If you’re following my recommendations on starting hands at no-limit Hold’em (NLHE), then you’re entering the pot with a raise probably 90% of the time. In this lesson, I want to discuss what to do when you’ve done that and several other players call to see the flop. If you think about it, the possibilities are fairly limited, so let me list them and discuss each one in order. If you have raised, a lot of what will happen on the flop really depends upon what position you’re in; a raise from under-the-gun (UTG) is usually perceived as being stronger than one from the Button, for example. Of course, none of what I’m going to cover will apply to each and every hand, but generally it’ll happen enough to allow us to draw some conclusions.
Please note that what I’m talking about here is the time when you enter the pot at a full or nearly-full table (7-10 players) with a raise and all of the other players either fold or just call. Situations where you raise and are re-raised are basically covered by the Starting Hands Matrix and I’ll discuss them somewhere in the future; for now let’s stick with the basic concept. If you raise and all of the other players fold or call, there are two primary situations you’ll encounter when the flop is dealt:
- Situation #1. Everyone checks to you and you:
C. Check, then call any bet made
D. Check, then raise any bet made
- Situation #2. A player ahead of you bets into the flop and you:
As you undoubtedly know, the vast majority of the time the other players will check to the raiser – it’s done so often that the saying is a part of poker lore. How you play your hand at that point “talks” to the other players and you need to remember that you might want to “say” something different, which is what we call a bluff. Okay, let’s say everyone checks to you and you:
A. Bet What this basically says is, “I made something on the flop” or, “the flop doesn’t scare me”. Of course, if a pair of Aces came on the flop you’re going to probably scare off everyone, (except a player who holds an Ace) because raisers – particularly those in Early Position – are perceived as holding a hand like A-K, A-Q, etc. If the flop is more like 2, 7, 9 “rainbow” (unsuited) and you bet, you’re basically saying that you aren’t afraid of that flop because you have an over-pair (10-10 or higher in this case). Nobody’s really going to believe you flopped a set (Trips) or a Straight draw if you raised in EP, because very few players raise with 2-2, 7-7, 9-9 or J-8 from there.
B. Check This says, “I missed on the flop” or, “I hit a monster and want you to stay in.” If a pair of Aces come on the flop and you check, almost everyone will check behind you. The likely exceptions are those who have an Ace or those players who like to steal pots when a pair flops. If the flop is more like 2, 7, 9 rainbow, most players really will believe you missed the flop and they’ll feel safer in betting their hand.
C. Check, then call any bet made In this situation, you’re basically saying, “I have a good hand – probably a Straight or Flush draw or two-pair – and want to see if I can improve” or, “I have two over-cards and am (stupidly) trying to catch one of them.” Those who bet after you checked typically have one of four situations: they’re also on a draw (in which case their bet is a “semi-bluff”), have an over-pair (or two over-cards), they made something on the flop (perhaps Trips) or they’re just flat-out bluffing. If the flop is such that it’s “coordinated”, like 8, 9, 10 rainbow then they could be betting a set or a Straight – lots of people will call an opening raise with hands like 8-8 or J-Qs and so forth. Your call is saying that you either missed the fact that Trips or a Straight is out there or they don’t bother you. By just calling, you can be pretty sure that the original bettor will bet into you on the Turn if he really does have a hand and the card doesn’t appear to help you. If s/he somehow puts you on a draw, then you could very well face a huge bet because your opponent (if s/he’s smart) will want to make your draw too expensive to be a proper play. Hopefully you’ll recall that you need pot odds of at least 6 to 1 for an inside Straight draw, 3.3 to 1 for Straight and 3 to 1 for a Flush draw. Of course, if the bettor checks on the turn, it could be a good indication of a bluff, but it’s also a sign that s/he has hand that’s so strong (like a Full House), s/he wants you to “catch up.”
D. Check, then raise any bet made In my not-so-humble opinion, this is the strongest play of all. It says, “I trapped you” or, “Your hand doesn’t scare me.” It also might be saying, “I’m bluffing”, but few players will read that into your actions. You can pretty much count on the fact that anyone on a draw will fold when you do that, unless the pot odds are enormous at this point. You can also pretty much expect some players – usually those trying to “buy” the pot or those with a good, solid hand – to go all-in here. Whether or not you should call obviously depends upon what you hold, and the pot odds being offered. I love to check-raise, but actually use it sparingly because while you’ll win more hands with it, you won’t necessarily earn more $$$ by using it.
