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Hidden Agendas

From his book Power Hold ‘Em Strategy, Daniel Negreanu helps us keep the hope alive when playing marginal hands after the flop.

While you always want to think aggressively when playing no-limit hold ‘em, it’s often correct to play passively with marginal hands in marginal situations, especially when there isn’t much danger of being outdrawn by your opponent. Let’s look at an example.

Hand in Action

You raise with pocket queens and a player behind you calls on the button. The Flop comes A-d, 6-s, 6-h.

This is one of those situations where if you have the best hand on the flop, it’s highly likely that you’ll win the pot, while if you don’t have the best hand, you’ll have little chance of winning it. There is just no good reason to play a big pot in this situation. And since no draw is present on the board, you take little risk in giving your opponent a free card. If you are in the lead, the best your opponent could have with a hand such a K-J is precisely three outs in the deck to outdraw you if a king hits the turn or the river.

Getting Information

Some will say that by betting the flop you’ll find out where you’re at in the hand. Will you really? So, if your opponent raises, that would most likely mean he has an ace, or maybe he doesn’t think you have an ace and is trying to steal the pot. What if your opponent just calls? Does that mean he has the ace or a six? Once again, that depends on your opponent’s tendencies.

The point is, if you check you’ll also get information, but it may cost you less money. If you check to a player who never bluffs and he bets, you can safely fold your Q-Q at no cost, saving that bet on the flop. If you’re up against a looser, more aggressive player, it may be wise to check and call a smallish bet on the flop and see if he follows through with the hand. While that play may seem weak, it’s strangely deceptive. When you check and call on the flop, your opponent will know you have something. If he has nothing, he’ll likely give up after firing a bullet at the pot.

By check-calling the flop, your opponent may even fear that you have A-K, A-A, or even a six in your hand. If he has a hand such as A-10, he may never make another bet at the pot all they way through to the river showdown. By playing the hand this way you actually make it less likely your opponent will bluff you, at the same time risking less money.

Replaying the Situation

Let’s go back and see what happens if you bet the flop. Say you made it $500 before the flop and one player called. With the blinds and antes, there is $1,525 in the pot. If you bet out $800 on the A-6-6 flop and your opponent makes it $2,500, what are you going to do? I’m guessing you’ll lay it down since it’s likely your opponent has an ace.

What if your opponent suspects that? From his perspective, he’s looking at your $800 bet and figuring if you have the ace you might check, but if he raises he’ll find out for sure. He could smooth call the $800 on the flop and try to steal the pot on the turn (if he doesn’t have the ace), or he could risk $2,500 to win $2,325 figuring that you either don’t have the ace or won’t call the raise.

If you check the flop, you take that play away from your opponent. If you don’t bet, he can’t raise you off the hand. If you check-call £1,000, you’ll put your opponent in a quandary on the turn wondering if he should continue to bet the hand through. For this play to be effective, you’ll need to play Q-Q the same way on the flop. In fact, if a player calls your raise behind you and the flop comes A-6-6, you should check a very high percentage of the time with any hand. Again, that may seem weak, but in the long run it’s a more cautious way of making sure you don’t get bluffed off the best hand.

In this example, we were out of position and played meekly, which could almost be the motto for small ball. Position is power. When we have position, we need to use it – but when we don’t have it, we need to respect it.
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