An Amateur Move?

I’ll be posting hands pretty regularly here on my blog, and I thought this one was an interesting way to show how a play that some players see as amateurish, the turn check-raise, can be very effective. I feel like I bridge the gap between old school live players and the younger breed of new school players, many of whom learned the trade online, and both have value, so I’ll often be contrasting the two styles in my hand posts as well. This was definitely an old-school play.

In a recent $1,100 event at Running Aces card room here in Minnesota, a player at my table was very willing to go far with his hands, and was floating flop bets any time he had even the tiniest piece of the flop. He was also betting any time anyone checked to him. This can be a frustrating combination, because it is so often a profitable play and it threatens his opponent with high variance plays and big pots anytime they are in a hand with him. In this case, my opponent was also seeing way too many flops and had a small physical tell.

I started the hand with 35 big blinds about mid-day. We were nowhere near the money, but the blinds were getting big enough that most people were below 50 big blinds. My opponent had about 55 big blinds. I had Q8s (I know, a monster) in the hijack seat, and the blinds were tight, so I raised it up to 2.4 big blinds. My opponent called on the button, and the blinds folded. Playing a hand out of position was unexpected, but at least I had a predictable opponent.

The flop was Q93 rainbow, and I bet four big blinds, hoping that he would call. I got what I wanted as he called quickly. Against a very simple player, the quick call means that he has a draw or a medium strength hand. His decision is easy and he doesn’t have to think about raising or about folding. Good news for me, since he overvalued hands so much that he would have raised any top pair here, and since he wouldn’t have a monster when he acted so quickly, I am definitely ahead, and almost always facing middle pair. He was nuts, but won’t have a trey in his hand very often, so a 9 is definitely the most likely holding for him.

I knew exactly what my stack was on the flop, and thought it out. When he called my flop bet, I knew I had my double up.  The turn was a 5.

On the turn the pot held 14 big blinds, and I had 28 big blinds left in my stack. I checked. Yep, I checked it. An amateur move to be sure. But I got what I wanted. He bet 11 big blinds, and I went all-in for my remaining 28. He only thought for a second before calling, as I figured he would. I flipped over my top pair with no kicker, and he nodded his head as he rolled over T9o for middle pair. I had him drawing to five outs, and he missed them.

As I stacked the pot, I noticed a confused look from a few players at my table. One player looked like he couldn’t believe that we had just played a pot with 70 big blinds in it and showed down top pair no kicker and middle pair no kicker. Another looked impressed, like I must have had a magical mind-read on my opponent. And a few strong players at the table just nodded their heads, acknowledging that they would have played it the same way.

I felt pretty good about it.

I have had trouble taking risks and trusting my reads in the past, because I’m not inherently a risk-taker when it comes to money. I’ve done some crazy things in my life, but when it comes to poker I have been fairly risk averse for most of my career. While plays like this one have become standard, and they don’t feel like a big risk at all, five years ago it would have been tougher to make this play and be so comfortable with it.

I will definitely cover some more advanced plays in future posts, but in the last week or two this was the play that stuck in my mind as something people could learn from. Remember to look at the stack sizes and think about how the hand will play out. If I had 60 big blinds in my stack, I would have played this hand differently, probably betting small on the turn and checking the river if I didn’t improve. That would usually earn me a free showdown from a mid-pair kind of hand and keep the pot size under control.

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