Outlook: Advanced Concepts

This article explains a number of interesting concepts with which we are bound to be faced with at real money tables in the near future. Some of them may help you to win a few pots without having a premium hand.

Semi-bluffs/Bluffs 

Bluffing is the term most commonly associated with poker. It is of course an important concept, but one that shouldn't be applied too much. Beginners first need to learn how to play good hands correctly before attempting complicated bluffs. But a few ideas to this end are however described breifly at this point: 

  • If a players bets or raises despite knowing that he isn't holding the best hand at the moment, but he still has outs that could allow his hand to win, this is known as a semi-bluff.

There are two ways of winning with a semi-bluff: Either our opponents fold their (potentially better) hands or we hit one of our outs and win with the best hand.

Typical examples include a flush draw or an open-ended straight draw (OESD).

  • Let's look at an example:

 

We're playing at a No Limit Texas Hold'em $1/$2 table. We are in the big blind holding . Two players limp (i.e. they call instead of raising in order to see a cheap flop) and the small blind folds. We check. The pot is $7.

The flop comes .

We haven't hit anything yet, but we do have a draw as any other heart will give us a flush. If we take the initiative and bet, this is considered to be a typical semi-bluff. If a heart comes up we will probably win, nevertheless we hope that our opponents will fold straight away.

Thus, the aim is to discourage our opponents and ideally force them to fold their hands. So flops where no additional draws to e.g. a straight are possible that give opponents no hope of hitting a good hand are particularly suitable. In addition we need to make sure that there aren't too many players in the hand. A bluff or semi-bluff works best when we are up against one or two opponents.

  • A pure bluff is when a player plays a hand aggressively that certainly isn't the best hand at the moment and only has little potential for development.

Generally a bluff. who is bluffing can only win if all of the other players fold.

  • Example:

The button has . The big blind has .  Everyone folds to the button, who raises to $6. The small blind folds, the big blind calls. The flop comes . The big blind bets $6 since he has hit his ace. The button spots weakness and decides to bluff by raising to $18. The big blind thinks about it for a minute before folding.

When you decide to bluff it is useful to know your opponents and know that they can fold mediocre hands. Bluffing against calling stations (definition see below under "player types") is a fatal move.

Continuation bet

Here's a little statistic that applies to continuation bets. If a player has two cards of different rank in his hand, the flop will only give him a pair or better in about 33% of cases. So this means that in 67% of cases, i.e. two of three attempts, we will miss the flop. For this reason it is often the right decision to continue showing strength on or after the flop if we already showed strength by raising pre-flop. This applies irrespective of whether we hit anything or not. This happens in the form of a so-called continuation bet (also known as a contibet, c-bet or follow-up bet). If we bet on the flop as the player who raised pre-flop, this is known as a continuation bet. It means that we continue our aggression. When making a continuation bet it is important that no one bets before me and that I take the initiative.

  • Example:

We are at a NL $1/$2 table and have on the button. Everyone folds and we bet $6. The small blind folds, the big blind calls. The big blind could have called with an average hand as he perhaps wants to defend his blind. Thus, he may have with a jack as kicker or a small or medium pair or just a hand such as . The flop is . The big blind checks. Now we should make a continuation bet. From the big blind's point of view the two high cards could have helped us as we raised pre-flop and thus represent a hand such as , or . If we now bet half the pot ($7 in this case), the big blind will probably only call if he has at least an ace. He will often even fold good hands such as , or .

But not all flops are suitable for a continuation bet.

  • Here's an example:

We have and are sitting to the left of the big blind and raised to four times the big blind pre-flop. We get two callers who are both sitting behind us. The flop is . This flop may well have given at least one of our opponents a strong hand such as a straight, a flush, a set, two pair or at least a good draw. Since we are out of position, a continuation bet makes little sense as we would have to fold our hand if we are raised. In this case it is better to check and in case one of our opponents takes over the initiative, we can fold the hand without having to put additional money into the pot.

