Amateur to Pro – Calling the Turn
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
This is the seventh part of a coaching series featuring Bluefirepoker coach Alan Jackson, the goal of which to create a roadmap that gives amateur poker players the greatest chance for success when trying to take their games to the next level. In the last article we discussed betting the turn and this time we discuss calling the turn.
Before I met Jackson I thought a range was something that cowboys rode around on horseback. If I was facing a bet, my only consideration was whether or not I thought my opponent was full of shit. Jackson taught me that if your opponent is a knowledgeable poker player, he will start forming a perception of your range as soon as you begin taking action in a hand, and I should be doing likewise.
When it comes to calling a bet on the turn, it’s all about giving our opponent a range. When faced with a double barrel, we have to figure out how light he can value-bet and what his potential bluffing frequency is. Both of these questions will form the range of hands our opponent is likely to be holding. This is a lot to be thinking about when you’re playing poker. Now multiply that thought process across several tables.
Modern day poker means that you will be faced with the assessment of ranges on simultaneous tables every few seconds. I am 36 years of age and must confess that I find it very difficult to not switch into auto pilot mode (clicking buttons) when multi-tabling. Jackson helps ease the pressure by using statistical analysis to help make decisions at the table.
Jackson taught me to understand that all poker players fall into different categories and it’s important to recognise each of them. This is the first level of analysis; Jackson goes a lot deeper, but for now we’ll concentrate on the basics. Through countless hours of research undertaken on hundreds of players’ databases comprising thousands of hands, Jackson knows how poker players tick. Take what Jackson would describe as a normal tight aggressive (TAG) player for example. Let’s imagine that this player is opening between 15% and 19% of hands and is c-betting 65% to 75% of those hands. Jackson knows that if this type of player double barrels the turn at least 50% of the time he can allocate a range that will include all top pair hands, some second pair hands, most of the draws and an occasional scare card bluff. Against that player’s range it is advisable to call a turn bet with good strong value hands.
Calling a bet when you believe your opponent doesn’t have a hand is known as bluff-catching. When bluff catching against this type of opponent, you must assess the number of draws available on the board. If the board is particularly draw heavy (known as a wet board) then, against this player type, Jackson insists on restricting yourself to call with top pair or second pair with a gutshot. If the board is not draw heavy (known as a dry board) then Jackson will insist that your calling range is much stronger so you beat a decent portion of your opponents range, such as very strong top pair hands.
As your opponents turn-barrel-frequency moves above the 50% line, so does his bluffing frequency. When facing these types of players it is important to understand that their range is different and so are your actions. You should expect these types of players to be firing turn scare cards and also a lot more second-pair type of hands. When the turn-barreling-frequency dips below 50%, then your opponent’s range will reduce as well.
Jackson told me to take non-top-pair-hands and scare cards out of their range. The more the frequency drops, the more value hands you can take out of their range. When it drops below 40%, it’s likely that they are not even double-barreling weakish draws and top-pair-with-weak-kicker types of hands.
So, to quickly summarise, when faced with a turn barrel, assess what category your opponent falls into. This assessment will give you a range of hands and once you know their turn-barreling-frequency, this hand-range can be reduced accordingly to give you the most accurate range, thus enabling you to make the most plus-EV decision.
It is absolutely critical that, once you have defined your opponent’s range, you have a partial understanding of what action he is going to take on the river. One of the biggest challenges Jackson faced when coaching me was my tendency to think on the fly. I was making my decisions street by street and was losing a ton of value as a result. When I play chess or Scrabble, I’m always thinking one or two moves ahead and Jackson made me realise that I should adopt the same principles in poker.
Let’s imagine we are faced with a turn bet and we have analysed his range and believe our opponent is most likely firing a top pair hand or a draw. We then look at his river statistics and see that this opponent has a very low betting frequency on the river. Armed with this knowledge, we can call lighter on the turn knowing we can easily give our hand up on the river if our opponent bets. However, you must understand that when you are playing against an opponent who bets a lot of rivers your calling range will have to tighten up. Against this type of player a turn call will have to be followed up with a river call on most rivers. I'm only allowed to call the turn if I'm comfortable calling the river. Calling turn bets and then folding to river bets versus an opponent who has a high bet river frequency is like choosing to be a kamikaze pilot for a living. This was one of the biggest leaks that Jackson found in my game. After weighing up all the statistical evidence, a turn call may make perfect sense, but if you include the extra dynamic of the river statistics, the clear answer may be to fold your hand.
One last thing to consider when deciding to call a turn bet is position. You have to consider not just your opponent’s position in the hand but also your own. Common sense would decree that you give turn barrels more credit if your opponent is in early position. This is also where good note-taking comes into play because there are regular players who know you know this and will therefore exploit their position when barreling. When you have played enough hands against these regulars, you will be able to start drilling down into positional betting frequencies and this will help you pinpoint the early position bluffers from the pure value bettors.
So, I hope this article has helped to explain why Jackson’s statistical approach really helps you make a choice when facing so many tight decisions and the turn is a place where you are faced with a deluge of them. The speed of today’s games means you need to have these statistics at your fingertips. Make sure your Heads Up Display (HUD) is configured exactly the way you want it to be. If you have been reading these articles then hopefully you have started to understand the statistics that are vital in a six-max cash game. Make sure you visit the Holdem Manager website, poker forums such as 2+2 and the Hendon Mob or even Alan Jackson’s personal site and ask questions about HUD set-ups. Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
This series is also a video series that can be found at www.bluefirepoker.com. You can follow my own personal story on my blog at www.leedavy.co.uk. If you are interested in receiving coaching from Alan Jackson then visit www.AJacksonPoker.com.