FLHE Advanced: Adjustments and changes
In the advanced section we will cover concepts and strategies such as bluffs, slow plays, various types of betting etc. In this article we will look at how to apply these individual concepts in limit hold'em. In general, all concepts should be used depending on the situation and therefore a certain amount of experience is required when it comes to find the right timing. If you don't get this right, and the opponent maybe has another hand than expected, then you may end up achieving the opposite of what you set out to do.
For this reason we will look at any necessary adjustments and changes in FLTH:
(see also: The Semi-Bluff article)
If we have e.g. an OESD or flush draw, we can decide whether or not we want to play it aggressively. This gives us the opportunity to win the hand before the next card is dealt. Alternatively, we will probably win the hand if our draw arrives.
Semi-bluffs can often be used, especially in heads-up situations, since we only have to force one opponent to fold. The probability of winning also increases of course if we suspect that our opponent has a weak hand.
As well as being able to win pots without a showdown, the semi-bluff has another advantage: It makes it harder for our opponents to work out our tactics. If we only raise with good hands, attentive opponents will recognise this very quickly and can adjust to our game. But we want to avoid this, and moves such as the semi-bluff help us to do this.
In general semi-bluffs should be used less frequently against loose players who go to the showdown (too) regularly than against tight players who fold (too) often.
Depending on our position, we have various options when it comes to semi-bluffing (flop and turn). When we are in position we can
- bet or raise the flop and bet the turn after the opponent has checked to us,
- call a flop bet and then raise the turn.
When we are out of position we have three options:
- bet or raise the flop and bet the turn.
- call a flop bet and then check-raise the turn.
- call a flop bet and then bet the turn.
You should vary these betting lines should, but it is better if the betting lines with a lot of action on the flop are played with strong draws (i.e. a lot of outs such as a flush draw plus overcards). In these situations we may not even be able to play a real semi-bluff because sometimes we are even a favourite against our opponent's hand. Even if the betting behaviour remains the same, it would be a value bet rather than a semi-bluff.
We can also semi-bluff on the flop, of course. An example of this would be the free card play explained in the draw article (see also: FLHE Advanced: Draws). Since our opponents will often call a small bet on the flop, the fold equity of a raise on the flop should not be underestimated. On the other hand a semi-bluff on the flop will also cost us a small bet less than on the turn and therefore doesn't have to be as successful as often in order to return a profit.
Let's look at the following situation on the flop: An opponent in middle position calls, the small blind calls and we check with a hand such as in the big blind. The flop is and we hit a pair and a backdoor flush draw. It is possible that we have the best hand in this case. None of our opponents raised pre-flop, meaning that it is unlikely that one of the two opponents has an ace. The pot is small, so the opponent may fold a better hand, i.e. or up to , meaning that we should raise. However, if we are called, it is more than likely that we will be beaten at this point in time, despite the fact that we have up to five outs.
- Here's another example:
We try to steal the blinds from the button with , but both blinds call. The flop is and the small blind bets. The big blind folds and we decide to call (we could also come up with arguments in favour of a raise or a fold on the flop).
The turn is the and we now have a nut flush draw in addition to our pair. The small blind bets and we are certain that he is holding a hand that will beat our pair of tens.
A little bit of maths...
.... concerning the previous example. There are currently five big bets in the pot (6 x small bets pre-flop (as they were raised) + 2 x small bets on the flop + 1 x big bet on the turn = 10 small bets = 5 big bets), with our nine direct outs and up to five additional outs for the pairs we can make a profitable call. If we calculate with eleven outs and assume that the opponent will check/call with his presumed moderately strong hand on the river, we then have:
- EV(call) = 0.23 x (6 + 1) – 0.77 x 1 = 0.84 big bets
0.23 (= 23%) is the probability of hitting one of our outs ((11 outs x 2) + 1). We can then expect to win the previous pot (to which we need to add our call) and another big bet of the opponent (implied odds). In other cases (counter-result = 1 – 0.23 = 0.77 = 77%) we would lose one big bet (the call on the turn).
