Andrew “foucault” Brokos is an online cash-game specialist who is best known for his deep runs in the World Series of Poker main event in 2008 and 2010. He’s also known for his thoughtful strategy articles at his own blog and at various poker websites. For more on Foucault, you can check out his blog at www.thinkingpoker.net. And here’s an interview we did with him back in 2009.

In this article, I want to consider a hand that at first glance may look like just a lucky flop against a bad player. In truth, however, I think the fact that I was in a position to win a big pot and that my opponent was in a position to lose a big pot when he should not have both come down to planning. From the outset, I had a plan for the hand, he did not, and that’s what got him into trouble.

My Plan

I was playing a $2/$4 NLHE game online. It was a 6-max table, but we were playing 5-handed. The action folded to me on the Button, and I raised to $8 with 7c 5c. The SB folded, but the BB re-raised to $24. I called. He had about $300 behind, and I covered.

Even with position, calling a re-raise with 75s should not be automatic. Two factors led me to call here:

1. It was a small re-raise offering good odds. With $34 already in the pot, it cost me just $16 more to call, so I need only about 33% equity to break even, and that’s without considering potential implied odds.

2. There was a fair bit of money behind. Because my initial raise was small and my opponent’s re-raise was small, there was still about six times the pot left in his stack. This is important not just because I can win more if I make a strong hand but also because I have more room to use my position and possibly bluff him out of some pots. Notice how my small open raise gives me more flexibility to call a re-raise; that’s a big part of my reason for the sizing.

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to make of Villain’s re-raise. I’d never played with him before, and this was only our third hand together. Some players will only re-raise strong hands, others are quite a bit more aggressive against a late-position raise. I was going to have to play it by ear and try to use my position to figure things out later in the hand.

The flop came 9c 5d 7d, giving me bottom two pair and a back-door club draw. Villain bet $32 into a $50 pot.

This is not a good time to slowplay. I have a very strong hand, good enough to get all-in on the flop, but there are a lot of turn cards that I don’t want to see. Any J, T, 9, 8, 6, 4, or diamond is a card is bad for me. Any of these cards may give my opponent the best hand, but more likely they will scare him from putting more money into the pot with the hands I really want him to have.

As I said, I didn’t know a lot about this player, but after seeing the flop I sure hoped that he had an overpair. If he did, he’d very probably be willing to put all of his money in on the flop, and I wanted him to do that before the board got any scarier.

His next most likely holding would be a big Ace like AK or AQ that missed the flop. Against such a hand, I’d prefer to slowplay and let him hit a a pair on the turn, but there are only going to be five outs that can pair him, and a few of those put a third diamond on the board. I don’t know how likely he is to bet the flop with those holdings, but I think he’s really unlikely to keep bluffing on the turn. That means that there isn’t really much value in letting him see another card, certainly not enough to offset the value potentially lost by not raising immediately against an overpair.

So, I raised to $78, and he called. This put $206 in the pot and left $204 in his stack. This was no coincidence; I deliberately sized my raise to leave one pot-sized-bet behind. This gives him room to re-raise me as a bluff or semi-bluff on the flop, perhaps with a hand like Ad Kd, and also sets me up to move all-in on the turn if he just calls the raise.

Remember that my goal here is to get value from a one-pair hand. Generally, these hands only get weaker as more community cards are exposed, so it’s best to get the money in as soon as possible rather than waiting until the river, when there are many more possible straights, flushes, and two-pair combinations for a hand like AA to worry about. In other words, given the choice between structuring the betting in a way that gets us all in on the turn vs. a few smaller bets that get us all in on the river, I’d much rather get the money in ASAP.

The turn brought the Ks, and my opponent moved all-in. I called, he showed 44, and an A on the river gave me the pot.

His Problem

This was a substantially weaker pair than I was expecting to see from him, and frankly I don’t like the way he played the hand at all. He made a number of mistakes, but I think the central problem is that he doesn’t seem to have had a consistent plan in place from the start of the hand.

