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We tackle the problem of playing medium-strength hands out of position in heads-up pot-limit Omaha

One of the most difficult situations that arises in heads-up pot-limit omaha is how to play medium-strength-to-weak hands out of position regardless of the size of the game and, regardless of whether or not you are playing pure heads-up or in a ring game. It is difficult enough to play the nuts in this situation, trying to figure out how to extract the maximum from your opponent when you have little idea of whether they like the flop or not. But when you are unsure of the status of your hand, then you have a real problem.

Against aggressive and passive players, you can check medium-strength hands even though this is done for different reasons

Your job, as a player, is to make fewer mistakes than your opponents. Do this and you will win! But, when out of position, you have so little information to work with and sometimes the best decision-making policy is to make no further decisions at all, because you know they will be extremely difficult ones going forward. In this case, you trade risk for decision-making ease.

Because of this, playing medium-strength hands becomes a game of trying to extract the most information from your opponent; or if you are very weak, it becomes a game of trying to bluff your opponent. Either way, you’re trying to achieve this with the least amount of risk being taken. Under most circumstances, the key here is the least risk’; it is extremely important that stack control becomes paramount when playing at a disadvantage, or when playing with little information to work from. In other words, get the biggest bang for your buck.

So, how and when do you minimise your risk and maximise your information, or reduce your decisions going forward? Furthermore, with what type of hands do you apply these strategies? When playing out of position there are two main factors to consider: the first is the aggressiveness of your opponent and the second is the texture of the board. The aggressiveness of your opponent is crucial because that will tell you the likelihood that they will bet/bluff on the flop. The texture of the board is also key; this determines the likelihood that a scary card will hit the board on the turn or river, making play difficult for you. Given the scale of this topic, this month we’ll just be looking at tactics on untextured flops

Against an aggressive opponent

An aggressive opponent is very likely to bet any flop when checked to, or raise the flop weakly when bet into. When you flop a hand that is of medium-strength but likely to be good in heads-up play and the board is not too scary, then allowing your opponent to impale on your hand is the proper strategy. What I mean by this is: allow your opponent to bluff when the board is favourable to you.

Consider a situation where you are holding a hand like A-K-9-3 and the board comes A-8-3, with no suits. You are very likely to have the best hand here; there are no straight draws, and no flush draw either. You have two overcards in your hand for a higher two pair draw. If you lead out on a board like this you might very well kill the action. Also, you open yourself up to getting raised by your opponent and having to make a big decision. Against an aggressive opponent, you can check and let them bet it for you. It is likely your hand will still be good on the turn and you allow your opponent to lose extra money with a bluff which they will do if aggressive. If you happen to have the worst hand, you minimise your losses, killing two birds with one stone.

Let’s look at it from a hard-dollar standpoint: the pot has $400 in it. You flop Aces and 3s as in the example above and bet out $300. Your opponent then folds, holding nothing. You have won no extra money. But if your hand is no good, and your opponent has the best hand and raises you the pot, you have to call because of their aggressive nature. Now you have lost the $300, plus the pot-sized raise of $1,000. That’s a total of $1,300 and doesn’t even take into account the money you might have to put in on the turn and river. But what if you just check and call? Now against the opponent who has absolutely nothing, you will win at least the $300 they will bet trying to pick the pot up on the flop. You can then choose to check again on the turn if you improve your hand, or if the board comes a blank (if the board is scary, you can bet out on the turn).

So, instead of winning nothing against an aggressive opponent who has no hand, you have won $300 for sure. If you happen to have the worst hand, you lose $300 with the call instead of the $1,300 on the flop you would have lost if played the other way: betting $300 on the flop. On the turn your opponent’s bet will also be smaller, since the pot is smaller. As a result, you lose less going forward as well. By checking and calling this type of hand, you maximise your winnings against an aggressive opponent who holds nothing and minimise your losses against an opponent with the best hand.

Against an unaggressive opponent

If your opponent is unaggressive, they are less likely to try to pick up the pot on the flop. So, how do you get the maximum information here? You should check the flop with the intention of checking the turn if your opponent checks. But play with caution going forward if they bet.

Remember that even the most unaggressive opponent will rarely check twice. If you check the flop, they check and you check the turn, you will almost always get a bet out of them even if they have a weak hand. If you bet out, there is no way your opponent will try to bluff you, so you know they will just fold, meaning you’ll win nothing. If your opponent has the best hand, then checking the flop also maximises your information. A passive player who bets the flop when you check to them probably has a decent hand, so you must proceed with caution for the rest of the hand. You’ll get a lot of information from your opponent’s check, because this tells you they have nothing. If there is a bet, your opponent has something. Best of all, you’re getting bargain basement prices.

In summation
Against both aggressive and passive opponents you can check medium-strength hands, even though you’re doing this for different reasons. The aggressive opponent gets checked to in order to maximise your winnings by never discouraging them to bluff, which will minimise your losses by keeping the pot small as a result. The passive opponent gets checked to so that you can glean the most information, increasing the probability that you will get your opponent to bluff eventually on later streets.

You can see that in both cases the trick is to reduce the number of choices you have to make going forward. Every time you have to make a decision in poker you are opening up the possibility of making an error. When you have to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty, you might make a mistake because you don’t have all the information you need.

Even when people do have all the information they need, mistakes are still made. Decision-making in poker is often error-strewn. It goes back to my earlier point: when you have so little information to work with out of position, sometimes the best policy is to make no further decisions at all, because you know they will be extremely difficult ones going forward.

Next month, we will be looking at how to play medium strength hands on a textured board against different types of opponent. If you have any suggestions for future articles or just want to see what I’ve been up to, just log on to www.annieduke.com/askannie.php

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