Continuation bets are made irrespective of the strength of our hand and are therefore often semi-bluffs or even pure bluffs.

But watch out: A continuation bet is only possible if none of the opponents in front of us has taken the initiative and bet. So it is important that we take the initiative.

Protection

Protection means to protect our own hand. This makes sense if we have a good hand and want to prevent our opponents from completing a better hand with one of the upcoming community cards at low cost. In such situations we have to bet a correspondingly high amount in order to make it unprofitable for our opponents to draw.

  • Example:

We are in middle position and call with . Two other players call as well, the big blind checks. The flop is . Now we have the best possible hand at the moment, in poker lingo they say: "We have flopped the nut straight". It may however be the case that an opponent has two spades in his hand and beats us if he hits another spade on the turn or river. It therefore makes sense to bet in order to prevent opponents from seeing a cheap turn card. The size of the bet should be about two thirds of the pot. This means that players who are on a flush draw would make a mathematical mistake if they call.

If our hand can barely be beaten, i.e. if we are pretty sure to have the best hand such as a full house, we don't need to protect our hand.

Way ahead – Way behind (WAWB) 

Now we are going to look at a concept, which is of importance if our hand is way ahead or way behind apart from a few outs. This is also abbreviated to WA/WB. Such situations occur if I do not know whether I am way ahead or way behind. For such cases there is a special strategy that can be used mainly in limit, but also in no-limit hold'em.

If we are in a WA/WB situation, it makes no sense to play the hand aggressively. If we play too aggressive, we will either chase the opponent away (if we were way ahead) or we will be risking too much money in case we are way behind.

  • Example:

We're playing in a $2/$4 limit hold'em game. We are the big blind and are holding . Everyone folds to the button, who calls. The small blind folds, and we check.

The flop comes .

Thus, we have flopped top pair. If we bet now, we will, on the one hand, only get called by a strong hand against which we have no outs or just a few outs such as every ace with a better kicker than a six or two pair. On the other hand we don't want to chase away hands which only have a few outs against us (such as ).

In this case it makes more sense to check and call an opponent's bet than to take the initiative. This applies to post-flop, turn and river play alike. If the button also checks during one of these betting rounds, we should bet after the next card. This tactic will maximize our profit if we are way ahead and will minimize our loss in case we are way behind. 

A prerequisite for this tactic is that we or our opponent has only a few outs.

Raise for free card

This is another concept applied mainly in limit hold'em, but it is can also be applied in no-limit.

In limit hold'em the possible bet sizes are limited by means of small bets and big bets. Pre-flop and post-flop only small bets can be made. After the turn and river only big bets can be made. Betting, calling or raising on the turn is thus more expensive. This is the point where the concept raise for free card applies:

  • If we ssume that we are on the button and have , everybody folds to us, we raise and the big blind calls. The flop shows .

We have the nut flush draw. The big blind now bets and we assume that he has hit the king, but we could win with a flush or with an ace. Our aim now is to draw as cheap as possible. If we now call (a small bet – we're still on the flop) and our opponent bets again on the turn (a big bet = 2 x small bets), then it will cost us a total of three small bets in order to see the turn and river. But if we raise our opponent's bet on the flop, this can lead to our opponent calling us and checking behind on the turn because he doesn't want to be raised again. As a result of this, we have the chance to check as well if we haven't hit our draw yet. This means that we can see the river "for free". 

Both cards (turn and river) only cost us two small bets in this case, despite having raised. This saves us a small bet. If our draw does not arrive on the river and our opponent bets, we can simply fold our hand.

Another advantage is that our raise on the flop can force one or even several players holding better hands to fold.

The disadvantage is that an opponent with a very good hand can re-raise again on the flop, which would then be more expensive than if we had just called on the flop and turn.

Slow play 

Slow play is a concept used by a lot of players, which often leads to a smaller rather than a larger profit if applied in the wrong situations.

