Hot Hand #6 (Updated with Results)
***UPDATED WITH RESULTS....Scroll down to update at bottom***
OK I'm back today with the next in my Hot Hand series of posts. This is where I will post shots of a specific hand situation that occurred while I was at an online poker table from beginning to end, and I will solicit input and guesses from you all as to what I should do along the way. Then, since it's an actual hand that actually happened, I can show you what I chose, and what happened next.
Hot Hand #6 deals with a situation where some mediocre cards turn into a mediocre hand, and then we have to try to figure out what our opponent is holding by making a read based on the way he has played the hand along the way, and what he thinks he knows about our hand. This hand occurs about 20 minutes in to a 180-person, $20 sng on pokerstars, so we're fairly early on in a multi-table no-limit holdem tournament, with blinds of 15 and 30.
Things started off innocently enough in Hot Hand #6, as I looked down to find QTo on the button. The first three players fold their hands, but then the next two both limp in for the $30 big blind. The next player folds, and action is to me on the button. I've got two limpers from middle position already in the pot cheap, plus a SB and a BB left to act after me who are also already in for small bets.
Question 1: What do you like to do here? Raise/call/fold?
For me, this one was fairly easy. QTo is normally a hand I would fold without even giving a second thought. I know guys like Hellmuth love to play the "20" hands, but as I've mentioned here in previous posts, to me these are the hardest hands to play in all of holdem. If you hit the flop you could still be dominated by a higher kicker, or an overpair, and of course there will always be straight draws to worry about in multiway pots if I really hit the flop hard. All that said, in this case it looks like I might be able to see a cheap $30 flop (with over $2000 in my stack) with two high cards and likely five players in. No one has shown any overriding strength so far preflop, so there's no reason I might not be able to take control after the flop or turn card and win this pot. And, if I do hit the flop hard, with five players somebody is bound to give me some action. For $30 I'll take a call here, knowing that if either of the blinds raises any significant amount, I will fold regardless of what the other players do:
Now the flop comes out Q99 (all different suits). So I've made a pair of Queens, plus a decent kicker. The SB leads out for $120 into a $150 pot. The BB folds, and the first two preflop limpers fold as well. Action is to me with my pair of Queens and a ten kicker:
Question 2: Now what? I've got top pair and a ten kicker. No one showed much strength before the flop. Do I just fold here to a bet that is 4/5 of the size of the pot? What would you recommend, and why?
In this case, I did not think folding was an option. I have top pair with a decent kicker, and the pair on the board makes it less likely that my opponents have hit this flop in any meaningful way. No one indicated a high pocket pair before the flop, and I am ahead of all but AA and KK among the pocket pairs at this point. I guess my biggest concern is a 9, but remember with two of them on the board, that only leaves two Nines left in the entire deck, and my opponent would have to have one of them. While I cannot discount the possibility of a 9 or a higher Queen than my QT, in general I think this hand is good enough to call with here, and take another card and see where we stand then. I don't want to raise and risk getting blown out of the hand right here by a large reraise that I will then have to lay down to in case my opponent in fact has made trip 9s. I call here for $120, making the total pot now $390 heading into the turn card.
And the turn brings an 8 of hearts, making two hearts on the board, potentially filling the JT oesd if one of us had played that on the flop. My lone opponent quickly leads out for $240, now about 60% of the pot, after an 80% of the pot bet on the flop:
Question 3: This pot is getting large enough to actually care about winning at this point. Am I ahead or behind here? How should I respond -- raise, call or fold?
Here was my thinking at this point in the hand. First, when an opponent fires a bullet at me on the flop and I call it, if they then fire a second bullet at me on the turn, I tend to pay attention to the trend in the size of their two bets in relation to the size of the pot. For example, if someone comes out and bets the whole pot at me on the flop, and I call, if they then bet out half the size of the new pot on the turn, I tend to view that as weakness, all other things being equal. Similarly, if someone bets half the pot at me on a flop with two high cards on it, and then a third high card hits on the turn and they bet the full size of the new, larger pot to me, I tend to assume it is because they have hit their straight draw on the turn. Again, this is all things being equal, I have no other reads or information to draw upon, etc.
