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Hand Improvement

By: baud2death @ 09:12 (EST) / 352 / Comment ( 0 )

The concept of Hand Improvement is something I have really been focusing on recently and I really thnk it has paid dividends to my play.


For those of you that know what Hand Improvement is, great - otherwise this might be a new concept for some or something you haven't really thought about.


Every decision point you have a ranking to your hand compared to the cards that are available for all.

Imagine now that the game of Poker wasn't decided on the river but at every decision point you reach and the judgement to bet/call/raise/fold/check are all determined by various factors but mainly we are focusing on the Hand itself here


The first decision point is the preflop.

The nut hand preflop is AA, KK is 2nd and QQ is 3rd.


Going to war with the top 3 nuts is something that you will find little argument for as it is quite a solid move, so here if you cant build value without getting it in... you need to with these hands.


Anything else on the preflop is a decision and you need to weigh up your position, stack size, opp stack size, opp range of hands and cards to decide if you want to get involved.


You might decide its worth risking it calling a large raise with AKh but decide that you will only call a max of a 3bet with 22-TT.

This is wise because the idea here is to improve further along and if you don't have good reasons to get away


The next decision point is the flop. Every player in the hand just got dealt 3 cards to improve their situation. On a very wet board you could be looking at a Full House, Straight or Flush. On a fairly wet board you could be looking at a draw to these hands and on a dry board you are looking mainly at Trips being the best hand.

Unless the flop comes with trips on board, you are always possibly against Two Pair and trips.


So the question to you is, did your hand improve?

Any pair needs to have improved to Two Pair or Trips to be considered an valued improvement so 56o on a dry board with no straight cards does improve if you pair your 6 but even if that 6 is top pair its still behind to so many hands that its not a valued improvement. If you caught a 5 as well that might be a different story.

AA was ahead preflop but if no ace is onboard, although AA could still be ahead it is beat to any Two Pair or Trips.


Really on the flop the only improvement you want to consider going to war with would be any straight, any flush, any trips. Even if the board is very wet and fills with 3 clubs and you get trips... you are still holding one of the best hands and being beat here relies on your opp having the other clubs which is a lot more unlikely than you think.

Any valued improvement less than that (which in this case is really only Two Pair) needs to be evaluated depending on action. With massive action (Pot sized bet or more) I could fold Top Two Pair or gamble depending on the amount of opponents and dry/wetness of the board and my stack size compared to my opp. But most of the time if they say "I have trips" and are willing to shove it in, i will believe them and even if they show a bluff or a weaker made hand (such as Pair or a weaker two pair) I am happy with my laydown here because whislt I did improve, i didnt improve to a dominating hand and can't challenge this.


Another example of needing to improve is the big AK

If you raise AK up and feel good about it but dont flop an Ace or a King, you are so behind its shocking. This doesnt stop people from bluffing it all the way to the river hoping to catch just a pair.

Even if you do catch an Ace or a King, whilst you do have top kicker you are still pottentially behind to trips or two pair. If the board comes A 3 9, you think your hand is the nuts but you are behind to A3, A9, 39, 33, 99 and you need to be carefull.

The best valued improvement for AK is two pair since not only does this give you top two pair in every situation but it also gives you 4 outs to the nut FH. Sure, from the Flop>River catching another ace or king is about 16% but its a nice catch when you get it.

Top Two Pair with unmatched preflop cards can be a monster and although i dont like going to war with it, on a dry board you basically have the 2nd nuts (the nuts being the other flop card filling trips)


Now lets say for whatever reason we get to the turn (checked there or you paid a good enough price to draw to your outs)

Did we improve?

Was it a valued improvement?


Trips were good on the flop they will still be good on the turn. Even against a straight or a flush, trips are still worth it. You would like to see the board pair but trips are still good here.


Lets look at some other hands to see how they could have gained valued improvement

Rag hand, no pair : Check/Fold this its unimproved and even if you did catch a pair on the river, its going to be rubbish and only an Ace in your hand with an Ace on the river gives you the chance at calling a value bet but even then i still dont like it..

"NOT" Top Pair : Your pair isnt good enough and you needed to improve to trips here. If you had a pocket pair and made trips.. you are in very good shape and can consider your hand valuable. If you had a rag hand and paired one card on the flop, improving to a 3rd on the turn... dont get so excited. You made trips but since the board paired you are behind to a full house pottentially. Still worth getting involved but if you thought you were behind to trips before the turn, you are dead for sure now and shouldnt automatically think you are good due to having trips.

Although Two Pair was good on the flop to proceed, making Two Pair on the turn is only good with the right action. That card could have filled in something you didnt expect like trips for someone else or a better Two Pair for someone else. Just like playing Two Pair from the flop>turn you should be careful about playing Two Pair from the turn>river because its good... but it isnt worth going to war with.

Top Pair : For Top Pair again like any other pair you don't want to get carried away in making Two Pair... its good and can still dominate but is only worth it with the right action. Really for Top Pair you dont want to goto war without having filled in trips. Play Top Pair on the turn just like Two Pair... judge the action and decide if you want to proceed but understand that if the action is heavy you are drawing to the river to catch top trips.

Two Pair : The only valued improvement for Two Pair is a Full House. It is a lovely hand to upgrade from and can often be something you can get paid off on since any trips or lower full house are going to be behind to you. Its hard to make the move from Two Pair to Full House so you shouldnt expect it but when it does happen be sure to get your money in and extract the right value.

