The Baluga theorem of poker

The Baluga theorem of poker

Some poker theorems are born in discussions and with time start to gain strength. That is the way Baluga theorem in poker appeared and it’s called in honor of the player who formulated it. It was fist mentioned in 2006. Poster at 2+2 under the nickname BalugaWhale put forward his theorem that was supposed to help players in making tough decisions on the turn. It was invented to make process of making difficult decisions on turn slightly easier.

The Baluga Theorem requires more detailed explanation (watch example below) than most of the poker theorems. In short, The Baluga Theorem states that:

'You should seriously re-evaluate the strength of your top pair in the face of a raise on the turn'.

Explanation of Baluga theorem

This refers to the situation when you were the preflop raiser and made continuation bet on the flop. After that, you have continued aggression and faced with retaliatory aggression from the opponent.

If we look thoroughly at this moment, we will realize that the opponent shows big strength.

Why the chosen street for the theorem is turn? The thing is that such a move of the opponent could be seen as a bluff had the opponent raised our bet on the flop. Players quite often play their draws this way, for instance, or by using such a move they just 'proof check' continuation bets of their opponents. Bluff on the turn from the opponent will be much more expensive so even the weakest players realize that it is more profitable to bluff on the flop than wait for another street where the pot will be greater. In result, we could make conclusions that the aggression from opponents on the turn in response for our bet is usually a try to build the pot with strong made hand.

Most of the players don’t like making tricky moves when there is quite a tidy sum of money/chips in the pot. As the pot is blown on the turn with the help of your previous bets and the calls of the opponent, that opponent will be playing more straightforward and the raises will be mostly made for value. If it is check-raise in addition, have no doubt. Yes, sometimes it turns out to be a bluff but it is too costly to check in the long run.

It seems fairly simple and logical but on practice the players often overvalue top pair top kicker poker hand. They 'fall in love' with it and start to see various draws and bluffs in the opponent’s hand/range. In result, this simple situation turns out to be an expensive leak, which strongly decreases winrate in the long run. It will be all easy to realize after looking at the example.

Also, consider the stakes you are playing at, when using this theorem. As a rule, it successfully works at micro stakes. Players at micro stakes are mostly inexperienced. This might look like an insult but it is a fact. Most of the players at theses stakes are either beginners who barely know the rules of poker and probably still uncertain which poker hand is better (see more at poker hands order article) or play just for fun without caring too much about being a skilled master and working on their game.

Also you should realize that most players at micro stakes prefer playing ABC-poker: if they have some good hand, they bet or raise; if they don’t have a hand, they fold the cards or call. That is why another raise on the turn will probably mean that the opponent has a stronger hand than a pair.

Below is the example where we see how Baluga Theorem works during the play at the poker tables.

Baluga poker theorem example

Your hand:    

You are at one of the early positions preflop and decide to make a raise to 3 BB with your hand. One of the players in late position makes a call. All the other opponents fold their cards. You are heads-up on the flop.

Flop:       comes

An ideal flop for your hand so you make continuation bet of 8BB, which is the size of the pot. Opponent calls


  on the turn makes the presence of flush and straight draw at the opponent possible so the bet of three quarters of the size of the pot is a good decision to give any of the draws bad pot odds for a call. You make the bet of this size and the opponent re-raises. The situation is, to put it mildly, unpleasant. You didn’t think about your hand might be beaten and wanted to get maximum value of your top pair.

You should re-evaluate the strength of your top pair facing the raise on the turn, according to Baluga Theorem of poker, so now you have to build up steam and push the fold button in most cases.

Your hand may still be ahead if the opponent bluffs or he has a worse hand (that is unlikely). So, we beat:

  • Pure bluff. In general, those moves after the second barrel from preflop aggressor with an ace on the flop come only for players who use 'dementia and courage' principle of making decisions during the game.
  • Weaker top pairs. There is not going to be many of those hands as having top pair with weak kicker (А2, А4, А5, A6, and even A8), your opponent will be inclined to make a call instead. The most probable will be     and     types of hands (some of which will be played with the help of 3-bet preflop). In general, it is about 10-12 combinations.
  • Semi-bluffs. We believe, this is the most probable hand for a bluff on this type of board from the thinking opponent.

Now, please, count how many hands stronger than yours might your opponent have and do they fall in line with the way he plays. These are two pairs, sets and straights. Your pair of Aces doesn’t look so strong now, does it?

Many of us have faced similar lines of play and making the right decision took a lot of effort, moral strength and concentration. Now when you know Baluga Theorem, it will be easier for you to make right decisions on turn.

It is important to realize that Baluga Theorem doesn’t call for immediate fold facing unexpected aggression. It only says that it is time to think whether we are still ahead. There are many weak players at micro stakes and their action don’t follow any logic. If you are playing against such an opponent, this might be a good chance to double up. Besides, some players can play a pair + draw in a risky way. But in most cases your top pair will be beaten.

Other side of medal:

If you are a thinking player, you probably already thought that the Baluga Theorem can be used in reverse. Playing against a regular, you might use unexpected turn raise to steal a big pot. This could be very profitable, however such a move is rather complicated, risky and requires carefully chosen moment. You should have history of play against this opponent to know whether he is able to throw away the top pair and give up on such a big pot. This move is better to use when you have blockers. Don’t forget about effective stack sizes. They have to be quite deep for opponent not to be pot committed on the turn.

Why is Baluga Theorem effective?

To understand why Baluga Theorem is effective, ask yourself:

Would your opponent make the raise with a hand worse than top pair? The answer is simple - NO! Any raise on the turn is nothing else but show of strength, and top pairs or worse aren’t the hands to play this way. Surely, it’s not a very pleasant experience to fold top pair top kicker but you’ve got to realize this play (fold) is the only correct option against adequate opponents in such situations in most cases.

The main reason for it is that we are playing without the position and that means we will have limited information about the hand of the opponent. You will see how difficult those situations are from your personal experience. Sometimes opponents will bluff or have draws, but those situations are still very unpleasant and call will be -EV in the long run.

Let’s say you called in turn. What are you planning to do on river? Your opponent will definitely bet to push you out of the pot with his bluffs and will value bet with his strong made hands. So to make a call on the turn hoping to get lucky river is not the most profitable play.

Is Baluga theorem still relevant?

Yes, it is. We can say that the Baluga theorem is one of the few poker theorems which you can use during the game of No Limit Texas Hold’em.

You can also find BalugaWhale on 2+2 forums in addition to that.

Conclusions to the Baluga Theorem in poker

The Baluga Theorem is one of the major poker theorems (alongside with Zeebo Theorem and Clarkmeister Theorem) which were articulated just couple of years ago.

You have definitely been in those types of situations at the poker table and getting the correct decision probably took a lot of mental effort from you. Now after you know the theorem you can have a rest and put the responsibility for these folds to the author of the theorem supposing they’ve made a right play.

Instead of Conclusion, we remind you to remember some nuances of this theorem application:

  • Check-raise on the turn is much stronger than a simple raise. It almost in all cases means a strong hand.
  • Big turn bets almost never made with pure draw hands. Worst scenario, your opponent will have a pair + draw, best scenario nuts hand
  • Against strong tight opponent who knows the Baluga theorem, raise on the turn with the draw will be a risky but a strong move.

Don’t forget that there is nothing absolute in poker as poker is the game of incomplete information. Just keep the theorem in mind while playing and keep thinking, thinking and thinking during the play. Good luck!

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