Those who know my game well know I don’t particularly like to fold reasonably strong hands. While being a bit of a calling station works well against most good, aggressive players who almost always have at least some bluffs in their ranges, against weaker opponents who play blatantly straightforward and rarely bluff, calling down with good, but not amazing, hands can get you in a ton of trouble. This WSOP has provided me with numerous examples where I should simply lay down a hand to a weak, passive player that would be criminal to fold against someone with a balanced range.
The first example took place in a $1,500 WSOP event. The blinds were 25/25 and everyone had around 4,500 chips. I raised with Kc-Qd to 75 from middle position and both the small blind and big blind called. Both of my opponents were around 55 years old and had yet to take any sort of an aggressive betting line. The flop came Ks-Ts-6d. My opponents checked to me and I bet 150. Only the big blind called. The turn was the (Ks-Ts-6d)-2c. The small blind checked and I decided to bet 300 for value. To my surprise, he made it 1,000 with little thought. I reluctantly folded and he proudly showed me his Kh-Th.
While most good players could, and likely should, have flush draws and marginal made hands they decided to turn into bluffs in their range, a tight passive player is almost never bluffing. Knowing this, which hands would he realistically check raise large for value and, in his mind, protection? I imagine the worst hand he may think is a “premium” hand on this board would be K-J. If that is the worst possible hand he can have, K-Q is in awful shape. It is worth noting that you will occasionally fold the best hand but against his tight value range, K-Q is crushed. Even if he had a few premium draws in his range, K-Q still simply must be folded. When your opponent’s range is almost entirely premium made hands, if you have a good, but not premium, made hand, you should usually fold.
Another hand came up a little while later in the same tournament. This time, the blinds were 150/300-25 with 15,000 effective stacks. A tight, passive player raised to 750 from the small blind and I elected to call in the big blind with Js-Tc. The flop came Jh-Jd-9h. My opponent bet 900 and I called. The turn was the (Jh-Jd-9h)-6c. He checked and I quickly tossed in 1,500, hoping to look as if I was trying to blatantly steal the pot. When he check raised to 4,000 with confidence, I assumed the way I put my chips in the pot induced him to run an optimistic bluff. I elected to call, hoping he would shove the river. The river was the (Jh-Jd-9h-6c)-8s. My opponent instantly went all-in for 9,000 and I called with little though, losing to his 6d-6s.
So, where did I go wrong? Some people may think I should have raised the flop for “protection” but if the opponent only has a few outs, you should not be concerned with getting outdrawn, especially if you suspect you will be able to extract an additional street of value later on the turn or river. I was also concerned that he would fold almost all hands worse than a 9 if I raised, which would be a disaster as I certainly want to keep him in the pot with various A and K high hands. Finally, I wasn’t entirely sure I could profitably get in 50 big blinds against this specific player if he elected to reraise on the flop.
I messed up badly on the turn. I thought he would view my splashy bet as a bluff whereas in reality, he probably wasn’t paying attention to how I put my chips in the pot in the least bit. If he had nothing, he would fold and if he had a good hand, he would call. It is as simple as that. I then compounded my error by assuming my opponent would lose his mind and attack my splashy bet, which he probably wasn’t even aware of. This made me think my opponent’s range consisted of almost entirely hands I crush. In reality, he simply has a J or better every time. When he instantly pushed on the nasty 8s river, which improved Q-T and J-8 to better hands, I should have found a fold because I lose to all value hands besides perhaps a vastly overplayed overpair. I leveled myself about as hard as possible.
I know that most players know to not pay off tight, passive players, but I seem to forget it from time to time. When someone who hasn’t put a chip in the pot in an aggressive manner all of a sudden wants to stick his whole stack in, you need an overly premium hand to continue. Don’t forget it.
If you are going to the WSOP, I strongly suggest you spend some time preparing. If you simply show up and expect to succeed, you are almost certain to fail. I recorded a six-hour long training series for you that explains all of the preparations I make in order to ensure I have the best chance to do well. I also discuss how to play with the wildly varying stacks you will be forced to play with at the WSOP. Check it out here: Jonathan Little’s WSOP Coaching Series
Thanks for reading and good luck in your games!
This article initially appeared in CardPlayer magazine.