Hero wins, but not in the long run

The Mercury News Weekend - - PUZZLES - By Jonathan Lit­tle Tri­bune Con­tent Agency Jonathan Lit­tle is a pro­fes­sional poker player and coach with more than $6 mil­lion in live tour­na­ment earn­ings.

A fan re­cently asked me to weigh in on a hand rid­dled with the sort of mis­takes that am­a­teurs should strive to avoid.

On the sec­ond hand of Day 1 in the $1,000-buy-in World Se­ries of Poker se­niors event, the player in the cut­off seat raised to 150, and the small blind called. Our Hero, sit­ting in the big blind, made a min­i­mum three-bet to 250 with 5h 5d.

I didn’t like Hero’s de­ci­sion here. Some play­ers mis­tak­enly think that if they’re “ahead,” they should put more money in the pot. While it’s true that nei­ther op­po­nent was likely to have a pair, they were cer­tain to call 100 more. The only time Hero would be happy with the flop is when he flopped a set. Even nor­mally safe boards like J-6-2 could im­prove the op­po­nents’ hold­ings. Hero should have just called the small pre­flop raise.

The flop came Ks 5c 2d, giv­ing Hero mid­dle set. The small blind bet 400.

I’m gen­er­ally not a fan of slow play­ing, but it’s a fine strat­egy in this sit­u­a­tion. The small blind’s lead­ing range likely con­sists of mar­ginal made hands and junky draws. Since Hero crushes that range, he re­ally wants to keep the small blind around, which call­ing ac­com­plishes. Hero has to un­der­stand which turns could be bad for him (A,6, 4, 3) so that he doesn’t make the blun­der of pay­ing off the op­po­nent if he im­proves to a straight. Call­ing also al­lows the cut­off to stick around when he is prob­a­bly draw­ing nearly dead.

Hero called, and the cut­off min­i­mum­raised to 800. The small blind called.

It ap­peared likely that both op­po­nents had ei­ther rea­son­able made hands or draws (the like­li­est draw be­ing 4-3). Hero’s goal at this point should be to get all in by the river. If he calls and the turn checks through, he’ll have squan­dered an op­por­tu­nity, so a reraise of about 1,800 would be ideal. Although Hero would prob­a­bly never take this line of play with a bluff, few am­a­teurs will fold top pair or an open-ended straight draw for only 1,000 more. It’s fine to have no bluffs in your range if your op­po­nents don’t care about your range be­cause they’re too pre­oc­cu­pied with their own hold­ings.

Hero de­cided to just call. The turn was the 8h. The small blind checked.

I think Hero’s only op­tion was to con­tinue check­ing, look­ing to check-raise all in. Lead­ing small would have no merit be­cause his op­po­nents might make big folds with top pairs and would be get­ting a de­cent price with their draws. Lead­ing large wouldn’t make sense un­less Hero is con­fi­dent the cut­off is bluff­ing.

Hero led for 1,100. Both op­po­nents called. The river was the 8s, giv­ing Hero a full house. The small blind checked.

At this point, Hero had only 2,850 left in his stack, and there was 6,450 in the pot. When you have half the pot or less re­main­ing in your stack, go­ing all in with your premium hands is al­most al­ways the best op­tion, be­cause if your op­po­nents have strong hands, they’ll call any bet, and if they have busted draws, they’ll fold to any bet.

Hero bet just 1,200. The cut­off called with 2-2 (a worse full house), and the small blind folded K-Q face up.

Hero was ex­cited to win a big pot on the sec­ond hand of the day, but he should have been dis­ap­pointed that he failed to stack a premium hand. When you take ab­nor­mal lines of play, as Hero did, you let op­po­nents off the hook.

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