When to Fire a Second Barrel on the Turn: A Simple Guide

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Give up or fire?

Have you ever raised with a great hand but then hit absolutely nothing on the flop?

If you've played poker, you certainly have. That's what happens most of the time.

So what do you do? What do you do with a raise in the pot and a hand that suddenly doesn't look so great anymore?

Most players just bet the flop, pretending to have at least top pair -- because that's what pre-flop raisers do.

You hope your opponents have nothing themselves and just hand you the pot. That's basic poker strategy.

But what happens when you're called on the flop, don't improve on the turn and still have nothing? Is it time to give up or is it time to fire a second barrel?

How far can you go with a bluff? When is it time to cut your losses and check-fold your way out? Here's a loose and easy-to-follow guide to

  • When to fire a second barrel on the turn
  • When to shut down and
  • How to proceed with bluffs when you don't improve

The Perfect Double Barrel Situation

Let's run through an example. Say you're playing a No-Limit Hold'em game with $1/$2 blinds, you're in late position and you're dealt    

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All players in front of you fold and you raise to $6. Only the big blind calls and the flop comes      

Your opponent checks and you bet $10. After you opponent calls the turn comes  

Your opponent checks once more. There's $33 in the middle, the two of you have roughly $200 behind and you're left with a difficult decision.

You still only have ace high but you've picked up a gutshot straight draw on the turn. Should you fire again or should you see a free river, hoping to improve your hand?

It turns out your decision in this case is not that difficult after all. A second barrel is generally the best move and we'll explain why. 

Mediocre Hand Likely

The range your opponent is representing mostly consists of smaller pocket pairs and hands like J T. So far he called twice and checked twice, which makes a mediocre hand with some showdown value the most likely holding.

All those hands are beating your ace high right now but it's unlikely your opponent will pay off a big bet if you hit your miracle straight on the river.

None of those hands can stand a lot of heat -- especially since the king on the turn could very well have improved your hand to top pair.

If you bet something like $20 on the turn it will be very difficult for your opponent to call with a hand like pocket nines or even a weak ten. You're legitimately representing a strong hand and a bet on the turn is threatening an even larger bet on the river.

It's likely your opponent will fold if he only has a mediocre hand and you'll scoop a nice pot with your second barrel.

Please note: it's likely, not certain, your opponent will fold. It's entirely possible that your opponent is trapping you with a set and plans to check-raise the turn.

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But this scenario is far less likely than the weak-pair-scenario and your game plan in case of a check-raise is simple: you fold, since you don't have the odds to chase your gutshot draw against big raises.

Mathematically, a $20 bluff on the turn only has to work 38% of the time to be profitable. And even if your opponent gets stubborn and calls again, you still have some outs to improve on the river.

When To Fire The Second Barrel

Not all situations are equal in poker and sometimes second barrels are not advisable. Next we'll list the most important factors to help you to decide whether you should fire a second time or not.

For the next part always assume you're the pre-flop raiser, you've then bet on the flop and your hand is practically worthless (no pair, no showdown value, no strong draws).

1. When Heads-Up On The Turn

This one is practically mandatory. Unless you only have one opponent left on the turn, don't consider firing a second bullet.

With a call and one or more overcalls on the flop, your opponents have already demonstrated too much strength for you to continue bluffing. Just let it go and give up.

2. When the Turn Should Improve Your Range

While not mandatory for a profitable second barrel, it's always good if the turn card helps your general range.

As the preflop raiser your opponents usually expect you to have big cards. So any big card on the turn could easily have improved your holding.

Aces and kings on the turn are ideal candidates for second barrels but jacks or queens are also decent cards to bluff if they're an overcard to the flop.

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Good or bad for opponent's range?

3. When the Turn Should Be Bad For Your Opponent's Range

For a second barrel to work, the turn card should be bad for your opponent's range. You want your opponent to not feel confident investing more money into the pot.

That's why overcards to the board are perfect candidates for second barrels. Whatever pair your opponent held on the flop just got demoted to a worse pair. Top pair became second pair, second pair third pair and so on.

Possible and plausible straight and flush opportunities also make good candidates for second barrels.

Sure, there's always the chance your opponent was just drawing to that flush you're now representing. But much more often than not your opponent will be sitting there with some weak pair, looking at a threatening board and will chicken out to well timed aggression.

4. When Your Opponents are Loose/Passive

You don't want to fire big bluffs against the tightest player at the table. If those guys call preflop and on the flop, they're pretty likely to go all the way.

Huge bluffs against tight players are, more often than not, very costly.

For your second barrel you ideally want an opponent who is somewhat loose preflop and who plays passively. Those players have very wide ranges and plenty of hands in their range cannot sustain a lot of aggression.

That's the kind of player you want to be picking on. By firing second barrels you punish them for calling too much and often succeed because they have to give up most of their range against strong aggression.

