JavaScript must be enabled for Sign In.
Please check your broswer settings.

Home \ Community \ Blogs \

Smokin' Poker - The ABC of 2NL

Helping newbies to bubble up from the bottom of the fishtank
Send PM

Way back in part 4 I wrote about the difficulties of maximising profits (and minimizing losses) when playing pots out of position. In contrast to playing in position, you'll never have the option to check behind when you're first to act post-flop. Being OOP makes it hard to control the size of the pot, whether you want to build a big one, or keep it small. The problems are four-fold:

If you bet for value, the villain in position can simply fold. Not only is it hard to get paid off on the river when you make a monster hand, but you can't get three streets of value if the villain folds on the flop!
When you bet with a medium strength hand, an opponent can raise, with a mixture of better hands, draws and a bluffs, forcing you to make commitment decisions. You might want to play a medium-sized pot, but - with a raise on the turn - a villain threatens to put you all in on the river.
If you try keeping the pot small by checking, your opponent still has the option of betting. You might want to eliminate a round of betting, but what do you do if you check and villain bets? If you call, the pot just got bigger and that wasn't part of your plan! You've also given up the initiative and will be faced with a tougher/bigger decision on the next street.
If you have a draw, you can't check and guarantee a free card, since the villain in position can bet to deny you that option. Playing drawing hands passively out of position is therefore tricky, because checking allows your opponent to decide how much you have to pay to draw.

Controlling the size of the pot is clearly much harder when you're out of position. That said, with very strong hands, you can take a straightforward line of bet-bet-bet. You won't get all in for 100bb with this line (unless you overbet the pot), but it's a simple line for getting value while denying worse hands and draws the right price to beat you. Here's a standard hand where the bet-bet-bet line makes sense:

In the hand above, I raise TT and get called by the CO, a recreational player that posted his blind out of turn. Since I flopped middle set, I can go into Valuetown mode, hoping villain has a king. I make a large bet on the blank turn card, because I expect all Kx hands to call. The river is great, since Kx just made trips and won't be folding. With my boat, I put villain all in. If he happens to have slow-played KK or KT, it's a cooler. Amazingly, this player was bad enough to call with just AT, so got stationed when he had 2% equity on the flop and was drawing dead on the turn.

If stacks were deeper and I knew villain was more aggressive - the type of player to float in position - a fancier line to take would be to bet the flop and then check-raise the turn, allowing me to shove the river without overbetting. The problem with this line is that it's a bit too fancy, and could miss a whole street of value if and when the opponent doesn't fall into the trap of betting the turn. It would be a disaster to see the turn get checked through if villain has something like QJ. Not only would I miss a street of value if he checks behind on the turn, but he'll only put money in the pot on the river if he makes a straight. As a general rule for 2NL, avoid fancy plays like check-raising if you were the pre-flop raiser. Just bet your hand for value.
FWIW, I checked my database for hands in which I got fancy and used the bet/check-raise/shove line as the PFR. Over a very small sample (half a dozen hands) I lost every time!

