Don’t Fall in Love! — No Limit Holdem


There’s a lot more to poker than simply understanding the strength of your own hands. If you want to be a winning player, then you have to understand the strength of your opponent’s hand as well.  You should know when you have a chance to steal the pot, even though your hand is weak. And you should know when your hand is beat, even though it is extremely strong.

This last point is the subject of this post. In no limit holdem especially, it can be very dangerous to “fall in love” with your big hands. Falling in love with the wrong hand — like falling in love with the wrong person — can lead to financial ruin!

Here’s a hand I played a couple of days ago that illustrates my point:            

Poker Game: $5-10 no-limit holdem, 9 players

Pre-flop: I am in the small blind with K♣T

Action: A couple of players limp in and I limp as well.  The big blind checks.

Flop: T♠ 9 9♥ (multiway)

Action:  I bet $30, one  player calls.

Turn: 9 (two players, effective stacks $600)

Action: I bet $60, my opponenent calls.

River: T♣

Action: I check, my opponent moves in ($500+).  I fold!

What happened here?!  Did I really fold top full-house? Yes, I did. Here is my reasoning:

On the flop, I made a standard lead to protect my hand and pick up the pot, or build a pot and gain information in the event I was called or raised.

On the turn, I was wary that my opponent might have a 9, but the appearance of the third 9 lessened that possibility considerably. I decided to continue betting, hoping that my opponent had an underpair. I also wanted to protect my hand from being outdrawn by possible overcards, like QJ or KJ that gave my opponent a straight draw on the flop.

On the river, I could see no reason to bet. I can’t get called by a worse hand, as underpairs were “counterfeited” by the river card.  I checked, hoping to induce a bluff, and planning on calling any reasonable bet. My opponent didn’t give me that chance though: he moved all-in!

At this point, I went “in the tank,” running down the checklist of possible hands my opponent could have. What could he have that he so hugely overbet the pot with? I eventually decided that he could only have one hand, four nines. I didn’t believe he had a bluff, since if I didn’t have a ten or a nine, would he really need to move all his chips in?  A much smaller bet would suffice to win the pot.  Also, I had very convincingly demonstrated that I had a ten in this hand. Would he want to risk all of his chips trying to get me to fold top full-house?  This would (usually!) be suicide, and I thought it very unlikely.

I also thought that it was probable he didn’t have a ten, for the same hand as myself. If he had a ten, why would he bet? Is there a worse hand that I can possibly call him with? And even if he did bet, wouldn’t he want to bet something small, to tempt me to call out of curiosity? Making a huge all-in overbet makes no sense, and risks running into four nines. It would be very embarrassing to run into four nines with tens full, after moving in such a huge amount. Most players would avoid that possibility like the plague.

That left four nines. His huge overbet makes perfect sense with this hand, since he’s hoping I will be unable to fold top full house.  Unfortunately for him, I read his mail. (I was helped in my read by the fact that I have seen this kind of play many times in my long poker career.) I showed my hand to the table, and folded to much consternation.

Postscript: Why did I show my hand?  The first reason was to gauge the reaction of my opponent. I hadn’t played with him before, and I wanted to make sure that my read was correct.  When the table went crazy, and he mucked his hand silently and stone-faced, I was 100% sure I was right. Very few people can resist showing a bluff in that spot.

The second reason became apparent about 15 minutes later, when I checked and called three pot-sized bets from the same opponent with a pair of sixes, and caught him bluffing.  You must recognize that if your opponents see you make a big laydown, they will remember it and try to exploit you later by making you fold the best hand.

That’s not always a bad thing.

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