Earlier in this series, we introduced the concept of ABC poker and laid out a relatively simple poker strategy for beginners. Simple, that is, if you’ve already played a little bit of poker and you know the basics, like rules and hand rankings and what flop means. There are different levels of beginners, of course. And there are more relatively advanced strategies that can – and should – be incorporated into ABC poker.
Bluffing might be the most important of these advances. As you work your way up the levels and you encounter tougher opponents, you’re going to have to add more and more deception to your game. By betting or raising with a weak hand, you might be able to make your opponent fold a superior hand, which is one of the primary reasons why we bet. So let’s start learning how to bluff.
Actually, we already have. Our original ABC strategy for no-limit hold ‘em allows you to play solid draws on the flop – flush draws and open-ended straight draws, specifically. These draws are considered semi-bluffs in the parlance of our times; they’re strong enough that, even if your opponent doesn’t fold to your flop bet/raise, you’ll still have roughly a 1-in-3 chance of winning the hand. Very roughly.
The trick is to see the river when you don’t fill out your draw on the turn, which is going to be about five times out of six. Our basic beginner strategy recommends you try to check down if your opponent calls the flop, and fold if he or she bets the turn. But we can do better than that. There are times when you should call a turn bet with your draw and see the river card. And it has to do with pot odds. Basically, if the turn bet is small enough, and there’s enough money in the pot to win, it makes mathematical sense to call.
Let’s say you have a flush draw in hearts that didn’t fill out on the turn, and you’re out of position (first to act) versus a single opponent with $900 in the pot. You check the turn, and your opponent bets… $100. That’s a pretty small bet. Ignoring what might happen on the river, if you call that bet, you’re risking $100 to win $1000. So if your flush draw has more than a 10-percent chance of completing, you’re justified in making the call.
Granted, you don’t know what your actual chances are, since you don’t know what other cards have already been dealt. But we can generalize. There are nine hearts left that will fill out your flush – maybe they’re still in the deck, maybe your opponent has one, maybe somebody who folded before the flop had one, who knows. You only know the two cards you’re holding, and the four face-up community cards, leaving 46 unseen cards. Nine of them are hearts, so in general, you have a 9/46 chance of filling out your flush on the river, or nearly 20 percent. That’s a lot more than 10 percent. Make the call!
The Answer is 4 and 2
How are you at math, by the way? Figuring out pot odds does take a while – you have to divide the pot by your opponent’s bet, then you have to count how many outs you have (how many cards will complete your draw) and divide that into 46… good gravy. Fortunately, there are ways around this. If you’re playing online poker, you can print out a pot odds chart from the Web and stick it on your wall. It’ll tell you what your chances are of filling out your draw.
If you’re playing live, or even if you’re online, you can also use the “Rule of 4 and 2” to approximate your chances. Take your nine outs on the flop, multiply that by four, and you get a 36% chance of completing your flush by the river. Take your nine outs on the turn, multiply that by two, and you get 18%. Close enough for government work. The more hands of poker you play and the more often you do these calculations, the more automatic it’ll become. You like money, right? Do the math.
Be sure to play online poker at SBR