Because it’s related to the topics we’ve touched on, I want to explore the theory behind ‘betting for protection’. Most NLHE players agree that betting for protection isn’t the primary reason for betting. Other reasons like for betting for value or as a bluff are usually more important. Given everything we’ve learned so far, do you think betting primarily for protection is something worth considering in PLO?
Betting for protection in PLO makes sense for a variety of reasons. First, hand values run closer together in PLO than they do in other games, which means that often players have more equity in a given hand than they realize. Consequently, betting for protection might cause your opponent to make a mistake by incorrectly folding away equity in a hand. For NLHE players, this is one of the biggest adjustments to make. There are far more way ahead/way behind situations in Hold’em than there are in PLO, which is why you can get away with check-calling out of position more often in NLHE than in PLO.
In addition, betting for protection makes sense because as you begin putting in volume at the tables, it won’t take you long to realize that giving free cards in PLO is a cardinal sin. Not only are you giving someone a free chance to realize their equity on the turn, but there are also many turns where your opponent will pick up enough equity to continue profitably into the river.
Here are a couple of hand examples from both NLHE and PLO that help explain how the differences in equity between the two games alter the type of lines you should be take.
NLHE Example: K♦K♣ heads-up in position on A♦7♥2♣
After opening pre-flop, we hold K♦K♣ in position on A♦7♥2♣. I included this example not only because it’s the same one Tom uses in the Core PLO Concepts, but also because it’s the classic example that illustrates the concept of what Tom calls value-checking, or what most people call pot-controlling. The idea here is that even if we’re likely to have the best hand, it’s better to check an early street to maximize the money we make from worse hands and minimize the money we lose to better hands.
In this example, checking as a default option works well for four reasons. First, if we bet, we’re unlikely to get action from worse hands, or for that matter, make any hands that are better than ours fold, so a bet doesn’t make sense as either a value bet or a bluff. Second, if we’re ahead, our opponent probably doesn’t have very many outs, (and in this case, if we’re ahead, he can’t have more than five outs). Third, if you check, it increases the likelihood you get value from weaker hands on later streets, including hands like QJ that can pair up to a worse hand on the turn or river. Fourth, by checking back, we induce bluffs that we can profitably call on the turn or river as well.
In PLO, there are many situations where the first condition holds, but the other three do not. So let’s check out the next example and I’ll show you exactly what I mean.
PLO Example: KK** heads-up in position on A♦7♥2♣
In this example, we’re still holding Kings with the same action and board texture, but this time we’re playing PLO instead of Hold’em. Returning to what we talked about a moment ago, with KKxx on A♦7♥2♣ against standard opponents, a continuation bet will almost certainly be called by an Ace with side cards, and they’ll usually fold everything else. At first glance, it seems like this is a great opportunity for pot controlling like we did in the last hand. This is one of the easiest mistakes for a Hold’em player to make in PLO. Using the same reasoning, let’s examine three reasons why betting is better than checking.
First, although we’re still ahead when we have the best hand, any opponent with a random 7 or 2 has anywhere from 30-40% equity, and therefore will usually be making a mistake by folding to our c-bet. Opponents with backdoor draws can have decent equity as well, and boards that are a bit wetter than this one include many marginal hands like bottom pair and a gut-shot that will fold to a bet but have 35% equity or more against our bare Kings.
Second, by checking we do not increase the chance we’ll get value from weaker hands or hands that improve to second-best. Those hands are still too weak to pay off a bet on later streets. Finally, whereas in the Hold’em example checking induced bluffs that we could profitably call, checking in the PLO example induces bluffs we can’t call. There are more turn cards that will give an opponent profitable semi-bluffing situations and the river will usually not be easy to play when facing aggression. For these reasons, our best strategy is to bet the flop if doing so is immediately profitable.
By now you might be thinking, “OK, that stuff makes sense. But does that mean there is no value-checking or pot-controlling in PLO at all?” Well, there are spots where value-checking is definitely the best option, and they basically fall into two categories.
The first cases are where our opponent is unlikely to fold, and we have a hand with good equity, but that isn’t strong enough to call a raise or get stacks in with. The second case is similar to the Hold‘em example from a few slides ago, where we had pocket Kings on the A♦7♥2♣, but where we have significant playability advantages on later streets. Let’s go through two examples where both of these situations come up.
We hold A♦5♥6♦6♥ and it’s checked to us on J♦T♥8♦.
This accompanies the first reason for value checking, which is where our opponents are unlikely to fold and we have a hand with good equity that isn’t strong enough to call a raise or get stacks in.
In this example, taking a stab on a wet board into a field of aggressive players that like to check-raise is foolish. The rationale for betting in close spots is that we don’t want to give free cards to people with 30% equity or more. Here, our opponents are letting us take the free card with ~30% equity. Additionally, it’s important to consider our implied odds, because if there’s significant money behind in the stacks to play with, then it’s in our best interest to keep dominated flush draws in the pot while we get to realize our equity.
We hold A♦K♥8♦6♥, and it’s checked to us on A♥7♣4♦.
This is the second situation where value-checking is a good option. With top pair top kicker, a gut shot and two backdoor flush-draws on a board this dry, it’s possible we would happily play for stacks in some dynamics, but generally this hand is not good enough to continue against a raise.
The reasoning behind value checking is that there are a ton of turn and river cards where we’ll be able to play profitably. Unlike the example from earlier where we had bare Kings on the A♦7♥2♣ board, this time we induce bluffs we can profitably call down, while also setting ourselves up to semi-bluff or value-bet the turn or river. Sometimes betting the flop will still be better, but checking is viable in a way that checking Kings isn’t.