Are you telling the right story? by Howard Lederer

One theme you’ll see throughout our Tips From The Pros series is that when you’re making a move, your actions need to tell a plausible story. Some stories can be simple. For example, if you raise pre-flop and then follow up with a bet on a King-high flop, you’re telling opponents that you’re happy with the progression of the hand and maybe you have A-K or K-Q.

In confrontations between advanced players, the plots can get pretty complex as a hand progresses. For this tip, I want to talk about a hand I played on the television show Poker After Dark, where I both told a consistent story and found a flaw in my opponent’s tale.

I was playing in Poker After Dark’s “Commentator’s Week”. With blinds of $200/$400 and my stack at about $14,000, I was on the button with 10s-7s and the action was folded to me. I made a standard raise to $1,200, trying to pick up the blinds. Chad Brown folded in the small blind, but Gabe Kaplan called from the big blind.

The flop came Ah–8s–2d, and Gabe checked to me. I put out a bet of $1,300, keeping with the story that I raised with an Ace pre-flop and was following up after hitting top pair.

Gabe called, so I had to assume that he had some piece of the flop, maybe an 8.

The turn paired the 2. To my surprise, Gabe then led at the pot, betting $3,000. At this point I was really confused. What story was Gabe telling? Did he have a 2? That seemed unlikely, as I thought he would be more likely to check to me, hoping to get more value with a check-raise. It also seemed like a strange play to make if he had an 8.

I decided that there was a good chance he was simply trying to pick up the pot with a bluff. Or he could’ve had a weak Ace. At this point, I decided I could pick up the pot with a bluff. To do that, I needed to keep my story consistent. What would I do if I had the hand I was representing, a hand like A-Q? I’d probably just call Gabe’s turn bet. So that’s what I did, knowing I’d have to bluff the river.

Another Ace fell on the river and Gabe checked. Once again, I wanted to keep my story straight. What would I do if I rivered the full house, Aces full of 2s? I’d bet small, trying to extract some additional value from a player with a pocket pair or an 8. I bet out $3,500, only about one-third of the pot, and Gabe quickly folded.

When the show aired, I learned that Gabe had Qs-Js, and was simply making a play at the pot. He, too, was bluffing. But had I not bet on the river, I would have lost the pot to Gabe’s two-pair with a Queen.

As you play, keep in mind that your opponents will be attempting to piece together the stories you tell them. Do your best to tell them the stories you want them to hear.

Howard Lederer