This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Hey there, let’s take some time to level-up your poker game.
My name is Mike Brady and I’m joined by Scottish poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls? Welcome back to the Level-Up Podcast. Today we’re going to talk about probe betting the turn. The flop has gone check-check, and you’re thinking about whether to bet the turn.
We’re going to discuss things like how often you should be betting, what size you should be choosing, and the range that wants to probe.
Mike: This episode is going to be all about probe betting, which is when you bet into a player who had the opportunity to continuation bet on the prior street, but chose to check back instead.
For example, suppose a player raises and you call in the big blind. The flop comes three cards, you check, and your opponent checks back. If you were to bet on the subsequent turn card, that would be a probe bet. As you may have realized, probing is only possible on the turn or river.
Before I start picking Gary’s brain, I’m going to give you a quick intro to probing on the turn so you know how it works and why it’s important.
Often, when the preflop aggressor chooses not to continuation bet on the flop, you can profitably probe on the turn with a wide range of hands.
This play tends to be effective because your average opponent doesn’t properly balance their flop check-back range. That is to say, they don’t check back often enough with decent or strong hands on the flop, which opens the door for you to win the pot by probing at a high frequency.
Of course, as with all things in poker, it’s important to find a balance. If you always bet the turn after the flop has gone check-check, then smarter opponents can exploit you by trap-checking the flop with nutted hands.
We’re going to break the rest of this episode into three parts. First, we’ll talk about probe sizing so you know exactly how big to bet. From there, we’ll talk about the range with which you should probe bet on a variety of board textures. Finally, we’ll go over a few example probing spots to help cement your understanding of this tactic.
Probe Bet Sizing
Mike: So, Gary, suppose you defend your big blind, the flop goes check-check, and you have a hand worthy of a probe bet on the turn. What factors are swirling in your mind when deciding how big to probe bet?
Gary: The first thing I’m gonna say today is probably the most important thing. You must really think about how good or bad the board is for your range. Not just the flop, not just the specific turn, the entire board.
If the board is really good for you, you want to stab often, and therefore your sizing will usually be smaller because you’re betting wider. If the board is not a good board for you, you’re betting very infrequently, and your sizing must reflect that and you’ll be betting much bigger.
As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but that’s a really good way to define your probing strategy. Obviously a little later we’ll break down some of the boards and sizes we wanna choose, but yeah, ask yourself, am I betting relatively often here, or am I rarely betting?
One very quick example to get you thinking, say BTN opens, the BB calls, and the flop is a rainbow board, . The button checks back.
On a queen turn for example (board is ), you don’t wanna bet your , you don’t wanna bet , you don’t wanna bet your turned pairs, it’s really not a good board for your range here and your sizing scheme will reflect that. You see very big (but infrequent) bets.
But say the turn is an offsuit four (), a much better board for your range now, and you get to bet second pair, turned pairs, , weaker . Not ALWAYS betting these hands, but certainly not never betting them either. So, get into the habit of knowing what turns are awful for your range, and what turns aren’t too bad, and build your sizing scheme around that.
Probe Betting Ranges
Mike: Now that you have some heuristics for probe bet sizing, let’s talk about ranges. How do you go about building your range when probe betting on the board you just mentioned, and how does that compare to other boards? Maybe talk about a couple of different turns.
Gary: So on , this is not a great turn for us, the board overall is not great for us. I’m rarely betting.
As mentioned in the introduction, I’m not betting hands like or . Our betting range is really quite narrow. I’ll bet my strong hands like two pair, sets, strongest top pairs. But that’s not a really wide value range.
Therefore, our bluffs are going to be centered around equity, and our overall global frequency (i.e. how often we’re betting overall) is low.
So on , what are our high-equity bluffs? If it’s a that brings a flush draw, we’ve obviously got some flush draws. As we’ve mentioned many times on past episodes of this podcast, you want to favor your nut flush draws/second nut flush draws with lower kickers.
