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What’s Your Play? Coping With Lead Bets Results

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Dec 13, '13


Thanks for the many, many responses to this week’s What’s Your Play? It occurs to me, in retrospect, that I was fishing pretty hard for compliments with the way I worded my post. Well, I’m glad that I got them, and that so many people enjoy the WYP posts! I’ll try to keep them coming. When I see them getting dozens of comments, that’s a strong incentive for me to find a new one for next week.

Don’t Soul Read Without a Read

Our first step, as always, should be to put Villain on a range. Some commenters claimed that his small sizing, especially on the river, must be a bluff, since he is giving himself such a good price and would want to get more value with a big hand. Others say that it must be a value bet, since he is giving us such a good price that he can’t expect a fold.

To assume either would be to assume a lot more about the Villain than I’ve told you here. If you actually have a read that your opponent will or won’t bluff with a small bet, then by all means exploit it, but without that read it’s dangerous to leap to a conclusion about what he “must” have and deviate sharply from the fundamental mathematics of the game. Given the pot odds Hero is getting, we shouldn’t fold often, even if we think a bluff is unlikely.

A Pessimistic Range

Let’s try to read Villain’s range with a bit more rigor. His wide pre-flop tendencies makes it hard to say too much about what he takes to the flop, but we know one important bit of information: he’s unlikely to have an overpair. It’s not impossible, but for our purposes I’m just going to rule out JJ+ entirely. I’m less confident, though, that he’d 3-bet AJ. Although AJs technically does land in the top 5% of hands, I’m going to leave all combos of AJ in his pre-flop calling range.

Our kicker isn’t great, but if he really is playing nearly half the deck, then he probably will see the flop with some Jx that is weaker than ours as well. I left J9o and J8s in his range. Plus of course there are pocket pairs, suited connectors, and suited Aces that could have flopped a pair or a draw. That gives us a sense of what sorts of hands from his pre-flop range would have connected with this board.

I don’t think we’re going to see him just randomly bet into three people with air. That eliminates most possibilities of Ax that could have rivered us, though as many of you pointed out there’s a chance that he flopped an Ace-high gutshot and bet it, then rivered top pair.

In truth, I think Villain is less likely to play a monster this way than a hand that has only marginal showdown value. His small bets suggest that, whether he thinks he has the best hand or not, he isn’t trying to build a big pot. If he were, he could have check-raised or bet bigger at some point. For now I’ll leave a fair number of strong hands in his range, but I’ll want to return to this point.

So I think a pretty generous interpretation of Villain’s range would be {TT,44-33,AJs,A5s-A2s,KJs,QJs,J8s+,65s,54s,AJo,KJo,QJo,J9o+}. This has him betting all of his Jacks, a good number of gutshots that rivered top pair, and even some monster hands like trips, full houses, and quads. It contains only 6 combos – the TTs – against which Hero will do better than a chop on the river. Even so, Hero has 38% equity, far more than enough to call a bet of one-third of the pot. So folding is out of the question.

After writing this, I realized that Leo Wolpert made an even more compelling case for at least calling than I did:

Doubt I fold river when I only need to be right 20% of the time and there are many plausible hands that have no showdown value and may feel compelled to bluff (eg 65, 75, 76, QTs, random spazzes). If he’s bluffing with 8 combos, we need to gin up 32 value combos on the river to fold. That’s going to be tough to do; even against a super pessimistic range we still have more than 20%:

Board: Jd 3s 4h 4s Ad


equity win tie pots won pots tied
Hand 0: 22.892% 09.64% 13.25% 8 11.00 { JcTd }
Hand 1: 77.108% 63.86% 13.25% 53 11.00 { JJ, 44-33, AJs, A5s-A2s, KJs, K4s, QJs, Q4s, JTs, J4s, T4s, 94s, 84s, 76s, 74s, 64s+, 54s, 52s, 42s+, AJo, KJo, QJo, JTo, 54o, 43o }

If we add in some Axo combos we’re finally justified in folding. But if he’s showing up with those kinds of hands he’s probably showing up with some more bluff combos as well.

Call or Raise?

The real question is whether Hero ought to attempt to bluff Villain off of a chop. The math behind this play is relatively unforgiving, as Hero stands to win only half of the pot when it works (he’d have won the other half anyway, by calling) but to lose his entire raise (he’d have lost the call anyway) if Villain can beat a Jack. This assumes that Villain will never fold a hand that can beat a Jack, which sounds reasonable to me.

