Category Archives: Flop

Reading Hands, Flop: Part Three

{Continued from Part Two}

[NN] “Alternatively,” Nate the Natural continued, “the non-preflop raiser could bet first. Derogatorily called the ‘donk bet’1, the bet basically says that the player hit the flop (or, at higher levels, that they think the raiser didn’t, but we’ll ignore that possibility for now). For some players that means top pair or better. On a dry board, the strongest hands would usually check to the raiser, but on a wet board, those hands are in the betting range.

Using the same 20% preflop range as before, what hands would provoke a donk bet on that dry board (K♥7♣2♠)? Mostly just top pair, as the sets might slowplay, and the weaker pairs might hope to see a free turn,

	AKo, KJo+

which is under a sixth of the preflop range. Looser players might bet other pairs, nearly tripling the number of hands.

On the wet board (K♥Q♥T♣), the same players who might check-raise a good hand or a draw against a frequent c-bettor, could choose to lead out against a more timid opponent:

	KQs, KTs, QJs-QTs, AhQh+, AhTh-Ah2h, Kh8h+, Qh9h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AJo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Again, whether the draws, which are two-thirds of these hands, are included or not is very player- and stack-dependent.

The size of the donk bet might also be telling. A small bet can represent either a blocking bet with a weak hand or a value bet with a monster. The numbers say that the former are much more common than the latter. On the wet board an overbet usually means top pair with a good kicker, ‘to price out the draws’.”

[NN] “Lastly, in the case where there was no preflop raise, which is common at lower levels, you can’t narrow anybody’s range much preflop. This is one good reason why better players prefer to raise or fold preflop most of the time. The postflop bet, especially out of position, then simply means that the player liked the flop. In position, some players will often or always take a stab if checked to, while others will just take the free card (for some players, only with draws).”

[FF] “Okay,” Figaro the Fish commented at last, “now my head is spinning like Regan’s in The Exorcist. I know you’re trying to rid me of my donkey demons, but the cure is killing me.”

[DD] “But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, Deb the Duchess assured.

{To be continued…}


  1. “Donk” being short for “donkey”, one of many terms for weak players.

Reading Hands, Flop: Part Two

{Continued from Part One}

[NN] “Even if we know the range that the c-bettor is betting with, that doesn’t mean opponents will call or raise with broad enough ranges. Among weaker and tighter players, particularly out of position, a c-bet will induce a check-fold most of the time.

Looking at the same dry flop of K♥7♣2♠, if the button c-bets, a player who has already checked might call with top pair with a bad kicker, second or third pair, or a slowplayed set, but not much else. If the board had been lower, a loose player might call with just two overcards, but I don’t see that play much around here.

Suppose you had put a middle position player on this 20% range for their preflop limp-call:

	A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s
	ATo+, KJo+, QJo-JTo

The calling hands would be these:

	AKs, A7s, A2s, K8s+
	AKo, KJo+

which is half of his hands.”

[NN] “On a wet board like K♥Q♥T♣, many players will check, hoping to see the turn for free but otherwise intending to check-call with just about any draw. Top pair and better hands might also check-call, along with some weaker pairs that have other potential, leaving this range:

	ATs+, K8s+, QJs-QTs, Ah9h-Ah2h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AKo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

That’s just about 60% of the preflop hands. Sets will probably bet, and straights will bet unless they have the flush redraw.”

[NN] “It doesn’t make much sense to check-raise on a dry board with a strong hand (although I suppose you should some of the time to cover your bluffs), but on that wet board it’s a good play against a frequent c-bettor. Not including bluffs, the check-raise of the c-bet might be made from two pairs, a set, better hands that don’t want to give up a free card, and semibluffing drawing hands that want to take the pot down now:

	KQs, KTs, QJs-QTs, AhQh+, AhTh-Ah2h, Kh8h+, Qh9h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AJo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Since two-thirds of that range are drawing hands, it really pays to know whether your opponent would check-raise with a draw.”

{To be continued…}


Reading Hands, Flop: Part One

[FF] “Wow, thanks Nate”, Figaro the Fish offered. That really would have helped me a lot if I could remember it all.”

[DD] “Or even ten percent of it”, Deb the Duchess amended.

[FF] “So now that you have everyone on a hand range, how do you narrow down the ranges as the hand goes on?”

