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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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6/8 – It’s a rare case that the best move in a no-limit hand is to bet to “protect”. We should be more concerned about getting value

There are primarily three reasons to bet in no-limit hold’em. The first and most important is betting for value. Especially at the lower levels this is where 95 percent of the money is won or lost. Secondly, we can bet to bluff someone off of a better hand. Lastly, we can bet for protection.

Betting to protect your equity in the pot is a much more common concept in PLO when equities run much closer even with one card to come. The concept still exists in hold’em but it is usually misunderstood.

At the lower levels you will see players commonly bet big with what they think is the best hand to “protect” against the draws. What they do not understand is that they want to in fact get value from a draw. Say for example we raise to $35 in a $5-$10 no-limit game with ADiamond Suit KDiamond Suit. Only the big blind calls. The flop comes out 9Spade Suit KClub Suit 3Spade Suit. The big blind checks and we bet $85. Our opponent hems and haws and finally folds 6Spade Suit 7Spade Suit face up saying “that’s too much to call on a flush draw.” We happily take down the pot not realizing that we have made a critical mistake. We actually want the draw to call so long as we do not incorrectly pay off on future streets.

It is pretty rare that we actually want to bet to protect our hand in no-limit hold’em. The situations are a lot more uncommon than people think. Usually we want to bet to protect when we have an unpaired ace-high hand that we think is best and do not want to give off a free card to another unpaired hand that would not call a bet. Say, for example, we hold A-J on a 9-3-3-7 board. We were the preflop raiser and we checked back the flop. Now our opponent has checked again on the turn and we are fairly certain that he does not have a pair. It would be bad for us to wrap behind again and have a hand like K-T, which would fold right now, to catch up to a better hand.

Another example of hand protection is when we think that our opponent is semi-bluffing the turn, but, if he misses, will not bluff the river and the pot is rather large. Take a board of 8Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit 2Heart Suit. We hold K-K and have now been check-raised on the turn. Let’s say we only have a pot-sized bet left after we call the check-raise. If we think that we have the best hand (which may not always be the case), we should probably just ship all-in especially if a hand like 4-5 will not bluff the river if missed. We are actually giving our opponent a free shot at our stack by not moving over the top of his check-raise.

Lastly, and probably the most misunderstood protection bet occurs when we hold a near-nut hand that will only get action on a future street if we are beat. This commonly occurs when we flop trips with a very good kicker. Say for example we raise with AHeart Suit KHeart Suit on the button. The small blind calls and a limper calls. The flop comes out KClub Suit KDiamond Suit 8Spade Suit. It gets checked to us and we decide to slowplay since there are no draws on the flop. The turn comes the 2Diamond Suit and the small blind now leads out. The limper folds and we decide to raise. The small blind now reraises and we snap ship all-in. Our opponent beats us into the pot and much to our dismay tables 2-2.

This scenario is less common at the higher levels nowadays, but, years ago when a lot of people played no limit poorly, I used to see it all the time. They thought that their hand was so big on the flop that they didn’t need to bet and did not realize that they in fact had to protect against these type of two out hands that would only give them action on future streets if they had them beat.

5/19 – Committing significant money on close EV situations leads to high variance but there are advantages to doing so.

Cash games, unlike tournaments, are about finding any advantage in a given situation, no matter how slight. In theory, if you have a .01 percent edge in a one million dollar pot you are giving up $100 if you do not take it. Of course bankroll considerations always are factors in these types of situations. However, if you are properly rolled for the games that you are playing, and if you have good emotional control, you should have no problem getting into spots that are close to neutral expected value.

Much like the article I wrote about not running the cards more than once a few months ago, as professionals we need to use any edge that we can get versus recreational players. One of the biggest things that professionals do better than non-professionals is tilt control. I would have no problem flipping for large sums of money if I knew that my opponent played badly if they got stuck. I have confidence in my ability to stay level headed even when I am down. Most non-professionals cannot do this. They start to play poorly when losing and we gain even more of an advantage over them.

One of the other reasons that you should take neutral EV situations if your bankroll can withstand them is because of image. If you have listened to any of my training material you will know that I strongly believe that live image has much more to do with winning or losing than looseness or tightness (check out my Deuce Plays free episode “Image”). When you are winning you can get away with a lot more at the table. People believe your bets, give you more respect and tend to stay out of your way. This is a really good thing in hold’em, when, more often than not, people do not connect with the flop. If you take a neutral EV situation and win a large pot knowing how to correctly leverage your image will give you a huge advantage over the table. It is almost a kin to having a big stack in a tournament. In fact, if you can correctly adjust to having a losing image (tightening up, bluffing less, and value betting more) than winning a big pot is way more influential than losing one. Because of this we want to get ourselves into situations when we can win big, so long as the EV is at least neutral. You can even make the case that you can take slightly the worst of it if your opponent is prone to badly tilting. The small percentage points that you give up in the actual hand can be more than made up by your opponents’ future bad play.

On the flip side of this argument, if you are constantly getting into close to neutral EV situations and your roll is not large enough to withstand the variance, there is a good chance of going broke (risk of ruin, mathematically speaking). Poker players traditionally underestimate their risk of ruin. This is why, when playing high enough, no matter how bad the opponent is, if he has an unlimited source of money there is always a chance that he can break you. As the skill gap diminishes and the stakes get larger, especially in games where the EV runs a lot closer, like PLO, this risk of ruin becomes a real possibility. ♠

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