Thanks for all the comments on What’s Your Play? Ran Out a Straight. I don’t have anything else to say up front, so let’s get down to it.
Hero’s Range is More Capped Than Villain’s
A lot of commenters started by zeroing in on the likelihood of running into AJ, the only hand that beats Hero’s. Here’s a good example, from loosemmjan: “I believe Hero has the nuts at this point in the hand. My reasoning is: I think Villain continues to barrel on the turn with AJ when picking up the open ended draw. Secondly hero has a J. The likely hood of villain having AJ is reduced. Third all players want to get paid when they make the nuts; villain would have led the river with the AJ. He knows your good and wouldn’t take a chance that you would check behind.”
The important question isn’t exactly “How likely is Villain to have AJ”? but rather “Which player is more likely to have AJ”? On a board like this, where all it takes is one of four cards to make the second nuts, there’s a huge dropoff in value between the second and third nuts, and between the first and second nuts.
Although loosemmjan and others make some good arguments for why Villain might play AJ differently, most of those arguments apply even better to Hero. Villain is surely raising AJ every time pre-flop, whereas Hero might well three-bet instead of call. It’s not the best board to continuation bet AJ into two players, but calling with AJ is even more questionable. Villain might well be inclined to bluff an open-ended straight draw and no pair, but wouldn’t Hero as well?
As for the river bet, I don’t agree that it’s at all mandatory with the nuts. Although a modest bet might get called by some hands that will check behind river, checking gives Hero a chance to bluff (unlikely, as I’ll argue below) and also bet-call a bare Jack. Given that Jacks will be such a big part of Hero’s river calling range, it’s not unreasonable to think that Villain would try to get maximum value from them with a check-raise.
When you’re up against an aggressive opponent, it’s hard to value bet when your range is capped and his is not, precisely because he can shove on you with a polarized range and put you in an impossible spot. He doesn’t need a lot of combos of the nuts to put you in a bad spot; it just means he won’t be able to have a wide bluffing range either. So it may not come up often, but it sucks when it comes up. People who are eager to get shoved on are way off base IMO.
Against an over-aggressive opponent, bet-calling can be a profitable if high-variance adventure, but there’s a big exception here. In this case, Villain also has a lot of Jx in his range, probably even more than Hero does, which means he can also shove to get us off of a chop. As Preston very succintly puts it, “[A] bet-call line on the river basically allows villain to freeroll for our whole stack.”
“Capable of anything” doesn’t have to mean “bluffs a lot”. Creative value lines and river semi-bluffs need to be considered as well.
The Case for Hero Checking
Mobius Dumpling correctly guessed at my motivation for posting this hand: “I feel you’re playing into the ‘hero checking’ discussion in the last episode” (referring to Nate’s and my recent Mike McDonald interview). I am, and although I ultimately disagree with Mobius, I think he argues very well for his position so I’m going to quote him a few more times. Nonetheless, I encourage you to read his full comment, which is one of the first in the comments section below.
“Hero checking makes sense when you’re ahead almost always, but can’t get called by much (presumably because your range is way too strong). In this spot, however, your range is pretty weak and you can get called by a lot. Our range looks full of middle-value hands: a few one-pair hands or air (98, 87, random floats), a lot of two-pair hands (KQ, KT, K9, QT), and some Jx hands (KJ, JT). Notice that we don’t have many QJ because we’d often raise those OTF, and notice that AJ is basically not in our range at all, so our range is capped at the 2nd nuts.”
That’s a spot-on definition, and the point on which we differ is the one about Hero’s range. The range the Mobius gives here actually looks to me like a pretty strong one, heavy on showdown value. This is as it should be given that Hero called a relatively large flop bet with a player still to act behind him and then passed up a bluffing opportunity on the turn. Even if the range he gives were accurate, I’m not sure it would argue for a river bet. I also think he overstates the likelihood of 87 (may bluff the turn) and random floats (there are enough straight draws, pairs, and overcard/gutshot combos in my range that I don’t see myself calling with weaker hands on the flop, especially as I’m not closing the action).
The turn and river do a lot to improve the bottom of Hero’s flop calling range, and some of the weakest hands that call the flop will bluff the turn, so Hero has a lot of showdown value in his range on the river. The ease with which Hero could have a straight forces Villain to check a lot of strong hands, including strong two-pairs and sets (admittedly, many of these probably bet the turn, but others are improved by the river and have to check), which makes it difficult for Hero to bet even top two pair for value. It’s hard to make thin value bets against good hand readers when you don’t have a lot of air to represent.
Thus, Hero’s river betting range will be perceived as, and probably should be, straights or air. The high ratio of the former to the latter argues for betting small if you’re going to bet at all.
Mobius does make one theoretical point that I think is not quite right: “[W]e’re literally at the top of our range, so we should call if villain chooses to shove.” Technically, this is only an argument for calling sometimes with a bare Jack. Especially if Hero’s betting range consists only of straights and bluffs, then calling with 100% of his straights would be exploitable, and it’s actually quite possible that this is what Villain anticipates when he checks the river. He may still shove bare Jacks since AJ is so unlikely for Hero, but he has enough of those that he may not even need more of a bluffing range, considering how few combos of AJ he has to shove for value. If Hero calls the river, he can expect to chop more often than win it outright, I think.
Though it’s stated as a hypothetical, I actually think Mobius nails it in his conclusion: “[I]f we opt to bet/fold here then we should have had no betting range at all.”
Given the strength of Hero’s range, he’s unlikely to thin value bet, which means Villain is unlikely to check-call without a Jack. Given that his range is less capped than Heros, Villain may check-raise with both AJ and bare Jx. This makes betting a lose-lose proposition for Hero.
Unfortunately, I didn’t consider all of this before betting $200 on the river. Like many commenters, I zeroed in on the likelihood that I had the best hand and did not put a lot of thought into what I’d actually get called by. I realized my error when Villain shoved. At this point I think the decision is pretty close between calling or folding. I opted to call and lost to AJ. My regret centers not so much on the decision to call as on the decision to bet.