FLHE Advanced: Made Hands

Made hands

If we have a good hand on the flop and, at the same time, suspect that our opponent(s) have (a) weak hand(s), we have two goals:

  1. To maximize our profit and
  2. To protect the hand against draws.

First of all we need to determine how good and vulnerable our hand is. A hand such as top pair with top kicker (TPTK) is available in different varieties. A top pair with on a flop of is much more valuable than a top pair with on a flop of . The strength of your own hand does also depends heavily on the structure of the board. A hand such as on a flop of is generally harder to beat than on a flop of . Although we are holding top pair with a top kicker in both cases, the first hand is much more valuable.

This highlights the fact that there are hardly any rules that apply when it comes to playing specific hands. The most commonly heard phrase in poker is: It depends.
The number of opponents has to be taken into consideration, for example. Let's assume we are in a battle of the blinds, i.e. heads-up with just one opponent in the blinds, and the value of small pairs and even ace-high now increases significantly, then these hands are worth far less in multiway pots and are rarely the best hand at the showdown.

Multiway

If the pot is big and we think that we have the best hand, then we should generally try to force as many opponents as possible to fold. If we fail in doing this, we should at least try to make the next card as expensive as possible so that opponents with weak draws can no longer call profitably and will therefore be making a mistake by staying in the hand. We can generally achieve this aim by playing aggressively, i.e. by betting and raising as soon as we get the chance to do so. There are exceptions to this, however, and these depend on our position.

  • Here are two examples:
    • We're holding in the big blind and a player in tmiddle position and the small blind call. The flop is , which gives us top pair with a weak kicker. The small blind checks and we can either make a bet or check. We should bet if we think that we have the best hand. If the player in middle position has e.g. a gutshot draw with , he will be making a mistake if he calls. Here we can protect our hand simply by betting.
    • However, it becomes more difficult if we want to protect ourselves against the same hand, but the pot is significantly bigger: Two players in middle position call, as does the cutoff. The button raises and we call in the big blind with . We flop a set on the same flop of . If we simply bet the flop, there will be 10.5 small bets in the pot and if the player in middle position has a gutshot draw again, he can call profitably with his four outs. So in this case, a bet will not protect our hand. One way of protecting our set against a gutshot draw would be to take advantage of our relatively good position in relation to the pre-flop raiser. The button will probably bet if the remaining players check to him. Then it is our turn and we can raise this bet and therefore confront the rest of the players with two bets. This means that our opponent can no longer call with a gutshot draw.

At this point it also becomes clear that it is not always possible to protect a hand from a draw on the flop. This applies in particular to large pots and strong draws. As a rule of thumb, we should bet or raise in big pots if we have a made hand in order to protect our hand. Otherwise we should fold. Calling is rarely the right play with made hands.

Against a small number of opponents (two to three players on the flop)

With a small number of opponents the need to protect made hands also drops because fewer opponents have less outs against us on average. The probability of weaker hands such as pairs winning at the showdown also increases and, at the same time, our opponents will be more willing to go to a showdown with their weak hands in pots where only few players are involved.
This means that it does not make a lot of sense to build a big pot with a smaller number of players. You can for example only call on the flop with good hands such as top pair and then raise on the turn.

  • If we then defend our big blind with against a steal attempt by the button and hit the top pair on a flop of , it may be advantegeous to simply call the button's continuation bet with the aim of check-raising on the turn.
  • Another situation where it may make sense to save the aggression for the turn is if e.g. we raise with in late position and only one player in the blinds calls who then bets into us on an ace-high flop. If we think that he often has an ace with a worse kicker but still always goes to the showdown, all we can just call his flop bet and then raise his expected bet on the turn.

In both examples we run the risk of our opponent having a good hand such as two pair or a set, and then re-raises us on the turn. We then have to make a difficult decision whether to fold a very strong hand (in a pot built by our check raise or the opponent's re-raise) or paying two more bets to go to showdown.

But this should not mean that we should give free cards every time against one or two opponents. As soon as we think that the hand range of the opponent includes a lot of draws, we should always try to make these draws as expensive as possible.

However, it does not make sense to use this tactic every time (!) we have a hand such as TPTK. This is because attentive opponents will quickly work out our tactic and we become predictable if we always play the same kind of hand in the same way.

Excursus 1

In general it's very important to remain unpredictable. We should initially assume that our opponents are on average better when it comes to advanced skills. The ability that characterizes better opponents is to watch, observe and read opponents. So if we only ever raise or check-raise with sets and two pair hands, then the above opponents will rarely pay us off. However, if they know that we also raise with average hands and some draws on the turn, then it is difficult for them to play against us.

If we have a mediocre made hand and our opponent is surprisingly active and raises or check-raises, then we will often have difficult decisions to make. The problem is that we can no longer generally assume that we are playing against a good hand. This is because good opponents (correctly!) play hands of different strength aggressively. Correspondingly, no general rule can be derived which strategy is the most successful one. So in other words, it once again depends. As a very general rule, we should call down to the showdown more often against aggressive players than against very passive players.

The pot odds also help us at this point:

  • In a typical situation at a FL 2/4 table we have on the button and raise followed by a call by the big blind. There is $9 in the pot. The flop is and gives us top pair. We bet and the big blind calls. The turn is the and after the big blind checked again, we bet again. There is now $17 in the pot. The big blind check raises us now, however, which pushes the pot up to $25. We can assume that the big blind will also bet on the river if we call his check-raise on the turn. We would then have to pay $8 to see a showdown in the pot containing $36 on the river (pre-flop 9 + flop 4 + turn 16 + river 8). Our pot odds are therefore 37:8, i.e. slightly worse than 4:1, and our hand needs to win about 20% of the showdowns to make the call down profitable.

It depends on the opponent whether we are ahead in 20% of cases as described above. It rarely occurs that we call a turn raise with a made hand and then fold to a river bet. In general, by making a call on the turn we also have to call another river bet.

If a player raises or check-raises two or more opponents, the chances of winning with a mediocre hand should be reconsidered regularly. If an opponent shows a lot of strength, it indicates that he has a good hand and that it is rarely a (semi-) bluff.

Excursus 2

In general, made hands should rarely be folded against a river bet when up against a single opponent. A river call will regularly cost us a single bet, whereas it will cost us the entire pot if we fold the best hand. This does not mean that we should always pay off every opponent. On the other hand, the pot odds on the river are often better than our probability of winning, meaning that a lot of calls that appear hopeless may in fact be profitable.
To sum up, we should regularly play, i.e. bet and raise, our made hands in an aggressive manner. This gives us the best chance of reaching the goals that were mentioned at the start. However, if a hand develops very differently to what we expected, it may make sense to drop a gear.

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