Presumably, you are reading this article because you want to become a more dangerous no-limit Hold’em player.
Instead of playing always a conservative, ABC style, you want to open up in the right spots.
Instead of playing mostly to your cards, you want to find plays that exploit the particular opponents you are up against.
I hope you have gotten some ideas already about how you are going to make changes to your game. I am going to distill the ideas in this article down to the top 10 plays you should try to incorporate into your game.
Over-bet the river when you can anticipate your opponent will respond in a very unbalanced way
This play goes both ways, so it can be good against any player type.
Let us start when you expect your over-bet to get called too frequently. For this, your targets are typically fish, but they can also be Loose-aggressive players against whom you have a bit of aggressive history.
Here is the scenario. You are fairly certain you have the best hand. It is the river. You have several times the pot left in your stacks. You think that for whatever reason your remaining opponent may call a shove. Shove!
Fish often call shoves badly on the river because they have an over-pair. These players commonly vastly over-value over-pairs and will simply go broke with them.
If you suspect an over-pair, make sure you break your opponent.
Loose-aggressive players sometimes level themselves into calling a shove. They like to bluff a lot, so they also like to sniff out bluffs.
An over-bet where you are not “supposed” to have the nuts (due to the previous betting) may look like a bluff, and you just might get called.
The beauty of sniffing out these situations is that your LAG opponent might not be tempted to call a normal bet, but the fact that you over-bet might arouse suspicion and elicit the call.
Now the flipside, over-betting when you want a fold.
Your main targets for this are Tight-aggressive, players and particularly nits.
This one is simple. Your opponent by checking back the turn on a draw-heavy board or merely flat calling your bet on such a board has marked himself with a medium-strength one pair hand. Say you play the following hand.
You raise to 3× preflop, and your target calls in the big blind.
The flop comes Q-T-6 with a two-flush.
Your opponent checks and calls your flop bet.
The turn is an 8 that puts a second flush draw out there.
Your opponent checks and calls again.
On a drawish board like this, nits and Tight-aggressive, players will generally want to check-raise the turn with any strong hand to “charge you” to draw.
When they do not raise, either they typically have a draw themselves, or they have a one pair hand that they’re scared to reopen the betting with.
The river is a 3 that completes the backdoor flush.
Your opponent checks and you have 1.8× the pot in your stack.
This is a spot where you can over-bet shove and get a fold from a hand like K-Q (a strong possibility given the action), A-Q, or even perhaps K-K.
From your opponent, the tight-aggressive player or nit’s perspective, there’s just too much out there to call you down with just one pair.
Experiment with over-bets both for value and as bluffs against the appropriate player types. This is a very valuable tool.
Raise junk in position preflop, Barrel flop and turn
Your targets for this play are nits.
When you see a game where most pots are over by the turn, and no one is putting much money in the middle, it is time to break this one out. Just start raising your button and firing the flop and turn.
Some board textures are better to fire twice (e.g., high card below a king, loosely coordinated) and others are better to fire once and then give up (e.g., ace-high disconnected).
However, in many of these rock fest games, if you just raise preflop and fire blindly on the flop, turn, and sometimes even river, you’ll show an insta-profit on every hand.
If this play is not already part of your playbook, then when you try it and succeed, you will get a very liberating feeling. It feels good to win because you have outfoxed your opponents rather than just because you ran well.
3-Bet light preflop to induce a fold
Your targets for this play are tight-aggressive players.
Tight-aggressive players like to bet-fold, and the only real way to get the best of them is to anticipate when they are likely to bet-fold and then raise them.
This theme will return a few times in the top 10, but it all starts preflop. Look for situations where you expect Tight-aggressive, players to be raising a good chunk of their total hands, say 25 percent or more.
This could be when the tight-aggressive player seems to be isolating someone with position or even if the tight-aggressive player seems to be attempting to pull off the play above (raise preflop, barrel).
It could also be when the tight-aggressive player might be raising to try to steal the blinds. When you see one of these raises, 3-bet light, at first try to stick to the “good” hands that I outlined in the 3-betting section for this play. However, as you get more used to it you will be able to identify the spots ripe enough to try it with any two cards.
Flat-call with big hands preflop and on the flop and turn
Your targets for this play are hyper-aggressive and Loose-aggressive players.
Loose-aggressive players put too much money into pots with too many weak hands. They often make up for this problem by consistently winning the information battle.
Opponents are constantly confused by what the Loose-aggressive players can have, and the confusion freezes these players up. As a result, they play against the Loose-aggressive players in a very straightforward way by waiting for big hands and then raising them early.
The Loose-aggressive players can then exploit this information gap by going for thin value, applying pressure against weakness, and so forth.
Your goal against these players is simply to close the information gap.
