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The Nuts That Weren't; or, I'd Rather Be Good Than Lucky

The Nuts That Weren't; or, I'd Rather Be Good Than Lucky
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  • A 100NL hand in which a lucky-seeming river card makes a player mistakenly feel entitled to the pot.

  • Hand review: Pay attention when a player who's been calling suddenly wakes up with a big river raise.

In poker, not every trick works and not every card entitles you to win the pot. Also, sometimes when your opponent wakes up from a deep sleep to shout "I have the nuts!" you should listen — a truth well illustrated by the following hand.

Narrowing Things Down

In a 100NL six-max game played online, a regular in the cutoff seat raised 3x to a standard $3, and the big blind defended. The flop fell {9-Clubs}{8-Diamonds}{4-Spades}, and the big blind bet out $3 into the raiser who called.

At this point both players could have many hands. We will need more information before putting them on clearer ranges.

The {7-Clubs} turn added a flush draw, and the action repeated with double the bet size — i.e., the big blind bet $6 and the cutoff called.

Because the in-position player called twice on a coordinated board, we can now largely rule out high-card hands like {A-}{K-}, {K-}{J-}, and {A-}{J-}. What the cutoff might have, however, is not so clear. If he's strong, he might feel another bet — say, for $12 — is likely to come on the river, and so is thinking raising isn't best just yet.

River Madness

The river was the {9-Hearts}, pairing the top card while making the final board {9-Clubs}{8-Diamonds}{4-Spades}{7-Clubs}{9-Hearts}. The big blind, a jovial recreational player (I humbly inform you), did not go with a bet of $12, but rather $25.

The in-position player, who seemed to be playing defense until now, responded by moving all in for $90 more, a total bet of $115.

The big blind now had a decision. He had led the flop with top pair, having {9-Spades}{5-Spades} in his hand, turned a gutshot, then rivered three of a kind, betting the whole way while assuming he was best. He had even chosen what he thought was a weak-looking but well-paying river-bet size. Did his opponent get frustrated and take the bait?

Here, arguably, the low straight — i.e. {6-}{5-} — is just a flat-call versus the big blind's "leading three times range." That would then make the {5-Spades} in the big blind's hand irrelevant as a blocker versus the value portion of the in-position player's shoving range. In other words, if the cutoff doesn't shove {6-}{5-}, there is no benefit from holding a five.

Having the {9-Spades} does help some things, of course, blocking top two pair that rivered the strongest full houses. But this speaks to the big blind's hand as an overqualified bluff catcher. The in-position player never shoves {9-}{2-} or worse for value, so {9-}{5-} is not a mandatory call unless the in-position player is bluffing sufficiently often.

Solving a Problem of One's Own Creation

The big blind also dug a bit of a hole for himself with his line and river bet size.

By betting the size of the pot on the river, the big blind has made his range look quite strong, and therefore quite hard to bluff. He wouldn't do this with {A-}{7-}, for instance. If he has a pure bluff, like some {5-}{3-} or {Q-}{10-}-type hand, the in-position player can just elect to call to scoop the pot with nearly any hand.

So not only does the lead look too strong to bluff, if the in-position player thought the big blind was bluffing a lot, he would have pressed a different button.

In many ways, then, the big blind solved his own problem by taking the line he did with those bet sizes. He must now fold the river because he applied maximum pressure on a scary board to a player who then moved all the chips across the line, anyway.

While he does have three of a kind, his hand is no match for the strength his opponent is representing. When the big blind nonetheless called, which he did, he should not have been too surprised to see his opponent turn over {4-Hearts}{4-Diamonds} (full house, fours full of nines). One wonders if the in-position player would even have had the guts to rip {J-}{10-} after seeing the third bet of $25.

Many players playing this hand, having hit that nine on the river to make trips, would feel they had gotten fortunate enough to win the pot. That is to say, they would perceive the river card as "lucky" and subsequently rate their entitlement to the pot in proportion.

That's a mistake this player probably won't learn from, but you should.

What do you think?

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