The isolation play in NLHE

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I want to take the opportunity to look at isolating once again. This works in two ways, you first identify a potential weakness and then you attack it by isolating against it using a particular strength. The isolation doesn’t always work but it is a numbers game plain and simple. Let us look an example to show you what I mean. It is folded around to a very aggressive player in the cut-off who raises once again to 3.5bb. You have noticed that this player raises with almost their entire range from the cut-off when folded to.

This actually may work for them depending on how tight the players are to their left. However you can turn that into a weakness by three betting with any decent hand that has good post flop equity. Let us say that you have the 10d-9d and make it 11bb to go. If the raiser really does have a hand like J-5o then you would like to isolate against a weak hand and be able to use your position as well. You also don’t want any other player getting involved and spoiling your attempt to take money from this player.

If you call then one of the blinds may also call. They could also three bet if they perceive what you are up to with your call. Then if that happens you have lost your isolation potential against the apparent weakness. Many players would fear three betting with 10-9s because they may be wrong about their opponent’s hand that may have K-K or Q-Q in it. At the end of the day, this is poker…… are always making intelligent speculations when you play poker based on statistics and probabilities. There are very few times within a poker game where you can be certain of anything.

Another situation may arise if you have say Ad-Ks in early position in a full ring game. You would like to isolate against a weakness and use your strength. However you cannot be sure that the A-K is the best hand. If you raise then other players can identify your hand. However what about aggressive limping? Many people would ask how in heavens name can limping be aggressive? Well it all depends on the entire line that you are looking to take. You cannot define an action on whether or not it is aggressive or passive based on the opening move.

Which line is the more aggressive and passive out of these two bluffing actions, one goes raise-bet-check-fold and the other goes call-raise-bet-bet. In the first instance there were only two aggressive actions which ultimately resulted in losing the pot. The second example had three aggressive actions that resulted in winning. Sophisticated poker players limp and that is a fact. Remember that a limp enters you into the action and you do not always need to do it with a raise because there are some advantages to limping. For example let us say that another player limped and the button decided to attack what they thought was weakness and made it 6bb to go.

The big blind called the 6bb and now the action is on you. There are now 13.5bb in the pot that isn’t your money and the big blinds call indicated a hand that wasn’t a premium hand. The button raise stands a fair chance of being someone that is using their position to bully and so a limp-raise is a powerful play here. It isolates against the likely weakness of the original raiser. Here we can turn being out of position into an advantage and use our A-K to represent aces or kings. I have even had players flash me Q-Q here as they were about to fold.

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player who plays online at


About The Dean

A full-time professional poker player, coach and backer
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