I was very happy with the comments on What’s Your Play? Underrepresented Top Pair. Some of you thought it was an “easy call”, some an easy fold, and a few even wanted to raise, though I don’t recall anyone considering that an obvious or easy choice. So what’s my take on it?
Folding a hand this strong, a hand that also includes a blocker to some part of Villain’s value range, would be hugely exploitable. I certainly didn’t check the turn intending to fold to a bet, but I did fold, and I think it was the right choice. Let’s talk first about why I deviated from my plan.
The Best Laid Plans…
Planning is hugely important in poker, but your plans should always be provisional. By definition, you make your plans with less information than you have when it comes time to execute, so it’s worth checking whether new information warrants a change in plans.
You have two major sources of information: new cards that are revealed, and the actions that your opponent takes. Both were factors in this hand.
When I called pre-flop, it was too early for much of a plan. I knew that I had the button and was getting pretty good odds with a reasonably playable hand, and I was just going to have to figure the rest out from there. Sometimes I’d make the best hand and would be able to use my position to figure that out and get value from it. Other times I’d be behind and would be able to use my position to figure that out, keep the pot small, run a bluff, or just make a smart fold.
The flop gave me a lot of new information. It told me that I had a good chance of making a flush or a strong pair by the river, but that more often than not I’d end up with relatively little showdown value. That’s the first half of a formula for a good bluffing spot.
The second half is some indication that my opponents would fold to a show of strength. Villain’s small flop bet didn’t tell me a lot. Even if he was just betting his whole range, I was probably behind, though that would include a lot of Ace-high and weak pair hands that could be bluffed later. If anything, the small size could indicate either genuine discomfort with his hand or feigned discomfort, which of course would mean a very strong hand.
I called with a plan of bluffing if my opponent showed further weakness. Bluff raising the flop would also be an option, but when you have reason to believe that more information on the turn will enable you to make a better decision about whether to bluff, that’s a good time to float. For more on this idea, see Float On.
The turn brought two significant new pieces of information. My opponent’s check was a show of weakness. It could, again, be feigned weakness, but two shows of weakness are better than one. Had I not just made a pair, I would have bluffed at the turn.
Seeing a King, however was an even bigger piece of information. Now I knew that I would have at least Kings Up on the river, a hand that could beat anything my opponent would fold to a turn bet. So my plan to bluff into a show of weakness went out the window. My new plan was to value bet the river or pick off a bluff.
The river card was about as blank as they come, though even there there is information. I now knew that I would win at showdown against AQ or AJ, two very plausible hands for my opponent. I also knew that I would lose to trips, a somewhat less plausible holding.
My opponent’s bet was surprisingly large, particularly in the context of his small flop bet and his turn check. Anytime you describe an opponent’s action as “surprising”, it’s time to review your plan. By definition, a surprise is something you had not planned on.
What information can we glean from it? Gareth asks, “What hand bets small on the flop, turns down a bluffing opportunity, and bets huge on the river? Can you say polarized?” Very sophisticated players might do this with a hand like Queens, and against such a player I’d consider this an easy call, but that is not the player I was up against. From a straightforward $2/$5 regular, a sudden, big bet is polarizing.
As Nyy214 puts it, “I think most players will bet 60-75 on the river in this spot and thats an easy call. I like the turn check also but I think we need to consider why he makes it this sizing on the river. Screams like a made hand trying desperately to get value. ” To those saying that we have to call river because that was the plan when we checked the turn, ask yourselves this: would you call a shove for $500? For $10,000?
Finally, note here that most of this is information I accumulated without putting money into the pot. Many people assume that betting or raising is the only way to get information, but in fact it’s a lot cheaper and nearly as valuable to see how an opponent responds to a check or a call.
Why Not a Bluff?
I have a couple of thoughts about the relationship between straight-forward regulars and bluffing. The first is that they don’t do it often, which is what makes them straight-forward.