So in this case, a guy went from betting 80% of the pot on the flop, to now betting just over 60% of the pot on the turn. That just doesn't seem to me like a guy who just made his open-ended straight draw. Although it could be someone who just picked up some kind of draw, and thus wants to try to hit his inside straight for cheap and is hoping to get there with a weak lead bet on the turn. Either way, my gut is telling me that this guy does not have a made straight. Again I consider AQ, KQ or QJ, all three hands of which outkick me currently. I still don't think he would have played AQ preflop without a raise, and possibly not KQ either (nor AA or KK, so I'm still not worrying about the overcards, nor is he betting strong enough for me to put him on such an overpair here). And I see this trend of making smaller-percentage bets compared to the size of the pot as suggesting that he does not have one of these top-pair-high-kicker hands either. Notice I'm not saying that it's impossible that he has one of these hands, but rather that I have to go with my poker instincts, and here they're telling me that this guy is feeling just a bit weak, but doesn't want to give up the lead here on the turn.
In the back of my mind I will admit I'm still a bit concerned about trip 9s, because there are people out there online who like to play flopped trips kinda slow until the river. But something about this just doesn't seem like trips to me, at least not with enough confidence that I'm willing to lay down what would still be top pair with a decent kicker for this board. I'm still concerned enough about being dominated by trips or a higher kicker that I don't want to raise here and put myself in a situation to really lose a lot of chips if my read is wrong. But I'd like to see one more card, and I'm confident enough that my hand is still the best that I'm willing to drop another $240 out of my stack to remain in the hand. I call, and the pot is now a sizeable 870 chips heading to the river card:
and the river comes the Jack of spades, giving me an unexpected Queen-high straight, and my opponent checks to me for the first time in the hand:
Question 4: Now what's the story? With a possible higher straight out there or a possible full house, am I even sure I have the best hand? Do I just check it down here and hope I have won, or rather would you make a value bet here, assuming you've got the best hand and can milk some more chips out of this guy?
I guess I will wait to hear some responses before I update this post with what I decided and why. And I'll tell you what my opponent was holding, if he ever revealed it to me.
Let me know your thoughts, and I'll post an update with results soon!
Btw another kudos to my boy Aquaverse who came in 3rd place in last night's WWdN. This guy has probably cashed in about half of the WWdNs he has ever played in. He may win 10 of these before he finally depletes his online bankroll for the last time. And speaking of on a roll in the WWdN, Weak Player's wife TransFish is showing up the competition, winning the WWdN last night for the second time in three weeks, and making her third consecutive final table. Way to go Amy!! Anyways I went out when I ran AK allin preflop into Surf's pocket Aces, but I'm not gonna beat myself up over that one. C'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?
******** UPDATED Wednesday 8-31 with Hand Results ********
OK first let me start by thanking everyone for their comments, as always. I've often said here that the ability for near-immediate public interaction and discussion is one of the greatest virtues of blogging as a medium, and for me this feature suits poker blogging as much as anything else. Anyways, this was seriously probably the most analytical set of comments I've ever had to a post on the blog, including my five previous Hot Hand posts, and I have pored over each of them and considered it all closely.
A few general comments. Let me begin by saying that there is a reason I picked this particular hand for Hot Hand #6, and that reason is that I myself was/am not sure I played the hand correctly or exactly where it went wrong. Usually when I review my hands after the fact, I either think I made the right play, or at least it's pretty easy to recognize where and why I got effed up, and I try to learn from that for future games. But with this hand, as I continue to review it, sometimes I think I played it just fine, and other times I feel like I can't believe how passively I played it. The actual hand occurred several weeks ago, although I reviewed it shortly after the hand took place, and I recall my exact rationale at every step of the way, which I will share below.
It seems that the overall picture painted by the comments is that I played the hand too passively. And I don't disagree. Those of you who play with me often know that I don't usually play poker this way. In fact I would be apt to call me a pussy if I watched this hand play out on the Internets the way I've presented it above. If I had to narrow it down to one general comment from you all that I agree with, it would be that I probably should have raised it up on either the flop or the turn. I could have easily put in a medium-sized raise -- say, 3x the existing bet -- and then I suppose would have found out right there "where I was at" in the hand (or he could have folded, for that matter). As I said, some times when I look at these screen shots I am surprised that I didn't make a move on the flop or on the turn with two bets from my opponent, neither of which was particularly large or strong. But let me tell you why I didn't:
No one indicated any strength at all preflop, including my eventual heads-up opponent in this hand. First few positions folded, then a bunch of limpers from MP, so I limped as well, and when it got around to this guy, he merely completed from the SB for 15 chips. To me, I was not going to believe that he had two high cards, a pocket pair of any kind, or an Ace with anything but a low card. Again, I'm not in any way saying it was impossible for him to have a good hand, but when I put him on a range of hands preflop, that range was low. Very Bad Cards. That's what I was thinking about him going into the flop.
