Above all, remember this about barreling: when they check to you on the turn, and you won’t be able to win a showdown without improvement, bet.
Your turn bet is rarely a bad bet. It’s frequently enormously profitable. If you aren’t good at figuring out when to bet, you’re much better off betting all your weak hands than betting none of them.
Here’s a simple example. Say you have J♦T♦. Your opponent opens for $20, someone calls, and you call on the button. The blinds fold, and there’s $67 in the pot.
The flop comes K♦Q♠3♠. The pre-flop raiser bets $30. The player in the middle folds, and you call with your open-ended straight draw.
The turn is the 6♣. The raiser checks. Bet, and don’t be shy about it. There’s $120 in the pot. Bet $100. You can win the hand several ways. You can win if they fold. If they call and you go to the river, you have equity-when-called in your nut straight draw. You have additional equity-when-called because even if you miss the straight, you can bet the river and perhaps get a fold.
Here’s another 2-5 example. One player limps, and you make it $20 to go on the button with 5♠4♠. The big blind calls, and the limper calls. There’s $62 in the pot.
The flop comes 9♠6♦2♣, giving you a gutshot and a backdoor flush draw. Your opponents check, and you bet $50. The big blind folds, and the limper calls.
The turn is the K♣. Your opponent checks. Bet! Again, don’t go light on the bet. There’s $162 in the pot. Bet $120.
Why bet in these situations? It comes down to the math that I quoted at the start of this section. As long as your opponent maintains a folding rate above a certain amount (it’s about 30 percent to your half-pot bets—a little more if you’re betting three- quarters pot as I’ve recommended above), your bet will show an automatic profit.
Your opponents are playing into this automatic-profit scenario by playing too many hands pre-flop and making speculative calls on the flop. This leaves them with far too many weak hands by the turn. The turn is the street where no-limit hands begin to “get real.” If you’re betting $120 with $500 stacks to start the hand, you’re implicitly saying, “It’s $120 now and it might be all-in on the next card.”
Experienced players know that they can’t just call that $120 with weak hands and expect things to go their way. It gets expensive. Fast. If they’re planning to dump their weak hands, the turn is where it happens. This phenomenon pushes their turn- folding percentages well north of the break-even point and into the automatic profit zone.
In fact, it’s just a bonus in these examples that you happen to have straight draws. Often, because you’re starting with good hands, you’ll be in a situation where you can bet, get called, and still draw out on the river. That’s great. But that equity is often not even necessary to justify a bet. But the equity makes the bet even more profitable.
Recall from our pre-flop strategy in Skill #1, you’re specifically choosing hands pre-flop for the likelihood they’ll have equity- when-called when you bet them on the turn. In this way, your strategy will be cohesive from pre-flop to the river. You’re playing hands pre-flop with the idea that there’s a good chance you’ll be barreling the hand on the turn to show an automatic profit.
It’s a big reason why I recommend not limping pre-flop. When you raise hands like 5♠4♠ on the button, you can follow through with a C-bet. You can then barrel the turn, and collect all the money your opponents feed the pot with their weak pre-flop calls. Taken together, your bets work in tandem toward the strategic goal of punishing opponents for playing too many hands pre-flop and folding the bad ones post.
If you choose instead to limp 5♠4♠ pre-flop, the pot will be much smaller on the turn. Which means your play on average wins less. Further, a smaller pot may encourage another player to
take a stab at the pot on the flop. This is not necessarily a disaster. But these kinds of smaller pots are less predictable. And if you decide to bluff after an opponent bets, it’s easier to make an error and accidentally run into a strong hand.
Overall, as long as you buy into the “bet the turn” strategy for your game (and it’s a good strategy in most, but not all, 2-5 game types), then you should also buy into the “no limping” pre-flop strategy as something that will support this exact turn strategy and make it more profitable.