Facing a Flop Raise

It’s a common situation, we fire a bet on the flop and get raised. Should we continue or should we give our opponent credit and fold? In some cases, especially at the lower limits it may feel like we are folding all of the time and have a leak. But is this really the case?

The Situation

Initially we need to establish the exact situation we are facing because not all flop raises are the same.

1. Positions

The first relevant factor are the positions of the players involved. Assuming we are the open-raiser, the earlier the position we are in, the tighter our opponents cold-calling range is likely to be. We are perceived as stronger when we open in early and are less likely to be raised or check/raised.

It’s not impossible we will be bluff-raised on the flop after opening from EP or MP, but most players have a tendency to bluff more when we open from BTN, CO, SB. Our opening range is wider which often leads to more aggression from our opponent.

2. Number of Players

This is absolutely crucial, especially at the lower limits. As soon as there are 3 or more players on the flop, the chances of bluff-raises occurring dramatically decrease. It can actually be good to throw out some flop-raises multi-way for this reason, we represent much more strength than in the heads-up situation. Players at slightly higher limits understand this and will have a default flop bluff-raising range in multi-way pots. In lower limits we can likely automatically fold any non-premium when facing a raise multi-way.

Assuming we hold some type of draw, facing a raise in multi-way pots can be advantageous. Perhaps we don’t quite get the right price in a HU situation to continue, but with the extra player/s in the pot we now have a pretty comfortable call. Naturally in such situations we also need to consider if we are closing the action after we face a raise. We only know our true price for drawing if we are the last to act on a certain round. If we call a flop-raise and there are still players to act behind us, we may face additional action and get blown off our draw.

3. Preflop Action

So far we have primarily been referring to single-raised pots. Bluff-raises can occur in any situation though. 3bet pots, 4bet pots etc. For the most part it seems the average player is less inclined to have a bluff-raising range in 3bet or 4bet pots compared to their propensity to bluff in single-raised or limped pots. For the majority of players there is a point where the pot is large enough that they will start to play the game honestly based on the strength of their holding. As a rough guide, the more bloated the pot preflop, the less we should expect bluff-raises postflop. This rule wont apply to all players though, as soon as we have specific reads we can start making a judgement on a player-by-player basis.

4. Initiative

A player does not necessarily have to be the cold-caller preflop and face a flop c-bet in order to bluff-raise the flop. They might actually be the preflop aggressor, decide to skip their cbet OOP and go for a check/raise. In reality good players should be doing this almost as often as they check/raise as the cold-caller. In practice this simply doesn’t happen. The vast majority of players are not at the level where they think about check/raise bluffing as the PFR. If they want to bluff in this situation they will generally just fire a cbet. So check/raises from the PFR are rare overall and generally represent nutted holdings. Players are often far more creative with strong value-hands than they are with bluffs. So usually if we see a player taking a strange unorthodox line, it’s slightly more likely they are getting tricky with a value-hand as opposed to bluffing.

5. Stack Sizes

It’s hopefully easy to see why this could have a large impact on the correct decision when facing a raise. If our opponent has a very shallow stack it might be impossible to continue with certain draws which we have the correct implied-odds to call if our opponent had a deep stack. Conversely it might be reasonably straight-forward to continue with an overpair vs a shallow-stacked opponent, which we might consider folding if our opponent was deep and we hence suffered from reverse implied-odds.

We need to weigh up all of these factors simultaneously if we want to gauge the strength of a flop raise from an unknown.

For example imagine UTG opens, MP 3bets, CO calls, UTG calls, the rest fold. UTG checks, MP bets, CO calls, UTG check/raises. UTG ticks a ton of the boxes for being super strong here. He opens in early, it’s a 3bet pot, the flop is multi-way. We should be able to make some big laydowns in this situation.

Now imagine BTN opens, BB calls. BTN cbets and BB check/raises. We have no reason to necessarily think an unknown is super strong (more on this later). We are probably continuing with at least top-pair+ maybe even some back-door draws depending on our exact estimation of villain’s range.

Exploitative Play

The best decisions in any NLHE situation are going to be the exploitative ones. We should be making use of our opponents “flop-raise-vs-cbet” stat. It’s recommended that this is actually one of the stats included in our main HUD window and not buried in a popup somewhere. Inside the popup we can break it down in the following ways

raise-vs-cbet-IP
raise-vs-cbet-OOP (check/raise)
raise-vs-cbet-TOTAL
Overall flop-raise TOTAL (independent of initiative)
Overall flop-raise IP
Overall flop-raise OOP
X/r after skip flop cbet (we can potentially place this in our cbet popup if preferred)
The above stats for 3bet/4bet pots.

