Poker tips: Betting to Protect Your Hand
In limit poker — where players lack the ability to tailor their bet sizes to suit the needs of a particular situation — the question of how to “protect” a made hand can be a rather tricky one. But when playing No Limit Texas Hold’em, things can get complicated rather quickly. There are just so many variables involved. First, how strong is your hand in and of itself, and is this hand vulnerable vis-a-vis the community cards on the board? Today’s poker tip tells you when it makes sense to protect your hand – and when slow play might be a good alternative.
Obviously with a stronger hand, such as a big flush or a full house, you’re unlikely to be worried about being outdrawn, and so your main concern is extracting as much money as possible from your opponents. But with less premium hands than these, especially when the community board is any way coordinated to support straight and/or flush draws, the need to protect your hand becomes a major concern.
Slow Play ist not always the best choice
To start with, far too many players who flop a good hand then decide, without even really stopping to think about it, that they want to get “cute” with it and slowplay. There’s something about the slowplay — that sneaky Ha Ha! I have the best hand but you suckers don’t realize it yet! feeling — that just appeals to a lot of people. But if you think you have the best hand on the flop, then it’s generally best to simply bet/raise in a straightforward manner, and get your money in the pot now. Giving free or cheap cards to your opponents is often very dangerous; your slowplay on the flop can easily come back to bite you in the tuchas, when an opponent who would have folded to more action on the flop then proceeds to outdraw you on the turn or river.
Beyond that, the basic fact remains that anytime you believe that you’re holding the best hand, you should want to get more money in the pot, period. You’re not just betting to protect your hand — you’re betting for value. Many lower-limit players complain that it’s impossible to protect their hands in some of those wild, uber-loose games. Nobody’s going to fold to a raise anyway, so why bother? Maybe so, but that misses the point. When you raise with the best hand in an effort to protect it, the objective is not necessarily to get opponents to fold. The objective is to give those opponents improper odds to call for a chance to outdraw you. By giving them bad odds to call, you now win either way. If they fold, that’s good for you because with one less opponent your hand is now more likely to hold up to win this pot. And if they call, that’s even better for you, because they are making a mistake by calling with improper odds — and you want opponents to make this kind of mistake against you. The more they do, the more you will profit in the long run.
The pot size is key factor when it comes to protection bets
Another key factor is the size of the pot. With a smallish pot, you’d prefer to keep other players in for awhile longer, to build up the pot, so now slowplaying the flop is probably a good idea. But as the pot gets bigger and bigger — now you want to do everything you can to push out opponents and take down that pot immediately. Especially if you’re holding a vulnerable hand like top pair. The larger the pot, the more diligently you should be trying to win it ASAP. Now the question becomes: What is the best way to go about doing this?
All things being equal, if you’re trying to drive opponents out, then you want to put them in a situation where they’ll have to call two or even three bets cold. Obviously the ability to achieve this depends on your position in the betting order relative to other players who are liable to bet or raise. For example, when you go for the checkraise from early position — if your intention is to eliminate players, then you should have some reason to believe that a late-position players will bet. The best scenario for this play is when a late-position player was the preflop raiser, because most likely everybody will just “check to the raiser” on the flop. Then you can pop it, and force all the players in the middle to call two bets cold.
Another method for eliminating opponents is to wait until the turn to make your move. Since the bets are now twice as large, theoretically a raise (or checkraise) should be much more likely to drive people out. Much depends on the community board, in this case. With a fairly uncoordinated board, giving a free or cheap card to your opponents isn’t that risky, and so this could be a good time to wait for the turn before putting in that raise. And with a very coordinated board that supports strong drawing hands, oddly enough this is also a good time to wait.
For example if there are two suited cards on the flop, anyone who holds a four-flush is getting great odds to call in a multiway pot and they are extremely unlikely to drop out, even for a raise (in which case they would likely still be getting proper odds to call). But if you wait one round, and the turn card does not complete a possible flush, now this is a great time to raise to drive out drawing hands. These players know very well that their chances of making that draw just got cut in half, and together with the doubled bet-size, a raise is usually effective at getting them out here. And again, even if they call, they’re probably not getting the proper odds to do so now, so you’re in good shape either way.