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When I teach live seminars, we spend the first three hours doing a lecture, take a lunch break, and then spend the afternoon doing live hand labs. In these, I deal to the students, who try to play their best game. At the end of the hand, they show their cards, and I provide feedback and critique.
In 2019, I published FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, a 42-chapter book covering all of the basic concepts behind being a winning tournament player, as well as many of the more advanced strategies. This book could be compared to the lecture portion of my seminars. I have been working on a second book, however, and thought it should more resemble the live hand labs.
For this book, I will go through several dozen hands I have played, and break down each decision along the way. Although not yet finished, I thought it would be fun to provide excerpts of some of those hands here.
Here is a fun hand from late on day 1b of the MGM National Harbor Potomac Poker Open main event, a $3,000 buy-in tournament.
I was in the big blind with 120,000, blinds of 1,500-3,000 with a 3,000 big blind ante, holding the dramatic A 4. It folded to the button, a well-known player who is very tough, very tricky, extremely loose-aggressive, and had a covering stack of 175,000.
He raised to 6,500, and I was the only caller. We received an interesting flop of Q 3 3, which I checked, and then called his bet of 4,000.
I again checked after seeing the 2 on the turn, and again called his bet, even though he sized up to 14,500.
The river paired the board again and brought in a possible flush with the 2. I checked one more time, and he fired again after thinking for a while, downsizing this time to 8,500.
I quickly called, and he said, “You’re good.” I turned over my hand and took down the pot.
This is a hand with a lot more going on than appears on the surface. This hand is all about inducing bluffs, and ignoring any feelings of fear you might have.
My first decision is what to do with the very banal hand of A-4 offsuit facing a raise? If the raise had come from a tight player, or from anyone in early position, it is an easy fold.
Even though you are getting a great price to call here, 3,500 to win a pot of 14,000, or pot odds of 4:1, don’t let that fool you. This hand reeks of reverse implied odds. By that I mean this hand is usually going to lose more chips than it wins in post-flop action. Therefore, even though 4:1 is a great price against one opponent, this hand loses too much to make it a smart call.
However, here we are facing a raise from the player in last position, who is known to be loose-aggressive. His range may be as wide as any two cards. Against such a weak range, folding would be a tremendous mistake.
Instead of calling, why not three-bet? That option has a lot going for it, and I would recommend that choice against some players. Specifically against those who will make the first raise with a wide range, but will tend to fold a lot when you reraise. Here, a standard reraise from me would be about 20,000.
The problem is, my hand, while being very strong in one sense, is also rather weak. If I do not flop an ace, pretty much every other flop misses my hand. Even if I pair the four, it will usually be bottom pair, and it will be hard to know if it is the best hand. Therefore, if this tough opponent does not fold preflop, then I will be doing a lot of guessing post-flop. Since I do not expect this specific opponent to overfold, I chose to call.
The flop pretty much misses my hand. The only plus is I have the 4, for a weak backdoor flush draw. However, it is a paired board. This means that almost all hands have missed this flop. So if my A-4 was the best hand preflop, it is frequently still the best hand. Since I am either in good shape, or in horrible shape, I chose to check and call. Especially since he made a very small c-bet, folding would be a huge mistake.
The only question is would it have been better to check-raise? Again, the answer to that question is reached by first answering another question. Will this opponent fold most of the time he is weak? If he will fold most such hands, then yes, check-raise. If he might fold some relatively strong hands that missed this flop, hands such as A-J, A-10, small pairs, then absolutely, check-raising is the best decision. In my case, this opponent is so tricky, he might three-bet shove, even with his worst hands, expecting me to fold often enough to make such a bluff profitable.
The turn is where this hand gets really interesting. After I check again, he bets again, as expected. Only this time, his bet is on the larger side. At this point, he is either betting larger to make his bluff more likely to work, or he has a very strong hand, and thinks I will pay him off.
As such, there is no benefit to check-raising. Preflop and on the flop, a check-raise would not only get many worse hands to fold, and deny them their equity, but would also get at least some better hands to fold as well. At this point, with this larger bet, his range is likely polarized to strong hands that will not fold, or weak hands that are unlikely to catch up. The only real decision is do we call again, or give up and fold?
One critical aspect of this decision, and all decisions in poker, is to think ahead. What I mean by that, is to not just think about calling this bet, but also what will I do on the river? Will I bet certain cards, either for value or as a bluff? Will I check-call another bet on the river, and how much will that choice depend upon the river card and the size of the bet? It is one of the most common mistakes I see in all poker games, players who think about the current decision, but who do not consider the possibilities of what happens next.
When I chose to call this turn bet, I had decided at that point I was probably going to call most river bets, although there were certain river cards that might get me to change my mind. More importantly, if the river bet was huge, I might also change my mind. Luckily, he thought his smaller river bet of 8,500 would appear stronger than betting large.
I think he was surprised I called so quickly, but since I had already made that decision when I called the turn, I saw no need to change my mind for this bet size. ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.