A self-described “full-time vagabond,” Faraz Jaka has been traveling the world playing poker for the last 16 years. The San Jose, California native found the game while attending the University of Illinois and saw quick success in high-stakes online cash games and tournaments.
The 37-year-old has won millions online and also put together an impressive live tournament résumé, racking up more than $7 million. He was named the World Poker Tour player of the year for season VIII and has numerous high-profile finishes, including a runner-up in the WPT Bellagio Cup for $774,870, a third-place finish in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $755,000, and a third-place in the Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $571,374.
In recent years, Jaka has become a premier poker coach, sharing his knowledge with hundreds of players who want to take their games to the next level. You can check out his various training videos on JakaCoaching.com, or reach out for one-on-one lessons to email@example.com.
We reached out to Jaka to learn more about a common situation, continuation betting against the big blind. Card Player readers can also get a FREE 50-minute video on this topic at jaka.poker/cardplayer.
Faraz Jaka: Let’s start with one of the areas people overlook studying in tournament poker: continuation betting versus the big blind.
It seems relatively simple. You end up betting most of the time, so people just skip over it [when studying]. But when you stop and think about it, this is by far the most common scenario you will face.
In an MTT hand, a player usually raises, and most people usually fold. But the big blind typically calls because they are getting a price. If you spend just a little bit of time to master when you should use big continuation bets, have a check-back range, and when to bet range, you’ll capture a lot of the low-hanging fruit of where your edge comes from.
It’s also worth noting that if you don’t understand what hands to big bet or check back, this means your ranges on later streets will be messed up and you’ll also have a harder time ranging your opponents.
Craig Tapscott: Can you go into a little deeper detail so we can fully grasp what you’re talking about?
Faraz Jaka: Sure. I’m going to break this down.
When flops come that have an ace through ten on them, they will favor the preflop raiser significantly and that player will have the range advantage. On the flip side, the more eight-to-four-type cards that are on the board, the range advantage will go down and start to favor the big blind more.
Now that you have this general understanding of how to think through each player’s range, I’m going to give you some simple hacks and heuristics you can use in game. As you continue to read below, I’m going to define the term “big blind cards” as any cards 8 to 4.
1. Bet Entire Range (100 percent bet frequency)
Ace-high boards, and king-to-10-high boards where the other two cards are not both big blind cards (connected cards 8-4).
Examples: A-9-4, A-10-7, K-7-2, Q-8-3, 10-9-4
On these boards, you literally do not even have to think about what to do with your hand, just bet your entire range. Save the brain power for more complex spots later in the hand.
2. Bet Often (66 percent bet frequency)
King-to-10-high boards where there are two connected big blind cards.
Examples: K-6-5, K-8-4, J-7-5, 10-8-5
The reason we start doing some checking on these boards is that the big blind will start to have a lot of connectivity, giving them some draws, two pair, or just more pairs in general. Now that you are introducing a checking range on these boards, you actually have a decision to make in terms of which hands are best played as a check vs. a bet.
Generally, you will be always betting all of your best top pairs and maybe checking just a couple of the worst kickers. So, on K-6-5 you might bet K-10+ and check some K-9 suited and K-8 suited combos. I’ll often see some players check back a hand as strong as K-J here to “balance,” but this is a big mistake. K-J might be able to get two or three streets of value on this hand and get called down by worse kings. Because of this, you need to start betting it on the flop to get MAX value.
Second pair and underpairs to top pair are where you start to do some checking. I would still bet my best kicker second pairs and check the rest. Third pair is generally going to be a check. With pocket pairs that are in between the top and middle pair, you can mix checking or betting. Generally, the more protection the pair needs, the more you bet. For example, on a K-6-5 flop, I would be more likely to bet 7-7, 8-8, and 9-9 and check back Q-Q, J-J, and 10-10.
3. Heavy check (50 percent check/bet frequency)
All three cards are 8 to 4 or paired boards 8-8-X thru 4-4-X.
Examples: 8-7-6, 8-5-4, 4-6-8, K-8-8, Q-5-5, J-6-6
These boards nail the big blind so hard that we are now going to be checking A LOT of hands back. The big blind has a lot of two pairs, straights, or trip combinations that we don’t have.
When we bet on these boards, we will be very polarized so we can use big bets, with the exception of paired boards. On those, we always use small c-bets of about 25-33 percent of the pot. Your big c-bet will generally be about 60-75 percent of the pot depending on how deep stacked the effective stack is.
On a board like 8-5-4, some of the hands I will be betting vs. checking back look like this.
