Poker Strategy: Keeping Control of the Pot in Holdem - Part 1
You raise with in position, and are pleased to see the small blind call. The flop comes a decent , and the small blind calls your near pot-sized bet. The turn comes a very safe , and the small blind echoes his flop check. There is 2,000 in the pot, and you both have roughly 8,000 chips. What is your best course of action?
Keeping the control
This is one of many circumstances in poker where I would strongly advocate a turn check, despite the fact that you are probably ahead. The reasoning is founded on that small chance that the small blind does have you beat with a seven or pocket jacks in his hand. A bet from you would spiral the action out of control, and possibly cost you all your chips.
There are not too many hands that your opponent will hold on this rather plain flop, and so it is worthwhile to consider them all. The best contenders are AJ, KJ and QJ, and next some kind of medium pocket pair likes 99 or 88 that does not give you credit for hand. The possibility of trip sevens or better, however, just about enough to concern us into thinking about a check. Our worry is heightened by the fact that this soft play from our opponent does fit with a big hand like three sevens. With a hand like AJ, many opponents would check-raise the flop, and so the flat-call is of some concern.
The other crucial factor that makes a check attractive is that it is very unlikely that your opponent is drawing on this flop, and so there is minimal risk of giving free cards.
Is this play of checking not too cowardly, does it not lose us value? I would argue not. Our turn check really disguises our hand to our opponent, and makes us seem weak. This means that we'll get a lot of our lost value back on the river. I'll try to justify the check by considering how the action will develop on the river across our opponent's range of hands. We'll assume the river comes does not come an interesting card (i.e an jack, ace or seven!).
Trip sevens or better
If our opponent does hold a hand big enough to beat aces, he will almost definitely bet out on the river after we have denied him the action he craved on the turn. There is no way we can avoid paying off this bet, as we know that our opponent would bet on the river with many hands that we can beat. However, this loss is far less damaging than if we bet on the turn. Our opponent will inevitably re-raise this turn bet, and this puts us in a difficult situation. The overriding reason why this is such a bad thing is that it gives us the opportunity to make a mistake. We could call when we are probably behind, or even worse we may pass, and find that our opponent overplayed a hand like AJ.
Limiting the damage further
We will find that the beauty of the turn check it that it undersells our hand. This is especially useful against a super-strong hand, as our opponent will try to get a call by making a much smaller value bet than he should.
Our opponent holds a jack or a pocket pair
Let's put our opponent right in the middle of this range, and say he holds a hand like QJ. Against most players, there is little chance that you would collect bets both on the turn and river, as they should be wise enough to pass their hand at some stage. You will find that some opponents will even correctly believe your second shot, and pass on the turn (especially with the pocket pair hands), and that you will actually collect nothing more from them.
However, this is definitely not the case if you check the turn- an action which will convince your opponent that you were caught bluffing on the flop. Not only will you be able to collect a bet on the river, you may well be successful in having a much bigger bet paid off.
Thinking about what your opponent is thinking
Always be well aware of what kind of picture of the hand you are painting with your action-a turn check followed by a big bet on the river is perfect, as it looks just like you have nothing, and are trying to pressurise your opponent off the hand.
Keeping the value
Checking the turn not only saves you from the trap of the seven, but loses you very little value when your hand is good. With our reasoning above, you could argue that you even gain value with this style of play. It is one example of the fact that the bet-check-bet is a winning style with a big hand.
There is one scenario where you can even squeeze even more value on the end. Let's say your opponent bets out for 1,200 on the river (a little more than half the pot). Although you may be beat, it is actually fine to re-raise this river bet, on one condition- if your opponent puts in a third raise, you must instantly throw your hand away, as he has you beat.
The wrong type of player
There is one type of player against whom our new type of thinking is not as valuable, and that is the calling station. Against such a bad player, you will probably collect bets on all three streets even if he is as weak as QJ. You just have to take the risk he has a seven in his hand, and keep on betting.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you make your first deposit