Printing Money

How about a few hands I played well for a change?

1. 5/10 at Rio. Young, but straightforward and somewhat nitty-scared guy limps in HJ, I isolate to 50 in CO with AJo. Flop is 733ss, he checks, I cbet 60, he calls. Turn is Qx, bringing a backdoor flush draw. He checks, I bet 150, he folds.

When a guy like this limp-calls, he’s going to have some sort of speculative hand, either a low pocket pair or something like JTs. Once he calls the flop he almost always has a marginal pair, usually a pocket pair 44-99, occasionally something like 87s. He probably doesn’t have any 3x in his range, and 33 and 77 only comprise a total of 4 combos, very unlikely. The point is, when the Q hits it’s almost impossible for him to be happy with his hand. Every now and then he’ll have QJs with a flush draw on the flop, but the vast majority of the time he just has a weak pair. And he’s scared, so he’s not likely to make any hero calls.

Whenever you have an ascending runout (i.e., the turn and/or river are higher than the flop) that tends to favor the player who was doing the betting on the flop, because he’s more likely to have hit that card. The other player will find himself in a tough spot, especially if he’s uncomfortable calling down with worse than top pair. This becomes even more true if the player taking the passive role isn’t aware of all the stuff I just explained. In that case he doesn’t realize how appealing of a bluff spot it is for his opponent, he just knows he doesn’t like his hand.

So this is a very good — and very obvious — bluff spot. It’s also a spot that, if you’re not feeling entirely comfortable or confident, it’s easy to talk yourself out of: “It’s too obvious,” “If I do this every time I’ll be really unbalanced,” etc. etc. But the bottom line is, against a player like this guy, betting here is just free money. My thought process during the hand didn’t go much beyond, “Sweet, I win now.”

2. Two players limp and I check Q5o in the BB. The flop is A83r and it checks through. The turn is a 4, giving me an inside straight draw. I lead 25 into 30 and one limper folds. The other, a straightforward and mostly honest old guy, studies me for awhile before calling. The river is another A, I bet 135 into 80, and he quickly folds.

The timing in this hand is really important. If he had a strong A he would probably have bet the flop, so if he has an A it’s probably weak. But if he had a weak A, he would snap call my turn lead — neither folding nor raising would appear to be viable plays. He’s not tricky, so his timing is meaningful: he’s not faking a decision. So I think he has either a draw or a weak pair. When the river pairs the A, if I bet a normal amount, he might call with something like 8x. But when I overbet, he’s almost never calling. I don’t know if 135 is exactly the optimal size, but I also don’t think it matters much because I’m almost never getting called. The bet has to work over 62% of the time to be profitable. I think it will actually work 90%+.

There’s a big disconnect between how live poker players talk about overbets and how they actually use them and react to them. People often say an overbet is likely to be a bluff, but when I see someone actually get to showdown after overbetting they pretty much always have the nuts. Appropriately therefore, most people don’t call overbets unless they have a really strong hand. So in this specific hand, it’s easy to get nervous about betting this size because it “looks bluffy.” But, to someone used to playing against typical opponents, it really looks a lot more like I have a boat, I think he has an A, and I’m getting greedy. In any case, I just didn’t think this guy was going to call without an A.

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