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An Ongoing Flaw

A recurring theme

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


I was playing in an extremely loose $2-$2-$3 no-limit hold’em game. It was not uncommon for someone to open for $15 or more and get multiple callers. I was up a couple of hundred and enjoying the liveliest game I had seen in a while.

It’s usually a lot easier to spot the loosest player in your game than the tightest, but in this game, one player was clearly tighter than the rest. Twice, he had posted the $2 blind on the button, there were five or six callers in front of him, and he folded for the extra dollar! It doesn’t matter if you have 7-2 offsuit in that spot. Unless you have a tremendously reliable tell that one of the blinds plans to raise (which I’m quite sure he didn’t), you can’t give up that kind of pot odds combined with position on the field. So, while most of my opponents were splashing around liberally, I knew that if Mr. Tight entered the pot, I’d have to keep an eye on him.
In one particular hand, the player to my left opened for $15 from under the gun (UTG), and Mr. Tight called from the UTG player’s immediate left. This was only the second hand that I had seen him play in about an hour, and the first time that I had seen him put more than $3 into the pot preflop. Right away, I tried to decide with what kind of hand he would flat-call in that spot. I didn’t know if reraising preflop was something he did, so I couldn’t eliminate the possibility of pocket aces or kings. I figured that jacks were probably the worst pair he would call with, and perhaps he could have A-K or A-Q suited. Obviously, those were rough guesses, but I knew that he almost certainly had a premium hand.

There were three callers behind him, and I looked down in the big blind at the Q♦ 10♦. On one hand, I didn’t like my chances against Mr. Tight’s range; on the other hand, there were several other players in the pot, and if I connected strongly, I liked my chances of getting paid off. I put in the extra $12 to call.

The flop came 10♣ 10♠ 8♣. I mentally patted myself on the back for calling preflop, but I knew that I wasn’t out of the woods with such a draw-heavy board. I checked, hoping the preflop raiser would lead into the field, but he checked. Then, Mr. Tight bet $15 into the $92 pot.

It seemed like such a non-committal bet that I was almost sure he had an overpair and didn’t want to bet too much, in case someone had a 10. One player called behind him, and I check-raised to $45. The preflop raiser folded, and after a brief pause, Mr. Tight went all in for about $150. The player between us folded, and it was up to me.
Honestly, I had been overconfident in my prediction that he wouldn’t reraise. Therefore, it caught me completely by surprise when he did. I could not imagine that he called $15 preflop with a hand that contained a 10. Would the tightest player at the table call $15 from such early position with A-10 suited? It seemed hard to imagine. Maybe there was the slightest chance that he would play a hand like J-10 suited, but if that were true, I had the best hand.

The only possibility I had to worry about was pocket eights. Originally, I didn’t think eights would be in his calling range preflop, but I obviously had to reconsider, given his all-in reraise post-flop. It was the only plausible hand that could beat me. It seemed to be his most likely hand, yet somehow I couldn’t bring myself to make the laydown. I decided that maybe he was overplaying a hand like pocket aces; plus, I still had outs even if he had pocket eights. I put in the extra $100 and change, and sure enough, he showed me pockets eights. I didn’t improve, and there went most of the profits from my session.

I quit for the day, and was rightfully disgusted with myself. Of course he didn’t have pocket aces! He was the tightest player at the table! Was he going to risk his entire stack when all it took to beat him was one measly 10? Whatever range I put him on preflop should have been practically irrelevant. The newer information — the fact that he was willing to go all in after a 10-10-8 flop — should have been all that really mattered. Had I taken a little more time to think about it, I would have known how ridiculous it was to put him on any hand other than pocket eights. And since the pot odds did not justify a call, the only logical play should have been to fold and move on.

I’m constantly striving to improve my game, just as any thinking poker player should. But despite my efforts, I’ve had the same flaw in my game for years. I make a read on an opponent and put him on a range of possible hands, but don’t properly adjust that range as the hand goes on.

If you’ve read my previous columns that described hands I lost, you know that flaw has been a recurring theme. More than once, it has knocked me out of the main event of the World Series of Poker, and it has led to my demise in several other major tournaments. It has cost me money in cash games, as you’ve seen here, and it continues to give me headaches to this day.

People say that identifying the problem is half of the solution. That may be true, but the other half sure hasn’t been coming too easily. Still, the best I can do is make myself fully aware of it, and recognize when I’m making that same mistake. I’m sure that I won’t catch myself every time, but if I can stop myself from making the same error some of the time, at least it will be a step in the right direction. ♠

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