This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike Brady (00:00):
Ready to level up your poker game? My name is Mike Brady and I’m once again joined by Poker Pro, Gary Blackwood.
Gary Blackwood (00:07):
Hello everyone. Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about c-betting out of position in single raise pots. We’ve already covered c-betting in position, now it’s time to turn the tables and take a look at how we play when we’re out of position.
Mike Brady (00:18):
Playing out of position as the pre-flop raiser is one of the most misplayed situations among poker players. A lot of people think that just because they raised pre-flop, they should follow through with a bet on the flop at a high frequency, and that’s largely true when you’re in position, but playing out of position calls for a much more passive and defensive strategy. If you’re continuation betting, AKA c-betting too often in these spots, you’re likely leaving a lot of money on the table. We’re going to help you plug that leak in this episode. First, we’ll help you understand the “why” behind out of position c-betting strategy.
From there, we’ll go over a bunch of different example situations to help you with these tricky spots. Just to be clear, we’re going to narrow the scope of this episode to playing versus an in-position caller who called from a position like the button or the cutoff or the hijack. We are not going to be talking about blind versus blind play, which does have some similarities, but it also has some monstrous differences and we want to keep the scope of this episode a little smaller so we can cover this topic adequately. Let’s get into it. So Gary, why is playing a passive defensive strategy so important as the out of position pre-flop raiser?
Playing Passively Out Of Position
Gary Blackwood (01:25):
Yeah, a great question to start us off here. As I always say, understanding why we do certain things is much better than just being told to do X, Y, Z and implementing it regardless. The main reason that we want to play more passively out of position is because of how our range stacks up against our opponent’s range. For example, if we open in the cutoff and the button flats, we’re opening 29% of our hands and the button has a very tight flatting range, around 6% of hands if they’re playing optimally. When we have a wide range up against a narrow range, the narrow range tends to fare really quite well on a fair few board textures. Don’t get me wrong, some boards will always be better for the pre-flop aggressor, but there are so many boards that the button is actually doing better on. I:e has more equity despite us having Aces Kings, Queens in our range.
We’re actually doing worse than the button in some spots, and this is the most important reason that we want to have a much higher checking frequency. When we’re out of position on a variety of textures, it’s that really wide range up against that relatively narrow range, and the narrow range is doing much better because it has less air in its range, and we miss the board so much more often. Secondly, it sounds a little obvious, but it’s still very important. We are the out of position player and therefore our opponent is in position and anyone watching this knows that at times it can be very difficult to play out of position. On the flip side, it’s much easier to play in position. So if we’re c-betting too much, our opponent can just float us really wide and make our lives a misery on the turn. Our range is far too wide and we end up doing so much check folding as a result.
Mike Brady (02:52):
Yeah, it’s much better to just start with that passive defensive strategy. On most boards, start with the check, see what they do, maybe they’ll bet, you can implement a check-raising strategy, which we’ll talk about a little bit more. Maybe they check the flop and then you start to play the turn and the pot’s kind of smaller. But what you don’t want to do is just be firing in that c-bet at way too high of a frequency, bloating the pot and then getting to the turn with too wide of a range and now you’re going to have to be check-folding in a pot that you’ve built.
So now that you understand the “why,” I want to run through a few examples to help you play these out of position spots. Let’s start with the flops that are absolutely terrible for us as the pre-flop raiser. Suppose you raise in middle position and the button calls, what are some flops that warrant checking your entire range?
When to Check Your Entire Range
Gary Blackwood (03:35):
So it’s really nice that we get to group so many types of flops here together as one. The solver checks nine-high and below unpaired flops, which is so many flops that we’re just checking our entire range on, and quite a lot of Ten-high flops as well. That is so many flops that we are just checking our entire range on, and let’s pick a few and talk about the equities. We’ve got 9-8-6 flush draw as the pre-flop raiser with all the overpairs, even flopped sets in our range and some flopped two pairs. We’ve got 48.7% equity. Even if we look at a disconnected 7-3-2 rainbow for example, the hijack again has only got 47.2% equity. That’s with all the overpairs, some flopped sets, all those types of hands. Our range is really struggling and as a result we’ve got to do so much checking. You can even look at a flop like K-9-8, which might sound like a board we c-bet really wide on. We do have an equity advantage here, but given how connected the board is and how much resistance we’ll be met with, this is a virtual range check.
