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Three $2-$5 Decisions

by Ed Miller |  Published: Apr 13, 2016

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Ed MillerIf you’ve been following my columns for a while, you probably have a pretty good idea of how I like to handle many common situations at the live $2-$5 no-limit level. In this column, you can test your knowledge with some hand quizzes I have adapted from my latest book, The Course: Serious Hold ’Em Strategy For Smart Players.

Hand 1

A player limps. You raise to $20 from two off the button with KDiamond Suit QDiamond Suit. The big blind calls, as does the limper. There’s $62 in the pot.

The flop comes AClub Suit 8Club Suit 5Diamond Suit.

Your opponents check. You bet $40, and the big blind calls.

The turn is the 10Spade Suit. Your opponent now bets $60 into the $142 pot. What should you do?

I would raise. This is a live-read situation that applies in most games. The player in the big blind has an ace with a kicker he’s worried about. He check-calls the flop, and then he bets out on the non-club turn card in an attempt to see where he’s at. He’s worried if he checks the turn, you’ll make a big bet, and he won’t know whether to call down or fold.

He tries to derail that potential course of action by betting out of turn. But he doesn’t want to invest a lot in the hand because he’s worried he’s beaten. So he bets around half-pot. His plan is to fold if you raise. That’s the entire point of keeping the bet on the small side—so he saves money if he has to fold. So make him fold.

You can just blow him out of the water by raising his $60 bet to $180 or more. Or, if you want to get greedy (entailing more risk on your part, of course), you can min-raise him to $120. That bet may get him to fold as well, but he might feel obligated to call for only $60 more. Then the plan is to blow him out on any river card. Both options are viable. The second is riskier because it allows a card to come off that helps his hand. It does, however, save a few bucks if your opponent was setting you up and reraises. But this set-up rarely happens.

If you’re playing out of the big blind against a professional live no-limit hold ’em player, an ace hits the flop, and you want that player to raise you on the turn, you can take this betting line. Check-call the flop, then bet out small on the turn. You’ll get that raise the vast majority of the time. Almost all live pros know about this spot.

Hand 2

A player limps. You make it $20 to go with AClub Suit 5Club Suit from the cutoff. The button calls, the big blind calls, and the limper calls. There’s $82 in the pot.

The flop is QClub Suit 9Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit. Everyone checks to you, and you bet $80. The button and big blind fold, and the limper calls.

The turn is the 10Heart Suit. Your opponent checks. What do you do?

Check. I am always stressing how important it is to be aggressive on the turn, but this hand is an exception to the rule. The ten is the worst turn card for you if your goal is to get your opponent to fold. A lot of different hands will call this flop, from A-Q to 7-5, and everything in between. Almost all these hands improve with the ten.

Here are a few examples. J-10 improves from a straight draw to a pair and a straight draw. 10-9 obviously improves to two pair. J-9 improves from a pair, to a pair and a straight draw. 8-7 improves to a straight. 10-8 improves to a pair and a double gutshot. And so forth.

Almost no matter what your opponent has, if he thought his hand was worth an $80 call on the flop, he will think this turn card improved his hand. The goal is to attack weakness and avoid strength. This turn card adds too much strength to your opponent’s range.

It doesn’t help that your hand has little value of its own on this board. You caught a bad turn card. Just give up.

If the turn had instead been the 3Heart Suit, this would be a clear situation in which to bet again.

Hand 3

A player opens for $20 on the button. You’re in the big blind with KHeart Suit 7Heart Suit and make it $60. Your opponent calls. There’s $122 in the pot.

The flop is QHeart Suit JDiamond Suit 7Spade Suit.

You check, and your opponent checks back.

The turn is the 3Heart Suit, making the board QHeart Suit JDiamond Suit 7Spade Suit 3Heart Suit and giving you a flush draw. There’s still $122 in the pot. What should you do now?

This card is one of the reasons you should stick to suited hands when you make light three-bets preflop. I would bet this card for sure, and would certainly barrel the river as well. I’d probably bet about $70 on the turn. This bet size should get folds if your opponent whiffed the flop entirely, but it will get calls from all the marginal paired hands like A-J.

And it’s fine if you get called. You expect it. The hammer comes on the river. No matter what card arrives (unless you hit your hand), fire $220 or so into the $262 pot. This line credibly represents that you hold A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or J-J, and you decided to get “tricky” by checking the flop. Most $2-$5 regulars who are used to playing against fairly passive opponents will fold.

If you hit your hand, bet a smaller amount in an attempt to squeeze a call out of a queen.

Note that this advice to bet a large amount as a bluff and a smaller amount for value is highly exploitable if you’re playing against observant enough opponents. In practice, it’s much harder for most players to decode your river bet-sizing decisions than it is for them to decode more common situations that arise on the flop and turn. So you can probably get away with forking your range in this way.

But if you suspect your opponent is semi-clever, you should stick to the $220 bet size with all your hands. That way if your opponent tries to get smart and call your bluff sometimes, he will also end up sometimes paying off a large bet when you make two pair, trips, or a flush.

Final Thoughts

One reason poker is a great game is that simple rules don’t get the job done. Aggression after the flop is often the best strategy, as it was in hands one and three. But in hand two, the interaction between the opponent’s likely hand range and the turn card meant it was time to let up on the throttle.

It’s easy to miss these subtleties, but mastering them is key to conquering live poker. ♠

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.