If your opponent won’t bluff and you think he is betting a draw than it is best to raise him to avoid giving a reverse free card
In order to be a great No Limit player you have to constantly make adjustments to your game accounting for the different changing variables. One of the biggest shifts that I have noticed in the last few years playing full time as a professional is the propensity for players to not bluff the river when it looks like they are going to get called. It used to be that your opponents were so inexperienced that they could not figure out that their opponent was absolutely going to call them down at the end and would continue on with a maniacal bluff. Now this just is not the case.
This can definitely make the game a bit more complex when another player makes an aggressive action at the pot and you think that his range is either a made hand that beats you or a draw. It used to be that shoving over the top of that aggressive action could be a spewy play as you could wait to see if the river completed the draw and then call off at the end if all things missed. Now, players are recognizing that they have no fold equity in certain situations when all the draws miss and do not continue on with their bluffs. The inadvertent advantage of playing this way, however, is that they actually get the fold equity on an earlier street and only commit more money to the pot when you are beat (the draw completes or they had the best hand anyway). The proper counter to this then is to actually make your decision on that early street and if you think you have the best hand and stack sizes warrant it possibly raise all-in for value.
The tricky spots really come into play when you do not hold all that strong of a hand in relation to the board like say less than top pair. Especially when someone donks out at you on the turn when some card changes the nuts people get concerned and sometimes only go into to call down as a form of “pot control”. Of course, in theory this approach is wrong if your opponent is not going to bluff the river on a missed draw and you are going to pay off anyway when every thing misses.
Let us take a look at a pretty interesting spot that I played in from the Commerce Casino last week in a $5-10 $1500 cap game. The villain in this hand was a huge spot and liked to bluff a lot. However, whenever he put significant money in the pot he had the goods, kind of consistent with every other laggy player at $5-10. We started the hand $2000 effective and he opened UTG to $25, something that he was doing with about 40% of all of his hands. UTG+1 called and I decided to make it $150 with AQos for value since the guy was calling 100% of his opens to reraises. This was definitely a “special” type of player. The field player to my right also completed my raise and we saw the pot three handed to a flop of 6♣ 5♥ 2♦. Both players checked to me and I decided to be out $280. Now usually I would only be betting for value against this player type but in this particular situation in a three bet, bloated pot I thought that it would be extremely difficult to get called down for two barrels especially if the turn card was a non-connecting overcard to the 6. Obviously it would be great for me to just win the $450 or so right there. Unfortunately my plan did not work out too well and the original raiser quickly called. The turn was the 5♦ bringing out a backdoor flush draw. Without hesitation the UTG player now lead out for $500. Instinctually, this bet did not make a whole lot of sense to me. If he did have a 5 or a full house, would he suddenly just lead out at the pot? I thought the answer was an emphatic no. I thought that it was much more likely that this guy had picked up a backdoor flush draw to go along with a straight draw or some sort of overcards that he called with on the flop. Usually when someone has a pair and a flush draw, like if he had flopped a 6 or a 2 in this case, they still will go into check call mode because they can beat “AK”.
If I had had a hand like AA or KK in this spot with the pot being about $1500, facing a $500 bet and the villain only having $1000 left in his stack this would be an easy shove against this type of villain. But many times people with my hand will just fold “living to see another day”. But is my hand any different than AA or KK? If I make the assumption that he is not going to donk the turn with a pair plus flush draw all that often and I also do not think that he would check call lead with a hand like 88 or 99 (which by the way if I shoved there would have some fold equity against) than he MUST have some sort of combination draw, a hand that he will call my shove with. And, the most important aspect of this hand is the fact that if the river is a blank and he misses I did not think that he would bluff at the pot—since I looked like I was going to call him. So with that information in hand I decided to shove my AQ for value over the top of his turn lead wanting to avoid giving him the “free” card with his draw. After I moved all-in he immediately called and the river paired the 2. He then sheepishly turned over 9♦ 8♦ and I won over a $4000 pot with ace high.
Some of the regulars at the table were of course flabbergasted by my play, as they could not possibly comprehend that AQ might be the best hand on the turn given the action. I was very pleased with the way I thought out the hand and because not only did I not give my opponent a freeroll against my stack but I gained the value of his call with his draw on the turn—value that I would not have been able to make up for on the river if he had missed.
The moral of the story is that usually when you see a player make strange donk/block leads from out of position on the turn trying to represent board pairing cards you should often make a play that looks like it is protecting—even though really it is a play to get value from worse and to charge him for a likely draw that he may not bluff the river with.