Mike Brady (04:36):
It’s worth noting that these boards are especially bad for you as the out of position player when you’ve raised pre-flop from one of those middle or late positions, where you actually have somewhat of a wide range and thus you have a lot of air in your range hands that have totally missed the flop. If you raise from, for example, under the gun, your range is going to be really tight overall and thus it’s going to be a higher proportion of overpairs or strong medium pairs and stuff like that. Maybe even sets on a board like 9-8-6. So on those boards you actually do get to do a little bit more c-betting, but it’s especially bad when you’re in the hijack where you’ve raised a good number of hands pre-flop, you got all the K-T offsuits of the world. If you’re going that loose, K-J offsuit, those types of hands, and they all miss these 9-8-6 boards, therefore your range is just a lot more air. So I think the key takeaway here is to think about how much air your range has and also how hard the board hits their condensed range that they called with pre-flop.
Gary Blackwood (05:30):
Yeah, absolutely. And there’s one last thing I want to add here and it’s really quite important. Obviously we’re talking about when you play against a wide range against a condensed range, 27% versus 6%. A lot of us will be playing live poker and will be playing against players who will not flat 6% on the button. I:e players that play way too loose. They’ll have all the 7-6 suited, all the K-J offsuits and so on in their range, which means you’re no longer a wide range against a narrow range. You’re actually a wide range against a relatively wide range.
One of the points I made earlier still very much stands. We’re out of position, so we don’t want to c-bet insanely wide because our opponent is in position. It can make our lives very difficult, but that sort of negates the wide range versus narrow range factor, and it is really important we don’t implement the same strategy versus those types of players, because we’ll be costing ourselves a lot of money. So when you’re up against a player who’s playing really loosely, you don’t just check your entire range on T-9-3 for example. You want to have plenty of c-bets in there, because their range is not really narrow and as a result you’re not at such an equity disadvantage.
Mike Brady (06:28):
Yeah, that’s a really great point. So just critically think, consider all of the factors in this situation, how your range stacks up against your opponent’s estimated range, and try to make the right decision. I think the examples we’re going to cover throughout the rest of the episode will kind of give you the tools needed to help you understand how these ranges tend to match up. Suppose you check and face a bet on one of these boards that you’ve been talking about where we check our entire range against a narrow calling range. You said 7-3-2 rainbow, K-9-8, 9-8-6.. How are you going to approach check-raising on these flops, should you check and then face a bet by that imposition player?
When to Check-Raise
Gary Blackwood (07:02):
So let’s look at our 7-3-2 rainbow as our first example here. Say we follow the solver and check our entire range on the flop. Yes, the button has more equity here as stated, but remember we’ve checked our entire range. We are completely uncapped, so we still have strong over-pairs. We’ve still got some sets, some top pair, top kicker. So when we play a really high frequency flop check strategy, we must back it up with a solid check-raising strategy as well. On the 7-3-2 for example, we check-raise 17% of our hands, which is a really high frequency check-raise here, and our value is very easy to work out. We’ve got all the overpairs, the Tens, Jacks, Queens, Kings and Aces that want to check-raise. We’ve got some sets, we’ve got some top pair, top kicker type hands. These are all really nice candidates to go into our value check-raising range.
Remember we’re completely uncapped, so we can justify a very wide check-raising strategy. Our weaker hands will revolve around our minimal showdown and backdoor equity. So on 7-3-2, we get to be really creative. We’ve got hands like 9-8 with a backdoor flush draw, J-T with a backdoor flush draw, A-4 with a gut-shot, Q-J suited, which has got two really high cards and a backdoor flush draw. So many different types of hands that have really high over-cards or a backdoor draw or a gut-shot, minimal showdown. A bit of all four. Our value range is really wide, so we’ve got a back that up and choose from one of the many combos of backdoor equity plus minimal showdown that we have to choose from.
Mike Brady (08:29):
Before we move on to flops that are slightly better for us, I want to make sort of an exploitative note. We were just talking about those live players who will flat way too often in position, they’ll have too many K-J offsuits and 7-6 suited and hands like that. Another thing these types of players will often do is they’ll stab too often on the flop when checked to. They won’t realize that you’re going to be checking a very strong range on these boards, so they’re going to bet too often for “protection.” Sometimes that will have merit on their end and they’re right to make that bet, but a lot of times they do it too often.