If the turn is a pure rainbow, we have draws like , , , really ABC stuff. When your betting range is narrow, it’s very easy to work out. You’re betting your strongest hands, and your highest-equity bluffs. Some of us also need to hear this but on we are never stabbing a complete airball like — equity only when bluffing here.
Let’s take a look at now. This is a much better turn for our range. We get to bet way wider here with our top pairs, because our global frequency is higher. Much more betting with our , our , our second and third pairs.
On you don’t want to bet , because you could run into a checked-back king, or a turned pair of queens. On , you might still run into a checked-back king, but you’re not going to run into a turned second pair.
Because this turn is so good for our range, we have lots of natural bluffs to choose from. Hands like , , , , all those types of hands. Lots and lots of straight draws to choose from, a much wider range, and even some non-equity hands like the , , but again not that often, really focusing on the many gutshots and straight draws that we have to go along with our value.
Mike: When it comes to picking those no-equity bluffs, on , you’re going to want to bluff with hands that don’t block the hands that your opponent is clearly going to fold. So on , you don’t want to have , because you want them to have . You want to have , because they could have , they could have , .
Probe Betting Hand Examples
Mike: Alright, let’s wrap this episode up with some examples. I want to do it in a linear way, starting with a board that we will probe bet relatively frequently. We’ll work our way backward until we get to a board on which we should literally never probe bet.
Example 1: 7-6-2 rainbow, turn 4
Mike: Let’s start with one where the flop + turn are very good for us. BTN opens and we’ve defended in the BB. That board is all us; we’re going to have more , , maybe some , a bunch of two pairs that they don’t have. Depending on where they raise from, we might have more sets as well.
So Gary, how would you approach building your betting range, and what size are you going for?
Gary: Okay so say BTN opens and we get the flop, and it goes check-check, there are lots of really great turns for our range that should be pretty obvious, basically the , and are amazingly good for our range. Remember the BETTER the board for us, the more we get to play aggressively, I think I’ve said that 100 times now in our podcast, and it’s so so important.
On , we get to go nuts with all of our , Kd], , our high equity hands, but because the turn is so good for us, we even get to bet frequently with high card no equity bluffs like , or , basically because the turn is so good for us. A moment ago Mike mentioned that these hands don’t make sense to bet on , but on this board, our global betting frequency is so high that we get to bluff with these normally-not-so-good bluffs too.
In terms of our value, all our top pairs, all our second pairs, even betting turned third pairs and some bottom pairs really quite often. Lots of value/protection for these hands, so let’s bet them.
This is the tricky part, our sizing scheme. If we are confident in having two sizes, we can split our range here between 50% and an overbet. We bet the middling size with hands like and , and we use the large size with hands like bottom set, top pair, two pair and so on.
If we are not confident in splitting our range, and there’s no shame in that, we can use one generic 75% probe size and put all of our betting range into that size. Really nothing wrong with that, splitting your range is something you can easily butcher if you’re not careful and it’s important to know what you’re doing in order to maximize the EV of doing so!
Mike: Should you go for that split range, you do have to include some strong hands in that smaller size. Make sure you protect that small bet size with some strong hands in that range.
Gary: Say on , if you have a hand like , you want to very heavily favor that into your large bet size. But a hand like , you’ll use the large bet size often, but also use the small bet size sometimes. And the reason is, doesn’t block any of the hands you’re trying to called by, but blocks hands like , which is a hand you’re targeting to get a call from, so it doesn’t mind betting small as much.
Example 2: 9-7-4 rainbow, turn 3
Mike: Let’s do an example where the flop + turn is decent for us. Let’s discuss range and sizing here.
Gary: So one thing I haven’t mentioned yet which I guess is quite important to mention, well actually we vaguely touched on it at the very start, you know, we’re not just looking at the turn here, we have to take into consideration the flop as well. So the we just saw, a not-awful flop for the big blind, but if we were to look at something like we’ll see that that’s a flop that’s actually a bit better for the button.
