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 postflop play after defending with a weak hand?
It’s easy to get lost and make mistakes when playing a hand out of position that you aren’t accustomed to playing, especially when bets and barrels start flying into the pot.
You’re about to read 4 tips that will make your opponents regret opening light on your big blind. Each is accompanied by an example to help cement your understanding.
This article has been updated (originally published in October 2017).
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 preflop call, but folding doesn’t make the preflop call any less profitable.
In fact, you should often over-fold on the flop so your range becomes more competitive by the turn and river (when the pot is at its biggest). Surrendering the pot more often on the flop is a small price to pay for having a strong, competitive range on later streets.
Here’s a hand that was played by an Upswing member that demonstrates this concept:
Online MTT 9-Handed. 32bb Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt 6♣ 4♥ in the big blind
UTG raises to 2.2bb. UTG+2 calls. All others fold. Hero defends.
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.
River (25.2bb): Q♥
Hero bets 34bb all-in. UTG calls and mucks K♦ K♥.
This is a fold on the flop for two main reasons:
First, UTG’s c-betting range should be strong in a three-way pot. 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 can assume he is betting with a strong range and make the fold with our gutshot straight draw.
Second, we have better draws with which to continue. There are loads of draws — gutshots, open-enders and flush draws — in our range on this flop. If we continue with all of them, our range will be super 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♥). The weakest gutshots (64, 74, 96) should be folded unless they have a backdoor flush draw.
Leading on the turn makes some sense because the 7♣ is a great card for our range. That said, 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. Solvers are capable of pulling off complex strategies like this, but very few humans are. The simpler and preferred option would be to check our entire range on the turn. (We’ll talk more about leading in tip #4.)
As played, 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 decently often.
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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 with too many draws may 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.
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, along with many flush draws, so we should only bet with some of them to avoid over-bluffing.
This is a reasonable way to categorize our straight draws on the turn:
- Bet with combo draws (4♣ 3♣, 9♣ 7♣, etc) 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 gutshots (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 generating 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 will approach 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 opponent has a missed flush draw, which they will almost certainly fold.
On board-pairing rivers, we should be especially selective with 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:
You can slow-play more strong hands on the flop and turn. Simply check-calling with at least some strong hands on earlier streets will make your range stronger and more competitive by the river.
Call down lighter. If you make a lot of big 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: If you have a reliable read that your opponent isn’t a bluffer, feel free to continue making big folds against them.)
Here’s an example hand Doug Polk played during his WCOOP High Roller run a few years back:
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 — 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: mixed stategies 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
Turn leading was brought up 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, which is difficult to pull off.
On turns that pair the middle or bottom card, your range advantage is significant enough to warrant leading small with your entire range (or close to 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:
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♣.
Preflop and Flop Analysis
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 flop is a clear check-call. With better than 3-to-1 pot odds, bottom pair has ample equity to call.
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.
To learn more about turn leading, check out our article This Poker “Cheat Code” Will Help You Win More Hands.
- 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♠ postflop, I suggest playing some smaller-than-usual 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 almost any two cards.
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