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A Beginner's Course in Texas Hold'em

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A Beginner's Course in Texas Hold'em
Part 6

What should I do when I make my draw?

Many Hold'em novices automatically check a good flush from early position, hoping to check-raise, thereby trapping their opponents for an additional bet. Others always will bet.

These are two very different strategies. Which is correct?

General rule on check-raising - Here's part one of the general rule on check-raising: Do it when you believe that you will have the best hand most of the time that you are called.

Part two of the general rule on check-raising states that you need to be fairly certain that your opponent will bet if you check. It's no fun to check a big hand only to have your opponents check behind you, especially when you know that they would have called if you had bet.

If you are not certain that you'll hold the best hand if you are called, or you aren't sure that one of your opponents will bet if you check, do not check-raise.

Top pair on the river - An enduring dilemma is what to do when you're holding top pair against one or two opponents and all of the cards are out. Now you have to decide whether to check or bet, or if your opponent acts first, whether to call, fold, or raise.

If you're observant, you will have noticed that some opponents almost always will bet top pair on the river, unless there is a strong threat of a flush or straight. Others seldom bet one pair, even when the board is not threatening. Most, however, fall somewhere in between. This is a judgment call. There is no formula to help you determine the best course of action, but there are some things that you can do to clarify your decision.

Suppose that you are first to act and raise before the flop with A-K. Two opponents call. You bet the flop and the turn. Now, the board shows A-Q-4-7-9 of mixed suits.

All of the cards are out, no one has folded, and it's your turn to act. Should you bet or check?

You'll beat any pair, but will lose to any two pair. Unless one of your callers held a pair of nines and made a set on the river, you probably can dismiss the notion that there is a set out against you. If one of your opponents either flopped or turned a set, he would have raised on the turn - when the betting limits doubled.

Your real concern, of course, is whether one of your opponents holds two pair. If an opponent held A-Q, he probably would have raised before the flop, called on the flop, and raised your bet on the turn. An opponent holding A-7, A-4, Q-4, or Q-7 probably would have raised on the turn.

If your opponents would raise with any two pair and call with lesser hands, such as A-8 or Q-J, you'll want to bet. If they had made two pair on the turn, that's when they would have raised. Except for the chance that they are holding A-9, Q-9, 9-7, or 9-4, your bet on the river will elicit a call, and you'll win.

Now imagine the same scenario, but this time, your opponent is first to act. If he bets, should you fold, call, or raise, and if he checks, should you bet?

If your opponent is very aggressive and tends to overplay weak hands, you can raise if you suspect that he is betting a weaker hand than yours. If he is a tight player, just call his bet. If he is a real rock who seldom, if ever, bluffs, throw away anything less than top pair with a very big kicker if he bets on the river.

The key, of course, is knowing your opponents and their tendencies. Top pair on the river is a very common situation, and it is critically important that you learn to play it well.

When the pot gets big - Pots sometimes grow to be quite large, particularly when there has been a raise before the flop. This can tie lots of players to the pot, and if the flop provides a flush draw or straight draw to your opponents, you can be certain that they'll be there to the end.

If the straight or flush cards fail to come, a bet usually will eliminate any opponents who were drawing. Often, there are only two or three opponents contesting a very large pot on the river. You might be in there with second pair, or perhaps top pair with a marginal kicker, and your opponent comes out betting. You're holding a hand that you'd throw away if the pot were small, but with all of that money in it, what should you do? Suppose that you're playing in a $3-$6 Hold'em game and the pot is $90 by the time you reach the river. If your opponent bets, the pot now contains $96, and it's offering you 16-to-1 on your money. If you call and are beaten, the cost is only an additional $6. If you throw your hand away and your opponent was bluffing, you made a $96 mistake.

The answer ought to be obvious. If you believe this to be a situation in which your opponent would bluff more than one time in 16, go ahead and call. Only if you are sure that your opponent would never bluff can you comfortably throw your hand away.

You're always better off committing the small error of calling with a losing hand than the catastrophic error of folding a winner. In the situation cited above, even if your opponent would bluff only one time in 10, you are far better off calling than folding.

If you were to call 10 times, you'd lose $6 on nine occasions, for a loss of $54. On the 10th occasion, you'd win a $96 pot, for a net profit of $42. If you divide that $42 profit by each of the 10 times that you called, your decision to call is worth $4.20 each time that you make it - regardless of whether you win that particular pot.

If you are second to act and think there's some chance that you have the best hand, even if you don't consider yourself the favorite, you might want to raise if your opponent comes out betting. By doing this, you may get the third opponent to lay down his hand. If your first opponent was betting a fairly weak hand hoping that you might fold, he in turn now may fold if he suspects that you're holding a powerhouse. A play such as this also adds some deception to your game, but like all deceptive plays, you have to use it sparingly.

Five Tips for Navigating the River

Navigating the river can be tricky. Follow this map and you'll avoid the sandbars along the way.

1 Once the river card is exposed, your hand no longer has any potential value. Its value has been realized.

2 Your decision to check or bet if no one has acted, or fold, call, raise, or reraise if there has been action, can be based only on your hand's realized value.

3 When you make two pair, it usually will be the best hand. But if the turn or river brings a third suited card, be careful - your opponent could have made a flush.

4 When it's heads up and the pot is large, it's better to err by calling with the worst hand than by folding the winner.

5 Overcalling requires a hand that is strong enough to beat legitimate calling hands.

Five Tips for Winning Hold'em Play

If you play Hold'em correctly, you'll have incorporated all of these tips into your game.

1 Play few hands from early position. You'll throw lots of hands away, but you'll be saving money.

2 Position is critical in Hold'em. Certain hands that you would fold in early position can be raising hands in late position.

3 Fit or fold: If the flop does not help your hand, consider folding, regardless of how sweet it may have looked before the flop.

4 Many of your opponents will play A-K as strongly as a pair of aces or kings, but it is not. A-K is a powerful drawing hand, but it usually needs help on the flop to win the pot.

5 Hold'em only looks like seven-card stud. In reality, it's a very different game due to the use of community cards, the positional aspect of the game, and the fact that on the flop, you will see 71 percent of your hand for a single round of betting.

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