One low pair can beat nothing
The Mid-States Poker Tour rolled through Colorado recently, and I made my obligatory donations to the prize pools. Early in the first event — a $360-buy-in, nolimit tournament with a $100,000 guaranteed prize pool — I called off most of my stack on the turn with a measly pair of deuces. Sometimes your opponent has nothing, and one pair beats nothing.
Blinds were 200-400 with an ante of 50. My stack was around average at 24,000. I looked down at the A♥ 2♥ and made it 900 to go from middle position. The button called with about 20,000, and both blinds came along for the ride too. Their stacks were in the 15,000 range.
Four of us saw a flop of 9♠ 7♥ 2♣. The blinds checked, I checked, and the button checked as well.
The turn was the 9♣. Both blinds checked and seemed pretty disinterested in the hand. I imagine the button would have bet a nine on the flop, and he may have bet any pair. He probably would have bet any of his draws too. I likely had the best hand, so I bet 2,600 into a pot of 4,100.
I didn’t bet the flop because I was behind their ranges. I didn’t think a bet would get them to fold a better hand, and I didn’t think a bet would be called by anything much worse than my hand. But by the turn, I’d acquired more information. Now I thought my hand was best. I still didn’t think they would fold a better hand, but I didn’t think any of them had a better hand.
Spots like these are tricky, holding the best hand but unlikely to be called by many worse hands. Often, with weak holdings, the best way to get value on the hand is to get them to bluff. But if I give those three opponents a free card, almost every card off the deck can connect with them and beat me. I didn’t want to put myself into a spot where I was losing the pot and paying off a river bet in a quest to get them to bluff.
If I had A-9, I’d obviously be much more inclined to give a free card on the turn to induce a bluff. Since I didn’t think my opponents had anything, there wouldn’t be many cards that would scare me if I were holding trips, and I could earn value if they bluffed or connected on the river. But with only deuces, my bet was still out there, and my opponent on the button was thinking.
He looked ruffled. His face basically said, “I don’t think Devo has anything, but I’m not sure what to do about it.”
He decided to shove, betting 16,500 more. Both blinds quickly got out of the way.
His shove made sense only if he had a pair smaller than nines, decided I had nothing and just wanted to end the hand right there. He couldn’t have a 9, because he didn’t bet the flop, and the size of his raise on the turn doesn’t make it seem like he’s asking for a call.
I took my time thinking things over, and he decided to stare me down. Thanks for that last piece of information indicating weakness, amigo. I called.
He turned over A♠ Q♥. The river was a blank, I won a big pot with deuces, and I got the money in on the turn with excellent equity.
A lot of people in that position would think, “I only have deuces. I fold.” Don’t fold if your deuces are the best hand, though!