[NN] “Well, let’s take this one street at a time”, Nate the Natural recommended. “On the flop, remember who raised preflop as that’s the player who’s most likely to bet even if the flop didn’t help him.”

[NN] “A postflop bet from the preflop raiser is much weaker than a bet from anyone else. Some players will continuation bet almost 100% of the time when checked to in position, especially against a single opponent. Some weaker players only bet if they improved or already had a pocket pair (fit or fold). Some players bet their draws frequently, while others will prefer to take a free card. Some players will bet to ‘protect’ their good hands against possible straight and flush draws. Some players will slowplay the strongest hands. All depending on the number, style, and stack sizes of their opponents, of course.”

[NN] “Stronger players will take the board texture into account while weaker ones may not.”

[DD] “That all sounds useful in general, and I understand that you need to notice people’s tendencies over lots of hands, but how do you apply it in practice?”

[NN] “I could go on for hours as the possibilities are nearly limitless, so I’ll just give a few common examples.”

[NN] “On a dry1 flop like K♥7♣2♠, two players check to the button, who raised 2.5xBB preflop and got called by two limpers. When he bets half the pot here, it’s very likely to be a c-bet. If you put him on a preflop range of 30% like:

	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-98o

then an frequent c-bettor might continue with all but his best (KK, 77, 22) and worst (T9s, T8s, 98s, 65s, 54s, T9o, and 98o) hands, leaving his range as:

	AA, QQ-88, 66-33
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, 87s-76s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+

Just over half of those hands are a pair or better, so you can see why a in-position c-bet is so hard to defend even if you know this player c-bets here seven-eighths of the time!”

[NN] “On a more exciting, wet2 flop like K♥Q♥T♣, the c-bettor will be tighter, as a lot of draws will be calling, and there’s significant potential that someone checked intending to raise with a good hand. A pot-sized bet here represents top pair or better, hoping to price out the draws:

	AA-KK, 77, 22

but you’ll have to learn which players will make this bet with their own draws and which would prefer to take the free card (of course, depending on how many chips they have left behind). The above range is pretty small (just over one-sixth of his preflop range), while there are many more drawing hands. On the other hand, the sets that would be likely to slowplay on a dry board can’t afford that luxury here. Only the made straights (AJs, AJo, J9s, and J9o) might slowplay comfortably, although some players would bet without the flush redraw. Two-pair hands (KQs, KQo, KTs, KTo, QTs, QTo) could go either way.”

[NN] “An out-of-position check by the preflop raiser on this same flop doesn’t narrow down their hand much at all, as it could be strong, hoping to check-raise or slowplay; medium, not wanting to build a big pot out of position; or weak, simply checking with no strength and no desire to c-bet.”

{To be continued…}


  1. A “dry” flop has at most one high card, no likely straight draws, and no flush draw. A paired board is dry if the third card isn’t close by, and the rare three-of-a-kind flop is always dry.
  2. A “wet” flop has at least two high cards or connected medium-high cards or two cards of the same suit. Straight draws or flush draws are possible.

Texas Hold ‘Em Odds from 1 to 52

[SS] Stan the Stat loved lists almost as much as he loved numbers. His favorite Go-Go’s song? “Girl of 100 Lists”.1 Slacker. Stan had created that many by the time he was seven years old. So it was no surprise when he proudly unveiled his latest list of numbers, Texas Hold ‘Em Odds from 1 to 52. “One for each card in the deck”, Stan boasted. “Of course, I had several choices for many of the odds, so I tried for variety. By coincidence, the last one stumped me the longest time.”

