Protecting your hand

The conventional wisdom that says protecting your hands in NLHE is a must is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. NLHE is not like limit hold’em in that regard – you do not bet to protect your hand. In NLHE profits come from value betting against worse hands or by bluffing out better hands. The math shows why this is true. Say the pot is $1,500 and you bet $1,500 into it to protect your top pair from being drawn out on. Maybe they have top pair with a lower kicker, a flush draw or second pair. In case one they have three outs, in case two they have nine outs, and in case three they have five outs, so in all cases their equity is below 1/4 of the pot. So basically you are betting $1,500 to protect 1/4 of the pot, or $375.

Another factor people think is important is betting to protects bluffs in the future. This is related to the idea of betting for information and it’s just too expensive to do in NLHE. Instead, if you think the opponent is the type to bluff a lot, just check the flop and then either make a weak call‐down or re‐bluff raise him. That is how to profit from someone who bluffs a lot – not by stopping him from bluffing with a costly bet, but by spotting it and taking advantage of it by calling him light.

Determining the best line

The main factor in determining what is the best line to take is seeing if when you bet a worst hand will call or if a better hand will fold. Consider for example if at $5/$10 HU I open on the button to $35 with A‐10 and the opponent calls. The flop is 10‐7‐4. Now the reason I would bet here for the most part is to gain value rather than protect my hand. If he has two overcards like Q‐J or Q‐K he has six outs, if he has a pair of tens with a worst kicker just three outs, and even if he has 8‐7 that has only eight outs.

So we don’t gain much value by forcing him to fold but there is value if he’ll raise us and we’re prepared to call – then a lot of money can go into the pot with us as big favorites. That however isn’t really protecting our hand, it’s still betting for value. And if he has a pair of tens with a worse kicker he’ll certainly put money in and have little chance of outdrawing us and that is where the main value comes from.

Stack sizes will affect the plan you come up with for a hand and what matters is effective stack size, which means the money that can be won or lost based on the smallest stack. We can look at stack sizes in relation to the number of big blinds, and also what percentage of went in pre‐flop and from this decide what type of hand will be played out post‐flop. The general rule is that the bigger the effective stacks are, the more flexibility there is in how a hand is played, and the more money that goes in pre‐flop the less concern there is that a player will hit a big hand – if a player puts in 10% of their stack pre‐ flop, then we’re not really afraid of him hitting flushes or two pairs.

Position is a big advantage, which you want to make sure you utilize to the fullest extent post‐flop. The way to utilize it is by playing as many streets as possible in position to put the disadvantage on the opponent as often as possible. If just one street is played then the opponent has to deal with the disadvantage of being out of position, but just one time. With more streets a person in position gains more information, as they get to see more cards and how the opponent reacts the whole way. The way to play more streets is to play more passively in position. Conversely, if a person is playing out of position, they need to neutralize the disadvantage by trying to end the betting action on a hand as soon as possible by either folding or raising, and in general a person will need to play more aggressive out of position if they enter a pot.

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