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):
Welcome back to the internet. Let’s take some time to level up your poker game. I’m Mike Brady and I’ve got Scottish poker pro Gary Blackwood on the line to help you with your strategy for a very specific type of flop in No Limit Hold’em.
Gary Blackwood (00:12):
Hello everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Today we’re looking at paired boards in single raise pots from the point of view of the pre flop aggressor and as well as that from the point of view of the Big Blind.
Mike Brady (00:21):
We’re going to lump all of these flops into three groups for this episode. High paired flops, middling paired flops, and low paired flops. Starting with high paired flops, we’ll cover how you should play as the in position pre flop raiser. Then we’ll turn the tables and talk about playing versus a bet as the out of position player in the Big Blind. We’ll wrap up this episode with a discussion about playing paired flops in multi-way pots so live players in particular will want to stick around until the end.
Before we get started, I want to let you know that Doug Polks brand new course, the End Boss System is dropping on Upswing Poker very soon, October 9th to be exact. You can join the waiting list for the End Boss System by going to upswingpoker.com/hu2023. I’ll tell you a little bit more about that course at the end of this episode. With that said, let’s get into paired flop strategies. Gary, suppose you raise pre-flop and the Big Blind calls. How are you playing high paired boards like AAx, KKx, QQx?
Gary Blackwood (01:20):
Very easy question to start here. We keep our strategy really nice and really simple. These boards are very good for us and we want to bet our entire range for a small size. These are the best possible boards for us. The equities that we have on certain textures are astronomically good for us, so we want to go ahead and bet our entire range for a small size on the AAx through JJx.
Mike Brady (01:40):
How does our pre-flop position impact our strategy? Are you playing these boards much differently if you are raising from Under the Gun and facing the Big Blind compared to maybe playing in the Cutoff or the Button?
Gary Blackwood (01:51):
So range betting overall in this spot is a bit of a simplification because we are supposed to find some checks on certain textures. They’re very few and far between, but we are supposed to find some checks at a medium frequency on certain board textures. I personally keep my strategy nice and simple and just range bet all of the AAx through QQx from every position. But if we do delve a little deeper into the solver, we’ll see that we can absolutely range bet from MP and Under the Gun, but we do find some checks on the Button. Case in point, QQJ rainbow, AAK flush draw. They’re actually only bets around 75% of the time. There are even one or two very extreme examples like AJJ Button versus Big Blind. You’re only supposed to c-bet 50% of the time, but these boards are very few and very far between. They are anomalies and we can just simplify our strategy and bet very often, range bet for a small size on all of these high pair boards.
Mike Brady (02:45):
Yeah, and it kind works out exploitative against at least a good chunk of players because they’re not going to play quite as loose and aggressively in the Big Blind. So if you do make that simplification and you happen to be on one of those anomaly boards like the AJJ Button vs Big Blind that Gary just mentioned, it might not even end up being a huge mistake if your opponent’s not responding properly. So speaking of that, how should the Big Blind respond to c-bets on these AAx through JJx flops?
Gary Blackwood (03:14):
Raising more than you would think to be honest, you’re supposed to really attack c-bets on paired boards and we’ll delve into some of the boards that we get to really attack later on, but even these AAx through JJx boards we’re supposed to raise on average around 14% of the time, Big Blind versus Button.,less so on the AAx and more so on the JJx. Now if you hear that and you think, well, I’m never raising 14% of the time on KK5 rainbow fear not, it’s very hard for humans to hit those numbers, particularly some of the medium boards where you’re supposed to check-raise 25% of the time. But as mentioned, you are supposed to raise really wide on all paired boards overall. So let’s take a look at a board like QQ5 rainbow MP versus Big Blind.
We’re supposed to raise here 18% of the time. Obviously lots of value in our range, lots of flop trips and a couple of full houses in there as well. But I really want to focus on the non-value parts of our range. We do so much raising with hands like King-nine suited with a backdoor flush draw, King-ten suited with a backdoor flush draw six-four suited with a backdoor flush draw, so many hands that can turn equity and continue barreling make it into our check-raising range, and that’s because we’ve got so many trips combos as mentioned, we need to find lots of bluffs to go with all those trips combos and these three card straight, three card flush backdoor draws are excellent to go alongside our value.
