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StrategyWeekly No Limit

Crushing NL 50 (2) - Postflop: Concepts and applications

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Crushing NL 50 (2) -
Postflop: Concepts and applications

by Hasenbraten

This column deals with the special foundational concepts of the no-limit Hold'em full ring game. The first part of the series dealt with the preflop game, but now we are concerned with playing optimally after the flop. We will consider some directly applicable approaches, as well as game theoretical concepts. 

Plan your hand

In this section we talk about how you should approach your poker game. Naturally you could just press on and play, or act at random, but your success will be very limited. It is better for you to take the following into consideration when you are faced with any decision:

  • What is your goal in this situation and what might your goals be when making future decisions?

Possible goals include:

  • Getting better hands to fold (bluffing)
  • Getting weaker hands to call (betting for value)
  • Improving your own hands (with draws)

Your goal when making a decision varies depending on the overall situation. The opponent type influences the potential success of bluffs, whilst your hand influences the possibility of extracting value from weaker hands and so on. Once you have determined your goal, the next step is to assess the reachability of this goal and thus decide on a course of action.

In practice this means considering each of the possible scenarios before they become a reality. By doing this you can save yourself some time later, better understand the game and be able to react to your opponent's actions more quickly.

Contemplate the feasibility of your goal. Often it may not be achievable. If your goal is to bluff the opponent, but your opponent folds only rarely, then this goal is not achievable and you should simply fold.

Taking all this into consideration, you must aim to observe the principle of maximising EV. The approach described here is a rather theoretical concept which can be applied in both simple and complex situations. An example is given in the section on continuation bets.

The principles behind a bet

Have you asked yourself why you make bets? There are several possible reasons, each of which serves the purpose of maximising EV when applied correctly.

Bets have a bluff component. With a bluff, your profit comes from getting the opponent to fold. This is always good for you in a sense, for even if your opponent folds when you have the nuts, you still win the pot. When compared to the other possible lines, this may not be optimal with regards to maximising EV. In this category of bets are bluffs and semibluffs.

Another reason to bet is for value. Here you are hoping that the opponent will call with a worse hand. If you assume that you win the pot frequently enough, this also falls in line with the principle of maximising EV, so long as your assumptions are correct. You aim to play this line against draws but also against weaker made hands.

Another reason is to create future situations in which there is a positive expected value. For instance, you can make an isolation raise, which in itself may not have positive expected value if your opponent calls. However, the isolation raise may be correct if you are able to take the pot often enough postflop with a continuation bet. Here the raise is a preparatory action, like a flank in football.

There are some finer distinctions, but bets usually fall into one of these three categories. The following is important:

Be clear why you are betting in each situation. Before you bet you must ask yourself whether it is possible to attain your goal by betting. Remember that an action in poker always goes hand in hand with the intention with which it was made.

Only when the intention justifies the bet is it regarded to be correct. An action made for the wrong reasons does not become correct by justifying it with a false assumption.

Here is an example acts as a transition to the next section: Let's define statement A: „I have a set“, and B: „I bet“. Here we can get to B from A by reasoning that we want to create value. The danger in such decisions comes from incorrectly assessing statement A, which usually occurs only in more complex scenarios. Another conceivable error, which occurs more frequently, is demonstrated as follows:

The player uses an incorrect justification for the implication. For instance, suppose A is „I have a set“, and B is „I bet“, once again. Suppose a player says the reason for going from A => B is that we are making a continuation bet and we want the opponent to fold, then that player has made a mistake, since this is the wrong justification. The subtlety in this mistake is that the wrong justification led to the correct decision.

From the start, you should pay attention to your decisions and the justifications for them. Only by doing so can you improve your game in the long term.

The continuation bet

Firstly a definition: A continuation bet is a bet which is a continuation of your preflop aggression. So it is a bet from the preflop aggressor when no other players have bet yet. This can contribute towards all objectives outlined in the previous section. Continuation bets are played very frequently by you and your opponents. As such, it has great relevance to your actions on the flop.

Use all the information available to you to determine your action on the flop. This includes:

  • Your hand strength
  • Opponent type, -position, -stack sizes
  • The board
  • History

An important objective of yours should be to disguise your hand. If your choice of action and bet size give away information about your hands, your opponents have an advantage. Because of this, you should try to play in the same manner with both your weak and your strong hands.


100BB Stacks
BB (Callingstation)

Preflop: Hero is BU mit 5, 6
Folds, Hero raises 4BB, fold, BB calls 3BB

Flop: 2, 7, 9; Pot 8.5BB
BB checks, Hero?

What is your goal here? Since you have only 6-high, your hand has no showdown value. Thus a bet will be a bluff. If you take into account your chance of winning the showdown by hitting one of your draws, it is worthwhile to make a bet here. There are better hands that will fold to you, for instance, high cards and smaller pairs than 7X.

