One of the easier things to spot in live no-limit games is the predictability of hand strength through raise sizing. Small raises on the flop, especially on wet boards, are almost always indicative of top pairish types of hands. You can use this information to your advantage especially facing a small check raise on the flop in position. After you call and then face a small turn bet if the river is checked to you you can almost always bet top pair good kicker for value. A lot of the time, especially if the draw misses, you will get paid off.
Let’s look at an example:
In a $2-$5 no-limit game with effective stacks of $800 we open raise to $20 in the cutoff with K♦ Q♦. It gets folded to the big blind who is pretty loose and he calls.
FLOP: K♣ 5♣ 4♠. He checks and we bet $30. BB check raises to $70, we call.
Turn 9♦. BB bets $85, we call.
River 7♦. BB checks. What is our play here?
A clear cut value-bet is in order and expect us to get looked up by a weak K a lot. This particular situation gets misplayed all the time by inexperienced recreational players. Once the pot gets big low stakes players like to go to showdown especially in position. They always fear getting check-raised on the river, when in fact the frequency of check-raise river bluffing is almost nonexistent.
One of the most common betting patterns of live players is their sizing in these types of situations. If they flop big, like two pair plus, especially on wet boards, and choose not to slowplay they will raise big. Players like this, especially if they are tight, are always scared that they are going to get sucked out on so they bet to protect against the draws. The chance that the villain has a set of 5s or 2s in the above example is very small due to his sizing.
Some would ask then why we would not reraise the flop or raise the turn if we think that we have the best hand? There is a simple answer to this question and it is a concept called “way ahead way behind.” You never want to put so much money in the pot or take such an aggressive line where everything that is weaker than your hand folds and only stronger continues on. If you reraise the flop or bomb over the top of a turn bet your hand looks incredibly strong – strong enough where top pair medium kicker may very well fold. By calling the flop and the turn, especially on wet boards, our hand looks like a draw and we can value bet the river to death.