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Stop-and-Go, or Just Go?

What would you do?

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: May 21, 2008

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I was in a $330 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament recently. We started with 4,000 in chips, but early on I managed to pick up A-A against two players who simultaneously got overaggressive with A-10 and J-J, and suddenly I was up to 12,000. Soon afterward, I picked up another couple of small pots to get to more than 14,000. The only other player with an above-average stack was Darrell, seated two to my left, with almost 8,000. I think we would have been happy to avoid each other. But instead, as fate would have it, a pivotal hand developed between us.

With the blinds at 100-200, one player limped in to my right. I made it 800 to go with Q-Q. Everyone else folded to Darrell on the button. He looked down, thought for about 10 seconds, and then made it 3,000 to go. The blinds and the limper folded, and I had to decide what to do.

Having played with Darrell before, I knew a few things. For starters, he's fairly straightforward, so I knew that he wasn't putting some sort of weird move on me. He knew that I had him covered, and he wasn't going to go after me without a real hand. In order for him to reraise me, my quick analysis was that he needed to have at least J-J or A-K.

I also knew that when he took his time to decide what to do, he wasn't posturing. My instinct told me that he already knew he was reraising, but he was taking his time to decide how much. When he chose 3,000, there was something about that amount that reeked of protection. With A-A, I don't think he would have raised quite as much, since he would have been happy to get action against my big stack. But for any of his other possible hands, raising to 3,000 certainly made sense. So, assuming that he didn't have the case queens, my analysis was that he had either J-J, K-K, or A-K, and just from a mathematical standpoint, his most likely hand was A-K.

Assuming that analysis was correct, I would be wrong to fold. Now the question was, what should I do? Should I call the 3,000 and then push all in on the flop no matter what came? Or, should I gamble a little and simply push all in preflop? In other words, should I stop-and-go, or just go?

There were solid arguments in favor of the stop-and-go:

1. My biggest possible coup would be if the flop came ace high, and my all-in flop bet caused him to lay down K-K. With almost half of his stack already in, I don't know if he would make that laydown, but getting him to fold the dominating hand would be an incredible swing in my favor.

2. Conversely, if he had J-J, I'd want him to commit his entire stack. I don't think he would call an all-in bet preflop with J-J, since he'd probably assume I have queens or better to be moving all in. On the other hand, if I just called and we saw a flop that was all low cards, it would become a much tougher laydown. He'd now have to factor in the possibility that I was semibluffing with A-K or a lower pair, and he'd be much more likely to end up all in. And with a flop that missed us both, he'd be more than a 9-to-1 dog.

3. Finally, if he had the more likely A-K, there's a good chance he'd call if I pushed preflop. But if I waited until the flop to move all in, he probably wouldn't call if an ace or king didn't come. Since he stands to flop a pair only about one time in three, this is my safest play against an A-K. The downside is that I'll win only 3,000 from him instead of a potential 8,000, but I eliminate the risk of losing if an ace or king comes on the turn or river.

On the other hand, there were also good reasons to reraise all-in preflop:

1. Although he is probably committed to A-K, there is the chance that he will put me on A-A or K-K and lay it down. It's a situation in which I know he has a premium hand, and he knows that I know, so my range for moving all in has to be pretty narrow. If there was a reasonable chance he would fold, I'd prefer taking that chance rather than gambling on a favorable flop.

2. One merit of the stop-and-go is that he'll probably fold if an ace or king doesn't flop. That cuts down on my risk, but then, I can't win the rest of his stack. If, for example, the flop comes J-8-2, from an expected value standpoint, I don't want him to fold; I want him to be all in. Theoretically, I'd be risking 5,000 from my stack plus the 6,500 in the pot to win his remaining 5,000. I'd be laying 2.3-to-1 when I'm favored post-flop by more than 3-to-1. Even if I lose, I still have a decent stack, so survival is not the main issue. Instead, the idea is to gamble my chips in favorable spots, and if he has A-K, this would be a good one.

3. If he has A-K, I'm also willing to gamble because I can become the overwhelming chip leader. I usually find myself trying to gather chips slowly in tournaments. Rarely do I have such an opportunity to become the monster stack, and here was a chance to have more than 20,000 when the average stack was less than 6,000.

In case you're wondering, most of these reasons did cross my mind during the actual hand. I took about two minutes after his reraise to decide on my best play. And in the end, reason No. 3 in the preceding paragraph swayed me the most. I moved in preflop. He rocked back in his chair, clearly looking uncomfortable, which of course made me feel much better. But then he shrugged and said, "OK, I call," and turned up his A-K.

The flop came (you guessed it) J-8-2. The turn card was a 10, but then the river was a dreaded ace. He doubled up, while I was left with a slightly above-average stack. I had more than enough to make a comeback, but there was something fatalistic about that hand. For two hours, I never won another confrontation, and I busted out short of the money. Meanwhile, Darrell made the final table.

I talked to him afterward, and he told me that he probably would have laid down on the flop if I had made the stop-and-go play. Oh well, I guess it didn't work to "just go," but I'm trying not to let the result sway me. I think I made the right play for the right reasons, and if the same exact situation came up again, I want to believe that I'd do it again. But next time, maybe I'll catch a harmless deuce on the river.

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find other articles of his at www.CardPlayer.com.