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Hand 2 Hand Combat - John Kim Dives Into the Heads of Two High-Level-Thinking Opponents

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Feb 18, 2011

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Event Online six-max no-limit hold’em cash game
Blinds $3-$6
Players 6
Stacks John “Nicolak” Kim – $743.25; Villain – $624.00

Hand No. 1
The villain raises from under the gun to $21. John “Nicolak” Kim calls from the button with the 8♦ 7♦.
John “Nicolak” Kim: The villain is a CardRunners pro. It’s pretty important to note this, because it enables me to understand his thinking and helps me to assign his range of hands easier as the hand progresses.
Flop: 6♦ 4♥ 2♦ (pot: $51)
The villain bets $33.
Craig Tapscott: Can you run through your options here?
JK: Well, I can utilize my position and just call, or I can try to win the pot now by raising, hoping the villain folds a hand like A-K that he whiffed on the flop. But even if he three-bets, I can jam profitably, over the long run, with two overcards, a gutshot, and a flush draw.
CT: Anything else?
JK: Yes. I like to play as many streets as possible when in position.
Nicolak calls.
Turn: 5♠ (pot: $117)
The villain checks.
CT: How can you extract maximum value now that you’ve hit the nuts?
JK: Well, first, I don’t want to scare him off his hand. Also, I want to make sure that I charge him the incorrect price if he has outs to beat me, such as two pair, a set, or a flush draw.
Nicolak bets $80. The villain calls.
JK: When he calls here, I put his range on two pair, a set, a bigger flush draw, 7-6 suited, 7-7, 8-8, and possibly overpairs that are calling to see if I bet the river. I can discount straights, because he would probably bet them to avoid giving me a free card if I was drawing to a flush or a full house.
River: A♦ (pot: $277)
The villain checks.
CT: What type of bet-sizing do you select here to get value?
JK: Even though I have a flush, it’s not a very big one, and I can’t automatically bet it for value just because “I have a flush.” This is where hand-reading can really separate the men from the boys.
CT: So, how do you break it down?
JK: I need to figure out what he has, and more importantly, what hands he will call with on the river (or check-shove with). A bet, especially on the river, needs to have a reason for being made, and here, I would not be betting to bluff or induce a raise by a worse hand. He won’t be check-shoving as a bluff here, because he’s good enough to know that there are too many good hands I can have that I’ll call with, so shoving as a bluff is pretty spewy, and I believe that he knows that.
CT: Can you explain your thoughts regarding betting this river, then?
JK: In order for it to be for value, I need to know that he has worse hands he can call with. Now, I already know that he doesn’t have a straight, because he would’ve bet the turn, and if he has two pair or a set, he is good enough to fold, because he knows that he can’t really beat anything that I’m betting on the turn and the river. There is the possibility that he thinks I’m trying to two-barrel him off his hand on such a scary board, but with so many combinations of hands that can beat a set on this board, I believe that he folds all of his sets and worse.
CT: So …
JK: So, that leaves only flushes that he’ll call or raise with. Since my flush is pretty small because the 6♦ and 2♦ are already out, it’s highly unlikely that he has a smaller flush. He will never be raising with 5-3 suited from under the gun, and he’s unlikely to raise with 5-4 suited from under the gun, although it can’t be totally discounted. Even if 5-4 suited is in his under-the-gun raising range, there are many more combos of higher diamonds that he can have in his range, such as 10-9 suited, Q-J suited, and A-X suited. So, knowing that he will call with only a 5-4 flush and will check-raise with all other flushes, I …
Nicolak checks. The villain reveals the Q♦ J♦, and wins the pot of $277.

Hand No. 2
Blinds $5-$10
Players 6
Stacks John “Nicolak” Kim – $2,281.50; Villain – $2,350

The villain raises to $30 from early position. Nicolak calls from the cutoff with the A♣ K♠.
CT: No reraise? What tricks do you have up your sleeve?
JK: Every once in a while, I like to flat-call with premium hands to mix up my play and to balance my calling range. Also, my opponents will almost never put me on A-K or better, since they always expect a three-bet. And there were a couple of aggressive players yet to act behind me, so I was hoping that one of them might squeeze. That would enable me to four-bet, and either win all of the dead money or get it all in with a pretty good hand.
Flop: J♣ 8♣ 4♥ (pot: $75)
The villain bets $50.
CT: Can you assign a hand range to the villain yet?
JK: On the flop, it’s too early to assign a range of hands to my opponent, because he’s good enough to bet with most of his range. However, I can start thinking about a plan for the turn and the river. Having A-K — and notably, the A♣ — is critical to that game plan.
CT: How so?
JK: Because he can have a dominated hand that he’s continuation-betting, and if he pairs the king on the turn — say, K-Q or K-10 — he’ll almost never put me on A-K. The same applies to a turn ace. Also, with the A♣, it provides more flexibility in the hand going forward. If the turn is a club, I have a draw to the nut flush and can call again (raising isn’t all that great, because the river is a much better spot to raise as a bluff, and calling assures me of seeing the river). Also, any 10 or queen will probably give me enough equity to call again. Finally, A-K could be the best hand on the flop, so …
Nicolak calls.
Turn: Q♥ (pot: $175)
The villain bets $130. Nicolak calls.
JK: I like calling again here because A-K can still be the best hand, and he may finally give up on the river with a no-pair hand (for example, busted flush draws and total air). A river 10 has great implied odds. An ace or a king on the river can give me the best hand, and I have nine club outs that I can bluff with, since my line looks like a draw, possibly a flush draw; and, obviously, having the A♣ is very critical here, because even if he makes a flush, he won’t have the nut flush, and may fold if I were to raise the river.
River: 6♣ (pot: $435)
The villain bets $320.
CT: He has fired three barrels. What now?
JK: Well, when he makes a standard-looking value-bet of three-fourths of the pot, it could mean a lot of things. He could be bluffing and trying to represent a flush, he could be value-betting straights and sets, and he could be value-betting flushes. I think he check-folds all one-pair hands, including aces. Knowing that I have the trump card with the A♣, and having played my hand pretty passively — which could indicate a flush draw, including the nut-flush draw — I elect to make a healthy raise.
Nicolak raises to $1,395.
CT: So, this bet-sizing is to represent the flush?
JK: Yes. It’s probably what I would make it when I do have the nut flush, and he’ll know that I could have a big flush that’s hoping to get paid off by a smaller flush. Also, I think he knows that any raise on my part here should be a big raise.
CT: Why?
JK: Because he’ll probably think I know he has a good hand that’s likely to pay off any raise. This is important, because my raise does not scream of a bluff.
The villain folds. Nicolak wins the pot of $755.
CT: What can we take away from this hand?
JK: That it helps to understand how a good player thinks and what he’s thinking you’re thinking, and try to exploit that. I like to think that I had a game plan early on, and based on my reads and sound logic, executed it well. ♠

John “Nicolak” Kim plays mainly $2-$4, $3-$6, and $5-$10 no-limit hold’em online, and has been a winning professional player for more than 10 years. He is an instructor at CardRunners.com and a co-host of the “Cash Plays” podcast.