Breaking it down
I recently played an interesting hand online during a shorthanded six-max limit hold'em game. The limits were $30-$60. I was in the small blind and the villain was in the big blind.
Everyone folded to me, and I raised with the J 10. I love raising with hands like Q-J and J-10. If you don't hit a pair on the flop, you can still safely bet an ace or king by representing top pair. This gives you a high percentage of flops with which you can safely represent some type of good hand.
My opponent called. I had been playing with him only for a short period of time, but my initial impressions were that he was a solid-aggressive player. His call doesn't narrow his range much, although I can safely rule out a decent A-X hand or even something like K-Q, as most opponents would reraise in position with their solid hands.
The flop was 9 6 4. This was not a great flop for me, but I made my standard continuation-bet. My opponent raised. This raise doesn't tell me too much, either. I would expect some opponents to wait and raise the turn with any pair, especially top pair; however, other opponents will raise with any pair in this situation. My opponent also could be on a straight draw with a wide variety of hands: 10-8, 10-7, 8-7, 8-5, 7-5, 7-3, 5-3, and 5-2. Some opponents raise these draws on the flop, others on the turn. Some opponents would fold hands like 7-3 and 5-2 before the flop, but some opponents will call with all of their hands from the big blind. So, given the texture of the board and the different lines that players take in that situation, it was hard to determine whether or not my opponent was on a pair or a draw, but there was a decent likelihood of either, given all of the possible ranges of hands. I called with my two overcards and backdoor-straight draw.
The turn was the K, giving me a gutshot-straight draw. I checked, and my opponent bet. This is where things get rather interesting. In the heat of the moment and with little time to think, I decided to raise with the intention of betting out on the river.
My thinking was that there was a decent chance that my opponent was on a draw, and I could pick up the pot on the river if he missed. In hindsight, there were some flaws in this analysis. If my opponent was on a draw, my hand was the best! In that case, I could actually check-call the turn, hoping to improve with 10 likely outs, and then check-call the river if a blank hit, hoping my opponent was on a draw. There was also a chance that my opponent would fold a small pair, either on the turn or river, based on my aggression. Although this chance exists, it is quite low nowadays in these shorthanded games, where many players call down with any pair.
My opponent called and the river was the 9. I continued with my plan and bet out, only to see my opponent raise. As I was moving my mouse to the fold button, I decided to wait and think this through a little further. One problem is that many players will almost never raise on a bluff on the river. If they do, it is with a very low frequency. However, some players like to get tricky on the river. The 9 was a key card. His line of play would have been consistent with having a 9, but on the other hand, a very good player might realize this, also. In an instant, this is the type of card that might induce a player to try a bluff-raise. Whenever I am faced with a decision on the river, I always ask the simple question, are there some reasonable draws my opponent could be sitting on? If so, I call. This is one of those hands in which my opponent was sitting on either a 9 or a busted draw. Given that his draws are all inferior to jack high, I called, and my opponent showed 8-7.
Re-evaluating his play, it would have been similar with trip nines or 8-7. He raised the flop and bet the turn. Once he got raised on the turn, he called, hoping to improve. The 9 came on the river, a card that I would be unlikely to bet into, so he raised, putting me on a draw. I did have the draw, but I called, thinking there was a decent chance that he was on a draw, also!
This hand was discussed in even more detail in the shorthanded forum on my website, www.InternetTexasHoldem.com, where some of our members had some very interesting analyses of the play of the hand by both the villain and me, including some higher-level meta-game concepts related to this hand.
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.