It’s estimated that we hit the flop hard about 10% of the time. So anything below a 10% check/raise could be considered strong. However we also need to factor in that many players are aware that it is not considered correct strategy to raise premium holdings on a dry texture, only the drawy ones. So we should discount slightly our idea of which flop-raise % constitutes a nutted range. Let’s say

6% is probably the stone-cold nuts.
6-11% reasonably strong
12-17% good/aggressive (more bluffs than value, but this is correct strategy)
18% + You are probably being bluffed

However it’s important to keep in mind that these numbers can’t be considered in isolation. We first need to know what type of range our opponent gets to the flop with. Imagine our opponent cold-calls 100% of hands preflop. Should we assume that because he is only raising the flop 6% of the time that he has the nuts? Not at all, that’s actually loose/aggressive given that he gets to the flop with such a wide range. Or imagine a guy who only calls PP’s preflop. Should we assume that he is good/aggressive/balanced if he raises flop 12% of the time. Not at all, remember that we flop a set 12.5% of the time. He can easily reach 12% without ever bluffing if he doesn’t understand how to play his sets on different board textures.

We should also make use of the following advanced statistics to help us with our flop decision.

Barrel-turn-after-raise-flop
Barrel-river-after-raise-flop-bet-turn
Raise-fold-flop-IP-OOP-TOTAL

The first two stats here consider future play and help us to make an exploitative decision based on this. If our opponent’s have a tendency to continue firing after they raise the flop we should generally be continuing with a tighter range on the flop. If they have tendency to check turn after they raise the flop we can often defend with a wider range knowing that we are either going to get a free card more often or the opportunity to take down the pot more often after our opponent checks.

The final stat there shows how often our opponent folds to 3bets. If this is sufficiently high we can consider turning some of our draws/back-door-draws into 3bet bluffs.

Population Reads

Ideally we shouldn’t be folding more than about 50% of the time to a regular-sized flop-raise. However population tendencies can influence the correct value of this stat. As a rough trend players are less inclined to bluff flops the lower in limits we go. At higher limits the majority of the population is aware that we should be bluffing flops aggressively. At micro-limits there are plenty of players who never bluff-raise flops and only raise with something decent.

If we know our opponent is never bluffing then we’d obviously play quite tightly facing a raise. Our fold-cbet-to-raise could end up being in the 60% region. We described a situation earlier where we opened on the BTN and got check/raised. We mentioned that we have no reason to believe our opponent is that strong. We should still approach the situation with a measure of caution at lower limits however, perhaps he is one of these players that simply does not bluff-raise flops.

Bet Sizing

So far we have mentioned nothing about bet-sizing and this should obviously influence our continuing range.

The standard sizing for a flop-raise will be about 3x in singe-raised-pot and about 2.2x in a 3bet pot. Deviations from these sizings can often give us a clue about our opponents holdings.

Way larger than standard – First thing we can establish when facing any non-standard bet is that our opponent is probably not a regular and doesn’t necessarily show up with standard ranges in most situations.

Large flop-raises are generally an indication that our opponent is not bluffing. It doesn’t make sense to bet so large as a bluff – the risk/reward ratio is very poor. Our opponent is not necessarily thinking in these terms however – but generally we should give more credit to unusually large flop-raises.

Way smaller than standard – For example, perhaps we face a min-raise in a single-raised-pot. This usually won’t be a bluff either but will be considerably weaker and more merged than the regular sized flop-raise. As a rule-of-thumb it’s recommended never to fold any top-pair to a flop min-raise.

Defending vs Aggressive Opponents

So we have run into a player who appears to be raising flops aggressively with a balanced range. What will our continuing range look like.

1.Calling

We call with some mid-strength hands not strong enough to 3bet
We slowplay some premiums that are strong enough to 3bet
We defend with some back-door draws and regular draws which we will us as bluffs on later streets

2. Raising

We 3bet our premiums for value (apart from those we slowplay)
We 3bet some nutted draws to stack off with
We 3bet some backdoor draws and weak draws which we can fold to a 4bet but will continue bluffing with if just called and we turn equity

At higher limits we can jump straight into this defending mode by default. At lower limits we can essentially just cut out all back-door draws without a decent read that our opponent is playing aggressively. 3bet bluffing is also going to be less effective in general at lower limits since the average flop-raising range is much stronger.

Advanced Cbetting – Part 3

In the previous two parts of this series we have looked specifically at c-betting situations where we are in position. Cbetting OOP is a slightly different. Here is why

a) We should cbet less OOP
b) We should focus more on defending our checking range OOP

Statement (b) will also apply to in-position situations. We want to occasionally check back both strong hands and air for protection. The reason why defending our checking range OOP is more important is simply that if we check/fold OOP the hand will be over for us. We won’t get to see a free turn card unless our opponent decides to check back. In position however, we will always get to see a free turn card. So even if our flop checking-back range IP is extremely weak, it will improve on the turn card with some frequency giving us a little extra defense.

The Most Common Problem

The most common issue is that players are not defending their checking range as the PFR. This is not to be confused with checking our defending range in general which is completely different. For example, BTN opens, we defend out of the blinds by cold-calling. Many players are checking their entire range on the flop – and consquently they are doing a reasonable job of defending their checking range.

