The learning poker player adapts handy rules of thumb that can keep him out of trouble. One often-used rule for TAGs with weak-tight tendencies is "small hand, small pot".
A few weeks ago, I raised the dreaded pocket jacks and got three-bet from a blind around the table. This was the typical 1-2 table where three-bets were QQ+ and sometimes AK, and not much else. The probable best play is a fold, but the 3bet was a min-3bet, we were deep enough, and I had position, so I saw a flop.
The flop was all low (nine-high) and my opponent checked. This obviously screams ace-king for the most probable hand in his narrow range. But the weak-tight tendencies showed up, and, fearing the checkraise from AA/KK, the "small hand, small pot" rule dutifully reminded me that I really wasn't ready to commit my stack with this hand yet, so I checked behind.
The turn brought another low card, and now the opponent made a healthy, near-pot-sized $45 bet. Of course, my check gave him license to fire with AK or anything else he might be holding. With the pot escalating and doubt creeping into what should be a pretty clear-cut read, I made the fold, first proud of not breaking the "big hand big pot" rule, but later
mentally kicked myself for several days for doing so, for not trusting my own handreading skill (which isn't great, but in a 3bet pot in a donk 1-2 game, it's no rocket science).
So now we fast forward to last night, again at the Cleveland Horseshoe, where I no longer have to worry about making a mistake in a big pot, because I've already gotten 150 big blinds whisked away from me with kings preflop, vs. Aces, easy as you please. Facing the preflop shove, the familiar fear crept in (which would have obviously helped me this time), but this time my read was that this player could have queens or even jacks as easily as aces in this particular situation, and a call was mandatory. "Shut the fuck up and take your beat like a man", my brain told me as I announced call, then watched the shiny aces flip over across the table.
A standard, brutal result, but correct play based on my reads. This was actually somewhat comforting - I was playing without fear and rationally trying to put players on ranges and play hands correctly.
I had my stack back up to about $300 with a reload and winning some pots, still down about $150 on the night, when a tight-ish player raised it up from early position. The $1-2 donkey chain of fools started calling, and I got to look at pocket jacks on the button. Probably a no-brainer squeeze, but of course I had already been stacked and stung tonight, and my old friend fear whispered to just call this time, so I did.
We got a flop of
. The entire field checks to me.
Weak-tight or not, my jacks are an overpair and 4 people have checked to me. I bet $25 into this $50 pot. Two players called. One was an uber-donk out of the blinds who had like $75 back, and I knew could have any pair or draw here. I wasn't worried about him. The second guy, to my immediate right, was too loose preflop but seemed ok postflop. I put him on some kind of ten (maybe with a weak-ish kicker, as Ace-ten probably leads out on this board), or the spade draw. He has around $400 in his stack.
The turn helps nobody with a . Now the villain leads out for $20. This is a clear, no doubt-about-it blocking bet in my estimation - he's trying to see the river card cheaply. So now I have competing thoughts - the old "small hand, small pot" tells me to call this bet and evaluate the river card, but my read is that this guy is most likely on a spade draw or a weak ten (he can't be on both because of how the suits are arranged), and he will obviously call a raise with the draw, so I bump it up a bit more to $45. The donk in the blinds calls this bet, and then the weak-lead calls also.
The river arrives - it's a , making the final board
. There's a 4 card straight for anyone holding a 5, and 89 has been there the whole time. Now my opponent leads out for a healthy $75.
My old friend makes a brief appearance in my head, but this time I shoo him out quickly, eager to try and piece this story together. What does he have? Here's a running synopsis of what I throw together:
Did he have eight-freaking-nine the whole time? Possible, sure, but I rule it out. This player had previously raised up trip kings and said "I had to, with the flush out there". Thanks for the info, buddy. Now I know he doesn't like to lose his made hands to flushes, so 8-9 goes away.
With the same logic, I can rule out flopped sets or two pair hands. Buh-bye.
Can he have a five in his hand? He's not loose enough to have unsuited cards like 56 or 45 in his range, so I focus on looking at suited stuff. My biggest fear is a , along with another spade, that has backed into a straight. I only see four-five, ace-five, and seven-five, all spades, as possibilities. I don't think he's a queen-five/jack-five kind of guy. Then I rule out 45, which hit his straight on the turn, and would have 3bet my $45 turn raise.
Would he make this big bet with a ten? I decide that yes, he might, especially if his kicker is good (ace-ten/king-ten), AND with another super-donk in the hand with us, AND the possibility that he thinks I might be the one on the flush draw. I had ruled out some big-kicker tens earlier, so that's some competing information, but maybe he's got queen-ten or jack-ten type of stuff. Ten-nine and ten-eight (more likely suited), give him pair+gutshot combos. So there's some tens he can have, and these don't all necessarily have to be suited, giving him more available combos.
So I'm left with him value-betting some worse hands, a couple flush/straight combos that backed into a straight, and busted spade draws.
It's a big bet that of course I fear calling. I mentally picture him turning over
, and me cursing myself for another month for building a big pot and then paying off a big river bet with one pair. But my final thought is to trust my read and live with the result. My read says I'm ahead often enough to call this bet. I make the call. The other donk folds his whatever.
"Busted spades", he says quietly, flipping over .
2 days ago