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by Bart Hanson |  Published: May 30, 2012


April 9th – Be wary of multiway pots where you can be up against a made hand and a dominating draw. That is a recipe for 0 percent equity

It is pretty rare that you find yourself drawing virtually dead when playing no-limit hold’em. Even if you get it in preflop with rags against aces, usually you are going to have at least ten percent equity. Much like when people overvalue top pair and a flush draw, like I discussed in a previous article, a lot of inexperienced players do not recognize situations where they are likely to be up against a made hand and a dominating draw. If you find yourself in this situation you basically have a 0 percent chance to win the hand. These spots can sometimes be tricky to recognize as we may be getting some great pot odds in multiway pots.

Let’s take a look at an example. Say an early position player with an $800 stack raises to $20 in a $2-$5 no-limit game. A mid-position player calls with a $700 stack and we overcall covering both players with 8Diamond Suit 9Diamond Suit. The flop comes out big for us – QDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit. The preflop raiser checks and the mid position player bets out $50. We decide to raise to $175 thinking that we can get the mid-position player off of a queen. The preflop raiser now check-raises to $500. The original better thinks for a while and calls. What kind of hands do we think that our two opponents have? Normally, the preflop raiser would bet out with A-A or K-K on this board, not go for a check-raise. And, especially after this crazy action in front of him, check-raising with those types of hands would be a big overplay.

In reality, he most likely has a monster like top set when he check-raises both a bet and a raise. His sizing suggests extreme strength and even though he did not push all-in we can treat his play as all-in as he is never going to fold. The mid-position player’s flat call after tanking would suggest some sort of big draw. He could have KDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit, KDiamond Suit TDiamond Suit, JDiamond Suit TDiamond Suit or ADiamond Suit xDiamond Suit. His flatting and not reraising all-in skews his range towards one of these hands, as he would probably choose to protect and shove if he had a hand like 3-3 or Q-9. Even though we are getting incredible pot odds (over 2-to-1 with two cards two come) with our pair and flush draw, we are most likely drawing dead. In fact, the only way we could win here is if we made running quads or some sort of running straight flush.

This is definitely a rare situation in hold’em, but is something that you should be aware of. I have seen big pots won and lost when a third player in the hand is crushed by a bigger draw and is up against a made hand. You have to recognize these spots when they come up and do everything to avoid them.

April 10th – Check-calling on the river is generally bad in live games. Err towards bet/folding unless u r inducing a bluff.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see at the lower stakes of no-limit is the check/call on the river. In an earlier article I talked about how important it is to raise/fold when playing deeper stacks. That concept stems from one of the most important moves in live no-limit – the bet/fold. Bet/folding refers to betting with a hand that you think is best and then folding to a raise. The mere fact, especially on the river, that your opponent raises, usually gives us enough information to know that our hand is no longer good. For some reason, most recreational players are scared of bet/folding which is why you see so much check/calling. Rampant check/callers lose a ton of value, especially on later streets.

Let’s take a look at an example. We raise in early position with AClub Suit AHeart Suit to $10 in a $1-$2 no-limit game with $300 effective stacks and the button calls. The board comes out KClub Suit 5Diamond Suit 2Club Suit. We bet out $20 and our opponent calls. Turn is a TSpade Suit. We bet $50 and are called again. The river is the 7Club Suit, completing the flush. What is the best play here? Most players at the $1-$2 level would check/call. However, if we look at the combinations of hands that would call both our big flop and turn bets we see that there is actually more of a chance that our opponent has top pair. If our opponent does have a hand like K-Q or K-J and we check he will merely check back the river and we will win. However, if we make a small value bet, especially at this level, we are likely to get called. If our opponent was on a flush draw he will most likely raise the river and we can fold.

The worst option is for us to check and then call a bet. Especially when the scare card comes, it is so likely that your average player will check back one pair here. If, in fact, he does bet he most likely has one pair beaten. You can even make the case that the river is more of a check/fold then it is a check/call, but checking is giving up way too much value. You really should be bet/folding most rivers when you have what appears to be the best hand, unless the board runs out in a way where it is difficult to get called by worse.

There are two reasons where you should check/call the river, but they are normally misused. The first and most common is to induce a bluff. The best times we should do this are usually in spots where our hand is only medium strength and it is tough for us to get called by worse if we bet again. Let’s use the same example from above but change our hand from A-A to KDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit and change the river to a 7Heart Suit. We again bet both the flop and turn, but, on the river our hand basically loses to any other king that would call a preflop raise. There is not a lot of value in betting again because the flush draws will fold. However, we may want to consider check/calling if we think our opponent is capable of bluffing a flush draw. Again, we would never want to make this play with a hand like A-A or A-K because we lose all the value from those weaker kings on the river.

It is also a common misconception that people will all of a sudden bluff big when they miss if you have shown strength throughout the entire hand. Say you raised preflop and then bet close to pot on the flop and turn into three people. You have basically announced that you have a pretty strong hand and even clueless players will realize that when you check on the river you are not going to fold, especially in big pots where the draw misses. That is why we should concentrate on getting thin river value and not on catching bluffs as the pots get big.

The second reason why you may want to check/call the river usually only applies in bigger, tougher games or against good players. Basically you check to get your opponents to “value-own” themselves. Value-owning refers to when a player bets a hand that they think is best for value and gets called by a better hand. Sometimes it is best to allow your opponents to value-own themselves because if you come out and bet the river they might fold.

Here is an example of this – Let’s say a 70-year-old tight guy raises to $50 from up front in a $5-$10 no-limit game with AClub Suit QClub Suit and $1500 effective stacks. A young, skilled professional covers him and calls in position with KDiamond Suit QDiamond Suit. The board comes out QClub Suit 5Spade Suit 2Heart Suit. The 70-year-old bets out $75 and the professional calls. The turn is the 9Heart Suit. The old guy bets $100 and the professional calls once again. The river is the 3Heart Suit and the old guy checks. The professional, wanting to make it look like he missed a flush draw, now bets big – $300 for value. The old guy calls and scoops the pot. If the old guy had actually come out and bet $300 on the river, there is a good chance that the professional would have folded. Three bets from a tight upfront player is usually going to mean that K-Q is no good. However, since the old guy checked, he actually gets the professional to “value-own” himself, making even more money. There is an in depth discussion about bet/folding and river play on my Deuce Plays podcast “Citizen James Part I and II.” ♠

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 and his video training site specifically for live No Limit players— He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at