Pay for lunch

Lee Jones
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Posted on: July 17, 2022 1:00 am EDT

I love getting maximum value for my strong hands. I don’t make strong hands very often – to be fair, neither do you – so when I make one, I want to extract every shekel possible from my opponent.

In fact, I wrote an entire article about doing just that.

Unfortunately, though, there are times when the cards just don’t cooperate. That is, you get to the river, and you have a strong hand. Maybe a very strong hand – maybe even the nuts. But the sad fact is that it’s unlikely that your opponent has much of anything.

Just because you have a monster doesn’t mean your opponent is going to pay off a big bet. You shouldn’t be sizing your value bets based on the strength of your hand – you should size them based on your perception of the opponent’s strength, and what they’re willing to pay off. This is the essence of targeting.

In general, your river bets should be “polarized” – that is, large bets that represent either an extremely strong hand, or a bluff. If you are value betting and bluffing in the right proportions, such a bet leaves your opponent “indifferent” between calling and folding. In more prosaic terms, it gives them a tough decision. When your opponent feels that neither folding nor calling seems particularly attractive, you’ve done your job well.

But stepping outside the theoretical realm, there are times when, as an exploit, you can make a relatively tiny bet on the river. It’s a bet designed to get paid off by a very weak range of hands – hands that couldn’t in good conscience call a larger polarized bet. My friend Benton Blakeman calls it, “Pay for my lunch.” Rather than the 0.6 PSB (60% of the size of the pot) a solver might bet, you toss out 0.3 or 0.2.

Solvers would never make this bet. And it might even get a snort of disgust or chuckle from your opponent. But chips is chips.

You’re in a $1/3 game, and raise in middle position to $10 with A♠T♠. Just the big blind calls. With $21 in the pot, the flop is K2♠4♠. A marvelous flop in every respect – not only does it hit our specific hand, but it hits our range too. The opponent checks, and we bet $8. They call. That’s fine because now, with $37 in the pot, the turn is the 9♠, giving us the nuts. That’ll do. The opponent checks again, and we size up. Our target is all the kings, and by gum if they have the K♠, all the better. We bet $30 and they call. Today is a great day.

Okay, it’s a “good” day now, because, with $97 in the pot, the river is the 8s, putting a fourth trump on the board. We still have the nuts, but whatever hopes we had of winning a monster pot have probably just evaporated.

Why? Because in scenarios such as this, nobody is ever bluffing. The nuts is the single ace of spades – anybody could have it for any reason. Our opponent can’t bluff, and we can’t really bluff. So if we put out a big polarized bet, and we’re not bluffing, then what’s left?

Yeah, we have the nuts.

Even if our opponent is staring at the king of spades, it’s a bluff-catcher, and they know it. There’s really no point in betting big here, or over-betting. With no credible bluffs available, nobody is ever calling such a bet.

But what if we toss out $15 (“Pay for my lunch at Chipotle, please”)? Imagine the look you’re going to get from your opponent. You’ve just bet an entire 15% of the pot. They’re confused, and even a little annoyed. Had you bet half pot, they’d have an easy fold. But now you’re just milking lunching them. Or maybe they’re amused – “For $15 I get to see your cards? Sure.”

But now those three nickels are sitting in your stack, not theirs.

Three notes:

  1. You need to use this play sparingly. When you have a strong hand on the river, your first inclination should be to go for thick value. Only if you can’t find any legitimate target for a larger bet should you think about these lunch bets.
  2. If you have a hand that would not be happy about getting check-raised (and few hands are happy about that) be careful. Savvy opponents may interpret that small bet as weakness and pounce on you. You may find yourself getting bluff raised off the best hand. Such opponents are rare – usually river check-raises are pure strength. But against a tricky opponent, again, be careful.
  3. Noting #2 above, such an opponent may be goaded into a bluff check/raise with a tiny bet. So if you have a hand that would love to be check-raised, you might consider this play. However, use this play rarely. Your default action with a strong hand on the river should be to pick a good value target and bet the most you think it can stand.