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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Apr 13, 2016

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March 1 — You’d be surprised how often ace-high can be good at showdown when your opponents line is polarized. Hand from $10,000 LAPC main event.

If you have read some of my other Card Player articles over the past few years, you know that I am often a fan of flat calling in cash games with A-K or A-Q preflop and continuing on, especially heads-up, if you miss the flop. When you have underrepresented your hand as the preflop field caller, you will often continue to have the best hand versus your opponent even if you miss. Boards that are generally good for continuation-bet bluffing such as 9-3-2 or 10-10-2 nowadays will often be used as multi barrel boards—that is to say, if overcards come and your opponent is bluffing, they will continue to bluff fitting into your hand.

The same type of thing can apply to tournaments, but the situations can be more extreme. Playing against aggressive, good tournament players will often be difficult, as rampant squeezing and three-bet bluffing is very common. A few weeks ago, I played the following hand at the $10,000 LAPC main event.

It was early on in the tournament and we were pre ante. My table was difficult and I had a very good, aggressive player to my left. I could already tell that he was going to give me fits preflop and that I was going to have a hard time flat calling other players’ raises to due his high squeezing frequency. However, in the particular hand, I had the button, and he was in the small blind. With blinds at 75-150 and about a 29,000-chip effective stack, the action folded around to me and I raised to 425 with ADiamond Suit 10Heart Suit. The small blind did not take too long and three-bet me to 1,100. The big blind quickly folded and the action was back to me. A lot of times with shorter effective stacks in a tournament this becomes a pretty easy four-bet as a bluff or fold preflop. But with deeper stacks and having position, I thought that I had some maneuverability. I also thought that A-10 was far the best hand preflop but knew that my opponent maybe capable of five-bet bluffing me off of it, so I decided to call. I also had a lot of confidence in my post-flop ability and hand reading and was willing to continue on with just Ace-high for multiple streets if I missed.

The flop came out QSpade Suit 8Heart Suit 2Club Suit and my opponent quickly fired 1,200, a fairly standard sized continuation bet. I thought if my opponent held a hand like any pocket pair below a queen, there was a very good chance that he would have checked for pot control or to induce a bluff. So his bet really represented a pair of queens or no pair. And a lot of times a hand like A-K will check and use that hand as a bluff catcher. Obviously my opponent could have had a hand like A-Q, but the Ace in my hand cut down on some of the combinations of those. For those reasons, I decided to call.

The turn was the 8Club Suit, paring the board, and also putting a backdoor club draw on board. This time my opponent chose a larger sizing (in relation to the pot size) and bet 2,800. At this point, I thought that this bet was incredibly polarizing (very strong or very weak). If he had followed up with a small continuation bet with a pair smaller than a queen on the flop, there was no way that he was firing for this sizing on the turn. It was difficult, however, as I knew my opponent was a decent $10-$20 no-limit cash game player and was capable of continuing to bet for value with a hand like A-A, K-K, or A-Q. I was quick to check the suit of my ace however, to look and see if I blocked the nut flush draw. You see, if I did not block the nut flush draw, there would be the possibility he would continue to double barrel with clubs as a semibluff. Since I did not have a club, this helped me to call again and to play what I like to call “Fifth Street Chicken.”

Fifth Street Chicken is a term that I made up for my training site CrushLivePoker.com and it refers to making it look like you are going to call on the river when nothing changes by calling a big bet on the turn. One of the things that I have noticed in tournaments is even with good, aggressive tourney pros, they realize that if the board does not significantly change (like an overcard coming) their opponent will rarely fold. So this we can use to our advantage. We can call on the turn with a medium-strength hand with the full intention of folding to further betting action on the river if the board does not change. That is because our opponent’s bluffing frequency decreases.

So the river rolled off what appeared to be a harmless 3Heart Suit. The small blind took a long time and checked. Now, remember this was early on in level two of the LAPC and I had already committed 4,000 to the hand—almost one sixth of my stack. This is such a different scenario than in a cash game where if you bluff and are wrong, you can just rebuy and add to your stack. Also, if I lose more with a bet, I am at much more of a disadvantage because I would physically have fewer chips. I was really torn though, because I did not want to lose to a random hand like A-3 or some sort of small pair that was running a two street bluff and then gave up. Because the flop did not contain any type of draw within it, in retrospect, if I bet the river, it is very, very difficult for my opponent to check-call with anything that is medium-strength unless he thought I was playing a two street float to bluff the river (something rarely done) or turning an Ace-high hand into a bluff (also something that is rarely done).

I also thought that it would be very unfortunate if I lost to a hand like A-K or A-J, but I ran through the hand backwards and realized that the frequency of those two hands betting over two streets is rather unlikely. Finally I decided to check back my A-10 and was good as my opponent tabled K-J offsuit.

The river here is really close, and a case can be made that it could be slightly more positive expected value to bet as a bluff as opposed to check. If that is the case, then betting in a cash game has to be the right play. However, in a tournament, when your chips are so valuable we always don’t take the smallest of edges in order to preserve our stack. The point here, however, is that I had no difficulty going to showdown through calling multiple bets post flop with Ace-high because I knew that there was a very good chance, given the action, that my hand was still best. ♠

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on Twitter @CrushLivePoker and @BartHanson. Check out his poker training site exclusively made for live cash game play at CrushLivePoker.com where he produces weekly podcasts and live training videos.