Friday, June 02, 2006

Show Of Strength

There are three components to strength in no-limit poker.  The most obvious is hand strength; the other two are position and bet size.  When one is lacking, sometimes you can make up for it with one or both of the other two.  That’s why you can play such a wider range of hands in late position.

However, often times, people will advertise one component of their hand by over-compensating with another such that it becomes a tell.  In tournament poker, the button can steal the blinds with any two cards.  In this case position is strength and when combined with bet size (a nice raise), you can almost completely ignore the hand-strength component.

Last night in the G-Vegas medium game, there was a hand where this came into play and I had to trust my read.

The blinds are .50/$1.00 and for the most part, pre-flop raises have been $4 to $5 depending upon the number of limpers.  If the blinds have been straddled (i.e. TheMark), then the raises head into the $7 or $8 range.

A new player to the game raised from UTG to $11.  When the action was folded to me, I thought the bet was a bit unusual.  I looked down at my hand and found pocket Jacks.  My “blink” moment, if you will, was to put the new player on a hand like 8’s, 9’s or T’s.  So I called.  Everyone else folded and we were heads up to the flop.  At this point in the hand, I felt that UTG was compensating weak position and medium strength starting cards with a strong bet.

The flop was a good one for me, or so I thought.  It came down 844 rainbow and the UTG raiser came out firing for $15 more.  The player was not too sophisticated, but I did believe that had he flopped a boat, he would be smart enough to check it.  I took pocket 8’s off my range of hands.  Now I needed to see where I was, so I raised to $45 still believing my hand was best.

As I raised, his reaction told me all I needed to know.  Or so I thought.  At first glance, his face became slightly anguished at the raise and I thought he’d muck his hand right there.  But he didn’t.  He came over the top of me all-in.  Now what?  Online, I may have folded.  But in the live setting, I had his reaction to add to my collection of data.

I paused and reviewed.  I asked myself if he would make such a large pre-flop raise with AA or KK and decided that it just didn’t make sense.  But Queens?  Maybe Queens.  I still thought 9’s or T’s were more probable and in the end decided that even if I included Queens in my hand range analysis, by this time in the hand, I was forced to call based purely on expected value and pot odds.

I called.

UTG had tens and didn’t catch.  I turned out to be a nice pot and kept me out of the “Home Game Curse” zone.  I’m not right as often as I’d like to be, but for me, poker is most fun when I have to make a difficult decision.  In this case, it was the pre-flop raise size and his facial reaction to my raise that gave me the required information to make the right call.

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