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More From the World Series of Poker Europe

Process the information and then go with it

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Nov 27, 2007

As I promised in the last issue, I'm going to share another hand from the World Series of Poker Europe with you, but this time I think I played the hand in a way that saved me some chips. With the blinds at 100-200 with a 25 ante, a player raised from early position to 600. The player on the button called, as did I from the big blind with 10-10.

The flop came 9-7-5 rainbow, which looked like a pretty good flop for my hand, but it wasn't a flop to which I was planning on committing too many chips. I could play this hand several ways: (A) bet the flop, (B) check-raise the flop, and (C) check-call the flop. I ruled out folding on the flop, unless of course there was a bet and a raise to me, or the player who had raised decided to make a huge overbet. Of the three options, one is mostly read-dependent, another requires potentially playing a bigger pot, and the other is what I guess you could call standard. Can you figure out which is which?

Option (A) is what I'd consider the most standard play in this case. Betting out will help define your opponents' hands, and also will ensure that you don't give your opponents a free card. This option is probably the closest to optimal, as well, especially if you are a novice or average player.

Option (B) is the most dangerous play, causing you to invest more chips in a marginal situation. The only good result if you make this play is that both of your opponents will fold. If they call, or even reraise you, that puts you in a difficult spot. If they just call, that puts you in "no man's land" as to what they might have. Couple that with your positional disadvantage and it could cause you to make bigger mistakes on later streets.

Option (C) is the most read-dependent of the three. By simply check-calling on the flop, you ensure that you'll get to see the next card, but you also are put on the defensive throughout the hand if your opponent continues betting - essentially forcing you into playing a bit of a guessing game. Against the typical old-school player, playing the hand this way is really easy. Old-school players rarely fire more than one barrel after the flop. On the other hand, if you are up against one of the young, tough Scandinavian players, you should know that they are more than capable of bluffing the flop, turn, and river if they sense weakness. That's why playing the hand this way is risky. You might pay off a better hand for a few big bets, or you might get bluffed out by an aggressive player.

So, based on what you know of my playing style through watching me on television and reading my column, which option do you think I chose? If you said (B), you weren't paying much attention! I chose option (C) because it works best with my entire approach to tournament poker, which is to try to keep pots on the smaller side in marginal situations like these.

I checked the flop, the preflop raiser confidently bet 1,200, and the button folded. I called the bet, and the turn brought another 5, pairing the bottom boardcard. Once again I checked, although you easily could make a case for making the "Johnny Chan" play by betting. My opponent checked behind me, which made me feel a little bit better about my hand being the best at that point.

The river was a queen, and I decided not to make a value-bet here, as I didn't think there were many hands that my opponent could have that would pay me off. My opponent cut out some chips, and finally fired out a bet of 2,200. At this point the pot was laying me a decent price on the call. There was already 4,500 in the pot, so I was getting about 3-to-1 odds on my call. For my call to be correct, I'd need to have the winning hand only one out of four times to break even on the play.

That's how a lot of math-oriented players approach making a decision on the river, and while that's not a bad thing, by any means, I think that you often end up convincing yourself to make the call because the price seems to be so good, but you neglect the fact that your gut is telling you that you are beat and probably won't have the best hand one in four times.

Before making my decision, I asked myself a few important questions:

1. If this player had made a pair of queens on the river, would he value-bet it? If so, would he bet 2,200? My guess, probably.
2. If this player had an overpair, might he check the turn out of fear? Yes.
3. Would he value-bet a worse hand, such as a pair of nines? No.
4. Would he bluff the river after checking the turn? No, I didn't think so.

Finally, despite getting a very good price on the call, I decided to muck my hand, losing just the 1,200 on the flop. Of course, I might have folded a winner, but that's not the point of the hand. You can't be too results-oriented about decisions like these. You have to process the information and then go with it. You won't be right all the time, but if you want to improve your game, you are going to have to make a few laydowns once in a while. Was I right on this hand? Frankly, I have no idea, nor does it even matter to me.