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Firing the Second and Third Barrels
There are a lot of players who mix up their play well for small bets (they bet out or raise with nothing on the flop with about the right frequency), but most players do not mix up their play well on big bets. That is, when they put really big money in the pot on the turn or river, they are never messing around. These players are too easy to put on a hand. You have to be willing to fire all your chips with no hand if it?s likely that your opponent will lay his hand down. This leads us to the theory of firing the second and third barrels.
Most of your big bluffs will occur when you have position on an opponent. This is especially true for big moves on the river. If an opponent checks to you on the river, it?s likely not a check of strength. I?ve found that when I?ve bet the flop and turn with no hand, and then had an opponent check to me on the river, a pot-sized bet is effective more than 60% of the time. People will often call with an overpair or with top pair on the flop and turn, but not on the river, and their check-call, check-call, check line often often tells you that they have a big pair but no better. Needless to say, most opportunities to make big plays on the turn and river will occur early in a tournament, when the blinds and antes are small relative to the stack sizes. Suppose everyone has stacks of T$10000 with blinds of 50-100. You open for 150 from the cutoff position with Ad9d and the small blind calls. The flop comes KcTc5d. The SB checks. Many times you will check behind here and hope for the ace, but on this occasion you bet 200 and he calls. The turn brings a 4h. The SB checks. There?s now 800 in the pot. In this scenario, only fire the second barrel if you plan to fire the third. Both bets would need to be pot-sized. On the turn, I would think, ?Either he?s checked a monster to me, or he has a draw, or he has a king.? King-queen is his most likely holding by far. Ace-ten is a possibility, and a hand that he would surely come off for a pot-sized turn bet.
After you semi-bluff the flop and get a call, you only want to consider firing the second and third barrels if your hand doesn?t have much real value. If, in the example above, you had AdJd instead of Ad9d, you wouldn?t consider firing the second barrel, because a raised on the turn, you will have to give up your gutshot draw to the nuts. Ad9d plays differently נyou probably have outs if your second-barrel bluff is called (a river ace might win the hand for you), but you probably don?t have outs if you are raised on the turn. All told, against many opponents, your best line is probably to bet 800 on the turn, and then bet 2400 on the river if no ace, nine, or club appears. You wouldn?t want to bet the river when the straight or flush hits because it?s not credible that you have this hand, given that you bet the turn. If a club appears and your opponent checks after calling the flop and turn bets, there?s a quite high chance that he plans to call you. Knowing when to make big moves on the river requires a lot of judgment, but moves of this type separate the great players from the also-rans because great players sometimes see opportunities to make big moves on the river that they know will work an extremely high percentage of the time. Players who make big moves based on great reads are capable of accumulating huge amounts of chips with little risk. In tournaments and lower-level cash games, one move that you see a lot is the defensive bet on the river. The player who makes the defensive bet is usually a less experienced player that has built a huge pot out a position with a premium starting hand that hasn?t improved. Suppose, for example, that a conservative player raises in early position and gets two callers. The flop comes JcTd4s. He bets the pot and gets a call. The turn comes a 6h. Again he bets the pot and gets a call. Now he thinks to himself: this guy might have a monster. If the river comes a blank (2d, say), he will often fire a defensive bet of 1/5 to 1/3 of the pot. You simply have to move in on this player if you have a read on him. Often he has kings or aces and knows that there?s no way he can call your river push.
Another time that you will see the defensive bet is when your opponent has built a big pot out of position and then a draw hits on the river. Many times, your opponent knows that this draw could have hit you, and yet you know that it?s very unlikely to have hit him. In this case, your opponent will often make a small- to mid- size bet that is transparently a defensive bet, and you have to move in on him. A player who makes big bluffs effectively is difficult to play against out of position. In tournaments, it?s important to recognize which players are capable of making moves. You should generally avoid playing big pots against these players out of position. A good player will bluff at you relentlessly if he has position on you and you?ve played your hand in such a way that he knows approximately what you have. The most risky form of second and third barrel bluffs is the floating bluff. These are only profitable if you have strong reads on your opponents. Say I raise on the button to $300 in a game with $50-100 blinds and effective stacks of $12000. The big blind calls and the flop comes TcTd5h. The big blind checks and I bet $600 with Kh7h, then he raises to $1800. There are many opponents for whom this $1800 bet is much more likely to represent a bluff than a real hand. In this case, you will find it profitable to call the flop raise, and then bet the turn if he checks. If he bets the turn, then consider the $1200 you paid on the flop to be the cost of an unsuccessful bluff. The exception is if you?re quite certain that your opponent didn?t check-raise the flop with a ten or better נin this case, you can either raise the turn or call the turn with the intention of betting the river after a check. If you call the turn and then he bets the river, you probably have to give up. It?s unlikely he?s bluffing.
Brandon Adams is the author of Broke: A Poker Novel (available on Amazon). He?s a doctoral student at Harvard, and a regular in the biggest cash games and tournaments.