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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.
Our first hand occurred at the 2019 World Series of Poker. I was playing early on in event no. 53, the eight-handed deepstack no-limit hold’em tournament. I was in the 400 big blind with a 25,000 stack.
The main villain for this hand was the cutoff, who had me covered with a 33,000 stack. I had seen him make several very large overbets in previous hands, sometimes when bluffing, sometimes when he was strong. His stack size had been on a roller coaster.
UTG opened for 1,100, our main villain called, and I raised to 3,600 with A K. UTG folded, and the villain called. I checked the flop of A 10 2, hoping to induce a large overbet, but he checked behind.
I bet small, just 3,000, on the 9 turn card, and he called. The river was the K, and I checked, again hoping for a large bet. Here he obliged by going all-in, and I made the call.
Preflop, we can argue for just calling the original raise, as we are out of position against two opponents, and can check-fold the flop when we miss. Also, if we hit, our opponents may not put us on such a strong hand.
Contrarily, by re-raising, we might win the pot now, and when that doesn’t happen, we are getting more chips into the pot with what is likely the best hand. Also, we are taking the lead, and can sometimes win the pot with a continuation bet, even if we miss.
For example, if they call our re-raise with a small pair, they might fold when we continuation bet the flop and they are facing several overcards. This is a situation where you mix it up by sometimes calling and sometimes re-raising, and make the choice each time based upon other factors. In this case, I preferred to re-raise, since there is a decent chance villain will respond with a huge four-bet, and will not need a premium hand to do so.
Despite potential flush draws, this is a great flop for our hand. We have top pair, and by slow-playing, it looks like we have a big pair (K-K through 9-9) rather than an ace. That is why I checked this flop, hoping to induce a bluff from this aggressive player. My basic strategy is to always c-bet when against one opponent. But here, I decided to use an exploitative strategy instead.
On the turn, I was still representing a big pocket pair that couldn’t beat an ace. I thought it sold that story better to bet small rather than check. I am still trying to induce the big bet from villain. On the river, I thought he had nothing much at all, as all draws missed, and that he would not call a bet. So, I checked to induce a bluff.
As it turned out, villain had crushed the flop with A-2 offsuit, so I got lucky to hit the river.
Now let’s look at this from villain’s perspective. Calling the first raise with A-2 offsuit is a HUGE mistake. Even more so when the raise was from UTG, a position where they are likely to have a strong hand. Even if he had A-2 suited, this is still a big mistake. Then, he exacerbates the mistake by calling my re-raise. He has now put in about 13% of the effective stack with a hand that is very hard to play well post-flop.
What does he do when the flop is Q-10-2, and I bet? That would have been a great flop for him, as he would go from way behind to way ahead. But is he really going to call me down with bottom pair? Even with a more innocuous flop like 9-7-2, how comfortable can he be calling? And if I bet again on the turn or river? His hand was absolutely a fold preflop.
On the flop, his check-back is fine. He has hit huge, and a check by him looks reasonable no matter what cards he might be holding. However, why not bet instead? His image is very aggressive, so he should know that we expect him to bet anytime we show weakness. If I had been holding a hand like K-K, against him, I definitely would not have checked-folded the flop. I would expect him to bluff frequently here, simply because I checked.
It is important that you monitor your image and know what other players likely think of you. You should never do anything special to create an image, but should always be aware of what image you have created by how you have been playing. If you have been dealt a lot of great cards, have been betting and raising a lot, but have been winning without any showdowns, then your image is loose and aggressive, maybe even wild and crazy. It doesn’t matter how tight you actually play, if this is all your opponents have seen, that is your current image.
On the turn, when I bet small, villain absolutely should have raised. If I have a weak hand for this board, I’m not likely to bet again on the river. Nor am I likely to check-call the river after he calls this turn bet. Since just calling is not that likely to create extra value for him, he should raise now. Again, doing so will often be perceived as an attempt to steal, and that means I am less likely to fold to his bet than I would against most other players.
Finally, his river bet is silly. From his perspective, what are the odds I have much of anything? If I don’t have much, what are the odds I will call off my entire stack, rather than just fold and continue with a playable stack of 18,000? The only way he was getting value on this river is if I had a hand like A-Q or A-J. However, his large bet does look very bluffy, so I might call light some of the time. But I think it is too late for this move now. He should have done this on the turn instead. ♠
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.