More Free Poker Lessons

Some more interesting hands to cover this week. I will go over every option in detail and cover the good, the bad, and the ugly behind every one of the choices.

Hand #1
You have 89 suited under the gun in a 9 handed tourney. You are deep stacked with over 100 big blinds and there are antes. You chose from the following options:

Call 19%
Min-Raise 30%
Fold 29%
Raise 3 times the blind 22%

Let’s take a deeper look at each option separately.

FOLD

You could make a case for folding this hand. That case would have to be something along the lines of, “I am very bad at playing post-flop, especially out of position. I get myself into bad spots and often don’t know what to do.” If this is you, you are likely a beginning player and this might just be the best option for you. For most of these examples, though, I’m going to come at it from the perspective that you are a great player and discuss the optimal play. For a really good tournament player, this is not a fold. I don’t know of any top tournament player that doesn’t have 89 suited in their range, even from first position. We’ll get into why later.

CALL

What case can you make for call? Well, there are a few. If you are in an extremely passive (typically lower buy in) game where people are happy to limp in and see flops, this might be a great spot to start the limp-a-thon. The other case for limping depends on how you play personally. There are some great players who do incorporate limping, but they are mostly a dying breed. It is quite rare, but some players do mix it up with some limps. If you are one of those players that occasionally likes to limp in from early position, its really important that you try to balance your range. It doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced, but you don’t want it to be blatantly obvious that you could never have AA, KK, or AK when you limp. If you want to limp 89 suited, you will need to protect yourself from being bullied by also limping with strong hands occasionally too. It’s not a play I make, I’m not much of a limper in today’s game, but about 10 years ago it was a play I utilized much more frequently.

RAISE 3 TIMES THE BLIND

OK, if you are typically a player who opens for 3 times the blind rather than less, there is nothing wrong with that. I’m a big proponent of “small ball,” however, so it’s not something I would do in this case with any part of my range. What’s important here if you choose 3x the blind, is that you are making this play with ALL the hands you would play in this situation. You don’t really want to play the psychological warfare game of mixing up your raise sizes based on the strength of your hand. Perceptive opponents will notice if you min-raised with Aces, but then made a bigger raise with 89 suited, or vice versa.
So again, nothing “wrong” with making it 3 times the blind, but it isn’t what I consider to be the optimal play in tournaments today.

MIN-RAISE

This is the play you will see most often in higher buy-in tournaments with the worlds best players. I should also note, that a min-raise, or close to a min-raise, is virtually the same thing. For example, if the blinds are 400-800 with a 100 ante, making it 1600, 1700, or 1850 is basically a min-raise and the sizing you choose won’t have much effect on your win rate in the long run. At that level, I personally choose 1800.
I’ve said in previous blogs that it’s really important to get involved in more situations than the average player. The players who win tournaments today are typically quite active and looking for spots to build a stack so they can play table bully. The key reason to add this hand to your range from early position is that it will add some deception to your game. If you only play big pairs, AK, and AQ from first position, you will only get action from better hands, or hands that are looking to bust you. You never want to be pigeon holed into too narrow of a range. It’s very exploitable, especially when the stacks are deep. When I know a tight player is raising from under the gun, I’m folding AJ, but I’ll happily call him with 78 suited or something like 66.
In this extreme example, if a player is playing only 99+, AK and AQ, I will get the best of him with 66 or 78 suited in position provided the stacks are deep. Depending how poorly the player plays post flop, these types of hands provide a potentially big payday for you. Or, with position you can steal pots from your opponent when he whiffs the AK and gives up.

Hand #2

Under the gun player raises and you call on the button with QJ suited. The big blind also calls. In this example, you are deep stacked and in a tournament, but that’s really not relevant because it shouldn’t effect your decision much at all. The flop comes Q J T rainbow. The big blind leads out, the under the gun player calls. Your choices:

Call 41%
Fold 4%
Raise Small 33%
Raise Big 22%

FOLD

Oh come on! What the heck are you hoping to flop if you hit top two pairs and don’t even see another card! That’s way too tight. Obviously this is a potentially dangerous situation but your opponents card combos could actually have you in great shape. For example, the BB may have QT and the UTG player could have AA. In a spot like that, you would be making a terrible fold. Same if its AQ vs AQ, KQ vs KK, etc. The flop is just way too early to be bailing on this hand.

RAISE SMALL

I really hate this play. What the heck is the point of this? If you say, “To find out where you are at” please promise me you will never again make a raise to “find out where you are at.” A raise here is akin to turning top two pair into a bluff. No one will ever think you are bluffing in this situation, and you have just about the worst hand you could have to raise there. What other hands would you raise with there? Sets, 89, K9, and AK yes? So you are representing a better hand than you actually have. A small raise isn’t going to get them to fold, though, since they likely have some kind of a draw worth staying in the hand for a small raise. If either of your opponents has a straight, they may re-raise you here, so now what? Call and try to hit the 4-outer? Fold and screw yourself out a free card? I get that you may want to “protect” your hand but this isn’t a spot where that’s likely to happen. No joke, I would rather make this play with 99 than I would with QJ! I would be turning the 99 into a total bluff in the hopes of firing three bullets and representing AK. You don’t need to turn the QJ into a bluff because it rates to be the best hand most of the time anyway.

