Skill #3. Assess Your Hand Value – P3: WHICH STREETS?

So far we’ve been looking at a value hand on the flop and trying to determine its streets of value. But you should also be thinking about exactly which streets of value. What do I mean?

Let’s say you have A♣T♣ on an A♦9♠4♣ flop. You think it’s likely your opponent will call you twice, but not three times, with a weaker ace. This hand has two streets of value. But there are three post-flop streets. When you decide you have only two streets of value, you’re implicitly deciding to check one street. So, which two streets should you bet?

There are three possibilities. You can bet the flop and turn, the flop and river, or the turn and river.

When the board allows for a number of draws, it’s usually best to bet earlier in the hand for two reasons.

One, draws are most likely to call the flop, less likely to call the turn, and they won’t call at all on the river. Draws have less information the closer you are to the flop. So you’ll get more calls from worse hands on a draw-heavy board when you bet the flop. Get your money in and build the pot when your opponents’ hands are still relatively uncertain.

Two, when you bet draw-heavy boards, your opponents have to determine whether you’re betting a made hand or a draw. This confusion can naturally earn you calls from weaker made hands.

On a static board like A♦9♠4♣, where made hands on the flop will probably still be the best by the river, and future streets are unlikely to change things, you don’t have as clear a reason to bet one street over another. Giving someone a free card on the flop, for example, is unlikely to hurt you. When draws are available, it incentivizes betting the flop and turn since draws will call only with cards to come. But on this board there are no draws available, so that incentive is absent. Checking the flop may also convince your opponent that your hand is weaker than it is.

But even though the cost of checking is relatively small on this board type, giving a free card if you’re ahead always costs something. Even if it’s small, your opponents will have some chance to draw out. Furthermore, if you always check the flop with your two-streets-of-value hands, you will fork your range in an exploitable way. You don’t want to check your good hands and bet mostly your missed ones. An astute opponent could pick up on the pattern and use the information against you.

On a static board, then, you often have a choice of which street to check. But reads and history with players play a role here. And you’ll want to mix it up a bit so you aren’t predictable. Some lines may work better against some opponents than others. For instance, some players might be more willing to call the flop and turn with weak made hands on the off-chance they hit trips. Other players might be more willing to call the turn and river with these same hands because after you check the flop, they’re suspicious of your hand strength. And against some players, betting the flop and checking the turn with A♣T♣ on a A♦9♠4♣ board might nicely conceal your hand and make your opponent the most suspicious, earning you a call on the river.

The bottom line? If there are draws out there, make value bets earlier in the hand. You don’t want to bet huge to shut the hand down. But you want to charge your opponents to draw, and you want opponents with weaker made hands to hope you’re the one with the draw and call. When the board is relatively static, you can choose which streets to bet and check based on reads, the table dynamic, history with the players, and other factors.

And here I’ll add a final, but important, amendment. On draw-heavy boards, the concepts of which hands are “ahead” and which are “behind” can become blurred. A hand like Q-T on a Q♦9♣7♣ flop might be ahead of many hands. But if you bet this hand, you can expect any hand that calls you to have a significant chance of beating you.

For instance, you’re technically “ahead” of A♣8♣. But Q-T wins on only 53 percent of possible turn-and-river-card combinations. The value of betting the flop and getting called when you’re only a 53/47 favorite is relatively small.

On the other hand, if you bet Q-T, you may get called by K- Q or A-Q, against which you’re a huge underdog. So if you bet Q-T on the flop, you may be ahead more often than not when called, but when you’re ahead you’re probably only a little ahead. And when you’re behind, you’re likely way behind.

If you’re playing deep stacks, the situation is even worse. Many turn and river cards will be scary. If your opponents are strong players, they can call the flop and frequently pressure you on the turn and river.

When you consider all these factors, you may decide that you don’t want to bet the flop with a hand like Q-T on a Q♦9♣7♣ board, even though you’re likely to be ahead when called, and even though draw-heavy boards tend to make you want to bet earlier in the hand. Yet when you’re ahead, you’re not ahead by much. In other words, you’ve hit the flop but there are mitigating circumstances and the hand just doesn’t have that much value. Weaker players tend not to create a plan for the hand, and fall in love with top pair. You may be wiser to check the flop, and hope the turn is a brick like 2♥.

On the other hand, you would almost certainly want to bet A- Q or especially K-K on a Q♦9♣7♣ flop. While opponents are still likely to have outs against you when they call, with these hands you’re less likely to be behind when called.