Although I busted pretty early into the $1100 Montreal Poker Expo Main Event at Playground Poker Club, I had some interesting hands along the way, some of which I’d like to share. These were all from the early levels, when stacks were deep, which of course lends itself to more creative play, particularly in the later streets. Here are the first two, with two more coming tomorrow.

The strategic situation

This tournament had a pretty slow structure up front, with 30,000 starting chips, blinds starting at 50/100, and 45 minute levels. On the other hand, antes kicked in very early; level 2 was 75/150 with no ante, while level 3 left the blinds unchanged but added a 25 chip ante. Some of the very tight players to my left tended to make their sizing large on the rare occasions that they did raise, but generally speaking, preflop raises were small, and even the better players did not seem to change their sizing when the antes were introduced. That game me very good direct pot odds when facing a single raise, while the implied odds were always huge, so I found myself playing a lot of pretty marginal hands in late position and the blinds.

As I said yesterday in my trip report, I was visibly nervous in the early stages and had been fortunate enough to catch a few monsters, which were the only hands I’d been showing down. This gave me a nitty, weak-tight image, at least in the eyes of the stronger and more attentive players at the table, who were mostly to my right. I was exploiting this to win small pots post-flop in spots where it looked unlikely that others had much, but I had been largely passive preflop.

I was too busy concentrating on the action to take detailed notes, so bet sizes are all approximate, and some of the less important board cards are as well – a blank is a blank, but an offsuit 4 may have equally well been an offsuit 2.

Hand 1 – Playing a straight draw like a flush draw

This was my first significant bluff of the tournament. This is a line I take often online, and the fact that it worked so perfectly in this tournament was one of the factors which allowed me to settle my nerves and start playing my regular game, despite the stakes being higher than I’m used to.

My hand and position: 87 offsuit, on the Button.
Important villain: Older guy to my immediate right. Relatively straightforward, but not quite as tight as the guys to my left. Running good, had lots of chips.

Preflop action: It folded around to the older man on my right, who made a small raise. I called based on position, pot odds (with antes) and the fact that I knew him to be easy to play against. Nitty players in the small and big blind called as well. Small blind checked in the dark.

Flop: K96, two Hearts.

Flop action: Big blind checked, villain bet 400 into a little less than 1000. I raised to 1200. Blinds folded, villain called very quickly.

My thinking: A well-concealed straight draw on a flush-draw board is one of my favorite hands. Aside from your chances of taking down the pot immediately with an aggressive semi-bluff, you are likely to get paid off huge if you’re called and hit your straight, while flush cards falling make it very likely that you can buy the pot with an outright bluff later on. Although straightforward in his own play, I felt that the villain knew that modern players tend to get aggressive with draws, so I felt raising would cause him to put me on either a flush draw or a monster.

Turn: Offsuit 6.

Turn action: Villain checked and I checked back.

My thinking: The villain’s very quick call on the flop is a tell, as I’ve learned both from online experience and Zach Elwood’s videos. It means that he has a hand which he’s always calling with and never raising with, as the possibility of a raise or a fold would cause him to think a little. Given the board, I felt this meant he almost certainly had a King and probably not an Ace kicker; hands like KQ, KJ and KT were very likely.

I didn’t think he was going to fold to a turn bet, and I didn’t think betting the turn would significantly increase my fold equity on the river, so I checked as well. I also felt that taking the free card would confirm his belief that I was on a Heart draw. The fact that the board paired with the 6 was meaningless because neither of our real or perceived ranges was likely to contain one; theoretically, I could have made a full house with a set, but if I had a set, his King was drawing dead already.

River: 4 of Hearts

River action: Villain checked. I bet 2200. He said, “It just had to be a Heart,” and complained in similar fashion for another 20 seconds or so before showing a King and folding. I mucked my cards and he made sure to let me know that he’d read me for a flush draw and would have called any non-Heart river.

My thinking: A Heart river was one of the two things I was looking for, as it allowed me to make a large bet that I was relatively sure would not get called. I would have also made a large bet on a non-flush river which gave me a straight, expecting to get paid. If I made a straight with a Heart river, I would have bet quite small. Otherwise, I would have just checked back and surrendered the pot. Villain’s talking was genuine in my opinion and, combined with his shown King, confirmed that I’d played the hand correctly on all streets. My experience online is that playing straight draws this way when a flush draw is possible is one of the most profitable spots you can find yourself in, and I’m glad to have that confirmed in a relatively expensive live tournament.

Hand 2 – Failing to be aggressive with bottom pair and a flush draw

This hand did not go as well as some of the others. It was one I could have bought at probably any point, but didn’t think that I could have at the time. It was also one of several hands in the tournament that I think I could have played better if it had been heads-up rather than three ways. Live play tends to be looser than online, especially preflop but also on the flop, so you find yourself in multi-way turn and river situations more often. That’s something I need to get used to.

My hand and position: 85 suited (Hearts) in the big blind.
Important villain #1: The initial raiser has recently been moved to my table. Based on physical appearance and presence, I read him for a pro or semipro, but he has been quite tight so far.
Important villain #2: Small blind is the same guy on my immediate right from the hand above; older man, fairly straightforward in terms of folding weak hands, calling marginal ones and raising good ones.

Preflop action: There is one small raise from early middle position and multiple callers, including the small blind. I am priced in to make a speculative call as well.

Flop: A95, two Hearts

Flop action: The preflop raiser makes a continuation bet. Other preflop callers fold, small blind calls. I call.

My thinking: Ordinarily I raise with pair plus draw hands, but Ace-high flops are one general exception and having a third player showing interest in the hand is another. Chances are that at least one of the two has an Ace, and I’m not representing very much by raising, only exactly A9, A5 or 55 given the preflop action. It’s much easier to put me on a Heart draw of some sort, so I don’t think I have enough fold equity to make a move now. Also, with my bottom pair, I have a lot of additional showdown equity to make two pair or trips, some of which disappears if I raise and thin my opponents’ ranges.

Turn: 4, not Hearts

Turn action: Checks all around.

My thinking: As the aggressor preflop and flop, Villain #1 is expected to do the betting. Leading out here looks suspicious, especially on a blank turn. I don’t think I can represent anything here that I couldn’t have with a flop raise, so I check.

River: Another 4, not Hearts

River action: SB checks. I consider betting. Villain #1 picks some chips up. I think a bit more, then check. He checks.

Showdown: SB shows pocket 33. I’m about to turn over my 85, but Villain #1 beats me to it and shows T9. I muck instead.

My thinking: If this were a heads up spot, Villain #1 picking chips up would cause me to bet, based on Zach Elwood’s videos. It was a clear case of defensive hand motions, communicating a probably-false intention to call. I wasn’t all that surprised to see him show down second pair, and think that he would have folded it if I’d bet. The three-way pot was the stumbling block for me here. I didn’t think Villain #2 would have been calling the continuation bet with as little as pocket 3s. I’d read him instead for some kind of weak Ace which he was planning on check/calling all the way. Obviously, if I would have bet or raised any street, I would have had this pot, but I’m not sure how often both opponents are actually this weak.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.