Defending our checking range as the PFR is a completely different ball-game since we are often going to start out by firing a continuation bet rather than checking our entire range. If we decide to cbet all of our high-potential hands it means our checking range will be completely undefended.

We should be making use of the following stats within our tracking software. “After skip cbet flop…..check/call…..check/fold…..check/raise”. It’s not uncommon to see extremely high values for check/fold in this scenario, because many players are cbetting most of their continuing range.

Lets look at an example to help us understand correct range construction –

Flop Texture Ks7h2d

Let’s imagine that we open the SB and BB calls. What kind of hands is the average player cbetting here? What kind of hand are they check/calling? Most players are cbetting their strongest holdings for value. Sets, Kx, etc. Many players are also taking a nice selection of high-potential backdoor hands with the intention of barreling good turn and river cards. All is well so far. So check/calling range? Here is where the average player runs into a little bit of difficulty. Most players are purely check/calling with mid showdown value. So PP’s below QQ, 7x hands, maybe even a weak Kx.

The first problem we need to solve –
We must protect our flop check/calling range with some strong hands.

This is actually a very simple issue to fix. It doesn’t require a huge amount of thought, we just need to make sure we actually implement it to some degree. We simply take some of our absolute strongest hands such as sets, 2pairs, and good Kx hands and check/call rather than cbet.

This means our opponent can no longer assume that if we check/call the flop we purely have mid-strength showdown hands. If he tries to barrel us off what he perceives to be a weak range he is going to be in for a nasty surprise when we show up with top set after he 3barrels.

Some players have even gone so far as to make this specific adjustment in their game which is commendable. It’s the following step which is widely misunderstood by the poker community in general and even many professional players.

This is best illustrated by taking our current check/calling range and playing the situation out in our heads until the river. Currently we have our mid-strength showdown hands which we have carefully protected with some slow-played premiums. We check/call the flop. Turn is a blank. We check again, our opponent checks back. Now the action is on us OOP on a blank river and we have the option to lead.

How should we play in this spot?

First thing to notice is that turn and river cards are blank for the purposes of this example. In other words, the relative hand strengths of both players’ hands has not really changed. We still have at this stage some mid-strength showdown holdings and some premium slow-plays. Doubtless we want to value-bet a decent chunk of what we are holding. We will value-bet most of the slow-plays and maybe even a few of the mid-strength showdown value hands if we feel our opponents range is wide enough and that he would pay us off with worse hands frequently enough.

However as poker players one principle we are hopefully familiar with is the idea that any time we have a value-range we should also have some sort of bluffing range if we don’t want to become hugely readable. So what kind of bluff-range should we select? When we think about our range we should realise somewhat quickly that we don’t actually have any sort of decent bluffing range here. We have value-hands and we have ok mid-strength bluff-catchers which we should probably check. We could of course attempt to turn some of our mid-strength showdown hands into bluffs, but this would usually be a suboptimal approach.

So how do we solve this problem? Interestingly the problem is not caused by bad river play in the slightest. Which adjustment could we make on an earlier street to ensure that we have some decent river-bluffs in our range?

If we look back to the flop we should realise that there is a third type of holding that is mandatory to be included into our flop check/calliing range. Without this we have absolutely no hope of being able to create balanced ranges on later streets. We need some of these high-potential air type hands which we can use as bluffs assuming we miss.

So let’s assume we hold a hand like 8s9s on the Ks7h2d. We should sometimes be putting this into our check/call range. If you have a bad reaction to this statement there is a reasonable chance that you have been moulded by the general consensus of the average poker player. If we suggest such a line on a forum we may often be told the following –

“This is a really bad check/call. We have no showdown value whatsoever. If we do want to check/call we should be using something like AQo at the absolute weakest so that we beat some of our opponents range”

And to this day it’s likely that well over 90% of players actually believe this. (It’s difficult to quantify the exact frequency with an estimate seeing as there are a decent amount of players who have never even thought about the topic of defending checking ranges as the PFR). But we’ve seen the problem upon reaching the river is very clearly that we have too much showdown value. We don’t want to complicate this further by adding more showdown value hands into our check/call range.

It’s not just on the river that we run into difficulties. It’s essentially any point later in the hand where we decide we want to bet for value – we have no bluffs that we can balance this out with. So imagine that after check/calling our KK on the K72r we decide that we will check/raise a drawy turn for value – unless we have some speculative hands in our flop range we have no decent bluffs we can balance this line out with.

Thinking in Frequencies

It’s important to understand that we are not saying the 8s9s is a bad cbet on the Ks7h2d texture. It’s actually recommended to cbet this type of hand most of the time, because it has great potential on later streets. But we have to be mindful of protecting our checking range, and we need to check/call this hand some frequency having the intention of bluffing turn or river if the opportunity presents itself.

