Checking From Way Ahead Despite Backfire Potential

Some time ago I read about a situation in live cash games where we find ourself so far ahead of our opponent’s likely holdings that we have no reason to bet. If our opponent has a hand like 5Spade6Club  on a JDiamondKHeart2Heart board, there’s little reason to push him out of the pot with any of our value holdings. Sure, if we have zero piece of this board, betting is best. But with a hand like ASpadeKDiamond we should be thinking about the best way to maximize value, which is likely going to be just one or two streets if our opponent is super weak.

Obviously a crazy villain who’s capable of bluff raising with air can change the dynamic but these types of players are few and far between at the lower stakes.

Furthermore, the example above is easy to understand in theory, but hard to put into play in practice because our opponent can certainly have enough of a piece of this board to justify betting the flop. Not to mention there are two draws present that would likely call flop and turn bets, and giving a free card on a board like this can both crush our action and turn our hand into the second best.  Deciding whether to bet or not bet this kind of flop is likely going to be situation and player dependent more than anything.

In a recent $1/2 session I encountered a situation where I recognized that my opponent was most likely drawing very slim and checking the flop in position would be best. That, or he had me crushed.

10/13/13 $1/2 NL $200 effective sacks

Villain straddles for $4. I raise to $16 from the button with the AHeartKHeart. Villain calls.

Flop KClubTDiamondTSpade [Pot $35 Stacks $184]

Villain checks. I check.

Here I feel like while the villain could have a ten, he’s not likely to. We only started the hand 100 BBs deep and I’m happy to get it in on this flop, however aside from crazy bluffs and tens, I don’t feel like the villain will do much of anything other than fold to a flop bet. There is no flush draw, and while there is a straight draw, I’m willing to risk it considering my holdings and blocker potential and the various hands my opponent could have that do not include a straight draw.

Turn KClubTDiamondTSpadeADiamond [ Pot $35 Stacks $184]

We turn a pretty disguised top two and now we want to execute our plan for value. If the villain has an ace, we may be able to stack him.

Villain bets $17. I raise to $42. Villain calls.

River KClubTDiamondTSpadeADiamond3Diamond [ Pot $112 Stacks $142]

Villain checks. I think I have the best hand and I want value. I bet $25, which is ultra small in comparison to the pot, but mirrors what I believe villain will call me with (a king, an ace, perhaps a curious middle pair). To my surprise, villain clicks raises to $50 and I can’t help but actually laugh out loud.

At this point, the pot is $187 and it’s costing me $25 to call, laying me 7.48:1 on my money. I need to be right 12% of the time to make the call correct, but in reality I’m probably never ahead on the river. At least that’s what I was thinking when I hesitantly tossed in a green $25 chip. So why’d I call? Curiosity. I was so certain that my flop check was correct I just had to know for sure.

And I did. The villain proudly turned over the 4Diamond2Diamond for a turned back door flush draw that got there. He scooped the $212 pot and smiled the entire time.

Had I bet the KClubTDiamondTSpade flop he surely would’ve folded his 4Diamond2Diamond and I would have won a $35 pot instead of losing a $212 pot. But does that mean that betting the flop was the best play?

If my goal is to maximize value by taking advantage of my opponent’s mistakes, I still think that checking the flop was best despite the result, as it induced numerous mistakes that most of the time would have paid dividends.

First, villain straddled to start the hand ($4.) While some good players can make a straddle work, most people have no clue why they are straddling and their play typically amounts to nothing more than a blind under-the-gun raise ensuring that the player either wastes two BBs for nothing, or plays a bloated pot out of position. Neither of these are particularly good outcomes. The straddle is the villain’s first mistake.

Next, villain calls $12 with 4Diamond2Diamond out of position and only 100 BBs to start the hand. Maybe world-class players can play any two cards from any position when deep enough, but we are neither world-class nor super deep. 4Diamond2Diamond is just 36% vs AHeartKHeart and calling $12 call for a pot of $23 would require over 52% equity to break even (not to mention this isn’t the end of the betting). Calling pre-flop is the villain’s second mistake.

On the KClubTDiamondTSpade flop we both check. As noted above, a bet here in position likely wins us a $35 pot instead of losing a pot worth $212. However, knowing the villain’s holdings we can now see that AHeartKHeart is nearly 96% on this flop. Betting our opponent out of the pot when he is just 4.24% on the flop is not maximizing value. Maybe the villain was planning on check raising this flop, however he could’ve also bet/folded it, defining his hand and losing the minimum. Checking the flop could be considered the villain’s third mistake.

The KClubTDiamondTSpadeADiamond turn gives the villain a flush draw, increasing his chances of winning to 18%. He bets $17 into the pot of $35, as a semi-bluff induced to take down the pot. His likely thinking was that the ace was a good scare card to bet, and that since I showed weakness by checking the flop, I may just give up and fold, allowing him to win a nice pot with 4 high.

Of course, this plan hinged on the assumption that I was weak, when in fact I was looking to play for stacks. My raise to $42 (just $25 more) offered the villain a very attractive price ($25 to win $87 or 3.48:1). The villain would need to be right just 22% of the time to justify the call, however his flush draw had just 18% equity. Calling the turn raise when receiving poor odds to do so is the villain’s fourth mistake.

Every poker player knows that 4% and 18% sometimes become 100%. Despite making four mistakes in the hand the villain executed a nice check-raise on the river and ended up squeezing thin value out of me (not certain he was thinking on that level but it worked.) A better play would’ve been to either fold the turn or to move all-in, maximizing winnings when he hits his flush. 82% of the time he’s just donating $25 on the turn and he wins a lot more if he just gets it in on the turn with some semblance of fold equity.

Despite losing the hand, I am not unhappy with how it played out other than in hindsight I wouldn’t mind raising slightly larger on the turn. I’m sure the villain would’ve still called but I’d have won more when he missed his draw 82% of the time.

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About donniccolo

Logic. Common Sense. Open Minds. www.nicknicastro.com
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