RAISE BIG

This is definitely better than raising small. A big raise actually will help define your opponents hands and you might get some draws to fold. You may even get a hand like AA to fold. If you do get called, though, you are probably in some trouble. If you get re-raised, you can be all but certain your hand is no good. This play actually might help you “find out where you are at” but it’s still not the recommended choice.

CALL

This might be the most clearly correct answer of any of the polls I’ve shared. Calling does allow your opponents to maybe catch a card to beat you, but the beauty of that is you will see it and be able to get away easily. There are so many bad cards that can fall on the turn that will allow you to get away cheaply. These cards may also actually scare a player with a better hand than you into not betting the turn giving you a free river. For example, if you are up against 89 and TT and the turn is an Ace, which one of those two guys is betting? Neither. YOU maybe should though!!! You can NOW take your two pairs and turn them into a total bluff. If the Ace didn’t give either player the straight, you can be all but certain that you are not in the lead. When you called the flop in position after a bet and a call, then an Ace hits, they both check, and you bet, what the heck do you think they will put you on? A King all day, and every day. You should bet the turn here and if you get called it’s likely by a player with two pair or a set trying to fill up. It’s important that if the board doesn’t change on the river, that you ALSO bluff this river.
Calling allows you to play pot control, to get away cheaply when a bad turn card hits, to represent a scary turn card and bluff the pot, to make the nuts on the turn and possible stack a player with AK, TT, or JJ if it’s a Queen on the turn. So many good things come from calling with this hand in position! Don’t go screwing it up by turning the hand into a bluff on the flop with a raise.
If you don’t “get this” than you really need to think more deeply about it. Its an extremely important concept. You hear commentators and players talk about the power of position often, but don’t be fooled into thinking this means that “power poker” is raising and re-raising from position. A call is a deadly weapon that opens up so many juicy possibilities to get creative later in the hand.

Hand #3

Blinds at 50-100 in a deep stacked tournament, a player makes it 250, the button calls, and you are sitting in the small blind with KK. Here are your choices:

Call 9%
Raise to 600 28%
Raise to 1200 53%
Raise to 1800 10%

CALL

OK, for once I don’t think call is the best option! Having said that, there are some spots where I absolutely would call because its part of a larger game plan for the specific table I’m playing at. If I’m not planning to 3-bet at all really, then I don’t want to do it only in spots where I am out of position and playing my cards mostly face up with a deep stack. If you never, ever, 3-bet as a bluff in this situation, then it might be correct for you to also call with the Kings here.

RAISE TO 600

This is just pretty goofy. I’ve never seen a good player “click it back” in a multi-way pot, especially out of position. What’s the goal here? No one is ever folding, so sure, you are making the pot bigger, but you also make it even more difficult to play your hand post-flop since you’ll have no idea what your opponents have. Think about all the terrible or dangerous flops for Kings in this situation:

A-7-2
T-8-7
4-5-7
Q-J-7
9-2-3

Why 9-2-3? If you bet the 9-2-3 flop and your opponent raises you, what do you think he has? He may have a set, or he may know that you can’t hit that flop hard, so he is going to represent a set and put you to the test with a raise on the flop, a bigger bet on the turn, and a big bet on the river. You will be playing your hand face up, and just totally guessing. So as you can see, even what should be deemed a “good flop” poses potential problems for you.

RAISE to 1800

This is just too much! There is 650 in the pot before you put a chip in, and you are investing 1800 to win it right there. Sure, you won’t get called by anything but monster hands, but if you are going to be making it 1800 with Kings, then you will also need to do that with hands like 7-2 off suit occasionally.

RAISE to 1200

This is the right range. You can make it 1100, 1250, or 1075 if you like, but this is the right area. It’s a big enough raise to force your opponents to pay a hefty price to try and out play you post-flop, but not so big a price that you don’t get the value from Kings that a raise to 1800 doesn’t get. Often with a raise to 1200 you will pick up the pot right there, but you also may get one or two callers depending on the type of hands they have. if you do get called in one or two spots, this is not the time to just put your head down and FIRE FIRE FIRE three bullets, throwing caution to the wind. When they call, you squeeze out some value pre-flop with your powerhouse, but you want to be careful not to get stacked when your opponents show resistance.

I will be playing poker today at Bellagio and hopefully there are a few interesting hands I’ll be able to share with you all in a future blog. Hope you learned something!

 
Daniel Negreanu Daniel Negreanu