Understanding your opponent’s capabilities, along with knowledge of board textures and hand reading skills, will help make life a lot less stressful for you at the poker table. Well, sort of. It depends on who you’re up against. In this instance I was up against Chris “Fox” Wallace.
I would like to walk you through my point of view on a hand previously written by Chris in the March issue of Minnesota Poker Magazine. Let’s start with what I knew about him before this specific hand. He is a veteran of the game, and a poker instructor, as well as a contributing writer for multiple sites and magazines. The guy even has his own poker book out, so he clearly knows what he is doing.
As Chris mentioned in the previous article, our hand took place in the early stages of a $500 buy-in tournament, about an hour in. We had no major confrontations up until this point. The both of us chipping up slowly and picking our spots carefully against the random fish at our table. I can tell Chris is a very experienced player. However, I sensed he was a nice and sincere guy that may not cross too many lines, especially at this stage of the tournament. I viewed Chris as a decent, tight aggressive player with some capabilities of making a stand if the situation calls for it. But maybe gun shy if the situation is mediocre.
I remember the hand clearly. It was the first big hand of the day where I had to engage my poker IQ. I started the hand with roughly 25k in chips and Fox had slightly less. An older gentleman (Villain) in the hijack seat, who had been tight and wasn’t throwing his chips around, had roughly 12k. Pre-flop action was folded to Villain who made it 350 at the 50/100 level. On the button, I looked down at 10♠7♠, and flatted with position and the intention of playing post-flop poker versus a weaker opponent. Though my opponent may very well be strong at this point, it is usually very easy to find out from these typical opponents on later streets.
Action went to Fox in the small blind, he also completed the 350 bet, the big blind folded.
We had three-way action and I was last to act on a K♥10♣3♥ flop. With 1,150 in the pot, Fox checked, Villain leads for 700. With the Villain leading 700 into a multi-way pot, my second pair with an awful kicker – 10♠7♠ – definitely looks no good at first glance. But in my opinion, it is actually a good thing that Villain puts in a bet and helps create a pot that I can take down on a later street with the help of a scare card and the possibility of improving my hand. As a matter of fact, I may very well be ahead at this point with second pair, as most people are stuck with the idea of continuation betting. Folding was not an option for me in this spot as there is not enough information to indicate that I am behind. Raising would not be optimal, because it would turn my hand into a complete bluff with the action opening back to Fox. Fox quickly called the 700 as well.
Now the 7♣ hits the turn, which gives me two-middle-pairs. Fox checks again, as does the Villain. It is easy to put Villain on checking a one pair king, but what the heck does Fox have calling from the small blind?
As I go through my thought process and my understanding of him, I am assuming Chris would not have flatted in the small blind with KK or 10-10 pre-flop as that can be dangerous out of position against two opponents. Though he may flat with 33 or K-10, he is also not one to get tricky and flat the draw-heavy flop with both of us behind. Because we think he is a non-tricky type player, we may cancel out a set of sevens on the turn. This caliber of player rarely ever shows up with K-7 from the small blind. Not to mention the fact that I am holding 10♠7♠ making it less likely for him to have a set of tens or sevens. So what in the world does he have? I have to know this information before I make my decision to check or bet the turn. And if I am betting, how much?
Now with our information on Chris so far, it is safe to assume his flop-flatting range consist of K-X and A-X of hearts, possibly even A♥10♥. AK is unlikely as that also belongs in the premium raising range along with KK and 10-10 pre flop. But KQ and KJ are very possible hands to check again on the turn. All of these hands I beat at this point.
So what do we do? Honestly the highest possibility of Chris’ range consist of an A-X of hearts. A good portion of the time I would just check here to a very good loose-aggressive player. Let them miss their draw and allow them to bluff the river. If they don’t bluff, I’ll bomb the pot massively to make it seem as if I am bluffing. Remember, if they miss a draw, they don’t have anything, so you shouldn’t bet a small amount for value. Not to mention the fact that if they hit one pair of aces on the river, you’re more than likely to get paid off as well. But Chris doesn’t look to me as someone who is maniacal enough to be bluffing off with a busted draw. So, we have to make him pay now!