We will often make a breakthrough in our understanding of c-betting theory if we stop thinking in terms of “I will cbet X type of hands but check/call Y type of hands”. With a hand like 8s9s we should probably be thinking along the lines of “I will cbet here 80% of the time and then check/call 20% of the time”. The exact frequencies are not important – they are not based on any specific calculation and are estimates. However the above statement carries the idea of “I will cbet this hand most of the time, but I will occasionally check/call”.

Flop Texture Ks7h2d

KcKd – Here is a situation where we have the board completely locked up. It’s actually going to be correct to slowplay here a decent amount of time for a couple of reasons

a) it’s unlikely our opponent has anything, especially when we block most of his Kx combos
b) our hand is extremely non-vulnerable so we are safe to give free cards.

However we don’t want to cut out cbets entirely with this hand. It won’t be unprofitable to cbet, especially if our opponent has a tendency toward floating flops very wide. We could consider cbetting the flop to extract value from floats and then setting a trap by checking the turn.

We could estimate that we should bet cbetting this hand around 20% of the and check/call it about 80% of the time.

AsAc – This hand is a little more vulnerable than the KK. We also block less Kx combos so extracting value is easier. We should tend towards mainly cbetting as a result and occasionally using as a check/call. We could say 90% cbet and 10% check/call.

8c9c – Notice that we don’t hold the backdoor flush here. It’s perfectly reasonable to put this 89s into our our check/fold range and purely defend the 89s combos that have a backdoor. Assuming our opponent has a very high fold-to-flop-cbet we should cbet with 100% frequency regardless.

AcQc – This hand clearly has a reasonable amount of potential but reduced barreling opportunities with no back-door flush. It can be perfectly reasonable to primarily defend this hand by check/calling with the occasional cbet. Assuming opponent had an exploitably high fold-to-flop cbet we could include it purely in our cbetting range.

Flop Texture – Jc7h8h

KcQc – Things get a little more complex on this texture since now after we check as the PFR we also will have the option to check-raise. So assuming we take a frequency-based approach we need to split up our options between cbet, check/call, check/fold and check/raise.

KcQc is a very versatile hand and can be put in all three of the defending lines, cbet, check/call, check/raise. The only thing we need to establish is with which frequency we would do this. Hands like this will still primarily appear in the cbetting category and least of all in the check/raising category. So if were to estimate frequencies we might come up with something along the lines of –

Cbet – 65%
Check/call – 25%
Check/raise – 10%

Note that these are not be taken as optimal frequencies for defending as the PFR in general, just recommended frequencies for this specific hand. Some types of holding may still appear exclusively in one of the three lines only.

As for general defense when checking as the PFR we should be looking at something along the lines of

Cbet 50%
Check/call 17.5%
Check/raise 7.5%
Check/fold 25%

So with these numbers our overall check/fold after skipping flop cbet would be around 50%. This is enough to give our opponent a small amount of automatic profit, but this is to be expected when we have a positional disadvantage.

Ah5h – Once again flush-draws are very versatile hands and can certainly be played profitably in all of the lines. This doesn’t mean that we should put all flush-draws into each of the defending categories with equal weighting when compared to each other.

Generally we want to employ a check-raising strategy which incoporates the following.

a) Check-raise backdoor potential hands which are an easy fold vs a 3bet
b) Check-raise monster draws which are an easy continue vs a 3bet
c) Tend towards not check raising anything in the middle which will be very awkward when facing a 3bet. (I.e we might have the direct pot-odds but are unsure about our reverse-implied-odds with

Ah5h is likely at the top of the mid-strength draws. It’s a nut-flush draw but lacks the additional firepower something like AhQh or AhTh would have. We should likely tend towards putting Ah5h into our cbetting or check/calling range and only check/raise with a very specific reason. The AhQh or AhTh we can tend towards check/calling considerably less and tending towards either cbetting or check/raising.

JdJs – Most of us would probably cbet this hand with 100% frequency. This can be fine in practice at the lower limits but is an unbalanced strategy. If we cbet all of our strong holdings, even on a drawy texture, our checking range will start to become undefended.

It’s necessary therefore to sometimes mix up our lines and check/raise this holding. This can also be a good exploitative line if our opponent has a very high bet-vs-missed cbet. In such an instance we could resort to checking our sets with 100% frequency and going for a check/raise. We don’t need to be scared about giving a free card if our opponent will nearly always bet if we check.

We should also theoretically check/call some slowplays even on a drawy texture. Any combos of 9Ts or JJ can ocasionally be check/called to ensure that we don’t have a capped range on a blank turn after we check/call the flop. Again this might not be necessary in practice, but it is correct as part of a balanced strategy and exploitatively might be stronger than cbetting vs certain opponents.

