Maximizing Your Hand

By Kenny Smith

I was talking to a gentleman about which Hold’em games are better to play—limit or no-limit. I had spoken to at least 50 different players about which game they prefer and why, but this particular gentleman I have great respect for on and off the table. I wanted to get his feedback on the topic.

We started talking about how to maximize the value of your monster hands when you have them. The more we talked, the more it made me shift my thinking, so I felt I had to put the limit vs. no-limit topic on the shelf and come back to it later.

I did some study of players over the past few weeks and went back into the filing system of my brain to players I’ve known over the past few years. I came to the working conclusion that getting the most out of a big hand is not only a talented skill, but also a bit of an art form.

Think about it for a moment: Squeezing as much money as you can out of your opponents when—1) you have the stone cold nuts, 2) you have the nuts at a particular point in time in a hand even though you could still be drawn out on, or 3) you are still drawing to the nuts—isn’t easy. A person who can do that regularly may be one of the smartest business people on the face of the planet.

Getting maximum value when you have the best hand has a bit of a wrinkle to it. It requires that you get your opponents to put money in the pot while they are behind. For example, you may be playing $1/3 no-limit and hold pocket 9s in middle position against four opponents. There is $50 in the pot going to the flop.

The flop comes 9h-6s-2d. It’s a rainbow/unconnected board. The first two players check so you bet $25 and everyone folds. Some players get frustrated when they have a hand of this particular magnitude and get no action. They may say out loud or to themselves: “I should have bet less, or checked it and tried to trap.” The frustration of not getting action is understandable, but the thought process in the statement has fundamental flaws that if applied will often cost you money in the long run.

Let’s amend the previous example and this time check the flop. The turn card is the Jd. Now there are two open-ended straight draws and a diamond draw against four people and you make the same bet of $25.

This bet is just enough so that any of the remaining opponents should fold because they aren’t getting the right price to call, unless one of them has picked up a flush draw on the turn and another a straight draw. Then both of them can profitably call with the potential to make a hand superior to your set.

If a straight or flush card comes on the river, you are put in a spot where you may feel you have to pay off an opponent who makes a huge hand. This is a mistake that many have made or continue to make (myself included) with big hands.

It’s hard to flop a set, straight, or a flush. When you do, there’s no need to get tricky with the hand. Start shoveling as much money as you can into the pot until the board changes and requires you to apply the brakes.