It's time once again to play "You decide." Once in a while I'm faced with a difficult decision for a lot of chips, and I try to present the situation to my loyal readers and ask how they'd handle it. These are the decisions on which my poker success largely rides. I'd like to think I get them right more often that my average opponent does, but who knows? I have certainly posted my share of examples of blowing the big ones in spectacular fashion.
I was at Mandalay Bay this afternoon. I had been playing for maybe 45 minutes, and had increased my $300 buy-in to $392. I found 3c-3s in second position and called a raise to $10 from the under-the-gun player. Player in the small blind reraised to $30. As in most $1-2 NLHE games in town, light three-bets are not common, so this definitely got my attention. UTG folded, and it was back to me.
I'll tell you what little I can about my opponent. First of all, he's a toothpick chewer, which sets a two-digit upper limit on his IQ. He's obviously a tourist, paying more attention to the football games than the poker game. He has commented about how he's losing every sports bet he made. (I try to pay attention to such small self-revelations, because they can influence one's judgment of an opponent's mental/emotional state.) Perhaps most importantly, I've seen him overplay top-pair hands. He is no maniac or bully, but neither is he a calling station. My impression was that he basically plays his own hand pretty straightforwardly, and has little feel for where he is with respect to an opponent's holdings. He's not at all afraid of putting chips in the middle. He isn't exactly reckless, but he also doesn't really have the degree of caution that one should with medium-strength hands. He's also very friendly, doesn't get upset when he loses, doesn't gloat when he wins. It seems that he's one to whom the money really doesn't matter a lot--or perhaps he's deeply stuck between poker and the sports book (he was at the table before me, so I didn't know his history) and past the threshold of pain, beyond which further losses don't hurt much anymore. His stack had gone up and down some, but I had not seen him rebuy. I couldn't remember whether I had seen him put in any pre-flop 3-bets before. (My bad there.)
He had me covered by $50 or so, which meant that I felt I could justify set-mining in hope of a double-up. Still, $30 is a lot to pay to see a flop, when the great majority of the time I'll have to give it up thereafter. His most likely hands at this point were, obviously, any of the big pairs. A minority of players at this level will play medium pairs this way; they want to claim the pot now and not have to agonize about the inevitable overcards on the flop. Some--especially those who play more tournaments than cash games--will play A-K like this, even out of position. (I think that's a big mistake, but what do I know?)
I decided to call, but even as I did, I was wondering what sort of flop I'd like to see. I wanted a 3, of course, but what else? With any A, K, Q, or J I would have a serious worry about being trapped in a set-over-set scenario. Obviously, this can happen even after a single raise, but usually the reraise--especially from out of position--sufficiently narrows a player's range that high cards on the flop are scarier in terms of representing a big set. In other words, when I call one raise, I'm delighted to see something like A-K-3, because it is much more likely that the raiser made a big pair that he's happy with--or even two pair--than that he made a set. After a pre-flop reraise, though, I'm going to be much more leery that one of those big ones was his gin card.*
So there I was, $30 into the pot and unsure of what to do even if I were to see on the flop one of the two cards that I was praying for.
I did: Ah-3h-Jc. Good news and bad news: Loved my set, hated the fear that he had a bigger monster than mine, and I was about to get gobbled up, like T-Rex mangling the velociraptors at the end of "Jurassic Park."
He bet $60 and went back to watching the football game. Seemed pretty comfortable, but I couldn't claim to have any sort of solid feel for how strong he was. I thought about raising. A shove would be too much, but maybe a 2.5 or 3x raise. If he had, say, K-K or Q-Q, that might well end the matter. If he just called, though, I still have a dilemma: is he trapping me, or does he have A-K and I have prematurely put him on alert, thus limiting my potential win? And what if he were to come back over the top with an all-in? Could I really be sufficiently persuaded by that that I'm deep in doo-doo and must fold? My head was swimming.
I took the coward's way out and just called. I suppose I could claim that it was in the interest of pot control, but after I had embarked on the pre-flop call with the justification of stacking him, the idea of "pot control" seems pretty silly. I might also be tempted to claim that I was floating him, with the intention of seeing what he did on the turn before committing myself. There's something to that, but the real truth is that I was feeling just like the weak calling station I recently described this way:
[He]is caught between fear and hope. Fear makes him reject the raise, and hope makes him reject the fold. Calling is what's left.I'm not proud of myself for being indecisive, but that's how it is sometimes (though hopefully not too often). I called.
The turn was the 6s. My opponent bet again, a $100 stack this time, with little hesitation and no evidence of fear in his face or hands. Was this justifiable confidence in the strength of his cards? Foolish overconfidence? Bluffing bravado? Complete nonchalance and detachment from the outcome? I couldn't tell.
Once again, without being able to provide you a satisfactory justification for why, I neither folded nor pulled the trigger on a shove; I called, leaving myself $202 behind and, to be honest, having no idea what I would do with any river card except for the case 3.
The river was the 2h. I was not very worried about him having been on a flush draw, nor about him having a straight with the extremely unlikely 4-5. The deuce, like the 6 before it, appeared to have basically changed nothing. I was still either way ahead or way behind, with no way to be sure.
My opponent thought a few seconds, then checked. How should I interpret this? Maybe he had missed the flop and turn with K-K or Q-Q and was now giving up, convinced that I had an ace. But conversely, it might just mean that he did, in fact, have a bigger set with A-A or J-J, and was worried that I had rivered him with a flush (or, less likely, a straight), in which case my goose was still cooked.
So, dear readers, here's your big moment of decision. I'll give you three options.
(A) Check behind, cross your fingers, and hope that you're good. (B) Make, say, a $100 bet, in the hope of folding to save yourself one stack if he check-raises all in. After all, if he has something like A-K, he might well call another $100, but be scared off by a shove. (C) Make the hero shove. He might call with A-K, thinking that you're representing the flush when you really have K-K or Q-Q. It's possible, though less likely, that he has A-J and won't be able to get away from top two pair. Heck, maybe he is disciplined enough, or sufficient afraid of the flush, that he'd even fold J-J or A-A.
Think about it. Use the comments to submit your decision, if you like. I'll wait 24 hours, then post what I did and what happened.
*I spent some time playing with Grange95 this weekend--about which I expect to write more soon--and we were talking about the phenomenon of getting the worst possible card, the one that cinches the hand for your opponent, but makes you love your second-best hand enough to lose everything on it. E.g., the card that makes your nut flush and his straight flush. I suggested that this be called the gin card--not for the usual reason you hear that term, but because it makes you turn to a bottle of gin for solace.