Ok, they can have many hands and are difficult to hand read. Focus on making yourself similarly difficult to hand read. Do this by refusing to give away your big hands with early raises.
Loose-aggressive players often rely on the fact that players want to “protect against draws” by raising early on semi-coordinated boards.
Refuse to do that.
You do not need to “charge” Loose-aggressive players to draw against you. Their mistake is that they voluntarily shovel excessively much money into the pot with bad hands.
In other words, they are going to charge themselves better than you can possibly charge them. Just let them make their mistake.
Slow play hands that you intend to take to showdown. Before you make any play, think, “What information am I giving the Loose-aggressive players by playing my hand this way?”
In general, choose actions that betray the least information.
If you focus on closing the information gap, then the Loose-aggressive players will lose his edge, and you will just be playing a stronger set of hands against his weaker set of hands. This will give you the edge over the long term.
I am not going to lie. The swings will be significant. However, it is the right adjustment to make.
Raise continuation bets
Your targets for this play are Tight-aggressive, players and Loose-aggressive players.
Most players know that firing a continuation bet on the flop after raising preflop shows a profit in many situations.
The problem with continuation betting, however, is that you miss more flops than you hit even when you raise a tight range of hands.
Therefore, when typical tight-aggressive players or Loose-aggressive players continuation bet a flop, often they are planning to bet-fold more than half the time.
Whenever you can peg someone as bet folding more than half the time, you have a nice bluffing opportunity.
So, just start raising continuation bets. This used to work extremely well. While modern Tight-aggressive, players and Loose-aggressive players have gotten a little wise to the play and will sometimes playback, raising the continuation bet should still be a staple of your exploitative strategy against aggressive player types.
A great flop to try this play is one like K♠, 7♦, 4♠.
Most aggressive players love to continuation bet these flops because they are hard to hit and because they can “represent ace-king” by betting.
However, the reality is that even a tight preflop opening range misses this flop more than half the time.
If your opponent starts playing back at you when you make these flop raises, just start playing AK, KQ, and KK the same way (flat call preflop, raise the K-high flop) and you will quickly find again that you can raise continuation bets on boards like these with near impunity.
Barrel the turn when the flop was loosely coordinated and the turn bricks
Your targets for this play are darn near everyone. Though in particular, use it against nits, Tight-aggressive, players, and loose-passive fish.
You raise preflop. The flop comes J-8-5 with a two-suit. You bet and get called. The turn is a brick (e.g., an offsuit K, 3, 2, also slightly less ideally an A, J, 8, 5, or 4). Bomb the turn. It is just hard for your opponent to have a good hand in this situation.
The flop hits many hands, but generally does not hit many of them very hard. A brick turn card devalues most of these weak fit hands.
In addition, some players will be loath to slow play a big hand on the flop because they will feel they need to “charge the draws.” These players’ check-calling range on this type of flop will be quite weak, and barreling a brick will nearly always get you a fold.
Semi-bluff raise the turn when your opponent bets a good barreling card
Your targets for this play are Tight-aggressive, players and Loose-aggressive players.
This flips the above play on its head.
Say you check-call a J-8-5 two-suit board with 7-6 for an open-ended straight draw. The turn is an off-suit king. You check, and your opponent bets. If you suspect that your opponent is aware of board textures and likes to barrel good barreling cards (a la Play No. 5) then check-shove the turn.
The beauty of this play is that most small stakes no-limit players do not make this sort of bluff, so against many opponents, you will elicit a fold from nearly every hand in their range up to and including A-K.
Tight-aggressive players, in particular, are bet-folding this sort of situation very frequently.
This is a good place to make a general observation about semi-bluffing. Most no-limit players choose when to semi-bluff by looking at their own cards.
That is, they think something along the lines of, “I flopped a flush draw. I should raise! ”
While not an absolutely terrible way to think about it (hey, it’s better than “I flopped a draw, let’s check and call until I get there”), you can improve on this significantly if you look at board textures and think about what your opponent is doing.
You are going to have a lot more success semi-bluff raising that draw against a tight-aggressive player who continuation bets 100 percent of the time than you are against a nit who continuation bets only when he flops top pair or better.
Likewise, if you bluff-raise certain turn cards, you’re just begging to get snapped off, because your range looks strong and your opponent is likely betting with the hope of getting the money in.
For instance, say your tight-aggressive player opponent opens to 3× the big blind, and you call from the blind.
The flop comes Q-J-9 with a two-suit. You check, your opponent bets pot, and you call.
The turn is a J. You check, and your opponent bets three-quarters pot.
This is a rotten time to decide to check-raise your A-K flush draw.
Why? Because on this board your opponent obviously expects to get action a lot, and nevertheless he is making large bets.
