The strategic situation
Although these hands came after the ones I posted yesterday, my situation in the tournament wasn’t all that different. The tournament had a very slow structure up front, so even after the first break we were still well over 100 big blinds deep. I was both above my starting stack and the average stack, but not by a huge amount.
My image was also much as it had been earlier; although I’d been bluffing here and there, all of my attempts had worked, and thus I had never shown down a weak hand as the aggressor. I had occasionally surrendered a hand after having a continuation bet called, but I felt pretty sure that most of the table believed that I was playing very straightforwardly on the turn and river.
Hand 3 – Getting creative with a small pair and backdoor draw
This is my favorite hand from the whole tournament, both because I got the better of my primary adversary (although he eventually busted me) and because it’s a good example of Level 2 and 3 thinking, in that I made the play based on my own image first, an appraisal of my opponent’s range second, and my own cards least of all.
My hand and position: 64 offsuit, in the big blind.
Important villain: This was definitely the sharkiest guy at the table and my most frequent opponent; I believe he saw me as easy money, so he almost invariably called my preflop raises. Although he’d gotten into a couple of preflop raising wars with some of the other sharky players next to him, against most of the table he seemed to prefer to play postflop than to try to take pots down with 3-bets preflop.
Preflop action: A tightish player on my left makes a min-raise from early position. Villain calls as do several other players. Despite my poor holdings, I’m priced in to call.
Flop: T65, two Clubs
Flop action: I check to the preflop raiser. He checks. Villain bets half pot. It folds around to me. I call. Everyone else folds.
My thinking: I had initially intended to fold to any bet, as middle pair is a very weak hand multi-way, but when the preflop raiser failed to make a continuation bet, I felt he had probably missed the board, and my feeling was that the sharky villain could easily be trying to buy the pot with nothing. Furthermore, my hand was a partial blocker to the most likely two pair he could have (65) and to one of his two possible sets (66 and 55, as I assume that he 3-bets TT preflop). I don’t think he would be betting anything worse than top pair for value, given the number of players in the pot, however. His range was therefore almost entirely top pair, draws and maybe some airball bluffs. Based on this, I felt that had some showdown equity with my 6, some drawing equity to two pair, trips and a backdoor straight, and a lot of fold equity based on his image of me. So I called, with the intent of figuring out my plan on the turn, whether it was going to be to bluff, or try to get to showdown, or what.
Turn: 7, not Clubs.
Turn action: I lead out for half pot. Villain calls.
My thinking: The turn gave me the “idiot end” of an open-ended straight draw, which meant I had some additional equity. This isn’t the sort of draw one wants to chase passively, however, as the reverse implied odds are terrible. Similarly, I still had potential to make two pair or trips on the river, but the board texture was going to make it hard to get paid off by worse hands. Therefore, I decided it was time to make a move.
Although I was essentially bluffing, I was expecting to get called a lot. For one thing, I didn’t think I was going to get him to fold for one bet, except maybe on a particularly ugly card, like perhaps the flush Ace. Thus, I was expecting to need to take aggressive action twice to get a fold. I couldn’t, however, count on getting in check-raise here, because it’s a likely check-back situation for most of his value hands, which I was expecting would consist largely of single Tens with medium kickers – anything between T8 and KT, say.
Leading out, I did risk getting raised, but I think his perception of my lead-out range here was such that he wouldn’t expect to have much fold equity. Thus, if I did get raised, it was likely to be by a monster, so I could easily fold and probably be saving myself some chips relative to other lines.
Finally, I felt that the 7 was a pretty decent card for me to represent a strong hand, as a lot of my marginal flop-calling range has improved here; many direct straight draws either got there or picked up a pair, and many one-pair hands with backdoor equity would have made a second pair. Of course, donk-betting when the turn card helps you is usually a fairly bad move, but my image was such that I thought he’d expect that sort of transparent play from me.
Taking all that into account, I bet with the intent of getting called and then following through on almost 100% of rivers. I would have check-called the river if I made two pair with a 4, and I might have just given up on a Ten, since it would give him trips a lot of the time. Aside from those possibilities, however, I was pretty committed to betting the river.
