Lee Jones: That was unexpected

poker chess strategy
Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: December 06, 2021 22:31 PST

When you learn to play chess, the first thing they teach you is the importance of thinking a move or two ahead. The more moves ahead you can see the board, the better you’re able to spot pitfalls or opportunities to trap your opponent.

Fortunately, poker is a lot simpler than chess, with many fewer branches on the decision tree (I honestly don’t see how chess players do it). So with just a little forethought, we can plan for the most likely two or three consequences of a decision we make. But sometimes, an event comes in from left field and leaves us flat-footed…

There I was, in my regular $3/5 no-limit hold’em game, and this evening, we’d all agreed to play with a “rock,” which meant that whoever won the last pot put out a $10 straddle, and action starts to that player’s left. So we were playing $3/5/10 NLHE.

I'm on the button, and the rock is UTG. A competent early position player opens to $35, and gets two callers. I call on the button with two black 6's. So four of us are going to the flop with $145 in the pot.

The flop is A♦️A♣7❤️. The action checks to me, and no, I’m not betting. One of the privileges of being the button is that you get to take a free card when it’s offered and you need it. The opener’s range is chock full of aces, and if he doesn’t have an ace, either of those two clowns between us could have one. Look folks, I’m done with this hand. Somebody bet, we’ll all fold, and move onto the next one.

So there’s still just $145 in the pot when the turn card is the Q❤️. Board looks like A♦️A♣7❤️Q❤️. They all check to me.

Nope, I’m not falling for it. If my sixes are the best hand, then good for me. Let’s get a black deuce on the river, y’all check to me, I’ll proudly turn up my 6’s, and lose to J7o. Or laugh at the person who has an ace. 

I politely ask the dealer to put out a river card, which she does. 

Obviously, it’s the six of diamonds (or I wouldn’t be writing this article). A♦️A♣7❤️Q❤️6♦️. I have the smallest of all possible full houses.

Now the preflop raiser leads for $35. Remember I said his range was chock full of aces? He’s about to be in for a surprise. I’m figuring out how much to raise when the unexpected happens: the first player behind the preflop raiser makes it $85. The guy in between us instantly folds.

This is where we need to talk about stack depths. The guy who put in the raise only has about $200 behind. But the original raiser and I each started with $1500. 

I think about the situation – who’s got what here? If the opener has an ace, surely he’d have found a bet somewhere before the river. But what’s the middle position guy doing? He’s even less motivated to check an ace on previous streets – there are fewer people available to bet it for him.

But I always preach to believe the most concrete and recent information you get at the poker table. Especially in a field of recreational players, which both these guys are. The most sense I can make of the situation is that the preflop opener has a hand like JJ, and is trying to squeeze out a little value on the river. The middle position player has an ace, but not a fabulous one, and wants to squeeze a little value from the preflop raiser.

I’m certainly not eager to dump 150 effective big blinds into the pot with my bottomest of all possible full houses, but I’m delighted to play for the middle position’s stack. 

I decide to raise to $300, just to be sure I cover him. But I am making that raise with the absolute intent of folding if the early position player 4-bets (likely for all his chips). It’s not unthinkable that he checked AQ on the turn, and got the perfect river card to get a pile of chips from me. If middle position guy has an ace, he’s putting in the rest of his chips, no matter what. If he has aces full, then he doubles through me. If he has “just” trip aces, I get his stack. Either result seems possible.

So I announce a raise to $300. But more unexpected things happen: the early position guy snap calls, but middle position guy folds (don’t you wonder what he was up to? I do). 

I turn up my 6’s full.

Early position angrily tosses A♠K♦️ on the table, face-up, and stomps off (certainly his best play in the last five minutes).

I could go into a detailed description of why you shouldn’t succumb to Fancy Play Syndrome like he did. But I won’t – the results speak for themselves.

As you can see, I grossly misjudged who had what. It happened to work out fine, just not in the way I expected.

By the way, you might be thinking, “What about calling, to see if you can bring in the early position guy?” I didn’t want to do that for fear of confusing him. I worried that he might interpret the middle position’s small raise as weak, and my call of his raise also weak. The early position player might do something insane, like shove his $1500 in there. I had promised myself I was folding to a shove from him. I didn’t want to do anything to confuse him into shoving with a worse hand. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and AQ (i.e. the nuts). I wanted to feel confident that if he shoved, my 6’s full were no good. I thought that my raise would clearly define his hand.

I try hard to see a step or two ahead. But sometimes a move pops out of nowhere, and you have to just look at the board, try to figure out what’s happening, and make your best move.