Scare Cards Are Perfect For Bluffing

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The old joke is that everybody always assumes that we’re holding Ace-King, and I have found that there is some truth to the saying.  While this tends to be a problem when we actually are holding Ace-King, we can use it to our advantage when we are not.

One of the ways we get better and better at poker is to find more and more where we can continue to be aggressive and get people to fold regardless of the cards in our hand.  Most people have learned about continuation betting on the flop – simply firing out a normal bet after seeing a flop, whether we have hit it or not.  But if we bet tons of flops and then give up on all the turns where our hand isn’t very strong, we will end up ceding many pots we could have won with a second bet.

One great example where we can keep up our aggression on the turn is when that turn card is an overcard to the board.  A turn ace is the ultimate scare card, but a king or queen on the turn can work as well.

scary over cards

 

Example Hand

One of the first hands I can remember where I made use of a turn scare card was in a hand vs. a player who was a dealer in another casino.  He was a thoughtful player, trying to play well. In this hand, I raised up KQo and he called me, with position.  We saw a ten-high, very dry flop.  I made my standard continuation bet, and he called without much thought.  I was ready to give up on this hand, when an Ace rolled off on the turn.  I made a healthy, solid turn bet and my opponent shook his head, flipped over pockets eights, and said “I think I was ahead until that damn ace.  Nice hand”.  Clearly, he put me on ace king.

T♠ 6♦ 3♥ – A♠

One interesting part about this hand is that the ace gave me a bit more equity in the hand.  Note that against his pocket eights, I could still catch a king or queen on the river to take the lead, or a jack could roll off and give me a runner-runner straight.  That’s 10 cards instead of only 6 that make me a winner.  In this way, my turn bet is a kind of semibluff – I am clearly behind and getting my opponent to fold would be great, but if he doesn’t fold to my bet, I have some equity to bail me out and win me a few of those pots on the river.

Many turn “double barrel” bets when an overcard comes take the form of semibluffs, but they don’t have to.  You can just as effectively do the same thing holding pocket fours, where you’re most certainly behind your opponent, and you have very little equity in the hand.  But that turn overcard packs a powerful punch.

Makes some “Trouble Hands” easier to play

Another great benefit of using the turn overcard to your advantage is increasing your win rate with some hands that many refer to as “trouble hands”.  Take a hand like queen-jack.  This is a classic “trouble hand” that many bad poker players limp with, maybe call a raise from a tight player, and then put too much money into the pot with top pair, only to lose hand with a mediocre kicker.

We now have a plan of attack to play queen jack differently.  If we deem it worth playing (depending on our position, table image, and other table conditions), we will bring it in for a raise.  Say we raise with Q♥J♥ and get a caller.  The board comes 7♠ 8♥ 2♣.  We decide that we’ll get enough folds if we continuation bet here, which we do but our villain calls. As soon as he calls, we can start thinking about opportunities to double barrel.  In this situation, we can double barrel any ace or any king on the turn, as always.  A nine or ten gives us a gutshot to the nut straight, and any other heart gives us our backdoor flush draw.  That’s 21 cards out of 47 that allow us to keep our foot on the gas while still holding queen high!  (heck, we may even spike a pair on the turn too).

Kickers become less of a problem

I have found one more added benefit if players know you as “the scare card betting guy”, and it has to do with getting extra value from hands that don’t normally warrant it. Consider this hand – I made a button raise with A3o in my home game.  One of the blinds defended – he is a pretty good, TAGgy player and we know each other’s game well.  He’s not defending blinds with junk or even suited connector type stuff, so I put him on a decent ace, small/medium pairs, and some unpaired broadway type hands where he thinks he’s ahead of my button stealing range.

The two of us see a jack high, dry flop.  He checks and calls my continuation bet.  In my estimation, he’s got a jack now, or a pocket pair under the jack, which he has to check-call because he knows I will continuation bet this flop roughly 100% of the time.

J♦ 7♠ 2♦ = CBET

Then, wonder of wonders, I actually spike my ace on the turn.  My opponent checks.  One standard way of playing here would be to take a pot-control line and check behind, and then call a reasonable river bet, or make one if checked to.  This is a perfectly acceptable way to play the hand, and would even be my preferred line against most players.  But against a player who knows my game really well, I’m going to make a solid turn bet after spiking top pair.  Because my opponent knows I’ll bet this turn scare card often, I put him in a real bind.  He almost has to check-call again, or he’s giving up the pot every time an overcard comes to his pair.  So he shakes his head a bit and calls the solid turn bet.  On the river, I make a smaller, callable river bet that he can call with the hope of catching my bluffs.  I have now gotten three streets of value with a top pair/crappy kicker type of hand – something that usually pretty difficult to do against a good player.

Using turn overcards to your advantage takes you from thinking as a “level 1” poker player (“what are my cards”?) all the way up to “level 3” (“what cards does my opponent think I have”?).  Your default play when you see an ace or king on the turn is to consider betting a second time, whether you have that card or not.

Matt Tagliaferri

Matt Tagliaferri is a freelance writer and poker player located in Cleveland, Ohio. Make sure to follow him on Twitter!

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