27/03/2008

Heads Up Limit Hold'em Part 2

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

It was good to see some of you post on the forum by the way last week in response to my article on heads up limit play. This week I want to expand a little on what I said last week with regards playing from the button. I will repeat that I feel that it is important to deviate your pre-flop raising percentages based on the overall calibre of your opponent. I have read in some literature how some professionals always raise on the button. In fact I recall Phil Hellmuth saying how Howard Lederer did so in one of his books although whether or not Howard always plays that way is unknown to me.

But I feel that if you are going to raise 100% of the time pre-flop in a limit hold’em heads up encounter then I think that two very important criteria need to be met. Firstly you need to be superior to your opponent and not just marginally so either but substantially better. You must also be able to play almost perfectly from the flop onwards in relation to how your opponent plays. This is because many hands can get you into trouble in limit hold’em and especially in heads up scenarios.

This is why I do not think that it is appropriate for any player who does not have a nigh on perfect post flop playing style to be too aggressive pre-flop. Top limit players like Howard Lederer can probably get away with playing certain hands. A hand that may be highly marginal for Howard could be a loser to someone else and much of that depends on how the hand is played.

This is the same principle with no limit hold’em. The strength of a hand is relative to the strength of the hands that it is going up against coupled with the ability or inability of the players who are playing those hands. If you can fold K-K because you know that A-A is out there or re-raise with 7-2 because you know that your opponent will lay his hand down then you are going to be considerably ahead of the game.

But of course with poker being a game of incomplete information then we can never be sure of the facts most of the time. But the point is that hand strength is only relative to the strength of the hand that it is going up against and the skill of the players holding those hands. As an example, one of the posters last week placed a link to a demonstration video which I took a look at which proves the point. The video which was narrated by my publisher Byron Jacobs discusses the dangers of playing big little combinations in heads up situations.

One of the problems with combinations like these as was stated in the video was that they can be very difficult to play from the flop onwards and essentially you tend to be playing a one card hand with hands like K-4, Q-3, J-2 etc. You can be moved off hands like these far easier after the flop than you can with hands like 9-7 for instance on many flops.

Lets say that you open raised from the button with the J-2 and the big blind called and the flop came something like Qh-7s-4c and your opponent checks. On a relatively broken board like this then a bet on flops of this texture has a fair amount of equity for a pre-flop raiser. But your opponent check raises you, what do you do now? Well you have basically no hand and the deuce is useless to you because if your opponent has paired then pairing the deuce will still leave you adrift so you are essentially playing a three outer.

So a fold is the only sensible option here. But if you change your hand to a hand like 10c-8c for instance then your chances of winning this pot dramatically improve. In heads up situations then your opponents are going to be check raising you on a wide range of hands which means that they are just as likely to have a four as they do a queen. So you are not always trying to beat top pair in this situation and you must keep this very important fact in mind.

You can call and take a card off in this situation because you have six outs to beat middle or bottom pair. Plus you have numerous other backdoor outs as well that can assist you in winning this pot. A jack, six or five will give you a gutshot draw and a nine will give you an open ended draw with any club making you a flush draw. This creates a far better situation for your hand than the J-2 hand even though you held a higher card in your hand.

But the point to this with regards what I was saying earlier is that if you were unaware of this concept then you would be making mistakes from the flop onwards and this is why raising with too high a percentage of your hands is bad for the vast majority of players. This is why if you recall last week when I was talking about the importance of the button and being able to exercise your option of checking it back.

Take the previous example again and I raise with J-2 on the button and get called. My opponent on the flop of Qh-7s-4c check calls me instead of check raising. With a board like this then it is unlikely that my opponent has overcards or a draw so I am taking him for having some kind of made hand and is letting me bluff my money off and is in check calling mode. Because of this then I will check the turn card unless I pair the jack. Firing another bet at him is what he wants me to do so by exercising my option to check it back with my superior position then I am foiling his plan and not playing into it.

Checking the turn does two things both of which are good if I am behind. If I am behind then I am drawing to a three outer at best with the jack and could be drawing to a runner runner if he has the queen. But checking it back on the turn allows me to see the river card without spending anymore money and if he is holding a seven or a four or some other pocket pair then he has given me two extra cards to hit my hand without it costing me a penny.

Plus, if I do not improve by the river and he tries to value bet his hand then I simply fold the hand. This is still a great result because it has drastically reduced my opponents win in this hand. As usual any comments on the forum will be more than welcome.

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