Trips : Trips don't need to worry too much about improving. A board pair gives you a FH which shields you from Flushes and Straights which is good but unless you are looking at a 4-flush or a 4-straight board filling in on the turn, you are still dominating with your trips and the only reason you should be deciding on the turn is because you are building value and the turn is where you put the price up... trips from the flop is a 50% bet and then a 75% on the turn... you might want to slow down to a 50% bet or a check depending on the field if 4-flush or 4-straight is showing but thats your call

Flush/Straight Draw : So your straight or flush filled in, well done. Your only job now is to extract as much value from the hand as you can and be willing to go broke (if needed) in the process. Unless you filled the nut straight, you are technically behind to any possible flush or the higher straight... and if you did fill a flush you are technically behind to any better flush.

These possibilities in most cases should not worry you because the liklihood of you being behind with a choice hand like this is less often enough that if you play it strong and extract value you are going to win more than you lose in the longterm.


Now lets say you didnt face-off before the river and you get to it, what kind of valued improvements are we looking for here?

Its quite simple... If have a STRONG hand (trips, flush, straight, full house) you need to get the most value that you can. You could have filled up on the river, turn or even flopped it... it doesnt matter at this point, all that matters is making the most of the value. Unless you have an overriding read that makes you believe your hand is behind, you need to figure out what kind of bet your opponent will call.

If you shove will they call?

Are they able to believe you might bluff at it with some kind of


If you are unsure, 50% is good for value but whatever move you make, unless you think your are behind somehow, more chips the better.... never ever ever ever check the nuts.

I had an opponent who checked the nuts the other day and i was SHOCKED!!! He filled an Ace on the river to make the nut straight and he must not have noticed because he checked it on the button.


So what if you dont have a strong hand.

Well the whole purpose of hand improvement is to get you used to evaluating your cards and your opponents cards at each step. By doing this you will know if your Two Pair are good enough or not and you need to use position to your advantage.

If you have a Pair or even Two Pair and are in position and it is checked to you and you suspect your opponent could have been trapping with a better hand or perhaps he caught on the river, check it.

There is value in getting a free chance to see if you could be ahead and remember that if your opponent has a BIG hand and you raise him, he will come over the top of you and spring the trap. If he doesnt have a BIG hand he is folding and this move doesnt get any value but does mean you could risk a further amount of chips to be proven wrong.


The check button is invaluable and isnt used enough. Checking in this spot where you arent dominating is a free-pass to avoid a trap or gives you the pot for the exact same amount a raise would (aka he folds in a raise)


Then other factor involved is being able to see how your opponent improves. This is hard because it means having such a strong read you can put your opponent to a specific hand and then track that hand as it gets better/worse through the streets.

I wouldnt bother trying this often since anyone can have any hand in online poker but sometimes it can be useful.



Don't get me wrong with the above. 22 can win against 8 opponents with heavy action and AA can get cracked by one sole opponent with 72o turning their 7 and rivering their 2. This is not a blueprint to automatic success but it is an idea that you should be looking for your hand to improve street>street if you want to get involved in action


Pair (Top pair or not) is strong preflop but gets weaker and weaker as it fails to improve down the streets

Two Pair is a nice powerful hand on the flop but as more and more cards come it can be an underdog to trips or a better Two Pair.

Draws are another pain since you really dont want to be playing them unless its cheap to do so and you can improve. 24d with 2 diamonds on the flop but nothing on the turn or the river is useless and unless you got there for the right price you lost out. It doesnt mean you shouldnt play draws but only that you should be mindful of the amount of outs you need and the 4/2 rule to your chance to improve.


Trips doesnt need to improve, its a monster from start to finish just like a straight or a flush from the flop. Made straights or flushes or trips do suffer another problem though which is the reverse of improving and thats your opponent improving.

2-5-6 flop with a pair of 66s gives you top trips. If an T and J appear on the turn and river, you could (although unlikely) be behind to better trips... each new card can have the chance to hurt you.

That being said trips getting worse is more often when straights or flushes drop on your lap... best to judge each street... I have folded trips on the river because a 4-flush came and i was convinced my opp had the flush, i was wrong and all he had was two pair but it still felt right to lay it down.


Straights and Flushes have a strange way of un-improving. Straights get hurt when they start connecting different parts of the straights to other peoples cards. Your opp might have AK and board is J-T-9. You have 87 and  you made the straight. It is behind to only 2 other hands, the KQ and the Q8.

For every end of the straight that fills, it gives your opponent two more hands to beat you with

For flushes it is worse... if there is a 3-flush on the board, you are behind if your opponent has a better 2flush hand but if the flush fills in a 2nd time you are behind to any of that suit which is ahead of you

So with K2c and 3 clubs showing you were only behind to the AXc and your opponent needed BOTH clubs, with 4 clubs showing you are now behind to any Ace of Clubs no matter if your opponent has another one or not which is LOT more likely


So the key thing with any strong flopped hand like trips, flush, straight and to some degree FH you are not focusing on you improving, you dont need to. You are focusing on your opponent improving. The nut straight on the flop seems appealing but it can become less and less valuable the more straight cards start popping up



Overall... strong hands you need to play strong but be cautious of your opponent improving and weak hands need improvement at the right price otherwise a monster like AA preflop can be diluted to almost nothing by the showdown with another 5 cards to come!


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