The Fundamentals of Barreling
Barreling, a term for making strong bets on multiple streets (more often in bluffing contexts), is one of the strongest weapons you have at your disposal in HUSNGs. To understand why, think about the situation from the other perspective: When you check/call the flop readless, what is your range like? Does that range enjoy facing sizable bets on the turn and the river? When you play competent, aggressive opponents, do you feel like it is easy to optimally adjust your ranges and pick these bluffs off, or do you constantly feel like you are in a guessing game about whether you are about to make a big call or get owned by a value hand? If you are like most people, myself included, you hardly love your life playing against that opponent. Because of that, it is worth learning how to barrel yourself and become that opponent that people don't want to face.
Let's start with a simple base case, again from the bluffcatcher's perspective. You have J7s and call a minraise OOP. Your opponent has been playing a wide range of hands on the button, around 80% or so. The flop comes AJ6, with no flush draw. Your play seems easy, and it is, just check/calling is almost always going to be best. The turn is a 2, completing the fourth suit. You check, and your opponent fires out 70% of the pot.
Suddenly, your opponent represents nothing for value that is worse than your hand. There are also no draws in his range, other than 54/43/53 gutshots, some of which he would not even play preflop. Essentially, either your opponent has a stone cold bluff, or he has a hand better than yours. Because of this reality, some players would elect to fold right here. Others would stubbornly cling on for another street, but when facing a river bet, generally give the hand up readless. It is a lot to put your opponent on a stone cold bluff when he has plenty of value hands in his range as well.
That is the reality that we need to take advantage of when we are in the button's shoes in this hand. Given a 100% c-bet frequency on this flop, J7s is behind in the hand just 26% of the time once the deuce hits the turn, and yet most players will fold it to later aggression. My readless call pre, check/call flop range here 50bb deep is generally something like this:
It is actually probably even wider, as I like to play more offsuit 6x hands preflop than this, but I tempered it a little so that my unusual OOP playing frequency does not interfere with the point of the article. Notice that this range is pretty damn weak, and “capped”, which means it does not have any super hands in it. In fact, the strongest holding is an ace with a mediocre kicker (the better aces I am likely to 3-bet preflop or check/raise the flop), and even with that hand, you can't love it when your opponent triple barrels with sizable bets – once again, you beat nothing other than a stone cold bluff against most opponents.
The frequency of me having an ace on this flop is very low, and because all of the rest of the range is highly likely to give up to three streets of aggression readless, I am a sitting duck just waited to be exploited. The weak aces are even folding sometimes, too: What do you really beat after facing such strong bets on that board except a total bluff?
That reality means you have to take advantage of the situation and barrel off with a high frequency until I catch on. A good double or triple barrel means correctly taking into account three main factors: How your opponent perceives your range, how your opponent perceives his own range, and your opponent's actual range.
The first aspect of this is whether your opponent is doing any thinking about your range at all. Many recreational opponents will think only in terms of the strength of their hand in deciding whether to continue (“Is a pair of jacks a good enough hand to call a bet on this turn?”), and while that implies some reflection on what you might have, it is a very different thought process than one that a more advanced player would have.
If your opponent is able to realize that you only have a stone cold bluff or a better hand than they do, barreling off on dry boards becomes much better. If your opponent is able to realize that you have a wide range on the flop, and are capable of continuing to contest with that wide range on the turn, then barreling off becomes worse. However, even opponents who think at a very high level do not know your frequencies until you reveal them. Expert players are doing what I advocate in this ebook: Playing against what people do in general, as they start to figure out the tendencies of specific opponents. The general population rarely barrels off on these type of boards with no additional equity whatsoever, and you can trust that good opponents you play will be taking advantage of this and making hero folds. They will be good folds against the general population, but they will be bad folds against your tendencies. That is often what you are taking advantage of when you barrel off as a bluff.
Start thinking about more situations where your opponent’s range is capped, and your range contains many very strong hands. If you fail to take advantage of this very favorable situation when you have air, you miss out on a lot of +EV plays.