We now come to some of the more difficult sections of this book. We’re going to approach each street now with our mind for study and reflection. The topics become a little more dense from this point on, but again the solutions just take a little bit of hard work and statistical wrangling. Let’s begin with playing in position as the aggressor.
This might seem like a small point, but it should be of great interest to us: your opponents usually check 100% of their range here. This is wild to me because as early as 2007 Rekrul was destroying 25/50 on PokerStars by donk leading out into 3-bettors. While many people hated the play I loved it, and sought to understand it.
Keeping some bluffs and value hands in our donk leading range makes it much harder to pin down what we’re checking with. If, however, we check 100% of our hands then our opponent knows he is dealing with the exact preflop calling range on that specific board. This range is very easy to dissect and exploit with a simple Flopzilla analysis.
Remember our earlier sections: that fold-to-continuation-bet percentage is important. Again, if it’s 60% or higher the player is likely honest on the board. When he misses he folds, because you miss about 60% of the time. If the fold- to-continuation-bet percentage is 30% or lower the guy is a fighter. If it’s 40– 59% the man likes to float or raise and bluff.
Hopefully as you read that something piqued your interest. “Float? Can they really float out of position?” Yes, you can, but it’s not an easy play to pull off. You essentially need to know your opponent is checking the turn, which is difficult in today’s game.
If someone cannot easily float it generally makes their fold-to-continuation- bet statistic rise, unless our opponent greatly expands their check-raising range (not a likely proposition). If they are folding more to our continuation bets it stands to reason that we should increase our flop bluff bets.
To determine whether a flop continuation bet is profitable or not is very simple with Flopzilla. First, let’s take a continuation bet we made such as the one shown in Figure 73.
Figure 79 shows that I raised preflop in a six-max tournament when stacks were fairly deep. On a K-K-10 board I fired a 1,766 chip bet into a 2,650 pot.
If you’ve been reading the book from the beginning you should be able to tell me how often our bet needs to succeed as a total bluff in order to be profitable. I mean the second we get flatted our hand is mucked, game over. We figure this out by dividing our bet size by the entire pot we stand to win if our opponent folds, so here that would be 1,766/4,416, which is 0.40. Our bet here will need to work 40% of the time in order to turn a profit.
If our bet needs to work 40% of the time our opponent must play 60% of the hands. If he plays 59% of the hands he has already lost, no matter how well he plays that 59% (assuming we do not put any more money in the pot). He needs to play a minimum of 60% of the hands to ensure we’re not making an immediate profit. We can now put his calling range, or what we guess it is, into Flopzilla. Figure 74 shows a range I came up with. Our opponent could 3-bet a few of these hands, but let’s make the range artificially tougher, because we’re proving a bluff here – better safe than sorry.
Now we put the board into the section to the right of the range, and under “statistics” we get a breakdown of every hand the player has, along with percentages. If you put a filter next to different hand groupings you can get an overall percentage at the bottom.
Let’s select any pair or any draw (Figure 75). You can see the cumulative percentage at the bottom.
As you can see, if our opponent plays any gutshot, open-ended straight draw, pair, or better he is going to be playing 48.2% of the time, which is well short of the 60% of the hands he needed to play. Unless we believe our opponent is going to bluff regularly with nothing we should continuation bet here.
Many people who see the previous example say, “But what are we representing here? What better hands are we getting to fold? Your play does not make any sense!” These are good points, but whenever people complain about my method in anything in life, I always ask them to explain what they’d do differently. Are we going to check and hope our opponent checks behind three times? Does that seem like a superior option to betting, knowing our opponent is going to have to play hands worse than gutshots in order to force us into a mistake?
Many times we will have a hand such as 6-5 suited and the board will be A- 6-2. We’ll be in position. We are checked to. Many professional players advocate for a check here. They are especially encouraged because they are in position; it’s easier to handle with two streets than three. There’s logic behind this play: if you bet on the flop it is unlikely you will be getting a worse hand to call. You certainly won’t get a better hand to fold; typically you get 7-7 to call here because of the hit and miss nature of the board.
The problem lies in what happens if you check. On the turn, a 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, and K is bad for your hand. It only gets worse if there’s a flush draw on the
board and you do not have a card of the suit. A hand like J♠-10♥ might not
seem like much on an A♠-6♠-2 board, but the backdoor flush draws, straights, and overcards can add up to a significant equity percentage of the pot. It is
preferable to fold that out rather than checking and hoping for the best, especially if the player is tricky, and you don’t know if you will be able to call his turn and river bets down accurately.
Surely, you do need to defend your checking range and continuation betting range. If you never check back with nothing or with a hand then your continuation bet range will become obvious. It will simply be every hand, which we showed earlier is very easy to bluff, because there is so much air in that range. Once in a while you will need to check and give up, even in position. You will also occasionally have to check back and play your opponent on further streets.
With weaker hands I’d advocate balancing by using backdoor draws. Say
you have 7-7 on that same A♠-6♠-2 and it’s checked to you. If you have 7♠ in your hand there is more incentive for you to check back, because you will have a
small flush if the turn and river come with spades. If you do not have any spade in your hand you should then bet to cash out your equity, allowing your opponents to fold out the equity share found in their backdoor draws and overcards.
There is a phrase among professionals: “Pot controlling was created by great players to make sure good players suffer.” Often when someone checks back they lose all the profit they would have made on their hand. Their opponent has a mediocre hand that they would have called one or two streets with, but when the action is checked back they think, “Oh, he has weak showdown value on this board and wants to control the pot size. What is mediocre showdown value here? Oh, that hand beats me.”