If our draw arrives, we will win with this turn call and a river bet, i.e. on average 0.84 big bets. Sometimes our opponent will also play bet/call or bet/fold if we hit our draw. This is due to our better position. Sometimes we will however fold the best hand with a pair of tens against a river bet. If our draw doesn't arrive and we assessed the situation incorrectly, the opponent could beat our pair. We presume that both we and the opponent will on average add one bet each to the pot if we want to be on the safe side.
If we want to calculate the expected value of a raise, we need to make a number of assumptions:
- The small blind calls our raise on the turn and his hand is good enough to call a river bet as well.
- We will lose if we don't hit any of our outs.
- We will win another bet on the river if we hit one of our outs.
This results in the following calculation:
- EV(raise) = 0.23 x (8 + 1) - 0.77 x 2 = 0.53 big bets
Here there are already eight big bets in the pot (4 big bets before the turn + 1 turn bet of the opponent + 2 big bets from us (raise) + 1 big bet from the call of our opponent). Again, our implied odds correspond to one big bet if we hit our draw (check/call of the opponent). But our risk is somewhat higher, i.e. two big bets, as a result of our raise.
However, in our calculation we presume that the small blind will always call. If this is the case, our expected value will decrease by 0.31 big bets due to the semi-bluff. This is entirely understandable because the bluff components of the semi-bluff would otherwise be worthless and would have no (positive) influence on the EV. If we miss our draw, our raise can only be better than a pure call on the turn if the opponent folds a hand now and again that would beat ours.
How can we calculate the frequency of the opponent folding better hands (i.e. better than a pair of tens) so that the semi-bluff is just as profitable as a call? To do this we take the EV(call) and equate it with the EV(semi-bluff), which is the EV(call) plus one fold component. In the case of a fold we would win five big bets (the pot post-flop + the opponent's turn bet) as often as the small blind folds.
This results in the following:
- EV(semi-bluff) = EV(raise) + X x 5 = 0.53 + X x 5
If EV(call) < EV(semi-bluff), then a semi-bluff is profitable.
- EV(call) < EV(semi-bluff)
0.84 < 0.53 + X x 5
0.31 < X x 5
0.31/5 < X
0.062 < X
Our opponent thus only has to fold against our turn raise in more than 6.2% of cases in order to make it more profitable than a simple turn call.
It is of course possible that the opponent has a very good hand and therefore reraises our turn raise. In this case, we make our draw unnecessarily expensive since we have to pay three big bets instead of one, and also have no fold equity because the opponent would never fold such a hand.
Semi-bluffs should in general be used if there is a chance of the opponent folding a better hand and if we suspect that the opponent's hand isn't all that good. Opponents who often go to the showdown are therefore not suited as targets, as are very aggressive opponents who reraise with lots of hands on the turn.
(see also: The bluff article)
In contrast to the semi-bluff, we have no outs when we are on a pure bluff that can bring us the best hand if we are called. So here our sole intention is to force the opponent(s) to fold the best hand. Due to the fact that we don't have any outs in case we are called, our opponents have to fold much more often, compared to a semi-bluff, in order to make this move profitable.
However, we can still win the entire pot with one or two bets by means of a bluff. If there are four big bets in the pot and we invest one bet in a bluff, it is sufficient when the opponent will fold a better hand in 20% of cases in orderto make the bluff profitable.
Despite this, our opponents generally also know that people rarely fold in limit hold'em when playing for large or medium-sized pots. In the above example the opponent has to call only one big bet to win a pot of five big bets. This means that the opponent only has to have a better hand in 16.6% of cases in order to make the call profitable.
(see also: The slow play article)
In aggressive limit games, you rarely need to disguise good hands by means of a slow play. As already mentioned in the made hands article, it is sometimes beneficial to wait until the turn before raising, when the size of the bets doubles compared to the flop. Normally good hands should be played aggressively right from the start.
Slow plays should be avoided completely pre-flop.
(see also: The Check-raise article)
The check-raise is a standard move for every limit player and can be used in a lot of situations: In order to increase the value with good hands and as a semi-bluff when we have a draw.
If we defend our blinds against a steal raise, we will then be out of position after the flop for the rest of the hand. This means that our first post-flop action should generally be a check-raise, in case the flop is advantageous for our hand. If a player in position reraises us pre-flop and we hit a good flop, we can almost always check-raise.
