“Raise,” said the stranger in the five seat. He was busy racking up his chips. Everyone folded to me, holding Ad5c in the big blind. I had a decision to make.
It was late in our $30-$60 hold’em game. The stranger had built a wall of chips. It appeared he was not that used to having a lot of chips, because his wall was in great jeopardy of tumbling down. Not from bad play, although his play was not that great, but from bad architecture. He had built several stacks 40 chips high, and lined them up at the very edge of the table. He had not built a stable base. Any false move by anyone and the cleaning crew was going to be finding a bonanza for weeks.
Three spots from the big blind, he got up and grabbed a few racks. Clearly, he was heading home. Now his raise had come while he was tearing down the wall and putting it into the racks. I had some things to think about before I acted.
Specifically, I usually consider three things:
What general criteria do I use in this situation (in this case, defending the big blind) in deciding to call, raise or fold?
How well does my hand (in this case, ace-rag) meet the general criteria?
Are there any other tells or situational issues that might affect my decision (in this case, an opponent racking up chips)?
Consideration 1: Defending the big blind
A lot of limit hold’em play involves deciding how and when to defend the blinds. In fact, after millions of players have played billions of hands in the blinds, there is still no clear cut methodology that tells us when or how to defend.
There are two general rules to balance:
The better the player(s) in the pot, the better the hand you need to defend your blind with. You can play a lot of hands against poor, weak, predictable players, and far fewer hands against tough, aggressive and unpredictable sbobet88 players.
The earlier the raiser’s position, the better his hand rates to be and the fewer hands you should play. You are not going to make money playing a mediocre hand out of position against a difficult opponent with a superior hand.
How and when you balance these rules depends on what you think of your hand, your opponent, his position, your history, your relative skill level, and to some extent your (and his) image. I can tell you, however, that you almost undoubtedly overestimate your relative skill, and underestimate the opponent’s hand value. When I tell people they can play more hands against weak opponents, they take it to mean they can play lots of hands against everyone (obviously, since everyone else is a weak player). In fact, giving up the blinds is a very normal part of poker life, and you should get used to it.
Consideration 2: Ace-rag offsuit
A lot of players seem very confused about Ace-rag offsuit. Simply put, it is a Bad Hand. As it happens, it is a very good bad hand compared to some others, but nevertheless, it falls in the category of “Bad Hands”. When you see this hand, think, “This is a bad hand.”
Folding A-rag every time you see it will save you lots of money, and a lot of difficult thinking post-flop. You do not need to think post-fold if you folded pre-flop.
I almost never play a hand like Ac5d in any position for any amount of money. I will sometimes open-raise with it on the button, usually if at least one of the blinds is either very likely to fold or play predictably afterwards.
I realize A-rag will win a lot more pots than other Bad Hands, and thus give the illusion you are playing well and making money with it. In some weak games, where lots of opponents call after the flop with nearly nothing after an ace hits the board, you might even show a tiny profit. But in the long run, as soon as your opponents work out that aces are really the highest pair, you will stop getting action after an ace comes unless you are beat (or – here you squeeze your eyes shut and pray – you tie someone with a better kicker).
Consideration 3 – Going Home
There are two conflicting thoughts that go through the minds of many players racking up to go home, especially if they are quitting winners. First, they would not mind winning another pot, sort of a lovely parting gift. It is always nice to win that little extra stack or so, or even just the blinds, on the way out.
But second, they have a real aversion to giving back any of the hard-earned chips they are happily placing into the beautiful little curved trays. At this point in the game, with only one or two hands left, they already feel a sense of ownership toward the chips that they do not feel during the normal ebb and flow of the game. They understand they will feel terrible if they now lose a couple of stacks just as they were about to make it out the door with a nice profit.
These two conflicting emotions cause a funny phenomenon. People racking up a profit, especially a medium sized one, sometimes make a slightly worse-than-average play at the pot before they leave, but play very tightly afterwards so as not to lose money if they might be beat.
Sometimes you can try to use this to your advantage. Let’s see how it worked in this case.
Back to the Hand
So I am staring at Ac5d trying to decide what to do. My default play is to toss the hand in the muck and my three chip blind to the raiser. But I think a bit about the considerations I outlined above. He is not that great a player, so that argues toward calling. But he raised in early position, and that argues toward folding. Plus, my bad hand is hard to play out of position if an ace does not flop, and not that great to play when an ace does flop (gee, I guess that is why it is a bad hand to play). But here he is racking up his chips. The combination of the fact that he may just be trying to get out with a last pot, and the fact that he may play sub-optimally later in the hand so as not to lose more chips convinces me to call. (OK, so I suffer from a malady that afflicts almost everyone; I can sometimes find reasons to call from the unlikeliest logic).
We look at a flop of Qs9d3s. Not my flop. Normally, this is a clear check-and-fold situation. But there is one more thing to think about before I give up.
Consideration 4: Can I represent some other hand?
One of the most important things to think about, in addition to, “What is my hand and how does it play here?” is, “Can I represent some other holding(s) that my opponent will respect?” In other words, “Can I bluff?”
I realize most bluffing is done late in the hand, mostly on the river when you miss your draw and feel a bet might win anyway. Opportunities to bluff, though high risk, do turn up at other points in a hand. Is this one of them?
I did not play the Ac5d because it was a good hand. I played the hand because I thought the opponent might not be willing to play the hand out. Under the circumstances, perhaps I should simply ignore my hand and try to proceed with my theory that he will likely give up if I bluff. I decide to try this “creative” approach.
Back to the hand (again)
I have decided to bluff my way through the hand, at least unless he shows some resistance. So I check, and try a check-raise when he bets. Perhaps he will lay it down. No, he calls.
The turn brings the Js. This is even worse from the perspective of my actual holding, but not that terrible for my bluff attempt. Frequently, when you check-raise a flop with a draw available and your opponent calls, he thinks, “He either has a flush draw or top pair. Since I can beat a flush draw, I will call. Maybe I will make something, or maybe he really does have a draw. I can hope, anyway.” So when the turn completes the draw, the opponent now gives up, realizing that he cannot beat either hand he expects you to have. (Opponents almost never put you on no-hand, no-draw and think you are just playing a cock-eyed theory about players racking up chips).
I consider giving up and not wasting still more chips on this strange adventure I have embarked on. But I feel I need to give it one more try, in case he was actually thinking along the lines of the hand/draw reasoning we just discussed. So I bet out, and sure enough, he folds and I win the smallish pot. Another victory for creative thinking and savvy heads-up situational analysis. If he were not going home, I never would have tried this play.
I am stacking my chips and putting out the small blind. The fellow in the eight seat turns to the chip-racker in the five, and says, “Are you leaving? I want that seat.” “No,” he replies, “I am just getting more comfortable.”