A♠ 1 to 1 Odds of finishing with a pair on the river with unpaired hole cards 1.08 to 1 48.15%
A♥ 2 to 1 Odds of improving from 3-of-a-kind to a full house or quads on the turn or river 1.99 to 1 33.40%
A♦ 3 to 1 Odds of being dealt suited cards 3.25 to 1 23.53%
A♣ 4 to 1 Odds of hitting a flush draw on the river 4.11 to 1 19.57%
K♠ 5 to 1 Odds of being dealt connectors 5.38 to 1 15.69%
K♥ 6 to 1 Odds of being dealt at least one Ace 5.70 to 1 14.93%
K♦ 7 to 1 Odds of hitting a 3-outer on the turn or river 7.01 to 1 12.49%
K♣ 8 to 1 Odds of flopping a flush draw with suited cards 8.14 to 1 10.94%
Q♠ 9 to 1 Odds of flopping an 8-out straight draw from max connectors (JT-54) 8.57 to 1 10.45%
Q♥ 10 to 1 Odds of being dealt two cards that are Jacks or higher 10.05 to 1 9.05%
Q♦ 11 to 1 Odds of filling an inside straight draw on the turn 10.75 to 1 8.51%
Q♣ 12 to 1 Odds of not flopping an overcard with pocket Sevens 11.73 to 1 7.86%
J♠ 13 to 1 Odds of being dealt 2-gappers 12.81 to 1 7.24%
J♥ 14 to 1 Odds of hitting a 3-outer on the river 14.33 to 1 6.52%
J♦ 15 to 1 Odds of completing a flush by the river with suited cards 14.63 to 1 6.40%
J♣ 16 to 1 Odds of being dealt a pocket pair 16.00 to 1 5.88%
10♠ 17 to 1 Odds of being dealt unsuited 2-gappers (e.g., 85o) 17.42 to 1 5.43%
10♥ 18 to 1 Odds of a monochromatic flop 18.32 to 1 5.18%
10♦ 19 to 1 Odds of beating KK with K2 offsuit (suit dominated, the worst all-in preflop matchup) 18.69 to 1 5.08%
10♣ 20 to 1 Odds of being dealt connected cards, 10 or higher 19.72 to 1 4.83%
9♠ 21 to 1 Odds of being dealt a pair of Fives or better 21.10 to 1 4.52%
9♥ 22 to 1 Odds of hitting a backdoor straight (e.g., from 876) 21.52 to 1 4.44%
9♦ 23 to 1 Odds of hitting a backdoor flush 23.02 to 1 4.16%
9♣ 24 to 1 Odds of a single opponent with random hole cards having quads on a 3-of-a-kind flop 24.00 to 1 4.00%
8♠ 25 to 1 Odds of being dealt any suited connectors 24.50 to 1 3.92%
8♥ 26 to 1 Odds of making a straight or better on the turn with random hole cards 26.15 to 1 3.68%
8♦ 27 to 1 Odds of making 3-of-a-kind by the turn with random hole cards 26.81 to 1 3.60%
8♣ 28 to 1 Odds of a 3-card straight flop 27.78 to 1 3.48%
7♠ 29 to 1 Odds of being dealt suited 2-gappers 29.14 to 1 3.32%
7♥ 30 to 1 Odds of the board having no overcards by the turn with pocket Sevens 30.48 to 1 3.18%
7♦ 31 to 1 Odds of the board having no overcards by the river with pocket Eights 31.21 to 1 3.10%
7♣ 32 to 1 Odds of being dealt suited cards Tens or higher 32.15 to 1 3.02%
6♠ 33 to 1 Odds of hitting a backdoor half-inside straight (e.g., 976) 32.78 to 1 2.96%
6♥ 34 to 1 Odds of hitting a backdoor flush to chop the pot when your opponent flops the worst flush (e.g., holding 32s) 34.36 to 1 2.83%
6♦ 35 to 1 Odds of making a full house or better on the river with random hole cards 34.71 to 1 2.80%
6♣ 36 to 1 Odds of nobody holding an Ace, King, or Queen at a 6-handed table 35.94 to 1 2.71%
5♠ 37 to 1 Odds of flopping an 8-out straight draw from 3-gappers 37.28 to 1 2.61%
5♥ 38 to 1 Odds of making a full house on the river with random hole cards 37.52 to 1 2.60%
5♦ 39 to 1 Odds of improving a pair to a full house on the turn and river 39.04 to 1 2.50%
5♣ 40 to 1 Odds of being dealt a weak suited Ace (A9s-A2s) 40.44 to 1 2.41%
4♠ 41 to 1 Odds of hitting a 1-outer on the river when three players are all-in (e.g., QQ vs. KK vs. AA on AKQ2 board) 41.00 to 1 2.38%
4♥ 42 to 1 Odds of making exactly Jack high on the turn with random hole cards 42.28 to 1 2.31%
4♦ 43 to 1 Odds of being dealt a pair of Tens or better 43.20 to 1 2.26%
4♣ 44 to 1 Odds of flopping a four flush holding unsuited cards 43.55 to 1 2.24%
3♠ 45 to 1 Odds of hitting an inside straight flush draw on the river 45.00 to 1 2.17%
3♥ 46 to 1 Odds of being dealt max stretch suited connectors (JT-54) 46.36 to 1 2.11%
3♦ 47 to 1 Odds of hitting a runner-runner 1-gap straight flush or a full house/quads missing three board outs (e.g., 8d8h vs. Ad5d + Jd9d2d [Jh, 9h, 2h mucked]) 46.83 to 1 2.09%
3♣ 48 to 1 Odds of flopping two pairs using both unpaired hole cards 48.49 to 1 2.02%
2♠ 49 to 1 Odds of at least one player holding 4-of-a-kind or better if 10 players make it to the river 49.21 to 1 1.99%
2♥ 50 to 1 Odds of an opponent holding a pair of Aces when you have an Ace at a 9-handed table 50.04 to 1 1.96%
2♦ 51 to 1 Odds of making a flush or better by the turn with random hole cards 51.43 to 1 1.91%
2♣ 52 to 1 Odds of hitting a runner-runner full house or quads missing one hole out (e.g., 88 vs. A7s vs. + QT2s [8 mucked])2 51.56 to 1 1.90%

