What is a probe bet?
A probe bet is when you bet out of position into a player who had an opportunity to continuation bet on the prior street, but didn’t. Probing is only possible on the turn or river.
In this article, we’re going to discuss five different spots that will help you recognize when to check and when to probe bet.
Quick intro to probing
Often, when the preflop aggressor chooses not to continuation bet (c-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 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.
Let’s dive in to the hands.
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Hand 1: A prime spot to probe bet
Suppose you drove to the casino to play a $2/$5 live cash game. You just sat down and have chosen to post the big blind.
You are in the big blind with J♥ 7♠. Villain, on the button, opens to $15. The small blind folds and you decide to call. The flop comes:
T♠ 9♥ 2♠
You check to Villain (as you should with all of your hands), and they check back. The turn is dealt:
This is a great turn to probe with your hand. You have four outs to improve to a straight (8), and three outs to improve to top pair (J). You also have three outs to hit third pair (7), which will sometimes be good at showdown. All in all, your hand will have around 19% equity when called.
Moreover, you have relevant blockers: the J♥ blocks a bunch of backdoor flush draws, and the 7♠ blocks any flopped flush draws Villain may have decided to check back. Having these blockers makes it slightly more likely that Villain will fold the turn. Additionally, if he calls and the turn is a heart or spade, you can comfortably double barrel knowing that you block some possible flushes.
This is a less technical point, but you can also use process of elimination to decide whether or not to probe with this hand. Check-calling with a Jack-high gutshot is pretty clearly a losing play, and check-folding seems far too weak considering your hand’s solid equity when called. A probe bet is the only remaining option.
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Hand 2: A spot you should probably never probe
You’re still in that $2/$5 game and you’re in the big blind again. This time you have J♣ 9♠, and Villain is in the cutoff. The board is:
A♦ K♣ 6♥ 6♦
We should almost never probe this spot. Villain is likely to check back all of his sixes on the flop, which have now improved to trips. He also may have checked back a king, or even an ace, neither of which will fold to a probe bet.
When the middle or bottom card pairs, you should rarely probe the turn because most player’s flop check-back range will consist of many middle and bottom pairs.
Another point to note is that the A♦ K♣ 6♥ flop favors Villain’s range because he can have the strongest hands (AA, KK, AK, AQ) while you can not. This means that Villain will be incentivized to c-bet bluff at a high frequency, which in turn means that medium-strength hands will make up a greater proportion of his flop check-back range.
Hand 3: A spot you should rarely probe bet
Suppose you’re playing $0.50/$1.00 on Ignition (US-friendly poker site). You are in the big blind with T♣ 6♣, and Villain is in the cutoff. The board is:
7♥ 5♦ 3♦ A♠
T♣ 6♣ is too weak to probe with against most opponents, her. Your hand has some equity with a gutshot straight draw and potential pair outs, but since Villain is likely to check back many Ace-high hands on the flop, this turn will often give him top pair.
Given Villain’s propensity to have top pair, you should probe the turn with a very polarized range because your value bets need to be stronger than top pair. So, you should be probing at a low frequency, with bluffs that have more equity like 86 or flush draws.
If Villain is competent, you should consider checking your entire range on the A♠ turn. Competent opponents are very likely to bet when you check to them in a spot that is advantageous for them, such as this one. You should then respond by check-raising with your strong hands and some bluffs for balance.
For the last two hands, we’re going to focus on our entire range rather than a specific hand.
Hand 4: Probing with no-equity bluffs
Suppose you’re playing $0.25/$0.50 on PokerStars. Villain is in the hijack and the board is:
A♣ K♥ T♦ J♠
Having opened in the hijack, Villain is going to be checking back a lot of paired hands with a queen kicker on the flop, and those hands are now straights. She will also turn a lot of two pairs. This means we don’t want to be probing at a high frequency, here.
Nevertheless, you will sometimes have a Qx hand that wants to bet for value on the turn. However, this poses a problem: what hands do you bluff with? If the board had a flush draw on it, you could just bluff when you have a flush draw. But this board is rainbow, which means you’ll have to bluff with some no-equity hands.
Bluffing with no equity may seem scary, but it’s important to remember that sometimes your bluffs will have less equity than you would like in order to achieve balance. You shouldn’t let that stop you from bluffing, though. After all, every time you bluff the river, you are doing so with no equity—this scenario isn’t all that different.
Hand 5: How to approach a tricky river after probing
In this final hand, we’ll look at how to play a difficult river after probing the turn versus a Villain who raised from the cutoff.
Suppose you’ve probed a flush-completing turn and the river brings four-to-a-flush. The board is:
K♦ Q♥ 4♥ J♥ 9♥
Checking your entire range is absolutely fine here. This is because you will oftentimes check-call your A♥ flush draws on the turn (which we recommend in our flush draw guide), and when Villain calls your turn probe, he will have a lot of single-heart hands (such as A♠T♥). This means that on the river your range is mostly non-flush made hands and a few non-nut flushes. Meanwhile, Villain will have a lot of rivered flushes, which makes checking a sound strategy.
That being said, a narrow betting range here can be viable, but it must be properly balanced. Many players who would bet here are prone to severely under-bluffing the river because most of their turn bluff probes will be single-heart hands, which are now flushes.
To avoid under-bluffing, you need to get creative with your bluffs and incorporate some Kx hands that you probed with on the turn for value. Admittedly, it is counter-intuitive to bluff with top pair. However, given that top pair hands will be at the bottom of your range by the river, you need to bluff with them if you are to have any value bets. (If you would bet the turn with hands worse than Kx, you should almost certainly bluff on the river with those.)
Probe bet wrap-up
Hopefully these hand analyses have given you a good idea of when and when not to probe the turn.
Generally, if you don’t have any showdown value, have equity, and can’t decide whether or not to probe as a bluff, I’d recommend going for it. Under-bluffing is a far more common problem for aspiring pros than over-bluffing.
I bet you’ll find that your bluffs work more often than you might expect, especially when probing the turn.
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Online and live grinder turned poker writer