So by having this check-raising strategy, and having it be well-balanced with both value hands where they will call with worse and bluffs that will get them to fold their weakest hands, you’re really going to be exploiting their mistake to stab too often. So if you’re up against one of those players who you suspect is stabbing too often when checked to on the flop, they really like to protect their hand. They might even say it aloud, this is going to be an especially helpful tactic for you. Now let’s move on to flops that are better for us but still not great. Again, suppose you raise from one of the middle positions and the button calls, what are some flops that warrant some, but not a lot of c-betting?
When to Mix Between Checks and Bets
Gary Blackwood (09:38):
When we talk about boards that are better for us but not great, our average c-bet frequency is still going to be really quite low. On the boards that we’re about to talk about, we’re only c-betting about 35% of the time on average. These are boards like Q-9-2, Q-7-3, even a board like K-6-4. They’re okay for us, but they’re not particularly amazing. On the flip side, if we’re button versus big blind, these boards are a 70% or 80% frequency bet, and that’s a really nice contrast there between how we play when we’re in position compared to when we’re out of position.
Ace-high boards are a type of board that people c-bet way too wide on, and if we’re that type of player, we can plug a leak immediately by checking more often on these Ace-high boards, sort of acknowledging that it’s not an amazing board for us, but not terrible either. It kind of falls into the middling category along with the Q-7-3s, the K-9-5s, those types of middling boards that we want to c-bet sometimes on, but definitely not always when we’re out of position.
Mike Brady (10:30):
This really demonstrates a contrast between playing in position and out of position when c-betting. When we did our episode on in position c-betting, the boards that were slightly better for us, we were still c-betting 50-60% of the time, those were the middling boards for us. But now we’re talking about the middling boards out of position and our c-bet frequency has plummeted to 25-30-35%. The scale is completely different. When you’re in position, you’re going to just be c-betting way more often. So what I would consider a middling frequency in position is like 50-60-70%, but a middling frequency out of position for c-betting is more like 25% or 30%. Be sure to keep that in mind. A high c-bet frequency out of position is not the same as a high c-bet frequency in position. It’s all relative. Moving on, how are you building your c-betting and check-raising ranges on these sort of middling boards?
Gary Blackwood (11:21):
When our c-betting frequency is quite low, we play a relatively ABC strategy. On the flip side, we’ve seen a high check-raise frequency, we need to get quite creative. That’s not the case here. Our frequency is really quite low, so everything becomes much easier and much more ABC. We want to bet our strong draws, our stronger hands like our strong top pairs and overpairs and our sets as well. Those types of hands are low frequency c-bets because obviously we’re not c-betting that often at all, but they become very high frequency check-raises. There’s really no need to get fancy here. Our betting frequency and our check-raise frequencies are both really quite low, so it’s pretty easy to work out which hands we want to put in more money with. We want to c-bet or check-raise our stronger made hands and our draws, and remember it’s completely okay to just go ahead and check-fold our low equity hands that don’t want to continue.
Mike Brady (12:07):
Right, so in this case, you’re leveraging the strong hands in your range to create both a strong check-raising range and a strong betting range. You have to split your range in this spot. Sometimes betting with your sets, sometimes checking to check-raise, sometimes checking with your over-pairs to check-raise, sometimes betting.. You simply have enough strong hands on these boards to support both a check-raising range and a betting range. This is unlike the previous boards we were talking about where you check your entire range and then you check-raise a bunch of value and you have to get creative with those bluffs. You no longer have to do that here. It’s pretty easy to work out, like Gary said, what you’re going to be piling in more money with. Moving on to our last example. Again, our middle position raise versus a button call. What are the very best flops for us? Ones that we’re c-betting relatively often given our positional disadvantage.
Gary Blackwood (12:54):
We’re going to have boards like K-J-6 rainbow, very wide c-bet for us. K-J-8 flush draw, though much more connected, still betting sometimes, but nowhere near as much. That would fall into the more middling category. Remember, the more connected the board, the more we’re going to tend to check. These high paired boards are relatively good for us as well. Boards like K-K-4, Q-Q-9, J-J-T, We still get to bet these really quite wide. That’s pretty much it. The King, Queen and Jack high double broadway disconnected, the high paired boards, those are our biggest frequency c-bets.