I think when the flop came is where maybe I was able to start formulating another important read of this player, one that definitely went into my decision-making process here -- this guy was unsophisticated, and not the type to "put a move on someone". I recall having played at WillG971's table for the last 20 minutes or so, and not having really noticed him at all. He wasn't playing many pots, and wasn't being particularly aggressive when he was in there. He was not a "player". I hadn't made this note on the pokerstars software, but it was the impression called up in my head as this hand unfolded. There isn't any way any of you out there could have known this, and it's not really so much tangible information anyways as it is just the general impression I had of this player's play in the time I had sat with him. He doesn't put moves on people, he's more of a "simple" player than the tricky, aggressive types we tend to encounter more often in our blogger tournaments.
So, when this flop came and it was paired, I took that as very good for me. He bet out 80% of the pot, which is the right size for a standard steal-bet, and while of course it's possible that he had QJ or maybe KQ (which would have both been ahead of me), literally every other possible hand he could have had to be ahead of me was simply not believable. Possible? Yes, of course. But likely? No. So I didn't put those hands in my likely range of hands for him, even after his flop bet came out. That's called putting someone on a range of hands. If you're never willing to rule out any hands because they're all "possible", then the entire exercise is wasted. You need to use all the information available to you, and make your best guess. This guy has made a roughly Harringtonian-sized continuation bet (less than the size of the pot), and that bet did not scare me into thinking I was behind with my top pair Queens and a fairly decent Ten kicker.
Let me stop for a moment as I just remembered something from one of the comments. Blinders, who has a poker blog that I really enjoy reading, plays tight. I didn't realize how tight, though he writes about it in his blog, and I've played with him online several times, and he was even at my table at the WPBT tournament at Caesar's this past July. Anyways, His Tightness said in the comments yesterday that he would have 50% folded the QT on this 80% pot bet. I respect Blinders making that decision. But I can't stand it. How can you play so weak that you let a guy limp in to a pot preflop for half a bet since he was already the SB as it is, and then let him bet you off of your top pair Queens and a Ten kicker on a paired board, just by firing one 80% pot bet? I respect that there are multiple ways to play this game, but for the Super Systemy guy that I am, no way I'm giving up on the flop. Not 50%, and not 5% and not 0.05%. For me, it's either raise or call there. As I said above, I could have raised it. But I figured, with the possible trip 9s out there -- and a 9 is just the kind of card I would expect the SB-limper to have in his hand in this situation -- why bother raising it and risk being blown off of my TP10K?
And that takes me to another important point about my read of WillG971 on this hand -- let's talk about the trip 9s. Now I've written this on the blog many many many times, but maybe this hand will help show how seriously I take this as I play my game. In my experience, and in the experience of a great many successful professionals, most players check the flop when they flop trips. It's about as close to a poker truism as there can be for such a varied, situation-specific game. Again, this isn't necessarily true in our blogger games, late in large buy-in events, etc., where the sophistication level of the players approaches and eventually far outstrips that of our poker blogger games and even local casino tournaments. But when I'm playing a run-of-the-mill 20x180 sng on pokerstars and we're 25 minutes into the event, I'm not giving this guy credit for much. I've already discussed how he just came off as a fairly "simple" type of player. And for that reason alone, I never really put him on that set of 9s in this hand. If I did, I wouldn't have been playing here to begin with. A guy like WillG971 would have quickly checked that flop with trip 9s. But he didn't check it. He bet 80% of the flop. When it folded around to me, I recall being sort of happy. I figured I could smooth call here, get credit for being on a flush draw or middle pocket pair or something, and then hopefully he'd make a bigger move at me on the turn when I actually thought I had the best hand.
To repeat, I do believe the most reasonable read of the situation after the flop is that I have the best hand. His 80% pot bet on the flop did nothing to persuade me otherwise. If he had checked this flop, I would have been a bit more worried about trip 9s, and I might have checked it to see what he did on the turn card (the large bet on the turn following the flop check on a paired flop is often indicative of trips, in my experience. These same players who check their trips on the flop tend to get noticeably bummed when you don't bet at them on the flop, so they tend to try to "make up for" missing a betting round on the flop by making large bets on the turn. I've seen it a million times. This month.). Because he bet this flop, and I couldn't possibly put him on AA or KK given his preflop play, the range of hands I put him on when the action got to me on the flop was either (1) a middle pocket pair or (2) a Queen with a low kicker. Since I felt I was ahead and could call without giving away hardly any information about the actual nature of my hand (top pair decent kicker), but I knew the specter of the trips still existed, I opted to call the flop bet rather than raise it to find out where I was at. Again, most of the commenters seem to think I should have raised here, and you might be right. I think that would have been an effective way of playing this hand. But that was my rationale for just flat calling the flop bet. I wanted to see what this fairly simple-seeming guy told me with his actions on the turn.
