I know something about you without having met you: you love strategy games.
(If you didn't, you probably wouldn’t have clicked on an article about poker strategy.)
Whether its chess, Magic: The Gathering, or League of Legends, you’ve probably spent a lot of time playing these games.
So, you must already know that there are two very important aspects present in all strategy games: offense and defense. You also know that without a good defense, it’s hard to win, especially against tough competition.
The same is true in poker. Without strong defensive strategies, you’re gonna end up bleeding so many chips that you won’t be able to show much of a profit for your offensive prowess.
This brings us to our topic today: defending against turn c-bets. Here's what we will cover:
- The Most Important Turn Defense Spot.
- Defending Against Turn C-Bets in Theory.
- Defending Against Turn C-Bets in Practice.
- Adjusting Based on the Specific Factors at Play.
The Most Important Turn Defense Spot
The most important situations to study are the ones that occur most frequently. And when you think about it from that perspective, there is one positional battle that reigns supreme: Button versus Big Blind.
Button versus big blind battles are by far the most frequent confrontation and thus will have the biggest impact on your win-rate. So, those are the positions we’ll focus on today.
We’ll start by talking about the theory behind playing versus turn c-bets from the big blind, then we’ll look at the spot from a more practical perspective.
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Defending Versus Turn C-Bets - Theory
When talking about defending against bets, in theory, the most important concept is the minimum defense frequency (MDF). If you're unfamiliar with what MDF is and how it works, click below for an explanation.
Of course, there are several other factors that help shape the appropriate strategy in a specific situation. Among those we find:
Nonetheless, when looking at PIOSolver solutions for specific turn defense spots we will find that the average turn fold frequency across all the different runouts will be somewhere close to the MDF. Let me back that statement up with some cool data.
Let's say you're facing a 75% bet on the turn after calling a c-bet on a J♦ 9♥ 6♠ flop. The MDF is 57.1% versus that bet size.
Now, I'll use PIOSolver to make a report showing the optimal call percentage, fold percentage, and many other stats for every possible turn card. Click below to see the report (warning: it's a big wall of numbers) or keep scrolling if you just want to get to the point:
Here are the average stats for the solver's strategy versus a bet on every possible turn card:
That percentage of hands we continue with (57.47%) is pretty damn close to the MDF (57.1%). So, even though MDF is not the most practical concept, it is definitely crucial if you're trying to play or studying theoretically optimal poker.
Side note: If you're at all blown away by the power of the data above, you understand why I am so adamant about players (especially online specialists) using solvers to study the game.
I’m not saying you should try to play like a solver, but studying with them will help you develop an intuition of which hands to continue with and which hands to fold. This solver study will give you a rock solid ground on which you more effectively build your practical game.
Defending Versus Turn C-Bets - Practice
Now, the practical aspect of the game takes into account human elements, including:
- The opponent’s general aggressiveness on the flop, turn and river
- Tendencies on specific turn cards by the player in question or the overall population
- Tendencies on specific boards textures by the player in question or the overall population
Let’s take a look at how each of these factors should impact your strategy.
Your Opponent’s Aggressiveness
Your strategy against turn c-bets should change based on your opponent's general c-betting strategy. For the sake of simplicity, we'll divide c-betting strategies into 3 categories and talk about how to counter each of them.
Opponent 1: Frequently One and Done
How to Counter: Against such a player you will need to fold most of your second pairs and weaker holdings on the turn because his low turn c-bet frequency indicates a strong range.
Opponent 2: The Double Barreler
This is the guy who c-bets frequently on both the flop and turn, but checks back a lot on the river.
How to Counter: Against The Double Barreler you need to muster some courage and start calling most, if not all of your second and third pairs on the turn. Since he is not likely to triple barrel, those marginal hands will get to showdown instead of being forced to fold on the river. If he does bet the river, it's an easy fold with such marginal hands.
Opponent 3: Mr. Bombs Away
This type of opponent c-bets on the flop, turn, and river very frequently.
How to Counter: Against such a player, you are in for a roller-coaster ride because the correct counter-strategy comes with a lot of variance (but also a lot of profit). If you want to maximally exploit this type of opponent, start by folding a bit more on the flop than normal. Then, take a deep breath and prepare to make lighter call downs to the river -- you can even make profitable calls with hands as weak as bottom pair on some brick run outs.
Specific Turn Cards Tendencies: Overcards vs. Undercards
There are many different types of turn cards -- ones that complete a draw, pair the board, etc. -- but the general poker population plays relatively consistently on overcards and undercards to the board. Here's what they tend to do:
On overcards: Most opponents will tend to bluff more often. This makes sense because overcards usually weaken the caller's range, making him more likely to fold his second and third pairs. If you think that your opponent is too bluffy on overcards, then you should play a bit looser versus turn bets.
On undercards: Most opponents will tend to under-bluff when the turn is an undercard. This also makes sense because the caller will perceive his bluff-catcher to have the same strength as on the previous street (e.g. second pair is still second pair on an undercard turn) and will tend to over-call as a result. If you think your opponent is this type of player, then you should look to play slightly tighter versus turn bets.
Specific Board Texture Tendencies
There are some board textures that will lend themselves to be over-bluffed and some that will lend themselves to be under-bluffed. This happens because they have significantly more or less "natural bluffs" available in their range.
Boards that tend to be over-bluffed include KT8, Q85, J86, and similar draw-heavy boards. On brick runouts, your aggressive and unaware opponents will get to the turn and river with many more natural bluffs than value bets. The way to counter this is to call wider on the turn and river.
Boards that tend to be under-bluffed include QJT9, AKQJ, Q♠7♠2♠3♠, and similar super-coordinated boards. Your opponents have to get pretty creative to bluff on such boards, and they will usually fail to properly balance their obvious value betting range. So, you can counter the population's tendencies by calling with fewer hands than you would on other boards.
This is where the biggest winners in the game have the edge. They understand their opponents as well as they understand themselves. This is where you need to focus your attention if you want to be a big winner in your game.
Observe, analyze and adapt.
If you want to learn more about turn c-betting, read this article on playing brick turn cards as the aggressor.
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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