OK, so betting three streets with monsters like sets is simple enough. But what do we do with medium strength hands? This is where the waters are murky, and the ability to read the board and range your opponents accurately is crucial. The two main pot-control lines I recommended in the 'value-betting in position' article work OOP too, but there's an added wrinkle. When we were in position, we could take a line of bet/check/bet or bet/bet/check and never have to worry about what happens after we check. We were always closing the action and moving to the next street or seeing a showdown. When we check out of position, we can be faced with a bet before we move on to the next street. I'm not keen on checking a value hand when out of position, as handing the initiative to an opponent means we can be bluffed off our hand and will be left check-guessing about his holding. Betting out has the benefit of putting villain to a decision. It has the side-effect of providing us with some information. A villain is unlikely to call with total air. He usually has something if he pays to see another card. If we check, however, he may sense weakness and make a bluff. But we just don't know, since a good player will have a mixture of value hands and bluffs in his turn-betting range. Without a solid read, you're really just guessing what he's up to if you check away the initiative. Against very passive players, however, checking to keep the pot under control is often fine, even on wet boards. They won't bet with draws, so you can range them on TP+ if they bet when checked to. That said, if you have top pair against a passive player, you should be value-betting it, not skipping a street of value by checking! Betting into passive players is important for another reason. Calling stations never raise without the absolute top of their range. This leads to perhaps the most important piece of strategy advice for beating 2NL: If you have top pair, you should bet it for value, but FOLD IF YOU GET RAISED. The Baluga Theorem is as true today at 2NL as it was at 50NL five years ago.
With this in mind, my general plan with top pair OOP is to bet(-fold) the flop and bet(-fold) turn. Sometimes I'll bet(-fold) the river too, but sometimes check-call (versus aggressive players) or check-fold if the board gets really ugly and villain's likely range is crushing me. I think it's probably best to show these standard lines with annotated examples.

Raise pre, bet flop, bet-fold turn.

I raise KQ, get 2 callers and make top pair on a semi-wet board. There is no flush draw, but 98 and 54 are open-ended. 76 for two pairs is also possible. The player with position on me is a concern, because he is an archetypal nut-peddler playing 12/6. A player that tight won't have suited connectors very often (his pre-flop calling range is heavy on pocket pairs) but sets are a very real possibility. The turn 5 is a bad card for my range and good for both villains. 98 just got there, as did 55 and 65. I was already crushed by 77 and 66. I don't want to check with top pair multiway, as one or both villains could be drawing. Check-calling would be a disaster, because I'd have no idea if villain was betting a pair+draw (with 88/87 for example) or if I was being valuetowned by the nuts. So I bet-fold. I can make a very easy lay down here, because this villain is NEVER bluffing. He can beat top pair. In the unlikely event that villain just calls on the turn, I'm probably check-folding the river, expecting him to only bet with hands that beat one pair. Sometimes, I'll make a blocking bet. (More on that below).

Raise pre, bet flop, bet(-fold) turn, check-call river

In this hand, I isolate limpers with AK in the SB. I get a nice flop so can value-bet confidently, expecting to get called by flush draws, Kx and underpairs. The turn makes the board a bit wetter, so I keep betting, planning as usual to fold my one pair if I get raised. The river completes a backdoor flush draw and pairs the board. With just one pair (ignoring the 44 on board), there's a good chance I'm beat, but here is where a read comes in. I have a note on this villain. He tends to bluff with missed draws. If he has missed with spades, then he's not going to call a bet on the end. If I check, however, he will bet with his missed flush draw. That's exactly what happens. I check and villain makes what looks like a value-bet, but could be an airball taking a stab because I appear to have given up. I'm beating all one pair hands and bluffs, so can call at this price. Sometimes he'll have trips, a boat, or a flush, but this time he has a missed flush draw with queen high. I got three streets of value with TPTK on a board where bet-bet-bet would have only gained two streets of value from worse.
Note that I would caution against taking this line against most 2NL opponents. Betting small and folding to a raise on the river will serve you better. Overall, I've lost money at 2NL when I've tried bluff-catching by going bet/bet/check-call with one pair. The generally passive players at 2NL can beat one pair if they bet the river. At higher stakes against more aggro opponents, bluff-catching becomes more important, so you can check-call the river more often on wet boards where most draws missed.

Raise pre, bet flop, check(-call) turn, bet(-fold) river.

