There are certain moves in poker that stand the test of time. Everybody loves a solid staple that they can come back to time and time again. Whether it’s an old boxset of Fawlty Towers, your mum’s recipe for apple crumble or a nicely worn-in pair of jeans it is comforting to have certain things in life that are always there and always dependable.
It’s the same in poker. We can spend lots of time discussing complex concepts that are currently in fashion but eventually most successful poker players end up relying on simple, tried and tested tactics that have proven profitable for years.
There’s a reason why players still continuation bet with air – it works. Join us as we run down the five most profitable moves in poker. None of them are fancy, particularly hard to execute or require much skill, but too often the basic fundamentals can be forgotten in the heat of battle. Get set for a revision course in proven winning tactics…
1. Double barrelling scare cards
What is it?
You raise preflop and get one caller. The flop misses your hand but you continuation bet and get called. The turn is an overcard to the flop (usually a Queen, King or Ace) so you bet again to represent that card. Your opponent folds.
How it works
The first time I was ever taught the concept of double barrelling was in a free CardRunners training video by Taylor Caby all the way back in 2006. It was like a light went off in my head. I immediately started putting it in action at the low-stakes online cash tables and it worked right away. Every time an Ace or King came on the turn I’d barrel away and they’d fold, fold, fold. It was marvellous. In 2012 people are a little more aware of the tactics you are using but that’s not to say it isn’t still effective.
Look at it from your opponent’s point of view and you’ll understand why this move is so effective. You raise from the button and your opponent calls from the big blind with 8-8. The flop is T-2-4 and he check-calls a bet. The turn is an Ace, he checks and you bet again. What can he possibly do here other than fold? It’s very difficult for him to continue for two main reasons.
First, it’s perfectly plausible that you will have hit a pair of Aces on the turn seeing as you raised preflop. More importantly is that even if he correctly guesses you are bluffing he will have no idea how to react on any river card (unless it’s an 8) if you bet a third time. At this point the bets will be much larger and he will be forced to risk a substantial part of his stack to make a hero call.
As with any bluff it’s a bonus if you make this play when you have some equity yourself as a back-up plan. Even if it’s just a gutshot or underpair to the board you still leave yourself a few genuine outs to win the hand at showdown.
Of course sometimes when you double-barrel it will be your opponent and not you that hits the turn hard. A common example of this will be when an opponent floats you on the flop with an Ace-high type hand and then picks up a disguised top pair on the turn.
There’s nothing that can be done about this however. You just need to be aware that it is a possibility and try not to fire three barrels when you suspect you’re up against a strong hand! Double barrelling scare cards is as reliable a bluff as you can get in poker. Make sure it’s a regular part of your arsenal.
2. Playing big hands fast
What is it?
You flop a monster hand in a 150BB cash game. Your opponent bets and you suspect he has a strong hand. You raise right away, instead of slowplaying, and manage to get all the money in on the flop as a substantial favourite.
How it works
Too many people slowplay. Slowplaying is an absurd myth that has permeated into beginners’ poker knowledge. The reasoning usually given for slowplaying is that if you represent a strong hand – by raising, betting and re-raising – people are going to believe you and fold their good hands, denying you value. So you pretend to have a marginal hand in order to get more value. It’s complete nonsense in most instances. If you ever want to get the maximum value from your big hands you must play them hard and fast.
As an example, you call a raise on the button with 3-3 and flop a set on a 3♣-J♠-5♣ board. Your decent opponent c-bets full pot and you’re unsure whether to raise now or slowplay and wait for the turn. The reasons for raising now are overwhelming. First, you build the pot with a monster hand that you want to get all-in with. By just calling it will be difficult to get all-in by the river without an overbet.
A raise on the flop isn’t scary to the stronger hands that could be in your opponent’s range – such as A-A, K-K, Q-Q and A-J – because he can plausibly put you on weaker Jacks, middle pairs looking to win it right away and, most importantly, all manner of flush draws. If he has any of this range it’s very likely that you’ll get him to stack off here and now.
Compare this to the plethora of turn cards that could slow him down and deny you value. Any club, Jack and cards that could possibly give us two pair (such as an Ace, Queen, King or Ten), all have the potential to stall him into check-call mode. If we miss out on stacking a guy because we slowplayed the flop it’s a major, major error.
Sometimes playing your hands fast will backfire as you’ll prevent your opponent bluffing or make him fold a strong hand he would have bet on later streets. Despite this, please refrain from regularly slowplaying and just aim on building those pots as high as you can when you have the goods.
3. Letting aggressive players bluff into you
What is it?
