In the process of running my exclusive bi-weekly Inner Circle Office Hours, I have the opportunity to review numerous hands from my best students. This hand from a small stakes tournament clearly illustrates an important concept you must master if you want to succeed at poker.
With blinds at 200/400 with a 25 ante, the player in first position (under the gun) called the blind. The players in second and third position also called. The action folded to the hijack who called, as did the cutoff. Hero, with Ad-3d with a 15,000 effective stack, decided to call 200 more from the small blind. The big blind checked.
Calling in this situation is the best option unless the initial limper is known to be incredibly weak. If he is weak, he will be highly likely to fold to a pot-sized raise to 3,600 or so. Notice that the other limpers should not cause too much concern because most players raise limpers with their best hands, meaning that when they just call, they will usually not have strong hands. While raising may steal the pot with no contest, limping is a cheap way to see the flop with a decently strong hand that flops well.
The flop came Ac-Ks-7d, giving Hero top pair with a bad kicker, plus a backdoor flush draw. Everyone, including Hero, checked to the player in third position who bet 1,300 into the 3,025 pot. The hijack called and the cutoff folded. Hero decided to call. Everyone else folded.
I like Hero’s initial flop check. Leading is only a good option if his opponents are blatant calling stations who will stick around with all sorts of junk. When facing a bet and a call, I do not like any of Hero’s options. If he folds, he is folding a decent hand that could easily be best. If he calls and significant money goes in the pot on the turn or river, Hero’s top pair is almost always behind. Hero should not raise the flop bet because he will only get called when he is crushed. When faced with numerous mediocre options, it is usually wise to take the one that makes it difficult for you to lose a large pot, especially when you are out of position. For this reason, would have folded. If you want to win at poker, you must learn to think ahead about how the rest of the hand is likely to play out. It is almost a guarantee that at least one more bet will go into this pot. Seeing how Hero doesn’t want to put more money in the pot, he should make the snug play and prematurely fold.
The turn was the (Ac-Ks-7d)-Td, giving Hero a flush draw in addition to his weak top pair. Hero checked, the player in third position bet 2,500 into the 6,925 pot, and the hijack called. Hero decided to call as well.
While Hero’s decision on the flop was close, he simply must continue on the turn. Calling is my preferred option because Hero is getting acceptable pot odds. If the player in third position bet larger, perhaps the size of the pot, Hero would have to fold. Raising the turn is not a good idea because it is highly probable that one of Hero’s two opponents has a superior made hand that will not fold to a check-raise. Leading the turn is also not a good strategy because when Hero gets called (which will happen most of the time), he will be behind. In general, you want to put as little money in the pot as possible when you are behind, assuming your opponents will not make many incorrect folds.
The river was the (Ac-Ks-7d-Td)-Qc, leaving Hero with top pair bad kicker on a 4-card straight board. Hero checked, third position bet 6,000 into the 14,425 pot, and the hijack folded. Hero decided to make a hero-call. Regardless of the result, I do not like the call. Hero loses to all value hands and chops with sporadic bluffs by weak top pairs. The only hands Hero realistically beats are middle pairs that are being turned into bluffs. It should be somewhat obvious, but bluffing on all three streets into multiple opponents is not a good idea.
Hero stated that he did not think the opponent would bet many Jacks on the flop, although that is difficult to stay with any amount of certainty because many amateur players who frequent small stakes poker tournaments have no real rhyme or reason for their strategies. Many players will feel inclined to bet with any gutshot, including both Q-J and J-T, because they think that is the only way for them to win the pot. Some players feel obligated to bet A-J and K-J for “protection”. Saying there are very few Jacks in the opponent’s range is too optimistic in my opinion.
If Hero wanted to construct a balanced calling range, he should probably call with two pair and all better made hands. Even then, some of the weaker two pairs, such as K-7 and Q-T, should be folded. All in all, without an insanely accurate live tell, Hero has an easy fold. Of course, Hero will fold the best hand from time to time, but on average, calling in this spot is lighting money on fire because the player in third position had to attempt a multi-street bluff versus two opponents on a board that should connect well with both players’ ranges. Attempting bluffs in this situation on a regular basis is a sure way to go broke, which means that making hero-calls is too.
This hand illustrates one of the key flaws in the thought process of many players: They think their opponents are constantly trying to bluff them. More often than not, you will find they are simply playing straightforwardly.
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