Now what about the hijack Villain? They can’t both have hearts, can they? Unlikely. So it is safe to say we have hijack beat by far at this point given his turn-check information. The only hand in my opinion that hijack can possibly have that beats me is a set of kings, though that is unlikely as the typical weak-tight players are always scared of draws and feel they have to “protect” their hand by betting huge rather than going for some value or getting tricky by checking. So if this type of player does not check a set of kings, it’s even more unlikely for them to check two pair as that is a more vulnerable hand.
At this point there is 3,250 in the pot. I have roughly 24k behind, Chris with 22k and villain with around 11k. I decided I wanted to make it 2,375, about 70% of the pot, to charge Fox a handsome premium for his draw. Also, this bet will put the Villain in a spot where if he does anything at all, he has to play for his entire stack. There is no way Villain is going to raise and fold with only 11k. I thought 2,375 was the perfect amount to conceal my two pair hand. This type of player isn’t capable of calling 2,375 on the turn and folding for another 4-5k bet on the river with a one pair hand. I am more than happy to get it all-in with Villain at this point. He is pretty much screwed.
The 2,375 bet was also designed to make solid thinking players like Fox not believe that I have such a strong holding. If anyone had two pair, or a set, at this point, it’s most likely me. The bet is designed to mislead my opponent about the strength of my hand. Remember poker in 2006 when weak meant strong and strong meant weak? Well in this case, strong means strong!
To my surprise, Fox raised the 2,375 to 6,700 and Villain quickly folded. 6700! Are you serious? You really have a set of 3’s? That is the only true logical set Chris can have. Well at this point we can cross off all of his one-pair king holdings. Those are not anyone’s favorite hands to check raise with because it basically turns their hand into a bluff and they have to fold if an opponent comes back over the top. We should now add hands such as Q♣J♣, A♣Q♣, etc. with straight and flush draw combos.
So what do we do? In my opinion, shoving the turn would be the most horrific play because I would only get called by a hand that beats me by far such as 33 and K-10, or drawing hands that still have a chance to beat us. Chris would easily fold all of the one pair hands we beat, even AA if he was slow playing the whole time.
This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the loose aggressive player – let them miss their draw and allow them to bluff the river. Remember, I am last to act in this hand. Even if Chris does have a better two pair or a set, if the river brings a non-pair board flush or straight card, I can even use those as bluff cards and turn my hand into a complete bluff! I called with the intention to re-evaluate my options on fifth street.
Unfortunately the K♣ hits the river, which is going to kill a lot of what we had planned. Chris quickly checks and I check in submission as well. All of his one pair fourth street bluffs have now counterfeited me. He may even check a full house on the river to induce me to bet if I had made a flush. I have to check, the only thing I can beat now are busted straight and heart draws so I cannot reopen the action back to Chris. I remember telling Chris before I checked the river that I would much rather have him bet. The reason for that is because I am either completely dead and can fold, or Chris is bluffing his busted draws and I can call to win a humongous pot! His check actually indicates somewhat of a reasonable value hand such as a one-pair-king that now had turned into trip kings or even A♥10♥ that now has beaten me as well. Not to mention any club draws he had on the turn just got there. As I checked, Chris mucked his hand in disgust and tells me he has ace high. I turn over (three pairs) and win the hand.
Honestly, I would have had to fold the river if Chris shipped it. The style of poker he plays and the knowledge he carries with him, everything just indicates there is nothing I can beat. Trusting your read on a players’ capabilities along with understanding hand ranges and board reading skills would have forced me to fold a majority of the time in that spot. When you’re facing a player with as much experience as Chris, I suggest you use as much poker IQ as you possibly have, and even then the outcome is not guaranteed.