We’re looking for hands that can continue to barrel when they pick up equity, and we’re not talking about turn strategies here today, but a very nice insight into our turn strategy is that we continue to barrel very aggressively when we do pick up that equity. And the reason for that is that our opponents bet-call range is really quite wide on a board like QQ5, they’ve got so much Ace-high that is supposed to bet the flop and then call a raise and we get to put a lot of pressure on our opponent’s range when we pick up that equity and continue to barrel. And if our opponent does call our turn barrel, we’ve got it’s going to the river.
Mike Brady (05:02):
Same scenario you raise pre-flop, the guy in the big blank calls. How do things change strategically on middling paired flops like TTx through 77x?
Gary Blackwood (05:13):
So it’s actually really quite interesting. The AAx, QQx, we can range bet the solver deems the JJx, and the TTx boards as high frequency bets, not quite range bets but betting 75% of the time on average, and as soon as you hit the 99x flops, that frequency drops off and we only start betting around 50 ish percent of the time on average. One other thing that’s really quite interesting is that in terms of our frequency, there’s no difference between 992 rainbow and 998 flush draw. You tend to think that you want to bet less often when the board is a little more connected and that’s generally true, but not so much on paired boards. Our frequency is actually really consistent whether the board is super dry, like 992 or super connected like 998 flush draw.
Mike Brady (05:57):
Going to ask the same follow-up question as I did for the high paired boards, how does our pre flop position impact our strategy playing as the early position player or late position player? Is there any real difference on these middling paired flops?
Gary Blackwood (06:09):
A really minimal difference here in terms of the frequencies, probably betting slightly more on the Button here instead of from middle position, but really minimal overall betting around about 75% of the time on those JJx, TTx boards and then dropping quite drastically to a very consistent 50% of the time on the 99x, 88x.
Mike Brady (06:30):
And I assume that minimal difference where the Button does get to bet a little bit more often, I assume that’s because the Button has a wider range and thus they’re actually going to have trips more often on a 77x board because you might raise king-seven off on the Button, but you’re certainly not raising it from middle position, so you have a handful more trips, combos and you can kind of leverage that to bet a little bit more often. Is that kind of how it works?
Gary Blackwood (06:54):
Yeah, absolutely. You kind of lose that nut disadvantage that you have. As Mike has mentioned, there are plenty of combos like nine-seven suited, there are so many combos, I’m not going to list them all where you don’t have those from the point of view of middle position and obviously when you open on the Button and you’re opening a much wider range, which normally is a bit of a disadvantage to you when it comes to c-betting, however, when it increases the nutted combos that you have in your range, you’ll find that your frequencies go up ever so slightly.
Mike Brady (07:22):
Yeah, and I think that’s the strategic thread that’s kind of going to follow us throughout this entire episode and has been following us so far. It really comes down to trips on these boards, right? That’s what all of the strategies are being built around and it really drives the strategies heavily when we get those high paired flops like we talked about a few minutes ago as the pre-flop raiser, you have more of those high cards in your range. Two high card hands like Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack et cetera, that hit the really strong trips on those AAx, KKx, QQx et cetera type boards. So you get to bet more often, whereas you look at a board like 77x, you’re often going to have fewer trips so you don’t have enough strong hands to leverage to create a high betting frequency strategy.
So you really got to be cognizant of how many trips do I have, how likely is it that I have trips given my pre-flop range, my position, and how likely is it that the Big Blind has trips considering what they’re defending? You could even think about this in other spots if you’re up against an in position caller or if you’re up against, maybe playing a tournament, you’re up against a caller in the small blind. Just really think about the ranges, think about who has more trips combos and allow that to kind of drive your strategy overall. So moving over to the Big Blind on these middling paired flops, how should they respond to a c-bet on these middling paired flops?
Gary Blackwood (08:40):
Again, very aggressively Check-raising on average 21% at the time on these types of boards, we’ve seen the AAx through QQx being checked-raised a relatively high frequency. The frequency is now going to increase as mentioned 21% of the time on average. Now again, we’ve got lots of value to choose from, so many three of a kind combos and obviously some full house combos as well, and our bluffs are really once again centered around some immediate equity. I mean there are going to be some boards where we have a flush draw and a straight draw or a straight draw, but on a board like TT4 rainbow, perfect example, we’re looking for those three card straight, three card flush combos that can check raise.
