Five tricky spots in online cash games (and how to defeat them)

Don’t get stumped by some of the most common situations you’ll encounter when playing online cash – defeat them and be a winner!

We’ve rounded up five of the trickiest spots in online cash games and explained what your thought process should be and how you should react in each case. It’s by no means a foolproof plan – poker is too subtle a game for that – but it will help you to start thinking along the right lines and eradicate any huge leaks. All scenarios assume that the players in each hand start with 100BB stacks.

1. Don’t be a jackass

What’s the problem?
You three-bet pocket Jacks for value but your opponent makes a small four-bet, putting the pressure back on you. Fold? Call? Raise all-in?! Don’t stress, here’s what to do…

The solution
Jacks are a strong hand and definitely should be three-bet preflop the vast majority of the time. The situation gets more complicated when you are four-bet, however, and how you should react depends on a number of different variables.

There is one thing you should never do, though, and that’s just call. Assuming your opponent’s bet sizing is fairly standard (a good four-bet should be around 2.5 times the three-bet size), it’s never a winning play to flat-call four-bets with 100BB stacks. If you did this with Jacks you would be left guessing far too often postflop, having already invested around 25% of your stack. If the flop came low you’d feel obliged to get it all-in with your overpair, and be drawing almost dead versus Q-Q, K-K and A-A. Or, if the flop held a Queen, King or Ace it would be very easy for your opponent to bluff you off the best hand.

So, as calling is out of the question, the only two options are to shove all-in or fold.

Which is best? The answer, as usual, depends on your opponent. For a shove with Jacks to be +EV your foe should have a four-betting range that includes occasional bluffs (that he is capable of folding), worse pairs than yours that will call and A-Q/A-K that will be racing. Against this range your Jacks have 52.75% equity, which can be rounded up when you factor in a small degree of fold equity against a few of those hands.

As you can see, shoving Jacks is not going to be hugely profitable for you, even against this fairly tight range. But aside from making a small profit, the main reason you should shove Jacks fairly often against aggressive opponents is to stop them four-betting you lightly at will, a tactic that is very hard to combat.

Now, if your opponent is so tight that he is incapable of four-betting anything other than Q-Q+ and A-K (and these players are very common), jamming Jacks is suicide. You only have 36% equity in this case, along with zero fold equity. It should be easy to observe which players are tight, which are aggressive and so on, to help you ascertain their possible four-betting ranges. But for a clearer, more quantified picture, get yourself a copy of Hold’em Manager and simply look at your opponent’s four-betting stats. Your decision with pocket Jacks then becomes a simple mathematical equation.

2. Donk donks you

What’s the problem?
You bet a good hand on the flop and turn, and a fish check-calls you on both streets. On the river the fish leads out for full pot. What does it mean?

The solution
While there are always going to be anomalies, fish generally share many of the same characteristics: they’re too loose, they call too much and they are very passive. Therefore, when a fish does the opposite and makes an aggressive bet on the river, it should set your spidey sense tingling.

There are going to be many instances where the fish is simply playing his hand face-up and betting for value. For example, say you hold A-K on an A♣-5♣-6-2♠ board and have bet both flop and turn and been called. The river is the 9♣, completing all sorts of draws. If a fish makes a big opening bet in a situation similar to this, your A-K is completely dead. You now beat nothing but a bluff, and there isn’t much for a fish to get to the river with that he could now bluff, as all the main draws got there.

Even in a far less obvious situation, such as holding A-A with the board reading J♣-5♠-4-9♠-K, you should still be folding the majority of the time if a fish donks into you for full pot. That’s because a fish would generally just check-call with the vast majority of hands he wants to get to showdown with, and bet out with hands that beat one pair.

As the fish is betting full pot you also have to be right 33% of the time to break even, giving you even more reason to fold. There are times when you should be calling these bets with one- and two-pair hands, but it shouldn’t be your default play. If you have a specific read on an opponent or you have seen them make this play before with air, that could persuade you to call. Always bear in mind that when a player drastically deviates from their normal play it’s for a reason. Don’t just call mindlessly but weigh up all the factors and think about the range of hands the fish is likely to do this with before making a decision.

3. The big set-up

What’s the problem?
You call a raise out of position and flop a set. How do you go about making the most value from your hand?