This can be exploited. A friend of mine was playing a nosebleed high-stakes player at a WSOP final table. He checked back constantly when he missed the board to represent the mediocre showdown value. The great player decided he wasn’t going to try and get him away from a pair over two streets. He checked the turn repeatedly and let it go. However, there are not many people like my friend. Most people check back the flop with only showdown value, and nothing but. Unsurprisingly, many people have become wary of this play, and have refused to give it money.
Even if the play is a bit obvious now, you need to defend your checking
range with some value hands. It’s advisable to do this when your hand is
unlikely to lose its value. If you have 8♣-9♣ on a A♥-10♥-8♠ board it might seem like a great time to pot control, but perhaps turning your hand into a semi- bluff would be more advisable. If you check back any turn broadway card will fill in a number of gutshots. Any heart will hurt your hand’s value.
If you bet you get value from a draw and you will be cashing out your equity from the legion of hands that have a significant equity share in the pot. You will not have to make tough decisions on a turn heart, king, queen, or jack. If your opponent calls you with a weak ace or 10 you can possibly bet them off of it by the river. You will be especially assisted equity-wise if you turn a straight draw with your pair. You have none of these options if you check back. You are essentially checking and praying.
Now, let’s say you have K-Qo on a A♠-K♥-2♦ board. This is a very safe check back. You’re not likely to be getting much value from anything weaker. Not much on the turn is going to hurt your hand’s equity. It’s not a bad idea to give your opponent the chance to try and bluff at the pot.
If you want to keep your range blended you will need to check back and give up occasionally. You should do this on abysmal boards versus good players. You probably weren’t going to make money anyway. Now, you’ll have an entry on your opponents NoteCaddy or mental file as someone who can check and give up when they are the aggressor. This makes your pot controlling with a solid hand more effective, as people are now far more prone to lead into you on the turn. It also makes your continuation betting range difficult to take advantage of. You no longer will exhibit numbers that demonstrate you always fire your missed combinations. Even if your percentage is still a little high, say 70%, if someone remembers that check back they are more likely to believe your continuation bet.
Similarly, you will need to value bet very thinly on certain boards so people don’t know for a fact you check back with mediocre showdown value. If you have K-Qo in a shorthanded situation you could bet it for value on the A-6-2 rainbow board. It’s likely your opponents will call once with any king-high. Once people see how little you need to take them to value town they won’t be able to figure out your continuation bets either.
One of the reasons I structured the book with the donk betting chapter before our specific positional plays is because it’s going to come up in our strategies. It’s best you understand the logic behind the play before you start learning how to play against it. If you read the donk betting chapter you know astute players donk lead mediocre draws and value hands. Versus that range there’s one simple play with a value hand: call. You won’t make any money from his bluffs if you raise (your opponent will fold) and if he has a set or something similar you are just building the pot for him. If someone is more dishonest as a donk bettor you should try to bluff raise him. This is most prolific donk bettors’ worst fear: you can quickly retake the positional edge and betting lead if you put in a small raise.
To find out if your opponent is a dishonest donk, you better look at his fold- to-continuation-bet statistic. If it is 60%+ then there are not many bluffs for him to be donk betting. You should regularly fold against his donk bets because he is missing the board 60% of the time, and he seems to be folding every time that happens. Unless he’s leading air and check/folding pairs it’s hard to come up with that number as a dishonest player. If someone is bluffing more, their fold- to-continuation-bet statistic will decrease to 40% or 50%.
With NoteCaddy you can also take a look at what the person specifically donk bet. You’ll be surprised how many guys donk bet nothing but sets and straights on coordinated boards with flush draws. Don’t be afraid to look into your opponent’s other ranges to construct a picture. What did he check/call with? What did he check-raise with? If your opponent has check-raised with small flush draws thrice previously it stands to reason that he is not suddenly donk leading with a flush draw this time. When the flush card comes in you can consider it as a possible bluff opportunity.
Moving away from a donk bet counter strategy, if you see a coordinated
board such as 7♠-4♠-5♥ or 10♥-9♥-6 then know you have something special. When the cards are clustered and coordinated in this fashion big hands get really afraid of flush and straight draws.
If you watch some of the high roller tournaments you’ll see the nosebleed stakes players flatting with sets on these boards. The announcers, who know nothing about the game, then say something like, “What the hell is he doing?” When the turn completes the draw and the rounder loses some money the hoopla really begins: “How could he do that!?” players yell, grinning ear-to-ear, proud that they finally outplayed the pro.
These high-stakes regulars do this because they know they are susceptible to a very basic read if they never balance with their solid hands. If you always check-raise your sets, two pairs, and nut flush draws on these boards, what could you have when you call? Your range caps out at one pair.
On these boards with a bluff once your opponent checks, you shouldn’t get cute with a small bet. Go for half of the pot at least. If you bet small you will be letting the field know you really have nothing: most people with huge hands here are too afraid of getting sucked out on to bet small and coy. Bet a normal amount and if your opponent calls you prepare to attack. You will need to fire three barrels. Know that their most likely hand is a pair that shares one card with the board, especially if they flatted you out of the blinds. That makes overcards valuable bluffing commodities. If you check your opponent’s NoteCaddy statistics and find they typically check-raise their flush draws then you can fire the turn and river flush cards as well.
These days people do not like to fold to the turn bet all that much. Years ago people regularly folded to the flop continuation bet because they didn’t have anything. When they figured out the regulars were betting with their entire range they started floating more often. The regulars, a couple of years back, started firing the turn more indiscriminately. As a defense, most people will not let go on the turn easily any more. So you’re going to have to jam more rivers. It’s not fun walking away from a tournament when this backfires or listening to the quips from the other “professionals” who do not understand hand ranges, but it is necessary.
It really is fairly basic: if people flat with high cards on the flop, call the turn with most pairs, and only call river with the best top pairs, they are folding a high percentage of their hands at the end. Exploit this, especially when the top pair changes to a card your opponent is unlikely to possess.