Owner and Lead Pro
Professional Cash game trainer Bart Hanson has been producing strategy content for over fifteen years. He first started on Live at the Bike! back in 2005, then moved on to host "Cash Plays" on Poker Road, then "Deuce Plays" on Deuces Cracked and then to CrushLivePoker in 2012.
In his career as a professional poker player, Bart Hanson has:
-6 WSOP Final Tables
-Over 15 years of experience at the table
-Over $1,000,000 in tournament earnings
-Multiple appearances on ESPN and Poker Night in America
-4th place finish in 2019 WSOP Monster Stack
What is a scare card?
Understanding what cards are scare cards for you and what cards are blanks is one of the most important fundamental concepts to understand as a poker player. When analyzing your opponent’s range on the flop, you need to understand which cards are better for your hand and your range, and which cards are likely to hit your opponent’s range. Here we’ll look at an example hand and show how some “scare cards” can be misinterpreted, and how you should be adjusting based on your opponent’s range.
In this situation, let’s start our analysis on the flop and try to think about what cards we’d like to see on the turn and the river, and which ones would be potential scare cards for us.
Stakes: 5/10/25/50/100 (multiple straddles)
Hero raises to $300 Under the Gun with A ♠ A ♥, UTG+1, Cutoff, Button, Small Blind, and Straddle call.
6 ways to the flop ($1,800): A ♣ J ♦ 7 ♥.
Hero bets $700, UTG+1, Small Blind, Straddle call.
The first question you should ask on this flop is what hands can your opponents have that connect with this board. We have top set, so there will be very few top pairs available, but with 6 players in the hand someone could definitely have the case ace here. When 3 players call Hero’s flop bet, obviously all of them can’t have top pair, so what hands are they continuing with?
On a rainbow board, the first drawing hands that come to mind should be the broadway gutshots like KQ and QT. This would immediately tell us that scare cards would include broadway cards, since they bring in the most likely draws. Interior gutshots like T8 or T9 are also possible, but are a little less likely to call off Hero’s flop bet into 5 opponents. It’s important to note that these drawing hands are more likely to be held by the players calling in later position, since UTG+1 would have to float with a gutshot with multiple opponents left to act. So, let’s say we’ll be happy to see any card below a 6, while any card above a 6 that doesn’t pair the board could be a scare card for us.
4 ways to the turn ($4,600): A♣ J♦ 7♥ T♦.
Hero bets $2k, UTG+1 calls.
Here it is, one of the bigger scare cards for us. We still have top set, but any of our opponents who called could have floated the flop with KQ for sure. However, we still have a great hand and can improve to a full house when beat, so it’s still a spot we should bet. We can get calls from top pair, two pairs, worse sets, and flush draws, and need to keep building the pot and charging our opponents.
When only the UTG+1 player calls, it’s a pretty good sign for us, and the Td starts to seem a little less scary. This is due to the fact that the UTG+1 player is probably the least likely out of all our opponents to be holding KQ. As noted previously, since he was next to act on the flop he would have had to call our flop bet with a gutshot, still with 4 players left to act. If he had been last to act, calling to see a turn with his gutshot would make a lot more sense, but most decent players will probably just be folding their naked gutshots in his shoes, with so many opponents left to act. So, when only UTG+1 continues, we’re less worried about this scare card, and mainly put him on top pairs, two pairs, and sets, all of which we beat. Let’s go to the river.
Headsup to the River ($8,600): A♣ J♦ 7♥ T♦ 9♠
Hero checks, UTG+1 checks. Villain has A♦ K♦.
Now, this river is definitely not the scariest one, but it still does leave 4 to a straight on the board. Is it still a scare card, and should we be betting for value? Really the only combo that UTG+1 could have that hits a straight would be A♦ 8♦, that hit top pair on the flop, turned the nut flush draw, then rivered a straight. If we had the Ad in our hand, it would be a pretty slam dunk value bet, but our opponent could still have floated the flop light with KQ, so there are combos that beat us for sure.
A much scarier card would be the 9♦, which would bring in the flush. As a general rule, when you block the nut flush you can value bet more liberally, since you block the nutted hand your opponent could have. However, if we face a river where the flush comes in, and we don’t have the nut flush blocker, we should be much more cautious. But what could our opponent have that would hit the river on a flush-completing card?
UTG+1 can’t have a ton of straights, unless they called a gutshot light on the flop with multiple opponents left to act. However, if we change the river to the 9♦, they could have several combinations of flush draws that get there on the river. Hands like A♦7♦, 8♦7♦, 7♦6♦ are all possible, and K♦Qd:: is also more possible, although that hand already made a straight and is beating us. The question is, if we bet this flush river, are we really ever getting called by hands that we beat? With the scary flush draw card coming in, our opponent is much more likely to fold top pair and two pair hands that we beat, and even find folds with sets on this connected runout.
Considering the fact that the river was an offsuit card, even though there is 4 to a straight on the board, we really don’t have a ton of cause for concern, the card is simply not as scary as it looks given our opponent’s action on the flop. Except for a light call with KQ and 1 combo of A♦8♦, there’s not much our opponent could have that beats us. Being able to recognize when a “scare card” isn’t really that scary is an important skill to have, and here we may have missed some value by checking. On an offsuit 9, our opponent could still call our bet with worse sets, 2 pair and even some top pair holdings, perhaps putting us on a busted flush draw. However, a flush card would have changed the situation entirely, and been a much scarier card that we should shut down on.
During your next session, try to judge the danger of “scare cards” by analyzing your opponent’s range and how the card hits it, not just by how connected the board looks. In the above example, although the board is pretty connected, the river card wasn’t as scary as it looked once we really thought about our opponent’s range. Understanding these situations is what will separate you from the field, so look over your hands and try to find spots where scare cards really matter, and where they might secretly be blanks.
Look for hands that have good backdoor properties when calling next to act multiway against a preflop continuation bettor and you must play tighter in all situations when there are multiple opponents left to act.
By Bart Hanson
Posted Oct 17, 2021
Sometimes you can have the best hand almost always on the river but the right play is still to check...
By Bart Hanson
Posted Dec 08, 2014