Thursday, 7 March 2013
For pot limit Omaha players,continuation betting can be a dangerous habit to develop if it’s not done correctly, says Jeff Kimber.
In hold’em, it makes sense to c-bet a lot. With only two hole cards, not only is it pretty hard to be dealt a made hand, such as a big pair, it’s also difficult to flop anything, or pick up any equity on later streets.
Given your opponent is 2:1 against to have flopped a pair, and adding in the fact they may well have three-bet you pre-flop with a pair, c-betting in hold ’em makes a lot of sense once they check the action to you.
This whole simplistic way of thinking is dangerous in PLO, however, where a whole number of other factors need to be considered before betting, rather than hold’em’s rather crude ‘he checked, I’ll bet, I’ll win’ theory.
Players moving to PLO from hold’em fail to consider how their flop play is going to impact decisions later in the hand. While it’s obviously much easier for an opponent to flop something, they want to continue with four cards rather than two.
One of our main considerations should be, are we likely to get check-raised? Check-raising is far more prevalent in pot limit games, such as PLO, because players, their hands tied by the size of the pot, can’t lead big enough to protect their hands or try and semi-bluff a big draw, but can check-raise four times bigger if their opponent c-bets the pot.
Board texture is key to the decision as to whether to c-bet or not.
Because each player holds four cards in PLO, it’s far more likely they’ve flopped something, be it a flush draw, a straight draw, a set or two pairs. It stands to reason that a 7-3-2 rainbow flop should not hit the calling-range of most half-competent PLO players, and therefore should be pretty safe to c-bet without getting check-raised, whereas K-J-8 with two clubs is right in the middle of their range, and is therefore far more dangerous. Whereas in hold ’em we are barely giving the flop a cursory glance before firing two-thirds pot and expecting to take it down most of the time, in PLO board texture is far more important. A continuation bet on a dry flop such as 7-3-2 rainbow will not only win the pot there and then a lot of the time, it also sets up a second barrel on the turn from players who peel too wide (such as with one pair, or just an up and down straight draw), as they are unlikely to pick up any more equity on the turn on this board. On wet boards such as the K-J-8 two clubs, not only will we get check-raised more, but opponents can profitably peel our flop and even turn bets as they commonly pick up more equity through the streets.
Something I found hard to come to terms with, and still have to make sure I remind myself of, is that it doesn’t make you any less of a man to just give up on some flops in PLO. What would be perceived as weakness in hold’em is actually common sense in PLO.
Having established that opponents will often flop nothing on the dry (7-3-2 rainbow) boards, and “something” on the wet (K-J-8 two clubs) boards, it follows that we should adjust our bet-sizing accordingly. On the dry boards, where opponents fold more often, betting 50% of the pot is often enough to allow them to slide their hand in the muck, whereas on the more dangerous wet boards, betting between three-quarters and full pot makes more sense, to charge opponents to hit their draws and make it more expensive to call down our semi-bluffs, while also charging them the full price if they want to float and bluff when the board texture changes on the turn, which it invariably does on such wet boards.
The size of our c-bet will affect how the whole hand plays out, and getting used to considering our SPR – stack-to-pot ratio – is a key skill all good PLO players develop. In a heads-up pot, our plan for the hand might be to c-bet big enough to commit our opponent with a second barrel on the turn, whether we’ve hit or not, or it may be to bet smaller on the flop to allow for a second barrel on the turn and an all-in on the river.
My general approach against a random opponent is to c-bet with very weak or very strong hands on the flop, and check-back the medium strength hands. With a strong hand I want to build a pot and hopefully get all the money in here and now, preferably with the nuts against the second nuts. With weak hands that have missed the flop, I’m not going to win the hand by checking so I’ll take a stab in position and hope to take it down there and then. With medium hands, such as non nut flush draws, one pair hands and other holdings that may well be best or become best but can’t take a raise, checking back is the optimal line.
If we have history with an opponent, it’s easier to decide whether c-betting is a profitable idea in most circumstances. If you’ve played a thousand hands with the same guy online, and he’s playing a 20/15 style (VPIP of 20, pre-flop raise percentage of 15) it’s far more likely he’s holding a premium starting hand than another opponent with the same history who is playing 80/10.
If we’ve opened from the button with any four half decent cards, as we’re likely to do in position, c-betting an ace-high, wet board feels like burning money against the first player, who we have established only plays premium starting hands and therefore hands that flop a lot of equity, whereas we can go ahead and bet this flop against the second player, who we’ve established is happy to play any hand as long as he’s dealt four cards. We can make other generalisations about these two players too: player A is obviously a better player than B, is likely to be more profitable, and is therefore the guy we want to tangle with less. Player B, on the other hand, is welcome at our table any time.
I often speak to PLO players who proudly tell me they play 12 tables or more at once, but I don’t think it’s viable to do that while still playing your best Omaha. Hands that can be played on auto pilot in hold’em take some thinking about in PLO, and knowing whether to continuation bet, and how big against which opponents, is not something you can do with a quick glance at the screen once it pops up.
Timing and sizing of c-bets and understanding their impact on the hand as a whole in PLO is a necessary skill, especially for players who are transitioning to Omaha from hold ’em, but once mastered, it is one of the keys to adding to your poker profitability.