Texas Hold ‘Em Strategy – Protecting Poker Hands


Top pair on the flop is not enough to win a poker hand. For a start, you must bet to protect it. At this stage in no-limit hold ’em it’s accepted wisdom to bet around the size of the pot. This offers any opponent odds of 2-1. If he is drawing to a flush, he has a worse than 4-1 chance of hitting it on the turn. This is a good deal for you, ignoring the added complexities of later cards and rounds of betting. The bet also prices out opponents who are drawing to a flush with an overcard, when they have a 3-1 chance of making the flush or a pair better than yours.

If the flop has cards of three different suits, no flush is yet possible. Now an open-ended straight is the only danger and you don’t need to commit to so many chips. A bet of half the pot offers an opponent 3-1 against his slightly better than 5-1 chance of completing the straight. Again, it also prices out a hand drawing with an overcard situs judi online.

Why would you want to bet less? Well, every bet is risky. You may be facing a hand with two pairs or a set, both are very hard to see, when your opponent will probably raise you. Now you have to judge if his raise is a semi-bluff. Does he really have the goods? Remember: you only have a top pair, a hand impossible to improve, and the default course must be to let it and your chips go. So, it’s as well to be efficient with bet sizing. Over the course of time it all adds up. In a tournament this could additionally be a life-or-death decision, effectively committing your entire stack to the hand.

Note that a flop with two suited cards matching one of the suits in your hand reduces the chance of an opponent completing a possible flush. In fact it too becomes a bit better than 5-1 chance and you can bet half the pot. The great thing here is that you know it and your opponent doesn’t! Now your efficient bet sizing can suck him in to a gamble that is not profitable for him and this translates into profits for you.

Incidentally, betting more than the pot becomes a game of diminishing returns. You can never put enough money in to offer evens and betting twice the pot only offers 3-2. If an opponent has a strong enough to call 2-1, 3-2 isn’t going to make a huge difference, especially when the implied odds of future betting rounds swamp this small margin.

Which brings us on to protect your top pair on the turn. In other words this card has not completed any obvious flush or straight and you still check to be ahead. Again, the standard wisdom has it that a bet of half the pot here will price any opponent out of the hand but implied odds suggest this is not so.

To keep the maths relatively simple, suppose there had been 4 big blinds (BB) in the pot on the flop and one opponent remained. This seems like a pretty average scenario. Now, on the turn, there are 12 BBs: the original pot; your bet; and the opponent’s call. If you bet half of this (6BB) and your opponent calls again, the pot will have 24BB on the river.

Then, disaster. The river card hits: it seems to complete a flush or an obvious straight. Your opponent batch to represent this. Do you call or fold? It depends on how much he batches.

Assume that he was drawing to a flush and so had a 4-1 chance of completing on the river. Four times out of five he will lose his turn bet of 6BB for a net deficit of 24BB. The fifth time needs to be more than compensate for this. It’s not hard: 18BB has come from the pot and your bet on the turn. Your opponent only needs 6 more to break even. This is a quarter of the pot at the river.

If he batch this or less, you should call. He’ll never make any money that way, which implies that you’ll never lose any. In fact, you’ll come out ahead by occasionally calling pure bluffs or hands where the bettor genuinely thinks he is ahead but you have him beat.

Unfortunately the river bet is rarely this small. You then have to apply a sliding scale to decide whether to call or not. The bigger the bet, the less inclined you should be and the better hand you will need. It gets a little complicated.

Matters are so much simpler if you bet around the pot on the turn. Yes, we’ve gone back there with 12BB in the pot. You bet around 12 yourself and your opponent calls. This makes 36BB at the river, when the same disaster strikes. But now your opponent needs to make 48BB to justify losing 12BB four times. 24BB come from the pot and your bet at the turn, so he needs to get another 24BB.

This is a much bigger gamble on the river, fully 2/3 of the pot. Now you can call any bet smaller than this and come out ahead. In fact, again taking bluffs and misjudgements into account, you could probably call near the pot-size batch most of the time.

If your opponent was drawing to an open-ended straight, at slightly better than 5-1 odds, he would need nearly 60BB, which is a pot-sized bet. And with any kind of hand (say you’d improved to two pairs or a set) you could probably call any bet – with your entire stack if necess.

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