Editor’s note: This is Lesson #3 in our weekly “Strategy with Stas” series. Each and every Sunday Stas Tishkevich, founder of the Poker Fighter Training App, brings you a new lesson in article + video format. We hope you enjoy this feature from the Poker Fighter School, and would be happy for you to share these posts — as well as your feedback — on social media.
Action is folded to us and we see ace-eight suited in the dealer position. We will open-raise from this position at least 42% of possible starting hands, and A8hh is at the middle of our opening range, so we should always open-raise this hand in this spot.
The small blind calls, and now it’s time for us to think about the most important thing in poker: what is the opponent’s range; i.e., what hands will he play like this?
If we think the opponent is a loose-passive player, as the majority of players at low stakes are, we can assume he plays mostly pocket-pairs (22-TT), suited aces (A2s-AJs), broadway cards (JT-AT, QJ-AJ, KQ), and maybe suited connectors (32s-T9s) in this manner. Looser players can also call with low suited kings (K2s-K9s), suited one-gappers (42s-T8s), and offsuit hands like T9o, Q9o, J9o, etc.
We are ahead of this range with our hand, and feeling pretty good about this spot given positional advantage and initiative.
The flop comes QhJs2h and we now have the nut flush draw. We need to decide between betting our hand or checking behind. If we want to bet we need to find a good reason, in this case betting as a semi-bluff.
Betting as a Semi-Bluff means we think that stronger hands will fold to our bet. We want to fold hands like pocket pairs below jacks (33-TT), or bottom pair (A2 for example). If the opponent will not fold, we still have many good turn and river cards that will improve our hand to a winning hand (any heart and maybe an ace). We decide to bet, and choose a sizing of ~2/3 of the pot, as it is a draw-heavy flop, and the small blind calls.
If we play vs. a very tight player who has a very strong pre-flop calling range from the small-blind, or vs. a very aggressive opponent who will almost always check-raise us, then we can probably check behind the flop and get a free turn card.
The turn brings the 2s and pairs the board, which immediately weakens our hand as now we have reversed implied odds, meaning that we can hit our flush but still lose to a stronger hand such as a full house. We face a similar decision as on the flop: check behind or bet again as a semi-bluff?
Versus most player types we should probably bet the turn again for the same reasons we bet the flop, this time maybe even forcing the opponent to fold a middle pair (JT for example). We decide to bet, and choose a sizing of ~2/3 of the pot, as it is a draw-heavy board, and the small blind calls.
If we think the opponent is never folding a made hand on the turn, then we should probably check behind and realize our equity.
The river brings the 4d and we miss our draw completely. We face a tough river decision: should we bluff or stop?
If we think about it GTO-wise, nut flush draws are very rare, and if we bluff with these combinations, we are “balanced” because we will play hands like sets, two-pair and maybe even overpairs in a similar fashion. If we think about it exploitatively, we need to think about how the opponent plays his river range if we bet:
The flopped draws missed entirely, so they will almost always fold to our bet, but our ace-high is usually better than them, so there’s no reason to bet.
The medium made hands such as J10 will probably fold to our bet, and if we check behind we lose, so this is a good reason to bet. Top pair hands with weak kickers such as Q9o will face a tough spot and it’s very opponent-dependent as to whather they will call or not.
Given this analysis, versus opponents who tend to be on the folding side, we should carry on with our bluff and bet again. We decide to bet, and choose a sizing of ~2/3 of the pot, as it is a draw-heavy board and the small-blind folds.
Versus opponents who will not fold even a jack we should give up and check behind, telling ourselves that we will “catch” them in this spot when we show up with strong made hands.
The main point we need to understand from this hand is that our draws from the flop will rarely be completed by the river! Our flush draws will improve into a made flush only ~36% of the time, while our straight draws will get there only ~32% of the time. If we understand this fundamental aspect of the game, what we need to do is take the initiative in our hands and force our opponents to fold stronger hands using aggression.