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Throwing a spanner in the works

Agrression is key in poker, but with so many players applying pressure on the flop, perhaps it’s time you started giving your opponents a taste of their own medicine. Duncan Wilkie shows you how

You’ve all been in the situation before. Your opponent has raised pre-flop and you’ve made the call with a medium-strength holding. The flop arrives and misses your hand completely and your opponent decides to continue his pre-flop aggression by firing out a routine continuation bet. You’re now forced into making a difficult decision as you know that your opponent will have missed the flop two-thirds of the time as well, but do you really have the best hand right now and – more importantly – do you even need to?

Certainly, continuation betting is one of most common methods of gathering chips in a no limit Hold’em tournament and, given that it is an attack that you’re going to face more often than any other, you’re going to need to learn how to deal with it as early in your poker education as possible. Thankfully, there are plenty of moves at your disposal to combat the now industry-standard ‘c-bet’, and in this article we’ll take a look at some of the simplest and most effective ways of standing up to a pre-flop aggressor on later streets. First up: the stop-and-go.

The Stop-and-Go

A move that seems to have gone out of fashion in tournaments lately is the classic stop-and-go play. The key concept of the stop-and-go is to take advantage of the fact that your opponent will miss a lot of flops by denying them the opportunity to fire a c-bet in the first place. There has long been an unwritten rule in Hold’em that action gets checked to the pre-flop raiser, but following such an obvious line will only leave you unsure of where you are in the hand when your opponent follows up an opening raise with a second bet.

A more interesting option is to take control of the hand by betting into your opponent and putting them to a decision on the flop. In a typical stop-and-go play, an opponent might raise on the button while you flat-call out of the big blind with the intention of betting any flop that is unlikely to have improved their hand. Such an action is perfect against predictable players who c-bet regularly, as you will have effectively disarmed them of their main weapon. They will now be reliant on having a hand that is strong enough to continue and – as you know – this won’t be the case two thirds of the time.

However, a degree of caution must be exercised when using the stop-and-go play. Always pay close attention to the texture of the board and avoid flops containing an ace or two or more high-cards. These are far more likely to have hit your opponent than a 2-5-J flop or any other ‘dry’, unconnected board. Also, be aware that more perceptive players will see through the stop-and-go play and may well be willing to raise you with air (nothing) if they suspect you’re simply making a move.

The Check-Raise

Another play that can be utilised out of position against a pre-flop aggressor is the check-raise. The check-raise is an awesomely powerful play that can be used either as a stone-cold bluff against an opponent you suspect has missed the flop or a semi-bluff with a powerful drawing hand. As the name suggests, executing a check-raise is just a matter of checking the flop to allow your opponent to fire their customary c-bet and then, when they do, putting in a sizeable raise to knock them off their hand.

Often, your opponent will simply be continuing to bet with no hand and a check-raise will force them to fold straight away. Similarly, any medium-strength, non-top-pair hands will also be hard pushed to call and you may well force the best holding out of the pot. If you are executing a check-raise as a semi-bluff with a strong drawing hand (such as two overcards and the nut flush draw), even if your opponent calls you are often a mathematical favourite to win and by playing the hand this way, you get more money into the pot when you do make your draw on the turn.

Obviously, the main danger with the check-raise is that it involves you committing a lot of chips on the assumption that your opponent has missed the flop. If they do hold a genuinely strong hand they may move all-in, forcing you to lose a large portion of your stack or call as an underdog after you become priced in. Always bear in mind the size of your opponent’s stack when check-raising, as the move is useless as a bluff if your opponent can’t fold or if a re-raise by them would leave you pot-committed.

The Float

In the previous two plays, we’ve looked at how to deal with a continuation bet when out of position, but one counter-measure that can be employed equally effectively in or out of position is the float play. Floating is the term used to describe calling a c-bet on the flop with no hand or one with very little drawing potential with the intention of taking the pot away if your opponent slows down on the turn. It is especially effective in position as you get to see what your opponent does on fourth street before acting, but it can also be used to pull off a delayed stop-and-go play when out of position.

The advantages of floating in position are that if your opponent was betting the flop with air, they will often check the turn if they don’t improve and allow you to scoop a bigger pot when you bet. This is especially the case if a scare card arrives on fourth street, and even if you have just overcards or a gutshot straight draw on the flop, occasionally you will improve to the best hand. However, the problem with floating is that if you employ it regularly, you must be able to accurately gauge the strength of your opponent’s hand or you’ll wind up haemorrhaging chips with weak holdings.

Often an opponent with a marginal holding will check-call the turn and river, meaning that you will not always be able to induce a fold after floating on the flop, and there is also no guarantee that they will slow down at all. If they continue to bet on fourth street, you will either have to fold and lose the chips you invested on the flop or continue to float and risk even more of your stack on the river. Even so, between floating, check-raising and using the stop-and-go play, you’ll be able to pick up a lot of easy pots and will also make life a living hell for your predictable opponents.
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