Playing First Position as an Underdog
 
In cases where you think you're the underdog if called, the decision to bet or check becomes even more ticklish. Let's say there's $60 in the pot in a $10-$20 game, and again you have hand 80. But this time you know your opponent will call only with hands 65 and up. Thus, you are a 20-to-15 underdog if your opponent calls. You also know that if you check, your opponent will bet with hands 70 and up. How should you play?

As an underdog, you might think you should check. But what will you do if your opponent bets after you check? Since there's $60 in the pot plus your opponent's $20, you're getting $80-to $20 or 4-to-1 odds from the pot, and we said your opponent will bet with hands 70-100. You have hand 80, and so you'll lose to 20 hands and beat 10 hands. Since you are getting 4-to-1 from the pot and are only a 2-to-1 underdog, clearly you must call when your opponent bets.

Look again at what happens when you bet. Your opponent will call with hands 65-100. By betting you've added five wins - when your opponent has hands 65-69 - to your possibilities.

Instead of going in as a 20-to-10 underdog, which you would be doing if you checked, you're going in as a 20-to-15 underdog since you'll still lose to 20 hands, but now you will beat 15 hands instead of 10. So the correct play is to bet because betting here makes you less of an underdog than checking. Your hand is worth a call, and your opponent will call with more hands than he'll bet. (This play is something like splitting 8s in blackjack against the dealer's 10. You are still an underdog, but you are less of an underdog than if you had simply hit.)

Suppose with $60 in the pot you again have hand 80, and your opponent will again call with hands 65 and up. But this opponent will bet only with hands 82 and up. How should you play?

In the previous case you really didn't like your situation. You bet as a 20-to-15 underdog only because you would have had to call as a 20-to-10 underdog. But in the present case, in which you are still a 20-to-15 underdog if you bet, you don't have to worry about calling. Any time your opponent bets, you know he has you beat since he will only bet with hands 82 and up. You certainly don't want to bet as an underdog when you don't have to, so the correct play in this instance is to check and fold if your opponent bets. You blow a bet 15 times, when your opponent has hands 65-79 and checks behind you, but you save a bet 20 times, when he has hands 81-100. You save more bets than you sacrifice. Checking and folding has greater expectation than betting as a 20-to-15 underdog.

A curious situation develops, though, when you are an underdog when called and your opponent will bet if you check with only a few hands you can beat. It would seem that the correct play is to check and fold if your opponent bets. However, it often works out that the play with the greatest expectation is to bet your own underdog hands even though, if you checked, you could not call when your opponent bet. Depending upon the size of the pot, this situation occurs when your opponent will call with many hands you can beat but will bet with only a few hands you can beat.

Let's say there's $60 in the pot, and you have hand 80. You know your opponent will call with hands 65 and up (remember, we are being completely hypothetical here for the purposes of illustration), but he will bet only with hands 76 and up. Thus, if you check with hand 80 and your opponent bets, you will be a 20-to-4 or a 5-to-1 underdog. Since you're only getting $80-to-$20 or 4-to-1 odds from the pot, you cannot call. However, when you yourself bet, you add 11 wins to your possibilities - when your opponent has hands 65-75 - thus creating a situation where you are getting favorable odds from the pot.

Here's how this situation works out mathematically. Remember that we know your opponent will call with hands 65 and up but he will bet only with hands 76 and up. All the hands are equally likely. Thus if you check and fold when he bets then in 100 times you will win $60 76 times when he has hands 0-75) for a total of $4,560. However if you bet you will win $60 65 times and $80 15 times while losing $20 20 times. This works out to $4,700 which is $140 more than you would have won by checking and folding if your opponent bet. Consequently, even though as an underdog you would not call if your opponent bet on the end, it may sometimes be right for you to bet, depending upon the size of the pot and the number of second-best hands you think your opponent will call with.

Finally, there are some unusual situations, when the pot is fairly large and your opponent is somewhat timid, where it may be correct to check and call even though your opponent would call you with more hands than he would bet himself This is the exception we referred to earlier to the general rule that you should bet when your opponent will call with more hands than he would bet.

Suppose you have hand 80. You're playing in a $10-$20 game, and there's $200 in the pot. You know your opponent will call only with hands 75 and up; so you're a 4-to-1 underdog if you bet. But you'd be getting at least 10-to-1 from the pot, so a bet could be right. However, you also know your opponent is afraid to bet for value on many hands that beat you - say, hands 81-90.

This opponent will bet hands 91-100 and he may occasionally bluff - say, with hands 1-4. Even though this opponent will bet with fewer hands than he would call with, and even though the pot odds you're getting make your hand worth a call, it nevertheless becomes correct to check in this instance. The reason is that ten times - in the cases where your opponent has hands 81-90 - you save $20 when he checks the best hand behind you. Furthermore, when your opponent does bet and you call, you're only a 10-to-4 or 21/2-to-1 underdog instead of the 20-to-5 or 4-to-1 underdog you would be if you came out betting. You've also eliminated the possibility of getting raised in a situation where, given the size of the pot, you would almost have to call.

It becomes correct to check and call, though you know your opponent would call with more hands than he would bet, if when you are an underdog you think your opponent will check some better hands behind you and if you fear a raise.
Remember, though, that the last two situations we have described are unusual. The general rules still apply the majority of the time. If your hand is worth a call, you should bet when your opponent will call with more hands than he will bet, and you should check and call when your opponent will bet with more hands than he will check. In other words, you should make the play that gives you the greatest number of wins and the smallest number of losses.
When There Was a Third Street Raise
 
If there was a third street raise, the pot is often large enough to make it worth chasing for one more card, even if fourth street only gives you minor improvement. If you're in good position, and there isn't heavy action on fourth street, an improvement as minor as catching a K? when you started with (A? 2?) 5? might be enough.

l Strong improvement on fourth street when there has been a third street raise usually calls for aggressive action. With the same start as above, catching a 4?, gives you a very powerful draw and you should probably get every bet you can in on fourth street. Bet it and if you get raised, reraise. If possible, it's important to structure your aggression in such a way as to trap mediocre draws in between you and another apparently strong hand. You structure this aggression by either betting or check-raising, depending on the relative position of the other source of aggression.
 
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