Four players limp. You make it $15 to go from one off the button with K♦Q♦. The big blind calls and three of the four limpers call. Loose play is typical for this game, and as in the example above, players are willing to call bets after the flop. There’s $78 in the pot. You have $285 behind.
The flop comes Q♣T♣7♦. Everyone checks to you. You bet $70, and two players call. There’s $288 in the pot and $215 behind.
The turn is the 2♣. The first player shoves all-in for $215. What do you do?
Fold. This is a bread-and-butter example of employing Skill #2. When your opponents make a big turn or river bet, and you can’t beat the hands they’re representing, you must fold. To justify calling, you would have to expect them to be bluffing a significant percentage of the time. Typical 1-2 players won’t bluff for big money even close-to-often enough to justify a call.
The distinction between the play of Hand #6 and this one is a critical one. Both hands played identically until the turn. Yet, in the second hand, your opponent gave you a massively important piece of information by shoving. This is an action the player would take with only a small percentage of his total hand range.
When the player instead does a more-normal thing like checking to you (as in Hand #6), he preserves most of the hands in his range (i.e., all the ones he would not shove all-in with). Since the ones he would shove with will tend to be strong, the check actually depletes some strength from his range, and he’s left with a weak set of hands worth attacking with a bet.
This is it. Right here is the core logic that defines superior no- limit hold ’em strategy. Your opponents start with a given hand range. They proceed to give you information through their checks and bets across several streets that help you refine your estimate of what hands they could have. You act on that information by attacking a weaker sets of hands, and avoiding stronger ones.
In a 1-2 game, a large turn bet, especially a shove, indicates incredible strength. So you should avoid this range of hands.
The absence of a large turn bet partially denies that strength (only partially, since it’s possible for players to check very strong hands). But all your opponents’ weak hands from playing too many hands pre-flop are still in the mix. So the total picture after an opponent checks this spot suggests weakness, and you should therefore attack with a bet.
Make sure you thoroughly understand these last two examples before you continue. There is perhaps no more important reasoning in the game to keep you profitable long term.
Two players limp. You make it $12 to go on the button with
Q♥J♥. The blinds fold, and both limpers call. There’s $39 in the pot and $288 behind.
The flop comes J♦4♣4♥. Your opponents check, you bet $20, and the first limper calls.
The turn is the T♣. Your opponent checks. What should you
This is a common problem, and there’s not a clear answer. It pays to approach this decision using streets-of-value logic.
What kinds of hands might have called you on the flop? Any jack would have called, and obviously any four. Typically you can get calls on a flop like this from pocket pairs lower than jacks, and you can sometimes get calls from a hand like A-Q.
When called on the flop, the hand you most hope your opponent has is J-T, since that’s the hand you beat that’s most likely to call you down. Obviously, the turn card dashes those hopes. The turn card also renders all kickers below a ten irrelevant (because any hand with a jack and a lower kicker plays jacks and fours with the ten). So if someone were to call down with, say, J- 9, if you also hold a jack, they’d be hoping for a chop at best.
In other words, if you bet the turn and river, and if your opponent has a worse hand, from their perspective it’s a dismal situation.
Rational 1-2 players fold all worse hands than yours given this pressure. But irrational 1-2 players will happily call down two more streets with any jack, and sometimes even with hand like 8- 8. (Calling down with a jack is not fundamentally wrong, it’s just irrational in most 1-2 games because players aren’t bluffing often enough.)
It’s your job, then, to decide if your opponent is rational or not. If your opponent loves to call down with weaker hands, you should bet the turn and river—though you might keep bet sizing small. For instance, you might bet $40 on the turn, and $60 on the river.
Against a rational opponent, however, you can’t expect two more streets of value against weaker hands. You’ll have to check at least once. Turn checks and river checks each have pros and cons. I’ll briefly go over them.
A pro for a turn bet (i.e., a river check) is that it denies a free card to hands like 7-7 or A-Q that might improve to beat you on the river. A con of a turn bet is that if your opponent has a strong hand like trips, you’ll likely get check-raised, thus forfeiting your bet. (You will, of course, fold to the check-raise. That’s Skill #2.)
A pro of waiting for the river to bet is that you may not have to pay off trips. Say you check back the turn, and a deuce comes on the river. Instead of checking, your opponent bets $60 into the $79 pot. Skill #2 says you should fold—and you just saved $40 compared to having bet the turn. A con of waiting for the river to bet is that you give a free card that might beat you. Also, your opponent may be occasionally induced to bluff the river, and you will naturally fold to these bluffs.
The more rational you expect your opponent to play, the more you should check the turn and bet the river. The advantage of your getting to fold to a river bet is greater in this case, because your opponent will tell you with his bet that you’re beaten, and he also will rarely bluff.
If your opponent is less rational or generally plays in a way you find baffling, you’re probably better off betting the turn and checking down the river.
Your chosen bet size is also opponent-dependent. You want to bet small enough that you think your opponent is likely to call with a hand like J-9, or possibly even 8-8. It does little good to blow all those hands out of the pot, as you’ll then be losing nearly every time you get called. With some opponents, you’ll be able to bet $40 and get called. With others, you’ll need to keep it small— like $20.
There’s no magic bullet to sizing these bets. You have to experiment and see how opponents react.