Don’t Get Blown Off Your Hand

You raise before the flop and only the big blind calls. You flop nothing and he checks. You fire out a continuation bet. He calls. The turn is no help. You still have nothing. Your opponent checks again.

“Should I bet again?” you ask yourself. “Will he fold ace high?” you wonder. “What if I get check/raised?” you worry. “I don’t want to get blown off my equity,” you might consider. “I think I’ll just check it back,” you decide.

There was a time when a turn bet usually meant a strong hand. Most players were afraid to fire out a big bet when they held nothing. Those same players were also afraid to make thin value bets or continue semi-bluffing draws, worried that they’d get check/raised off their hand. Those would be legitimate concerns if guys were check/raising turns left and right. But they weren’t then and they’re still not now.

Don’t fear the turn check/raise. That’s our advice to you. Could this be a misconception of the future? Certainly. Game conditions change, and maybe players will start taking check/call, check/raise lines more often. But we doubt it. The following hand example illustrates one reason why:

Think about the situation for a moment. Some players will check back this turn, fearing that they’ll get pushed off their big draw by a turn raise. If the big blind were to check/raise all in, then yes, folding would be the correct play. But that would be a massive overbet, shoving $930 into a $245 pot. Most of the time, the big blind will make a more reasonable raise.

Against a reasonable raise like $300, the cutoff is getting better than 2.7-to-1 odds with a flush draw, a gutshot, and two overcards. While the overcards are rarely good and the immediate odds are not good enough to justify a call, there will be $630 left behind on the river. That helps the cutoff for three reasons:

1. If the big blind has a big hand, the extra money left behind gives the cutoff good implied odds for completing his draw.

  1. If the cutoff thinks the big blind is weak or bluffing, he has room to make a big semi-bluff shove.
  2. If the cutoff calls the turn and the big blind checks the river, the cutoff may have a profitable bluffing opportunity.

While this is a specific situation, the math will always work out the same with 100 blind stacks. Sometimes the bet sizes will be a little larger or a little smaller. But the out of position player will always have to worry about the extra money left behind. And the player in position will always have an advantage deciding whether that money goes in.

So like we said, don’t fear the turn check/raise. It doesn’t happen that often, and all is not lost when it does. But that doesn’t mean you should bet the turn every single time.

If you’re the sort of player who’s afraid of betting the turn, if you’re asking yourself right now, “Well, when should I fire the second barrel?” then here’s our advice.

Look for reasons to bet the turn. Find any excuse you can. Here are a few good ones:

Your hand is strong. This one’s simple. When your hand is doing well against your opponent’s range, it’s usually a good idea to keep value betting. It’s important to consider what range of hands your opponent will call you with and whether he’ll bluff the river if you check. A good rule of thumb is that if you think you can bet the turn and river for value, then you should not check the turn hoping to induce a river bluff. Getting those two value bets in is more valuable than collecting some small bluffs. For instance:

The turn should be scary to your opponent. If you bet, your opponent is likely to fold now. This comes up when you c-bet the flop and your opponent calls with what you suspect is a marginal made hand. If the turn is an ace, you can credibly represent one, while your opponent is unlikely to have one. If the turn completes one or more draws, that’s another time you can expect your opponent to fold often, particularly if he’d usually have semi-bluffed draws of his own on the flop.

Your opponent is likely to fold to a river bet if you bet the turn. Sometimes you should make a turn bet that has immediate negative expectation. That’s because it sets up a bluffing opportunity on the river that’s so profitable it makes up for any money you might lose on the turn. Let’s look at an example:

The big blind here is very unlikely to have a hand that wants to check/call three streets. Yes, there are a few sets in his range. But there are many more hands like pocket threes through eights, weak nines, and ace-five in his range that will fold immediately. There are also hands which may call the turn but fold the river, like ace-nine and pocket jacks or tens. When you see your opponent check/call this flop, ask yourself how often you would want to call the turn and the river in his spot. The answer should be not very often.

You picked up a draw. Straight and flush draws certainly qualify, but so do hands like bottom pair. Having a strong draw can give you good enough equity to bet and call a raise. Even having just a sliver of equity will subsidize your turn bets, making a borderline barrel into a clearly profitable opportunity. Take the following example:

Turning bottom pair gives you some showdown value, but it’s not the sort of hand where you want to check back the turn hoping to induce a river bluff. Your opponent will usually have better than a pair of twos after calling this flop, and will have a good chance of improving even if he doesn’t have you beat yet. By betting this turn, you can take down the pot immediately, get called and bluff successfully on the river, or improve to the best hand and win a big pot.

A lot of people claim that second barreling can be easily taught and learned. It can’t. It takes experience. We can give you some guidelines here, but it’s up to you to determine which guidelines apply when. You need to think and practice.

