By Jonathan Little
While I feel like I have a fairly solid grasp on how to play fundamentally sound poker, I have found that I have been calling a bit too often with good, but second best, hands when my opponents seem to be willing to put all of their money in the pot. I have been working hard to plug this leak. This hand demonstrates my progress.
In a recent $3,500 buy-in World Poker Tour event in Montreal, I started the hand with 220,000, which was a ton of chips at the 800/1,600-200 level. I raised with Ah-Qh from first position to 3,800. A tight, relatively passive player who had 80,000 chips called from middle position. A young guy who is an excellent tight, aggressive player with 160,000 chips called from the small blind.
The flop came Qs-9d-6s. The Small Blind checked. With my top pair, top kicker, I certainly want to make a bet to get value from numerous worse made hands, such as K-Q, Q-J, and A-9 while also protecting my hand against various draws, such as 5s-4s and K-J. Notice that I do not expect anyone to ever fold a premium draw. The idea of betting a large amount to try to force the premium draws to fold will almost never work. I decided to bet 7,000 into the 14,800 pot. This bet easily allows worse made hands that I crush to call while giving the marginal draws poor pot odds.
The middle position player thought for a while then called. The good kid in the small blind then thought for around three minutes. While he was thinking, I realized that the Small Blind would probably only raise with a set, Q-9, 9-6, or a premium draw. Against the sets and two pairs, I am crushed. Against the premium draws, I will win roughly 60% of the time. Against exactly that range, A-Q is in terrible shape, winning only 25% of the time.
It is important to recognize that the Small Blind may occasionally run an insane bluff, but given our table was reasonably soft, I did not think he would want to take an overly risky line against me. He may also check-raise with a marginal made hand such as K-Q or Q-J to try to price out the draws, but I thought that was unlikely because it is a generally bad play. If he check-raises with Q-J, he will usually only get action when he is against a strong draw or when he is crushed, which is a terrible result for him. All of these concerns raise my chances of winning a small bit, perhaps to 30%.
He eventually check-raised to 24,000.
As soon as his chips hit the felt, my cards hit the muck. The middle position player thought for a while and then called. The turn was the (Qs-9d-6s)-3c. The Small Blind went all-in for the middle position player’s remaining 52,000. The middle position player instantly called with 6-6. He was out the door once the Small Blind showed his 9-9. I felt happy.
In the past, I may have lost a few more chips in this situation, usually by calling the flop then folding to the turn bet. I know lots of players who would simply go all-in on the flop, thinking the Small Blind either had a draw or a marginal made hand that A-Q beats. Most players don’t even consider that the middle position player could have a strong hand. Even though this was actually a fairly easy fold once the Small Blind check-raised due to my poor chances of winning at the showdown, it is important to make sure you are folding reasonably strong hands when you are almost certainly crushed by your opponent’s range.
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Jonathan Little is a two-time World Poker Tour champion with over $7,000,000 in tournament cashes. He is a prolific author, coach, and owner of PokerCoaching.com. This article and more can be found at www.jonathanlittle.com/blog/.