The second is that when they bluff, they prefer to do it cheaply. Often, when I’m trying to put my opponent on a bluff, I’ll ask myself, “If he wanted to bluff at this pot, could he have done it more cheaply and easily than this?”
It’s also worth noting that Villain had the opportunity to bluff a scare card on the turn, and he didn’t take it.
Then there’s the question that TaddisVonBaddis asks: “I am curious about the bet sizing: since it looks like we have nothing (busted fd/T8/random air) why is he trying to get us to fold?” Being underrepresented is mostly about being able to beat hands your opponent would try to bet for value. When you’re facing a big bluff, you should actually be more inclined to fold when your hand is underrepresented. This is because if it seems like your range is very weak, Villain is less likely to bluff with hands that have showdown value (here possibly including small pairs and AJ/AQ) and also less likely to choose a large size for his bluffs, since he isn’t trying to get you to fold a very strong hand.
I like the way Eldodo42 puts this as well, though I disagree with his conclusion:
“Villain’s river sizing is odd, after all: he’s played flop and turn weakly, and our play was similarly weak, so if he’s trying to get a crying call, he should be betting less, and similarly he should be bluffing smaller as well (around half pot should do). I think theory also dictates he should be betting smallish here. All of this should skew us towards being tighter than usual: if villain is making a sizing mistake, then we exploit him by taking his large bet when we do have a hand, and folding more than usual because he’s laying us worse odds. But our hand seems too strong to fold and probably does fit as a better-than-average bluffcatcher, so a call makes sense.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is an extremely exploitable fold precisely because K8 is a good bluff-catcher. It’s strong enough in an absolute sense to beat players who will bluff with Ace-high or small pairs and value bet bigger pairs, and the K provides a blocker to some of Villain’s value range. Against an opponent about whom I knew and could guess very little, or against a tough player, I’d certainly pay off here.
But I have reads, and in this case they’re reads in which I have a lot of confidence. Exploiting those reads requires being exploitable. It’s a wager: if your reads are right, you win more money than you would with balanced play. If your reads are wrong, then you lose more.
The level of confidence you have in your reads should dictate the extent to which you deviate from balanced play. Here, it certainly wasn’t an easy decision, because I was well aware that this was very near the top of my range. I had a lot of confidence that Villain wasn’t bluffing or value betting worse, so I folded. If you find yourself in a similar situation but are not so confident, you should call.
If you’re really lost about what to do, follow mwalsh’s advice: “the situation leading up to the river was fun/interesting and it’s easy to get attached to the dynamic value of our hand that, given the river card and bet, is no longer relevant. It is more difficult to shake this emotional attachment than you consciously realize, so if you are in a spot like this and the decision seems close, err on the side of folding these (to correct for the bias).”
What you shouldn’t do is raise. A comment from Which demonstrates a common flaw in thinking about raising for value:
“I am thinking that you beat all bluffs, who will fold to your raise.
You are Losing to most Kings that are raising pre flop, but most Kings are not checking the Turn.
You are losing to all 9′s but rare for a 9 to even raise Pre, let alone check Turn, so almost zero 9′s in his hand.
You are seen as overly Aggro, and perhaps he looks you up lighter than usual?
You could have 9′s in your hand so you will not be 3bet without a very strong hand, most of whom do not play it this way (capping their own hand range)
so, little downside, slightly bigger upside, I RAISE !!”
Which walks through reasons why Hero will be ahead of Villain’s betting range, then concludes that Hero ought to raise. What’s missing is an analysis of Villain’s calling range. To be fair, he does predict that Hero will get looked up “lighter than usual”, but what is usual? What are the hands worse than K8 that Villain is betting for value in the first place?
If you’re calling here, it’s because of the odds you’re getting and because you think you can catch enough bluffs to come out ahead, not because you think you’re ahead of Villain’s value range.
I folded. Villain showed 77 for a flopped full house.