This is part of an ongoing series of basic strategy for heads up Sit and Go tournaments. For more articles, click here.
In heads up poker there are many decisions to decipher, and one of the most constant decisions we will face in a heads up match involves flop play. On the flop we are immediately faced with a choice of whether to continuation bet (when in position) or check back boards. We will attempt to shed some light on the topic here in our latest installment – which is better – to continuation or not?
A lot of factors go into every decision – whether it is something relevant to a life choice, where to go to eat, to work out or not, to go out with friends, or whether it is relevant to something poker related. In this instance, we are referring to the question of whether to continuation bet or check back flops. We will look at three important factors in regards to improve our effectiveness with this decision. They are:
1. Opponent type/tendency
2. Our hand’s strength (showdown value)
3. Board texture
Part One: Opponent Type / Tendency
In this part we will focus on solely on point one – our opponent’s type and his tendency. Our opponent’s type and tendency lays the first important element to consider. This is true in regards to any decision with poker, particularly heads up play. It is in essence, a game of chess. You don’t have to be the best player in the world to win a one versus one duel, just be slightly better and outsmart your opponent. This means if you are playing a complete fish, you can alter your game to provide you with the most + EV (positive expected value) way to play.
Playing versus a fish allows us to approach the game in a different approach. You can probably get away and will stand to profit more by checking back more flops than continuation betting at. Building large pots, whether in position or not, is never a great strategy versus an inferior player. If a lot of times you may find yourself opening pre-flop, continuation betting on the flop, checking turns, and getting a mountain of chips in your face on the river this may be why. Start checking back more flops. It is important you balance versus better players. By balance I mean to continuation bet even when you miss sometimes and to check when you hit sometimes to keep your opponent guessing and off balance. When playing versus a fish, balance is far less important, however.
On the converse, if he plays an extremely fit or fold mentality (fit = he has a pair or greater, he calls; fold = he did not hit the board at all) you can confidently continuation bet and shut down when called. This is also true in limped pots. You can and should look to steal as many boards as often as possible. Our opponent will in general, miss the board and not hit a pair 67% of the time. This is a high percentage for us to exploit that we will need to do if we are to fulfill our potential as players.
Part Two: Evaluating Your Own Strength
Part one discussed the lack or need to balance versus bad opponent types. We made a case for checking back more flops versus inferior opponents. We can control the flow and tempo of a match with smaller pots sizes. In general, playing small ball is the best way to beat lower stake games, or games littered with fish and overall poor players. Building large sized pots, whether in position or not, will lead us to have to make larger sized hero calls. A quick example of this can be a fish over-bet jamming a range of air or nuts on the river when we are second to act. While they usually won’t be able to balance this effectively (think the reveres of isildur1) it can, nonetheless, lead to us playing a higher variance style game when we don’t need to. A fish will make many fundamental mistakes which we can capitalize on playing the correct approach.
Here in point two, we will focus more on our own cards. The strength of cards is assigned on a range from Royal Flush (nut hand/best) to a simple High card (relative weakness/strength) to a low high card (i.e. 23o – weakest showdown value hand). We will introduce a topic known as showdown value and discuss the value or lack thereof of showdown value.
So what is showdown value? Simply put, showdown value is how much strength our hand has in regards to us winning the pot. More often than not showdown value will be the lowest pair on the board or a high card, such as Ace or King high. For instance, if we open KQ and brick the flop we can make a decision to check back this flop as it may be hard to get called by a worse hand. Another way to say this is that our opponent will only call if he has a pair (an oversimplified approach as our opponent may call with a draw or float the flop – call with random air hands that do not hit the flop in any way). Having no showdown value means we have two low cards, an easy example which is plausible is 22 on a board of A77-J-A. This board means we our hand is rendered useless at pickup the pot. Pocket twos have been “counterfeited”. That is to say, if we check the river here, our hand will read: 2 pair, AA, 77 with a high card Jack. In essence, checking the river will mean we have given up trying to win the pot outright and are hoping for a split pot (meaning we hope our opponent does not have an Ace, Seven, or card higher than a Jack – Queen or King high has showdown value, 2 High does not).
Part Three: Board Texture
So, to continue on from part two, now having understood showdown value, how do we connect this to making conscious choices of whether to continuation bet or check back? A few factors go into play here as well. Poker is not a game of rules to *always live by but a multitude of options and changing scenarios to understand. It is important to tie the decision making process together with all the information we are gathering. This is why point one is first. Understanding opponent types is crucial for improving our game and being able to connect more complex factors into our decision making process. Showdown value is a relatively easy concept to grasp, yet fundamentals are what our game should be based on.
Board texture is what we say to descirbe the random assortment of cards that come out on the flop and turn to a lesser extent. An example to illustrate here would be if you hold AdKd on the button and open. Your opponent defends (you have on reads or history versus this villain). The board comes 8h9x10h, two to the flush. This kind of board texture is extremely wet and may hit your opponents range a lot in some form (numerous straight draws, flush draw, cards he may defend with out of position such as connecting cards, one gapers, etc).
On the reverse a board such as J62 rainbow is a very dry board texture. Flop textures with one high card, a medium card, and low card are often times not going to flop a player strong. Of course there are exceptions and occurrences where our opponent is defending wide or hits a set. This is the kind of board which is dry enough to do a number of things.
Let’s begin to tie the three ideas from the past two parts together. For one, this board is a board I love to check-raise on if our opponent (types and tendency) is opening a lot of buttons and has a high continuation bet percentage. The more you check-raise, the more your opponent will be less inclined to continuation bet as a result, or he may re-re-raise you playing back at your style. We can then begin to own our opponent by applying aggression on opportune boards, using our hand strength as a gauge to judge the flow of the match, and reading through boards which you can scare your opponent away from simply by applying aggression at in the right instances.
Other articles in this series discuss topics such as bankroll management, game flow and evaluating when you should move up buy in limits.