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Head-Scratching Hands: An Analysis

Totally opposite opinions on the play of the same hand

by Mike O Malley |  Published: Aug 08, 2006


The response to my recent column about head-scratching hands was overwhelming. The detailed and thoughtful responses came in by the hundreds, which is a first for a guy who writes columns about uninteresting decisions!

Since there is no perfect answer to a poker-hand situation, I did get responses that ranged all across the board. Following are two responses I received that analyzed a hand that took place during the 2006 Commerce Casino L.A. Poker Classic.

The Hand:
• Blinds: $50-$100 (nine players)
• Joe raised from first position to $300.
• John called from middle position.
• Jim went all in from the button for $975.
• James went all in from the big blind for $1,500.
• Joe folded the Adiamond Kclub
• John called.
• Final board: 10club 4spade 4club Jclub 2spade
• John: Aspade 10spade
• Jim: Aclub 5club
• James: Aheart Jspade

Brad Feldman from Prior Lake, Minnesota, sent the following analysis:

When I play no-limit, I don't like to put myself to a decision for my stack with a marginal hand, such as those weak aces. With those hands involved, I can understand a reraise with a decent ace and then see what happens from there. John's call preflop with A-10 suited is understandable; if he hits two pair or a flush, maybe he can bust someone. Jim's play with A-5 suited is questionable; maybe he sensed weakness and wanted to take it down right there. I'm sure he wasn't looking for a call.

It's tough to say, because I don't know anything about their table images. James' play with A-J is also questionable, but somewhat understandable. The only thing I can think is, maybe he was trying to isolate and get heads up with what he thinks is the best hand against a button raiser. Getting raised and then reraised from out of position with A-K is not fun, but the funny thing is that Joe made the best play of this whole ordeal (obviously not knowing what the other players held) by laying down A-K. Any player at that table with those limits should think he is up against A-A or K-K - and maybe, maybe Q-Q. At least for me, laying down A-K in that spot would have been pretty easy. John's overcall with A-10 suited is simply amazing. I don't think there is any way possible he thought his hand was good at that point, but maybe he was in a gambling mood. Obviously, the only hand you can overcall with there is A-A or K-K. The idea of poker in some sense is to get players to lay down the best hand, which happened. I would have loved seeing the faces of all the players around the table when the cards got turned up!

Jeff Arbuckle from Evanston, Illinois, analyzed the same hand, but with a completely different conclusion:

Joe's fold is atrocious. With his raise, Jim's call, John's all in, and James' all in, there is about $3,000 in the pot. He's getting 2.5-1 here with A-K. There are two hands that he doesn't want to see - A-A and K-K - and frankly, there is nothing to keep me from MOVING ALL IN OVER THE TOP to block out Jim. This would not be a calling situation, but one in which he should move all in to keep Jim from calling with a hand like he has - hoping to get heads up with the all ins in a situation in which they have the hands they have. However, once Joe makes his terrible fold, I definitely call if I'm Jim. I'll be interested to see if people focus on this as a mistake. I know that there is a very, very small chance that I have the best hand, but again, getting 2.5-1, even if my opponent turns over two kings (a 2-1 favorite over A-10), I gladly toss in my $1,200 call, knowing I'm getting the right price.

The reason I picked these two responses is simple: In the hand, I was "Joe." Brad thought I made the only good play in the hand, while Jeff thought I played the hand terribly. Jeff's main argument was that I was getting the right price to call with A-K against all hands except A-A and K-K. While I agree with Jeff, he brings up a point that I have been thinking about lately. I believe that players oftentimes let the odds control their destiny too much in tournaments. Even though the "right price" may be there, in order for the odds to play themselves out, you must be able to put yourself in enough situations for the long run.

At that point in the tournament, I wasn't ready to flip a coin for my tournament life. I thought there would be a better chance to get my chips into the pot. I think I made the correct laydown.

I wish I could include more of the responses, but that would take up the whole magazine. In my next column, I will provide a few more responses on two other hands. spade

Michael O'Malley, poker room manager, can be reached at His website is updated regularly at