5s6s – On first glance it seems we have a mid-strength draw and mix our lines up between check/calling and cbetting primarily. However if we look carefully we will see that our draw is heavily dominated and our holding is not so strong. If we spike our 9 there is a higher 4-to-straight possible making our straight very weak. There is also the available heart draw which taints many of our straight outs. Even if we hit an offsuit 4 on the turn our opponent may have some redraw possibilities and may even simply have us drawing dead with the flopped higher straight. It would actually be a pretty reasonable decision to put this hand into our check/folding range with 100% frequency.

Advanced Cbetting – Part 2

In this article we will consider our analysis of various c-betting spots and the thought processes that should accompany them. Please read part 1 first to give the article some context.

We were considering hands on the Ks7h2d texture.

QdQh – This hand should have a similar feel to one of the situations we considered in the previous article. Of all the situations so far, which hand would you say QdQh is the most similar too in terms of vunerability and playability?

It would have to be the Kc3c. There is only one over-card we fear with QQ similar to holding the Kc3c. Also the texture still holds no possible flush or straight draws meaning the hand is distinctly non-vulnerable.

However does this mean Kc3c and QdQh are equivalent on this texture? There are a number of differences. Firstly which of the two hands is most likely to improve to a strong hand by the river? QQ actually has only 2 outs with which it can improve while the Kc3c has 5. Also it’s slightly less likely our opponent holds a Kx hand when we hold the Kc3c since we block some of the possible Kx combos he can have.

So what is the main difference in terms of our plan for later streets? We would start the hand in a similar way by checking back the flop as default. Assuming our opponent checks the turn we’d likely start betting with both the Kc3c and the QdQh for value. However assuming our opponent leads the turn we should definitely think about calling at least once with both hands. The main difference will occur on the river. In many games we should call facing a double barrel with the Kc3c and fold facing a double-barrel with the QdQh.

This will naturally depend on the opponent’s bluffing frequencies. Vs some opponents we could likely call two streets with the QQ, while vs other opponents even calling twice with the K3 could be very close and end up being a fold. However it’s nice to draw a line to help us with our default decision when facing 2 barrels after we decide to miss our cbet and check back the flop. Here is where we can draw our default line – weak top pair we call with twice, underpair we call turn and proceed to fold river.

Drawy Textures

All the examples thus far have been on a dry texture. Let’s consider a few examples on a drawy texture and elabourate on some of the principles discussed in article 1.

Flop Texture – 7s9sTh

7c7d – On the dry texture we briefly discussed the merits of checking back this hand. We mentioned that either would probably be reasonable as a default, but betting is slightly better. Now the situation is different and betting is mandatory regardless of our opponent’s fold-to-cbet.

But what changed? Our hand is now considerably more vulnerable than it was on the K72r board. There are a number of possible straight and fush draws that could hit on the turn. Also given the drawy nature of the texture, it’s simply more likely that our opponent has something that he would want to continue with.

So regardless of our opponents tendencies, the sheer vulnerability of our holding should make us tend towards betting every time.

It’s also useful to think about default play on a bad turn card after we cbet. Let’s imagine we cbet and the turn comes the Jc putting a 4-to-straight on the board. Many players are unsure what to do in this situation. Betting is obviously risky because we could so easily be dominated by this stage. However checking is not great either because we are aware that our opponent can still have some worse hands in his range and we really do not want to give a free card to these holdings.

The best option is pretty clear when we allow ourself to think slightly outside the box. Many people have a binary decision occurring in their brain at this stage. Either bet 2/3rds pot, or check. Neither seem that attractive, and hence a difficult decision ensues. But this really arises because many players are simply not considering all of the available options here. We are not picking between two static options, we have a whole range of different bet sizings we can potentially pick from.

So lets outline our goals – the best option will hopefully become apparent.

a) Avoid giving opponent a free card. We don’t want him to realise equity with his draws for free.
b) Avoid isolating ourself vs his straights.

Can you see the solution? Checking fails to accomplish goal (a). Betting 2/3rds fails to accomplish goal (b). So here is an excellent situation to go for an underbet of around 1/3rd pot.

As2s – Here we have a flush-draw. Easy bet right? It’s certainly true that betting is a profitable option but to suggest that we should cbet every time is an over-simplification. There are at least two reasons for us making this statement.

Firstly, as we saw earlier, the thing that makes semi-bluffing profitable is the fold-equity. With zero fold equity, betting with a flush-draw will likely not be profitable unless some future occurrence makes up for it. In isolation it will be a losing play. So imagine we are against a calling station who will never fold on any street – betting serves little purpose. The correct way to play flush draws against calling stations is to play passively and try to hit. Once we have hit, we can get large amounts of the stack in even if there is little in the middle already, since our opponent has a big disinclination to fold.

