Plugging Some Bola88 Leaks — Part IX
In my last column on plugging leaks, I discussed some common mistakes in tournament play. In this column, I will go back to live play and analyze two rather advanced concepts in both limit and big-bet poker.
Leak No. 20: Putting your entire stack at risk in big-bet poker in order to win a little
A big mistake that quite a few bad players and even quite a few fairly good players often make is this: They are playing in a big pot-limit Omaha game (I could have picked an example from no-limit hold’em, as well, because the principle is the same), and on the river, they have the nut straight but there is also a flush possible, as three hearts are on the board. Both remaining opponents check to them, and they think it is entirely possible that their straight is good, because on the turn (when the third heart came) and on the river, both Bola88 opponents checked. There’s $800 in the pot and they are playing a $1,400 stack. Now, some people would choose to bet the nut straight here, thinking it was unlikely for someone to have a flush, and that they might very well “milk” their opponents for some additional money. After all, their opponents might be tempted to pay off this small, somewhat suspicious bet with something like a smaller straight, a set, or even two pair. So, quite a few players would choose to bet $150 or $200 in this situation, a relatively small bet compared to the size of the pot.
Now, in last position when everybody has checked to them, this is almost always a horrible bet! First of all, the person who is most likely to call them is someone with a small flush; yes, in PLO, quite a few players will check a small flush twice and then pay off any bet that someone might make as some sort of bluff-catcher. But perhaps even more important than the fact that they might get called only by better hands is the fact that they are reopening the betting with a bet that basically says, “I think I might have the best hand, but I don’t have the nuts, by any means.” One of their remaining opponents may have been sandbagging with the nut flush or even the second-nut flush and decide to go for a massive check-raise. And perhaps even worse, someone may also take the opportunity to represent the nut flush, knowing that from the way the hand was played, the bettor cannot hold it. So, by making this small bet, they have put their entire stack at risk to win a little. In order to milk their opponents for a mere $200, they are now in danger of losing their entire stack if they decide to pay off a pot-sized check-raise (only to be shown a flush), or losing the pot with the best hand if they fold their straight against what proved to be a check-raise bluff.
In this situation, holding the probable best hand when everybody has checked to them, but also a hand that is nowhere near the nuts, it is often better to simply check it back, even when they think they may have a 65 percent or 70 percent chance of having the best hand. Also, making a very large bet could even have some merit in this situation. They may get paid off for a large amount by a worse hand because someone thinks this is a highly suspicious bet (in late position after being checked to twice, they suddenly come out firing for an unusually large bet; now, I might actually become deeply suspicious of a bet like that myself), while at the same time there is some — but not much — chance that someone with a small flush may fold because the bet is so big. In any case, the small bet is probably the worst possible option in the situation described here. Yet, it is a bet that many players would make without a moment’s hesitation.
Leak No. 21: Failure to see circumstantial factors in a hand
When discussing and analyzing poker hands, quite a few players seem to be able to focus on just one or two aspects of the decision-making process, while failing to take into account other important factors. I will illustrate this with a limit hold’em example. In the first situation, they are in the big blind with Q-Q, two utter maniacs in late position have called, and the small blind has also called. In the second situation, there have been two early-position limpers, including an excellent and highly aggressive professional, then the same two calls by the maniacs, and this time the small blind has folded. (They hold the same Q-Q as before.) Now, when discussing the proper way to play the queens with some of my poker friends and students, quite a few of them didn’t see much difference between the two situations, and recommended raising in both cases; after all, it’s an excellent hand and they have to charge the weaker hands to draw out, they argued.
Well, in my view, there is a lot of difference between the two situations. In the first situation, with the relatively weak opposition, there is no question that they should raise, as they figure to hold the best hand by far. It is quite likely that the small blind will fold to their raise, giving them the chance to play against only the loose guys, with a hand that can stand a lot of heat. But in the second situation, even though they may still hold a better hand than their opponents, they might gain more by playing deceptively. Since the small blind is already out, raising will certainly not make anyone fold. (It is extremely rare to see a player fold against a single raise after calling the initial bet voluntarily.) More importantly, raising will basically announce to everybody the strength of the hand, making it harder to defend the hand when a favorable flop comes (say, when they flop an overpair to the board), and making it easier for their opponents to make the right decisions against them after the flop. There is one problem with not raising, though, and it has to do with the fact that they don’t know what the pro holds. He may very well have limped in with A-A or K-K, expecting the maniacs behind him to raise so that he could pop it again and try to build a huge pot with the best hand. Now, if they don’t raise and the flop comes something like 5-2-2 rainbow, it will be very hard for them to give the pro credit for a bigger pair than theirs, and they are probably going to lose quite a few bets to him. This is because the only way they possibly could have given the pro credit for a bigger pair than theirs is if they had raised preflop and he had three-bet (as they would know he would do this only with a premium hand) and continued his aggression in the hand. But even then, it would have been hard to label him with having exactly aces or kings, and with all that money in the pot and at least two outs to improve to the winner, it would not be easy to release a hand of that quality.
So, in the second situation, if you do as I recommend (check), you will almost invariably go for the check-raise if the flop looks favorable, unless you think you can make more money by betting out (that is, you think you can reraise an aggressive player by making it three bets). If you do raise before the flop, you hope to tie your opponents to the pot in case you flop a queen. You know that if you don’t flop a queen, your raise may have made it much harder to defend your hand, and chances are that if you win the pot, it will be a medium-sized one, and if you lose it, it will be a huge one. All kinds of factors like this come into play when you’re involved in a pot, and you should know them well in advance — well before you make that seemingly simple decision to either check or raise. If you are someone who looks only at the most obvious factor in the hand (the quality of your cards) while neglecting some other important circumstantial factors, it will be almost impossible for you to make the optimal decision, both before and after the flop.