Hero bets 5.5BB, BB calls 5.5BB

Turn: T
BB checks, Hero

You still have just 6-high. Your goal must be to either improve or to force the opponent out of the hand. This suggests a bet, however, you should question whether you are likely to achieve this goal. Since your opponent is a calling station, he will not fold very often. There are very few hands with which he will call on the flop but fold on the turn.

On the other hand, the turn will have helped out hands such as T8, 68, JT or even QT and AT, which players such as this often like to call with on the flop. If he holds just 78 he is no more likely to give up. Since you cannot achieve your goal of getting the opponent to fold, you should check.

Hero checks.

River: 3 BB checks, Hero?

No help for your hand. Since your hand cannot improve, the only chance you have of winning is to force out your opponent. However, it is no easier to do this now than it was on the turn, so you should simply give up the hand. Here you see that it is not only important to determine your goal, but also to assess the reachability of this goal.

Bet sizing

We have yet to say anything about bet sizes. It is difficult to say much about this complex topic given the scope of this article. The following should be valid for you postflop: The standard size for you should be a bet ¾ of the pot. You should bet more, for example, when the following apply:

  • You have bad position
  • There are draws possible
  • There are many opponents

You can lower this bet size when the following apply:

  • The board is dry
  • There are few opponents
  • You have good position

Important: If you are in a special situation where you need to deviate from the standard bet size (for instance, betting double the pot size because you are confident that the opponent will call such a bet), you should do this.

As usual, there are exceptions to the rule. It is a good idea to discuss such situations in the hand evaluation forums.

The semibluff

We've used this term before. Now let us define it: What exactly is a semibluff?

A bluff is a bet you make when have little to no chance of victory if the opponent doesn't give up the hand. Strictly speaking this is when your equity (expected share) in the pot is close to 0. You only make a profit when the opponent folds. A semibluff is a bet with which the goal is to get better hands to fold, since there are no weaker hands which would call, but your hand still has a chance of winning a showdown (i.e. you hold a draw). With a draw, your equity in the pot will usually be somewhere between 20 and 40 percent, depending on the strength of the draw and your opponent's hand. So a semibluff is a bluff with a hand that has a chance of winning the showdown.

There are two ways of playing a draw. You can play passively, in which case you will only win if you hit your draw. Another downside to playing passively when faced with aggression is that it is easier for your opponents to see you have a draw. Alternatively you could play aggressively. If you do not manage to force the opponent out of the pot, there is also the chance of you winning by hitting your draw. Your potential share in the pot is increased because of the chance that your opponent will fold, in addition to the pot equity your hand has. We refer to this concept as fold equity.

Playing draws aggressively makes it more difficult for your opponents to guess your hand, so it may be more profitable for you when you hit your draw. On the other hand, it is more risky to play aggressively, since you are investing more money. It is generally the case that the larger the equity of your hand (your draw's potential share of the pot), the less frequently your opponent needs to fold for an aggressive move to be profitable.


100BB Stacks

Preflop: Hero is SB with 4, 5
Co limps, BU limps, Hero completes, BB checks

Flop: Q, J, 8

Here, Hero could start a semibluff. The question is, whether you would want to. In this case the answer is no. You are out of position against three opponents, each of whom may have hit this board. There are many medium strength hands which will not give up directly, but which also will not want to play for a big pot on the turn and river if a heart shows up. This means two things: firstly, your fold equity is low, and secondly, if you hit your draw you will not win very much even though you played it aggressively. 

Also of importance here is the possibility of someone having a higher flush draw. Even though this scenario is unlikely, you will usually lose your whole stack if this is the case. All of these arguments speak against a bet in this situation, so you should play check/call at the most.

What do you do in the same situation with J, T?

Preflop: Hero is SB with J, T
Co limps, BU limps, Hero completes, BB check

Flop: Q, J, 8

You have a stronger hand here. It is less likely that you will be up against a better flush draw. On the contrary you could be up against a worse draw. You have a pair, with which you could win a showdown against 89 or other flush draws. Your draw is a stronger draw too. 4h5h has 36% equity against Q7, but, JhTh has 58% equity. Given these factors, you decide to play the following on the flop:

Hero bets 4BB, BB raises 12BB, fold, fold, Hero???

The BB displays a lot of strength. He can have many better hands, and a straightforward solution for how you should play does not exist. However, in most cases you should just call this flop, to avoid isolating yourself purely against better hands, such as QJ. As to how you should play if the turn is a heart, J, T or 9 depends very much on the opponent.

Thus we conclude the second part of the column „Crushing NL50“. You should now know many of the theoretical foundations for betting and the concepts behind them. You now know about continuation bets and semibluffs, and the theoretical foundations behind them. In the next part we continue to talk about more specific concept.


Comments (3)

#1 dany2391, 28 Mar 11 19:29

"The standard size for you should be a bet ¾ of the pot."
Shouldn't the standard bet size be 2/3 of the pot?

#2 staktas, 11 Aug 11 13:16

That's practicaly same.

#3 Huckebein, 12 Aug 11 11:20

Usually you can even switch between these 2 betsizes, but they are almost the same.

Kind regards