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Utilizing Set Plays

by David "The Maven" Chicotsky

Set plays are something that I feel most players don’t use enough. A set play is when you make a move against a target player before all information is made available.

 Take for example, the idea of calling out of the big blind with the intention of betting or check-raising the flop if we miss our hand. This adds value to a hand like QJ-suited, making it more playable, as we’re able to apply our hand strength - as well as a measure of fold equity. Calling out of the big blind and solely evaluating the flop based on hand strength is a bad habit to get into.

 We’re better off calling from the big blind with a hand like QJ-suited expecting to hit the flop around 30% of the time, while some other percentage of the time we’re going to be looking to make a play (bluff) versus our opponent. If we’re simply calling to evaluate the flop and proceed based on our hand strength, we’re playing a sucker’s game. Even the tightest of players should be finding profitable situations 10 or 20% of the time on the flop where they can take down the pot, with no hand, applying solely fold equity.

 Another example of a set play would be calling in position pre-flop and re-raising the flop against a certain opponent we’ve targeted. We’re not calling pre-flop to hit our hand on the flop, we’re calling pre-flop with the intention of re-raising our opponents’ continuation bet post-flop. For that matter, we’re calling in position to re-raise our opponents’ continuation bet or put in a sizable bet if the flop is checked to us.

 There is still wiggle-room to back out of a play if conditions become unduly adverse. If our opponent bets bigger than we were expecting, like the entire pot - we can very easily back out of a play we had previously planned on making. Our intentions will oftentimes dictate the math behind a play. For example, if we are going up against a very tight early position raiser, we will need to hit the flop harder than just middle or top pair if we plan on hanging on through all streets. If the tight raiser’s range is heavily constricted and he’s only raising big pairs, we’ll be looking to crack them by hitting two-pair or better.

 On the other hand, if we’re facing a very loose opponent, we might be able to hang on through the river with only top pair. We’re able to use our opponent’s aggression against them by either opening up our calling range, or countering the player by bluffing more often.

 Stay out of the habit of only trying to hit your hand. Look for opportunities to put pressure on your opponent and utilize set plays to help you do it.

 David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former No. 1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at

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