When you win a pot, it can be tempting to think, “I’m the one dragging in chips, I must have played it pretty well.” That’s not clear thinking.
Certainly, in extreme cases, it can be pretty clear that we got awfully lucky – I know I’ve been there. But when things go according to plan, there’s a danger of assuming we played the hand as well as possible.
Here’s a hand that (spoiler alert) I won. But I made three serious mistakes.
We’re at my local poker club, playing $2/3/5 NLHE ($2 on the button). We’d added a $10 “rock,” which was a $10 straddle put out by the winner of the previous hand. So your regular $2/3/5/10 game.
I’m on the button with the rock, 9-handed. I have $1k in my stack. The action starts with the small blind, and by the time it gets to me, an entire basketball team has limped in for $10. I look at my cards – two round queens (Q♥Q♣) are smiling back at me. The dealer has already patted the table, sure that I’m going to check. Hold the phone, we’re not done here.
Did I expect a call? I really didn’t know, nor did I care. If I won five “big blinds” without a flop, that was a fine result. If I got a caller with my 11x raise, that was okay too – I’d have the button and the best hand in a bloated pot. Should somebody back-3-bet me, great. I only have 100 big blinds and I’d just ship in the rest of my chips. If you happened to do that with aces or kings, good for you. Otherwise, I’m in fine-to-fabulous shape.
One by one people fold (occasionally glaring at me) until we get to the hijack seat. Not only do they not like folding preflop, but they particularly dislike folding preflop after they’ve already put money in the pot. And I get the sense that they especially dislike folding to me because, well, because I’m such a nit.
They call, and with $260 in the pot, we get a flop of 7♦5♠3♦. They started with about the same $1,000 I did. They check.
I was planning to bet almost any flop that didn’t have an overcard, but this one slowed me down. My opponent has a very wide calling range, which means that they could smash this flop. Of course, with their calling range, it’s far more likely that they foul-tipped the flop, or whiffed it completely. But if I bet and they check-raise, I won’t be sure what to do.
“That was when I knew I had made my first mistake.” –Lyle Lovett
Obviously, had I known that checking the flop was a mistake, I would have bet. But I didn’t realize that until I discussed it in my hand history discussion group. My reasoning was that this flop didn’t hit my preflop raising range and that if the villain check-raised me, I’d be in a pickle.
The professionals in my discussion group said I wouldn’t be in a pickle at all. Having built a 25-BB pot off a 100-BB stack, I can shove that check-raise down their throat for all the money. If they flopped two pair or better, good for them. But far more frequently, this particular villain has top pair, pair+gutshot, or just a larcenous heart.
Their message to me was, “You are waiting your whole session for this set-up. You have a real hand, and a flop that can semi-smash a loose villain’s calling range. Do your best to get stacks in now.”
Fair enough. Now, in the most sardonic voice imaginable, “As played…”
With the pot still $260, the turn is the 2♦: 7♦5♠3♦2♦. They check again.
Now I want value. I particularly don’t want to give a cheap card to any singleton diamond, and I want their 7x and 5x hands to call (don’t snicker – people will call with A5 here). I bet $130.
The top pro in my hand discussion group said, “Bet $225 here. They’ll be insensitive to size, and because you checked the flop, you can bet bigger here.” This makes perfect sense. If my opponent has a big singleton diamond, or decides that I’m pushing AK too hard, they won’t care whether I bet $130 or $225. They should care a lot, particularly if they’re looking at naked ace of diamonds, but they don’t care.
Fair enough. The villain calls, and we’re off to a river with $520 in the pot.
The river is the K♠: 7♦5♠3♦2♦K♠, and they check for a third time. I pause. Can I go for value here? What if they’ve been calling along with something like K♦J♣ and just rivered top pair? If they only have a 7 or a 5, will they call another bet? But they did check, so I need to go for some thin value. I bet $175.
I lied. I didn’t go for value. I announced my hand, turned my queens face up, and the villain mucked their cards.
My coaches in the hand history group were unrelenting. “Bet $175. It’s annoying to the villain because now they’re getting a great price to call. Expect to be looked up by pretty much any pair.”
Here’s the truth: this particular villain’s penchant for aggression got the better of me. I knew there was a chance they’d make a play for the pot. So that slowed me down on the flop and turn. Instead, I should have thought “You wanna make a play for the pot? Great, let’s dance.”
And the river check was unconscionable. As much trouble as this particular player gets into, they assume that others are up to the same amount of hijinx. Their response to that is to call down light. I had a hand that was begging to be called down light.
At the end of the song, Lyle Lovett gets the girl. Me, I left a few hundred dollars on the table.
“It was then I knew I had made my third mistake. Yes, three strikes right across the plate.” – ibid