Notice how from the moment I make my first raise I am already thinking about possible outcomes: I steal the blinds, opponent calls and I play in position with a weak but tricky hand, opponent 3-bets and I have room to call or 4-bet because of my small raise size, etc. It seems that Villain did not similarly think through what might happen post-flop before making his re-raise, and he ended up getting himself in a bad spot as a result.

What does Villain’s 3-bet accomplish? Given the small size, he should expect me to call very often, which means that he will usually end up playing an inflated pot out of position with a pair of 4’s and a fair bit of money behind.

Post-flop needs ought dictate Pre-flop strategy. That is, Villain should think about the kinds of situations he will be in post-flop and then choose his 3-betting range accordingly. His 44 will almost always be difficult to play post-flop, which means he probably should not 3-bet it.

Post-flop he will want to make either a hand good enough to play strongly for value (ie good enough to get all in) or a draw that he can play aggressively in order to represent a strong hand.

Granted, 44 will flop a set about 12% of the time, and that’s a hand he can almost always play strongly. However, it’s very difficult to play the other 88% of the time because it is a very poor bluffing hand. That is to say that it has very little equity against my calling range on most boards. Its made hand value is also weak enough that he generally won’t be able to take heat when I choose to bluff him.

Essentially, there are five possible outcomes once he 3-bets me:

1. I fold. This is one of the best outcomes for him, but it has nothing to do with his hand. A good 3-betting strategy will include some hands that are essentially bluffs, but 44 is not a good candidate for this because of the other possible outcomes we’re about to consider. Given that this is actually one of the best results he can hope for, he probably should have made his re-raise a bit larger so that I am not tempted to call with a hand as weak as 75s that nevertheless has nearly 50% equity against his pair.

2. I call and he flops a set. This is the best possible outcome for him. However, he can still take advantage of the set value of his hand by flat calling. The pot will be a little smaller than if he had 3-bet, which is unfortunate when he makes the set but otherwise is what he would prefer the 88% of the time that he doesn’t make a set.

3. I 4-bet. I don’t know what he actually would have done if I 4-bet him, but I think folding is almost always the right play for him. Although he ought to 3-bet some hands that he will fold to a 4-bet, 44 should not be one of them because, as we saw above, there is value in just calling with it and seeing a cheap flop, mostly trying to make a set. It’s better for him to bluff with hands that are not good enough to call.

4. I call, he tries to show down 44 unimproved. The problem here is that, in part because of his small 3-bet, my range is very wide. He has no idea what I have or which flops will be good for me. So if he checks and I bet, he is in the dark. Against my value range, he is drawing to two outs at best. If I’m bluffing, I usually have at least two overcards for six outs and often some sort of draw for a few more outs. His pair will be either slightly ahead or way behind, which is a bad place to be when out of position with a lot of money left in your stack.

5. I call, he tries to turn his pair into a bluff. Similar to (4), his equity against my range is very bad. Of course he should have some bluffs in his range after the flop, but it is much better for him to semi-bluff with good draws or at least overcards to the board than with a small pair that has two outs at best to improve when I don’t fold.

What this all boils down to is that Villain’s hand doesn’t play well in any scenario where he doesn’t flop a set. Given that he can realize that “set equity” by flat calling my raise, he accomplishes very little by re-raising, especially to such a small amount.

The way this hand played out, Villain ended up in scenario (4). It seems like he put me on “just” a draw (most of my draws have 14+ outs on this flop, making them a virtual coin flip against his underpair) and tried to protect his pair by getting all in on a turn that did not complete any draws.

The problem with this strategy is that it requires him to put his entire stack in the pot with very little equity against my calling range. Sure, I will fold to his shove some portion of the time, but when I do, it doesn’t matter that he had 44. His hand matters when I don’t fold, and 44 has very bad equity versus my calling range.

That’s why he shouldn’t shove the turn with it, it’s why he shouldn’t call the flop raise with it, and it’s why he shouldn’t have re-raised it pre-flop. Because he didn’t plan ahead before making his pre-flop decision, he ended up in increasingly bad post-flop spots. Because I did have a plan before raising pre-flop, I was in a position to call his pre-flop raise and take advantage of his mistake to win a bit pot on a favorable flop.

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