A. Checking: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, A-Q, K-Q, Q-8 suited thru A-8 suited, sets, 5-X, 4-X
B. Betting: 9-9, 10-10, J-J, Q-9 suited, Q-10 suited, J-10 suited, K-9 suited, K-7 suited, A-9, mixing 8-X
Once again, I am checking back my best overpairs that need less protection. If it goes check-check, and the turn rolls off a queen, your hands like 99-JJ are pretty annoyed, whereas your hands like A-A and K-K have fewer turn cards they are concerned about.
Also, notice how I am checking back sets here. I often see people slow playing sets on boards that are bet range and bet often boards. You only need to slow play your overpairs and sets on boards that are heavy checks. The reason is that on these boards when you check it’s so obvious you have something like A-K, K-Q, etc., so you need to find stronger hands to put into your checking range. Otherwise, good players will just bet turn and river huge after it goes check-check on these types of boards, and you will constantly find yourself in tough spots.
Craig Tapscott: What about betting the flop with overcards?
Faraz Jaka: Take notice of which overcard hands I am betting. I am betting the worst ones with no showdown that also have some connectivity to the board. You want to bet a hand like Q-9 suited to get hands like K-Q, Q-J, and A-9 to fold. Whereas when you have K-Q, you’d rather check back to sucker in hands like K-J, K-10, Q-9 into the pot so you can both hit a pair and they will be dominated.
Craig Tapscott: Once I decide to bet, how do I know how much?
Faraz Jaka: I like to simplify the strategy to a simple small bet (25-33 percent pot) and a big bet (60-80 percent pot). There are also some scenarios you can bet as small as 10 percent pot, but let’s not get overly complex here. We will leave that out for now.
In most cases, our default continuation bet should be 25-33 percent of the pot, sizing down as the stack sizes become shallower. The times you want to use the big continuation bet option are on dynamic boards where the big blind has a lot of connectivity, or there are just a lot of draws/equity that we benefit from charging or folding out.
Craig Tapscott: Can you share some examples?
Faraz Jaka: Here are some boards I like to use big bets on:
J-8-6, 7-5-4, K-7-5, 9-7-6, 10-6-5
On these boards, your opponent has a lot of one-overcard hands with backdoor straight or flush draws that we really benefit from folding out. In general, whether it’s a rainbow or two-toned (flush draw) board, this does not impact the bet sizing much when c-betting vs. the big blind. It’s mostly to do with the cards themselves that impact bet sizing and frequency.
On a J-8-6 board, I would be using big bets for value with things like A-J, K-J, and Q-Q because they are strong hands that are vulnerable that really want to get chips in now and deny equity. Whereas hands like A-A and 8-8 don’t need to deny equity. And hands like K-Q and 9-8, we aren’t thrilled about putting too many chips in the pot, so we want to use the small sizing.
Then with our high card hands, we would be more likely to use big bets with things like K-7 suited, K-9 suited, and A-7 suited to get dominating hands to fold. Whereas with things like K-Q, and A-K we would either bet or use a smaller sizing to sucker in dominating hands.
Craig Tapscott: Before you go, what about playing from the small blind vs. a button open?
Faraz Jaka: The key mistake I see from people playing out of the small blind is flatting too much and not three-betting enough.
When shallow stacked you can basically three-bet shove all-in any pair up to 30 big blinds from the blinds if you’re facing a button or cutoff open. When I tell my students this, a lot of their initial responses are that the games and players they are up against are so bad that they don’t need to waste chips on a flip. They are missing the real logic behind this play. The reason you do this is playing small pairs out of position is tough and you often will not realize your equity and get blown off the best hand.
Realizing your equity means seeing all five cards and making it to showdown. What happens is you just call, then the big blind calls, and now you’re out of position vs. two players and there is an overcard on the board. You check-call once, the turn is often another over which the player will bet very aggressively and make you fold whether they have it or not.
So, you have two options for playing these small pairs out of position sub-30 big blinds vs. a late position raise: call and bleed 5-6 big blinds most of the time and occasionally win at showdown, or three-bet shove all-in and takedown five big blinds most times and occasionally get called and be in a flip.
When deep stacked, let’s say 60 big blinds+, you also want to do a lot of three-betting with most of your suited Broadways or Broadway hands in general from the small blind facing a button open. The reason is you want to lower the stack-to-pot ratio. The deeper the stacks the more edge the in-position player has.
By three-betting a lot when out-of-position to lower the SPR, you mitigate the edge the in-position player has. The better the player opening, the more you want to bloat the pot preflop, most people get this backward.
Follow Jaka on Twitter and Instagram @farazjaka. ♠