$1-2 NLHE: immediate bet-timing affects player’s hand range

This is a hand from a $1-2 NLHE game. This hand is interesting because of the villain’s turn bet-timing, and how it affected the way I perceived his hand range.

Villain in this hand is a maybe 26-year-old guy who I’ve played maybe 16 hours with total in my memory, spread out over the course of a year. I’d played some $2-5 with him, too. My perception of him was that he liked to raise a lot pre-flop and see a lot of flops, but his play after the flop had seemed fairly standard. I didn’t remember him making many big turn or river bets without a strong hand. I thought he was fairly tricky early on in a hand but seemed pretty standard on the turn and river. Like a lot of decent low-stakes players.

On the day of this hand, I’d barely played with him at all recently and I had a very nitty image, due to a hand an hour before where I’d tanked a little bit with a strong full house (second nuts) on a min-raise river shove and expressed the belief my opponent had quads. I did call and was laughed at by the table (justifiably, actually); I just thought the way the hand went down that my opponent had quads and I was whining a little bit because quads were so likely but I couldn’t fold.

After such a nitty tank-call with the near-nuts, the villain said, “I’m gonna bluff you out of a pot today.” This is usually a bit of posturing, said by pretty straightforward players, to try to get more action on their value hands. I’ve said such things before to make it more likely I’d get paid on value-bets.

The third player in this hand was perceived as the tightest player at the table. That is also a factor in how I played this hand.

The villain and I in this hand both are quite deep, with about $700 each.

The villain raises UTG to $10. While he’d been making a good amount of pre-flop raises, this was the first one I remembered from that session when he raised UTG. Another player calls in middle position. The third player (tight player) called on the button. I have Ac Kc in the BB and just call.

The flop is Ah Kd 9h. I check, the villain quickly bets $40 into the $40 pot. The tight player on the button calls (he only has about $250 or so). I call. 

The turn is an 8c. I check fairly quickly. The villain immediately bets $80 into the $140 pot.

This is the interesting part. What hands would he immediately bet with here? In my opinion, there are only a few choices:

  • Top two: AK
  • Sets: 99, AA, or KK
  • Strong flush draws: KQhh, KJhh, KThh, (other Kxhh quite unlikely due to UTG raise), TJhh

He has immediately decided his hand is worth betting into two of the (perceived) tightest players on the table, with one opponent who has his deep stack covered. This polarizes his range to either very strong hands like sets or to strong draws. A major factor in this is because he perceives both me and the other opponent as tight; if he had a hand like AQ or even A9 (two pair), he might decide to bet the turn but I don’t believe it would be immediate, because he would have to estimate the chances and effects of him being raised by one of us.

The fact that he and I are both deep would be a major consideration for him, too. Considering that it’s very easy for me to have a strong hand here, if he had a made-but-vulnerable hand here (which I would say includes AQ and even A9 in this spot), he would be very likely to consider his bet a little more, knowing my raise would put him in a tough spot.   

Also, if he has a flush draw, it would have to be a strong one most likely involving a King. I think it’s super-unlikely he’d immediately bet a hand like 56hh (which is fairly unlikely anyway because he was the UTG raiser) or even TQh because he could easily be dominated by a heart draw and, again, he’s up against two perceived tight players so he’d want to consider a little bit even if he decided betting a weak draw. (I could see him betting TJhh though, this quick, because he’s also picked up an open-ended straight draw.)

Basically he’s only snap-betting hands he knows he is likely to be way ahead with (sets) or draws that he knows are strong enough to bet with (Kxhh) but that he’s happy taking down the pot with now.

If we consider those range of hands, as taken above, we have:

Value combos (AA, KK, 99, AK): 9 combos
Semi-bluff combos (KQhh, KJhh, KThh, TJhh): 4 combos

I would also argue that the possible draws on the board make it much more likely that he’d bet a set or top two quickly on this board. If the board was completely dry and non-drawing (like AJ72 rainbow), he’d be less likely to bet a set immediately; his hand is so dominating that he’d be more likely to wait a few seconds to bet because he has no incentive to communicate strength. In other words, his immediate bet on the current board of Ah Kd 9h 8c seems to communicate strength; because there are a lot of draws possible, his immediate bet will more often be actual strength, because his hand is actually vulnerable to many hands. Whereas if he had bet that immediately on a dry, rainbow board, I would actually be less likely to put a high set in his range.

(Slightly interesting: the third player calling the flop and folding makes it likely he had a hand like either AJ, AQ or a heart draw. One way or another he’s subtracting from some parts of the villain’s hand range but it’s not clear which hand ranges he’s subtracting from.)

After the villain bets $80 on the turn, the third player folds and I call.

The river is a 7s. The board is Ah Kd 9h 8c 7s. (Only thing this river changes is that TJhh got there with the nut straight.)

