I recently played in a $25-50 No Limit Hold’em game online. The hand discussed in this column was interesting because it taught a valuable lesson regarding position, the board cards, and reading betting patterns.
At a full table, the first player decided to limp in (call the big blind rather than raise) from under the gun. The button also called. I was in the small blind holding Qh-8d. I called, too, since I already had half the bet in the pot. The big blind checked.
Four of us took the flop: Qh-Qd-4c. Bingo!
Hoping to pick off a bluff, I tried to disguise my trips by checking. The next two players also checked but the button bet $150. I didn’t raise. Instead, I just called so that I could gauge the interest of the other players.
The player under the gun also called and that had me worried. Yes, I flopped trips but my kicker wasn’t very good.
My thinking was that the original bettor could have had a wide range of hands and might have been trying to steal the pot. Also, the other player probably had a strong hand because he called the first bet even after I had called.
The turn card was the 10s.
I checked again. The players after me also checked so I felt like there was a decent chance that I had the best hand. I’d know soon enough if the limper was planning to check-raise the turn with a better hand than mine. He didn’t.
The river brought the Js. That card filled the straight for anyone with A-K.
The good news, though, was that the jack nullified my kicker. My hand was now Q-Q-Q-J-10 rather than Q-Q-Q-10-8. Still, I took the cautious route and checked.
The first limper bet $400 and the button folded. With $650 already in the pot, I was getting pretty decent odds on my money, about 2.6-to-1.
What’s the right play?
Well, most players in this situation see only the strength of their own hand and think, “I have trips; I have to call.” They act on impulse.
That’s not the right way to act in this situation. It’s much better to break down the hand in a way that allows you to make an educated decision. Take the time to ask yourself two key questions.
Could my opponent have the same hand as me?
Not likely. Remember, he called from first position. Most players under the gun act conservatively. If he had a queen, he’d likely have a ten, jack, king, or ace to go with it. So, a split pot is extremely unlikely.
What hands would my opponent play in this manner that I can beat?
First, try to determine the premium hands that you can beat. Maybe he was slow playing pocket aces or pocket kings before the flop. Those would be the only two big hands that you can beat. On the other hand, if he limped in with big slick, the river card made his straight.
Next, try to figure out how likely it is that your opponent has one of the hands you can beat. If, for example, you think you’ll have the best hand about 40 percent of the time, then the pot would definitely be laying the right price for you to call.
But that wasn’t the case in this hand. In fact, based on the information available, I thought my chances of winning were closer to 10 percent. So, I folded my trips.
The other player, incidentally, had A-Q and would have had the winning hand, but that’s irrelevant.
The important lesson is to slow down, and collect and analyze the available information before you make critical poker decisions. There’s just no need to act impulsively.
Visit www.cardsharkmedia.com/book.html for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.
© 2008 Card Shark Media. All rights reserved.