A hand from the World Series of Poker
Event No. 3 of the World Series of Poker was $1,500 pot-limit hold'em. There was one particular hand I played that had a lot of interesting twists and turns.
The blinds were 50-100. I had about 7,800 in chips remaining. Everyone folded around to the button, who limped for 200. He had 4,650 remaining. This was not the first time he had limped, and he previously had folded to a pot-size raise after limping from the button. Dewey Tomko folded from the small blind, and I checked my A-8 from the big blind.
The flop was A-Q-5 rainbow. I checked, and my opponent made a small bet of 200. At this point, I was very confident that I had the best hand. It was unlikely that he would limp with A-X. Most players would raise with A-A in pot-limit hold'em to start building the pot size; 5-5 was a possibility, but was only one part of a very wide range here.
Given that I was out of position and this was pot-limit, raising was my only consideration. I wanted to start building a pot, and I couldn't risk just calling with the intention of check-raising the turn, as my opponent might take a free card. The question here was how much to raise. If I raised rather strong here, my opponent would likely fold. I decided to make a smallish raise to 800. This raise served two purposes: (1) It started building the pot with what I believed to be the best hand, and (2) It gave my opponent a window to try to make a play at me.
This last point was my main consideration. Given that he had limped from the button, my raise could have been perceived as an attempt to pick up the pot. By raising a small amount, I gave my opponent an opportunity to play back at me. My plan worked, as he three-bet to 1,800. He now had 2,850 remaining.
At this point, if I pushed all in, I would force out worse hands and be called by better hands, such as A-A if he had slow-played or something like A-10 if my read was off. I decided to just call to give my opponent a chance to dig himself a bigger grave if he indeed was trying to make a play at the pot.
The turn was a queen. Initially, this looked like one of the worst cards that could fall. Q-J, Q-10, and Q-9 all seemed like reasonable limping hands that would bet the flop. I elected to check, and my opponent pushed all in, taking only a couple of seconds before acting.
I immediately went into the tank, as this was a tricky turn card. After a couple of minutes of thinking, I was ready to fold. But then I asked myself a simple question: "Does his line of action really make sense?" If he had the hand he was representing -- trip queens -- he had played it quite strangely. First, it would mean that he had three-bet the flop with only a pair of queens. This was certainly a possibility, but quite an aggressive line. He just as easily could have called on the flop, hoping to improve or to take the pot down on the turn if I showed weakness. If he had trips, it also meant that he had decided to play them very strongly on the turn. With trips, some players might check, hoping to induce a call on the river. Although trips were a possibility, there just seemed to be too many question marks with how he had played them.
What about other hands? With A-X, most opponents would check behind here, fearing trips. A-A or 5-5 also would play a little slower. I was convinced that he didn't have a monster.
The more I thought about the hand, the more I believed he was bluffing. There certainly was the possibility of trips, but it just seemed like a strange way to play them. Finally, there was one last piece of information to digest. He had acted quite quickly on the turn. He had thought very little about his move and had acted very strongly, which of course could have been a tell that he was actually quite weak.
Usually, I like to follow my initial instincts, and in this particular hand, I initially was leaning toward folding, but after a couple of minutes, I asked that key question: "Does his line of action make sense?" The more I thought about it, the more it didn't make sense. Add to that a possible tell from the way he bet, and a call seemed justified.
I made the call, and my opponent showed K-J. My small check-raise on the flop had induced him to make a play at the pot, and my subsequent call had induced a second barrel on the turn. Fortunately, I was able to see the light and make the tough call. Always remember to ask: "Does his line of action make sense?"
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.