[SS] “Plenty of Google hits for ’52 to 1′ too.”

[RR] “But they all really meant ‘1 in 52′, or ’51 to 1’?” Roderick the Rock surmised.

[SS] “Exactly right. I almost gave up and changed the list to go from ‘1 in 1’ to ‘1 in 52’, but I hated having the pointless ‘1 in 1’ (‘Odds of there being an error in this list’?). I ended up calculating dozens of runner-runner outs until I found one that worked.”


  1. Track three on the Go-Go’s 1982 album Vacation was somehow never released as a single ;-). Jane Wiedlen’s lists included: “things I love”, “what shall I wear”, “who have I kissed”, and “things I must get done today”.
  2. Added missing 52 to 1 odds on July 7, 2014.

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Basic Player Reading – The Next Step

[FF] Deb the Duchess was being anti-social, tapping away at a Texas Hold ‘Em game1 on her iPhone when Figaro the Fish and Nate the Natural approached. “Haven’t you beaten that game yet?” Figaro interrupted.

[DD] “I’m on the second to last tournament, the National Championship on the top difficulty”, Deb responded. “It’s going to be a long time before computers can beat the pros, but they’re still challenging to me.”

[NN] “Don’t be fooled. Computers will be better than the pros at Hold ‘Em sooner than you think. If IBM can conquer Jeopardy! with Watson by building a large enough information database and crafting a smart enough language parser, other programmers can certainly keep improving their Hold ‘Em algorithms until they outclass even the top poker pros. Paraphrasing The Simpsons,2 Ken Jennings conceded on his Final Jeopardy answer screen, ‘I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.'”

[DD] “How soon do you think that’s going to happen?”

[NN] “I think Black Friday set the timetable back a couple years, since the breakthroughs will probably come outside the U.S. now, but certainly within a decade.”

[NN] “Computers can do the math perfectly. They can calculate odds almost instantaneously with massive lookup tables and powerful processors. They can analyze your hand history to see how you play. All that’s really left are a few advancements in the algorithms that decide what to do with all this information. It essentially comes down to hand reading, and I don’t mean palmistry.”

[DD] “That’s what separates the pros from the amateurs.”

[NN] “The reason hand reading is so daunting to most humans is that there’s so much to keep track of on just a single hand, let alone over a session of hands with the same players. Computers don’t have the slightest problem with it. Which is why most good online players use HUDs (heads-up displays).”

[NN] “To put your opponent on a hand range even before the flop, you need to take into account his stack size; the blinds and antes; his position; the action ahead of him, including who bet what from where; the amount he called, bet, or raised; how he’s been playing recently; and his playing style, which alone can be broken down into dozens of smaller areas; and more.”

[FF] “But how am I supposed to keep track of all that?”

[NN] “To start as simply as possible, the most important element is a player’s style. In a home game, you’ll get to know the regulars quite well without even trying. You two certainly know how I play, and I know how you play. In an unfamiliar ring game or any larger tournament, you’ll have no history with your opponents, but every hand adds to your database of information about them.