River: J, not Clubs.
River action: I bet slightly less than half pot, villain folds.
My thinking: The river probably didn’t change much for the villain unless he had exactly JT. I was still putting him on either a pair of Tens or some kind of missed draw, and I felt that once I had called one bet then fired two more of my own, he’d put me on something better than one pair, particularly when an overcard came on the river and it didn’t slow me down. It was thus a fairly decent card for me to continue with my plan, so I did so, and it worked. Of course, I don’t know whether he actually folded a Ten, a missed flush draw or what, but I think the combination of his range and my image were such that I would not have been called very often.
Hand 4 – Being a nit with trips
I had been flopping great throughout the tournament and this hand was no exception. Unfortunately, I found it hard to get much value out of my hand on this occasion. Part of the problem was that the pot was multi-way, so a player with my image getting aggressive would indicate a lot of strength and make it easy for my opponents to fold one-pair hands.
My hand and position: T9 of Spades, on the Button.
Important villain #1: An older man on my immediate right, the same one that I bluffed in one of the hands I posted yesterday. He was somewhat too loose preflop and straightforward postflop, but had been getting lucky and had lots of chips.
Important villain #2: A pretty big nit two seats to my left. He’d played very few hands and almost never raised preflop.
Preflop action: Action folded around to Villain #1, who made a raise to 2.5 big blinds. I considered 3-betting to take control of the hand, but my hand was one which plays better with a big stack-to-pot ratio, plus I had position, so ultimately I decided just to call. The SB folded and BB called.
Flop: ATT rainbow
Flop action: BB checks, Villain #1 bets slightly less than half pot, I call, Villain #2 calls.
My thinking: Villain #1’s range is probably any Ace, any Ten, and total air. I would expect him to check most of the time with a pocket pair or a gutshot. Online, I would think about raising Villain #1’s continuation bet and hope to represent a bluff and get called by his Ax hands, but in a high buy-in live tournament, with the image I had at that time, I think a raise is going to be interpreted as trips almost all the time. My trips aren’t actually that great, either. As unlikely as it is, if someone else has a T, he probably has a better kicker and I could even be drawing dead to a full house. I felt that I was more likely to get value from my hand on later streets and wanted to avoid letting the pot get out of control if I was in fact getting coolered. Thus, I decided to play my hand slowly.
Turn action: Everyone checks.
My thinking: Getting called behind by the nit on the flop was a little bit unexpected, but it made me pretty confident that his range was largely Ax hands and maybe rarely slowplayed trips. I wouldn’t expect any floats, gutshot draws or pocket pairs in his range. I contemplated betting, but I didn’t think I was likely to get called on both the turn and river by an Ace, so I decided to see if I could get Villain #2 to make a bet by checking. If not, then I intended to bet the river and get my one street of value that way.
River action: Villain #1 bets about 1/3 pot, I call, Villain #2 folds
My thinking: I was expecting Villain #1 to check again, and then I’d make a moderate bet and get whatever value I could from the presumed Ax hand of Villain #2. When Villain #1 led out again instead, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. The odds that he had me beat were quite small, but not zero – he could have been getting more creative with Tx than I would have expected from him, or I could have been wrong about him not c-betting with a KQ gutshot, which now could have hit. Overall, it seemed most likely to me that he was either making a weak bluff with an air hand, or he had weak Ace that he hadn’t been sure about on the turn, but now felt better about because we’d all checked. Either way, it didn’t seem likely to me there would be much in his range that would be worse than my trips, but willing to call a raise; I would have to hope he had exactly Ace-Jack for two pair.
I decided that a much more likely source for additional value was the big blind who was still left to act. His range was still mostly a single Ace of some sort, and I assumed he would never call with those hands if I raised, but might make the call if I flatted, so that’s what I did. Unfortunately, he found a fold.
Villain #1 showed A5, I showed my trips to take the pot, and Villain #2 said he’d also had an Ace, but one whose kicker would not have played. He therefore figured he was either beat or splitting three ways, so there was no point in calling. Overall, I was disappointed at not getting more value out of trips vs. two top pairs, but given everyone’s image and the board texture, I’m not sure I really could have done any better.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.