The central consideration, then, is how likely Villain is to have a hand better than a Jack. Admittedly, a bit of soul-reading is involved at this point, and I perhaps know or suspect a bit more about this Villain than I let on here.

The most important point I want to make with this post is that when you strongly suspect that you will chop the pot, you should give serious consideration to raising. Calling may seem like the “safe” route, and while it is a good way to ensure that you don’t lose a big pot, it also guarantees that you won’t win a big pot. One commenter called a raise an “unnecessary risk”. I suppose the idea is that Hero can have some sort of edge in the game without attempting a play like this, so why bother with it?

When playing poker, I don’t think in terms of necessary or unnecessary, I think in terms of profitability. There are no profitable but unnecessary spots, in my mind. Perhaps you play for fun and really do hate losing big pots more than you enjoy winning big pots. More power to you. But if your primary objective is to make money, then you can’t afford to take “safe” plays that are less profitable than ambitious ones. Money won from bluffing an opponent off of a chop is worth just as much as money saved when your bluff would have been called.

I’m inclined to agree with many commenters that Villain’s bets look most like blocking/protection bets. As Gareth says, “I think this is a situation where we see fear in our opponent (barring live tells). The reason we see fear, in my estimation, is he fears you betting. So he preempts you. Also, we see a descending bet size in relation to the pot, this may or may not speak to that fear, but I think it more often speaks to a hand seeking showdown.”

Nate’s point is a good one as well: “One more psychological point is that people often react to aggression / Andrew “not giving up easily” by fearing losing control of the pot to him. Many players feel more comfortable betting this river into a guy like Andrew than they do checking a hand like 88 or QJ.”

Admittedly, I threw you a bit of a red herring with my comment about Villain being reluctant to give me credit for a hand. If we’re really confident that Villain has Jx, then how often he folds it to a raise barely matters. Even if he doesn’t fold, we have nothing to lose by raising into that hand.

The real risk is in running into a better hand. I was damn near certain he had a bare J prior to the river. There’s an outside chance he hit with AJ, but I believe he would have bet bigger if he’d done so. From his perspective, he had plenty of reason to believe I would call a bet but not much reason to expect a raise, so he ought to bet big with strong hands rather than try to induce me  to raise him. I don’t really see him betting A5 or A2 on the flop and turn, but nothing about the set-up for this post suggested that, so it’s good that so many of you considered the possibility.


I was very sure that a call would result in a chop. I didn’t know how Villain would respond to a raise, but it didn’t matter. If he called, we’d chop it anyway, and if he ever folded, that would be icing on the cake.

I raised to 925. He told me that he ought to pay me off, showed me a Jack, and folded what he told me was J9. He then asked if this hand would be on the blog!


Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer, and teacher. He is also an avid hiker and traveler and a passionate advocate for urban public education. You can find dozens of his poker strategy articles at and more information about group seminars and one-on-one coaching at

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


4 months ago

Reversing the roles, how would you have played the hand if you were villain?


4 months ago

I would have folded (or reraised at least sometimes when suited) pre-flop. As played, I would have checked the flop, and then gone from there.


4 months ago

Is your thinking that villain is not good enough a player to execute a 3 bet while holding only a Jx in this spot because you don't discuss this possibility: he bets, you raise and he comes over the top. Can you call? Seems to me this should be part of the calculation or is the likelihood too small to seriously consider? I don't see it that way. I see villain having to consider both a chopped pot and a bluff and knowing he can represent a boat or quads.
I'm not arguing against you, I'm just trying to understand because this is what would stop me from raising in this situation. I too felt it was likely we were going to chop the pot but a raise would expose me to a monster or a bluff I couldn't call.


4 months ago

Basically yes I think very few players would be capable of a 3-bet bluff here. Although you're right that in theory it's worth considering, it really should be a hard thing even for a good player to do in this spot. AA and JJ are both more likely for me than for him given the pre-flop action, and I think 33 and 44 are equally likely for both of us.

I'm glad you asked, because I think that an unfounded fear of opponents making some super-sick read or bluff often deters people from making moves like this. The truth is that even among good players these kinds of moves are extremely rare, and they aren't generally something you have to factor into your decision-making.

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