David Tuchman continues his series on limit hold’em strategy with a look at post-flop play and the concept of buying free cards
In limit hold’em there are no fixed rules about post-flop play. You have to think about what you are tr ying to achieve with each move, and tr y to manipulate the table into doing what you want it to do. I’m not looking to beat any one player in particular. I leave my ego at the door. I’m not picky – I’ll take anyone’s chips.
However, having said there are no rules, I will add a couple of guidelines I generally stick to. Firstly if I’m the pre-flop raiser and I’m heads-up or three-handed, I’ll almost always make a continuation bet. I’m a big believer in giving my opponent the chance to fold. Remember, they are going to miss the flop much more often than they’ll hit it. With more than three opponents, I won’t make an automatic continuation bet. It’ll depend on other factors.
Secondly, I don’t slow-play big hands. There are only so many streets on which you can make your money, and in a limit game most opponents won’t give you credit for the hand you have.
Similarly, I don’t check to the raiser. Why give him the lead and the control? If your opponent is aggressive, you’ll get an extra bet out of him. You’ll bet into him, he’ll do the auto-raise, giving you the opportunity to three-bet. If I ever check to the pre-flop aggressor, it’s so I can check-raise and drive out the rest of the field.
RAISING ON THE COME
Playing draws well is a key skill in limit poker, and semi-bluffing should be an important component of any good player’s strategy. You can’t wait to make your hand to bet or raise. Your opponent could just be making a continuation bet. If you flop a draw, go ahead and bet or raise it, especially in position. If you raise your opponent on the flop you’re putting in an extra small bet and you’ll often buy yourself a free card on the turn, which is the more expensive street.
Raising ‘on the come’ or semi-bluffing in position has many benefits: you may buy a free card on the turn and save one small bet; if you hit your hand you’ve built up the pot and made it harder for your opponents to give up their hand; and you also gain some fold equity by representing strength. The only negative of semi-bluffing is that good players will know what you’re up to and will often three-bet or lead out on the turn.
Of course not all draws are equal, and only some are conducive to a semi-bluff. When deciding how to play and whether you should continue with a hand, it’s important to know how often you’ll make your draw and to be confident you’re drawing to the best hand.
To work out some rough odds, figure out how many outs you have and multiply them by four on the flop or by two on the turn. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close and it’ll give you an idea of where you stand.
So for example, you’re playing $10/$20. You think your opponent has pocket Aces and you have a flush draw with an inside straight draw on the flop. So, you’d have nine flush cards and three additional straight cards to make your hand, giving you 12 outs and (according to the rule of thumb given above) about a 48% chance of hitting. As such, you’re a slight underdog to the Aces, so you should fold, right? Wrong.
Remember, this isn’t no-limit hold’em. Your opponent can only make one big bet ($20) and the pot will always be laying you the proper odds to make the call. In this case you’ll be getting at least 5/1 on your money if you make your hand. Of course, this reasoning can be frustrating if you’re the one with the Aces because protecting your hand can be very difficult.
PROTECTING YOUR HAND
You might be thinking it’s impossible to protect your hand in a limit game, but that isn’t true. Take a situation where you hold A?-J? in early position and the villain has raised pre-flop from the button. You call as do two others. The flop comes J?-5?-8?. If you bet into the field here you might get called by second pair, an inside straight draw or who knows what. You’re a favourite to win, but maybe not against the entire field.
Another way to play this hand is to check to the raiser and let him bet. He bets and you check-raise, thus driving out your other opponents. You’ve now protected your one-pair hand by making everyone call two small bets cold. If they decide to be stubborn and call anyway, at least you’ve made them pay for it. When I flop a monster in early position, however, I am more likely to bet into the field. I want them all to call and get committed to a big pot. If I flop a draw to the nuts, I’m also going to bet into the field. I want them all to call. Remember, I need to hit my hand to win and when I do, I want as many players in the pot as possible.
By the time you get to the turn the stakes have doubled and the price is now one big bet. At this point if you’re playing in a multi-way pot and you’re still drawing, you’re probably getting the odds to continue. If you’ve got a made hand, this is the street where you have to decide how much you like your hand.
The old adage ‘raise or fold’ is quite appropriate here. If you think your hand is the best one, raise. If you don’t, fold. There are exceptions, but if you only called when you had draws and threw in bets and raises the rest of the time it would probably pay off.
There are times where I’ll even raise on the come on the turn. If I’m playing against a tight player and a scary card falls, I might raise trying to represent. For example if you hold 5?-6? on a flop of K?-7?-4? and the turn is a heart you might want to raise. If he calls, you still have outs, but if he only has K-Q, you might get him to fold. Do not try this against multiple players, however. If I’m continually involved in multi-way pots I leave my bluffing hat at the door.
Another interesting play on the turn is the raise for a free showdown when you’re in position. For example you hold K?-10? and the flop is K?-9?-7?. The turn brings the 6? and the villain bets into you. What’s your line? You could fold, but the 6? gave you a ton of outs (nine spades and three additional eights). In addition, a 10 might be good and, who knows, maybe your King is good.
Many players will call and hope to improve. I think you should raise. Unless your opponent has a set or two pair, it’ll be awfully tough for him to three-bet. If the river improves your hand you bet for value, and if it doesn’t you check, getting the free showdown. Think about it – if you called the turn, you’d probably end up calling the river when you missed and it would cost you the same two big bets.