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Post-flop Play – Part III

Let’s continue with our overview of post-flop play. In previous columns we looked at eight fundamental strategic moves. Here are four more.

IX. The naked raise on the flop. This ploy is a variation on the float play (see Part II) in that it takes advantage of an aggressive player who has likely missed the flop. The principle behind it the same one that motivates the float: most flops miss most hands.

However, instead of flat calling the pre-flop raiser’s continuation bet, you raise. The move will be either a bluff or a semi-bluff depending on whether you caught a piece of the flop yourself.

The success of this gambit depends largely on the texture of the flop and your sense of the range of hands your opponent might have raised with pre-flop. Since the move is essentially a steal, it is more likely to succeed on raggedly boards. Interestingly, it won’t matter all that much what your table image is here. If you’re seen as loosey-goosey your opponent is going to wonder about a possible two-pair on a flop like Tc, 8d, 5s. If you’ve established a tight, conservative image, flops like this invite thoughts about flopped sets.

There are also other boards that invite this move, including what you may think as unlikely ones like three suited cards or three mid-sized connectors. They work because your opponent has to worry about you having hit the flop hard.

How much to raise will be an issue and there are no unmessy ways to determine this. Factors such as your image, your opponent’s tendencies, your positions, stack sizes and the like will come into play.

Generally, you want to use the smallest raise that looks like it will work since if you get called or re-popped you’re almost certainly going to have to let the hand go.

The naked raise isn’t a move for every hand. In fact, it should be employed judiciously.

X. Pay attention to players on your left. They will often have tells about planned action. Numerous columns have been written about this, yet surprisingly, many players fail to use it after the flop, especially one that has been seen by several players.

The most costly outcome of this failure is to make a modest bet, say half the pot, and then look left and see that your opponent has already picked up a stack and is moving in for the kill. Having to dump a half-pot bet into the ether once or twice a night can be expensive.

XI. In most situations, the value of a made hand diminishes with each new card. I know, this is obvious but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget it under pressure.

I’ve no hard data on this but as we noted earlier (Part II), I suspect that more money is lost in NLH with flops that give you either top-pair top-kicker or bottom-two than any other holdings. They are highly vulnerable hands just because they are unlikely to improve whereas there are myriad holdings that can run them down —- and when they do it can hurt.

The problem is that it is so easy to get emotionally attached to strong hands (“get married” is the tag line often heard). The solution is to remember that their strength diminishes with each new card that hits the board.

Make sure you think through each situation. Try to calculate the likelihood that your hand is still best or whether flop texture, betting, position and your opponent’s likely hand range shout out warnings.

XII. Learn how to counter “standard” gambits like c-bets, traps and float plays.

Most winning players know the standard ploys and use them advantageously. However, many have not dug sufficiently into the ways to counter them. There are no algorithms here but some tricks that work are known. For example, you’re reasonably sure your opponent’s call on the flop is the first move in a float play. Instead of checking the turn, fire a second bullet or, even more aggressively, check-raise.

The “naked raise” move discussed above can also be used to neutralize the continuation bet. When you raise a c-bet from a typical player you are accomplishing several things. First, you’re shaping your image as a focused and aggressive player. You’re telling the table that they’re not always going to get away with a simple c-bet.

Second, you’re introducing an element that will play an important part of the meta-game. It can get you a free card that a less-aggressive player won’t. It can also provide you with the opportunity to take control of a hand by removing the initiative.

More in a later column.

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