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3 streets the hard way

By: TheLangolier @ 13:51 (EST) / 102 / Comment ( 5 )

The action was hopping on Saturday night as I tweeted @TheLangolier.  The small local cardroom at the casino near my house had 5 games of $1-$3 NLHE going and the action was great in all of them from what I could see.   
There were several interesting hands that came up during the night, I thought I’d share one with you here that includes some important strategy concepts.
I was under the gun with approximately a $400 stack when I looked down at AKo.  I opened to $12, which is my standard opening raise size in this game when first to enter the pot.  An aggressive young guy (AYG) who had recently lost a decent sized pot and topped off his stack to the $300 cap flat called behind me, and the BB called as well.  The BB was another young guy who played very poorly and transparently, and was prone to overplaying hands and putting himself in bad spots.  He was playing a short stack of just under $100, having lost down to that point and not topping it off.   
We took the flop 3 handed, and it came Kd 9s 2c.   The BB checked to me, and I checked as well.   This wasn’t really a slow play… I’ll explain.   It’s a spot where people normally continuation bet of course, but I felt like the better way to maximize value in this spot was to not continuation bet.   First of all the board was very dry, so there just wasn’t much in either of their ranges to give me value.  Second, the BB may well fire off a bet into me on the turn, and stack the rest of the way off with just a 9 if I checked the flop.  And finally, the AYG behind me might opt to take a stab himself with his misses, giving me additional value from hands that have poor equity and are likely drawing slim.  A couple other points.  If someone does happen to have a close 2nd best hand like KQ or KJ, I don’t have to worry about getting action from those… AYG would absolutely bet Kx when checked to on the flop 100% of the time I believed.  And if the BB held a king he was going to stack himself off for sure, with his short stack we only need 2 streets to get him in the middle anyway so the betting can start on the turn with him.  So the check here is not really a slow play per say, but a play designed to maximize value given the opponents in the hand and their hand ranges.   And, there is a bit of an image bonus here too… when this hand shows down and opponents see that I checked the flop with top/top, it will make me much harder to read in the future.   Players will expect the preflop raiser to check hands that are relatively weak (like AQ or JJ) or very strong (like a set) on this board, but now I show them I can also have strong 1 pair hands as well, which keeps my range wide and balanced and makes opponents less likely to make plays at me when I check the flop as the preflop raiser.  And that’s a good thing, because sometimes when I don’t c-bet I’ll actually be hoping to receive a free card… now I’ll be a little more likely to get them. 
AYG checked it through, and the turn brought the (Kd 9s 2c) 4s.  
BB checked again.  Now it’s time to throw a bet out there.  Given the fact that I checked the flop I will get much looser calls by any pair, and if someone picked up back door spades I would like to make sure we get some value from them.   I bet $20 into the $34 pot.  
AYG raised to $60, and the BB folded.   Here is a spot where people tend to raise again to “protect their hand” against a draw, but on balance I don’t think that’s the optimal line here.   Let’s evaluate what’s going on.  
This guy is aggressive, and raising us in a spot where (based on the action in this hand) he expects us to have a hard time calling.  Since we did not c-bet, our range looks a lot like misses (AQ/AJ) and marginal made hands with some showdown value (TT-QQ type hands).  There are 3 legitimate possibilities for his holding here:
-A draw.  This should look like a great spot to him to go for a semi-bluff, and he’s aggressive anyway.
-Air.  It also probably looks to him like he can move us off most or all of our range, the ace highs right now, and the 2nd pair type hands with 2 barrels.  Aggressive guys might try this even with air.
-A monster.  Even aggressive players sometimes have slow-play-itis when they flop a strong hand.  I have not seen this guy turn over a big hand yet, so I don’t know how he would play K9 or a set in this spot, but I can’t discount the possibility since slow playing big flopped hands is so common.  
The one thing I do not expect this to be is a strong 1 pair hand like KQ, as again, I was quite certain he would bet the flop with strong 1 pair hands. 
