Stratosphere last night. After a bad start, I had clawed my way back to a little on the plus side, sitting at about $220, when I found pocket kings on the button. Four people limped, then the guy on my immediate right raised to $15. He was absolutely the tightest player at the table, and this was the first time I had seen him be the pre-flop raiser, so naturally I had to be somewhat worried that he had pocket aces. On the other hand, this raise was larger than the table average (which was $8-$10), suggesting something more like jacks or queens.
Given his table image and the raise size, I thought that I would probably be his only opponent going to the flop, even without putting in a reraise. I would normally three-bet with kings, but I had not three-bet even once so far in this session (no premium hands), which meant that doing so now would essentially be playing with my cards face up. I decided to smooth-call instead, for dual purposes: It would disguise my strength and it would allow me to see if an ace flopped and re-assess Mr. Tight's demeanor before committing a lot of chips against a player for whom aces were a large part of his range. I think that reraising will win me about $20 most of the time, and lose me the amount of the raise when he has aces, though probably not my whole stack, because this is a player against whom I could fold kings if he four-bets it.
I was horrified to see the big blind call, followed by three of the limpers, meaning that six of us were seeing a flop with the pot already swollen to about $90. To use the technical term, this situation kind of sucked.
Flop was 9-6-2 rainbow, about as dry and unfrightening as they can come. I was not worried that Mr. Tight had hit a set, though I still had to be concerned that his pocket pair was one pip bigger than mine. Everybody checked to him, and he bet $35. I considered raising, but I was still in the dark about where I stood. I decided to be cautious and see if one of the players in earlier position was preparing a check-raise. I called.
Three of them folded, but I hated seeing who did not--it was the trappiest player at the table. As a general rule, the bigger the pot, the more you want to take it down immediately rather than trying to make it even larger and risk losing everything. I think that few players who had flopped a set in this situation would do anything other than either lead-out bet or check-raise. One of the few who would be daring enough to check-call here as a trap--from out of position, against two solid opponents--was this guy. Two pair was unlikely, as I didn't think any hand that could have flopped two pair would have put in $15 pre, and there were essentially no draws, so Mr. Trappy either had a set or one pair. If one pair, it was most likely top pair with A-9 suited, possibly pocket 8s or 7s or maybe even 10s.
Fourth street was a four and a second club. Mr. Trappy checked, which didn't tell me anything. Mr. Tight also checked. This didn't tell me much, either. Certainly with A-K he might have taken one shot at the pot on the flop and then shut down. But he could easily do the same with A-A or any other big pair. My table image was solid. I had never shown down a weak hand, and had hit two flopped sets and one flopped boat on my way back to even, all of which did get shown. Mr. Tight might therefore very reasonably fear that I was the one slow-playing a monster and check even aces.
I definitely needed to bet here, both for value and for information, but I didn't think it needed to be large. I settled on $50. Mr. Trappy pondered a long time, but finally mucked, which relieved most of my concern about this hand. Now it all came down to whether Mr. Tight had aces or one of his few other possible holdings. He thought a while and then called. Again, this didn't sort out the situation much for me, except to rule out A-K. I was either one rank behind or between one and three ranks ahead (or, as an outside possibility, tied, with him holding the other two kings). His range was now almost certainly down to one of the top five pocket pairs, and I was beating three of them.
River came an offsuit queen. I mentally winced a bit, because of the obvious possibility that Mr. Tight had just gone from loser to winner. He checked, with noticeably more hesitation than he had exhibited on the turn, which further fueled my anxiety. Now to me--check or bet? I decided that there were still twice as many hands with which he might well pay off a smallish value bet (namely, jacks and tens) as there were hand with which he would call and win (just aces), so I pushed out another stack of $50. He mucked within a few seconds. I still can't say with any confidence which pair he was throwing away. It easily could have been aces, though my best guess is jacks, with tens close behind in likelihood.
The net result? I profited about $195 with pocket kings, without improving, without showing my hand, against five opponents. I find that rather remarkable. It was, of course, extremely lucky, and the whole thing could have gone horribly wrong in about a million different ways. But none of the land mines exploded where they might have, and I lived to tell the tale.