The Mini Stop ‘n Go

Traditionally, a Stop ‘n Go line means that we bet the flop when out of position, call a raise, and then lead out again on the turn. At this point, we’ve realized that checking the flop is the exact same as betting zero; therefore, if we check the flop, face a bet, call it, and then lead the turn, we’re taking a Mini Stop ‘n Go line. It’s the same basic principle with less action. This line is often referred to as a check- call-lead line. Regardless of which name you prefer, it’s a creative and unexpected line that our opponents will not expect nor feel comfortable responding.

Let’s assume we called a raise from the blinds and ignore our hand strength for a moment. Unless the specific conditions previously outlined exist (see “The Theory of Donking”), we’ll want to

check to the preflop raiser to capitalize on controllable information (his likely c-bet). Assuming that he makes a continuation bet, there are a variety of times when we’d want to check-call the flop:

  •   We have a medium strength hand that we can neither raise for value nor a bluff but is far enough ahead of our opponents range to justify calling, even OOP. This might be 98s on an 842r board or QTs on a KT4 board. Having AT on an 883r board or A5 on an AKT two-tone board could both justify check-calls.
  •   We have a draw on a board that, despite our positional disadvantage, we expect to play profitably by check-calling OOP. This usually occurs on boards where our opponents are extremely unlikely to bluff after their c-bets are called. For example, we check-call on an AQJ board with T9s. Similarly, if we have QJ on a K92r board against an average opponent, we may prefer to check-call than check-raise.
  •   We have an extremely strong hand that is very unlikely to be drawn out on and we think we’re unlikely to receive action due to board texture and player type considerations. For example, we have 66 on a 662r board against a straight-forward player who’s unlikely to float a check-raise without at least a decent overpair. In this case, it’s difficult to raise for value and, despite our position, it’s almost certainly more profitable to slow play and give our opponent a chance to catch up.

Clearly, we can maintain a balanced check-calling range on the flop. The list above contains hands of low, medium, and premium value for taking the check-call line—so far so good. As we’ve learned before, balancing lets us play unpredictably and forces our opponents into difficult spots.

Too many players, though, automatically check the turn after check-calling the flop. The problem is a psychological one and it’s quite simple—we check to the aggressor on the flop because of the high probability that he’ll continue his aggression. If you’re using a statistic program like PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager, compare your average regular’s c-bet percentage with his two-barrel percentage. Nearly every player is significantly less likely to fire a second barrel on the turn than they are to continuation bet the flop. So why do we keep auto-checking to the aggressor on the turn? This reliance on our opponent to continue his aggression is irrational and detrimental to our game. We no longer have the controllable information that we had on the flop, and thus we have to consider all of our options—both leading and checking.

This brings us to an obvious question: when should we be inclined to lead the turn after check- calling the flop?

 The turn card is one on which our opponent is unlikely to continue his aggression. For example, if we check-called a J♣8♦4♠ flop and the turn card is an A♠, we should be inclined to check against an average-to-good aggressive player. He’s extremely likely to be aggressive on this card, and thus we again have some reasonably reliable controllable information and should check to him. However, if the turn card is a T♥, he’s relatively unlikely to continue bluffing. The T♥ turn card should incline us away from checking.

  •   We have a hand that can be bet for value. Let’s say that we check-called with 66 on a J♣6♦4♠ board and the turn card is, again, the T♥. Clearly we can bet this turn and get called or raised by worse hands. However, we can take this line for thin value as well. Say we check-called with A♠5♠on an A♣J♦6♥ board and the turn is a 9♥. We could also bet this turn for value.
  •   We have a hand that can be bet as a bluff. We check-called with 98s on an A75r board and the turn card is a 2. This is a good spot to lead the turn as a bluff—many better hands will fold (not only air hands like KJ which are huge favorites, but also some reasonably strong hands like 66 or TT; even KK will sometimes get confused by the line and fold here as well!).
  •   The turn card helps us accomplish what we want with our hand. To clarify, let’s say that we’re trying to lead the turn for value with 66 on the J♣6♦4♠T♥ board. The T♥ is a great card for us because it increases the number of hands our opponent is likely to continue with. However, the 2♥ is not a very good card for us. So, while a set is certainly strong enough to lead on a blank turn, some of our value hands will invariably be thinner. Instead, let’s consider having A♠5♠ on an A♣6♥4♦. We check-call the flop and the turn is a K♣. This is a great spot for us to check-call and then lead—he’s likely to call us with many K’s or turned draws. However, let’s consider a different turn card: the 4♠. Now, it’s far more difficult to bet for value, so we may have to check our hand (to check-fold against all but the most aggressive of opponents). On the other hand, if we hold 98s on the A♦7♣5♠ board and the turn card is a K♦, we may decide to check-fold the turn, whereas we’d lead on a 2♥.

It’s vital that we don’t forget player types when considering this line. Against a highly aggressive player with 66 on the J♣6♦4♠T♥ board, we are probably better off checking again—it’s just too likely that he’s going to stay aggressive, whether as a bluff, for thin value, or with a strong hand like AA or JT. Against a call-happy bad player, we may be better off check-folding the 98s on the A752 board. Or, it may be preferable to try to steal the pot on the river rather than firing the turn.

Again, we can see the presence of a balanced range (a necessity to use this line against good players).* We’ve also been able to outline the factors that make this line preferable to check-raising the flop or checking again on the turn. This is where most players go wrong—they don’t even consider leading the turn as an option after check-calling the flop and thus miss out on a chance to maintain an optimally +EV, balanced range in a spot that is unexpected enough to cause our opponents difficulty and often create mistakes.

*Balance, again, is only a necessity until we know the best way to exploit our opponents. If they call down with TT on an A752K board we can shift our mini stop-and-go range away from bluffs and towards thinner value.

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