  • How many hands do they play (i.e., are they loose or tight preflop)?
  • How often do they 3-bet? 4-bet? 5-bet? (i.e., how tight a range does each of those represent)?
  • Do they correctly value position (e.g., do they play many more hands in late position than early and can you discount their bets in position vs. out of position)?
  • Do they tend to call or raise (i.e., are they too passive or too aggressive)?
  • Do they bluff too often or too infrequently (i.e., can you discount the strength of their bets or should you take them as real)?
  • Do they call too much or can you bluff them out of pots (i.e., should you value bet them or steal from them)?
  • Can they make big folds? (i.e., should you try to make a big river bluff or all-in bluff)?
  • Do they like to chase draws? (i.e., should you charge them more for their draws and/or not try to bluff if you think they have a draw)?
  • Will they bet if they have just a draw (i.e., could your third pair be the best hand despite their bet)?
  • Do they tend to underbet the turn and river (i.e., will you get a good price to hunt for your draws)?
  • Do they overbet the flop when the board is scary (e.g., can you put them on a hand like top pair or an overpair)?
  • Do they adjust to their opponents (i.e., do you need to take into account what they think of your style)?
  • Is their style static or can it change (i.e., once you’ve figured out how they’re playing, can you count on that always)?”
  • Do they play differently when they’re shortstacked? (e.g., can you devalue a shove from them once they’re short enough on chips)?”
  • Do they like to steal the blinds from the button? The cutoff? The hijack? (e.g., can you devalue all of those raises)?
  • How often do they check-raise, if at all? (e.g., if they check to you, can you bluff knowing that you won’t get raised)?”

[FF] “Yikes!”

[NN] “If the event is a tournament, a few more questions are relevant:

  • Are they very afraid of busting out? And do they have any rebuys left if it’s a rebuy tournament?
  • Does their style change as the blinds go up?
  • Are they happy just to cash or are they trying to win it all?
  • Do they play more tightly near a bubble or will they attack if their stack is healthy?”

[FF] “My head is spinning.”

[NN] “I know it’s overwhelming at first, so start by just watching the player on your immediate left or right or the most active player at the table, and note only a few of those pieces of information. As you get comfortable, add more information and more players. You can do it. You just have to try.”


  1. See “A New Game in Town – THETA Poker Pro”.
  2. You can watch the segment from the “Deep Space Homer” episode.

Basic Player Reading – Levels of Thinking

[BB] “Like in chess, better poker players generally think deeper than weaker players”, Benny the Book compared. “It’s not a clean correlation because it doesn’t help to think incredibly deeply about the wrong things. Chess computers could think many more plies than humans for decades before they could beat the strongest grandmasters.”

[BB] “Poker is a funny game in this respect. You want to think deeper than your opponent, but don’t want to think too much deeper than your opponent. A seasoned pro and a complete neophyte might make the same exact bet for completely different reasons, so you need to determine how deeply your opponent thinks to know how to play against them. You want to be thinking exactly one level deeper than your opponent.”

[BB] “Beginners think at the first level: what cards do I have and how good is my hand? Some beginners are able to adjust for the texture of the board, but most won’t think to devalue their nut flush if the board is paired.”

[BB] “Intermediate players think at the second level: what does my opponent seem to have? But they only have a vague notion of your hand strength: strong, fair, or weak. Sometimes intermediate players prematurely and inaccurately try to place you a specific hand, but that usually doesn’t work out well for them.”

[BB] “Advanced players also think at the second level, but they start you on a fairly wide hand range and try to narrow it as the hand progresses. When they’ve deduced correctly, they can cause you major problems.”

[BB] “Expert players think at the third level: what does my opponent think I have? That’s as far as anyone goes in the games we’re playing in. Which means that if you can go to the fourth level (what does my opponent think that I think they have), you’ll dominate here.”

[BB] “Do you remember the battle of wits scene in The Princess Bride?”1

[JJ] “Of course!” Joey the Juvenile confirmed.

[BB] “Westley, then referred to anonymously as the man in black, shows Vizzini some poisonous iocane powder, turns his back for a moment, then says, ‘All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide, and we both drink and find out who is right… and who is dead.'”

[BB] “Vizzini tries to deduce which glass to pick, reasoning, ‘Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I’m not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.'”

[BB] “Vizzini is thinking at level three, considering what his opponent, the man in black would think he thinks.”

[BB] “Vizzini apparently solves the dilemma by switching the glasses while his enemy isn’t looking. The man in black doesn’t hesitate to drink from his own goblet, so it must have originally been the safe one. Because of the swap, Vizzini therefore has the drink that’s safe to imbibe, which he does.”

[JJ] “But Westley was thinking at level four!”