The second situation has application to higher level games. What do you think would happen if we were to cbet our flush-draws with 100% frequency against a very strong opponent? Our betting range wouldn’t necessarily be overly exploitable because flush-draws are reasonably high-equity hands. The main issue would usually occur in situations where we didn’t cbet. Imagine we check back the 7s9sTh and the turn comes a spade. What can a good opponent deduce about our range? We pretty much never have a flush-draw – we cbet those with 100% frequency. Our opponent can identify that our range is capped and make our life very difficult.

We can get away with cbetting most of our flush-draws – but if we want a varied and tough strategy to use against decent opponents, it involves occasionally checking back some of our draws to help protect our turn range.

QcTc – Judging by the sheer vulnerability of this hand it should be a relatively straight-forward cbet. Checking would generally be pretty bad since there are so many turn cards which can make the situation awkward and cause us to have to give up by the river.

We have included this hand here to help dispel a common myth associated with c-betting. The myth goes something like this –

“Always bet small on dry board and always bet big on drawy boards”

We should associate these kind of statements with being a product of the darker ages of poker. Similar to the old advice of “always cbetting dry textures”, we should take this with a grain of salt and understand that in essence the advice is completely useless and a horrible oversimplification of c-betting principles. There are spots where we should bet large on a dry texture and very small on a drawy texture.

The problem with betting large with a weak top pair like QcTc on a drawy texture is that we can isolate ourself against high-equity hands if we bet too big. We also should keep in mind that we may get check-raised with a reasonable frequency and have to ditch our marginal holding. In other words we are in another situation where we want to protect our hand but without putting too many of our chips at risk. Logic leads us to cbet in this example, but with a relatively small sizing.

Flop Texture – JsTd5s

AcTc – Hopefully we can see the similarities here between this hand and the last one. We have a decent 2nd pair and the board texture is drawy.

We follow similar principles here and make a small c-bet for value and protection. Our opponent check/calls OOP and the turn card is a blank 4c. Our opponent checks again. What should we do here? We are actually in a very similar situation to the flop. We can go for a relatively small sizing for protection and to ensure we get called by worse hands.

Our opponent calls again and the river is a blank paired 4h. What should we do here? Now we are in a situation where checking is correct. Betting for value would usually be a mistake. Remember that a lot of our value on the flop and turn came from draws and the fact that we were protecting our equity. Neither of these concepts apply on the river. If we fire the third barrel villain will usually either fold his busted draw or check-call with a stronger hand. We should check back the river and hope to see a busted draw.

8h9h – This hand will be heavily situational, and we definitely shouldn’t assume that it is always a cbet. Cbetting can be reasonable, especially if villain has a high fold-to-cbet but there are one or two convincing arguments that indicate that checking is the strongest option.

We mentioned in article one that we should always ask how many streets of value our hand is worth. This is no exception here even when we hold a drawing type hand. Assuming we actually hit one of our outs, how often is our hand going to be worth three streets of value. There will be some situations where it is – specifically when the turn is a non-spade 7 and the river is a not a spade or any card which puts a higher straight out there.

Most of the time when we make our draw it will be dominated. There will be a spade out there or we won’t have the nut straight. Getting paid off three streets can actually end up being problematic with this hand. It’s similar if we hold something like the 6s7s. If we make our flush, three-barrel and get called, we are very often going to be running into a higher straight.

This is not to say that c-betting the hand is incorrect, but we can certainly see there is some logic in checking back the flop and playing a 2-street pot with a hand that is generally worth 2 streets of value if it hits.

QsKs – This may seem like a very strong draw, but in reality it’s more than that. This draw is so strong that we can practically consider it a made hand. It’s debatable whether we should consider this as a semi-bluff as opposed to betting for pure value. This hand actually has a huge 65% equity vs AJ and can also generate action from many worse draws.

Assuming we Check the Flop

So we opt to check back the flop with a certain holding. What should we do on the turn?

The first scenario is that villain checks OOP.

This is actually pretty easy to deal with. Unless our opponent is advanced and tricky we should tend towards simply betting every time.

The second scenario is that villain leads turn OOP.

Keep in mind that if we have constructed our flop checking range properly we will have the following types of hand still in our range.

a) Air – We can bluff/raise this if it picks up equity, or fold.

b) Draws – We occasionally check back draws with the intention of raising them vs a turn lead.

c) Slowplays – This will formulate our value-raising range which we raise along-side our bluffs. We will also sometimes continue our slowplay on the turn by just calling.

d) Midstrength-Hands – These we will typically call with although may become value-raises if we improve dramatically on the turn.

For more information on the second scenario listed here. Check out the article – Playing vs Turn Probes.

In part 3 of this series we will consider OOP play, in particular scenarios where we decide to check as the PFR.

Advanced Cbetting

Cbetting is considered a basic concept in NLHE, but it is nonetheless constantly evolving. It’s also common to hear a large range of different opinions on whether it is correct to cbet in certain spots. Some rely heavily on board texture while others base their decision more on their hole-cards, or their opponents stats. So which is the correct approach in today’s games?

