Poker, specifically No-Limit Texas Hold’Em (NLHE), is such a intricate game that you can easily find yourself in a predicament and have no idea how you got there. You can be in the Big Blind (BB) and feel “forced” to call a min-raise with Ace-Four, telling yourself that you’re only going to continue with two pair of better, and suddenly you find yourself at the river, all-in, because each step of the way you convinced yourself to take one more step. Flop – “Well I have top pair…” Turn – “Well now I have a flush draw, too…” River – “Well sure I’d be all-in if I called, but it’s only 1/2 the size of the pot…” And as you get knocked out of the tournament with A4 you sit back and think, “How did I get here? Didn’t I warn myself not to play a big pot with Ace-Four?”
I recently had a hand that really brought the point of sticking to the plan to the front of my mind. In this hand I did not stick to my plan. I made a plan, tried to enact it, and when the other player disagreed with my plan…I went along with his plan. His plan seemed OK. In NLHE this can get you into lots of trouble.
If you want, you can view the hand at – http://www.holdemhandhistory.com/play/5126/
In the BB I had 78s. Blinds were 300/600. A player raised to 2,200. This same player had just taken down the blinds with a raise of 2,400 (4x the BB). I wasn’t sure what the change in betting size meant, but I felt that even if he had a huge hand I could do some damage with my suited connectors. I wasn’t happy that I’d have to play the hand out of position (OOP) but I figured I had to gamble a bit if I was going to do anything in this tournament. I had been playing for an hour and a half and still had about a starting stack. So I make the call and we go to the flop heads-up. The flop comes K 8 4, rainbow. I make second pair. The King obviously scares me. I check with the expectation to call a reasonably bet, and fold to anything outrageous. I’m checking here for pot control. We don’t want to play a big pot with second pair, but we can’t just give up second pair every time. The preflop raiser checks too. The turn is another 4, completing the full rainbow. No real straight draws, no flush draws on the board. I check, again expecting to call a reasonable bet. Nope, he checks. When the river is a 3 I’m pretty sure that I have the best hand. Checking both the flop and the river, when in position, heads up, puts my opponent’s hole card range in either something ridiculously good like KK, for a full house, or a complete miss like AQ or AJ (or worse). I’d say that 50-70% of the time second pair is the best hand here. I cannot rule out the player making a bet large enough that I have to fold the best hand, so my plan was to make a blocking bet so that we can go to showdown for an amount I decide. I bet 2,000 into a pot of 4,700 – I’m trying to set the showdown price of 2K because I don’t want to call a pot-sized bet, for example. Without much hesitation my opponent raises to 5K. This is where my plan goes out the window. I specifically bet 2K so that I would not have to call a 5K bet after checking. But here I am, calculating my pot odds, looking at calling 3K to win 11,700. I end up convincing myself that I have to call, and the guy flips over KQs for a flopped top pair (we both had two pair by the turn when the board paired). WHAT?!
Now, I’m not even going to get into how poorly he played the hand, because I’m trying to improve my play, not his. But this is exactly how in NLHE you can get to the river and wonder, “How did I get here?” Preflop you could have told me, “You’re going to get to the river with second pair, and it’s going to cost you 7,200 total in chips to see if your second pair is the best hand…do you want to do that or fold now?” I’d fold 100% of the time. But when you allow yourself to inch further and further without remembering what your own game strategy was, you end up sticking 1/3 of your chips into a hand that you knew you should be playing differently. I knew that putting in a blocking bet of 2K was the correct play, but I allowed myself to negate that play by calling a sizable raise. Folding preflop is not necessarily the correct play for 78s, you should fold it many times and call a few times, but in this hand, folding the river when the opponent finally makes his move is definitely the correct play. That is, against most players that I face at the levels I play. For the record this was a $60 buy-in 3 table tournament, most of these guys aren’t thinking past level one.