Poker Strategy: Keeping Control of the Pot in Holdem Part 2
In the last article, we looked at a situation in Hold'em where it can be right to check behind on the turn, despite knowing you probably have the best hand. The check is principally to avert the possible danger of your opponent holding a big hand and is an important part of keeping control of pots in No Limit tournaments.
We are going to extend the idea further, and look at one spot where a check seems even more unconventenial. Let's have a look at this example:
You raise with before the flop, and get one call from the big blind. The flop comes , and your opponent calls your big bet. The turn is a blank 3s, and your opponent checks to you. What is your best course of action?
A check here seems even more unlikely than before. Not only does the fact you are probably ahead mean that you might be missing value, but your opponent could hold one of many drawing hands, and it would surely be a big mistake to give him a free card? Things are not as clear-cut as before, but there is definitely a good argument for it to be right to check.
One of these situations is if you have the type of opponent who is likely to bluff on the river, if he has missed his draw. The value that you lose from failing to charge him on the turn is gained back by calling his river bluff.
Let's illustrate why the turn check is a good idea, by breaking down the different situations, and seeing how your value is affected.
Your opponent has you beat- with three queens or better
As before, we are really worried about getting check raised on the turn if we bet. There is a risk that we will make a mistake by throwing our hand away, as our opponent may decide to play a big drawing hand (e.g. for the straight flush draw) in this super strong way of waiting till the turn to make his move. It is therefore a decision that is more uncomfortable. It may lead many players to make a bad call, and find their opponent turning over three queens.
Our check on the turn does of course mean that we may have to pay off a river bet, but the damage is much limited. However, there is a group of scenarios in which we benefit, as we can actually pass on the end. If the river comes a dangerous card that fills many of the draws (say for example the , or ) and your opponent makes a decent-sized bet, you can actually be fairly sure that your kings are beaten- either they were on the flop, or your opponent has now hit his draw. This type of scenario is very important to think about, and is a big part of how you can keep control to the extent that you can escape on the end.
The issue of free cards is a very important one, but I feel some players over-emphasise its importance. If we compare the relative merits of betting and checking on the turn, it is important to remember one thing. If you do bet, you probably will not be able to bet enough to get your opponent off his draw. So, it would be wrong to think that every time you bet, you win. There are some scenarios where your opponent calls and hits, and the money that goes in on the turn comes out of your stack. Of course if we knew that our opponent was drawing, it would be wrong to give a free card, but the fact it is not quite so profitable to bet as you may think his factor combines with the danger you are behind to make a check the best +EV move.
Your opponent is not drawing and you have him beat
This scenario is probably going to mean your opponent holds a jack for a lower two pair, and is one of the main arguments people would cite for betting. However, the bottom pair on a drawing board is not such a strong hand, and some opponents would pass on the turn anyway, denying you any value from this hand. There are definitely very few opponents who would call you down on the turn and river with just a jack. However, the situation changes if you check the turn- your opponent then has a very hard time getting away on the river,if it comes a blank. The reason is that you have successfully painted a false picture of your hand. You have made it seem that you have the drawing hand, have missed, and are trying a bluff on the end.
Your opponent is drawing on the flop
There are of course many draws available K10 or 109 for the straight draw, any two diamonds for the flush draw, and indeed for the massive straight flush draw. If your opponent holds , he is drawing at 14 cards, and therefore 32% of the deck on the turn. This means that your negative EV by checking is only -18% (a 50% draw is a neutral EV), and so is not a disastrous mistake to not bet.
The crucial factor is that, in this and all the other drawing scenarios, you can gain back lots of value on the end if your opponent misses. Once you have checked the turn, many opponents are going to wrongly think that you are weak, and sniff the opportunity for a bluff. Opponents with missed draws often bluff big, and so you can actually gain a lot back. You will have effectively traded having a big turn bet called by an opponent still drawing very live with being given a gift on the river by an opponent drawing dead.
You do of course have a problem that some cards fill straight draws but not flush draws, and vice versa. Given your flop bet was big enough and the board was paired, you may have to assume that your opponent does not have just a straight draw. Therefore, if the river comes a non-diamond nine and your opponent makes a big bet, it is probably right to call. You have a good hope that your opponent will turn over the busted flush.
Developing this strategy
The strategy preaching of making these conservative checks is definitely a sensible one, and is one worth putting into practice. However, as your game develops, you should be looking to play a mixed style, where you sometimes play your hand strongly on the turn. Ultimately, you should aim to have a good enough read on your opponent on the flop that you can put him on a hand going to the turn.
If you have a good read on your opponent for a drawing type hand, it would seem right to make a big bet on the turn, and deny him the odds to call.
However, remember that, in poker, a good option is not necessarily the best one. Consider the scenario where you think that your opponent may well bluff on the end if he misses his draw. One of two things will then happen. Either a drawing card will come and you should be able to escape, or the board will blank out, and you will be able to collect a big river bluff. This money with little risk on the end is more favourable than making a turn bet that your opponent may call with a good chance of outdrawing your hand, and so the good option of betting the turn may well be beaten by the best option of checking.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter plays online at 32 Red Poker pick up a MASSIVE bonus by joining today