surrender. That’s how I play against good players. Against idiots who call with a draw or with a piece of the board lower than top pair, I might make a bet of $30 into a field of three others, with the intention of betting again if I am called and a blank comes.
Client: If there were no two-flush, how would that affect your decision?
Bob Ciaffone: I am more likely to bet when there is no flush draw, but would still favor a check if facing three other players with all of those big cards on the board.
Client: What if everything was the same, but you were last to act? 
Bob Ciaffone: I may take a card off against a big field of players, especially if they are prone to check-raise.
Client: Would your decision change in the preceding two examples if you were heads up?
Bob Ciaffone: If I had only one opponent, I would bet $50, and against most players, I would likely move in if raised. Having only one opponent makes a huge difference, as you can see. He knows that I am less likely to have a real hand when I fire in a heads-up situation, and is more likely, when aggressive, to have a hand that I can beat. ♠

Bob Ciaffone has authored four poker books, Middle Limit Holdem Poker, Pot-limit and No-limit Poker, Improve Your Poker, and Omaha Poker. All can be ordered (autographed to you) from Bob by e-mail: bthecoach@att.net. Free U.S. shipping to Card Player readers. Ciaffone is available for poker lessons at a reasonable rate. His website is www.pokercoach.us, where you can get his rulebook, Robert’s Rules of Poker, for free. Bob also has a website called
www.fairlawsonpoker.org.