Monday, February 8, 2010

Poker Diary: Too Clever By Half

(Note: read this post for background on the tournament in which this hand occurred.)

There's a mistake I've made so many times that it should probably be named after me. It's the result of me overthinking the end of a hand and trying to be clever instead of smart.

I'm going to illustrate this mistake by taking you through an actual hand from a Friday night tournament in Mahnomen. It was late in level 1, blinds at $25/$50. I was in late position (seat 8). Three players had called the big blind when it got to me. I looked down and saw this:

Me likey. I decide to raise to $150. The person to my left (seat 9) calls. He is one of the three players I indentified in my last diary as "dangerous". Everyone else folds.

I figure seat 9 has something fairly good, maybe Ax or low- to mid pocket pairs. Since he's one of the players I pegged as a real player, I think he would have re-raised if he had AA, KK or QQ, and maybe even AK. So now there's $400 in the pot. The flop comes out:

This just keeps getting better. I'm first to act the rest of the hand. What should I do?

A. Check. You don't want to scare him off.
B. Make a continuation bet. He's expecting it and it will build the pot.
C. Make a pot-sized bet. No sense in taking chances.
Checking here is a good move. You've got a made hand and you don't want to scare seat 9 off. It might even make him think you've got a small pair or a straight draw. The danger is that he might check as well and that isn't going to get any more money into the pot.

The continuation bet is the standard play after you raise pre-flop. It says to seat 9 that you've got something and now you want to build a pot, but you don't want him hanging around and catching something that can beat you. As I mentioned above, it may push him out of the hand, which we don't want in this case.

Making a pot-sized bet is high risk, high reward. If seat 9 calls, you're well on your way to building a huge pot. There's no flush possibility, so things look good. However, the chance he folds goes way up.

I go with A) and check. Thankfully, he bets $200, half the pot. I don't think he's sitting on AQ, since the smart play would be to check and get a free card. I put him on AJ or A10 or a small pair. I don't think he would have called the initial pre-flop raise with anything less and remember from the last entry that at this point in the tournament I had been playing very tight. I go into actor mode and contemplate if it's worth $200 to stay in this hand. After a half minute I call, building the pot to $800. The next card comes out, and the board looks like this:

I couldn't have laid out this hand better if I tried; this card doesn't help anybody. It's my turn to act. What should I do?

A. Check. He'll never believe that 2s helped you.
B. Make a medium- to large-sized bet, say, $600. It's time to take this pot.
C. Overbet the pot -- $1200. You need to build the pot up fast.
Checking has the same plusses and minuses as before, but it also has another advantage: Coupled with my deliberation after seat 9's post-flop bet, it's probably starting to look to him like I'm chasing a straight. I imagine he thinks I'm sitting on AQ.

Betting $600 here would be a bad play; as I mentioned, the 2s couldn't have helped me. Why would I bet as though it did. He might call it. He might also be confused enough to smell a rat.

Overbetting the pot would look even more suspicious. However, it might be looked at as a desperate move on my part, if seat 9 thinks I don't know what I'm doing. He might call it. He'd most likely fold though.

I check. He bets again, $700. He definitely thinks I'm chasing. With that read, his bet is the right move. I deliberate again, but only for a few moments this time. I call.

By now you must be thinking, didn't you mention a mistake three days ago when I started reading this? Relax: I'm getting there. First there's another card to come.

The pot is up to $2200, and it's all mine. I just need to get as much money into the pot as I can. How to do that?

A. Make a value bet, about $1000.
B. Make a pot-sized bet.
C. Check. He's fired twice. He'll do it again.
At this point, seat 9 has decided to either fold to any bet or call any bet (or raise). Remember, his read is that I was chasing a straight. Knowing that, a value bet doesn't make sense to me here. If it's all or nothing, might as well bet the pot. Note that if I'm wrong, and his read on me isn't that I was chasing, a value bet does make sense.

If you chose C, congratulations! You're me. I'll consider sharing naming rights for this mistake after you've committed it 1000 times like I have.

I always think to myself, "he's bet at it twice. He'll fire one more bullet then I'll check raise." Maybe this is a solid strategy, but it never works for me. Instead, he checks and we turn over cards. I turn first, so he mucks his hand without showing. I don't find out what he was holding. I rake in my $2200, happy but feeling it should have been more.

Here's the takeaway: When you've got the best hand on the river, bet.


  1. Enjoyed the commentary, Jay. I think you played it well and the outcome may have been the same had you bet the river. (i qualify all this by saying----not that i know anything!---) His being a loose cannon type of player may have helped you get him to build the pot up in the first place...When placing his bets, he no doubt was a card away from a real good hand and just couldn't resist, plus he couldn't read you and was hoping you were in need of a card. Thankfully for you he was willing to gamble while hoping for his card. I agree he probably had a high card and was perhaps just hoping for a pair or straight of his own? Depending on how plush he was with chips, and thinking you were a very conservative player, he may have folded on any sizable bet you may have made on the river anyway, realizing/speculating at that point you had your straight made at the flop.


  2. Maybe. If I read him right though, he caught a piece of the flop, maybe top pair. So he was betting with something.

    Obviously he smelled a rat by the river. aybe he just figured I would fold anyway if he bet (assuming he thought was chasing). That's the fun of poker. Trying to figure out what the other guy is thinking on the fly.

  3. Exactly-i still think you played it well at that point. Good luck in Vegas...when are you heading down there?