Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You can't be a winning player if you don't ever fold winning hands

One of the truisms in No Limit poker is that you don't have to have the best cards to win - you play the players, not necessarily the cards.

The scene: I have $600 in chips and am sitting under the gun in the 10 seat at the little no limit table. My friend and the best little no-limit player there is in this casino, T (but not previously mentioned T) is sitting in the 9 seat which is the big blind - to my right. A semi-fish, B, is sitting to T's right in the small blind, and some guy who's a little annoyed with me for sucking out (staying in to the river and catching my draw) on him is on the button in the 7 seat.

Before I start this story, I need to clarify something: Normally, you want to have the good players to your right (which is called having "position" on them), as you get to see what they do before you act. Oddly, this is absolutely the worst position I can be in with T. I hate being to his left - I prefer being to his immediate right, where I have to act right before him. The reason for this is he knows how I play, and if I'm already in a pot (having bet my hand), it's harder for him to get me to fold a hand (otherwise called 'pushing me off a pot). If he bets into (before) me, I have a much harder time calling, and he can get me off (get me to fold) a hand I might otherwise have bet out on my own. So for this story, I'm in the worst position at the table.

Back to the story: I look at my hand and see a pair of aces (pocket rockets, in poker lingo). This is a great hand, but I really only want one person in against me, so I raise to make it $35 total to go. Everyone folds until the button, and the button calls the $35 raise. This is good for me, because this guy is in just to try and get my money, and I've got a good hand that can take his, I'm sure. But then B calls, and THEN T goes ahead and puts his $30 in to call. I'm not exactly pleased at this point, as I cannot put T on a hand - he's calling because he has odds and if he hits his hand (which doesn't have to be a good hand, as he's an aggressive player), he's going to get paid off.

The flop comes down J Q Q. Yuk. This is not a good flop, because I have three people in, two with likely premium hands that could easily have a Queen with them.

B bets out $35. What this tells says is "I don't have the Queen!". Someone who has the queen should, rightly, check this hand, and expect me to bet (as the pre-flop raiser), and then Check-Raise me when the betting gets back to him. So, I put him on a straight draw or a jack. I'm not worried.

T then smooth calls the bet. This scares the bejeezus out of me, because T is a good player. A smooth call is telling me that he has a better hand than B, and most likely actually has the Q. It would have been much easier for me if T raised the pot, because that, too, is a clear sign that T does not have the queen, and I could easily come over the top of him, raising big, and knowing that my aces are the best hand at that point. But no, he does just what I would expect him to do if he had the queen - he just calls.

Crap. Crappity crap. I probably said something to that effect. Actually, I'm pretty sure I looked over at T and said, "Have I told you how much I hate you today? I HATE sitting on this side of you!" It's not a poker game with T if I don't tell him I hate him (in a good nature) once during the session.

After about 30 seconds of debating, I fold my hand. Yes, I fold the pocket aces, because I can't think they're good - I'd have to pay $35 to hope an ace came on the turn, because if it doesn't, I know that T is going to make it a couple hundred dollars on the turn to see the last card.

The turn is another Q: (J Q Q) Q.

CRAP! That third queen coming down means the likelihood of T having the 4th Q is about 1:38, or 2.6%. My aces were probably good!! T manages to get more money into the pot from B.

The river comes down a 6: (J Q Q Q) 6

Some betting goes on, T gets more money into the pot from B, and then shows his Jc 8h. DAMMIT!! B shows his King-Ten of diamonds (he was on the straight draw), and I would have won that pot.

Did I do the right thing by laying my hand down? Possibly. I know T would have made it a lot to go on the turn card, and if the third queen didn't come down, I'd have a very hard time doing anything. However, after playing a bit with M, and getting some tips from him, I think I would have played it differently.

Edit: I need to add that after this hand, and after I almost beat the crap out of T for totally playing me, he admitted that he smooth-called on purpose. He knew my play, and he knew if he just smooth called, I would have to put him on a Q. He also knew if he raised, like he generally does, I'm popping him and coming all over the top of him. It was really a very very good move on T's part.

On the flop, when T smooth-called, I, too should have immediately smooth-called. Since I raised a big amount preflop, T has me on 4 hands: JJ, QQ, KK, or AA. If I smooth-call the flop, I represent (to him) an already made hand - maybe I have the Jacks for a full house already, or maybe I have pocket queens, giving me quads. My smooth calling should then scare the crap out of him!

NB: I know, T wouldn't put me on JJ because he has a J, and when we see the turn, he can't put me on QQ because that would put 5 queens in the deck, but the point is still valid.

When the turn comes down, I know my hand is good, and I bet it like I have the best full house - I can't put T on the Q, and I should expect to win the pot, especially if T puts me on pocket Jacks - he would expect to split the pot with me, unbeknownst to him.

That said, given the information I did have, I don't think I made the wrong play folding the aces in that situation. The wrong play I made was to sit to T's LEFT. Rrr.

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