The solution
This is a nice problem to have, but making the most money from your huge hands is just as important as making huge laydowns or hero calls. On dry boards, such as 2-5♣-Q where you hold 2-2, the best line to take is quite clear. The way to gain most value is to check-call both flop and turn before looking to check-raise the river all-in.

On such a dry board a check-raise at any other point will give good players the opportunity to fold decent hands that they would otherwise value-bet for you on three streets.

If the board is more coordinated it often pays to play your sets fast. For example, say you have 9-9 on a 9♣-J♣-6 flop. In this instance you should always checkraise, because your opponent can easily put you on a drawing hand and stack off much lighter. It’s not uncommon for aggressive players to get all-in here with hands as marginal as K-J.

If you are just called in this situation you should be looking to make a good-sized bet on the turn that will allow you to naturally shove the river without overbetting. There aren’t really any bad turn cards that you shouldn’t bet. Even if the turn completes a draw you shouldn’t check. Your hand stands to be good so often that you may lose value by checking. Your opponent may also have picked up a backdoor draw that he’s now happy to call with. Even in the worst case scenario – that the turn made your opponent a flush or straight – you still have outs to a full house.

Maximising value from sets is quite simple in theory: the wider a range you can represent, the faster you should play them.

4. Multi-way madness

What’s the problem?
You raise A-A in early position and get three callers. It’s a wet, coordinated flop and your continuation bet gets raised…

The solution
Even with three callers your overpair of A-A is still going to be good on the vast majority of scary flops. Whether the flop is scary because it’s a paired board or because it’s draw-heavy, you should start by continuation-betting as usual. At this point there is still value to be had from worse hands, whatever the flop texture, and you also want to make players pay to draw. Hopefully a bet will either narrow the field or pick up the pot there and then.

Sometimes you’ll be raised on the flop, and it’s here that you need to exercise caution. Let’s say you are dealt one of those draw-heavy flops like 6-7-8♣ and your c-bet is raised by the first caller. Everyone else folds and it’s back to you. It may sound overly tight but it’s never a terrible play to just fold here.

For your opponent to reraise you with other players left to act shows great strength: in his eyes you should have a strong hand as you opened from early position. His likely range includes all twopair hands, sets, made straights, pair-plusdraw hands (like 8-9) and big flush draws.

Out of those combos the only hand you have a significant equity edge over is the flush draw. With all others you are way behind or flipping at best. It’s not easy to frequently fold overpairs in the face of aggression, but this disciplined approach can really pay off in the long run.

When you are reraised postflop, always bear in mind what your hand range looks like to your opponent. If he is likely to perceive you as strong yet is still raising, there’s a very good chance you are behind.

5. Overcard calamity

What’s the problem?
You three-bet K-K and get one caller, only for an Ace to flop. What now?

The solution
Whenever you’re dealt pocket Kings there’s a mental expectation that you are going to win a huge pot. However, such hopes must be abandoned if an Ace flops after you’ve three-bet. Now your priorities must shift to either attempting to win a smaller pot or simply getting away cheaply from the hand when you are beaten.

If you are out of position the hand is inevitably going to be harder to play, but in general you should still lean towards making a c-bet. It doesn’t have to be large,
and around half the size of the pot is ideal.

There are numerous reasons for doing this. First, you’re still betting for value. Just because an Ace has flopped doesn’t necessarily mean you are behind, and it’s perfectly conceivable that your opponent will call your c-bet with lower pairs or all manner of draws. The other reason why betting is best is that it denies your opponent the opportunity to bluff you off the best hand.

When you check, you’re conceding that you don’t have a big hand and want to control the size of the pot. Good opponents are going to exploit this by betting the flop (with or without an Ace) and forcing you into very tough decisions. Yes, you could feasibly check/call with K-K on an A-2-8 flop, but you’re then at your opponent’s mercy. If he bets again on the turn or river, all you can do is guess whether your hand is good, though this time for a much larger bet.

In position, you can mix your play up a little. If you decide to c-bet you are doing it for the same reasons as above: to gain thin value and stop your opponent bluffing you. In general, I prefer to check back however. You’re less likely to be bluffed, as this would also be the optimal way to play a weak Ace such as A-5 that you have three-bet light on the button.

Checking back also controls the size of the pot, and if the hand is checked to the river you have a clear opportunity to valuebet thinly and attempt to win a mid-sized pot. So, remember, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom whenever an Ace flops!

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