The idea behind a slow play is to play very good hands (such as a top set, full house or quads) very passively to keep opponents in the hand with the hope that their hand will improve and he will bet himseld or call our bets later in the hand.

We have in middle position, and the flop is . Thus, we have flopped the current nuts.

The probability that someone has an even better hand than our full house is very low. If we bet, there are only very few hands our opponents could call with. Even players holding a big pocket pair such as or could be tempted to fold. For this reason it is far more profitable to check first of all in order to give opponents the opportunity to either bet or improve their hand (e.g. to a flush) so that they bet later on or at least call our bets.

There are however a few important criteria that need to be fulfilled before playing a hand slow:

-         Our opponents should be tight-aggressive. This increases the chance that they will bet themselves in the course of the hand. In contrast to that a loose-passive player will barely bet when we are slow playing our hand. Moreover, it's possible thathe will call our bets, although he is holding a very weak hand.

-        My hand has to be strong enough to withstand a free card. If all of the other players also check behind me, then we will see the turn card for free. If we "only" have a set (we have e.g. on a flop of ) and the flop permits potential draws that can beat us, it makes much more sense not to give any free cards.

Something else to remember: Opponents will remember a slow play and they will quickly be able to figure out how we play if we deploy this move by default. Every once in a while we should also bet if we have hit a monster …

If we are not sure whether the above criteria are fulfilled we should always decide against a slow play in case of doubt.

Player types

In general there are five different types of player:

-         Calling stations (loose passive): These players call with all kinds of hands in the hope of possibly getting a good card on the turn or river. This type of player barely bets or raises.

 

-         Rocks (tight): Rocks deploy a strategy that may well return a profit, but it can be figured out easily. They play very few and only extremely strong hands. If such a player raises, it indicates that he has a very good hand.

 

-         Loose aggressive players (LAGs): This type of player will play and raise a lot of hands, often too many in fact. As a result of this, these players are hard to read and unpredictable.

   

-         Maniacs (super LAGs): A maniac is an extreme version of a LAG. Such players will raise almost every hand, irrespective of whether or not they have actually hit something  - this is the philosophy of a maniac. They are absolutely unpredictable as somebody who plays almost every hand may be holding practically any combination of cards – from nine high through to a royal flush. Such players lose a lot of money on average. Thus, you want to have them at your tables. But they can also win a huge amount of money when they have a lucky streak.

 

-         Tight aggressive players (TAGs): When we speak of solid players we usually mean TAGs. TAGs will only play profitable hands and then only aggressively, i.e. profit is maximized with good hands and loss is minimized with bad hands. The tight aggressive style is the most profitable way of playing at most limits in the world of online poker.

Using poker software

In many situations it is useful to have as much information as possible about our opponents. Since we can't remember the style of play used by the thousands of opponents we will play against in our poker career, there are software tools that create statistics based on played hands (by importing hand histories).

The most important tools are PokerTracker and PokerAceHud, abbreviated to PT and PA respectively. In PokerTracker we can import hand histories which are then merged to a database. With the help of this database we can create complex analyses of our own play as well as that of our opponents.

PokerAceHud is a tool that accesses the PokerTracker database and displays the stats of our oponnents directly at the poker table we are playing at. This means that we don't have to look up the stats of every single opponent in our database. The information is available in the place where decisions have to be made.

Both tools are mandatory for poker professionals, but not for beginners since they are quite expensive and somewhat difficult to use.

Table selection

The selection of the right table is a highly underestimated factor in poker. A good table selection can have a very positive effect on a player's win rate. We try to select tables with as many weak opponents as possible. Our favourite opponents are therefore calling stations and maniacs. A player that breaks even (thus that neither makes a loss nor a profit) can become a winning player by selecting the right table.

There are various ways of finding the right table. PokerTracker stats, notes on specific players, buddy lists and table statistics offered by PokerStars in the lobby are all useful aids.

  
 

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