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World Poker Open Hands - Part I

by Jim Brier |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


Last month I played a lot of hold'em at the World Poker Open in Tunica, Mississippi. Many of the hands are highly instructive, since they involved unusual plays against specific opponents. I thought it would make for an interesting series of columns to discuss some of these hands. Since these hands involve actual players, I have changed their names in the columns to protect their identities. The hands are laid out in a question-and-answer format so that you can decide for yourself what you would do before seeing what actually happened.

I was in middle position in a $20-$40 game with the Adiamonds Kclubs. Everyone folded to me.

Question No. 1: What is your action?

Answer: This first one is easy. You should raise. You have a premium hand and limping would be weak poker. In some low-limit games, it is common to see players limp in with this hand instead of raise. They view it as a drawing hand and want to see a flop cheaply. But against a small field, this hand can frequently win unimproved. By raising, you will prevent the blinds from getting free/cheap plays, you will eliminate players, and you will force others to pay heavily to play against you. Even when you are not successful at eliminating players, you will flop top pair, top kicker about a third of the time, and this will win when no one makes a good hand.

I opened with a raise. It was folded to Ben on the button. Ben is a bad player who likes to bet and raise with weak holdings. When he has a real hand, he likes to slow-play. He occasionally bluffs, but usually does so when there are lots of players in the hand. In multiway pots, he can really mess things up because of some of his erratic plays. Ben called. Sitting in the small blind was Howard. Everyone in the cardroom thinks Howard is a good player, and he does appear to be a solid, winning player. Howard called. The big blind was an unknown player who called. There are eight small bets in the pot. The flop arrived with the Ahearts Jhearts 3diamonds, giving me top pair, top kicker. Howard and the big blind checked.

Question No. 2: Do you bet or check?

Answer: Of course, you bet. Checking with the idea of check-raising is wrong. You have top pair, top kicker, and this is a big drawing flop with both a two-flush and two Broadway cards. If you check, it easily could be checked around.

I bet. Ben immediately raised. Howard pondered for a moment and called. The big blind folded.

Question No. 3: What do you do?

Answer: Ben would raise with many hands that are worse than yours. It looks like Howard is drawing, since he would have most likely three-bet with a hand better than yours. You are probably in the lead, so you should three-bet. Merely calling and seeing the turn is allowing Howard and Ben to draw at you cheaply. Make these players pay to chase you.

I reraised and both players called. There are 17 small bets in the pot.

The turn was the 10spades . Howard checked.

Question No. 4: Do you bet or check?

Answer: It's not the card you were hoping for, but it could have been a heart. Betting is far better than checking. By betting, you retain control of the hand and have a better feel for where you are at. If you check, you may be doing so with the best hand, thereby costing yourself money and giving your opponents a free card to beat you.

I bet and Ben raised. Howard called. There are almost 14 big bets in the pot.

Question No. 5: What now?

Answer: It is starting to look bad, but you are getting almost 14-to-1 pot odds. A queen that is not a heart gives you the nuts, but you may win only half the pot. You have other outs besides this to beat two pair if two pair is the hand you have to beat. Howard is probably on a flush draw, and Ben could have something like A-10 or even J-10. Your calling closes the action, so if you call, you don't have to worry about calling any more raises. But the real problem is that Ben is so unpredictable that he could be splashing around with a worse hand. If Ben were a solid player, folding could be considered. But with Ben and a large pot at stake, I think calling is correct.

I called. The river was the 7diamonds . Howard checked.

Question No. 6: What is your play?

Answer: Obviously, you should check. You were raised on the turn and had a tough decision to make as to whether or not to even call. This card did not help your hand.

I checked. Ben bet and Howard now raised.

Question No. 7: What should be done?

Answer: Despite the large pot, there is no way your hand can be good. Howard almost certainly has a better hand. Apparently, Howard was not on a flush draw, but had a made hand that he was slow-playing. If, by some small chance, Howard is attempting a big bluff, you still have Ben to contend with. The combined probability of Howard bluffing and Ben having a worse hand than yours is simply too small to call. I think folding is right.

I folded and Ben called. Howard won with the Kdiamonds Qdiamonds , while Ben showed an A-10.

Question No. 8: How would you assess Howard's play?

Answer: While "nothing succeeds like success," I don't care at all for Howard's play on this hand except preflop. His flop call was bad. There was $220 in the pot and it cost him $40 to call, so his pot odds were less than 6-to-1. His gutshot is four outs at best, which is an 11-to-1 shot. Making matters worse, there is a two-flush on the table, so he may have only three outs, or he may hit his gutshot on the turn only to get drawn out on at the river. Finally, the pot may get raised again, since his call does not end the action. His slow play on the turn was also poor. By just calling Ben's raise instead of three-betting, he is giving you pot odds to call if you happen to have two pair or a flush draw. He will also lose extra bets when you happen to have a set. When there is a large pot at stake, the focus is to win it at all costs, not to try to finagle extra bets. His check-raise on the river was dubious, and he was lucky that Ben happened to bet. spades

Jim Brier has co-authored a book with Bob Ciaffone titled Middle Limit Holdem Poker. It is available through Card Player.