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Two Mistakes In One Hand

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Apr 12, 2017

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I recently witnessed a hand in a $1,500 buy-in poker tournament that illustrates two mistakes that many players (even strong ones) make on a regular basis. With blinds at 250-500 with a 50 ante, everyone folded to the button, a loose, aggressive player who recently lost a large pot, dethroning him as chip leader. Despite this, he still had a nice stack of 21,000. He raised to 1,250 and the action folded to our Hero in the big blind, who had 12,500. He decided to call with 9Diamond Suit 8Diamond Suit.

While I think calling is certainly better than folding, when facing a 2.5 big blind raise from a likely wide range, pushing all-in for about 10 times the initial raise could easily be the best play. To figure out if an all-in is profitable, you use the following equation:

Profit = (% opponent folds) X (amount you steal) + (% opponent calls) X (equity in pot – amount you put in pot)

So, in this situation, let’s suppose the button is raising with 60 percent of hands (many loose players raise wider than this) and that he will only call with the top 15 percent of hands (many players call tighter than this). This means that when Hero pushes all-in, he will get called 25 percent of the time (15/60).

When Hero pushes all-in and the button folds, he wins the 2,400 pot (the button’s preflop raise plus the blinds and antes).

To find Hero’s equity when called, you take his 9Diamond Suit 8Diamond Suit and run it in an equity calculator versus the button’s 15 percent calling range. In this case, Hero will win the all-in pot about 37 percent of the time. To determine Hero’s equity in the pot, you take the total pot size after the all-in and call and multiply it by Hero’s 37 percent equity, which is 9,509 (.37 X (12,500 + 12,500 + 250 + 450)).

Now we have all the information we need to determine if Hero can profitably push all-in.

Profit = (.75) X (2,400) + (.25) X (9509 – 12,500)
Profit = 1800 – 748
Profit = 1,052

While winning two big blinds by going all-in may not seem worth the risk, two big blinds is actually a huge amount of equity. Any time you expect your opponent to fold more than 65 percent of the time to a reasonably-sized preflop all-in, you can push with an incredibly wide range because your opponent is folding too often. You can tinker with your opponent’s calling frequency and also your hand’s equity (weaker hands have less equity when called) to see how wide you can profitably push.

That said, just because a push is profitable does not mean that it is the best play. If you expect to win more than 1,052 chips by calling, then calling is superior. However, you will have a difficult time winning more than 1,052 chips by calling with a marginal hand from out of position. While pushing all-in will occasionally leave you broke, scooping up two big blinds on average is well worth the risk. I would have certainly pushed all-in before the flop in this situation.

This time, Hero called. The flop came 7Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit 2Heart Suit. Both players checked.

I am fine with Hero’s check. If he faced a bet from the button, I would tend to push all-in. With a hand that has a decent amount of equity but no showdown value (a gutshot straight draw, backdoor flush draw, and overcards falls in this category), you should usually play aggressively. Hero is a bit too short to check-raise to an amount less than all-in with the intention of folding to a push, so he should go all-in himself. If he faced a small flop bet, perhaps calling would be fine due to getting excellent immediate pot odds.

The turn was the 4Heart Suit. Hero bet 1,300 into the 3,175 pot.

I am fine with this bet. I would expect the button to call with many of his Ace-high hands that checked behind on the flop, so Hero should be prepared to bet again on most non-Ace and 3 rivers in attempt to make Ace-highs fold.

The button raised to 3,400.

At this point, I think it is safe for Hero to fold. He is obviously behind whatever the button has and he has no clear indication that the button is messing around.

Hero pushed all-in.

As long as Hero expects the button to fold a large amount of the time, I suppose this isn’t the worst bluff I have ever seen since Hero has a draw that has no showdown value.
The button called with A-3 and busted Hero.

After the hand, Hero commented about how he knew the button had Ace-high when he checked behind on the flop. I am not a fan of making incredibly specific assumptions about players who you have relatively little experience with. It is important to understand that you have almost no idea what is going on in the head of an unknown poker player. He may use the strategy of calling the turn with all his Ace-high hands with the intention of folding to a river bet while only raising with top pair and better made hands. He could have slow played a set on the flop. He may only raise with Ace-high hands with the intention of folding to an all-in, or maybe he would make a hero-call because he is on tilt. You never know!

Hero made the classic error of making a play based on his unfounded thoughts, and this time, it resulted in all his chips being pushed the opposite direction. Don’t forget that if he just pushed all-in before the flop, he would have won the small pot with relatively little risk and moved on to the next hand. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at HoldemBook.com/signup.