Of course, our opponents have many reasons for making the plays they do. They might be bluffing, they might think we’re bluffing; they might think they have the best hand, they might be fearful of us drawing out on them, or maybe the pizza just arrived and they push all-in so they can eat. We can never be sure how any opponent will act in a given situation, but most players react in the same way often enough to give us some guidelines for questions we can ask ourselves that may help us win the hand.
I’ll cover some of the more common situations here, but ultimately you need to get used to thinking of similar questions “on the fly” as you’re playing, be it in a cash game or a tournament. Unfortunately, online poker doesn’t offer a lot of time to think things through, but it’s really important that you get used to asking questions like these, so at least write them down and keep them at hand until the asking becomes a habit. For what it’s worth, I think Mike Sexton, who is one of the commentators of the World Poker Tour television program is the best at this. I spend the time to catch that show every week and almost always learn something from Mike. Okay, here are my favorite questions – some of which are actually Mike’s – you should add some of your own.
Situation: The player on the Button raises (so common these days) and you reraise from the Small Blind or Big Blind – because you have a good hand – and the Button pushes all-in.
Question: If the Button is so strong, wouldn’t s/he be willing to play a big hand just by calling? (Remember, the button has position and will act last on the flop.)
Analysis: You reraised from the Blind because you use my Basic Strategy matrix and it says the hand you have is strong enough to do so, but the Button pushes. Sure, s/he may have A-A or K-K, but many times that’s not the case at all. The Button might be short-stacked in which case your call is easily justified or the Button may be the big stack at the table – which justifies your call even more. The one I worry about is the opponent who has dust on his or her chips, so you might be facing a “real” hand” in that case, but often in multi-table tournaments we really don’t have the player profiled; that concept applies more to cash games or SnGs (single table tournaments). Most of the time I’m calling the all-in, especially if I have a drawing hand like A-Ko or A-Qs because I want to see all five cards.
Situation: You raise from Early Position with, say, A-Ko. (The “o” means offsuit; “s” means suited.) One player just calls and the flop comes A-7-9 “rainbow”. You lead out with a continuation bet and your opponent raises you all-in.
Question: Can your hand be good if you just got raised all-in on the flop?
Analysis: Unless you’ve been bluffing way too much, your open raise from EP signals that you have a premium hand, like A-K, A-A, K-K, etc., and your opponent just called, which is either a trap if s/he holds A-A, K-K or implies that s/he has a lower pocket pair, like Js, or even 9s or 7s. Of course your opponent may have called with A-Jo or even A-9s, for example. But would s/he raise all-in with a hand like A-J? Maybe with A-9 because s/he now has two-pair, but in any case, you’ve got to think that your opponent thinks you have at least a pair of Aces at this point, yet s/he still check-raised you all-in. A lot of players who flop a set will just call your continuation bet, but many “newbies” will push because they’re afraid you might draw out on them. Whatever their motivation, you’re probably beat if you get check-raised all-in on the flop. I will fold 75% of the time or maybe even more. Of course, I’ll never fold 100% of the time, especially in a cash game because that would inspire my opponents to check-raise me all-in on the flop with any two cards. But when I do call, it’s because I have at least some “outs” like a Flush or Straight draw, which really isn’t the case in this example. I’m folding.
Situation: You’re in one of the Blinds and basically limp into an unraised pot with three other players while holding Q-10o. The flop comes 8h, 8c, 9s. One of the early limpers makes a pot-sized bet and all the others fold to you.
Question: Why did your opponent lead out if s/he has an 8 in the hole and made Trips on the flop? Wouldn’t s/he be better off by check-raising anyone who attempts to steal the pot?
Analysis: The odds of making trips on the flop with one of your hole cards are 70 to 1 against (a 1.4% probability), so the odds greatly favor that your opponent is bluffing. Of course, s/he could have a lot of other hands, such as an overpair (J-J, for example), two-pair (A-9, for example) or a Straight draw (J-10, for example). However, a lot of players will lead out at this flop because the TV commentators often state: “The first to bet usually wins on a flop like this.” In this situation, I like to check-raise in order to represent that it was me who flopped Trips. Now remember, I don’t have much of a hand, but I do have some outs. A Jack gives me a Straight that beats my opponent’s Trips, if that’s what s/he has. A Queen or 10 will give me two-pair to beat my opponent’s 9s and 8s, if that what s/he has and I might even have a backdoor Flush draw. But more importantly, I’m pretty much going to know where I stand when my opponent responds to my check-raise. If s/he reraises, I’m probably beat by three 8s; if s/he just calls, I’m a little worried now, but s/he may check to me on the turn so I get to see a free card in order to make my Straight or other hands and if s/he folds, I win my “semi-bluff.”
Situation: You raise two Early Postion limpers with A-Js from Middle Position. The Big Blind calls and one of the EP limpers calls. The flop comes 10, J, 3 “rainbow” (I’m using a lot of rainbow flops here just to keep things simple, plus most flops are unsuited anyway.) The EP player leads out with a bet that’s half of the pot.
Question: If that EP player has a strong hand, why not check-raise the open raiser (me) because it’s a fair assumption that I’ll make a continuation bet if for no other reason than I’m last to act throughout the hand?
Another Question: If the EP player has, say, 10-10 in the hole and flopped a set, why such a small bet when the board indicates Straight draws like Q-K might be out there?
Analysis: For what it’s worth, in my experience a lot of limpers seem to think that Early or Middle Position raisers raise only with an Ace in their hand, so if no Ace falls on the flop, they believe the first bet will win. An Ace did not fall, but I did hit a pair of Jacks, so it’s going to be tough to lay this hand down. I’m going to raise here to hopefully drive the Big Blind out and get the EP player to fold. The reaction of both will tell me a lot about where I’m at in this hand. If either (or both) of my opponents calls, I’m now worried and will proceed cautiously but I’m not done with the hand and I’ll fire another “shell” on the turn. If either reraises me, I’m really worried, so if the bet is big enough I’ll likely fold.
And I’ll see you here next time.