[BB] “Right. Although Vizzini did momentarily come close to the right answer, he spent most of his time considering the wrong data. Of course, a wise man wouldn’t ever consider drinking from a glass if there were a 50% chance that it would be fatal, not unlike a coin flip for your tournament life.”

[BB] “Wallace Shawn’s villain character flopped the nut flush draw and concluded that his Ace was good anyway. But he really had no outs as his opponent already had a full house. Both glasses were poisoned, and Cary Elwes’s hero character had spent years building up his immunity to iocane.”

[BB] “So make sure you use the appropriate level of thinking for your opponent. Against Figaro the Fish, there’s no need to go beyond level two. If you explain his actions with any deeper logic, you’ll end up making the wrong move. Against Vince the Veteran, level three is good. He’ll try to put you on a hand, so a little deception will go a long way. And against Deb the Duchess, level four would be right, although I still aspire to that.”


  1. If you prefer, here is the transcript of the battle of wits.

Continuation Betting

[BB] Benny the Book resumed instructing his son Joey the Juvenile, “The continuation bet is a weapon that overlaps with semi-bluffing. A continuation bet, or c-bet,1 is a bet (not a raise) made on the flop by the preflop raiser. You ‘continue’ the betting you started earlier and are effectively claiming that you still have the best hand. The main purpose of a continuation bet is to win the pot. If you think you have the best hand, then your bet may still look like a c-bet to your opponent but is actually a value bet. In many cases though, you don’t know if you have the best hand or not, so it’s a c-bet.”

[BB] “For example, say you open to three times the big blind under the gun with A♣K♠ and only the button calls. The flop is Q♥9♣4♥, and it’s your action. If your continuation bet here is called, against top pair your c-bet was a semi-bluff with six outs to make a bigger pair, but against a flush draw or straight draw your c-bet was a value bet.”

[BB] “Dan Harrington recommends betting about half the pot,2, with a range from 40% to 70% of the pot. This gives most draws the wrong price to call, which betting less wouldn’t accomplish. If you find opponents folding even to your smaller c-bets, you can try reducing them to a quarter of the pot on dry flops. Betting much more would work but means that you need to pick up the pot more frequently to make them profitable. If you find opponents calling even your larger c-bets, you need to make them bigger or simply stop making them against the calling stations.”

[BB] “The fewer players that see the flop, the more often you should c-bet, even 100% of the time heads-up if they’re working. As you know, the flop hits a single hand about two-thirds of the time. With more opponents, someone’s much more likely to call because they hit something:”3

Opponents Odds Nobody Hit the Flop
1 65%
2 41%
3 26%
4 16%
5 9%
6 5%
7 3%
8 1%
9 1%

[BB] “The drier the flop, especially Ace-less rainbows, the more often you should c-bet. At higher skill levels, this just means you’ll get played back at more often, but for beginners and intermediates, this is a good rule of thumb. Paired boards, which are less likely to hit anyone, are good for c-bets. If people start calling or raising you, drop your weaker hands from your c-betting range.”

[BB] “And I probably don’t even need to add that you should c-bet more often in position than out.”

[BB] “As with semi-bluffs, an added advantage of c-bets is that you broaden the range of hands that you bet on the flop, gaining more calls from your value bets. Does that all make sense?”

[JJ] “Sure. When I raise preflop, get one call, and an unraised flop is checked to me or I’m first to act, I should bet most of the time regardless of whether I hit the flop or not”, Joey the Juvenile confirmed. “I see, I bet. Couldn’t be simpler.”

[BB] “There are also turn continuation bets, which are risky but useful when you detect that your opponent is calling your c-bets light. And there are even river continuation bets, but you’re nowhere near ready to learn how to use those, and I’m not good enough yet to teach you them anyway. In any case, what you really need next is a lesson on folding!”


  1. Also spelled ‘cbet’.
  2. Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume I: Strategic Play, page 279.
  3. Chart adapted from Tony Guerrera’s Killer Poker by the Numbers, page 2. Guerrera works out the math that under some reasonable assumptions of calling rates, it’s very profitable to c-bet against a single opponent, barely profitable against two, and definitely unprofitable against three or more.


[BB] After a brief respite, Benny the Book has returned with another Hold ‘Em lesson for his son. “You, along with every other poker player, love to get away with a bluff. You win a pot that you shouldn’t have won. Maybe you flash your hole cards to show off what you just did (bad idea, by the way, unless you don’t plan to bluff again for a while).”

