maximizing value and ease of decision: same hand, three different scenarios

last night when i went to the casino to play poker i ended up winning a pretty big pot by rivering quad queens over my opponent who had turned the nut flush, and as i replay the hand in my head it further enforces how slow-playing a strong hand is not always the best idea because a) it doesn’t maximize the value and b) it makes calling decisions much easier.

First, i’ll put out how the cards played out from my viewpoint:

in my hand i had QQ
board comes out AQ5 with two clubs (not the ace).
turn comes 7 of clubs.
river comes Q.

One of the books that i’ve read talks about “manipulating the pot size to make decisions easier”, and this hand played out in a way that is a very good example of that. I had QQ under the gun. I preflop raise to $15 (on 1/2 blinds) and get four callers. After the flop, i bet out $45 because i hate slow playing a set with two flush cards on the board. I got one caller. On the turn, i was scared of the flush, but i didn’t want to slow down in case he was holding the Ac with a big kicker or 2p or whatever, so i bet out $75. He reraises me all-in for an additional $75-85ish.

Based on how he had been playing the whole night and how he pushed all-in, i was certain that he had a flush. But also at that point because of how i was controlling the size of the pot, it made it very easy to call. Basically i had to call $75 to win $375 (pf $60 + flop $90 + turn $225) which is 5:1 odds. I had 10 cards remaining in the deck that could improve my hand (any A, 5, 7, or the last Q) which is also 4:1 odds, which means that it’s correct to call even if i know i’m behind, and i improved my odds to call by a fraction on the small chance that he was holding 2p or a lower trips. So i call. He turns over AK of clubs. i river the Q and take down the pot.

Now, let’s suppose that i decided to play that differently. Suppose i checked the flop and for the purposes of this example it checked around. The turn comes a flush card, I bet out a 2/3rd sized bet, which is $30. There are now two different ways that that could go: AK raises me, or AK smooth calls.

Let’s say that he raises me. If i put him on the flush for certain and thus know i have to draw to make my hand, i now have that same 5:1 to hit. If he min-raises me, i have to call $30 into a $120 pot. the immediate odds are *just* favorable (4:1) and the implied odds are cut based on the fact that a) he’s a fairly tight player and that if the board pairs on the river it’s going to scare him, and b) i’m out of position, so if i bet out after calling his raise, he may fold if i make the bet big enough, and if i check the river there’s a danger that he’ll check behind.

(if he decides to smooth call me instead, it mimicks the above scenario pretty well also).

if he does more than min-raise me, it’s even worse for me. Say he raises me to $100. Now, i have to call $70 into a pot that’s $120, which is a horrible immediate 1.7:1 odds, and the variables of a) the board pairing and scaring him and b) him having position on me makes it so that if i do decide to call, it’s turned from an easy call to a gambling call. and in that situation i might have made the tough laydown.

Let’s say that i try one of the other weapons in my arsenal: bet the flop, representing as a continuation bet, then check the turn, representing, say, JJ or KK and now i’m scared that he has an ace or that the flush card helped him. it’s unlikely that my opponent is going to check because he wants to build a pot and he doesn’t want me to catch up if he puts me on 2p or trips, so he bets out. Again, if he bets out an amount that doesn’t offer me good immediate odds, it’s a gamble, but if he puts out an amount that does offer me those odds, it doesn’t build the pot, so instead of winning a $425ish pot, i now have a pot that may barely eke beyond $200.

Later in the evening, someone else who raised pf in the sb and got one caller checked the flop of Axx rainbow, checked the turn which was a K, and then checked the river which was a blank. After the guy in later position checked the river, he turns over KK and wins a $30 pot. Someone asked why he didn’t bet out, and he said, “i was trying to slow play” and shrugged, and that resonated in me as a situation similar to mine played incorrectly, where he allowed the player in position to take control of the pot. If he had bet out on the turn and the guy didn’t have anything, he would have won the same size pot as what he tried to do, but if instead he bet out, he might have gotten an Ax to call, and a bet amount that he dicated rather than his opponent’s. He may even have gotten a river call or river raise if the guy hit 2p or a lower trips.

More enforcement to the idea that the princples behind “strong hands should build strong pots” is something better controlled by me than someone else. Hopefully a lesson that i’ll continue to learn and bank with.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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