After raising preflop you hit the nuts. Your opponent donk bets into you for full pot and you just call. He does the same on the turn when the board is getting a little scary for your hand. You just call again. He now moves all-in on the river – you call and he was bluffing throughout with zero equity.
How it works
Once you have a read on an opponent that they like to bluff – either because they are a good, aggressive player or a massive fish that loves to unload the clip – then whatever you do, let them bluff. One of the biggest mistakes you can make against an opponent like this is to raise postflop if you have a monster. Even fish with no poker brain are capable of shutting down bluffs once it is made patently obvious their opponent is never folding.
You may be worried that you’re risking too much equity if you just flat call and allow your opponent to overtake you. In certain spots this is a valid thing to worry about. If you have A-K on a A♣-K♣-J♠ board it’s probably not the best spot to slowplay because lots of cards that complete draws can come and give you tough decisions on later streets. However, when it’s a fish you are up against this becomes much less of a worry.
Fish don’t realise that you should generally be bluffing when you have a slight amount of actual equity to rely on. It’s wholly possible they are firing away with a hand drawing dead such as 6♠-7♥ and would instantly fold to a raise. Knowing your player becomes so important in these situations. If it’s a good aggressive pro you’re up against then slowplaying can also sometimes be the best line.
I played a $1/$2 hand recently where I three-bet pocket Kings and was called by a tough reg. I c-bet the T-T-3 rainbow flop and was called. The turn was a 7. Versus a weaker player I’d have bet again for value and been wary of trips if I was raised at any point in the hand. Versus this guy though I knew that checking would look very weak in his eyes and he’d definitely fire one street, if not two.
4. Firing the flop after three-betting
What is it?
You three-bet out of position and get called by the initial raiser. The flop has a dry texture, such as K-4-2 or J-7-4. You’ve missed the flop completely but c-bet just over half the pot anyway and your opponent folds.
How it works
This may be the easiest of all the vital manoeuvres listed in this article. three-betting a wide range, both for value and with bluffs, is common knowledge by now to most poker players. Where some fall down is once the hand gets postflop. It’s the reason why so many forum posts repeatedly ask, ‘but what do I do with A-K once I miss the flop?’. Essentially, they are scared of flops. The good news is that you really shouldn’t be.
When deciding what to do post-flop after three-betting there are three main things to consider: the strength of our hand, the possible strength of our opponent’s hand and the texture of the flop. If you’ve missed the flop and are in doubt about how to proceed then the vast majority of the time it will be much better to be aggressive and bet than to check and give up. In general, people will give you too much credit and fold a lot of the time. After all, they can’t see the difference between you having a missed A-K and holding pocket Aces when you fire on a T-3-2 flop.
In many ways, an opponent’s thought process is similar to what is discussed elsewhere when talking about double barrelling turn cards. The fear in calling with a marginal hand is not so much that they make an incorrect decision on this street but more that they will have no idea how to react if they are faced with another, bigger bet on later streets. As such, you’ll get a lot of folds from hands that play well against your range, but can’t take much pressure (for example, 7-7 on that T-3-2 flop).
In general you should look to be c-betting around 75% of the time after making a three-bet. It’s prudent to just check-fold when you have missed completely and the flop is likely to have hit them (such as holding A-Q on a 5-6-7 board), but your default option must be to fire away with the big bombs. I check-called the turn and again when he moved all-in on the Jack river. He had K-Q and was drawing almost dead all along. It just goes to show that the best line for a hand is never written in stone and you should constantly be adjusting your play for specific opponents. Slow playing should not be your regular move, but in certain circumstances it is the best move available.
5. Don’t flat call three-bets out of position
What is it?
You raise K-J in the cut-off before the button three-bets you. You call. The flop is T-4-5 and you check-fold.
How it works
It’s difficult enough to play three-bet pots out of position if you have the initiative and the betting lead. What you do not want to do is regularly, and voluntarily, play three-bet pots out of position without the betting lead. It’s a sure-fire way to slowly leak money.
With marginal hands that you feel you should call a three-bet with – such as A-J, K-Q, K-J, Q-J, suited connectors and small pairs – you should just fold the majority of the time and four-bet bluff some of the time. This is especially the case if your opponent is good and willing to bluff postflop if they miss. If instead you call you’ll simply be check-folding to a c-bet over and over again.
Position in poker is so important that you should rarely volunteer to play a big pot without it. The easiest way to avoid this is to take the ‘four-bet or fold’ tactic when confronted with a re-raise. It’s not ideal and sometimes you’ll be folding the best hand but unfortunately there is no perfect solution available. The best thing you can do is play tight out of position and instead attempt to turn the tables on your opponents by doing the one thing that is making your life difficult – three-betting frequently when you are in position.
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