Hero wins, but not in the long run
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.