triple barrel poker strategy

Stop Fearing Triple Barrels with this Professional Approach

Let’s be honest: we all sigh when an opponent fires that dreadful triple barrel, putting us to the test both technically and mentally.

A triple barrel is when a player bets on the river after betting on the flop and turn.

There is a deeply embedded fear in most players that their opponents are not bluffing enough when they fire the third barrel. But while this fear is justified against some players, letting it take hold will hurt your winnings in the long run.

This article will focus on the technical aspects of this spot, but I am confident that it’ll also help you stave off the fear of facing the third barrel.

Let’s get started!

The importance of a well thought out call range vs triple barrel

Sun Tzu’s words of wisdom apply perfectly to poker.

In order to know yourself in the realm of poker, you must know your ranges. This is why you need to know what your “correct” call down range. Half of your poker battles will be won at this point.

In order to know your enemy (your opponent), you need to understand what type of player he is, his tendencies, weaknesses, and so on. This knowledge will win the other half of your battles.

Are you playing against a maniac? Then you should call more often than usual.

Are you playing against a passive adversary? Fold more than usual.

Are you playing against a well-balanced player or a complete unknown? Then you need to estimate what your call-down range should look like, and play accordingly.

A word on fear

In the beginning of this article I alluded to the fear so many players have of calling an opponent’s third barrel. The next few sections should convince you that their fear is often irrational.

Let’s take the following hand:

888 $0.5/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in the big blind
3 folds. BU raises to $2.5. SB folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($5.5): Q 9 7
Hero checks. BU bets 3.6$. Hero calls

Turn ($12.70): 5
Hero checks. BU bets 8.4$. Hero calls

River ($29.50): 4
Hero checks. BU bets 19.5$. Hero…

Editor’s note: We’ve highlighted the relevant parts of each image for those of you unfamiliar with solvers. Simply ignore the darkened parts and read the conclusions to see the solutions laid out in plain English.

The highlighted 119.81 represents the EV of our get-to-river range according to Piosolver.

For the next simulation, I will keep the same check/calling range but will remove any bluffs from the BU range.

Our EV has increased! But why? How can we make more money if we still check/call a theoretically correct range when our opponent is never bluffing?

Let’s have a look at the two major components of this EV:

  1. When the action goes Check-Bet
  2. When the action checks through

The following two simulations represent the EVs for the first line. The first will be GTO versus GTO, and the second is our altered simulation where the BU has no bluffs.

Our total EV is 55.21 when the action goes Check-Bet and our opponent is playing GTO.

Our total EV is -8.43 when the action goes Check-Bet and our opponent never bluffs.

We see that we are actually losing EV when we reach this part of the game tree.

Now let’s look at when the action checks through. Just as before, the first simulation will be the GTO versus GTO, and the second will assume the BU never bluffs.

Our total EV is 242.69 when the action checks through and our opponent is playing GTO.

Our total EV is 254.36 when the action checks through and our opponent never bluffs.

We see that the increase in overall EV results from an increase in equity with our range when he checks back. The bluff-catchers that we would fold against a balanced player are now winning against all those bluffing hands that didn’t fire the third barrel.

Even if you keep making theoretically correct call-downs against a nit, you are actually winning more than if he were bluffing enough. So, you have nothing to fear because you are exploiting his overall strategy.

That being said, if we have proof that this is our opponent, we can drastically increase our EV by adjusting our call-down frequency. The downside about this is that we are opening up to getting massively exploited, which will be a big problem if our read on our opponent’s bluffing tendency turns out to be wrong.

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Estimating a theoretically correct call down range

Let’s now discuss how to determine your call-down range. Keep in mind that poker is a complex game, and that improving your decision making in this kind of spot requires a lot of solitary, off-table work.

There are a few factors that will influence our calling range in this (and any) spot:

  1. The bet size
  2. Relative hand strength
  3. Blockers
  4. Opponent tendencies

(If you are interested in digging deeper into these factors, you can check this article.)

Now let’s take a look at the following hand to see how to figure out what our calling range should look like against a well-balanced player.

888 $0.5/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in the BB 
3 folds. BU raises to $2.5. SB folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($5.5): Q 9♠ 7
Hero checks. BU bets 3.6$. Hero calls

Turn ($12.70): 5
Hero checks. BU bets 8.4$. Hero calls

River ($29.50): 
Hero checks. BU bets 19.5$. Hero…

I chose this hand as a template because it represents a common type of board, and the bet sizes are what you will encounter across different stakes.

The best tool to use here is a simulator. It’s fast and very accurate, and you can check multiple river possibilities with ease to get a grasp of what our check/calling range should be.

Let’s consider a few possible rivers, see what the solver does, and try to draw some conclusions.

River #1: The blank 2

The solver recommends calling down with 55.55% of our range against a well-balanced opponent on the 2

More specifically, this solution calls down with almost all our top pairs or better, with 2nd pair top kicker, fragments of 2nd pair second kicker, and some 98o (which blocks the nut straight). Playing with complex mixed frequencies like a solver isn’t possible in-game though, so we’ll simplify each of these solutions to make them practical.

We can humanize this matrix and say that on blank runouts we are looking at calling with all our top pairs and our second pair top kicker.

River #2: The blank flush card 2

This card improves some of our range, which means the relative hand strength of top pairs has decreased. And this is evident in the image below. 

The solver folds all the offsuit top pairs that don’t block the flush, and about half of the suited top pairs that didn’t make a flush. The second pairs that block the flush are getting called, as well.

We can humanize this and say that we should call with all two pairs, top pairs, second pairs that block the flush, and 98, which unblocks most of the missed straight draws. We can flip a coin to decide whether to call with a suited Qx.

River #3: The straight card 6

This is a hard river, with a lot of mixed frequencies. 

We can see that the solver calls with all the two pairs and better, and the top pairs and second pairs are mixed between calling and folding.

I would opt to simplify this range by calling all top pairs that don’t block the missed flush draws (against a well-balanced opponent).

River #4: The blank over card K

On this river, a decent part of our range improves to top pair or better so we can ditch the pairs that are lower than second pair because we can easily reach our required minimum defense frequency without them.

The solver recommends calling down with two pair+, all top pairs, and some middle pairs, especially ones that block straights.

I’d simplify this range by ditching everything worse than second pair.

Conclusion

From these simulations we can draw the conclusion that, in general, we need to be calling down with top pair or better (or second pair if the river is an over card).

Although this a good rule of thumb, as I mentioned earlier, poker is a very complex game with countless possibilities. For each flop there are 2,162 different combinations of turns and rivers, and so you can imagine that this rule will not apply in every single one of those possibilities.

But again, we learned there is usually nothing to fear when it comes to calling down, since even if our opponent is not bluffing enough we still make more than what we lose.

That’s all for today! I hope you have enjoyed the article, and as always leave your questions and comments below.

Good luck!

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