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Don't fold, just ask - FL: Donkbets and strange lines in heads-up

» Don't fold, just ask

Dear PokerStrategy players,
Instead of answering just one question very thoroughly, today I want to deal two user's questions. I'm changing things around so as to get through more of your questions and I'm hoping that I can adequately answer certain questions with shorter explanations.

Question from cetchmoh

Fixed Limit

HU reaction to Donkbets - or strange lines (3bet PF, checkbehind Flop, raise Turn)


Answer from OnkelHotte

I want to give you a couple of tips about playing against strange lines. There are many possibilities, but I want to highlight the line "strange check on the flop despite having the initiative".

It is not possible to use any mathematics in these cases because these special types of behaviour cannot be put into numbers. I therefore want to go through three examples which can be assessed pretty well in my opinion and usually turn out as I expect them to.
Dr. rer. nat. Tobias Georgi, commonly known as Onkel Hotte, coordinates the work of the education department of PokerStrategy. He is also known to many players because he is a successful fixed-limit-plyer and also engages in the theoretical seminars of PokerStrategy.
1) Check from a strange LAG is usually a trap:

Preflop: Hero is Button with 8, 6
3 folds, CO (loose strange) raises, 2 folds, Hero calls

Flop: (4,5 SB) Q, 2 6, 2 Players
Hero checks, CO checks behind….

You hit a good flop. CO's check tells you though that he either has a set or an over-pair (sometimes even trash, but rarely). If you bet the turn, you will most likely get raised but you can't fold.

If you had 8 6 you would be in a difficult position after his raise on the turn. Furthermore a free card wouldn't hurt you too much because your flush will make some of his potential outs useless. You should genereally be very wary of these checks.

Your line on the turn should be:
Send greetings to your opponent to thank him for the free card and play check/call with made hands and strong draws (if the odds are right) and check/fold with weak hands and trash.

2) Check from a passive opponent who showed a lot of strength preflop.

Preflop: Hero is SB with 3, 3
4 folds, Hero raises, BB (34/13/1,2/41) 3-Bets, Hero calls

Flop: (6 SB) J, T 2, 2 Players
Hero checks, BB checks behind…

From experience, this check usually means that villain has AK, AQ or KQ in this position. If passive players check behind on the flop, after having shown strenght before the flop, it usually menas that they are holding a good ace with which they don't want to invest more money. On the other hand these opponents won't fold their hand either.

My suggestion here for the turn and the river would be: Thank your opponent quietly for letting you know what he has and play check/fold if an A, K, or Q hits on the turn and bet/fold if any other card hits the board.

If, against all expectations, the player raises the turn, he usually has a set which he slowplayed. The same applies for the river. You have a good valuebet against AK and AQ for all cards except A, K, Q. Play the same way as on the turn.

3) Check on the flop in a blind war:

We assume this situation in the limit 5/10 or higher:

Preflop: Hero is BB with 4, 2
4 folds, SB (TAG) raises, Hero calls

Flop: (4 SB) 3, 6 7, 2 Players
SB checks…

If you are playing 5/10 or higher, most of the players have a pretty good feeling for their equity and don't fold very tight in blind wars because they know that an open raiser won't have hit quite often. If you are playing this hand from the SB perspective (lets assume he has J, 2) our opponent could be thinking the following: "which hands fold on this flop straight away?"

A pair? Ridiculous!

Over cards? Also rather unlikely. High over-cards would 3bet before the flop most of the time. Low over-cards like T9, T8, 98 will have a gutshot quite frequently.

A high card? If he doesn't 3 bet ace high he won't fold it either because he easily has more than 40% equity in a blind war.

A gutshot? The same thing! Gutshots won't fold in a heads-up blind war.

Conclusion: No matter what the villain has, he probably won't fold on the flop straight away. In order to have any fold equity, I would have to play: bet flop and bet turn. Do I really want to play this trash hand like this? No. I give up the hand.

From my experience, a TAG will give up his hand in this situation quite often. I therefore suggest: Practice for potential live-games and put on a surprised, but skeptikal look and bet the flop quickly no matter what you have. An exception would be if you are holding a monster. You could then think about slow playing to give your opponent the chance to hit something on the turn.

