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Hand Analysis: A Single-Raised Pot Gets Weird

Hand Analysis: A Single-Raised Pot Gets Weird

Unusual actions often signal unusual hands. Rare actions, once taken, sometimes mean those rare combination of hands are likely to turn up. This can occasionally muddle one's thinking.

Here's a hand of online poker in which an opponent's unusual actions taken on the flop and turn lead to a player making a river mistake.

An Unusual Journey to the River

We're again examining a six-handed cash game hand of 100NL ($0.50/$1) played online. Our action today starts in the cutoff with a regular sitting pretty on $400 making a raise to $2.50. An inexperienced player, taking an unusual dip in the 100NL waters, called on the button. Both blinds folded and the flop came {8-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}{3-Hearts}.

The initial cutoff raiser then checked on a board he probably should be continuation betting 100 percent of the time. That's our first unusual action to note. The button took a small stab for two bucks, the bet was called, and the turn was the {10-Clubs}.

Both players had weak, wide ranges and could potentially have a lot of different holdings at this point. The turn went check, bet $7, check-raise to $19.50, call.

That means the cutoff — who declined to bet the flop when he should probably always bet — decided to check-raise in a spot when he can almost never have a hand. That's another unusual action.

The button, meanwhile, has taken the strongest action so far, calling the raise, indicating he has something worth showing down.

The river was the {j-Hearts}, the flop flush draw missing. The completed board read {8-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}{3-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{j-Hearts}.

The big-stacked cutoff bet the size of the pot, $59 by this point after rake. The button was left with a decision with {8-Clubs}{8-Spades}, for eights full of threes. Or no decision, I should say.

The Threshold to Value-Raising

To call a pot-sized bet, we only need to be good one third of the time. To raise the river, we need to have better than 50 percent equity against the range that calls us. In a case such as this, that's the range that doesn't include bluffs, since only air will fold to a raise for $22 more and the pot so near its boiling point already.

There will be many spots in poker where we face a small bet with a relatively strong hand, but because we think the range of hands that is making the bet is so bluff-heavy, and of that range, those hands will continue (call or raise) should we raise is so strong, we cannot raise certain absolutely strong hands.

In such a case, we often find ourselves in a spot to bluff-raise weak hands or bluff-catch or both. But this is not one of those spots.

Monsters Are Not Always Under Your Bed

Or in your closet, or — in this case — in your opponent's hand. The button in this hand only called the river bet, leaving $22 behind in the effective stacks. This is a clear river mistake.

If the button is worried about hands like pocket jacks, that in fact means his opponent could also have queens, kings, and aces. He doesn't have to have those hands that often, since there are 18 combinations of all of them, compared to 3 combinations of pocket jacks and 3 combinations of pocket tens, for it to be correct for him to put in the extra money. There is also only one combination of quads. Also, the button beats {a-}{3-}.

Yes, the line the button has faced is confusing. But no, that doesn't mean his opponent's range is so polarized to air and better hands that the button can just flat-call here with eights full.

When we have quad threes and we put in the rest of the money, our expected value is +$22 when called. And since we won't always win with eights here, we can imagine equity-wise the button left at least $15 on the table (but more probably it is closer to $20).

Sure enough, the cutoff had lost his mind with {q-Hearts}{9-Hearts}. He floated the flop because the bet was small, presumably, and he had two overs and some backdoors. Why he didn't bet the flop is unclear. Then he turned a gutshot and with a bad overcard went for the check-raise. He then managed to drill the perfect river card to fill a straight, but was drawing near dead the entire time.

It is an unlikely sequence and the button turned up with an unlikely hand. But then again, he took an unusual line. If the cutoff had bet flop, turn, and river, then raised a river-raise, pocket jacks would not be unlikely, unusual, unsurprising, and so forth.

Lessons Abound

One general lesson here is that every time your opponent takes the path less traveled, that doesn't necessarily mean your opponent has the nuts.

More pertinent to this particular hand is that if the button is worried about quad threes, he can also stack his opponent's {a-}{3-}, and that is worth raising the river over.

Finally, there's one other takeaway here. Probably the button had made another mistake before the hand even begun — playing stakes too high for his comfort level.

  • Just because an opponent takes an unusual line, that isn't reason to fear an unusually strong hand.

  • An opponent's odd postflop line causes a player to make a river mistake in this hand of 100NL.

Name Surname
Gareth Chantler

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