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No-Limit Betting Patterns To Monitor — Part I

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Apr 30, 2014


Bob CiaffoneOne of the most frequent questions I am asked by a poker client is “What sort of things should I be watching for when in a no-limit hold’em (NL) game?”

I usually give the generic (but accurate) answer, “Anything out of the ordinary.” By the time you reach my doorstep, you are supposed to know what is a normal play in the betting and what is unusual. Anything that is uncommon should catch your eye.

In this article, I will focus on certain NL betting patterns that you should pay close attention to in both your opponents and yourself. You can fall into the bad poker habit of developing one routine way of handling these betting situations, and so can an opposing player. Here is my list of situations that you should be monitoring for the frequency of a recurring pattern. Of course, you want to have a degree of randomness in your own game, and detect a recurring pattern that can be exploited in the opposition.

How do you play your big pairs (A-A and K-K) in the preflop betting? Sometimes you limp in with the intention of reraising, other times you open raise. It is necessary that you mix up your plays with these hands. I admit to limping up front more often with kings than aces, for the simple reason that having half the aces in the deck reduces the chance of an opponent raising the pot. Bobby Hoff told me back in the nineties that he also liked to open raise with aces because when he is lucky enough to find an opponent with kings (or possibly queens), there will be more money committed to the pot if he is reraised, as opposed to merely raised. Depending on how often I play against particular opponents, and how observant they are, I feel it necessary to use the opposite strategy of raising with kings and limping with aces a certain amount of the time, to avoid being too readable. In an aggressive game with a lot of preflop raising, I sometimes limp with a big pair in a position other than under the gun, but this is rare. I also like to represent a big pair when holding A-K by limping in and then reraising. First, the play often works. Second, it lets the opponents know that I might have a hand other than a big pair when I limp and reraise. If there are some aggressive shortstacks in the game, I would consider just calling when up front with queens or jacks, with the intention of just calling if the raiser has a lot of chips, but reraising a shortstack.

When you hit your draw, do you tend to bet it or just check? Any good player will vary how they play in this circumstance, but I often run into an opponent who automatically checks after hitting a big hand when acting first. Some people are so mechanical about checking the goods that they sometimes check out of turn when hitting. I admit there is a certain sense of satisfaction in getting an opponent to bet your hand for you, then letting him know where the power really lies. However, your check may have the bad effect of letting the opponent have a free card (when he would have folded to a bet) and then beating one of your good hands for a lot of money. It may also allow the board to get cluttered with possibles and thus decrease the chance of your getting paid off. For example, when you hit holding the ace-high flush draw, a fourth card of that suit is normally quite unwelcome, even though you still hold the nuts. You also should not go too far in the other direction, always betting to make every effort to stop the drawout. A complete poker player must vary how he acts after hitting his draw.

Does your opponent have to deal with your having a wide range of hands when he bets and you call him with position? You could have either a “calling hand” or a big mitt that intends to come to life in the turn betting. However, there is a third category of hand, a middle ground that should be added to your armory of weapons in this spot. You may hold a hand that is plenty good enough to raise with, but one where you wouldn’t wish to play for all your money at deepstack poker. Typically, that hand is either a big overpair to the board or a high card with an ace kicker that forms a pair with a large board card. So we are talking about A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, and A-Q. I seldom play for all my dough on just one pair (unless my opponent is shortstacked), and do not like to raise with the intention of folding if the opponent plays back at me. A call on one of these solid hands is often called “smooth calling.” Naturally, the smooth call risks the opponent making two pair or better on the turn with a hand that would probably have folded if raised on the flop. But it certainly has its plusses.

The smooth call makes you less likely to take a big loss to a draw after getting reraised after you raise on the flop. The draw gets “defanged” when it has only one card left to make its hand.

The smooth call gives you less exposure to a big loss when it is second-best. Smooth calling helps you to extract another bet — sometimes two bets — from a hand that would have folded to a raise (I seldom smooth call on other than a rainbow board, so the opponent probably has two-to-five outs on a normal layout). But I am discussing it in this article because it also has an effect of affecting the range of hands you can have when you just call an opponent. It turns a call into an offensive weapon that the opponent must reckon with, often enabling you to win the pot on the turn if your opponent dogs it with either a check or a piddling-size wager. So you should vary your range of hands to fill in the middle ground between the extremities of dog and monster when you call with position.

Do you sometimes check/call the flop with a hand that could have raised? When you are out of position and call a bet, it is also a good idea to vary your play by sometimes holding one of these good smooth-call hands. This weapon may get you a free card when someone else would have gotten bet out of the pot. It may also allow you to make a solid bet on the river that wins the pot if the opponent is intimidated into checking the turn.

Poker players and writers often talk about the range of hands a person can have in a given situation, which would be the best and worst hand the opponent can hold. To confront the opponent with the maximum difficulty, you ought to have a substantial middle to your range of hands, as an either/or situation is easier for opponents to cope with. ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.