We’re playing 5/10 with a $20 straddle. Mark opens CO to 75, I’m in the SB with QTs. Effective stacks are about 3000. First a little about Mark: he’s Chaldean, which didn’t mean anything to me before I started playing poker, but turns out to be a fiercely prideful ethnic group that plays like total psychos. With his black ponytail and black t-shirts he gives the impression of a disgruntled IT guy with a stockpile of illegal munitions in his apartment. Mark is quite intelligent and if there were some sort of poker knowledge quiz he would probably score higher than almost anyone else at Motorcity. He’s also something of an egomaniac. He sees himself as a maestro, while everyone else plays obviously and badly. Thus he’s often taken by surprise when his opponent do not play straightforwardly. He’s prone to sulky and debilitating tilt.

As for his poker game, he’s very loose aggressive preflop. When he’s in the mood he’ll raise over 50% of dealt hands and nearly every hand in late position. He continuation bets a fair amount, but doesn’t follow through with multiple barrels as often as his belligerent persona would make you think. He’s a pretty big station, especially on the river.

So anyway, I have QTs in the SB. I decide to flat, which was probably a mistake. I had Chris, a competent young player, to my left in the big blind. He’s going to squeeze pretty often, in which case I’ll have to fold. I have a hand that can flop strong top pairs or draws. It would be better to take the initiative with a raise.

In any case I call and fortunately Chris folds, as does the straddle. The flop is KJ2 with a flush draw, not mine. I check, Mark bets 100, and I raise to 350. I could consider leading or check-calling, but I think check-raising is standard and good. He’s going to be continuation betting a lot of air that will be forced to fold and of course I have good equity when called. In the event, he calls.

The turn is an offsuit 4. I don’t expect him to fold all that often on this card, but I still have a lot of equity and I don’t love check-calling, so I decide to just keep betting. Check-shoving would be interesting, but risky. I don’t really know how wide he’s betting there or how he’ll perceive my play. I bet, but make another mistake by betting only 550. I think I should be betting something like 650 to drum up some fold equity. He calls.

The river is an offsuit queen. I see no reason to bet, so check, intending to probably check-fold. He bets 600.

There was about 2000 in the pot before he bet. I need to be good 600/3200 = 19% of the time to break even on a call. It’s somewhat hard for him to have no pair at this point. Every straight draw made at least a pair. I don’t expect him to turn Jx into a bluff, especially not with that sizing. So that leaves missed flush draws and double floats.

Then again, it’s not so easy for him to have a value hand. I don’t think he value bets KT or even AK on the river, and in any case he probably would have stacked off with AK on the flop. That leaves KQ, ATcc, T9cc, and slow plays. Obviously the slow plays are discounted somewhat on such a draw-heavy board.

Crucially, I had seen him use similar bet sizing in a similar scenario with a bluff. He had check-called out of position with a gutter in 3bet pot, then led less than half pot on the river after the turn checked through and he missed his draw. He was also giving me a bit of a stare down, so based on a standard acting-strong-is-weak interpretation, I thought he was a little more likely to be bluffing. I didn’t put much weight on the physical read, but I put a lot on the bet sizing.

Based on the pot odds and my bet sizing read I decided to call. He said, “Nothing,” and I rolled my queen and took it down.

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back when a thin call works out, but of course that doesn’t mean it was a good play. If I thought there was more than a 50% chance I was good I would have snap called. I thought the chance was between 19% and 50%, closer to 19%. Even if the call is correct, more often than not I’ll lose and feel stupid.

From Mark’s perspective, in a spot like that, it’s easy to talk yourself into a small bet, reasoning that either they have a bluff that is giving up, or a value hand that’s trapping. But since betting small can lead to getting hero called or even re-bluffed, I think it’s usually better to strap on your nuts and go all-in.

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