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Poker Strategy For The Rest Of Us -- Big Calls Hoping For River Chops

Lee Markholt Walks Us Through A Small-Stakes Hand


Lee MarkholtIt’s great to see pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth battling it out on poker’s biggest stages for millions of dollars, but the truth is that most of us will never get the same opportunity, nor will we really learn anything from their play that directly applies to our own games. The truth is that while we all aspire to be the next Phil Ivey, many of us will do so from the comfort of our friendly neighborhood home game or the low-stakes tables at a nearby cardroom.

In an effort to provide valuable tools and tips that are relevant to even the smallest games, Card Player is pleased to unveil the brand new series Poker Strategy For The Rest Of Us, which will focus on everyday situations that occur against the poker world’s most casual players.

Pro – Lee Markholt

Concept – Making big folds on the river you are at best hoping for a chop.

Lee Markholt has been playing poker for a living before it was glamorous. The former professional bull rider has earned more than $3.2 million in career tournament earnings, including a WPT win at the 2008 World Poker Challenge in Reno, NV for just shy of $500,000.

Markholt has been grinding cash games since the early 1990s and has developed into one of the best players in the world and is very well respected among the poker community. Markholt sat down with Card Player during on a break from the WPT Jacksonville stop to break down a hand played by one of our readers.

The Hand

In a $2.50-$5 online six-max no limit hold’em game on PokerStars, our hero was in the cutoff with the KDiamond Suit QHeart Suit ($1,273) and raised to $12.50. He was called by the player in the big blind who had him covered and they took a flop of QClub Suit 5Heart Suit 3Heart Suit. The big blind checked and our hero bet $20. The player in the big blind check-raised to $66.25 and was called by our hero. The turn was the 3Spade Suit and the big blind led for $125 and was called by our hero. The river was the QSpade Suit and the big blind shoved all in and the hero called. The big blind showed quad treys and dragged in the pot.

The Interview

Steve Schult: The only information that we know is that they are both regulars in the game, the hero doesn’t fold too much to his opponent’s check-raises and his opponent check-raises 16 percent of the time. Assuming that the preflop action is standard, do you like his sizing of $20 into a $27 pot?

Lee Markholt: Yeah, that sounds about right. I might make it a little less, like $16 or $17, but that sizing is about right.

SS: So with the little information we have, what kind of range can we start to put the villain on here with his flop check-raise.

LM: It looks like he could have a flush draw, he can have a queen, he could have a small set, and I think that is pretty much his entire range.

SS: With that given range, is there any real merit to continuing with the hand at the moment? Should we be folding here or is there any merit to put in another raise and play the hand fast?

LM: I think I just call. We have position in the pot and there is no need to play a real big pot just yet. I think we can just call and see what develops on the turn.

SS: So now when the turn card pairs the 3 and the big blind bets $125, what would be going through your mind right here?

LM: Apparently, they know each other so I think I would have to think about our own dynamic, but if this guy is capable of betting a Q-J, or a Q-10, or if he’s capable of firing another bullet with a flush draw, it’s just a call every time. There is no reason for a raise.

SS: Is there any turn card that would come that would make you want to fold?

LM: Yeah, if a heart had come out and he had led like that, I would have seriously considered a fold there.

SS: Let’s say he checked the trey on the turn. Would you be betting for value or would you be checking back for pot control?

LM: I think I’m betting there most of the times. I’m not going to bet every time, but it’s going to depend a lot on my opponent. If it’s somebody really tricky who is capable of check-raising you twice then I maybe would check back. Not too many people are capable of doing that though. So I would be value betting, but it’s also hard for him to continue with a flush draw if I bet the turn.

SS: The river is where the hand gets really interesting. Our hero makes top full house and the big blind makes a really big overbet. There is only $410 in the pot and the big blind moves all-in and puts our hero in a spot for his last $1,070. What is your play on the river here?

LM: Wow. I mean, you’re never better than a chop in that spot, but there are some scenarios where I can easily lay that hand down. I don’t think he’s shipping it on a bluff there ever in that spot. He can have quad threes, he could have a Q-5 suited, or it’s a chop. So you are pretty much calling off all your money in hopes of winning like $200, so I think you can find a fold there.

SS: K-Q is going to be pretty much the top of our range in this spot. So if we are going to be folding a queen, what range are we going to call this jam with? Can we really only call with quads or better?

LM: It’s more about knowing my opponent. If it’s somebody who has a small chance of bluffing, then it’s a call obviously. If it’s somebody who is never bluffing and the best you can hope for is a chop, then you can find a fold there. I would be calling with Q-5 or better.