But proceed with caution against pure calling stations (players that routinely call others down with weak one-pair holdings). While it's still possible to bluff those players, your bluffs need to be well timed, extra believable and you'll probably need three substantial barrels.

In general it's much more profitable to just wait for a decent hand and let them pay you off.

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In position or out?

Second Barrels – In Or Out Of Position?

Should you be more inclined to fire a second barrel when you're in position and your opponent has already checked to you or should you rather fire when you're out of position and first to act?

Having position on your opponent has advantages and disadvantages. Your opponent has to act first and has no initiative. That makes it much more likely for him to fold marginal hands.

But this advantage is also disadvantageous. Your opponent already called a bet out of position on the flop, narrowing his range quite a bit, and it's unlikely your opponent has a very weak draw or a complete airball.

Most opponents in position nowadays routinely call bets on the flop with gutshots, a single overcard or just some back-door draws.

What they do is called “floating” – they're calling the flop with the intention to bet the turn when checked to and steal the pot from a timid pre-flop raiser.

The range of a floater is incredibly wide and that's what makes it very profitable to fire second barrels against those players.

If you see someone routinely call bets on the flop and fire on the turn if checked to, you should definitely double barrel out of position and you can expect to take the pot down most of the time.

The Easy Rule For Second Barrels

When asked under which circumstances second barrels are profitable, Dusty Schmidt, a successful online grinder and book author under the moniker “Leatherass,” had a simple rule of thumb:

  • “Always double barrel!
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Short answer: always

This rule of thumb should of course not be taken literally in every scenario but it underlines the character of modern poker -- especially online poker.

More often than not players call the flop almost regardless of their holdings, waiting to see what the turn or river brings to try to sneak in a bluff. Double barreling 'light' exploits this loose-aggressive approach.

More Double Barrel Examples

Some more examples for possible double barrel situations. You own hand doesn't matter – just assume it's absolutely worthless.

Flush on the turn: Your raise before the flop and your opponent calls a bet on a 9 7 2 flop. The turn brings the J. That's an awesome card for a second barrel.

The jack is an overcard and completes possible flush and straight draws. What's your opponent going to do with a hand like 8 8? Right, he's going to fold.

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What's your image?

Sure, sometimes he just made a flush and is going to raise you, but most of the time he's holding some weak pair and will let go of it if pressured. Remember – your bluff only needs to work 40% of the time (in case you're betting two-thirds of the pot) to be profitable.

Low-card flop: Your opponent is in the big blind, calls your preflop raise and you continuation bet on a 8 4 3 flop. The turn brings the T.

While the ten is an overcard to the flop, it's not a very scary one. Expect your opponent to keep on calling if you double barrel.

This can nevertheless be a profitable situation to keep firing. But you need to be willing to pull the trigger a third time if the river brings a scary looking card.

If your opponent calls you on the turn you should strongly consider firing any overcard and any spade on the river to complete your triple barrel bluff.

Pairing the top card: This is an example where a double barrel is not advised. Your opponent calls a continuation bet on a K 7 2 flop in position and the turn brings the K.

There are almost no hands that call the flop and give up on this turn. The second king makes it much harder for you to represent a hand with a king and your opponent will call you with any pair.

Here you should strongly consider just checking and giving up.

Your Image While Double Barreling

So far we've mostly talked about board textures and your opponents when considering second barreling. But one third thing is at least as important as those two.

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Don't go overboard with aggression.

It's your image at the table and how your opponents perceive the way you play. 

If you're firing shots left and right, play every other hand, or were recently caught bluffing in a big pot, your credibility is out the window.

No matter the board structure or the timidness of your opponents – your attempts to successfully fire second or third barrels will prove much more difficult.

That's why it is important to not go overboard with aggression and to time your bluffs. You don't need to win every pot. And giving up in marginal situations will increase your credibility in other hands.

It's also important to fire with decent hands often enough. If you never double barrel with top pair, good kicker, your opponents will pick up on that and they will give you much less credit.

It's vital that your opponents always give you credit for having a decent hand, otherwise your attempts to bluff will not work.

If, on the other hand, you just had a dry spell of cards and no decent bluff opportunities, your opponents might perceive you as much more timid than you actually are.

In this situation you're much more likely to succeed with your bluffs and you should be much more inclined to do it since your opponents won't assume you're capable of running elaborated double or even triple barrel bluffs.

One last word: If you're playing against super weak players, like drunks in a casino or the lowest online limits, you should generally refrain from running big bluffs.

Your opponents really just want to go to showdown and don't care that their calls are mathematically wrong. Against those players, you don't double barrel with air.

You just make a decent hand, follow through with three value bets, collect the pot, tell them they'll certainly be more lucky in the next hand and enjoy the free money!

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