In both situations there is a high probability of most opponents making a continuation bet, irrespective of whether or not they like the flop.
On draw heavy boards the increased value, which can be achieved with a successful check-raise, should compensate the lost value due to potential free cards you gave your opponents.
(see also: The value bet article)
Value bets are an important part of playing successful poker and are vital in strong limit games. If we assume that a good player has a win rate of one to two big bets every hundred hands, we then realise that each single won or lost bet here has rapid consequences.
Raise for free showdown
The "raise for a free showdown" is also part of the value bet concept.
This move can only be made in position and generally only when we are heads-up. If we suspect that our opponent has a mediocre hand or a draw, we can raise on the turn with an equally strong hand. If the opponent calls, we should check the river (provided that we do not improve our hand). This makes it more expensive for our opponents to draw (value bet) and, so we can often force weaker draws to fold. At the same time we are giving our opponents the opportunity to fold better hands.
- Here's an example:
We want to steal from the button with , and the small blind calls. The flop is and brings us middle pair. The opponent bets. If we assume that the opponent will not only bet with a queen but also with a straight or flush draw, we can raise a harmless turn such as a jack. If the opponent calls our raise, we can be almost certain that he has a queen or one of the above draws. If the river is another blank, we can be fairly sure of only getting called if we are beaten (if the opponent has e.g. a queen) and we should then check behind on the river.
Of course, there is always the risk that the opponent will reraise. Since this usually means that the opponent has a strong hand, we should normally fold at this point. If our opponent plays so aggressively that he often re-raises a draw as a semi-bluff in such situations, then we should rather choose a more passive betting line.
(see also: The Continuation bet article)
In limit hold'em continuation bets are a strong weapon and should be used on a regular basis. As a rule we will only see the flop with one or two players after we have raised pre-flop. If we are in position and the opponent(s) have checked to us, we should almost always bet.
There are several reasons for regular continuation bets:
- Anyone who raises pre-flop, sends out a signal that he has a good hand. This often leads to the player gaining the initiative and the opponents checking on the flop to the pre-flop raiser.
- Most hands with which we correctly raised pre-flop are speculative. If a player at a table with ten players raises 11% of his hands, in most cases he doesn't have a pair, but high cards such as . The probability of hitting a pair with e.g. on the flop, i.e. another ace or king appears, is only 35%. On the other hand, this means that we only have an ace high in 65% of cases.
Here's an example:
A player raises under the gun (UTG) with AK pre-flop and is only called by the button. The flop is . If the UTG player now checks, the button will bet in almost 100% of cases and the UTG player has to decide whether he wants to continue playing with a maximum of six outs.
- In the majority of cases the opponent has also missed the flop.
- The continuation bet doesn't have to work all that often in order to be profitable.
We raise on the button, and only the big blind calls. On the flop there are four and a half small bets (0.5 + 2 + 2) in the pot and we risk a small bet with the aim of winning the pot.
The ratio here is therefore 1:4.5. With this ratio the opponent has to fold at the least in order for the continuation bet to be profitable. To calculate this ratio, a one has to be put before all of the bets (including our own). The total pot is therefore five and a half small bets. Our bet therefore makes up 1/(old pot + bet) = 1/(4.5 + 1) = 1/5.5 = 18%. As soon as the opponent folds in more than 18% of cases, we achieve an instant profit.
- We remain unpredictable: Anyone who only bets when he has hit the flop or if he's already holding a pair makes it to easy for the opponents.
- The opponent can have a better hand and still fold. If we raise with and are called by an opponent holding , we will be in trouble if the flop contains another king. However, if the flop is , the opponent has also missed and will often fold to a continuation bet. The same applies to small pairs with which the opponent generally has a difficult call as soon as two or three overcards appear on the flop.
Despite all of these points, there are situations where we shouldn't make a continuation bet. This applies in particular if our bet has a neative expected value – i.e. we think that our opponent(s) will not fold often enough. This is always the case if a lot of draws are possible on the flop and/or a lot of players have seen the flop. It depends on the respective situation which concept has to be used, if at all, and when.
Block and feeler bets should not be used in limit because the betting amounts are fixed.