Thinking About What Your Opponent Has Matters (Sometimes)

I’d like to use this hand to relate how it is important to think about what your opponent has and not just how strong your own hand is.  Thinking about what your opponent has and how to win the most against all of his possible hands is an extremely important skill and one that is necessary to being a big winner.  Losing hands that your opponents have misplayed, yet still won, is part of the short term variance in poker and some players find it very difficult not to get frustrated when it happens.

Playing $1/2 6max no limit.  I raise 99 in first position to $6 and get called on the button by a very weak recreational player(60/20 for those interested in stats) and a poor playing regular(27/12) in the small blind.

The flop comes 9h9s6c giving me four 9′s.  The small blind checks. Since neither of the two players were likely to have anything or to call with nothing(float), and the button was likely to bet when checked to, I elected to check.  Unfortunately the button checked behind.

The turn is the 6h.  The small blind checked and I bet $6 into $19 hoping that my opponents would either call me with Ace high or a pair, or try to bluff me, since it doesn’t look like I have too much.  The button folds and the small blind calls.

The river is the 5h, so the final board is 9h9s6c6h5h and the small blind open shoves for $190 into the $31 pot.  I call, he shows a 8h7h for a straight flush and I lose.

The point of the story isn’t to complain about how unlucky and rare it is to lose with four 9′s, but is to wonder what the heck the small blind was thinking and how we can use his mistakes to better our play in the future.  Here is the way he should be thinking about the hand on the river from his point of view (forgetting about ways to take alternative actions previously):

“It looks like my opponent doesn’t have much, so betting a large amount is likely to make him fold the vast majority of his hands.  If he did have something like AA that checked behind the flop or a flush, there is no way he can call a huge amount(6 times the pot) on the river with so many hands that he loses to.  My best bet is to bet something small in the hopes that he thinks I am bluffing either with something like T8, a pair under 6′s that got counterfeited or ace high.  If I bet a small amount and he does have a 9 or maybe even a 6, he is likely to raise and I can reraise and get all the money in, the same as if I had shoved.  Plus, if I bet small, there is a chance he might decide to bluff me.  If I shove all in, I take away all chance for him to call me with weak hands (since he knows I would never do this with a bluff) and he also cannot bluff me.  Clearly, the best play is to bet small, pray to be raised and expect to be called sometimes.”

His actual thinking went something like this:  ”I made a straight flush!  I am going to push all in and hope to get called because I cannot be beaten.  Wow, I can’t believe someone called me, didn’t he realize I had a straight flush?  What an idiot!”

Before I called, I remember wondering what he possibly could have(given that I had all the 9′s, his most likely shoving hand) and that whatever hand he had, he misplayed it.  For instance, if he had four 6′s, he should use the same logic I outlined above for when he had a straight flush and he should never be bluffing all in when a smaller amount would have done the job done with a similar frequency.  Fortunately for me, this short term variance where people grossly misplay their hands and still win occurs frequently.  Over time though, playing my hands more correctly than my opponents leads to better outcomes for me and is the reason I have been a successful professional.

For the record, on the river it’s still a good call by me because he would do this with one combination of four 6′s and one combination of 8h7h.  This means I win 50% of the time, and need to call $190 into $411, which only requires me to win 46% of the time to break even.

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