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Giving or Not Giving a Free Card in Practice

We'll look at two hold 'em hands to see the difference between a situation where you should bet and another where you might consider checking.

With two jacks you should bet in an attempt to win the pot right there, even if you think only a better hand will call. If you give your opponents a free card (with what would have been the best hand) and an ace, king, or queen falls on fourth street, you are clearly in trouble. Thus, you don't want to give your opponents a free chance to draw one of those cards to make a higher pair than yours. Even if an ace, king, or queen doesn't make an opponent a higher pair, your checking on the flop gives anyone the opportunity to bluff you successfully if one of those cards falls.

With aces you can give serious consideration to checking on the flop. Having two aces instead of two jacks has not significantly affected your chances of having the best hand since we'll assume that in both cases there has been no reason to think you are up against two kings or two queens in the hole. With two aces, however, you are not worried about as many fourth street cards as you would be with two jacks, and so you might as well check just in case someone has made three l Os. Assuming no one has a 10 in the hole, an additional benefit of your checking your pair of aces is that you have disguised your hand. Not only do you not fear a king, queen, or ace falling on fourth street (as you would with a pair of jacks), you would welcome it, since any of those cards, as well as a jack, might give an opponent a playable second-best hand.

Of course, you should nearly always bet if you think a worse hand will call. You should also bet if the pot is large, since a large pot is worth the risk of running into three 10s in order to shut out the possibility that a miracle card will fall for an opponent on the next round. With a large pot it is also more likely that an opponent will call your bet with a bad hand like.

Now let's suppose you are in another hold 'em hand. With two jacks you would once again be more inclined to bet since there are more free cards that will beat you. But with two kings in the hole, it might be better to check in case someone has made a pair of aces. If you do have the best hand, you have less to lose by giving a free card since fewer cards will beat you than when you have two jacks.

The basic concept to be emphasized is that you do not want to give an opponent with a worse hand a free card that might make his hand better than yours. Therefore, if you expect to be called, always bet what you think is the best hand unless you figure it is better to try for a check-raise. Except when you have reason to slow play, either because the pot is small or because you have a monster hand, always bet the best hand even if you don't expect to be called. You gain most when your opponent folds if there were sufficient pot odds for a call. However, even when your opponent isn't getting good enough pot odds to call and figures to fold, you should bet. You would prefer a call when that opponent is making a mistake by calling, but making him fold is still better than giving him a free shot to outdraw you.

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