Being aggressive is how the best players win at poker.
Through the power of aggression, you have two chances to win:
- You can win when your bet gets called by a worse hand
- You can win when your opponent folds
However, there are some situations in which it’s better to play passively. This article covers three of those spots — specific situations in which you should almost never c-bet as the preflop aggressor.
Let’s check them out.
Spot #1: Out of Position as the Preflop Raiser (Against the Button, Cutoff, or Middle Position) on Low Connected Boards
I am referring to boards such as 6♣ 4♠ 3♣ after you raise preflop and get called by someone who has position on you.
However, a passive c-bet strategy is in order because there is an asymmetric distribution of super-strong hands.
Specifically, flopped sets make up a much larger portion of the caller’s range than your range. When a good player cold calls preflop, their range will be very tight and contain many medium and small pocket pairs.
In total, the caller’s range will have around 100 combinations of hands, while the open-raising range will have somewhere around 200-300 combinations. And that 100 combo range contains a surprisingly high percentage of strong hands like sets and overpairs.
To demonstrate this, let’s say you and your opponent both have all 9 combinations of sets in your range (66, 44, and 33). Those 9 combinations represent roughly 3.6% of your range (9/250). At the same time, those 9 combos represent 9% of your opponent’s range (9/100).
This asymmetric distribution of strong hands means that the cold-caller has a huge nut advantage, which makes him incentivized to raise with a ton of hands. C-betting frequently into this player’s strong range is usually not a great move,
Take a look at how a solver plays as the cutoff (as the preflop raiser) versus the button (who called preflop) on the 6♣ 4♠ 3♣ flop:
As you can see, the Cutoff should be checking 100% of his hands.
To further illustrate why a passive strategy is in order, I’ve prepared a simulation in which the Cutoff starts betting with an intuitive range:
I made the solver bet with:
- Almost all of the overpairs
- The top pairs
- Almost all of the flush draws
- All the open-ended straight draws
- Some 2 overcards-type hands with a club.
With this suboptimal (but seemingly reasonable) strategy locked in for the cutoff, I will now run a simulation to see the button’s optimal response.
Look at how aggressive the button gets to play:
The solver starts raising almost its entire continue range. This strategy takes away the initiative from the cutoff, who is unable to muster an effective counter-strategy. This is due to how many nutted hands the button has (relatively speaking).
Do yourself a favor in spots like these as the preflop raiser and play a relatively passive/defensive strategy on the flop, especially against good players.
Note: Learn step-by-step how to become the best player at the table when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Experienced poker pros have been adding new content every week for the past six years, and you get all of it when you join. Learn more now!
Spot #2: Out of Position as the Small Blind Preflop Raiser (Against the Big Blind) on Low Connected Boards
The reasoning behind this approach is similar to the previous spot. It has to do with the Big Blind (caller) having a large nut advantage on the flop. The only difference now is that both players have roughly the same amount of combinations in their range.
Let’s take a look at a 7♥ 5♦ 4♠ flop. This is the solver’s strategy for the Small Blind:
As you can see by the large amount of green, the solver elects to check almost its entire range.
The reason behind this passive strategy lies in the fact that the Small Blind’s nutted range (two-pair or better) represents only 3.2% of its overall range while Big Blind’s nutted range represents 7.1% of its overall range.
This difference happens because the Big Blind will have hands such as 75-offsuit, 86-offsuit, 54-offsuit, 74-suited, and 63-suited. The Small Blind should usually be folding (or maybe limping) with these hands preflop, so they aren’t in his range.
Spot #3: Out of Position as the Preflop 3-Bettor from the Small Blind (Versus the Button) on Low Connected Boards
The same pattern emerges: low connected boards are bad for the preflop raiser. But this time I’m talking about a common 3-bet pot matchup (button raises, you 3-bet in the small blind, and the button calls).
This makes a lot of sense because the preflop raiser’s range is broadway-heavy, while the caller’s range contains a lot more hands with medium and low cards.
In these cases, the Small Blind has the overpair advantage (again), but won’t have as many (or any) of the two-pairs and straights.
Let’s take a peek at how the solver players a 7♠ 6♠ 5♥ flop as the small blind 3-bettor:
A common theme is emerging: The solver checks almost its entire range. This, again, happens because the small blind is lacking in the super-strong hands department. She doesn’t have any two-pair combinations, or straight combinations, and is also missing the bottom set. The Button, on the other hand, has all straights, two pairs, and sets in his range (except the 43-suited straight).
If the small blind decided to c-bet too often here (with hands like overpairs and draws), then the Button could show a big profit by raising very aggressively with an equity-driven range, which would torpedo the small blind’s expected value (EV) in the hand.
The pattern shown here is pretty clear: low-connected boards are not the best for the preflop raiser. You should definitely look to tamper down your aggression on those boards (by a lot), or risk getting pummeled by an aggressive player who understands the mistake that you are making.
That’s all for this article guys and gals! I hope you enjoyed it and that you learned something new! As usual, make sure to leave a comment with your questions or your suggestions and I’ll do my best to answer.
Here is a quick article I recommend reading next: 3 Tips for Playing the Turn After Check-Raise Bluffing Flop.
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
Note: Ready to join 5,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!