Saturday, July 07, 2012

Selling it

Last night I was playing at Binion's, Seat 1. Very early in the session I saw Seat 4 make a couple of very thin calls on the river (one of which was right and one wrong), and mentally pegged him as a calling station. Value-bet him, sez I to myself, no bluffing him.

Maybe an hour later I had been card-dead for quite a while, so I decided to raise with 10-8 offsuit from the cutoff seat. Most of my winning hands had been raise in position pre-flop, c-bet post, take it down. When the table is willing to let me do that, it obviously doesn't matter much what cards I have, as long as I'm not doing it so often as to arouse suspicion. I hoped that this hand would be yet another small win following the same pattern. The only caller was Seat 4 in the big blind.

Flop was A-J-9 with two hearts. Mr. Station checked. I thought this was a nearly ideal situation. I could represent the ace with a bet and have a high probability of ending the hand. If he called, I had an open-ended straight draw which, if it hit, would be thoroughly disguised, because he would never guess that I had open-raised with 10-8, given my tight image. If he were on a flush draw I could keep betting at any non-heart and likely win that way. If a heart came and he checked it, I could represent having made the flush. Lots of possibilities here for how to win this hand.

So I bet $15 into the roughly $20 pot. I was quite surprised to have him respond with a raise to $45. I didn't recall having seen him do a check-raise before. Yet I didn't get a sense from him of great strength, like a set. It felt more like a guy with an ace saying, "I don't think you have one." Very few players at these stakes check-raise a bare flush draw; rather, they use the check-raise to guard against opponents' flush draws. (The ace was one of the hearts, so he couldn't have top pair and a flush draw.) I considered my options, and settled on a call, hoping to either hit my hidden straight or get a heart which I could pretend completed my flush.

Turn was an offsuit 3. Whiff. I probably would have given up if he had made another substantial bet. But instead he checked. The check-raise/check pattern made me much more confident that, whatever he had, it was not a hand with which he was eager to get all of his chips in, which was a crucial point of demarcation. I took the free card.

River was the 4 of hearts. Now the question was what he would do. If he bet, I would have to conclude that he had flopped a pair and a flush draw, and abandon ship. But if he checked, then it would be much more likely that he hated the third heart than that he loved it.

Sure enough, he checked again. I moved all-in for my last $137. He sat back to think, and was pointedly studying me.

My usual practice when I am putting an opponent to a big test is to say nothing, no matter what. I rest my chin on my hands, remember to breathe normally, feel relaxed, kind of aimlessly look around at the pot, the TVs, the other players, or whatever else may be going on--and I try to do this exactly the same whether I have the stone-cold nuts or "what the little boy shot at."*

Here, however, the situation was somewhat different than usual. This guy was clearly suspicious, both by general disposition and because of the specific situation. Sure, I had played the flop and turn in a way that was consistent with a flush draw. The hole in the story, though, was that most of the time the pre-flop raiser will not have the flush draw when two of a suit come on the flop. The reason for that is simple: There are a lot more raiseworthy hands that contain different suits than are of the same suit, and even those that are of the same suit will be of a different suit than hits the flop three out of four times. If he was experienced enough to understand this truth, he was going to be leaning towards a thin call even more than was already his natural inclination. This was a high-risk, high-pucker-factor situation I was putting myself in. I felt that a little more salesmanship than usual was called for.

Very early in his tanking, he said, "Well, obviously you're saying that you made the flush. The question is, did you?" He quickly followed this with a friendly, "You're not required to answer that." Ordinarily I would ignore this or just give a small smile. But I wanted to stretch the envelope of my normal posture and conduct just a little toward the "I'm comfortable and relaxed" side, without overdoing it so much that he would recognize Hollywooding in me. So, playing off of what he had just said, I turned to the dealer and jokingly asked, "Do you have a player's Miranda warning here? Like, 'You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you'?" The dealer and a couple of other players chuckled, which helped me to smile along with them and, I hoped, look like everything was right in my world.

This all went on for a long time--three or four minutes, anyway. He counted out the chips for a call, and looked at what he would have left if he lost. I watched him intermittently, but remembered not to freeze up in either my breathing or where I was looking, which is one of the more reliable signs of a bluffer. At one point he asked me the classic, "If I fold, will you show?" Again, I usually ignore such questions completely, but this time I fudged just a little on the looking-relaxed side by smiling nicely at him and giving him a "Gee, I just don't know what I'll do" shrug.

I really thought he was going to call. But finally he sighed, looked dejected, took one last look at his cards, gave them that resigned snap with the index finger (what IS that gesture about, anyway?), and passed them back to the dealer face down. Pot to me.

I did not show.

He said, "I don't think you had it." I just smiled. Seat 2 immediately opined to Seat 4, "I think he had you all the way." Seat 4 asked, "You think he could beat two pair?" Seat 2 said, "Oh yeah, he looked really strong to me. I think he was stringing you along." Seat 4 said, "Well then maybe I made a good fold."

Yes sir, you absolutely did. As John-Robert Bellande likes to say, "Excellent laydown!" Excellent for me, that is.

(From the post-mortem discussion, I'm thinking that maybe he had A-9 or J-9, and checked the turn out of worry that I had top two pair with A-J, but that's just a guess, obviously.)

*Wow. I haven't heard or used this phrase in years and years. I don't know why it just leapt to mind to deploy here. When my grandmother taught me how to play cribbage, if one ended up with a nothing hand, that's what she called it--"What the little boy shot at." For a nice little exposition on the history and meaning of this phrase, see here.


Josie said...

Very enjoyable read. I've seen you assume that stance with your chin in your hands and your Mona Lisa smile, Little Boy.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it - you peg him as a station and then you try to bluff him?

PokerLawyer said...

Nice hand! I love your thought process. Wish we could play some poker together soon.