Okay, let’s discuss situation # 2 where you entered the pot with a raise, all the others either folded or called, the flop comes and a player acting before you bets. Besides folding, you can choose to:
A. Call This is the “smooth call” you hear about and it gives away the least amount of information about what you’re holding. Of course, you have very little information about the bettor’s hand at this point, so this is probably the weakest play you can make unless you hold a really strong hand like a “made” Straight, Flush or Full House. The problems this play produces are several, not the least of which is that it’ll probably slow down – or kill completely – the betting on the hand. In my (admittedly limited) experience, a lot of players will put you on a hand of Ace-something if you were the opening raiser and, if an Ace doesn’t fall on the flop, they’ll bet into you, whether or not they made a hand. If you call at this point, they’ll usually check on the turn, unless they put you on a draw. Of course, a draw may be the farthest thing from your mind, but if the board supports the notion, that’ll likely be the first hand your opponent puts you on. If s/he thinks you’re on a draw and has a hand like top-pair, top-kicker, then you can pretty much figure on looking at a big bet if the turn card doesn’t help a perceived Straight or Flush draw. If your opponent cannot, because of the flop’s “texture”, put you on a draw and bets on the turn, s/he either has a real hand or is “firing the next barrel” of a bluff.
Your response will largely be determined by what you hold, the pot odds offered and your perception of what the bettor holds, plus the response from other players still in the pot. Besides folding and calling, you can choose to:
B. Raise This play really gives no information about your hand, but it can gain a lot of information about your opponent’s hand. Because you raised pre-flop, people perceive you as holding a strong hand of some type. But as I mentioned earlier, if an Ace didn’t flop most of those who will bet into you are figuring you “missed”, while they may or may not have made a hand. Your raise goes a long way toward confirming your hand was, and is, strong. This is a point where the size of your raise also “talks.” A minimum raise says one thing and an all-in raise says something else. To be sure, either might get called, so you can’t always go all-in and expect to win the hand, but nether can you expect to chase away many players with just a minimum-sized raise. You really want your raise to accomplish one of two things: force your opponent to fold or force your opponent to make a bad decision. As an example of the latter, let’s say your opponent is on a Straight draw and has bet into you as a semi-bluff. If you just call, you might be “pricing” the pot, thus making a draw profitable. But if you raise, you’ll alter the odds and, if your raise is big enough, your opponent may fold just because the favorable pot odds are no longer available. Oh, I know many of the “newbies” out there don’t give a damn about pot odds, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them, too.
Because poker is a long-term activity, whenever your opponents call a bet where the odds aren’t favorable for them, you make a profit. Of course, they might make the hand and beat you, but in the long run, you’ll eventually collect on situations like that. It’s like doubling an 11 versus a dealer’s up card of 6 in Blackjack; you won’t win each time you do it, but over thousands of hands like that, you’ll profit handsomely.
That’s important stuff, but so is what you make your hand “say”, as discussed above. When you break it all down to its basic elements, the reality is that your opponents have no idea whatsoever of which cards you’re actually holding. You can just as easily raise with 2-3o as you can with A-A and, if you knew no one would ever call you, do it every hand. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is that you might have to show your hand at some point and 2-3 isn’t going to hold up against the types of hands that will typically call opening raises. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your hand say one thing when it’s really something else. See my point here?
Most beginning players are concerned only about their own hand; if it’s strong, they bet it, if not, they fold. As you gain experience, you begin to think of your hand in comparison with your opponent’s hand. For example, if you open the pot with a raise because you hold K-K, someone calls and the flop comes A, Q, 9 rainbow; if that caller bets into you after the flop, you have to at least consider the fact that s/he holds an Ace. You don’t know for sure, of course, but it’s a definite possibility. The real crux of this problem is: What does your opponent think you hold? You raised, which indicates a “big” hand and if you can somehow convince your opponent that you hold a hand that can beat a pair of Aces, you can likely make him or her fold. Of course, if your opponent holds A-A, nothing you do will move him or her off the hand. And a lot of players will not re-raise you if they hold A-A, because they want to “trap” as many players as possible. But the odds greatly favor your opponent holding just one Ace, which still beats you at this point, but can ultimately be defeated by another King, a Straight, a Flush or Two-Pair. What if you now raise your opponent? What you’re basically saying is, “I see the Ace and it doesn’t scare me.” Now, your opponent has to stop and consider your move, unless s/he has a set of Aces, in which case s/he will likely re-raise you, if not go all-in. At least if that happens, you’ll pretty much know you don’t have the best hand and can fold with a clear conscience. This is the point where my favorite “rule” kicks in: I seldom go all-in unless I hold the top two-pair on the board. While two-pair at the flop cannot beat Trips on their own, they’ll turn into a Full House 16.5% of the time and any two pair will beat even a pair of Aces in the hole.
What you should be trying to do with your bets is convince your opponent that you hold something other than what you actually hold. If you’re strong, you want them to think you’re weak and if you’re weak, you want them to think you’re strong. Ultimately, such a strategy will extract the maximum number of $$$ from your opponents – you won’t win the most hands, but you will make the most profit – and that’s the real goal when playing poker. Letting your hands do the talking is a big step in that direction.
I’ll see you here next time.