With AJs I have mixed feelings about this flop. I have a reasonably good top pair, but it will be hard to get three streets of value from worse on such a scary board. If I bet every street, I'd be repping a monster, and would usually only get called by sets and flushes, so I opt to look for two streets of value. Much depends on what happens on the turn. If it had come another diamond, I'm check-folding without a sweat. Here I'm happy to check-call a bet, with the plan being to check-fold to a meaningful river bet. I could bet the turn, but I don't want worse hands to fold right now when they might look me up on the river if I show weakness on the turn. I also don't want to get raised off my hand by some sort of combo draw (or worse ace) when I could currently be in the lead. I'm lucky to see the river for free, as villain kindly checks back the turn. He's either slow-playing a flopped flush/set, or he is genuinely weak, with a pair or draw. I bet about half pot on the river and I'm planning to fold if I get raised. This is a blocking bet; an attempt to get value while seeing a showdown for less than a pot-sized bet. I'd often bet even smaller if I've also bet the turn, to encourage light calls, but I don't want to bet so weakly that villain is inspired to try a bluff-raise. Faced with a half-pot bet, villain can't raise with one pair or air when I've showed some strength on two streets, so a raise would mean I'm beat and have an easy fold. As with the bet/check/bet hands in my previous ABC blog, villain calls the river with trash. He only has second pair with Q6.

Raise pre, bet flop, bet turn, check-fold river.

This one was played against a very passive player that chases every draw and seems incapable of bluffing. I think I'm usually ahead on the turn, although trips and boats are definitely possible. This villain routinely slow-plays monsters, then tries to make up for missed value with big river bets, so it's hard to know where I'm at on early streets.

My relative hand strength takes a nosedive on the river. I don't think many worse hands will call when the river is both an overcard and completes the flush, so I check, planning to call a small bet and fold to a large one. When villain shoves all in, I don't really care if he's betting a flush, a boat, trips or just a jack. I just know that I only have a pair of tens and this is a HUGE bet. I fold and laugh at how little value villain got. Maybe I should tell him to read my blogs about value-betting correctly.

Before closing, I want to reiterate that the hands above are fairly random examples of my FR 2NL playing style, and my actions might not even be optimal. There may have been better lines (or different bet-sizes) that could have worked even better in these specific examples. The main thing I want readers to take away from this article is that playing out of position is tough, so you should have a good think about what you are trying to achieve with your betting in every individual situation. I wish giving strategy advice was as simple as saying “bet-bet-check with top pair OOP”, but it's not. Each situation is slightly different, which is why mass-tabling on auto-pilot does not lead to a great winrate. Focus on reads and ranging, so you can work out for yourself whether checking, betting or folding is your best choice at any given moment. If you really want a one-line summary, then for the river in particular you can use this one:
Bet-fold for value if worse hands can call, check-call if villain's range is mostly drawing hands that missed, check-fold if you're sure you're beat.

The next couple of articles will be about playing hands as a pre-flop caller, so I'll have advice on how to play speculative hands. Until then, I wish you good luck on the virtual felt!

As always, comments, questions and suggestions are welcome in my forum thread.

In order to comment, you must login or register.
Take Quiz
New here? Take our Poker Assessment to start your education.
already a member? sign in here
JavaScript must be enabled for Sign In.
Please check your broswer settings.
Learn From basics to advanced strategy
Practice Improve your skills with our trainers
Win! Establish yourself as a winning player
/Featured Promotions/
Progressive Jackpot Progressive Jackpot Playing our new 'Scratch & Match' game is free and very easy. If you match 3 symbols you win a prize!!!! View details
Earn 10 Tournament Tickets Today! Earn 10 Tournament Tickets Today! Invite your friends to join Poker School and you could earn up to 10 tournament tickets as a reward! View details

Getting PokerStars is easy: download and install the PokerStars game software, create your free player account, and validate your email address. Clicking on the download poker button will lead to the installation of compatible poker software on your PC of 51.7 MB, which will enable you to register and play poker on the PokerStars platform. To uninstall PokerStars use the Windows uninstaller: click Start > Control Panel and then select Add or Remove programs > Select PokerStars and click Uninstall or Remove.

Copyright (c) All rights reserved, Rational Group, Douglas Bay Complex, King Edward Road, Onchan, Isle of Man, IM3 1DZ. You can email us on