Mike Brady (13:28):
This goes back to something you’ve said time and time again on this podcast, which is that when you’re going to face more resistance when you bet, you should bet less often overall, especially with your lower equity hands. So when there’s a straight draw on the board, when there’s a flush draw on the board, when it’s a board that hits your opponent’s range quite hard, you bet less often because simply put, they are going to call and raise more often when you bet, and when your opponent is going to do a lot of calling and a lot of raising, betting becomes less attractive unless you have a part of your range that really wants to pile money in the pot as soon as possible with the bet. On these high paired boards and these high double broadway disconnected boards, how are you building your c-betting and check-raising ranges?
Gary Blackwood (14:10):
So given these boards like K-J-5 are better for us, we get to bet them much wider, including a bit more with our complete air, case in point on K-9-7, we just never bet a hand like A-3 with no backdoor flush draw, but on K-J-5, which is a better board for us, less disconnected, we’re less likely to be met with resistance. A hand like A-3 with no backdoor flush draw will bet at some frequency, not always, but certainly not never. So let’s look at the board and work out if it’s a really bad board for us, a middling board for us or a relatively good board for us, and the better the board, the more liberally you get to bet with your airballs. As for our check-raises, again, really centered around equity and strong hands.
We can finish up here by talking about why that is obviously a board like K-J-5, it’s a relatively good board for us, which makes a really bad board for the button. So when we do check and the button stabs, their equity and their range all of a sudden have gotten much stronger, and we don’t want to check-raise into a range that’s all of a sudden doing really quite well. So our range itself is really ABC. We’re going to check-raise our strong hands, our sets, our two pairs, maybe Ace King on this K-J-5, and our strong draws hands like Q-T, maybe Q-9 with a backdoor flush draw, A-T with a backdoor flush draw. Really ABC, really face up, really easy to work out what we want to check-raise here.
Mike Brady (15:22):
I’m glad you brought up that K-J-5 example. We were talking about that exploitative concept earlier where people, especially live, might stab too often in position when checked to. I don’t think they really do that on a board like K-J-5. I think when someone has Pocket Fours or Pocket Sevens or maybe a Five on K-J-5, I don’t think, and this is largely speculation, all players are different, they’re not going to stab this board nearly as often. When people do that “protection bet” that live players often do, it’s usually on those boards that don’t have high cards, because they’re putting you on high cards. It’s a pretty simple logic that they’re usually using. So when the board is, for example, 9-8-6, they might bet Pocket Fives because they want you to fold Ace King. But on K-J-5, I don’t think they’re really going to bet Pocket Sevens that often, because what exactly are they trying to get you to fold? There’s a King and a Jack out there, so all the high cards have straight draws and stuff like that. So you’re not going to see as many of those protection betts, and that goes to your point. The stabbing range when you check to your opponent on these boards is generally going to be quite a bit tighter.
Join the Lab to Master C-Betting Out of Position
You should now have a pretty good idea of the fundamentals when it comes to c-betting out of position.
But if you want to really dive incredibly deep into this area of the game tree and really maximize your win rate in these out of position spots, whenever an in position player calls you, I highly recommend checking out Gary Blackwood’s module in the Upswing Lab — “Single Raise Pots After the Button Calls Preflop,” that’s what the module is called.
It’s a seven and a half hour beast of a lesson on playing out a position as the preflop raiser.
He covers playing as middle position versus the button, as well as cutoff versus the button. Then he flips it around and covers playing as the button versus those positions. Then he moves on to turn situations, so you have a good idea how to navigate the turn after those flop plays.
He wraps up the module with a bunch of hand histories, some multi-way concepts and general exploits to use in these out of position spots. Super valuable module, definitely worth the price of admission on the lab. So go check that one out, if you’re a Lab member
And if you’re not a Lab member, you can use code LEVELUP to get $50 off when you join.
That’s an exclusive discount for people who listen to or watch this podcast. So, please go check out the lab if you’re interested in that.
With all that said, we’ll see you in the next episode of Upswing Poker Level-Up.