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Texas Hold'em No Limit Intermediate

Playing Turn without Initiative in Hold'em Poker

7,807 Views on 3/2/15
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- Why the flop is causing our turn problems

We are on the turn OOP pokerimagewith some type of weak showdown value, and can't escape the feeling that we are being 2-barreled relentlessly. With a sigh we click the fold button and wonder if we are just running bad. We are aware that we should probably have some type of check-raising range, but we never seem to have the right type of hand for it.

Sound familiar? This article will discuss the solution to this common problem, and ironically we will focus much of our attention on flop play. The turn should actually be a significantly easier street to play than the flop - the problem arises when we don't have a properly constructed flop strategy. If we improve our flop strategy, we may find the turn plays itself.

Which situations does this include?

Before we discuss our flop strategy, let's be clear on the range of situations this article covers. We are primarily talking about being without initative on the turn, in a single-raised pot. There are at least 3 situations where this will occur, the last of these typically being the most problematic in turns of defending our turn range.
  • We cold-call preflop OOP and check-call the flop, followed by a turn check where our opponent decides to 2barrel
  • We cold-call preflop in position, call the flop, and face a 2nd barrel
  • We open raise preflop, get called by our opponent who is in position and then decide to x/c the flop as the preflop-raiser. We check the turn and face a 2nd barrel.

Why the flop play may be causing our problems

Let's think for a minute about the type of range we would like to have on the turn when we consider the scenario described at the outset. If we do incorporate a check-raising strategy we are going to need i) some value hands that are strong enough for a check-raise and ii) some hands with potential which make decent bluffs.

Now let's think about the average range a player has when he decides to check/call the flop as the preflop aggressor (situation iii). In the vast majority of cases players have a tendency to specifically check-call OOP hands with medium showdown value. The strongest value hands will be c-bet, and the best draws/backdoor-draws will be c-bet also. 

So the average player gets to the turn with a range primarily consisting of 2nd pairs and other weak showdown holdings. Do you see the problem? We have no hands in our range that make good turn check-raises for value (unless we specifically improve on the turn), and no hands that make effective bluffs, since our entire range has some type of showdown value.
We could of course think about turning some of these 2nd pair type holdings into turn check-raise bluffs, yet there are at least 2 inefficiencies with this strategy.
  • 2nd pair type holdings will not improve to a strong 5-card hand by the river which we can effectively value bet.
  • We don't have any value-hands we can balance this with, making our turn check-raises inherently weak. Exploitatively this doesn't necessarily have to be a huge problem, especially if our turn check-raises are perceived as strong. But it should be clear to see why this is not a complete turn strategy, especially if we are playing against tougher opponents.

Constructing a flop range, with the turn in mind

The next step pokerimageshould be somewhat obvious. We need to construct our flop calling range in such a way that we both have i) hands which are strong enough to check-raise (or raise IP) the turn for value and ii) hands which make effective bluff-raises.

Value - It's necessary for us to slowplay some of our value range on the flop. This is especially true on dry textures. So imagine we open the CO and BTN calls. We flop a set on a Q72r board. We should be checking here some percentage of the time with the intention of check-calling. We now have some hands that will make effective turn check-raises for value.

Exploitatively this can often even be a stronger strategy than cbetting for value, especially if our opponent has a tendency to 2-barrel very wide vs a flop check. Assuming we cbet, we may get outright folds, or extract only one street of value before opponent folds his floats on the turn. By check-calling the flop, and check-raising the turn, we exploit an aggressive opponent much harder because he invests a larger percentage of his stack on weak holdings.

Bluff - A common misconception when check-calling the flop as the preflop-raiser is that we need some type of showdown value. This misconception is actually the root of many of the issues players face on the turn. Assuming on the Q72 rainbow boad we have something like 89s with a backdoor flush, many players automatically put this hand into their cbetting range.

They assume the hand is too weak to check-call "because it has no showdown-value". But wait a minute, we don't care about our showdown value here. We are primarily interested in having hands that make sense as check-raise bluffs on the turn. Something like 89s is perfect here because it has relatively little showdown-value and also improves on a reasonable amount of turn cards.

We are not saying that we should always check 89s on this texture, it makes an effective cbet even most of the time, but it's important to have a selection of these hand types in our flop check-calling range.

How board textures influence our ranges

Unfortunately not every board texture is going to be Q72r. We need a flop and turn gameplan for the various different board runouts. While it is not possible to create an exhaustive list of board runouts in this particular article, it's possible to break the texture into 4-main categories.

  • Dry Flop - Drawy Turn
  • Drawy Flop - Blank Turn
  • Dry Flop - Dry Turn
  • Drawy Flop - Drawy Turn

We need a rough idea of how we will construct our range in each of the above scenarios. Also remember that we have 3 different situations we are considering here as described above.
These may be similar but not identical, especially when we consider that the position at the table of either player makes a considerable difference. We should not suppose our turn raising range vs a UTG opener will be the same as that we use vs a BTN opener.

We will consider our basic approach on these various texture runouts in the next article, as well as some considerations related to bet-sizing.

The effect of position

Since we are pokerimage covering both in position and out-of-position scenarios in one stroke, we don't want to fall into the trap of thinking they are the same. Before we give context to this topic in the following article we will briefly outline the effects of position on turn play. There are 2 main effects.

1) Calling a draw on the turn will be less profitable OOP. We will find we can sometimes call 2nd barrels with hands even as weak as a gutshot when we have position. We have better implied odds when we have position, for 2 reasons.
  • We get to act last on the river - our opponent doesn't get to find out whether we are strong or not. Also we are probably familiar with the situation of being OOP on the river with busted draw. It can be problematic whether we are supposed to donk-bet and risk shutting out our opponents bluffs, or check and risk him checking behind a hand that he would have called a river donk with.
  • Assuming opponent checks to us on the river OOP rather than barrel, we may have a profitable bluff opportunity.
2) We can merge our turn bluff raising range. We mentioned that the best type of hands to bluff-raise turn are those that have potential to make a strong 5-card hand by the river. We likely want to avoid raising 1pair holdings.

This mainly applies OOP. Sometimes bluff-raising with made hands when in position can be an effective strategy since we get to realise our equity (see a showdown) way more often. So if we were to raise turn with 2nd pair on a drawy texture it's true that it doesn't improve on many river cards and certainly wouldn't make a good turn bluff OOP. 

Assuming we are in position though, we have additional expectation through our opponent calling with a draw. This is because we can check our showdown value on the river and realise our equity vs our opponents busted draws. Assuming we check OOP we can easily face a large river bet meaning we won't full realise our equity. 

For the most part we should stick to a polarized strategy, but there can be some deceptive and exploitative reasons for using some merge-bluffs in our turn raising range.



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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