In theory the button will always keep their check back range from being weak, so the button is still doing okay on this board when the flop goes check/check. That means that this board isn’t as amazing for us as the etc we just saw. That means (as the BB) less stabs with air, focusing much more on having equity like gutshots and flush draws, and we don’t get to bet as wide with our value; our second pairs don’t get bet anywhere NEAR as much here compared to the last example.
Sizing scheme again, ideally mixing between a small size (50%-pot) and an overbet, but if we are NOT confident with that split we can just use 75% as a merged size that will still do a very good job.
Example 3: 8-3-2 rainbow, turn J
Mike: Let’s talk about how to play the many overcards that can come on the turn. How are you playing overcards on an board? Say the turn is a .
Gary: A very common leak is to check far too often on a turn overcard after it goes check-check on a board like . It’s completely natural to think, well the turn is an overcard, it’s not very good for my range, I’m just going to check to my opponent. But that’s not the case, there are a lot of overcards that come on the turn that we should really bet quite wide on around 40% of the time.
So again as mentioned we must take into account the flop strategy of the button here. Let’s look at a board like , if we look at the button’s c-bet range they c-bet so much , , and so on, and they check more with their and their . Even their and on some textures.
So when the turn is a , for example, we shouldn’t just check to the preflop aggressor. If we really think about it, our opponent is going to c-bet a bunch of their , etc. So if the flop goes check-check, they’re not going to have too many of those turned top pairs. Which means we get to probe really quite wider than we might think. So we can probe with , , even a hand like at some frequency.
The BTN doesn’t c-bet much with their on , so on a turn we bet out just 24% of the time.
We should still lead sometimes on these boards, because we have strong hands like and draws like — because sets like to bet and five-high loves to win the pot right now. In these spots, our sizing scheme is going to reflect our very low global frequency.
So on , our sizing scheme is going to be an overbet and a 50%-pot bet, because we want to bet hands like and we also have . But on a board like , we don’t want to bet hands like , so our range is really polarized. We only want to use that overbet size.
And of course the turn we bet out 16% of the time. Let’s remember overcard turns are all different, and if we really think about the button’s c-bet strategy, the keys to unlocking what overcards we can stab on the turn will open that door for us.
Example 4: “Bad” Boards Where We Rarely Probe Bet
Mike: Let’s do one more example, let’s do a flop and turn combo where we should basically never bet, where someone might just simplify their strategy and just check range on the turn. What are some examples of situations where that might be the case?
Gary: So we’ve had a few of those examples come up already in the podcast today. Those are the flops and/or turns that are REALLY bad for your range, and we want to play a very low-frequency turn probe. And again our sizing scheme is going to be an overbet. Even those of us that aren’t splitting our range, we don’t want to use a 75%-pot bet.
Some examples could be the single broadway flop with the turned high card, even the with the low turn like a . The flop not great for us, on this turn we lead 30% of the time maximum and because we’re so polarized our range is mainly overbetting.
Lots of A-high boards will require a turn overbet probe, not necessarily because of how bad the board is for us, but moreso because of how polarized our betting range is. Think about and then a on the turn, you’re not betting , you’re not betting you’re not betting , you’re rarely betting . Our betting range is very polarized here, so it’s betting infrequently and again using very big bet sizes only. We should have one size here, a nice 125% overbet!
So to summarize these three types of boards where we rarely probe bet:
- Single-broadway flop, broadway turn.
- Double-broadway flop, any turn
- Many A-high boards
If we choose a board like we have some two pair, we have some sets for value. Our bluffs to balance that range are going to be equity draws like , , . It’s really narrow and it’s really easy to work out what our range is.
Mike: Well, now everyone listening should have a much better idea of how to approach probe betting on the turn.
If you want to master this situation, there’s a great module in the Upswing Lab training course called Probe and Delay C-Bet on the Turn by UK poker pro Jason McConnon.
Join the Lab to take your game to the next level now! And be sure to use the coupon code levelup to get $50 off.