Raising Into Equity

In the previous chapter, we talked about being aggressive on the turn when our opponent is likely to give up with a wide range of hands. We should be especially inclined to be aggressive into that range when it continues to hold equity against us. In fact, many players do a very poor job of estimating their equity against our range. This often means that our opponent folds 44 on an A752 board when we take a mini stop-and-go line. If we have a lot of floats in our range, 44 is probably good enough to either call or raise as a bluff. However, our opponents usually don’t understand their equity very well.

In general, we don’t want to make our opponents fold hands that are worse than ours. If we had a choice, we would prefer that they continue to put money in the pot with worse hands. This doesn’t always happen though—usually, when our opponents have a bad hand, they just give up. When this happens, it is critical that we do not play passively when our opponents still retain pot equity.

We’ll start with a very basic example. Our opponent raises and we call with 77 in position. The flop is T64. He c-bets and we call. The turn is a 3, and he checks. Most opponents are 2-barreling all of their strong hands for value. They’re also betting bluff hands with equity (hands like 89s, for example).

When he checks the turn, we legitimately expect him to be giving up more than 90% of the time; that is to say, we almost always expect him to fold, which means we almost always have the best hand. Despite the fact that he almost always folds the worst hand (correctly), it is still correct to bet the turn and make him fold.

If the following circumstance exists, we want to be aggressive.

  1. 1)  Our opponent has a worse hand than us, but his hand has pot equity (i.e. he’s not drawing dead). This also means that when he improves, his hand is usually better than ours.
  2. 2)  Our opponent is unlikely to be aggressive unless he improves

So, in our 77 example, let’s say that our opponent holds KQ and has checked the turn. His hand is worse than ours, but he still has six clean outs. He’s already stopped being aggressive, and it’s unlikely he’s going to try and bluff the river. If we check back the turn and he hits a K or Q on the river, he will have a better hand than ours. So, we should bet the turn.

Let’s consider a more challenging example. We raise A♦T♦ on the button and a loose-aggressive regular 3-bets us from the SB. We believe that he holds a polarized range, so we decide to call. The flop is T♠8♠3♣. He bets the flop and we call. The turn is a 5♣. He bets again. Now, we have to ask ourselves the following questions:

1) Does he have worse hands than us? Do those hands have pot equity?

2) Will he continue to be aggressive on the river without improving?

The first question is easy; yes, our opponent has worse hands than us, and yes, those hands have pot equity. Even QJ has six outs. Given his polarized range, he’s likely to have many worse hands with equity (67s, J9, K♣4♣, etc). So, we’re not going to fold, but we have to decide whether to call or raise. This question (the second question above), though, is both more important and more difficult to know than the first..

If he will continue to be aggressive on any river, even if he doesn’t improve, we want to call the turn and call the river on any card. However, if he check-folds on the river when he misses, it may be a big mistake to call on turn—our opponent plays perfectly in a giant pot on the river. That’s bad for us.

The last question that you need to ask:

If my opponent will check-fold the river unimproved, how many draws are in his range relative to strong hands? In other words: How nut-heavy is his NAR?

Even if our opponent check-folds his missed draws on the river, if, on the turn, he doesn’t have many, you should probably just fold to the turn bet. However, if our opponent check-folds the river with missed draws and has a draw/air heavy NAR on the turn we need to be raising our entire range.

Of course, the less pot equity your opponent holds, the less we need to worry about raising. If we called a 3-bet with AT and the flop is TT4r, we probably don’t need to raise on any street. It’s very, very difficult for our opponent to catch up.

Most of our ranges on the turn and river are constructed with passive opposition in mind. We have been trained to barrel the turn with our big draws and give up with our low-equity hands. We bet thinly for value and bluff with equity. This is generally based on the presupposition that our opponents will play call-or-fold, allowing us to capitalize on our equity and make easy decisions on the river. Most of our good-aggressive opponents will think like this. However, this method encounters real problems when our opponents start playing raise-or-fold (the same way that 3-betting KQ preflop encounters problems when our opponents start 4-betting). It’s very common to see regulars play passively against other regulars on the turn—this is often a large mistake. Make sure that you’re not giving your opponents free opportunities to win big pots against you on the river, even if it means risking your stack on the turn. Turning your hand into a bluff to make your opponent fold equity is not bad if he has a lot of hands with equity and he’s not going to bluff with them later. It feels riskier at first, but you’ll be amazed at how often your opponents fold hands that they really don’t want to—namely, big draws that want to see a river.

In general, if your opponent has pot equity, be aggressive. Raising into equity defeats the fundamental ideology held by most regulars—when they want you to call or fold, we’ll raise.

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