Most of you already know that you should defend your big blind a lot in tournaments, but do you know what to do next? Specifically, how should you approach post-flop play after defending with a weak hand?
Here are four tips that will make your opponents rue the day they opened light on your big blind.
Pratyush Buddiga contributed to this article
Tip 1: You don’t need to continue with every piece
Don’t feel obligated to check-call every time you connect with the board after defending with a weak hand. You should consider each situation individually and make the best decision possible, which often means folding.
Decisions from street to street are independent of one another. It’s no fun to fold on the flop after making a marginally profitable pre-flop call, but folding doesn’t make the pre-flop call any less profitable.
(Note: Want to turn your poker hobby into your side hustle? Start crushing your tournament and cash game competition with expert strategies when you join the Upswing Lab. Learn more now!)
Here’s a hand that was played by an Upswing member that demonstrates this concept:
Online MTT 9-Handed. 32bb Effective Stacks.
Flop (8.2bb): 5♦ T♦ 8♠
Hero checks. UTG bets 4.5bb. UTG+2 folds. Hero calls
Turn (17.2bb): 7♣
Hero bets 4bb. UTG calls.
This is a fold on the flop. Here’s why:
UTG is unlikely to c-bet light against two opponents on such a dynamic board texture. If UTG completely missed the flop with a hand like AKo or K♣ Q♣, he would likely give up. So, we should assume he is betting with a strong range and make a tight fold.
- We have better draws to continue with
We have a lot of draws—gut-shots, open-enders and flush draws—in our range on this flop. If we continue versus a bet with all of them, our range will be far too weak on the turn in a bloated pot.
Continuing with 76 through QJ is probably best on this flop, though we should consider folding some marginal draws in-between (e.g., J♥ 7♥). Fold the weakest gut-shots (64, 74, 96) unless they have a backdoor flush draw.
Leading on the turn makes sense because the 7♣ is a great card for our range; but leading on a turn like this is a complex strategy, and tough to implement correctly. We’ll have to lead with some bluffs to balance our turn leading range, and check some strong hands to protect our turn checking range. The simpler option would be to check our entire range on the turn. (More on leading in tip #4.)
The overbet on the river is fine. Our range is polarized—we have either a very strong hand or a bluff—and our opponent’s range is weighted towards one pair. Since all of our value bets will be two-pair and better, we can comfortably overbet for value and expect to be called by worse.
Tip 2: Be careful not to over-bluff when your range is full of draws
When your range contains a plethora of draws, it’s important to categorize them carefully. Betting too many draws will result in over-bluffing, which your opponent can exploit by calling down light. On the other hand, every draw you check-fold is, potentially, a wasted opportunity.
Let’s take a look at an example from Pratyush’s Tournament Master Class:
Online MTT 9-handed. 93.2bb Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt 9♥ 8♠ in the big blind
5 folds. CO raises to 2.2bb. 2 folds. Hero defends.
Flop (6.1bb): 2♣ Q♦ T♥
Hero checks. CO checks.
Turn (6.1bb): 6♣
Hero bets 4.4bb. CO folds.
98 is a slam dunk bet on the turn. We have a lot of straight draws in our range, so we should only bet with some of them to avoid over-bluffing. Here’s how we should categorize our straight draws on this turn:
- Bet with combo draws (e.g., 4♣ 3♣, 9♣ 7♣) and the low open-enders (J9 and 98)
- Check-call or check-raise with the high straight draws (KJ and K9)
- Play a mixed strategy—bet half the time, check-fold half the time—with the middling gut-shots (J8, 97, and 87)
- Check-fold the lowest straight draws (54, 43, and 53)
This is a solid default strategy that will prevent us from over-bluffing while still pushing adequate fold equity on the turn. (Note: If we know our opponent folds often against turn bets, we can exploit them by betting more middling gutshots.)
How we play the river depends on the card that falls:
If the river is a club, for instance, we should continue bluffing with missed straight draws that have a club and thus block the flush. If the river is a brick, then not having a club in our hand is ideal because it increases the likelihood that the CO has a missed flush draw, which they will almost certainly fold. On board-pairing rivers, we should be especially careful bluffing because our opponent will be inclined to call after so many draws have missed.
Tip 3: Slow-play some strong hands to protect your calling ranges
Professionals and amateurs alike fold too often against river barrels. This is a very costly mistake since the pot is, on average, largest on the river.
