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The Poker Hand Critic: Turning Your Hand With Showdown Value Into A Bluff

High-Volume Online Grinder 'Gutter23' Breaks Down Poker Hands


The Poker Hand Critic is a brand new series by online pro “gutter23,” one of the top mid-stakes players in the game today. The Poker Hand Critic will break down a hand, street by street, offering up his analysis on all of the action.

The following hand comes from a nine-handed, $1-$2 no-limit $200 max buy-in cash game on Pokerstars. The no-limit hold’em $200 games on Pokerstars can range from very tight to loose depending on which regulars are playing. This particular hand comes from a tight game with eight regulars and one recreational player.

The Players

Villain no. 1 (under the gun, $234): This villain is a tight aggressive multi-tabling regular with an early position opening range of 11 percent. He is a small winner who relies primarily on rake back.

Villain no. 2 (middle position, $180): A recreational player who I did not have much information on. He seemed to play passively and was a weak player.

Hero (button, $200): Tight aggressive winning regular. Villain 1 respects my game and we tend to avoid confrontations if possible.

The Action

Villain no. 1 opens to $6.
Villain no. 2 calls $6.
Hero (10Club Suit 8Club Suit) calls $6.

Some regulars like to squeeze suited one-gapers and similar marginal hands on the button to make Villain 1 fold and to isolate the recreational player. I think this is a mistake as suited connectors play well multi-way and we have position.

I prefer to squeeze with value hands such as QQ+, AKo+ and large Broadway cards such as AJo, AQo. Recreational players tend to call raises with hands like QJo, KJo and often have their kickers dominated.

Flop ($21): JHeart Suit 8Diamond Suit 6Club Suit

Villain no. 1 bets $14.
Villain no. 2 folds.
Hero calls $14.

This is a good flop for our hand as we have middle pair and backdoor flush and straight draws. When Villain 1 continnuation bets into two players, his range is likely comprised of over-pairs, over-cards and hands like JJ and AJs. Against this range, I think our best course of action is to call as we can improve our hand on the turn with an eight or 10 and any club, seven or nine will give us backdoor outs.

Turn ($49): 7Spade Suit

Villain no. 1 bets $28.
Hero raises to $68.
Villain no. 1 calls.

The 7Spade Suit is inherently good for my range and bad for our opponents as this card completes both a straight for 10-9 and two pair combinations such as 76s and 87s. I was a bit surprised to see my opponent continuation bet as I thought he would check-fold most bluffs and may check-call with an over-pair.

The 7Spade Suit gives my hand more equity as I can now hit a nine for a straight and I can also hit an eight or a 10 to likely have the winning hand. Most regulars at $1-$2 no-limit hold’em will call the turn and hope to realize their equity on the river. I think calling is a mistake as this is a perfect opportunity to raise.

I’m putting my opponent on an overpair, a set and very occasionally a bluff. My reasons for raising the turn:

1) A raise might make him fold the best hand immediately if he has an over-pair.
2) If he calls the raise, he will almost certainly check the river which will allow me to shove both my value hands and bluffs. I will be able to use many different scare cards to bluff the river.
3) The raise sets up stacks nicely for me to shove the river.

If Villain 1 shoves over my raise, he likely flopped a set and my hand would only improve if a nine came on the river. Players are generally not shoving over-pairs in this spot because their opponents will only call with better and fold worse. This is why I’m not concerned about losing my equity by not just calling the turn.

Furthermore, if he calls with his over-pair, there are many good river cards to shove with. I will shove any eight, nine or 10 for value and these cards account for nine clean outs. I will also shove a four, five and often an ace to try and get QQ or KK to fold. These account for more 12 outs. By using these scare cards along with my value cards, I have a 21-out draw which will be realized about 45 percent of the time. I will most likely shut down and check behind if I don’t hit any of these cards.

Of the 21 cards I will be shoving on the river, I will be fairly balanced between value hands and bluffs. If you include the initial fold equity we create by raising the turn, coupled with the 21 outs we’re shoving, we are a huge favorite to show a profit.

River ($185): 4Spade Suit

Villain no. 1 checks.
Hero goes all-in for $130.
Villain no. 2 folds.

The 4Spade Suit is a very good scare card and my opponent reluctantly folds when I shove the river. As for my opponent and his likely over-pair, there is no good way to combat my turn raise and river shove. The flop and board run-out is terrible for his hand and he probably should have folded the turn to my raise.

In general, the way to profit from low to mid stakes no-limit games is to make strong hands and value bet. If you can add an element of trickiness to your game and periodically turn showdown hands into bluffs, you will become a much more dangerous opponent and undoubtedly increase you win rate.

Gutter23 plays mid-stakes full ring cash games and has had a great deal of success over the past five years. He was named the low-stakes online player of the year by PokerTableRatings in 2011 and is one of the few cash game grinders who truly understands the nuances of both live and online poker.

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