Way Ahead, Way Behind — Limit Holdem


Normally in poker an aggressive style of play is best.  Betting and raising aggressively gets more money in the pot when you have the best hand, gains you better information about your opponent’s hand, and gets your opponents to fold sometimes when you’re bluffing or on a draw.

On occasion, however, a quieter style of play is called for.  An example of one such situation, known as a “way ahead, way behind” situation, occurred in my last session of $40-80 LHE at Bay101:

Poker Game: $40-80 limit holdem, 9 players

Pre-flop: I am in the big blind with A3 offsuit.

Action: Everyone folds to the small-blind, who raises.  I call.

Flop: A64 offsuit (two players)

Action: Small blind bets $40, I call.

Turn: 5 (two players)

Action: Small blind bets $80, I call.

River: Q

Action: Small blind bets $80, I call.  She shows QT for a pair of queens, I win with a pair of aces.

My opponent is a tough, thinking regular.  She should be steal-raising a wide range of hands from the small blind, and I should be defending with an even wider range — close to 70% of my hands — because of the odds I’m getting with my big blind already in, and my positional advantage.  Although A3o is normally a marginal hand, it is near the top of my defending range in this spot.

The flop is a good one for me, pairing my ace.  What should I do when she bets into me?  In my early days as a pro, I was relentlessly aggressive, and would have certainly raised her.  But now I don’t think that’s the best play. I am in a “way ahead, way behind” situation here, which means that my pair of aces is either way ahead of her hand (she has complete air, or a lower pair) or way behind her hand (she has a set, or a better kicker).  Note that with this “dry” board there are no draws that she could have (she would not have raised 75 or 53 pre-flop).  Therefore, there is no good reason for me to raise the pot.  I certainly don’t want to force her out of the hand if she is way behind.  And I don’t want to get more money in the pot if I am way behind.  The better play is to simply call to showdown, leaving her confused as to my holding, and thereby win the most bets possible from worse hands, while losing the least to better hands.

In this hand, she continued bluffing on the turn, thinking she could make me fold a small pair or gut shot draw.  On the river, she paired her queen, and made a good, thinking value bet.  She knows that I am likely to pay her off on the river if I called with a small pair on the turn.  And she knows that if she checks to me, I am likely to play perfectly against her, by betting if I have an ace, or checking if I have a small pair.  So her river bet, although it didn’t work out this time, is actually a very good one.  Did I mention that she was a tough player?

My own play I think was optimal as well.  It’s a close call on the turn, when I pick up a straight draw, whether or not to raise for a showdown, but I still prefer my line.  The only question for me comes on the river.  Knowing that my opponent is a tough player who will bet for thin value, should I raise for thin value here?

That’s a question for another post.

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