3-betting him (likely to around 125-150) would commit us if he continues in the hand.  Knowing how he played, he would 4b shove with all his monsters, and sometimes with draws as a semi-bluff.  This isn’t bad against the draws, but it really stinks against the monsters.  We’re way behind K9 and drawing dead vs. sets.  It also stinks against the air because he’ll just fold that to a re-raise, and I get no additional value from it.  
Since I have a hand with good showdown value vs. a range that consists of a lot of air, some draws, and a few monsters, I felt that the best way to maximize value was to flat call the raise, and check/call the river.   This is certainly a non-standard line and most of the time in live games it’s better to just bet the river for value, but in this particular case I was dealing with a range of hands that include a lot of bluffs and an opponent who is capable of firing another shot with them vs. my perceived weakish range.
“But Dave, is it really good to be giving a free river to a draw here?”  
Well, we can’t have everything.  No it’s not ideal to be flatting vs. specifically a draw.  But we have to make decisions vs. his range of hands, not just a specific part of that range.  While flatting isn’t great if he holds a draw, it’s also not ideal to fold out pure bluffs (which are likely drawing dead now vs. our holding) in a spot where we can probably get additional value from encouraging them to bluff again, and it’s certainly terrible to stack off drawing thin or dead when he does hold a monster.   
Also there is a mitigating factor vs. the draws he can hold, that ties in directly with the idea of garnering more value from his air.  When he misses a draw, given how the hand has played out he is very likely to fire a river shot as a bluff.   So yeah, we are risking letting him see this river for just the $60 when he’s got a draw, but we are maximizing value vs. his range by encouraging him to bluff off more with his air, and his busted draws on the river, as well as minimizing our losses vs. the few strong hands in his range (another part of maximizing is minimizing the losses when we are smashed, a key concept in deep stacked poker).  
One other thing, I also called the extra $40 very quickly.  This was intentional.  It is a tell that players who call quickly are often on a draw.  I don’t know if this opponent is aware of this or not, but it can’t hurt if he thinks I may be on a hand like AsQs (which would be reasonable here, with me checking a missed flop and bet/calling when I turn the nut flush draw).   If he picks up on this, it gives me the best of all worlds.  When he happens to be on a smaller flush draw himself it may discourage him from making a very large river bet when he gets there.  When spades miss, it encourages him to bluff more frequently.  And if he has a monster, it may scare off a bet when spades come, and it may lead to a smaller river bet size even when they don’t come as he will think I can’t pay off much with just ace high.
The river bricked off:  (Kd 9s 2c 4s) 7c
I checked as planned.  He studied me for a bit, then took a stack of chips and cut them out slowly into the pot, stopping at $75.  When he was done I announced call.  He said “good call, you win”.  I did not show my hand yet though… I called him and he is required to show first (or he can muck his cards and forfeit the pot without showing if he wishes).  Sometimes it’s best not to make a player show if it might embarrass them and you know what they have (basically) anyway, but in this case I did want to see if he had a busted draw or straight air, and I thought with the prior pot he lost he might get a little tilty having to show.  He hesitated then turned his hand up, 5c 3c.  
It’s actually a pretty nice play by him (preflop not so much, I mean post flop).  It does look like a good spot to semi-bluff, but he was misled by my unorthodox check on the flop with top/top.  This was a player who himself c-bet the flop as the preflop raiser every single time, so it likely never occurred to him that I wouldn’t c-bet AK on the flop here.  But this unorthodox line ended up getting me the equivalent of 3 streets of value (my turn bet, his raise, and his river bet) from a hand that would have certainly given me zero streets had I made the “standard” play and fired on the flop.  
I’m not advocating fancy play syndrome here, it is often correct in these small stakes games to simply take the standard line.  But by paying attention and using your noodle, sometimes certain situations and opponents can dictate deviations from the norm that increase the value of your hands considerably.   

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