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Texas Hold'em No Limit Intermediate

Advanced C-betting 3: Out of Position

13,960 Views on 1/6/15

C-betting out of position is a topic in its own right as having positional disadvantage brings other factors in play when making a decision

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In the previous two parts of this series  we have c-betting 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 consequently 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.
If we decide to cbet all of our high-potential hands it means our checking range will be completely undefended.
Lets look at an example to help us understand correct range construction -

Flop TextureK72

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 c betting 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 89 on the K72. 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.
Which adjustment could we make on an earlier street to ensure that we have some decent river-bluffs in our 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 K72

KK – 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 
  1. it's unlikely our opponent has anything, especially when we block most of his Kx combos
  2. 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.

AA – 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.

898c9c - 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.

AQ - 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 - J78

KQ - 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.

KQ is a very versatile hand c bet 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.

A5 - 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 incorporates the following.
  • Check-raise backdoor potential hands which are an easy fold vs a 3bet
  • Check-raise monster draws which are an easy continue vs a 3bet
  • 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 AQ or A5 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.

JJ - 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.
We don't need to be scared about giving a free card if our opponent will nearly always bet if we check.
56 - 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.



I am of British nationality and go by the online alias w34z3l. I am considered one of the top consultants in the field for technical analysis (i.e. database work) and application of game theory concepts to various card games. I make a ... Read More

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