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A No-Limit Play That Works Again And Again

by Ed Miller |  Published: Oct 31, 2012

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Ed MillerIn most of my articles, I like to focus on general poker principles rather than feed you a gimmicky play here and there. So as a change of pace, today I offer you a gimmicky play that, in my experience — at least through 2012 — works again and again.

A while back I began to have some trouble getting paid off on strong hands, and I tried playing with my value betting lines. I found that players would often call my river bet if I checked the turn and bet the river, but that they would fold the same hands on the turn if I tried to bet both streets. Since it’s better to get one street of value than zero, I started checking more of my value hands on the turn against these players.

Not content with losing an entire street of value, however, I tried out another line. Instead of checking the turn, I would make a small bet that would be easy to call. Then I would drop the hammer on the river with a big value bet. I figured that once players found themselves at the river with just a single bet to call between them and the showdown, they would pay off.

What I found, however, was that players seemed to fold to the river bet much more often with this line than when I checked the turn. In fact, they folded so often than I began to use this line when I was bluffing.

I now had a bet-sizing choice to make whenever I barreled the turn. Should I make a big bet (for example, three-quarters pot) and try to blow an opponent out of the pot? Or should I make a small bet (one-quarter or one-third pot), expecting a call and planning to drop the big bet hammer on the river?

The upside to the big turn bet is that it prevents a player from calling with a speculative hand, catching on the river, and then being no longer bluffable. There’s less guessing with this line. It either works or it doesn’t.

The small bet, however, has its own upsides. First, when you happen to run into a strong hand, you often find out more cheaply that your bluff won’t work (as your small bet gets check-raised). Second, when your bluff works you actually win a bigger pot on the end, since you collect your opponent’s turn call along with the rest of the pot. Finally, I’ve found that the two bet sequence (small turn bet, large river bet) works better at getting many players off medium-strength made hands than a large turn bet followed by a river check.

So in many situations, when you make a small bet and then a large bet, you’re both winning a larger pot and you’re winning more often overall. Consider two example hands.

Say I open raise to $20 in a $2-$5 game with $1,000 stacks. A nitty regular player calls from the big blind.

The flop comes 10Heart Suit 6Diamond Suit 5Heart Suit. My opponent checks, I bet $30, and he calls. There’s $102 in the pot.

The turn is the KClub Suit. My opponent checks again. This is a great barreling situation, and I’d bet here with two blank cards. But is this the situation for a big bet to end the hand or a small bet leading into a big bet?

Here I’d make the “standard” big bet of about $80. The bulk of the hands a nitty player will call this flop with will be tens and flush draws. I gain nothing by allowing flush draws to call a small bet, since they would be getting the right price. And if I bet small, I might have to give up the bluff if the third flush card comes. Whether I give up or plow ahead depends on exactly how much of my opponent’s turn calling range consists of flush draws. If I give up the bluff, I grant a free showdown to all the tens that call the turn. If I continue the bluff, I grant implied odds to the flushes. It’s lose-lose for me. I’d rather just end the hand.

Now the second hand. I open for $20 and a loose, relatively passive regular player calls in the big blind. The flop comes JHeart Suit 7Club Suit 4Spade Suit. My opponent checks, I bet $30, and he calls.

The turn is the 2Club Suit. This is a situation I might consider the small turn bet. On a flop like J-7-4 rainbow, my opponent will frequently have called the flop with a gutshot. If my small turn bet gets him to fold his gutshots, that’s great. If it tempts him to call with them, even better! He doesn’t have even close to the odds (or implied odds) to make calling even a one-quarter pot bet correct with only a gutshot.

The same logic holds for flopped pairs of sevens and fours. If he wants to fold them on the turn, great. If he wants to call with them, it could be even better for me since I don’t plan to give him a free showdown on the river. He’s a huge underdog to catch two pair or trips, and most players reliably release these unimproved hands to the big river barrel.

Finally, if my opponent does have a jack, he may call a big turn barrel. If I plan to give up on the river, then I’m just handing him an extra big bet in this case. Most players will end up releasing a jack more often to the small turn bet, large river bet line. A scare card can roll off on the river. Moreover, the turn and river line can give an opponent with J-T (and similar holdings) the impression that he’s got the second-best hand.

I’ve expanded the use of this play in my own game, and I now use it in other circumstances. For instance, I will defend my big blind against a preflop raise planning to make a small flop check-raise (that I expect to get called) and then a large turn barrel.

This line is a bit gimmicky. There’s no reason players have to play worse against it than they do against more “standard” betting. But my experience is that, in practice, many players do indeed handle this line worse than a more straightforward line. So I say try it out. You might like how it turns out. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at notedpokerauthority.com. Find Ed on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.