Aggressive play is often rewarded in poker, and this is especially true when you’re playing with non-premium hands like suited connectors. When you raise with your big draw, you have two ways to win the hand. Your opponent can fold, or you can hit your draw. If you call, there’s only one way to win: you have to make the best hand. This seems obvious, but this basic fact eludes many players. It’s where the mantra ‘raise or fold’ came from. But make sure you keep this one fact in mind – if there is no fold equity, that is, if there is no way your opponent is going to lay his hand down, there really is no point in semi-bluffing. You just have to figure out if you have the correct implied odds to make that call. It becomes a maths question.
DO THE NUMBERS
Let’s say you call an early-position raiser with 4-5 suited on the button and one of the blinds also calls. The pot is 1,900. You have 11,000 left and the pre-flop raiser has you covered.
The flop comes out A-6-3 rainbow. You’ve flopped an open-ended straight draw. The blind checks and the pre-flop raiser leads out for a pot-size bet. What do you do now?
What do you put him on? Does he have A-K or A-Q or does he have K-K? Let’s examine all the possibilities. The pot is now 3,800 and it’s 1,900 to call. If you call 1,900 you’ll be left with 9,100. So, you’ll be calling 1,900 to win 3,800 (already in the pot). To that you can add 9,100 due to implied odds, as if he has A-K and you get lucky enough to hit your straight you’ll probably double up. So, 1,900 to win 12,900. Eight cards give you the winner.
Now, we all know that you’ll hit your straight about one in three times, but that’s only if you get to see both the turn and the river. You really want to hit your straight on the turn, because if your foe does have a big Ace he’s probably going to bet again on the turn and this time it might be all-in.
Okay, let’s do the maths. There are 52 cards in the deck. Two in my hand, two in my opponent’s hand (let’s assume he has A-K) and three on the felt. There are 45 cards still unseen and eight of them will give me the nuts. I’ll hit one of my eight outs on the turn 17.78% of the time. A little worse than one out of five times. In this case, I’ll be getting almost 7/1 on my 1,900 investment if I hit that magic card. So I can call, right?
Calling also has the benefit of possibly getting a free card on the turn, or maybe you can take the pot away from him on the turn. If your opponent has Kings and you call him, he very well might check the turn and then, depending on your read, you’d either take the free card or try the semi-bluff. Some players will even make the mistake of getting tricky – they’ll check the turn with a set of Aces or A-K to try and trap you. You can then take the free card and crush them when you hit your straight.
Or should we raise? If you raise, you’ll be pot-committed. He’ll probably fold any pocket pair smaller than Aces. But can you get him to fold an Ace? I’m not a big fan of calling, but in this case, I don’t see the value of a raise unless you are playing against a super-tight player who’s only calling with the nuts. If there is no fold equity, you don’t want to put your chips in there as an underdog.
The profile of your opponent will often dictate how you proceed with your draw. If you’re against a rock who will only call with the nuts, the semi-bluff is tough to get right
Here’s a hand I played in a recent $3,000 no-limit tournament, but this time the decision to call or raise was more ambiguous. The blinds were 400/800 with a 100 ante, meaning the cost of each circuit was 2,100 (we were playing nine-handed). The big stack raised in early position, making it 2,100 straight. I was on the cut-off and looked down to find 7♥-6♥. I had about 56,000 in chips and thought this might be a good opportunity, so I called. We saw the flop heads-up.
The flop was 7-5-4 with two diamonds and my opponent bet 4,000 into me. I’ll give you what little information I had on my foe; he came to the table with a ton of chips and hadn’t splashed around too much; he seemed like he knew what he was doing; he was relatively tight and fairly aggressive – I hadn’t seen him show down a hand yet. Armed with this information, what was the proper play?
Let’s look at this from a mathematical point of view. If I call 4,000, I will improve my hand with any 7, 6, 3, or 8. Theoretically, there are 15 cards out of the remaining 47 that will help me. There is a 32% chance that my hand will improve on the turn. The pot was 10,300 and it’s 4,000 for me to call. Based on this information, the pot is just barely laying me enough odds to call – in fact, the EV (Expected Value) is +576 (see box, left). You lose 4,000 68% of the time and win 10,300 32% of the time.
Let’s assume that if you call the turn and miss, your opponent will bet again 75% of the time, but this bet will make it prohibitive for you to call. If you call you’ll get a free river card 25% of the time, which will give you another 33% chance of improving. This improves your EV to +1,756. Now it makes the case for calling rather strong, even without getting implied odds. The question is: are there any implied odds?
Your opponent bets into a 4-5-7 board and you call. If the turn comes a 7 he’ll likely put you on trips. If it comes out with a 3 or an 8, he’ll often think you have a 6 in your hand. And if the 6 comes, the board will read 4-5-6-7. How much more money is your opponent really going to put in there in any of these scenarios?
Mathematically speaking then, calling in this case is the easy play. We know it’s better than folding, but what about a possible raise?
BE THE AGGRESSOR
In this scenario, when we raise we’re going to make it an additional 9,000 to go. So we’re risking 13,000 to win a pot that is 10,300. Let’s say your opponent folds 50% of the time, calls and checks the turn with an overpair 10% of the time, moves all-in with an overpair 30% of the time, and moves all-in with two big diamonds 10% of the time. What is your expected value in this scenario? Without getting too involved, your EV is +6,965. Wow! How did that happen? We’re making a few assumptions here by the way. First off, that if your opponent moves all-in after you raise, you are calling; and secondly, that your opponent either has a hand he won’t call with, an overpair or two big diamonds. Theoretically, your opponent could have two pair or a set, but for this exercise, let’s try to keep this as simple as possible.
Back to the hand – my opponent has made it 4,000 to go. What now? Mathematically speaking, it seems like a no-brainer, but this game isn’t all maths. I have to use my instincts. In this case, it’s an easy decision. The texture of the flop will make it hard for me to get paid off if I make my hand, and on top of that my hand is a probable favourite over his likely holdings. By raising, I also take control of the hand. If he calls me, I can take a free card on the turn.
The real reason to raise is get some fold equity. I don’t want him to call or move all-in. I want him to fold and let me take the pot down without having to hit my hand. But, if he does call, I still have a pretty good chance of winning.
By the way, in this particular hand, I made it 13,000 to go and my opponent thought about it for a while before folding pocket tens face up.
Raising with a draw is often a profitable move, but you have to take into account the whole situation, including the maths, EV and the texture of the board. As with any semi-bluff, your fold equity is crucial