There are two ways to remedy frequent river folding:
- Slow-play more strong hands on the flop and turn
We can strengthen our range on the river by slow-playing more strong hands on earlier streets.
- Call down lighter
If you make a lot of hero folds on the river with hands like top pair, calling down more often can help your win-rate tremendously (see: How to Decide Which Hands to Call Down Vs Triple Barrel). Granted, calling a big river bet with a less-than-stellar hand might feel daunting, but you’ll need to get used to it to compete with an always-improving poker population.
(Note: Want to take a short cut on your path to poker success? The Upswing Lab is what we would teach our younger selves, if we could send information back in time. Learn more now!)
Online MTT 8-handed. 53.5bb Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt 9♦ 5♠ in the big blind
utg folds. UTG+1 raises to 2.2bb. 5 folds. Hero calls.
Flop (6.2bb): 9♠ 5♣ Q♦
Hero checks. UTG+1 bets 2.8bb. Hero raises to 9.4bb. utg+1 folds.
Check-raising with bottom two pair is sometimes acceptable, but we should generally lean toward calling down to protect our range. We have stronger hands with which to check-raise, here, including 99, 55, Q9 and Q5.
(Note: One could argue that because 95 does not block top pair, it functions better than Q9/Q5 as a check-raise. Both approaches are fine, so long as we don’t check-raise every combo of all of them.)
If we check-raise on the flop with every two pair or better, the top of our calling range becomes top pair. It will be tough to call down frequently enough versus barrels with such a capped range.
Another approach is to use a mixed strategy—i.e., check-raising most of the time, check-calling the rest of the time—with all of our strong hands on this flop. This strategy is more difficult to implement correctly (see: article), but it makes our range more versatile and gives us more playability across future streets.
Tip 4: Capitalize on board pairing cards that give you a range advantage
Prat touched on turn leading in the example of tip #1, but pulling off a profitable leading strategy on that board (5♦ T♦ 8♠ 7♣) is difficult. You would need to balance not just your leading range, but your check-calling and check-raising ranges as well.
On turns that pair the middle or bottom card, your range advantage is significant enough to warrant leading small with your entire range. This leading strategy is easy to implement with no need to balance three ranges simultaneously.
Here’s another hand from Doug’s WCOOP run that he and Pratyush reviewed for the Tournament Master Class:
Online MTT 8-Handed. 23bb Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt T♥ 5♣ in the big blind
5 folds. BTN raises to 2.5bb. sb folds. Hero defends.
Flop (6.6bb): J♦ 5♠ 8♥
Hero checks. BTN bets 2.8bb. Hero calls.
Turn (12.2bb): 5♦
Hero bets 3bb. BTN calls.
River (18.2bb): 6♣
Hero goes all-in for 14.7bb. BTN calls and mucks J♥ T♣.
Defending T♥ 5♣ against a button raise is fine. Versus any of the tighter positions, however, we should probably fold considering how large the open is (2.5bbs).
The turn 5♦ gives us a significant range advantage, so we lead for ~25% pot with our entire range. The button is highly incentivized to check back because he can rarely have trips (he usually wouldn’t bet bottom pair on the flop), and we have many combinations of trips (we would check-call every bottom pair on the flop). This weak-lead prevents our opponent from checking back and, when he folds, it prevents him from realizing his equity.
The river is an easy shove. Trapping is unnecessary with less than a pot-sized bet behind. We can balance our range on this river by also shoving our missed straight draws.
- Don’t feel obligated to continue every time you catch a piece of the flop
- Be careful not to over-bluff when your range is full of draws
- Slow-play some strong hands on the flop to protect your calling range
- When you pick up a range advantage, pounce on it
Hopefully these tips will bring your win-rate from the big blind up a tick or two.
If you’re still uncomfortable with the thought of playing hands like 6♥ 4♠ post-flop, I suggest playing some small stakes tournaments in order to gain experience with low risk to your bankroll. You’ll find opportunities to implement the strategies you learned today, and soon enough you’ll be itching to defend with any two cards.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. Take care!
Note: Ready to take your poker game to the next level? Master expert strategies from our world-class team of coaches when you join the Upswing Lab. Learn more now!
Read more from Upswing Poker based on your favorite game:
Cash Games: These 4 Rules Will Help You Choose the Perfect Bet Size
Tournaments: 8 Quick Tournament Tips to Help You Top the Leaderboard
Live Poker: 5 Tips for 4-Betting That Every Aspiring Pro Should Know
All Games: 4 Real-World Examples That Will Help You Overbet Better