Another area where experience and skill can provide an advantage is playing the river. By knowing when to fire the third barrel, when to put in a third value bet, and when to give up can justify some turn bets that might otherwise be unwise. Knowing how to properly size your river bets adds to this edge. There are a lot of spots where you will have a close decision between betting or checking the turn. Having confidence in your ability to play the river can provide the swing vote. The 952♥ example from earlier in this chapter demonstrates a hand where betting the turn may or may not be profitable, but by knowing when to fire the third barrel (in that example, almost always) you can put together an extremely profitable line.

Let’s assume now that you’ve gotten to the point where you’re confident in your river play. You know how to get your value and you know how to steal pots away with a final stab. You should no longer be looking for reasons to bet the turn. Now you should be looking for reasons not to. Betting should be your default. That means that once you become a solid, well-rounded player, you should always bet the turn unless you have a compelling reason to check.

Here are some circumstances that should make you think twice about firing off an aggressive turn bet:

Your opponent is very good. Against highly skilled opposition, you can’t get away with representing narrow ranges. If your line can only represent a big hand or a bluff, excellent players won’t believe you. They’ll call you down and force you to have the unlikely big hand.

Your opponent is very bad. The biggest mistake that very bad players make is calling down too often. That’s what makes them very bad. Don’t justify their mistake by having too many bluffs in your range. Exploit their mistake instead. Value bet more aggressively against these players, and bluff much less often.

The turn card does not affect your opponent’s ability to call down. This one is a bit tricky. It depends on your opponent’s flop calling range, your perceived range, and the texture of the board. When a blank comes off, it’s less likely to affect your opponent’s ability to call down than when a scare card comes off.

Your opponent doesn’t expect you to bluff. If the combination of board texture and recent history suggests to your observant opponent that you would be unlikely to bluff, this is actually a good spot to bluff. Take the following example:

The small blind may think that you should be unlikely to bluff now. The river has not improved your range, and there’s not much you can threaten to hold. You’ve been caught bluffing recently. Given his line, he knows that you know that he has showdown value. But you’re betting anyway. So you can’t be bluffing. Right? The question becomes whether he knows that you know that he knows this. “What?” Yeah, it gets confusing. The trick is to stay one step ahead of your opponent and use what he thinks he knows about you against him.

In general, the lower the highest card on the flop, the more likely you’ll be able to represent a strong hand on the turn. Let’s look at the difference between two flops: 952♥ and K52♥. The only difference between the second and the first is the K♦ instead of the 9♦. Let’s say your opponent calls your bet on each flop with top pair and a J♠ kicker. On the first board, there are 16 overcards that can fall on the turn. Ignoring your two cards, that will happen 34% of the time. With the K♦ on board instead, there are only 4 overcards that can hit. There’s only an 8.5% chance of an ace hitting. So it’s less likely for a card to come off and scare your opponent.

But that’s not all. On the first board, your turn bet can represent at least 42 combinations that beat your opponent: ace-nine and five different overpairs, not to mention sets. On the second board, there’s only pocket aces, ace-king, king-queen, and sets. That’s just 29 combos. The actual turn card will affect these numbers, but you get the point. Top pair on a nine-high flop is weaker than it is on a king-high flop. It’s fairly intuitive, but it’s still important. You should be more likely to fire second and third barrels when your opponent’s hand is weak and vulnerable. You’re more likely to earn a fold.

If you’re reading through this discussion of aggressive turn betting and still thinking that you’d rather not risk a lot of money trying it out yourself, we’ve got two suggestions for you.

The first is to drop down in stakes and muck around. You can drop down one limit or ten. Whatever makes you comfortable. Most players don’t barrel the turn often enough, so why not just try it out, taking into consideration the factors we’ve listed in this chapter.

If you don’t want to play at a lower limit, or if there is no lower limit available, then try our second suggestion. When you’re unsure of whether or not you’ve found a good spot to bluff, make a note. Write down the board texture and the action up to this point. The next time this situation arises but you have a strong hand, make a value bet. Keep track of how often you get paid off. If you find that you’re not getting paid as often as you’d like, then you’ve found a good spot to bluff. If you’re getting paid 9 times out of 10 (unlikely), then it’s probably a good spot to give up on your bluffs.

The last method can be applied to any bluffing situation, not just the turn. If you have a flop line, or a special turn play, or a river scenario where you’re contemplating bluffing, try that line out with your value hands. Take notes. Find out whether you get paid or get folds. That will inform your decisions. Notes don’t always have to be about a specific player. Don’t be afraid to take broader notes about the game conditions you typically face. Once you have these notes, take action! Whether it’s on the turn or any other street, be proactive.

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