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Picking Up Small Pots - Part II

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Dec 31, 2008

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This is the second part of the hand I was discussing in the last issue. To refresh your memory, I am playing $1-$2 online. My opponent and I began the hand with $600 each. He raised from under the gun and I three-bet with A-10 suited. I fired a continuation-bet on the flop and got called. The turn gave me a gutshot-straight draw, flush draw, and two overcards, so I fired again. Wellango (not his real name) then min-raised me. So the board is 8-6-3-7, with two spades. The pot is $108. I bet $78 and get raised the minimum.

When Wellango raises so small here, I really have only two options. With plenty of money behind, folding is out of the question. It's costing me only $78 to see the river, and there's over $300 in there. Even if I got no more money out of Wellango, I am getting the immediate pot odds to call. However, I do have the option of going all in as a bluff. I still have over $500 left, which is plenty of ammunition in a pot of this size. However, if you go back to his stats (which are 27/21/1.7), you will see that he is loose preflop and quite passive post-flop. So when he min-raises me here, he is very strong. At the time, I put him on either a straight or a set, with a small chance of something strange like two pair or A-A. Whilst my hand has a good amount of equity against this range, it isn't enough to make getting all in here profitable.

The river was the J, making the board 8-6-3-7-J, with three spades. The pot is $420, and we have $400 behind. I now have the best possible hand and have three options. First of all, I could check, hoping Wellango would bet and then move in myself (or call his all in if he pushed). Or, I could push myself, or I could make a value-bet of somewhere around $200. The last option is by far the worst, and I didn't consider it at the time.

If we bet $200 here, we will look very strong. It's quite likely that Wellango will smooth-call with a set or a straight, fearing the flush, but if we push, he will probably call with them, given the size of the pot and what he thinks we have. That last point is crucial here; what does Wellango think we have?

We have three-bet, bet the flop, then bet the turn and called a small raise. If we check the river, our hand looks exactly like a big overpair, A-A or K-K. So if we check, he is almost certainly going to make a bet. Also, although I think it's very unlikely in this situation that Wellango is bluffing, there is always value in giving your opponent rope to hang himself. Wellango may be bluffing here, and checking gives him a chance to bluff at a scare card. Because of the stacks and the size of the pot, any bet Wellango is likely to make will commit him to the pot. What happened in fact was that I checked, Wellango bet $200, and I moved in for $200 more. He instantly called with the 10 9, for the turned nut straight.

Wellango made several mistakes in this hand that ultimately led him to losing a pot of 600 big blinds.

His preflop play is fine, his raise is standard, and this deep in position, a call is standard, too. On the flop, if he is solely calling to make a straight, it is probably negative expected value on his part. First of all, my range is wide, so I may not have an overpair to stack, and second of all, this deep, I am very likely to fold to a passive player like him even if I do have an overpair if he raises me when he makes it. So his implied odds aren't great. What would make it positive expected value, though, is if he was going to make an attempt to win the pot without making the straight. Because of his passivity, I think this is unlikely.

On the turn, he has gotten very lucky and made the nuts. I continue to bet, representing a big hand. He has several options here; he can flat-call, disguising the strength of his hand, raise a normal pot-sized amount, or raise the minimum. He chose the worst option. By raising the minimum, he alerts me to the fact that he has a very good hand. If I had A-A or K-K, I would probably have just folded. At best I would call and may call a bet on the river. I certainly am not going to attempt to bluff him, as I perceive his range to be very strong.

But if he flat-calls, he may well induce a large river bluff from hands that he has drawing dead on the turn. The problem with flat-calling is that it keeps the pot relatively small (although he can shove over a river lead), and doesn't charge me very much to draw out on him. So what I think is the best play here is to make a large raise and hope that I can't fold an overpair (or that I have a set or lower straight). What he did in fact was let me know exactly what type of hand he has, and allow me to play the rest of the hand perfectly. Poker is a game of information, and there is always a cost to giving it up. The problem with raising the minimum when you are very strong is that you are giving up information but not charging very much for it.

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