Friday, October 1, 2010
Turning The Initiative
Most winning online tournament players are a big fan of pot controlling. They will religiously check back the turn after betting the flop in order to get to showdown cheaply. This is often a very successful strategy as they turn their marginal hands into bluff catchers and don’t risk getting moved off of the best hand by bet folding the turn. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about combating this strategy and taking pot controllers’ out of their comfort zone.
A strategy that I have found to be really useful in counteracting this strategy is something which I call ‘turning the initiative’. Turning the initiative involves check calling the flop and then donking the turn on a card where you know your opponent is likely to pot control. This then forces them into tough turn and river decisions because they either end up playing a much bigger hand than they wanted to with a marginal hand or folding;whereas if you took the normal course of action and checked to them on the turn, they will often check back the turn keeping the pot under control. Now on the river its very hard for you to run a bluff, as you only have one street to get them to fold rather than two if you had donked the turn and river. Additionally if you have a strong hand which moved ahead on the turn then you won’t be able to get as much value as you would like to for it.
Over the months of June and July I was playing in the WSOP and have already ‘turned the initiative’ a number of times (both for value and as bluffs).
Here is an example of when I used it to get max value from my opponents:
The blinds were 25/50 in a recent $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event and I held 88 in the small blind. The cutoff opened to 150 and I flat called, the big blind also made the call and it was three way to the flop.The fl op was k-k-- rainbow. The action checked to the pre-flop raiser who c-bet 250 which I felt he would with his whole range, so I figured to have the best hand the majority of the time and made the call. However, the big blind also made the call and this alarmed me a lot as there were no draws on the flop, and I felt his over calling range included a lot of K-x hands after I had shown a lot of strength with my call out of position.
The turn threw everything up in the air coming as the 8S and making me a full house. If I checked it was likely that the big blind would check his likely king to the pre-flop raiser, and I felt the initial raiser was competent enough to give up with his air/pot control with anything other than a king,as it was very likely that one of us would have him beat on this board. Therefore I decided to donk the turn in order to stop this from happening and bet 700, the big blind made the call and the initial raiser got out of the way.
The river was a brick off suit 3 and I thought about the best way to get value from my opponent. There was already 2,600 in the pot and he had 3,300 behind.I just couldn’t see him ever being able to pass trip kings to me with the image I had and over bet shoved for value, he made the call pretty quickly and I was off to a great start in the tournament. Unfortunately I bust out shortly after when I got in a big pot with a straight flush draw versus a set and didn’t get there.
Here is an example of when I used it in order to bluff my opponent:
We were playing a $2,500 6-max NLHE event and the antes had just kicked into play. I was flying high at 40,000 at 100/200/25 and my opponent, a young woman, had just doubled to 24,000 when she had opened 66 on the button and four-bet an aggressive guy’s three-bet; she had been unfortunate to run into JJ but her luck changed as she turned a 6 to double up.After getting lucky to double up I felt she would be reluctant to play a big pot without a ‘nut’ hand in the near future. Anyway enough background info, I’ll go over the actual hand itself. She opens UTG (- handed)to 600 and I flat from the small blind with T9 of diamonds,often I might re-raise pre-flop here but I felt my opponent had a big hand so I called to try and hit a big flop.
The pot ended up being heads-up and came J-8-2 two hearts and one club. I flopped an open ender and checked to my opponent and she bet 1,200 into 1,525. I interpreted this bet as being very strong and just decided to call and try and make my hand on the turn. The turn card was very interesting as it was the bringing in the flush. It also gave me a pair to go with my open ended straight draw. However, the key to the donk here was that I interpreted it to be a scary card for my opponent. I felt that if I checked she would check behind a top pair/over pair and then value town me on the river. However donking the turn, and likely the river if called, would force her to play a much bigger pot than she wanted to with her likely hands. Also the possibilities of her having a flush were reduced with the jack and ten of hearts being on the board and her being a tight player raising UTG. It’s also important to remember that we still have a lot of outs that we figure are likely good so we are effectively semi bluffing. Finally the turn bet also stops her taking a free card with an airy hand such as A-Q with a heart which obviously has a ton of outs to my hand. After analysing all of this I decided to bet 2,800; however, the hand wasn’t over yet as she made the call.
In an ideal world she would of folded the turn and made it easy for me, however, after her turn call I could give her a much more precise range than previously allowed. After the pre-flop, flop and turn action, I felt she was most likely on a QQ, KK, AJ, KJ, QJ type of hand. I also felt it was quite likely she had a high heart. Therefore I didn�'t plan on bluffing a fourth heart on the river. Also if she can hand read well a fourth heart is very unlikely to have helped us as we are representing a turned flush and would often check raise a nut flush draw on the flop. Therefore a fourth heart would be a scare card for our turned flush if indeed we did have one. The river happened to be perfect for the purposes of our bluff as it was the AS. In our previously listed marginal hand range this river is only good for one of the hands (AJ), for all of the others it is yet another card that puts her marginal hand in jeopardy. After we check called the flop we told her we have a hand we are interested in and we now come out firing on this turn and river. It is very hard for her to make a hero call here as long as we balance our �turning the initiative� range to strong hands as well. The results of this hand were that I bet 5,800 on the river and managed to get a fold.