For example, Queen-eight suited on TT4 rainbow with the backdoor flush draw is never folding. It is sometimes calling and mainly raising around 75% of the time, however, Queen-seven that has a backdoor flush draw but not a backdoor straight draw, that’s mainly a fold. The solver raises it 15-20% of the time, however, the vast majority of the time it’s folding and that slight difference in those two combos, they both have backdoor flush draws, but one can turn a lot of straight draws as well. This signifies how we want to build our check-raising range here. We really want to center around having a backdoor straight draw and a backdoor flush draw if possible.
Mike Brady (09:52):
I want to remind our audience that we’re talking about equilibrium strategies here. So when we’re talking about specific combos where Gary just talked about how Queen-seven suited will occasionally raise on a TT4 flop versus a c-bet, that’s assuming your opponent is using somewhat close to the equilibrium, also known as GTO bet size in the spot and on that board it’s going to be fairly small, right, Gary?
Gary Blackwood (10:14):
Mike Brady (10:16):
Yeah, so the in position player, when they bet 33% pot, you’re going to be check-raising the Queen-seven suited a fraction of the time, right? But if you’re playing against less studied opponents, maybe you’re playing a live $1-$3 game, your opponents might be using drastically non-GTO bet sizes. They might just be potting it on that TT4 flop or maybe they’re betting 75% pot and you have to be cognizant of that because you don’t want to just say, oh, the Level Up podcast told me to check-raise Queen-seven on this sport sometimes, but they potted it and they’re probably a somewhat tight player who’s playing pretty straightforwardly, you don’t want to just rifle money in there with the Queen-seven suited on TT4. You have to kind of critically think here if they use a bet size that’s drastically different from what is sort of the right bet size in the situation, you have to think how do I adjust my equilibrium ranges to counter that bet size properly?
And that’s the reason we learn equilibrium strategies because when you learn the right hands to check-raise, for example on a TT4 board against the optimal bet size, when you face a non-optimal bet size, you’re going to know exactly how to respond. When they bet bigger, you’re going to play tighter overall raising less often, especially with these kind of backdoor bluffs that Gary’s talking about and maybe they even bet smaller and you actually get to continue even more often, but most of the time the exploit you’re going to see is people are going to bet too big. They’re kind of going to just tell you, hey, I have kings on TT4 and I’m trying to protect, I have a ten on TT4 and I’m trying to just get money from you. Don’t play into their hands by just still going crazy and acting like they bet 33% when they actually bet much bigger. We’ve done high and middling paired flops so far. Now let’s talk about low paired flops like 66x, 44x and 22x. How are you playing these low paired flops as the in position player who raise pre-flop?
Gary Blackwood (12:08):
Much more passively overall because we now start to have a trips disadvantage here and therefore our equity won’t be as high as it would be on a board like KK8, so we start to c-bet less frequently overall. One thing that’s really interesting to note that you might think a board like K44 is still a board with a high c-bet frequency because obviously the four isn’t great for us, but the king is good for us, but if we look at Button versus Big Blind, this board is still only bet around 50% of the time, and this tells us that our opponent having more trips in their range starts to really handicap us from being able to bet so wide. If we look at that Ki44 board, we can see that 4.7% of the Big Blind’s range is made up of three of a kind compared to 3.1% of the Button’s.
And when you compare the K44 to the KK4, the Button has a much bigger percentage of trips than the range and that’s why they get to c-bet so wide. So that example there, the difference between KK4 and K44, that tells us why we don’t get to c-bet as much is because that trips advantage plays such a massive factor into determining how often we want to bet and we really do need to be mindful of that. Yes, the king is good for us, but the two fours out there really not great and that changes our frequency quite drastically compared to a board like KK4 or QQ7.
Mike Brady (13:21):
Does our pre-flop position impact our strategy on these boards? So intuitively one might think, okay, you get the K44 board and you’re early position, you have a lot of King X hands and pocket Aces and the hands that are quite good that do want to put in a bet and you can maybe build your range around that, but on the other hand, you don’t have as many trips as the player who raised Under the Gun for example. So I kind of see two competing factors here. One making us want to bet more often, one making us want to bet less often is it either one?
