Sports Juice Poker Tip #8: Protect Your Hand

Well, I am 8,409 words into this poker tip project and it seems like there is still an infinite number of topics I could cover.  At some point, I will consolidate the summaries of all the tips into one post, but for now, less press on!

So far I have covered off some basically theory before you sit down at the table and some ideas to assist the casual player in deciding what types of hands they should play.  Now it is time to get into post-flop play. 

Tip #8: Protecting Your Hand (Knowing How Much to Bet)

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were sitting with two pair only to see someone make three of a kind of the river (or a straight or a flush)?  Say you had K-8 with a board of A-K-4-8-6, only to see your opponent triumphantly show you his 6-6 and scoop up the chips?  How is that for bad luck? 

Well, the reality is that nine times out of ten it isn’t in fact bad luck; it is some bad playing by the K-8.  Odds are the K-8 let the 6-6 hang around and hang around until finally he got his 6 on the river.  Had the K-8 betted appropriately post-flop, there is little chance that the 6-6 would have been around on the river.

Once the flop is turned over, the casual player often does not know how to play their hand.  The typical options are check (if they don’t hit the flop), make the minimum bet or perhaps bet two times the minimum if the player has a strong hand.  I suppose sometimes a large bet is made when a big hand is made which is followed by the opponents running for the hills.

It is critical for the casual player to know how to protect their hand and to understand what constitutes a ‘normal bet’ post flop.  Mastering these concepts will increase the likelihood of your opponents reacting to your bet in a manner consistent with what you want (call, raise or fold). 

While I am not going to attempt to discuss the appropriate play for specific hands, I will hopefully cover most of the common questions.

What constitutes a typical bet post flop?

The typical bet harkens back to our previous discussions on pot odds.  What I usually see as being typical is a bit at or slightly less than ½ the pot.  In a 10-20 blind structure with $120 in the pot, a typical leading bet after the flop would be $60.  This bet will likely only be called by individuals with some sort of quality drawing hand or a hand that is already made.  A bet of less than $60 is likely to get a lot of callers, while a bet of over $60 will only be called be really strong hands or the foolish. 

Let’s run the math on this $60 bet *.  My bet of $60 makes the pot $180 which means a caller is getting 4-1 pot odds.  Players with a high pair, two pair, three of a kind and flush draw would typically be correct to call this bet.  Everyone else should be folding.  If our 6-6 opponent from earlier were to call, that is great for you as they have made a mistake based on their hand and the board.  The fundamental theorem says we win every time our opponent makes a mistake.

* A bet of $20 gives 8:1 odds, a bet of $90 gives a little over 3:1 odds. 

Looking ahead to the turn, let’s say the 6-6 was the only caller to my $60 bet and we now had $240 in the pot.   We still like our hand so perhaps we bet $120, again ½ the pot.  The hope is that at 4-1 odds, the 6-6 will get the picture that his hand is no good and muck his hand.  $240 comes back our way, yippee!

How much should I bet on the flop?

Of course it depends, but it really depends on three things:

1. What hand do you have/ are you trying to hit? 

2. What hand might your opponent have or be trying to hit?

3. Who was the aggressor pre-flop?

I should perhaps start with question #3: who was the aggressor pre-flop?  If I was the person raising before the flop, I will likely fire out a continuation bet of ½ the pot no matter my hand if I am up against 2 players or less, or if I am in late position.  I have suggested pre-flop that I am strong; thus I should always give my opponents an opportunity to make that conclusion post-flop and fold their cards.  If someone else raised pre-flop, I would typically check.   If I missed my hand I can then fold without spending any more money.  If I like my hand I can call or raise, putting me in control as the new aggressor.

Going back to question #1, if you miss the flop or are trying to make a straight or flush, you want to pay as little as possible until you make your hand.    Thus you will typically check or make some sort of small bet in hopes of getting to the next card for cheap.   From there you are looking for a reason to muck your hand.  Any kind of raise back to you isn’t worth continuing unless the pot odds are in your favour.

If you made a ‘decent hand’, it is often worthwhile to make a bet to see where you stand in the hand.  Looking at our original example, I would bet my pair of kings in hopes of getting some information on other players.   To the extent someone calls, I can narrow their hand to a pair of aces, kings, a straight draw or another high pair.  All the garbage should disappear from the hand making for easier decisions the rest of the way.

