Holdem Strategic Concepts

By knowing how to play after the first round of holdem brings much profit to you. Unfortunately the game suddenly becomes so difficult that it is not impossible to assess every situation, which is why it is essential to develop basic holdem strategic concepts to help towards your winning play.

This section mainly deals the above purposes. When you finish reading this section, you should be able to have a good idea to look forward most situations at the hold'em table. Although you still can't be an expert but you should be certainly play well on your way to accomplish your desired goals.

We also recommend reading Theory of Poker based generally on the poker concepts. While not specifically about hold'em this site is must reading for all the serious Poker players.


A semi-bluff, in The Theory of Poker is defined as "a bet with a hand which, if called, does not figure it to be the best hand at the time, but has a fair chance of outdrawing those hands that originally called it." Remember that when you are semi-bluffing, there are two ways that you might win the pot. First, no one may call and you will win the pot immediately. Second, if you do get players, you still may improve to the best hand. It is the combinations of two ways that makes this kind of plays profitable and we shall discuss, semi-bluffing plays a significant role in any winning hold'em strategy. Also remember that the semi-bluff necessarily mean that more cards are yet to come.

Clear examples of semi-bluff situations in hold'em are when you have flopped an inside straight draw, or second or third pair with an over card kicker. In such example, you would like that all of your rivals should fold. But if you are called, you still have the chance to win if there is perfect card on the turn. For example when you hold

against not too many rivals and the flop comes

Here an eight will give you the absolute nuts and a nine or a ten will give you an over pair (to the flop) which is also good enough to win.

You might not want to semi-bluff when you are in last position. This is because you may be check raised and instead of seeing the next card for free, it will cost you two bets.

Therefore, the factor that decides whether to bet is often how frequently you think you will be check-raised. This is fairly dependent on your rivals you are up against. Notice that some players can also go for a check-raise, while other players will rarely make this play. (There will be more discussion later in the text.)

However, your bet may buy you a free card on a subsequent round, which is another reason to semi-bluff. Significantly, experience and knowledge of how your rivals play will help you to make the correct decisions in these situations.
The correct example of semi-bluff is when you hold

And the flop comes:

Notice that, you have middle pair with the very best kicker plus "back-door" flush potential. (Back-door flush potential means that you will make a flush if the fourth and fifth street cards are of your suit.) The correct play is to bet if you think there is any chance of winning the pot immediately. If you are called, you can win if an ace or a trey comes on the turn. Against bad players who call too much, semi-bluffing may not be correct in this situation (although a bet might be worth it, as you may have the best hand and will often be called with worse hands).

There are few examples of correct semi-bluffs. Let's look at a four-flush or open-end straight draw - especially with a pair - with one card to come. For example you hold

And the board shows:

Notice that you have a pair plus a flush draw. This means that there are 14 cards left in the deck (out of 46 unseen remaining cards) that will give you a strong hand. (If you had an open-end straight draw and a pair, there would be 13 cards left in the deck that would give you a strong hand.) This is enough possibility, along with the possibility that all of your rivals may fold, to make a bet the correct move. If you do not have a pair - that is, you have only a straight draw (eight outs) or a flush draw (nine outs) - your hand is not as good. On the other hand, this does not mean that it is correct to check (and then call if there is a bet), but rather you should bet only if you think there is a fair chance that all of your rivals will fold.

A similar situation occurs when you have two pair or a set on the turn, a third suited card hits, and your rival bets into you. The best play is to raise. Unless your rival has the nut flush, the aggressive player will just call even if he has a flush. (If he has a nut flush, your rival might wait until all the cards are out and then try to check-raise.) Now on the river, if the board pairs and gives you a full house, you should bet after your rival checks. However, if you do not improve, you should generally check behind him.

Here's example of small pair with an over card kicker. Suppose you hold

And the flop comes

And there are six players in the pot. It is correct to bet against tough players. However, it would be different if you hold

And the flop comes

There is a decent chance that other players would like this flop as straight draw are now likely. Next example would be if the flop comes with two suited cards. Here also be less inclined to semi-bluff especially against many rivals, as a flush draw will certainly play against you.
Suppose you hold

And the flop comes

(which give you a "gut-shot") against many rivals. There are also other times when semi-bluff is correct. However, suppose you hold again the

and the flop comes

it is best not to semi-bluff, because with a ten-high flop, it is easy for two over cards to call. However, with a queen-high flop, a rival must have clearly AK to have two over cards. That is, in the second example, it is difficult to win by betting, thus making a semi-bluff incorrect.

There is a good rule to follow: If your hand is worth a call or even almost worth a call if you check, then it is better to bet if there is good chance that you can win the pot. Here we are not stating the fear of a raise on the flop, as the threat of a raise does not instantly stop us from semi-bluffing. This is because the bet on the flop is often very small when compared with the size of the pot. However, if you think there is a good reason of being raised then this is another case. The reason of having some chance of winning the pot immediately is reduced and it would have been incorrect to semi-bluff to start with.

Another advantage of semi-bluffing is that when you do make your hand, your rival will misread it. Suppose in the gut-shot draw example you have 75 and the Q63. Now the four comes on the turn. Who would think of having you made a straight? If it turns out that you happen to be up against another strong hand such a set of sixes, you might get almost unlimited action.

One more advantage of semi-bluffing is that it keeps your rival guessing. If you never bluff, you are just giving too much information to your rivals. Players in this category are referred to as "weak tight." They are easy to make money against as you somewhat always know exactly where they are, but they have much difficulty of knowing your hand. Semi-bluffing is a good way to mix up your play so you can't be "read" so easily.

And last advantage of semi-bluffing, as we stated earlier, is that you might get a free card on the next round. This is true against timid players who fear to bet into anyone who has shown some strength. (Remember however that if you do take a free card you might be giving up your chance to bluff later or you may get bluffed yourself by inducing someone else to bluff on the end.)

A last situation to mention is how to play two over cards on the flop. Over cards should be bet often, especially if you have back-door flush potential, unless you think there is good chance that if you catch your card, you still can't win. Hence, if a straight-kind flop hits, or a flop with two suited cards, you would be less willing to bet, especially against many rivals. But if two suited cards flop and you have one of that suit and it is an ace or a king, betting is correct in that situation provided that you are against a less rivals. The same is also applicable even if the other two are another suit.

If you do bet two over cards and are raised, the question arises whether you should call or not. The answer again depends on what you think your chance of winning is if one of your over cards hits and on the pot odds you are getting. This is another situation where good judgment, experience, skill, knowledge of your rival can help in deciding your decision.

If someone else bets on the flop, is it correct to call with two over cards? This also depends to your judgment factor concerning your chance of winning if one of your over cards hits and to your pot odds. Look at the flop, especially, be more inclined to call with a flop like

Than with a flop like

Notice that with the second flop you will be against two pair, as the tough rival will enter a pot more often with a hand like

Than a hand like

And if you actually think that your hand (two over cards) is worth playing (only because of the chance that you will improve plus the chance that you have the best hand), you should raise rather than calling. If nothing else, this play may get you a free card - much of the information is given later in the text.

If the small cards flop, be ready to call with KQ rather than with AK. This is because many more people play hands like Ax than Kx.
For example, before the flop two players limp in you raise and one of the blinds calls. The flop comes

You should be willing to call with

Than with

Now if you are fortunate and catch your pair, then you are less likely to be against two pair.

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