How the games have changed

If you consulted a strategy guide on cbetting from 5 years ago it would be common to see the following advice. “Cbet very frequently on dry boards but be more cautious on drawy boards”. The result was that most regulars would nearly always fire a continuation bet on any type of A72r, or K72r texture. The idea was that the drier the board texture, the less often our opponents will have connected with it and the more they will be folding to continuation bets.

It shouldn’t be too hard to see how this can be exploited. If we were playing against an opponent who fired a continuation bet with 100% frequency on a K72r board, how would we adjust? We’d obviously stop folding just because we hadn’t connected hard with the board. We’d take a chunk of our air hands with good potential and consider floating them.

So does this mean that cbetting any monotone high-card texture with 100% frequency will not be profitable anymore? In many situations yes, but naturally it depends. The reason why the strategy was initially profitable is that our opponents would play a fit-or-fold strategy. On a dry texture they would fold more frequently as a result. But better players undrestand that we have not hit dry textures either, and won’t necessarily be more inclined to fold just because they haven’t hit the board. In fact, if they perceive that we will be c-betting a certain texture with a high frequency, they may even be less inclined to fold.

Caution

So vs some opponents the old strategies may still apply. But attempting to use them by default at any limit above 25nl could be considered ambitious. It’s not purely a case of being exploited on the flop. If we shift all of our air hands to one part of our range (I.e cbetting), our opponent will be able to perceive that we don’t have these hands when we take another line. For example if we go for a delayed cbet it will clearly be for thin value or a slowplay – since we are perceived to put all of our air hands into our flop cbetting range.

It’s necessary to take a slightly more balanced approach by default. We are not talking about game theory perfect balance here by any means, we should still focus on playing exploitably. But certain things we could get away with 5-years ago are no longer as viable as they once used to be. We are going to need to take a more dynamic approach to cbetting if we want to survive in today’s games.

The Basic Principles

Rather than auto-firing on any particular flop texture – consider these 3 principles.

Stats – This is one thing that hasn’t changed from 5 years ago. How much is opponent folding to cbets? It’s also extremely important to understand that opponent’s stats on later streets are entirely relevant in our flop decision. So if we purely check our opponents fold-to-flop cbet without consulting his fold-to-turn-cbet stat, there s no guarantee that we are making the correct decision on the flop. See the 2 part series Postflop Planning, for more information on this.

Backdoor Potential – For many years players have made the mistake of thinking that 100bb poker is about pot-equity. It’s not. It’s about playability and potential on later streets in the vast majority of cases. There are certain high equity hands that make very poor cbets. (For example some type of Axo hand with little backdoor potential). And some of the lower equity hands actually make excellent cbets. (Imagine some type of mid-high suited-connector with all possible backdoor flushes and straights available). Before we cbet any hand we should consider the playability of the hand on the turn and river. If we have a value-hand we should also consider how many streets of value we think it is worth.

Vulnerability – This is possibly the most important and most overlooked concept regarding cbetting. The vulnerability of our hand. We should tend towards cbetting vulnerable hands, whereas with non-vulnerable hands we have the luxury of being able to check back.

It’s important to understand what vulnerability is and what vulnerability is not. For example, look at the following hands.

Board Texture Ks7h2d

Ah2h
Kc3c

Which of these would you say are vulnerable? Some might say both, because Kc3c could easily be beaten by a higher Kx. However vulnerability has absolutely nothing to do with how likely our hand is to be beaten. Vulnerability can be defined as –

“If we assume our hand is good. How likely is it to be sucked out on?”

So now we should be able to see that the Kc3c is actually very non-vulnerable. The only card we are scared of is an Ace. There are no possible flush or straight draws on the board. However if we look at the Ah2h on this texture we should be able to see that it is extremely vulnerable. It’s true that the board is very dry, but most of the possible turn cards will be overcards to our pair. Some might mistakenly check back this type of hand (in certain situations) claiming that we have “showdown value”. A common mistake is to over-value weak showdown hands. Asking ourselves the following question should help us to more objectively evaluate our showdown holdings –

“If I check back IP how would I feel about calling a bet on the next street?”

If the answer is that we’d probably end up folding then we are generally in better shape if we take an aggressive line and turn our hand into a semi-bluff. At least we get some fold equity this way, and our aggression may buy as an additional street to improve. The question above revolves around being in position but can serve a similar function when we miss our cbet OOP. If I check here how would I feel about check-calling? We will often find that the more vunerable of our showdown value hands make better semi-bluffs than check calls. By taking the betting lead we also reduce the frequency with which our opponent gets to see a card on the next street.

Cbetting Examples

We will now consider a range of examples where we illustrate in more detail the basic concepts discussed above.

In each example, we have open raised on the BTN and get a call from the blinds. Our opponent checks to us and we are faced with a cbet decision. The first texture we will consider is the one discussed above i.e.