These are the three possibilities, if you opponent checks the flop with initiative, to which you can react pretty easily if you recognise them. It could become very complicated in, for example, three against the TAG if one PokerStrategy player is playing against another and the level of thought becomes very detailed. However, you have to be able to follow the basic concepts which allow you to make the right decision most of the time.


Questions from Jolly Roger

BB defense against an isolation raiser:


BU openraise, BB holds K4o --> BB calls - pretty obvious, see the chart.

What happens if MP3 limps, BU or SB make an isolation raise and I am in the BB. Especially against the SB I call things like J5o. But if SB makes an isolation raise he has a better hand than if he was open raising.

However I get pot odds of 5:1 rather than 3:1 in a normal steal situation. I have better pot odds and would therefore need less equity.
Same example e.g. with A6o in the BB. If MP3 limps, CO raises and the BU cold calls - do I fold A6o? It is mentioned in the defense chart, but I am dominated very often.


Answer from OnkelHotte

This topic is indeed very complex and is still being researched now. I cannot explain this topic completely because it would take far too long, but I want to give you some guidelines for playing these situations. These situations I want to discuss are not based on any mathematics (this would take too long) but my experience shows that I can deal with these situations pretty well.

1) Defending the big blind with small offsuited aces:

If you have 7:1 or more pot odds preflop (namely a raiser + 2 other oponents) you should call any ace in the BB. You will be dominated quite frequently, but you will win enough of the time if the ace hits.

Depending on your opponents, a cold call doesn't necessarily mean that he has an ace because people rather cold call with 87s than A4o due to the chance of being dominated with that hand (Of course, you wouldn't know that if you are playing against a fish). The pot odds are simply so great that you can hope to make two pair, trips or sometimes even a straight.

If you are only getting 5:1, you shouldn't call any ace. It depends which position the open raiser is in.

MP2 (TAG) raises, Button cold calls, Hero in the BB with A6o -> Fold
BU (TAG) raises, SB cold calls, Hero in the BB with A6o -> Call

I draw the line between the MP3 and CO if they have a good open-raising range. I fold small off-suited aces against an open raise from MP3 or earlier, even with pot odds of 5:1. I call them if someone from late position raises. An exception would be if the CO was a really tight player or the MP3 a really loose one.

I also play small off-suited aces pretty tight against one opponent and a raise from MP3 if the raiser is tight too. I will defend my blinds tighter than in the BB-defend-chart too. I only defend from A8o onwards. This topic will be dealt with in the upcoming gold articles for FL though.

2) BB-defend against an isolation raise:

You should become a lot tighter here, especially if someone raises, for example, from the SB. For example: MP3 limps, SB raises, Hero BB with K4o...

This is a very easy fold here. Especially after the isolation raise from the SB, you have to be a lot tighter.
Consider the fact that the small blind could have completed for 5:1 pot odds but still decided to raise. If the raiser is a reasonable TAG, I suggest adjusting your blind-defend-range so that you only call hands which you would at least call against an open raise from the CO.

You don't have to be any tighter because a TAG is capable of isolating an MP3 limper with A6o, but won't raise A6o from MP3 himself.

As you'll be playing three handed on the flop, the playability of your hand is very important. SB probably has SD-value rather than a CO-open raiser because I would raise hands like 98s from the CO, but only complete from the small blind with one limper, in contrary to A6o. I would raise this hand against one limper from the SB but fold it first in from the CO. You can therefore defend speculative hands looser because of the good pot odds, but don't have to worry about being dominated. My defend range would look like the following for the described situation:

22-66 (77+ 3 bet) (You don't have to 3-bet too aggressively, because you have position on the raiser)
A5o+, from AT 3 Bet
KTo+, If the SB is rather tight postflop, you should reraise KJ as well.
Most of the suited cards, except the very bad ones like J3s and worse, T4s-, 94s-, 83s-, 72s, 62s, 52s.

This range is rather tight but reasonable for 1/2 up to 5/10. You can obviously become very active preflop against players who are loose before the flop.

This article of course doesn't cover every aspect of this topic, but I hope that I was able to show you some fundamental aspects that will help you reach a good decision in the future.

Best regards Hotte