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Analyzing Small-Pot Play - Part I

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


Now that my series of columns exploring the fundamental concepts of six-max no-limit hold'em cash games has come to an end (if you missed any section, you can catch up at, I will be going through some interesting hands that either I or my students have played, and explaining what I think the best play was, street by street, for each player. This should put the concepts that we have explored into a good practical perspective.

This hand covers so many topics that I will be discussing it over two issues. It was played by me on a European site at night. There was a very bad player at the table who had just busted, but not before spreading a lot of money around. So, although it was a $1-$2 game, there was over $1,800 on the table. I and the villain had just over $600 each. This fact makes the whole hand very different than otherwise, and is what makes it so interesting. When you are this deep (both players have 300 big blinds each), poker is a complicated game. We are four-handed.

"Wellango," who is the villain of this piece (I've changed his name to avoid insult!), raises to $7 from under the gun. His stats are 27/21/1.7. (This refers to his Voluntarily Put Money Into Pot, Preflop Raise and Aggression Factor.) This means that preflop, he's loose and aggressive, but post-flop, he is reasonably passive - a bad combination. What we also know, but the stats don't directly tell us, is that Wellango isn't a good player. The button folds, and it's up to us in the small blind, where we have A 10.

With 100 big blinds, calling or three-betting are both fine with this hand. The fact that we have a suited ace is an argument for just calling, because we don't want to drive flush draws that we have dominated out of the pot. Also, with a hand like A-10, flat-calling can be better than raising in spots like this, because when we three-bet, the villain will tend to continue only with aces, which have us beat, leading to tricky spots on ace-high boards. So, with 100 big blinds, I would usually call here, and sometimes three-bet. However, with 300 big blinds, the situation is different. First of all, the villain is very likely to call the three-bet with suited connectors because of the good implied odds he may think he is getting, so we have less chance of driving a dominated draw out of the pot (if we do get lucky and we both end up with flushes, we will be happy that we three-bet preflop, making it much easier to get our whole stack into the pot). Also, we don't need to be worried about being up against a bigger ace.

When this deep, a good player (that is, me) will tread very carefully with a weak pair. With 100 big blinds, you tend to get committed before you have a chance to get away from the hand. So, all in all, when this deep, a three-bet is better than a call, for the reasons above as well as all of the usual reasons as to why three-betting is good. I had not three-bet against this villain recently.

So, I three-bet to $22, which is roughly pot-sized. Wellango called (which should be obvious, or else there wouldn't be much to talk about!). So, the pot is $46. The flop comes 8 6 3. Since I had three-bet preflop, and had not three-bet much recently, I thought a continuation-bet would get Wellango to fold a large portion of his range here. A bet here is good because it may drive better hands out of the pot, like A-J and A-Q, and also may get small pairs to fold. Most players will call one bet with some pairs, but a turn bet will get rid of most of them. If I was to check, it would become much harder to win the pot. So, for those reasons, I made my continuation-bet. I bet $30, which is my normal bet in such situations, two-thirds of the pot. Wellango called. Only at this stage, when Wellango calls, do I start to concentrate on this hand and think about what type of range Wellango is likely to have. Up until this point, I had almost no information, and in any case, it wasn't that important. Once he calls the flop bet, his range becomes much smaller. Up until that point, he could have almost any hand he would open with, but now I can start narrowing it down. I think there is very little chance that Wellango is sophisticated enough to "float" here (which is to call with the intention of taking it away on a later street), or bad enough to call with the hope of hitting an overcard (with the possible exception of A-K, which he may think is probably ahead), so when he calls on the flop, he has a real hand. At the time, I thought his most likely holding was a small or medium pair, or a straight draw.

The turn is the 7, so the board reads 8-6-3-7, with two spades. The pot is $106. I had not decided whether to continue with bluffing on the turn or not, partly because I wanted to see what the turn card was. If the turn card didn't pair the board, but was lower than a jack, I was probably going to check-fold. This is for a number of reasons. First of all, if Wellango has a small pair (which is what I thought he most likely had), this card may give him a set, or it may give him a gutshot or open-end straight draw. In either case, he is very unlikely to fold to another bet. Also, the most obvious reason is that this is a board on which it is hard for me to represent anything. Wellango probably isn't good or tight enough to put an opponent on an unseen overpair. If the card was a jack or higher, I would bet, because it's now going to be very hard for Wellango to continue, as he has to fear that I have hit the turn card if I didn't already have him beat. Also, a high card is not good for his range, as it can't give him a set or complete a straight draw. However, this is all hypothetical, as the card was actually something I hadn't considered. The 7 gives me a gutshot, two overcards, and the nut-flush draw. As I discussed in my columns, the more equity you have in a situation, the more likely it should be for you to bluff (because the penalty for being called is inversely proportional to your equity). So, I fired a turn bet of $78. This was three-fourths of the pot. Wellango then min-raised. To be continued ...

"Analyzing Small-Pot Play - Part II" will appear in the next issue.

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.