This is another in my occasional series of presenting you with a difficult decision I had to make during a poker session. You can figure out what you would do before I tell you the end of the story. (However, in this case, if you follow me on Twitter, I kinda already blew it there, before I decided to present it this way.) In case you haven't read any of these puzzles before, sometimes the answer is that I got it right, sometimes that I got it wrong, sometimes that I'm left wondering because I folded and didn't get my curiosity satisfied.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
I was playing at the Mirage, waiting for the allvegaspoker.com tournament to start. I was in my favorite seat, #1. I had been playing tight and straightforward, so decided it was time to throw a curveball. One off the button, I raised to $12 with 7-8 offsuit. The button called immediately, as did the guy in seat 10, who had just limped.
The flop was Q-10-6, two suits, giving me a gutshot straight draw. We all checked.
The turn was a 5, improving me to an open-ended straight draw, but now also putting two flush draws up. Seat 10 bet $15. I called, as did the button.
The river was an offsuit 9, completing my straight. Seat 10 checked. I bet $35 into a $76 pot--small enough that I hoped to pick up two calls. To my surprise, the button quickly announced all-in for an additional $136. Seat 10 folded. I had at least $250 left in front of me.
Call or fold?
My hand was the third nuts. The problem was that the two hands that beat me (K-J for the nut straight and J-8 for the second nut straight) were quite plausible for him to be holding. J-8 was less likely, because he would have been calling on the turn with just a gutshot, but still plausible if he had one of the flush draws to go along with it. K-J for the nut straight was the real problem, because it's a hand with which a large percentage of players in such a game will call a raise in position, especially if the cards are of the same suit. He would have flopped an OESD, taken a free card when offered it, been happy to pay a bit on the turn for a pull at the nuts (especially, again, if he had one of the two flush draws to boot), then hit his gin card on the river. It was entirely plausible from start to finish.
But a few things gave me pause. First, he was clearly frustrated. Things hadn't been going his way. In fact, I had picked off a river bluff from him a short time before. The only hands that I could put him on in that case had been draws that failed to materialize, so after thinking a while I had called him very light, with just third pair. Turns out I had nailed it--a busted draw. He seethed out a grudging "Good call" for that, but I sensed that being forced to show the bluff had embarrassed him and he was looking to put me in my place.
Second, there was a potential hole in the story he was telling. Why wouldn't he have bet the flop with his OESD in position when I checked if he had K-J? I sure would have bet in that spot, though I realize that not all players play the same way. If he had the flush draw to go with it, all the more reason to bet in order to either take the pot right then or make it bigger; if he didn't flop the flush draw with it, he would not want to give either opponent with a flush draw a free card to get there. If he had J-8, I think he would not have called pre-flop unless it was suited. Again, hitting a flush draw plus gutshot is plenty of reason to bet there, and even just the gutshot should be tempting when the original raiser gives him a green light.
Third, his all-in move was instantaneous. If I'm holding the stone-cold nuts in that situation, I have to take a little time to figure out what both opponents have and gauge how much they'll be willing to part with. He might still settle on a shove, but I think he would have to take some time to decide that that was his most profitable option.
Were there possibilities other than a higher straight? Sure--he could have yet another busted flush draw. He had learned that a smallish river bet earned a suspicious call from me, so maybe he decided to do this one in grand style when he missed, with the plan to rub my nose in it when I folded. Alternatively, maybe he had flopped or turned a set, had slow-played himself into deep doo-doo, and seemed so confident because he didn't suspect he was in trouble. After all, he's not going to put me on 7-8 after my pre-flop raise. (Exactly the reason, of course, to occasionally raise with that kind of hand--when it hits, it's well outside the range that opponents suspect of me, so they tend to disbelieve that that's what I have.) But he certainly should be wondering whether I was the one with K-J who had just made the nuts. I tended to discount the range of sets and two-pair hands precisely because of that; if he had any brains, he would have hated seeing the river 9, fearing that he had just experienced a horrible suckout. In theory, that should make him cautious enough to just call rather than shove. Conversely, though, he might be frustrated enough that he was blinded to having been outdrawn, and decided to forge ahead with a flopped set in spite of the obvious danger.
After considering all of the above, K-J seemed not just plausible but his most likely holding, despite my niggling wonder about why he had been so passive with it. Maybe he's just not one who likes to bet draws, out of fear of a check-raise, and was especially gun-shy after having had a series of hands go bad on him. Still, there was enough doubt about a set, two pair, or a busted flush draw that I had to really take some time to decide what to do.
So what is your move if you were me?
As usual, I'll go write part 2 of this now, and set it to publish in about 24 hours.