Gary Blackwood (13:52):
So our frequencies are actually really quite similar from the point of view of MP versus Big Blind and Button versus Big Blind. These are the boards that we bet the least frequently, around 50% on average, but there’s no real difference to how we play from the point of view of MP versus Big Blind or Button versus Big Blind. The solver is actually really consistent in terms of its frequency. Now obviously there’ll be a difference in the range that wants to bet on 772 and 644, but in terms of how often we want to bet the solver’s really quite consistent, whether we’re MP versus Big Blind or Button versus Big Blind, these are the boards that we don’t want to bet very often at all, but what position we’re in doesn’t change too much. We’re not betting more from MP or more from the Button. It’s really quite consistent between the two different situations.
Mike Brady (14:34):
Seems like we just don’t want to be firing a lot of bets into that Big Blind player who simply has so many trips in their range regardless of our position, regardless of how powerful our pre-flop range is, we just don’t want to be rifling in a lot of bets against such a trips heavy range. Speaking of the Big Blind, how does the Big Blind respond to a c-bet on these low paired flops?
Gary Blackwood (14:57):
Really quite similarly to how we play the middling paired boards. We want to look for those three cards straight, three card flush type combos that can check-raise and pickup equity and continue to barrel. Obviously we’re going to have a lot of combos that have immediate equity. For example, we’re going to have a lot of flush draws or straight draws or sometimes both in the form of a combo draw. So we want to look for some immediate equity and plenty of backdoor equity that we can check-raise along with our very wide value range. One thing I want to talk about is that obviously we now know that Button versus Big Blind we’re not supposed to c-bet really wide on a board like 733 or 644 if we’re playing against the type of player that is going to over c-bet on this texture, we want to really attack those c-bets.
Case in point on a board like 744 rainbow, the Button is supposed to check back with king-ten suited with a backdoor flush, draw ace-six suited with a backdoor flush draw. So if we’re playing against the type of player that’s going to c-bet those hands even sometimes say they see that half the time when they’re supposed to never c-bet. If we’ve got a hand like Jack-five suited with the backdoor straight draw,the backdoor flush, draw minimal showdown value, let’s go ahead and really aggressively check-raise these combos because we’re putting our opponents in a world of hurt with combos they shouldn’t be in there with, and we force ’em to fold those decent king highs and Ace highs with the nice backdoor equity, we can put a lot of pressure on their range, which is too wide. So let’s be mindful of that. If people are c-betting too much on these low paired boards, we want to be really aggressive with these three card straight, three card flush combos and check-raise them relentlessly.
Mike Brady (16:21):
I think it’s reasonable to expect that a lot of players will actually c-bet too often on these boards. I think it’s a simplification a lot of players are going to make. They just see a paired board, they’re in position, they’re going to fire a small c-bet very, very frequently, maybe even too often and against a lot of players they’re actually kind of right to do that because a lot of players in the Big Blind are not going to respond properly against that small bet. They’re not going to call with as many high card hands that they’re supposed to call with. They’re not going to check-raise as often as they’re supposed to. So betting too often is actually going to be a pretty good adjustment against a lot of people, but we are preparing you to not make that a good adjustment against you.
If you’re in the Big Blind and you’re check-raising with just a solid range, you’re already going to be messing up a guy who’s c-betting too often, but if you realize they’re c-betting too often and then you start to jack up your check-raise frequency even more, you’re really going to be countering that player to the max, which kind of flips it on its head because if you play too tight, they’re actually exploiting you so you can kind of turn the tables and take advantage of their mistake. Before we wrap up, let’s help out our live poker playing friends by talking about paired flops in multi-way pots. Do you have any general advice for playing paired flops multi-way?
Gary Blackwood (17:36):
So there’s a couple of things that we can talk about. Firstly, you’re supposed to do more checking multi-way regardless of the texture of the board. This is because we’re multi-way, more players in the pot, less equity to be shared amongst all the players and generally when you’ve got less equity in poker, you’re doing less c-betting. So let’s be mindful of the fact that we’re multi-way, regardless of the texture, and we want to be c-betting a lot less frequently.
