A Big Mistake

A hand I wasn’t involved with from 5/10 NL: The pre-flop raiser check-calls on 655r. The turn is a 2, he checks again, and the guy bets again. I don’t remember sizes exactly, but let’s say there was 450 in the pot, the turn bet was 300, and there was 800 back after that. After a long think he folds and says he had ace-high. The other player shows J3 for the big bluff.

“You can’t call,” he says, “You have to either go all-in or fold, because you know I’m going all-in on the river.” Nods, murmurs of assent, and general agreement amongst the attending poker folk. If you haven’t played a ton of poker it’s worth thinking for a minute about whether that reasoning makes sense.

He’s either bluffing with a hand worse than ace-high or value betting a hand better than ace-high. Against that range, what does raising accomplish? You still lose your whole stack against his value hands, just as you would if you called turn and called river, but you force him to fold his bluffs, saving him the last 800 he would have bluffed. All your raise accomplishes is to save him money on his bluffs. This chart illustrates the difference between calling turn and calling river, and check-raising all-in on turn:

;

Since check-raising is worse if they’re bluffing and the same if they’re value-betting, it’s dominated by call/calling, meaning that call/call is a superior strategy regardless of what strategy your opponent is pursuing. It’s actually a little more complicated than that, since by check-raising the turn you might sometimes get him to fold 99 or something, but that’s the basic idea.

Poker is so complicated and dynamic that at times it can seem impossible to make a clear-cut blunder, but check-raising this turn comes close to it. If you want to make money at poker you have to ruthlessly weed this type of mistake out of your game. Everyone has brain freezes, lapses in judgment, and the like. That’s to be expected. But if you internalize conceptual mistakes like this one, you’ll make disastrous, zero upside plays over and over again.

So if this is such a big mistake, why was pretty much everyone on the table on board with it? Because calling down with a weak hand makes pretty much everyone feel uncomfortable. You’re sitting there on the turn, facing a big bet, not knowing what you’re supposed to do, feeling miserable…and the whole time you know that if you call you’ll face the whole situation over again on the river. There’s a temptation to just shove all in and get it over with. Poker-wise it’s a bad play, but emotionally it has appeal. It can be helpful to make a plan for the river: whether you’ll call down or fold, depending on the river card and how much your opponent bets. Poker’s not easy and sometimes you have to endure uncertainty and possible embarrassment.

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2 thoughts on “A Big Mistake

  1. KFay says:

    Nate–

    Good post! My opinion is that the your general idea is very good, but I have some small nit-picking to do:

    For one, the chart should be EV, not the values you provide. Reason being that, with the hand in question, if you shove to force a fold you gain when opp would have hit the river, etc.

    Another point centers around what the folder’s kicker was. If it’s a bad kicker then shoving might induce a fold from some good ace-highs (i.e. AK) rather than induce the river scenario. Seems possible to me, anyway. If folder has A-(better kicker) himself then the whole argument holds together well.

    • grindrewind says:

      Yeah, it’s not a perfect example and the chart is definitely an oversimplified version of what’s really happening. But the basic point — when you’re bluff-catching, you don’t want to preclude your opponent from bluffing — is really important and a lot of people don’t seem to get it.

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