Buying a Free Card in Hold em

Buying a Free Card

From my previous columns, you'll know that I place high importance on position in Hold em. Position is power, and you want to use it to your advantage. The further you are seated away from the rotating blinds, the better. Of course, the most desirable position have is the button, which allows you to act last on every betting round.

I advocate such an aggressive push from late position, that they started calling the button the Hammer, named after yours truly. No, really! Just look it up in any aquatic encyclopedia worth its weight in seaweed.

Strategies for Buying a Free Card

One of the main advantages of having the button (okay, I'll try to call it what you oval-heads call it) is the ability to act after your opponents throughout the entire hand. Often, you can use this position to buy yourself a free card on the flop, which essentially means that you raise a hand that you're either unsure of or want to draw with. The reasons you want to raise with these hands, are:

  • 1) To gain control of the hand
  • 2) To get checked to on the turn
  • 3) To try and win the hand right there

All of these goals have desirable results, and are equally effective in both limit and no-limit play. If you gain control of the hand, you have succeeded in intimidating your opponent(s). If he is unsure of his hand, he will most likely put you on a better hand because of your raise. When you are feared at the table, you have a much greater chance of winning the hand, even without holding the strongest cards on the table.

The second reason you raise is, perhaps, the most important. When your opponents either check or bet a small amount on the flop and you raise, they're almost automatically going to check to you again on the turn. Late position creates an excellent opportunity for drawing hands on the flop, which is why playing small suited connectors cheaply is a great investment from late position. For example, let's say that you're in a no-limit cash game and call from the button with 7-8, both diamonds. The flop shows down with: 2d, Jd, and a 5c, giving you a diamond flush draw. Conventional wisdom would tell you to try to check this hand down or call your opponents' bets if you're getting the correct pot odds. While this theory is sound, I suggest that you mix it up occasionally and act aggressively with your draw.

There were 3 other opponents who saw the flop, and they all check in front of you. You could check, too, in this situation, but sometimes you should consider betting. When you bet into this field, your opponents probably won't put you on a flush draw, because they figure you would've just taken the free card. Let's say that the first player has J-9, and calls your bet. The other two players fold. The turn shows a Kc, which doesn't help your hand. Your opponent checks again, and you quickly check right behind him. With your bet on the flop, you are going to be able to see the river for free by taking control of the hand. For limit players, this is an important concept because the betting doubles on the turn and you've saved yourself a big bet. What's more, you may have gotten a better diamond draw or an opponent with a K to throw their hand away.

After your check on the turn, the river shows down a 9d, which is the perfect card for you and completed your flush. Your opponent has just made two pair, and because of your check on the turn, he probably just thinks you were trying to steal the pot. He bets a sizeable amount into you, and you raise him a sizeable amount right back. Your opponent might put you on the flush at this point, but often he won't and you'll collect a nice pot. Even if he does fold in this situation, you've still raked in a nice pot.

Note that you can make even more profitable, albeit risky, move with a draw. If the third diamond did fall on the turn, you can still consider checking behind your opponent? Why? This serves to delude your opponent even further that you're not on a draw. He'll probably put you, again, on a steal attempt. Why would you bet the flop and check the turn if you just made your flush? Why this is risky is that you don't hold a very high flush. If your opponent's Jack is a diamond, he's got you beat with another diamond on the river. This is a questionable play if you don't have the nuts, but can bring some additional bets on the river if your hand doesn't get cracked.

Another situation in which you might attempt to gain a free card is when you're holding a weak kicker. This is most useful in limit play, but it can also be applied to no-limit. Let's say that you have A-6 in last position and the flop comes with A-J-8 of mixed suits. There weren't any raises preflop, so is your 6 kicker good? Instead of playing this hand weak, you might want to bet or raise it for the same reasons outlined above. If you get reraised, you can probably throw your hand away. However, if you only get called, you can decide how to play the hand on the turn and river. Plus, you might just win the pot right there, which would be just fine. If you hit another 6 on the turn, you can bet again or check to conceal your strength. Just make sure there aren't any obvious draws out. If you miss on the turn, you can check behind your opponents and see the river for free.

The next time you hit a draw on the flop or even when you're not too confident about your kicker, consider playing your hand aggressively in order to gain control of the hand and get yourself a free ticket to the river. Keep in mind that this is only effective from late position. I should hope that you're in late position if you decide to play something like 7-8 or A-6. If I catch you in second position playing trash like that, you're in for a date with my 5 rows of pearly whites. Just keep a picture of me by your monitor flashing you a nice big smile, and take a look at it every time you're tempted to play a hand like that. Until next times, may your cards be blessed…

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