[BB] “But before you learn the art of the bluff, you should arm yourself with the safer flop and turn semi-bluff.”

[BB] “A seminar isn’t half a ‘nar’;1 a Seminole2 isn’t half a ‘Nole’; but a semi-bluff is exactly what it sounds like, half of a bluff. It’s partly a bluff because you don’t currently have the best hand but are hoping to win the pot by causing your opponents to fold. But it’s partly not a bluff because of your chance of improving to a better hand than your opponents.”

[BB] “The full range goes from total bluff (no pot equity) to mostly bluff to semi-bluff (up to 50% pot equity) to value bet (over 50% pot equity).”

[JJ] “What’s the distinction between a bluff and a semi-bluff?” Joey the Juvenile interrupted.

[BB] “The line between bluff and semi-bluff isn’t officially defined, but let’s say that a bet with anything less than 5 outs (e.g., an inside straight draw) is more bluff than semi-bluff. It’s not actually that important except to know that along the continuum you’re relying on fold equity more on the left and less on the right.”

[BB] “It’s also impossible to know where semi-bluffs end and value bets begin until you’ve seen all the hole cards. But none of us can read our opponents hands well enough that it matters whether you have 49% pot equity or 51%; as long as you know it’s closer to 50% than 20% or 80%, you’re doing great.”

[BB] “The less pot equity you have, the more you want to take down the pot immediately. The more pot equity you have, the more you don’t mind building the pot.”

[BB] “One issue that comes up with in-position semi-bluffs is when should you take the free card and when should you semi-bluff if nobody bets and you’re last to act?”

  • “The more outs you have, the more often you should check, since your pot equity is high but won’t be increased relatively by betting.”
  • “The more opponents you have, the more likely the flop was to hit your opponents’ hands, the more your opponents like to check-raise, and the more your opponents like to slowplay, the more you should check, since your fold equity is lower in each case.”
  • “The larger the pot is relative to your and your opponents’ stacks, the more you should check because you lower your implied odds by betting (i.e., there aren’t enough chips left to pay you off properly when you hit your draw). In the extreme case, never semi-bluff if you or one of your opponents is pot-committed.”
  • “Otherwise, semi-bluffing usually has a higher EV3 than checking.”

“When you are out of position, reduce the frequency of your semi-bluffs since your fold equity is lower (a player who has checked is more likely to fold than a player who hasn’t acted yet).”

“You can also semi-bluff raise in position and semi-bluff check-raise out of position, but these are both riskier plays with less fold equity.”

“Lastly, I’d add that a side benefit of semi-bluffs is that they help balance4 your flop and turn betting ranges. You’d be too easy to read if you always had a good hand when you bet. By adding semi-bluffs to your arsenal, your strong bets for value will get called more often as your opponents learn that you could also be semi-bluffing.”

“How big your semi-bluffs should be is too opponent- and hand-dependent to say with any certainty. Against unobservant opponents, make your semi-bluffs as small as possible while still inducing folds. Against better competition, the closer your semi-bluff sizing matches your value bet sizing, the harder you will be to read. After we talk about bluff sizing, which is simpler because of the lack of pot equity, we’ll return to the math of this subject.”


  1. “Seminar”, “seminate”, and “seminal” all come from the root “semen-” (seed) rather than “semi-” (half).
  2. “Seminole” comes from the Creek Indian Simano, meaning “wild, untamed, runaway”.
  3. See last month’s article on “Expected Value”.
  4. Sorry, that’s a future article that I haven’t written yet.

Suited Aces

Figaro the Fish had gone on another amazing run, this time fueled by an overabundance of nut flushes. But again, his luck had run out at the final table even as his string of suited Aces continued.

[FF] As he bought in to the side game, Figaro was trying to make sense of what just happened. “I didn’t play any worse at the end, but the deck kept betraying me. I must have missed my last five flush draws, and a couple times I had a pair of Aces but got outkicked.”

[EE] Elias the Eagle, who had busted out on a cooler when his straight was sunk by a boat on the river, welcomed the teachable moment. “Almost every Hold ‘Em player falls in love with suited aces at some point. They find something like A♠6♠ in the hole, get in to see a flop cheaply, flop the nut flush draw, hit their card on the turn or river, and smile from ear to ear while raking in the chips. Boom! Suited Aces get promoted to a spot on the opening hands shelf next to pocket pairs. Unfortunately, it’s like the weak-hitting middle infielder who hits a lucky wind-aided home run then starts swinging for the fences the rest of the homestand. Suited aces just don’t pay off often enough compared to how much people pay to play them.”