I am not saying it is impossible that he is planning to bet-fold, but you would be quite lucky to get a fold if you were to check-shove this turn.
Furthermore, you will be drawing dead sometimes when you get called, and often some of your straight and/or flush outs will be dead to a boat.
Your over-card “outs” are barely worth mentioning when you get the money in on this turn.
There is a world of difference between this situation and the one I mentioned before, where the board came J-8-5-K.
On this board, your opponent can easily be barreling with many hands, and even if he’s made something it’s usually just one pair. You have much, much better fold equity in this spot.
It takes some trial and error to get this playdown, but it is a fabulous one once you get the hang of it.
Look for spots where your opponent may be bet-folding the turn and semi-bluff shove over the top.
Bet top pair for value on the river when the draws brick out
Your main targets for this play are fish.
Do not miss these bets against showdown-bound players.
You flop top pair. Your kicker is good, but maybe it’s not a top kicker. There are draws on board. You bet and get called. The turn bricks. You bet and get called. The river bricks (or it completes one of the less likely draws). Value bet!
Often your opponent will have been drawing, but will have made a pair by the river and will call.
On the other hand, your opponent will have started with a hand that made a pair and a draw and now has just one pair on the river.
Alternatively, your opponent will just have flopped a pair, put you on a draw, and called all the way down.
Regardless, please bet these hands for value. It is an enormous source of profit against bad players.
Bet-fold the flop and turn with your decent made hands
Your main targets for this play are Tight-aggressive, players and all weaker player types.
It is tempting to “pot control” one pair hands when the board gets a little scary.
Do not! At least do not do it against players who you know will not be bluff-raising you very often.
It is nearly always better to bet-fold your made hands rather than pot control them.
The whole idea behind pot controlling is that you can avoid a situation where your opponent will bluff with a very annoying frequency -raising the turn, for instance- and trade it for a situation where your opponent will bluff too frequently -on the river after checking through the turn in this example-.
The reason the turn raise is annoying is that when you are raised on the turn, you are usually no good, but you know your opponent is still bluffing a good percentage of the time. That is bad for you.
If you know that you will induce too many bluffs by underrepping your hand on the turn, then by pot controlling, you have avoided a situation where your opponent plays well and created a situation where your opponent makes mistakes. This is to your advantage.
However, if the preceding assumptions do not apply, then pot controlling is just another way of saying, “giving a free card.” If you know, against a given player, that you are beaten the vast majority of the time if you get check-raised, then go ahead and bet-fold your hand. This is doubly true if you cannot anticipate your opponent giving you any extra action on the river if you pot control on the turn.
Tight-aggressive players often fall into these latter assumptions. They will not check-raise bluff that often, so it is safe to bet-fold against them. Moreover, they are observant enough to recognize when you are pot controlling the turn, and they, therefore, will refrain from bluffing wildly into you on the river.
Against these players, just bet your hand and fold when you get raised.
You will win more pots, get more value for your good hands, and make fewer bad calls on the river.
Bluff-raise the river when your opponent’s range is comprised mainly of busted draws and thin value hands
Your targets for this play are Tight-aggressive, players and Loose-aggressive players.
Occasionally hands will go down where your opponent will deny a strong hand on either the flop or turn (by missing a bet or raise in a spot where your opponent would bet or raise nearly 100 percent of the time with a good hand), but then decide to bet the river anyway.
These are the situations to bluff-raise the river.
I was on the receiving end of this in a $2-$5 hands. My main nemesis in this hand had about a $300 stack. I opened to $15 and was called in both blinds.
The flop came Q♠, 9♠, 9♥.
My opponents checked to me, and I checked it back.
The turn was the 3♣.
My opponents checked to me again, and I bet $20 into the $47 pot.
The small blind called, and the big blind folded.
I figured the big blind could be calling withdraws, a pocket pair below a queen, or maybe something like Q-T. I expected a turn raise if she held a 9.
The river was an off-suit K.
My opponent checked to me. I bet $80 into the $87 pot.
I thought this large bet would get my opponent off most of her range. She would fold all the pocket pairs and flush draws unless perhaps a K-high draw.
I thought she would fold a hand like Q-T.
Really, I was most worried about K-Q or J-T.
She shoved, and I folded. I suspect she had J-T.
Nevertheless, it would have been a great bluffing spot for her, since she should know that I am bet-folding that river with nearly my entire range.
My flop check is very telling in this hand. On this board type, I am betting all my queens, all my nines, all my full houses.
I am also betting hands like K-J, K-T, J-T, and possibly A-K as well.
So, on the river, pretty much the only value hand I can have is A-K, and I might even bet-fold that.
I doubt this player was bluffing, as I doubt she recognized the situation.
But if she did, kudos to her.