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Texas Hold'em No Limit Intermediate

Playing Turn without Initiative in Hold'em Poker (Part 2)

8,576 Views on 5/2/15
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We began by pokerimage discussing the most common causes of problems with turn play in Texas Hold'em when our opponent has initiative. We saw that a complete strategy involves having a flop and turn play for every possible board runout. While it is not possible to do this within one article, we can certainly group the various board runouts into 4-main categories.

Dry Board - Dry Turn

This is perhaps the easiest combination of flop and turn runouts since it does not require us to have a raising range. This is in harmony with GTO principles. The general premise is that on a dry texture we have only a few strong made hands. If we play these hands aggressively by raising, our calling range will become extremely weak. It is necessary to use the strong hands in our range to defend the weaker ones. 

As an example, if we cold-call out of the blinds with TT, and flop top set on a T52r board the theoretically correct option is to check-call. If the turn comes a blank offsuit 2, we should generally check-call again as opposed to raising.
The idea of check-calling TT on a T52 is likely somewhat familar to us. As mentioned in the first article, the problem is more likely to occur when playing as the PFR. Many players instinctively fire a continuation bet with 100% frequency after flopping top set on a dry texture. Hopefully we can see that in order to have an effective turn strategy it is necessary to check-call strong made hands as the PFR with some frequency.

Dry Board - Drawy Turn

We play the flop exactly the same as in the first example, except now we would like to incoporate a raising range. Our value hands would like some protection from the available draws, and as a result we should likely raise some bluffs so our turn raising range doesn't become value-heavy.
Generally speaking the best hands to use as bluff-raises on the turn will be those with relatively little showdown that have a chance to make a strong 5-card hand by the river. These hands will also generally be too weak to call or check/call, since if they were strong enough to be in our calling range we'd likely put them there and bluff-raise with weaker hands.

As a very rough guide for calling-range on the turn, anything 2nd-pair-good-kicker or better is generally strong enough to call twice with. We will also have draws in our turn calling range. How profitable these will be depends heavily on our position. A certain draw may be a profitable calling hand in position but become a check-raise out-of-position.

For the same reasons that we have some nutted hands in our flop calling range it is also ok to include some combinations of strong hands in our turn calling range. We mentioned that we'd primarily be raising these, but assuming we always raise our value-range on a drawy turn and the river card comes a blank, we have a capped range which is something that can be exploited.

Drawy Board - Dry Turn

The line between pokerimagetheory and practice becomes very evident on this particular combination of flop and turn textures. It is common practice, especially at the lower limits to raise all of our best value-hands on a drawy texture. 

Assuming we defend from the blinds vs a BTN open and the flop comes J97 with a flush-draw - after facing a cbet it is common for players to check-raise any set, 2pair combo, or straight. Let's assume we just call and the turn card comes a total brick, an offsuit 2. Which strong hands do we have in our turn range that make sense as check-raises? Most of our range is going to be one-pair hands or draws. We could of course think about check-raising some of our draws as bluffs - but it should be clear to see why this would result in an extremely bluff heavy turn raising range.

The solution to this problem is to include some very strong hands in our flop check-calling range which can use as turn value-raises. Theoretically it is correct to slowplay some straights and sets on a drawy texture so we are not capped on a blank turn card. In practice this is not necessary, especially at the lower limits, and the expectation of immediately raising our entire value-range on the flop may be considerably higher than slowplaying in order to protect our turn range. 

We need to keep this in mind when playing against strong opponents. Certainly if we find ourself in the situation where we feel we have a pretty nice hand for turn bluffing (perhaps a little weak to call twice) we need to ask ourself if our opponent understands that we only represent slowplays. Exploitatively we might get away with having a turn raising range that purely contains bluffs - but hopefully we can at least see why this is not a complete strategy.

Drawy Flop - Drawy Turn

This particular situation is less problematic for us even if we never slowplay some of our value hands on the flop. Our range isn't capped since the turn card completed a reasonable amount of draws we could have had in our flop calling range.

We can think about bluffing the draws that have missed and represent we have one of the completed draws. So perhaps we have an open ended straight draw on a flush-draw flop. We miss our draw on the turn, but the card completes a possible flush. We can bluff-raise the turn with this holding. 

On the turn we can call the best pairs and raise the completed draws for value. We will also have some draws in our range that will be profitable turn calls. (Perhaps we called the flop with top pair and improved to the nut-flush-draw on the turn). How profitable it will be will depend on our position as discussed in the previous article. Assuming a draw is slightly too weak to call on the turn it will frequently end up in our bluff-raising range.

In theory we should also just call some completed draws on the turn to protect our river range. Whether this is necessary or not will depend on the toughness of the games we are playing. In the vast majority of games we can get away with raising our entire value-range on a drawy turn and expect this to have a better expectation than having a slowplay range (unless exploitative reasons for doing so).

Turn Sizing

With a rough idea of what our turn raising range will look like, we also need an idea of the sizing. The best sizing often is that which sets up playable stacks for the river. We generally want to avoid situations where we are setting up a river situation where we have less than 30% of the effective stacks (it can be become extremely awkward).

If we find that even a small turn sizing may set up uncomfortably small stacks for the river it often makes sense to make our turn-raise all-in, even if it means we are overbetting.

Assuming we can set up a decent river effective stack (frequently somewhere between 66% and 100% of pot), the following method may simplify things.
  • Before any action takes place on the turn, look at the difference between the effective stacks and what's in the middle. Perhaps there are 20 chips in the middle and both players have 90 remaining in their stacks. The difference is 70 chips.
  • Divide the calculated number by 3 to set up a pot-sized bet for the river. Divide by 2 to set up a 2/3rds pot bet for the river.
  • For example, if we'd like a 2/3rds pot bet in this example. 70/2 = 35. 35 chips is the amount we would want to raise to. So perhaps opponent bets 15, we can raise to 35 and expect a good stack size for the river. Imagine opponent decides to overbet the turn himself, to 25 chips. It should be clear now that hoping to set up good stacks for the river will be impossible with a raise, and if we still would like a raising range here, it's better that we shove all-in.



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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