I check. He fairly quickly bets $170 into the $320 pot.

I fold. He shows KThh. I feel stupid. (The third player says he folded QJhh.)

My main mistake was underestimating this player’s ability. If I had just seen him play a few more hands recently, or known a little more about his style, I snap-call this. Also, if this hand was heads-up, I also snap-call it. As it was, I put this player on either very strong hands and draws with a K. I thought it was fairly unlikely (from what I knew of him) that he’d turn a pair of Kings into a bluff in that spot. A lot of average players will check behind in that spot, thinking there’s a good chance I’m calling a bet with AQ or Aces-up or that they beat my flush draws.

In hindsight, it seems kind of obvious that this guy would be more likely to want to bluff me off a bare ace due to his perception of my nitty play. Also, I will confess that I majorly screwed up and didn’t really properly assign him AK on the river. If I had been thinking more about how many combos of AK he had, I think I would have called. (It doesn’t actually affect the math if I think he doesn’t bluff with a king, because I still lose to 6 of his value combos and chop with 4. But I think in the moment, if I had been thinking more about AK, coupled with the possibility of him bluffing with a heart draw, I’m pretty sure I call.) Not properly counting the number of AK in his range is a pretty horrible mistake on my part, and is just due to me being horribly out-of-practice and hardly playing in the past year.

While I admittedly messed this hand up strategically, it did get me thinking more about how his immediate turn bet affected his hand range. I have an acquaintance who was at the table, who’s a smart semi-pro player, who told me he also thought the guy was value-betting the river, but that hands like A9, A8, K9 were still in his range on the river; I disagreed and said that his bet-timing on the turn subtracted a lot of those hands out of his range.

This hand also brings up the pattern some players have of tending to bet more quickly when bluffing or semi-bluffing. Now that I observed this player betting quickly with a semi-bluff draw and bluff, I’d want to observe him making a few more significant-bets and see if this pattern holds up. You will often find a pattern where a player will tend to bet immediately on the turn and river when semi-bluffing or bluffing, whereas when he has a strong hand he wants to think for a little bit, either out of a desire to maximize value or (consciously or unconsciously) to express some uncertainty about the bet. While I haven’t observed this player much, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a pattern he had.

One last point: all of this is likely to be meaningful assuming the player in question doesn’t always bet immediately in significant spots. There are some experienced players (Randy Lew is a good example) who bet very quickly even in significant spots just due to being so comfortable and experienced with every situation. For most players, this is not the case and immediate, significant bets will be rare and more likely to contain information.

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  1. Joelapioche says

    As usual, some good analysis here. Timing tells do reveal a lot, and the example you’re giving is telling: this is indeed a spot where vilain gives off a lot of infos with his timing.

    I would say though, that you might put too much emphasis on tells sometimes (understandingly, that’s what you enjoy to work on). For instance in this hand you correctly assessed that the immediate flop and turn bets indicates strengh (made hand or big draw). But you forgot your perceived range, your perceived image, and the way it will influence your opponent.

    1) Vilain will not put you on AK very often, so he’s way more likely to put you Ax. In a way your range looks capped to A9, so that should already be a strong reason not to fold, especially if we add to that the nitty image! Sure vilain doesn’t expect you to have a loose preflop range, but he surely does not expect you to hero call down either.

    2) Although vilain opens UTG, you shouldn’t be too hasty thinking he has a very tight range here. I mean he’s young, he’s deep, he’s probably up. You’ll see other hands than top 6% here ; at least without a sick read you have to take that into account.

    3) I really dislike calling turn and folding river in this exact spot. Several draws brick, your range contains very few nutted hands, vilain thinks you’re weak, and told you so (you kinda level yourself when you argue he’s saying he’ll bluff you only to get more value ; that might be true, and that doesn’t imply he’ll bluff crazily against you, but if the good spot arises, he’ll still think you’re weak and is therefore more likely to bluff).

    Also, he’s betting fairly small. If he had AK, KK and 99, I’d expect him to go way bigger for value (he told you he’d bluff you, so why not go for max value if he can?). This is suspicious for a big chunk of his value range to bet half pot IMO.

    All in all, I’d say: your read is good, you did pick up a useful tell, but don’t forget the other aspects of the game.
    Cheers, and keep up the good work.

    • says

      I agree with most of what you say. I agreed it was a badly played hand. I actually seldom use poker tells for big decisions though. There are a lot of small things early in a hand that I frequently use in low stakes but for big decisions (like river bets) it’s not often I get a read that really sways me away from what I was going to do anyway.

      I usually am only motivated to write about stuff when I make a bad decision, though. (Might be why I make myself look stupider than I am with this blog sometimes.) In this case I just thought his bet timing was interesting because it was obvious there was some info there and I was motivated to study the situation more and see how his bet timing affected his range. (No matter that what I did with that information sucked.)

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