Board Texture Ks7h2d

8s9s – It should be evident that we have a decent amount of backdoor potential with this type of holding despite it being a low equity hand in terms of raw-equity. In many cases it makes sense to list our barrel cards before cbetting. We know that we improve on any spade, any T and any 6. We will generally be barreling these cards against most opponents. Any 5 or J will give us a gutshot which can be considered and will often be situational.

It’s important to keep in mind any exceptions based on stats however. It’s very common for players to make mistakes by rigidly sticking to a default strategy where they cbet high-potential hands and always barrel on improved equity. Here are 2 scenarios where we should deviate.

a) Opponent is a calling station – Seems pretty obvious, but you might be surprised at the number of players who end up cbetting and barreling anyway. The main reason we cbet a hand like 89s and potentially barrel the turn is our fold-equity. If we don’t have any fold-equity when we bet we are simply building a pot in a situation where we are unlikely to have the best hand because we have 9-high.

b) Opponent is extremely tight on the flop – This is obviously great for firing flop cbets. However – the fact that opponent is so tight on the flop means that by the time he gets to the turn he is frequently going to have an extremely strong range. What does this do to our fold-equity? It drastically reduces it in most cases. So we have a valid reason to not barrel despite the fact that we pick up equity.

7d7c- This type of hand will often divide opinions, and for good reason. Both options here are pretty legitimate. We can cbet, or we can check. Cbetting should usually be considered standard however. We mentioned that we should always consider how many streets of value our hand is worth. A set is going to be worth three streets here – by checking the flop we are potentially missing value. Sometimes we will recover that value (and even more) by taking a deceptive line, but not always.

The situation where checking is clearly better is if
a) villain has an extremely high fold-to-flop cbet
b) he will play aggressively as a bluff when he senses weakness after we check

If neither of these are true then checking can be a signicant mistake despite the dry texture.

Kc3c – We considered this hand earlier and decided it was distinctly non-vulnerable. Both checking and betting should be considered as options in this case. How many streets of value is our hand worth here? In most cases a weak top pair will be worth 2 streets of value. If we attempt to fire 3 streets we will likely get a bunch of folds, or calls from better hands. Naturally it depends on our opponents however. We may be able to extract 3 streets of value from a calling station but may only be able to extract one street of value from a nit.

Since our hand is only worth 2 streets of value anyway, we don’t really have too much to risk by checking back a non-vulnerable hand. We may increase our expectation by doing so. Firstly we represent weakness by checking back instead of cbetting, and secondly we give our opponent an opportunity to lead the turn with certain bluffs that he might be check-folding if we were to cbet the flop.

Ah2h – We also considered this hand earlier and decided that this was an extremely vunerable holding. Cbetting is generally going to be best. We can treat this hand as a pure semi-bluff and barrel on cards that improve us. (Either flush cards or cards that give us two-pair/trips).

Sometimes players have a hard time understanding this. They might reason along the following lines
“Do we really fold out any better hands? Do we really get calls from worse?”

It’s generally important to discard this type of thinking as being a product of strategy content from a much earlier time where the game was less understood than it is now. It’s actually the case that we might fold out some better hands (33 perhaps) and that we might get called by some worse hands (high potential floats). This is not the point however, even though it adds significantly to our expectation.

The important thing to understand is that we actually benefit from folding out a worse hand, which is something that more traditional theorists have a tendency to ignore. Imagine for a minute that our opponent has something trashy like T8o on the K72r texture. Is it better for us to check just because our opponent has a worse hand? If we could see his hole-cards perhaps it might be, because we’d be brutally effective at picking off huge bluffs on the later streets.

In reality we don’t see his cards though. So let’s imagine that he has T8o but we don’t know that he holds it. Would we still rather he folded it or would we still rather that we check back and give him an opportunity to bluff? In reality it will be the first option, we actually want our opponent to fold his worse hand here, and we benefit significantly when he does. This will be for two main reasons
a) He still has significant equity. By checking we are potentially giving him up to roughly 25% free equity. It’s true that he is still not a favourite to win, but that 25% free equity is really going to add up in the long run.

b) We will be forced to fold if he bluffs. This is perhaps the more important factor. If our opponent leads on the turn we will often be forced to fold in the majority of cases unless we spike one of our outs. This effect is less severe when we also have the backdoor flush. Without it we’d likely be folding on any turn card which wasn’t an Ace or a Two. Remember we mentioned earlier that we should always ask how comfortable we would be defending on the next street if we decide to check back for “pot-control”. We are actually giving our opponent the opportunity to win the pot with a huge frequency if he is suitably aggressive on the turn and river. Betting the flop is also a good idea because it protects us from getting bluffed on later streets.

While these are the main two reasons why betting is much superior there are other reasons also. We have a hand with good nut potential by the river and we build a pot by cbetting which will help insure we get a big payout if we hit something decent.

In part 2 we will continue by making application of the discussed principles to various examples.