[FF] “They were paying me off pretty well early in the tournament!”

[EE] “It happens, but realize that your dream flop of three of your suit only happens 1 every 119 hands (0.84%). That’s close to the odds of being dealt pocket aces or kings combined, so it can’t be the basis of any real strategy. More likely, you’ll flop a flush draw, which happens less than once every nine times (10.9%). And then you’ll need to catch one of only nine cards to make your flush. Occasionally you’ll flop a lucky two pair or better, but that’s just 2% of the time.”

[EE] “For small and medium suited Aces to be profitable you really need to see the flop cheaply or be against multiple opponents. Position helps even more than usual with draws. When you’re facing a bet, you get to make your decision knowing what pot odds you’re getting. When it’s checked to you, you can choose to take the free card or semibluff.”

[EE] “Furthermore, you need to be very cautious when your suited ace only turns into a pair. If an Ace hits the board, your kicker could cost you a big pot if you call on the flop, turn, and river. If you don’t have the discipline to fold in this situation, you’re better off mucking preflop. On the other hand, if your low card pairs, you have to worry about overcards pairing.”

[EE] “And just like with set-mining,1 always make sure that your opponent has enough chips to pay you off before you even get started. Since your chance of hitting a flush by the river is only 1 in 16 (6.4%), make sure your opponent’s chip stack is at least 16 times whatever you need to pay to see the flop (less if you think you can steal the hand though). Late in a tournament, this is almost never the case. Ditto if you’re shortstacked.”

[FF] “Ah, so I pretty much misplayed all my suited Aces wrong at the final table. Lesson learned.”


  1. See Sets Education.

Sets Education

During the break before the final table, everyone was amazed to find that not only was Figaro the Fish still alive, but he was the chip leader by a considerable margin.

[JJ] “How’d you get all those chips, Figaro?” questioned Joey the Juvenile.

[FF] “I was just reading a web article about set-mining called ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sets But Were Afraid to Ask’. With a pocket pair, you’ll have sets on the flop almost one every eight times”, Figaro explained.

[SS] “11.8%. 12.7% for a set or better”, Stan the Stat clarified.

[FF] “It said you’re almost never getting the right pot odds for that, but the implied odds are juicy because your hand is so well disguised.”

[FF] “And wouldn’t you know it, every time I’ve had a pocket pair today, I’ve flopped three of a kind. I love sets!” Figaro beamed.

[LL] “I was at his table, and he’s definitely been using sets as a weapon. An absolute sets machine”, Leroy confirmed. “I think every novice discovers the joy of sets at some point, but he’s been plain ridiculous. He should be outside having a smoke right now.”

[JJ] “Instead of drinking a beer, he should be enjoying Sets on the Beach”, Joey added.

[FF] “Very first hand of the night, I limped with Ducks and flopped three Twos. A few hands later my red cherries went infernally hot — Six-Six-Six. I hit a set of Kings twice in one orbit, taking out Deb the Duchess’s and Harriet the Hazy’s weaker sets. I’m too setsy for this game!”

[TT] “Ev’ry other deal, he’s got sets appeal!” Tyrone the Telephone chipped in.

[JJ] “I want your sets, cold-blooded killer!”

[FF] “The hand that gave me the big chip lead was when Deb, Gloria the Gorgeous, and I had group sets; knocked them both up, I mean out, when my set of Aces manhandled their measly little sets of Tens and Nines.”

[LL] “Well, someone’s got to put a stop to his setscapades; his sets crimes can’t go unpunished!” Leroy threatened.

[FF] And the Lion proved prophetic. Figaro’s chip lead lasted less than fifteen more minutes. An hour later, he’d been set-less at the final table and was one of the short stacks. “I’m totally sets starved”, the Fish moaned.

[LL] A few hands later, Figaro finally hit another set, but his three Nines were behind, all-in on the flop against Leroy’s straight. “Figaro, didn’t your parents warn you about unprotected sets?”, Leroy joked.

[FF] When the turn and river failed to pair the board, the Fish’s run was over, and he hadn’t even cashed. “Well, it was fun while it lasted. I’ll still feel good about myself in the morning.”