Playing fast and slow

I recently played an interesting hand in a $1,500 buy-in live tournament. Everyone started with 15,000 chips at 50/100 with hour-long levels, meaning there was lots of time to hang out and wait for strong hands. I realized that everyone at my table was implementing that strategy so I quickly adjusted and decided to attempt to steal every pot once it was clear no one was interested in winning. This allowed me to double my starting stack within three hours with almost no risk, which is always an amazing result. You will find that when you are constantly pushing your opponents around, your observant opponents will eventually assume that you are overly wild and may adjust.

This hand took place at 150/300 with a 25 ante. A weak, tight player who was clearly waiting for strong preflop cards raised to 750 out of his 11,000 stack from first position. Two players called, one from middle position and the other on the button. I looked down at A-K (normally a premium hand) from the small blind and decided to just call.

When facing a first position raiser who almost certainly has a premium hand, bloating the pot from out of position with a normally premium hand, even with other callers in the pot, will get you in trouble. You must realize that A-K will only win around 40% of the time against a range containing A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K, which is almost certainly what you will be against if the initial raiser decided to reraise. If you reraise and the initial raiser calls, everyone else will likely call, forcing you to play a four-way pot from out of position. Since both of these results are quite bad, calling is almost always the best play because it forces your opponents to stay in the pot with hands you dominate while also under-representing your hand.

The flop came A-10-8, giving me top pair. I checked, as I would do with all of my hands, and the initial raiser bet 2,000 into the 3,375 pot. Everyone folded around to me.
While I would normally call in this situation to keep my opponent in the pot with a hand that is likely drawing thin, such as A-J or K-K, I was convinced that my opponent liked his hand. Since I had an ace in my hand, I was unlikely to be against A-A. I also thought it was fairly unlikely that he had 8-8 because he would have limped with that preflop (for the record, limping 8-8 is vastly inferior to raising). This means that unless he had exactly 10-10 I was either chopping against A-K or ahead against A-Q or A-J. I did not get the vibe that my opponent would fold his strong hands because most amateur players who employee an overly tight preflop strategy tend to go way too far with their marginal made hands because they feel that since they so rarely enter the pot that they must win every time they connect with the board.

So, I went all-in. My opponent proudly called and turned up his A-Q. He could not believe it when I turned up A-K because in his mind, I “must” reraise with that hand before the flop.

Even though I got all-in with 86% equity, meaning I will win 86% of the time, my opponent caught a queen on the river, awarding him the pot. Although I suffered a bad beat, I still had 19,000 remaining in my stack, which was more than my starting stack. Playing a loose, aggressive strategy allowed me to not only accumulate a huge stack with little risk, but also to get paid off in a situation where my opponent should have at least considered folding. Despite the unlucky situation I still had a nice stack that I used to make a deep run. Always pay attention to your opponents’ strategies and adjust your play to take advantage of their mistakes.

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14 Comments

  • Mitchell says:

    Now if you can limp in with that AK hand as the first player in the pot preflop, you’ll be ready for the WSOP Seniors tourney. Lol

    • Jeff Salmon says:

      I am playing the WSOP seniors next week and will undoubtedly see that play. I was playing in a $130 buy-tourney today at my local poker room and saw the same thing. I was short-stacked with 10 bb and a guy limped in front of my K-10. I shoved, assuming he would fold. He called and proudly turned over A-K. This was relatively late in the tourney. Unbelievable. LMAO

    • eigerly says:

      Some of us old guys know not to always make the predictable move. You may have simply been outplayed.

  • Unlucky needhelp says:

    Whenever I flop top top with AK my opp shows me 2 pair at showdown. And usually on a $1/2.00 live cash table that hand costs me about $100 which is my whole stack. Everyone else including you just run perfectly against AQ. I’d never get that lucky. I’ve been playing about 6 years and this is a typical scenario.

  • Miles says:

    I was in a similar hand the other day at our poker league final table, I had 300k plus in the BB, blinds are 2500-5000 so we are all fairly deep, folds to me, I look down at AK hearts, I go 25K, big yes, there are 5 players to my left, antes in play too, fold to button who is a tight player always premium hands, he goes 60K
    Next player is our loose crazy who can call anything with anything, he thinks and thinks and flat calls the 60k..he has 400k re-raiser has 115k behind so I know he is committed and based on experience I know it will the in the middle soon.
    I tank and cannot decide what to do, I was initially going to shove all in on the raiser but with losey goose Glen in there I am now fearful that he will come along.
    I flat call the 35k to complete the re-raise making a nice pot, flop is 8 4 9 rainbow, Glen checks, I check, original re-raiser goes all in for 115k Glen folds, I call, he shows QQ and no improvement for me…should I have just folded

  • Ron Sivils says:

    5314 Glasgow Ct. That was an excellent play. In fact it’s almost classic Mike Caro advice. He was a big advocate of often just calling before the flop. The only other real option here is to go all in pre-flop but if you do that and get called you would likely be against A-A and be in bad shape.

  • Jay says:

    I liked the analysis of the play. Spot on

  • Daddy says:

    well played, very nice thinking process

  • Morgan says:

    This is a good example why one should (at times!) be willing to flat with AK (“Big Sick”). If everyone expects AK to 3-bet, when you don’t the others will tend to dismiss AK as your hand. Mixing up your pre-flop game, not always 3-betting your premiums or flatting your draws, makes you much harder to read and therefore induces mistakes from your opponent

  • james grant says:

    AK limp or min raise check A flop …old weapon of mine …but then I have mega grey hair lol grrr

  • Fred Gonzalez says:

    I love your analysis. I encounter the similar weak strategy, i.e., limping with AK. Whenever I see an overly tight player limp in before me, I will only call with suited connectors or small pairs to try and beat their presumed AK. If I miss the flop and/or A or K flops, i’m ready to fold to any bet.

  • Adam Zerner says:

    Some notes:
    – The fact that you had been trying to steal pots makes it more believable that you’re bluffing, and thus more likely that you’d get called by top pair.
    – Other than j9 and 97, there aren’t many bluffs with equity you could have, making it less believable that you’re bluffing.
    – This play requires a lot of trust that you’d get called by top pair. And that it’s even in your opponents range. Someone tight enough may not even play aq and lower from utg.
    – There are many more combos of top pair Han there are of premium hands.

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