Now we’re not always checking, but we can’t c-bet so liberally with our air because obviously we’re multi-way. We want to choose our higher equity bluffs like straight draws and flush draws. Maybe some backdoor straight back door flush two over card type combos can make it in there as well. Jack-ten on 844 at some frequency is certainly reasonable, but we can’t just go ahead and bet liberally with our air.
We also want to be mindful of the fact that we need to be more reserved with our value as well. If we open Under the Gun and Hijack calls and Button calls as well and the flop comes down 955, our over pairs aren’t as nutted as they might look. Let’s be mindful of relative hand strength when the board is paired and not just c-bet relentlessly all the time with all of our over pairs. Second piece of advice, really important, we want to be using smaller bet sizes multi-way anyway.
Particularly though on the paired boards case in point, if 95% of your range isn’t three of a kind or better, you really want to cater to that 95% of your range and not pile money into the pot. Even if you’ve flopped trips, you’re still going to want to use a small size because as mentioned, the overwhelming part of your range is not trips and therefore you want to cater to that part of your range as opposed to using big bet sizes just because you might have flopped three of a kind sometimes.
So small bet sizes generally multiway anyway, but even more so on paired boards. Lastly, and just as importantly, let’s be very mindful of how the Big Blind’s range will have so many hands that no other player at the table can have. That will complete multi-way with six-four suited, five-three suited, king-four suited, seven-six off suit.. The list is endless, so these middling and low paired boards are especially dangerous multi-way when the Big Blind is in there.
People play way too loose multi-way from the Big Blind anyway in live poker, looser than they should because they feel priced in and call with a lot of hands that they shouldn’t and that means more big flopped hands for them that no other player at the table can have. So let’s be really mindful of the fact that when we’re multiway and the Big Blind is in there on a board like J44, the Big Blind is going to have way more trips combos than anyone else at the table and we’ve got to be really mindful of that. Plus factoring in the fact that we’re multi-way and all the other things that we’ve just spoken about,
Mike Brady (20:05):
Definitely have to play around the Big Blind quite a bit on these paired flops because like Gary said, they are just going to have all of these random suited hands and connected hands that will hit trips, kind of a disguised trips on these boards like 955 or TT3.
Gary Blackwood (20:21):
Yeah, absolutely. The one thing I want to finish with here though is I don’t want to have you guys just auto-checking all your overpairs all the time because there’s the potential of three of a kind on the board. I’m not saying we want to play super passively and really shut down with some of our value. Live poker is all about getting the value when you can. I’m just saying we want to be much more mindful, particularly when there are, we’ve all played those live games where you’re four or five, six ways to the flop.
We’ve got to be really mindful of that, less so if we open in the Hijack the Button calls and the Big Blind calls, we can still see about relatively wide with our overpairs on 633 when we’re only out of position versus one player. But if we open Under the Gun, we get three calls, then the Button calls, then both the blinds come in. My Aces aren’t looking anywhere near as good on a board like 733 compared to whether when it’s Cutoff versus Button versus Big Blind. So let’s not just go ahead and really shut down with our overpairs. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But we want to be really mindful of different scenarios and as we’ve spoken about when the Big Blind’s in there, we want to really take that to consider.
Mike Brady (21:22):
You should now have a pretty damn good idea how to play paired flops, high paired flops, middling paired flops, low paired flops and multi-way. Be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments or on social media. We’re always curious to hear how people are doing with our strategies and also if you ever have a topic suggestion, feel free to hit us up on any of the platforms. I think we’re on most of them.
I want to quickly let everyone know that the End Boss System is coming to upswingpoker.com in less than two weeks! Doug Polk and his longtime heads up coach Fabian Adler have been working hard on this course for the better part of 2023, and it’s an absolute gold mine of poker strategy insight. The End Boss System focuses on heads up strategy, but even if you don’t play much or any heads up, this course is guaranteed to be a game changer for you. By the end, you’ll understand crucial concepts and mechanics that also apply to online cash games, live cash games and tournaments.
The End Boss System drops on October 9th, pre-register now by going to upswingpoker.com/hu2023. You won’t want to miss the launch week offer on this one and pre-registering will ensure that you get notified in time to take advantage of it. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.