Smart Play In NLHE
I've been working the short-handed quarter/half no limit tables again, and recently with encouraging success, making a respectable hourly rate. Part of this success, I'm certain, can be attributed to putting a lot of skills together well. As a player, at one time or another I have most of the "pieces" and skills needed to win... such as hand-reading, odds, starting selection, table texture and adjustments, and so forth. But to win, and consistently, these things all have to work together simultaneously, or at least most of them. Not a revolutionary idea, but difficult to apply.
So here are two hands that hopefully show what I mean that I'd like to go through and actually post some real poker content:
I'm on the button, 6-handed, with A6o [Ac 6s]
The SB is a rabbit, who can be counted on to fold without a strongly-flopped hand, and let you know if she has it. The BB seems to be a tight/solid player who plays with some measure of craftiness.
Now, A6o is good enough to play here short-handed on the Button. My gut is that I should probably raise here, but my hand isn't very strong, and I know I can easily outplay one of my opponents, and I'll have position. I elect to call and we go three to the flop:
8s 2h Th
Checked to me. I usually adore firing at a pot like this, but there's some compelling reasons not to. I still have a weak hand, and no strong outs (save maybe the 3 other Aces), and although that suggests trying a bluff (it may be my only way to win), there's just a tiny pot out there, and there's not much chance of me forcing out a better hand or a draw. This is a mistake that's easy to make: you take a stab at a pot you may well be winning, get a caller or callers, and now you're playing a bigger pot with a (still) weak hand. I still have position, it's a small pot, and I may have the best hand: I check.
Checked to me again. Now the flush became possible, not to mention somebody likely has a flush draw, and that's not me. Though I've been checked to twice (usually a good spot to fire at), again, there's no pot (thanks to my earlier refusal to stab), and no compelling reason to bet. Managing pot size like this, even when certain situational factors are telling you to do otherwise, is one of the keys to playing effective NLHE.
I'm sure some may feel this is elementary, and others will criticize my completely passive play here, but keeping pots small is perhaps one of the most overlooked elements of what people term under the larger heading "discipline"... if only because it's far easier for discipline to collapse in larger pots. I've seen others (and myself) play good solid poker for hours, and then a pot plays out (characterized by early round pot-building) where either because of straight pot odds, implied odds, or just plain poor play, your stack is deleted. Never underestimate the possible negative effect of what seems like, at-worst, a small error early.
SB checks and BB bets the pot. Now here is where being able to judge an opponent's skill level is paramount. I've made a pair of Aces on the river, usually good enough to win this small and previously uncontested pot, but I have to consider my opponent. He's been crafty and solid so far, and I question why he would make a pot bet here. It's entirely possible he's sensing weakness via all the checking going on and just trying to take it down. He may also assume that I wouldn't just limp an Ace on the button.
But I sense there's more here... if he had a hand that might justify a bet on the river, that I could beat, it would have to be one pair, or some sort of really weak Ace... neither very likely for him to pot bet. Based on the player, there's a good chance he made a flush, straight, or possibly two pair.
I'm getting 2:1 if I call, so I'd only have to pick off a bluff 1/3 of the time here to break even, but again, knowing the player reasonably well, I fold.
The last important point of this hand is applying relative values... all this discussion about a $3 pot? This is a concept that amazes me that people who should (and DO) know better fail to apply. Making a good decision in poker has nothing to do with the absolute amounts of money involved, only the relative amounts. 2:1 is 2:1 whether it's $1000:$500 or $3/$1.50.
Here's a classic situation that you'll see over and over...
I'm in middle position this time with AJs [Ah Jh]. Still .25/.50. I open for a raise to $2. The SB and the BB call. The SB has been loose with his calls, especially pre-flop, but otherwise avoids trouble. The BB has been generally solid, but predictable and "by the book".
3s Ks Kc
The SB checks. The BB bet's $5 into the $6 pot.
Let's examine this briefly. The SB is known to call loosely pre-flop, so it is conceivable that he holds a K or a flush draw (the only two hands I really fear), but his check makes either of these a little less likely, and of course, it's most likely he has nothing. The BB was getting 3:1 to call preflop, so his call doesn't necessarily signify anything powerful. Furthermore, one of the possible holdings that I could fear, AK, he has shown a tendency to re-raise with pre-flop. Also, the BB's tendency to be predictable and "standard" (whatever that means) has been strong, and would not likely lead to such a strong bet if he in fact held a King. I would actually expect a check from this player.
The paired flop like this is a classic situation for a re-raise steal, especially here, as the already presumed weak SB would have to have a very real, very strong hand to call my reraise with the original bettor still to act behind. Furthermore, I'm assigning a near-zero probability that the BB has a King, so the only hand that *might* even get a call from him is a flush draw.
I reraise to $10 and both players fold.
You'll see this time and again, where on a flop of something like QQ8, some dolt will bet pot or near it, usually holding an 8. Most people reason that if they get action after making such a bet, they are done with the hand, so don't disappoint them by folding. Of course, be sensible in situations like this and consider your opponents and the number of them, but these can be prime opportunities to win nice pots with no hand at all.