The 8 on the turn was a fine card for me. While it did make it possible that my opponent had just filled a straight with JT in his hand (a hand he certainly could have limped with preflop), I then quickly reviewed the flop betting to see if this made sense. Would this guy have bet me 80% of the pot with just an oesd, especially with an overcard on the board? But betting me 80% of the pot on the flop would actually give him poor odds to draw at his own oesd. With $150 already in the pot before the flop, to get right near his 31% odds of filling his oesd, he would rather play for more like $70, requiring him to bet $70 to win $220, which is around his 31% odds of making his oesd. But instead he bet 120 on the flop, nearly double the amount he would have needed to have the right odds for his straight draw. So, unless this clown is a horrible donkey, there is just no way I'm going to put him on the made straight here. So the 8 itself didn't bother me.
Then, as I mentioned in my original post yesterday, the fact that my opponent cut his bet to just 60% of the pot on the turn also was something I noticed right away. Now remember, I had WillG pegged as "simple folk", a straightforward kind of guy who might be willing to drop a standard steal-bet on the flop, but was not the type to bet a strong hand on the flop, and then make a weaker-looking bet on the turn despite thinking his hand got stronger with the turn card. Of course I could have been wrong about this read -- and that happens all the time with me, make no mistake -- but in my head, this screamed weakness to me. In fact, I recognized exactly what I thought this was. Suddenly WillG seemed like one of those guys who fired a bullet on the flop, I called him, and then he really didn't want to fire another bullet on the turn, but he knows he's "supposed to", so he went ahead and raised it again, but with less conviction than his first bullet. Sammy Farha this guy is not.
This is something I see a ton of every single time I play in any poker tournament, whether live or online. Every. Single. Time. People who want to play what they think is "aggressive poker", yet they don't have the conviction or the lack of care for their chips to pull it off fully. And as someone who tries to read every single player in every single hand I ever play in, let me tell you there is very little that is easier to pick off than someone who is trying to act aggressive but doesn't have the testicular fortitude to put a lot of chips out there to do it. I'm talking about guys who quick-raise me on my steal attempts preflop, even when they themselves just limped in from LP preflop. Or guys who minraise me after a c-bet on the flop. Either put your money out there -- and make no mistake, if he had led out allin on the turn card here, I would have folded faster than yesterday's laundry -- or don't try to act aggressively if you're not fully committed to it. In this case, i was very strongly getting that precise read from WillG971. And as you know I am absolutely committed to playing my poker hands according to what my instincts are telling me.
And again, let's review the hands that could be ahead of me here. I'm not worried in the least about AA, KK or AQ. With those three hands I'm sure he would have raised preflop. I think any middle or higher pocket pair in fact would have raised it up preflop. And I'm not worried about JT because betting 80% of the pot when he had just the oesd on the flop is not believable enough to concern myself with. And let's take another quick look at the trip 9s scenario. So now we've got a guy that I have labeled as "non-tricky". Now I'm supposed to believe that he made trips on the flop, and instead of checking like almost every other "simple" type of player out there does, he bets 80% of the pot. Then when I call his flop bet, he has the sophistication to now bet only 60% of the pot, to try to make his hand look even weaker on the turn? I don't think so. If you flop trips, bet 80% of the pot, get called, and then bet 60% of the new pot on the turn, I consider that to be a fairly advanced play, but not a simple one. No simple player I know plays his trips that way. From some of the tricky players among the bloggers, I could not and would not make this assumption. But for your average poker player in the 20x180 sng, which WillG certainly seemed to be, this 60% pot bet on the turn was very meaningful for me -- I simply couldn't put him on a 9 as his most likely holding. Again, I knew it was possible, so I opted not to raise here because I knew he would just move in with any 9 and I'd be hurting. But I was happy to see the river and pay the 240 chips to do it, knowing that this guy's hand seemed to be getting weaker with every street so far.
