During a limit hold’em session I came across a fairly typical situation that, until recently, I never gave much consideration. The situation involves the strength of your hand on the river and the balancing act between betting for additional value and giving away your money.
Rather than ramble on aimlessly, I’ll illustrate with an example. I was in middle-position with Q10 and open-raised. I was called only by the button. The flop was J62. I bet and the button called. The turn was the 10, and I bet again. The button once again called. The river was the 3, giving me the queen-high flush. I bet. This time, the button raised me. This player was a reasonably solid player and he, obviously, had shown no aggression at all until the river filled the club. And he did call a raise pre-flop; he could easily have a bigger flush. But, also, there are only two hands in total that beat mine. I was stuck in that spot, absolutely between three-betting and calling. And those were my only two options. I felt like I had a hand worthy of exactly 2.5 bets. I could re-raise and risk being four-bet by the nuts, or I could call, losing value when my opponent rolls over a set or a smaller flush.
Positioning is everything. I was first to act and by betting, I’ve chosen my track along the odd number of bets (as opposed to the even number). In other words, while in a raising scenario, I make it one bet, three bets, five bets, etc. My opponent makes it two bets, four bets, six bets, etc. So, when my opponent raised me and we’re sitting at two bets, I have to decide if I want to stop at two or make it three (while also opening up the possibility of a fourth bet).
Let’s say positioning had been reversed. I was on the button, and my opponent had bet into me on the river that filled my queen-high flush. I wouldn’t even think about it; I would comfortably raise. My hand is worth more than one bet. There’s no question about that. It’s worth at least two bets (as we’ve established it’s relative strength at about 2.5 river bets). The onus is now on my opponent to decide what to do. Of course, if he three-bets, I have another easy decision. I simply call and hope my queen-high flush is good. But the original two-bet is unquestionably the right play, as would be the smooth-call of my opponent’s three-bet. Being the original bettor, however, complicates matters. When he raises my bet, I need to decide if he’s committing a relatively weak two-bet raise (with a hand that’s worth exactly two bets, and he’s raising for marginal value), or if he’s raising with a nuts-type hand worth four to five to six bets.
Furthermore, I needed to consider my opponent’s thinking as the even-number bettor. If I was him, and I inexplicably had something like 33 and rivered the set, I would probably raise too. If I’m him, there’s no reason to put me on a flush since I’ve bet my hand aggressively from beginning to end. A set of threes is almost certainly worth at least a two-bet in this spot. But I, too, needed to weigh the likelihood of his holding a set versus a flush. A flush seemed more likely than a set or two-pair, and then, a bigger flush than mine seemed more likely than a smaller one.
I don’t have any advice to give. I ended up calling his raise and losing to a king-high flush. That isn’t to say I played the hand correctly. I simply never considered that I could accurately value my hand at exactly 2.5 bets, and then have no corresponding course of action.
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@JayMindPokerJacob "Jaymind" Westlin is a semi-professional limit hold'em player with a strong, sarcastic wit. Jaymind also frequently contributes to Minnesota Poker Magazine's monthly publication. Email Jaymind at firstname.lastname@example.org