Monday, December 06, 2004

If You're Decided to Call, Fire Away

(Insert the standard disclaimer here, in regards to any and all poker strategy posts emanating from me being just that, poker strategy posts from a run-of-the-mill online poker monkey.)

I like playing poker. I also take it reasonably seriously. I buy strategy books. I read them. I learn. I try to translate the knowledge to the tables, with greater and lesser success.

I think it's pretty easy to be overwhelmed by strategy, though, especially when you're juggling multiple themes, such as being more aggressive pre-flop, cutting down on cold-calling, correctly betting for value, etc. That's normal. The beauty of it is that you do eventually learn those lessons, over time, even if it's not immediately apparent. Most improvement in peoples' poker games is a series of peaks and plateaus. The difficult part is that while the peaks do increase in height (hopefully, if you're diligent and always working on your game), each individual plateau also grows in duration. It gets harder and harder to climb and you have to rest longer before scaling the next peak.

The beauty of that, though, is that you can always look back and analyze what helped you to that particular peak while you lie there, gasping for air.

One of the concepts that's finally sunken in and helped me out lately is a really simple thing, almost embarrassingly simple. One of the nuggets I gleaned from Internet Texas Hold 'Em by Matthew Hilger revolves around the fairly common situation of holding a decent drawing hand in limit hold 'em that you'll likely call one bet with but which, in and of itself, isn't currently the best hand at the table. This usually happens in an unraised pot when at least 4-5 players see the flop.

Let's say you're playing at a generic, average table (not too passive, not too aggressive) and call from MP with A5spades, and five of you see the flop of K 10 4, two spades. UTG and EP check to you. What do you do?

In the past I've checked this hand without a thought, seeing as there are still two players two act, I'm on a draw, I don't want to get check-raised if someone flopped a set and have to make a decision if it's worth chasing the nut flush, etc. That said, while I would check hoping to get a free card, I would have already made the decision to call one bet, based on the strength of my hand.

If you're going to call one bet anyway, the best play is to fire first yourself and bet. Yes, this largely commits you to betting out on the turn as well. Yes, there are still two players to act, and either might have flopped a big hand and will raise you. Yes, either UTG or EP might be slowplaying and check-raise you.

The more likely scenario, though, is that you'll get a lot of folds. Possibly enough to pick up the pot right there. That's the biggest value in betting out in situations like this, where you're on a draw. Your long term profit won't come from the monster pots where you hit your draw but from all the small pots you scrape in situations like this, when everyone folds (or folds to a turn bet). Remember, the key is that you've already decided to call one bet. If you feel your draw is strong enough to warrant a call, it's strong enough for a bet.

If a blank hits on turn, then what? Again, if it's checked to you and you decide that you'll check, but call one bet, you should bet. If you're ready to abandon the draw to a bet, then check and pray for a free card, folding if you don't get it.

If the river is also a blank, then you should probably slow down and just check and fold to a bet. You’re not going to push anyone off a pair at that point.

Like any play, position is important. And, like most plays, the later position the better. You should also proceed with caution if the board is scarier, with a pair on board, as slowplaying becomes much more likely.

But again, in the end, the concept is really simple. If you're going to call an eventual bet, and the majority of players in the hand have acted, bet out yourself. The majority of the time the end result is the same (you place one bet in the pot) but betting out gives you the added expectation of taking down uncontested pots. You’ll also hit your draw itself, too, or backdoor your way into the best hand.

Yes, sometimes you’ll end up feeling like an idiot, when you get check-raised, but you should never live in fear of the check-raise. Take it like a hero and move on. If you’re not getting check-raised a few times every session you’re not playing aggressively enough. Wear it like a badge of honor.

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