When I made my straight on the river, and then Mr. Simple checked it to me for the first time in the hand, much like some of the commenters said, in my own head I knew I had won this hand. I mean, again, a tricky player might have made trip 9s on the flop, bet nearly the size of the pot to throw those of us who expect people to check their trips on the flop. Then that tricky player might have bet smaller on the turn to try to feign weakness and get an aggressive opponent to play back at them so they could push allin. I could even see the trickiest of players following all that up with a check on the river, fully intending to raise any bet allin. But there is just no way I was putting this simple guy on that kind of an advanced, multilevel play. No, I saw this as more of the same -- a guy whose hand just kept getting weaker and weaker with every new card to hit the board, and he couldn't help himself but let his betting pattern show that reality to anyone who is really watching.
So, the question then becomes, what do I do to maximize my intake on this hand? I was confident enough in my read that I was definitely going to bet here for value. I mean, I can't put him on a full house though I acknowledge that the possibility does exist for me to get burned by that, and there is no way I'm putting him on KT for the higher straight -- yes he would have limped preflop from the SB with the KT, and maybe he would have done the 80% pot steal bet on the flop with the overcard and the inside straight draw. But I refuse to believe he would have then led out for 60% of the new pot on the turn when the 8 fell. I just don't think he would have played it that way. So I have to figure my hand is best here.
In order to determine how to maximize my profit here, I needed to try to isolate (1) what he was holding in his hand, and (2) what he thinks I am holding in my hand. On the first point, he could have (a) nothing, having just fired two steal-bet attempts and failed, or (b) a middle pair or (c) a Queen with a lower kicker, since his weakness as the hand wore on just doesn't smell like top pair and a high kicker. So, if he has nothing, then I'm going to win the amount current in the pot, and he won't call any bet from me. So I'm not winning anything else on this hand if he has nothing. If he has a middle pair in the pocket, or a low Queen, I might be able to get him to call a bet at the river here, but that's going to depend heavily on what he thinks I have.
So let's look at my betting pattern in this hand from his perspective, and try some Level 3 thinking to figure what he thinks I have. I limped from LP into a pot with other limpers, so that does not indicate much strength from a starting-hand perspective. I smooth-called his 80% pot bet on the flop of Q99. Then I again smooth-called his 60% pot bet on the turn. If I were him, I might be afraid that I was the one slow-playing the trip 9s here, rather than him! But again, WillG971 is kind of a simple player, and I thought it entirely possible that my overall play on this hand looks kinda like I might have top pair Queens as well, or maybe just a busted draw of some kind. In which case, depending on exactly what his kicker is, he might think he can win the hand after all. That's what I was hoping he would think. So, when the river card came and WillG checked it to me, I very quickly hoyed him:
I purposefully moved quickly here, to make a move that would stand out and definitely be noticed by WillG. I wanted him to think maybe that I was seizing on the possible inside straight draw just having hit my Ten, and was making a bluff to take down the entire pot with maybe not much in my hand. After all, I had done nothing but smooth call all the way through here, and I was hoping he would think "No WAY he's just in here with an inside straight draw! That Ten can't have helped him." In Mike Caro's Big Book of Poker Tells, the author outlines a strategy of creating enough confusion and doubt with his opponents that they just have to call. That's what I went for here. I knew I had played this hand like I either had trip 9s myself, or top pair low kicker, or maybe just a busted draw of some kind, and I wanted to make WillG think I might have really just been pushing in the rest out of blind, stoopid desperation.
Whatever I did, it worked. WillG971 called my allin bet (actually, he raised me for his last chip, since I had hoyed him, and I called).
Last chance to guess what he had in his hand!
And there it is. His play of this hand led me to believe more or less what I thought he had, and in the end I think my smooth calling approach worked about as good as any other strategy was likely to work, since he had just top pair and a weakish 7 kicker. I do not for the life of me understand why he called my allin bet on the river, though. That was the worst-played street of the entire hand for him as far as I'm concerned, and I still can't believe he called me there. I would love to take credit for his calling me, and I think my quick move on the river didn't hurt in that regard, but seeing what he called with, I think this was more one of those calls out of disgust more than anything else. I highly doubt he thought he was ahead at that point, given how the hand went down, but I guess he was just pissed to have lost so many chips, and maybe told himself I was bluffing on the river when I moved (almost) allin quickly like I did. Like Mike Caro always preaches, quite often people are secretly looking for a reason to call, and if you can just create enough confusion and ambiguity, you can often get them to make calls that they might not otherwise have made, especially if they've already got a lot of chips in a given pot.
Hope you enjoyed Hot Hand #6. I've got a few more of these saved up, so you can expect another Hot Hand post soon. And thanks again for all of the insightful comments, please keep those coming.