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High-Stakes Poker Versus 'The Grinder'

An example of mixing up the play of a hand

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Aug 08, 2006

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As far as quality poker goes, High Stakes Poker on GSN is without a doubt the best poker on television right now. There are several great poker shows out there, but the quality of play on this particular show is simply a cut above the rest.

A lot of that has to do with the format. The blinds never increase like they do in televised tournaments, and the stacks are deep, so most of the key decisions are made after the flop. Recently I played in season two of the show, after having a disappointing run during the first season, and found myself at a table with some of the "young guns" of poker.

The following hand came against one of the hottest players on the tournament circuit today, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi. With the blinds at $300-$600 and a $100 ante, everyone folded around to me in the small blind. I had about $300,000 in front of me, with The Grinder in the big blind.

I looked down at the Aheart Jheart - a hand with which I'd normally raise - and decided to just limp in. This doesn't quite qualify as a "trap," really; it was more an attempt to mix up my play a little bit. By limping in, I might be able to win a big pot if I hit the right flop, and Grinder would be unable to give me credit for having such a strong starting hand.

Grinder went ahead and raised it $2,000, which was fine by me. There was a very good chance that I had the best hand, as Grinder is liable to raise with anything in that position. Rather than give away the strength of my hand preflop, I decided to just play along and call the raise.

The flop came with no help: 8spade 5spade 3heart. I checked, and Grinder bet out $3,100. At this point, I easily could have the best hand, but more importantly, there are tons of hands I could now represent, since I had just limped in from the small blind. By check-calling, Grinder could put me on either a pair or a draw. If a scary card were to come off on the turn, I could easily represent that I hit it. Also, I had a backdoor-flush draw. Calling here seemed to be the right decision, so I did.

Now, the turn card was the Aclub. I pretty much hit the best card I could hit, but I wasn't all that excited, really. I figured Grinder was probably drawing to a maximum of three outs, or he could even have me beat with a better kicker or two pair. Seeing no reason to bet here, I checked again after a slight pause. I wanted to give Grinder every indication that he could bluff at the pot by representing the ace.

At that point, there was $12,100 in the pot and Grinder bet $7,000. Once again, I saw no reason to get aggressive at this point. Instead, I paused once again, hoping to sell the fact that I was drawing, hoping that Grinder would also bluff the river. At the same time, if I was beat, I'd be losing the minimum. I just called.

Now, on the river, the 5diamond hit. I checked, trying to make it look like I missed my draw. With $26,100 in the pot, Grinder bet $12,000. I had a very easy decision here with an automatic call. There was absolutely no value in raising, and folding was out of the question based on the way the hand played out. I called pretty quickly, and Grinder turned over the hand that had me notched - the Aclub Qclub. Yet, while I lost the hand, I was very happy with my read of the situation and the course of action that I chose to take. As it turned out, that ace was the worst card in the deck for me. In fact, it was basically the only card that could come on the turn or river that would cost me money.

I had a lot of "bluff outs" that missed on the turn, as well as the jack to make the best hand. My plan on the turn was to take advantage of my preflop limp by representing a hand that could easily hit that board. Once the ace hit, that changed everything. There was no longer a need to bluff. It quickly became a situation in which I was looking to collect bullets or lose the minimum.
Top players recognize these types of situations a lot better than amateur or good players do. While overall it's important to be aggressive when playing no-limit hold'em, it's equally important to add some variety to your game so that you don't become too predictable.

Frankly, I hear far too many commentators on some of these television shows describing situations as "raise or fold," when, in fact, the best option is often the call! Simply flat-calling a bet will often disguise your hand more than a raise will. As long as you mix it up, sometimes calling with strong hands, marginal hands, draws, and so on, a call can be a deadly weapon in no-limit hold'em when used properly. spade