Live fixed-limit, full-ring Hold’em hands that interest me enough to spend much time analyzing them are pretty rare, just because so many of the decisions are pretty straight-forward. I’ve got a hand here from a few days ago that I’ve been thinking a while about. It’s a hand I probably could have played a bit better and that seems obvious in hindsight. The hand involves a couple of common tells so I think it’s useful to think about.
It was a $10-20 game with a kill. This was a kill pot. There were 8 players. I’m under the gun and the big blind is the kill, meaning the small blind has $5 out and the big blind has $20 out. I look down at
As I usually do in a spot like this I pause a couple seconds to get a sense of what the people behind me are doing. In this case, it was especially evident that most of the players behind me were folding. A couple of the people were actually getting up from the table, leaving their cards to be mucked. There were only a couple people I didn’t have an indication of one way or another.
Now this is usually a folding spot, in early position with a low pair. But when I get an indication that most of the field is folding, I’m going to raise. Especially considering it was a kill pot, it was even more likely that people would be folding decent hands for the raise and that I’d be unlikely to have competition.
As it turned out, I get two callers: basically the only two people who hadn’t made it obvious they were folding. The blinds fold (including the kill) and it is just me and two people behind me.
The flop comes
[9c] [8d] [4s]
Not a horrible flop, because people with high cards didn’t connect. I bet. The guy immediately behind me folds immediately.
The remaining player, let’s call him Anthony, calls. Anthony often performs a common tell intended to prevent people from betting. He does the ‘I’m going to call you’ thing by holding his chips defensively while it’s his opponent’s turn to act. This can usually be accurately interpreted that he has a mediocre hand and doesn’t want you to bet. He actually will call you pretty frequently on the flop in such situations, because he is loose and fairly passive, but if he’s giving that tell he’s usually giving up on the turn. Anthony does that behavior here, holding his chips as if he’s threatening to call me, and he does call my bet.
The turn comes another 9, putting two diamonds out there:
[9c] [8d] [4s] [9d]
I’m thinking this is a good card for me because I’m putting Anthony on two overcards as his most probable hand. His range, I’m thinking, is around the AK, AQ, QJs, JTs area. If he’s got a pocket pair, he’s probably going to call me and we’ll probably both check the river. That would be pretty standard.
He’s holding his chips defensively again as I bet. But this time he raises immediately. Now this is interesting because I had just recently been studying Anthony in these situations. If he is holding his chips defensively when he has a vulnerable hand, and then hits his card, he will continue holding his chips defensively and then put a raise in. In this way it might look, if you weren’t paying attention closely, that his holding of his chips defensively was a false tell, when in fact it was just held-over from his vulnerability on the previous round.
Now, when he raises in this spot, it’s super-unlikely he has three 9s. There’s no hand that Anthony would call a raise with cold pre-flop that would have a 9 in it, unless it was pocket 9’s. I also really find it improbable that he would play a high pair like this. He’s not tricky enough to play it weirdly pre-flop; he would have three-bet a high pair. In fact, there’s very few real raising hands that I can put him on. It’s possible that he could have flopped a set, but I don’t feel that is the case with my read of him holding his chips out defensively on the flop.
The thing is, though; it’s very improbable of him to bluff a spot like this. I’ve played a lot with him. This fact – that he very rarely will bluff in spots like these – starts to be the main determining factor in my decision. As much as I think it’s improbable he has a raising hand, I mainly find it harder to believe he’d bluff me in this spot.
I think about this for about 30 seconds, as it’s one of the tougher limit decisions I’ve faced recently. I fold my hand face-up, which I don’t usually do, but I want to increase the chances of Anthony showing his cards. He does show me, and I know I definitely should have seen it coming.
He had the A-K of diamonds. He had turned a flush draw, giving him enough potential to put a well-placed raise in. Plus he knows I’m an aggressive player so it was an easy decision for him as he knows he could very easily be way ahead.
In hindsight, I should have seen this hand coming. It was the only hand that made sense with all the information I had. I didn’t really consider the possibility of the diamond on the turn changing the course of the hand, although it should have been an obvious consideration. It just didn’t enter my calculations at the time. I was so concerned about differentiating between a pure bluff and a big hand that I didn’t stop to consider that he could be semi-bluffing with a very good hand, and what hand that might be.
When you take all the information I had into account, his hand actually becomes super-transparent with his raise; more so than his call would ever make it. In other words, there’s plenty of hands he could have had to call me with, but very few he could raise me with there – and the way the hand went down (with his pretty reliable defensiveness on the flop) there’s really only a couple he could actually have; AK or AQ of diamonds.
It just goes to show the benefit of a lot of experience in situations like these. While his actual hand is one I would have considered in a theoretical, away-from-the-table thought process, it’s apparently not something that was easily available to me at the moment when I needed it.