Learning to barrel and bluff effectively is critical to live no-limit hold’em success. Once you get past the bingo games at the lowest stakes, many errors your opponents make will be folding errors, and you have to have a comprehensive barreling strategy to take advantage of these mistakes. Without it, you will never establish yourself at $2-$5 and higher.
Many people think of bluffing wrong. They think of it as a contest of wills. You “represent” a hand, and your opponents decide whether they believe you or not. And occasionally that dynamic predominates. But much more often, the purpose of barreling and bluffing is just to get opponents to fold out weak hands when the board texture comes in a way that’s likely to disappoint.
Here are a few tips about what to look for in board textures when you consider barreling.
Tip #1. Fire a turn barrel most of the time.
This one isn’t really about board texture. It’s about how to exploit small stakes players more generally. Fold rates on the turn are generally way too high in these games—and if you thought it was worth getting the ball rolling with a flop continuation bet or barrel, then it’s also probably worth taking a second stab on the turn.
Flop calls include all sorts of hands including middle and bottom pairs, unimproved pocket pairs, straight and flush draws, gutshots, unimproved overcards, ace-high, and so on. A turn call will get many $2-$5 regulars to release many of these hands. The math usually supports taking the second stab almost no matter what.
Tip #2. Connected boards are the ones most attractive to triple barrel.
You fire the flop, and people call with all sorts of junk. You fire the turn, and people call with the “real” hands. If you contemplate a river barrel, you’re usually thinking about bluffing into a player who is already marked with a hand that has value. So when should you pull the trigger? And when should you back off?
In general, target boards that had draws on them on the turn for a river barrel. It’s usually fine if one of the draws came in. The reason you want to barrel connected boards is because the draws weaken the range of hands your opponent would call the turn with. So it’s more likely that your opponent won’t have a strong-looking hand on the river and will fold to a final barrel.
For example, say you make it $20 preflop and get two calls. The flop comes T♦ 7♣ 5♣. You bet $50 into $60 and get one call. The turn is the J♥. You bet $130 into $160 and get a call. The river is the K♠. This is a good spot for a third barrel.
The turn card is going to encourage your opponent to call with many hands that have a jack, ten, or seven in them. These include T-9, T-8, J-9, J-8, 9-7, 8-7, and so forth. The river card bricks all of these hands, and now a player with one of these hands is left with second, third, or fourth pair on the river. A stiff river barrel will get most $2-$5 players off these hands. Club draws bricked. Add this to the fact that an opponent could hold A-T or A-J and not want to call several hundred without top pair, and a barrel has a good chance to succeed.
The river card bricks all of these hands, and now a player with one of these hands is left with second, third, or fourth pair on the river.
The K♠ is somewhat of an ideal barreling card, but it need not be so perfect to still consider barreling. The 2♠ is probably worth barreling also. A hand like A-J might call, but you’ll still get plenty of folds—even perhaps from a hand like J-9.
You don’t have to bet full pot on the barrel. In this example, the pot is $420 on the river. You could bet $250 or $300 against typical opponents and get plenty of folds while still giving yourself odds.
If you bet the turn on a board like Q♦ 5♣ 5♥ 2♦ and get a call, your opponents probably have hands they like. This doesn’t mean they won’t fold to a river barrel, but if you fire a river card like the 3♣, you are playing the “represent and intimidate” bluffing game. “Hey you with the queen, I have a five and you should fold.” Results of this type of bluff are mixed and opponent-dependent.
It’s much more important to find the thematic barreling opportunities that rely on board texture characteristics.
Tip #3. When you can have the nuts, and your opponent can’t, consider an overbet.
Say you open to $20 and get two calls from the blinds. The flop comes 7♦ 6♦ 2♣. Your opponents check, you bet $40, and an opponent check-raises to $80. You call.
The turn is the J♦. Your opponent bets $80, and you call. There’s $380 in the pot, and say you’ve got $1,000 behind.
The river is the T♦, putting four diamonds on board. Your opponent checks.
Consider making an overbet in this situation. Given the action, it’s extremely unlikely your opponent has the A♦. Most players wouldn’t check-raise this flop with many hands including the A♦. The nut flush draw is possible, but most players with that hand would, if they check-raised, make it bigger. And the river check is also out of character for a player with the A♦.
On the other hand, you can clearly have that card, since you raised preflop and then you’ve been calling since you got check-raised.
If you bet small like $150 or $200, you might encourage an opponent to try to snap you off with a small diamond or even a set. But if you bet $500 into the $380 pot, there’s absolutely no mistaking that you are repping the A♦. You can get folds from every hand up to and including the K♦ with this bet. (Though the K♦ is perhaps an even more unlikely card for your opponent to hold than the A♦.)
Against certain common player types at $2-$5, you will have an extremely high fold rate with this action and board.
Most of my bluffing and barreling decisions are primarily determined by the board texture. Then comes my opponent’s playing tendencies. Certain board textures represent large holes in most players’ strategies. They don’t make good hands frequently enough on these types of boards, and they also don’t adjust their folding strategies for the lack of possible strong-looking hands.
If you want to improve your bluffing, write hands down and analyze the board textures. Propose possible hand ranges for you and your opponents, and see how these hand ranges look on the flop and turn. If you do this regularly, you’ll find that certain board types will give you higher folding percentages on your barrels than others. If you start to target these boards with increased barreling frequency, your results will improve substantially.