If you make a ‘monster hand’, you are left with a lot of options though they all relate to figuring out how to maximize the number of chips you can get into the pot.  If your hand is unbeatable, checking is a great way to hopefully allow your opponent to make their hand before they make an ill timed bet against the nuts.  Alternatively you may opt to make a small bet to slowly build up the pot.  Or you may decide to push all-in in hopes that someone makes the call.

Personally, I like to bet ½ the pot no matter how much I like or dislike my hand (if I decide to bet).   A consistent betting pattern of ½ the pot provides no information to my opponent on the strength of my hand.   Am I bluffing or do I have the nuts?  My opponent needs to raise me to find out, but they won’t get an answer unless I fold my hand.  The result is that my opponents typically need to have a strong hand to play with me post-flop which makes my future decision making process a little bit easier.

I would take that last paragraph with a fair bit of salt.  It is a very aggressive way to play post-flop and requires a solid understanding of the other players at the table.  The casual player could quickly find themselves out of chips by overplaying too many poor hands or over committing into pots with the second best hand.   I can easily lose 10-20% of my stack every time I get my hand caught in the cookie jar.   Thus I won’t often make the bet with a weak hand; my point is that I will make a strong bet if I do in fact decide to play the weak hand.

Lastly, let’s take a look at question #2: what hand might our opponent have?  This brings us to the crux of tip #8 and the need to protect our hand.  What we are protecting against is the chance of allowing our opponent to go from underdog to winner by making his hand on the turn or the river. 

When deciding on a range of hands your opponent might have, you need to look at their previous bets and look at the board.  If there is a flush or straight draw out there, does the betting pattern support that type of hand?  Large bets suggest a pair or three of a kind trying to prevent an opponent from drawing to a hand; small bets or checks suggest they are trying to draw to a hand.   If you feel they are drawing to a hand, you need to bet enough to protect your hand.  That is to say you need to make the pot odds small enough to make the fold the correct play.

Did your opponent raise before the flop?  If so, from what position was the raise made?  A raise from early position almost always suggests at least a medium sized pair or AK.  A raise from the button may have been an attempt to steal the blinds.  Respect should usually be given to an early position raise, while it is often a reasonable idea to put some pressure on the button after the flop by making a decent sized bet. 

The key to this question is to identify a possible range of hands your opponent might have and then compare it to your hand.  If your hand is significantly stronger, you then want your opponent to stay in the hand.  If your hand is vulnerable, you then want your opponent to muck their hand so you can take down the pot.  If your hand is weak, you want to pay as little as possible.  That means trashing your pair of 10’s if the board has A-Q-8 and someone bets.

If you have no idea what hand your opponents has, you either have to make a bet to get more information or you need to think seriously about folding your hand.  If you don’t have a decent idea of the type of hand your opponent has, you are simply gambling with the hope that you will win in the end.  That is exactly the brand of poker we are trying to avoid as the casual player!

Summary Tip#8:

  • The goal is to not allow opponents with weak hands to make a hand on the turn or the river without having to overpay to make their hands.
  • Size of the bet post-flop depends on the pot odds you want to give your opponent.
    • Bet of ½ the pot gives 4:1 odds which should make the weaker hands exit the pot.  This is a typical sized bet post-flop.
    • Bet of less than ½ the pot encourages callers. 
    • Best of more than ½ the pot will only attract the strongest of hands (or weakest of players).
  • A very strong hand will often check or bet less than ½ the pot.
  • A vulnerable hand will often bet more than ½ the pot.
  • A drawing hand will often check.
  • It is critical to estimate a range of hands that your opponent is playing based on their betting history.
    • If you can’t put the opponent on the hand you are now gambling.
    • Exit the hand unless you have incredible strength.

1 Comment

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One response to “Sports Juice Poker Tip #8: Protect Your Hand

  1. Your poker blog keeps the game exciting and fresh whether for beginners or pros. I’m just an amateur but I love coming back here. Keep up the great info. The best parts I like to read about are the great flops and the bad beats…ouch!

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