No limit Texas Hold’em is a game played with incomplete information. Unlike chess, where are the pieces are visible and all of your opponents moves can be evaluated with full knowledge of the board, poker offers room for deception and bluffing.
Since most hands end before there is a showdown, information becomes a scarce commodity. I try hard never to show my cards if I don’t have to, nor to say what I had after folding or after the villains fold. I read somewhere – I don’t recall which book – that you should treat showing your cards like showing your dick. Don’t… unless you have to. We are engaged in a war for information, and must learn how to use it – when we do get some – to good advantage.
Last week at the Aria poker room in Las Vegas, I was playing in a $1/3 game. In one hand, I limped in with Jh Th, after one or two prior limps. The flop was Qs 9h 8h. Yahtzee! Gin! Cowabunga! Cha-Ching! I have flopped the nut straight with an open-ended straight flush draw.
The players in one of the blinds leads out with a bet of $16, and it folds around to me. In this situation, with the nuts, I want to build the pot with a plan to get my entire stack in by the river. His range includes straights, sets, two pair, flush draws, top pair, and pair + gutshot types of hands. I’m going after the top end of his range, hoping he has something like top two pair. So I raise to $45.
While I haven’t been at this table for very long, this villain strikes me as an above-average but reasonably straightforward player. Partly I say this due to his stack being pretty large (around $550), partly he hasn’t done anything out of line or weird/bluffy. When he leads out on this flop, I assume he has caught a piece of it. How much… I don’t know yet.
After staring at me for a few seconds, he folds, and turns over one card to show me a queen. He has top pair, yet decides to yield to pressure. A lot of players at low limits won’t fold top pair on this flop, due to the drawiness of the board, where flush draws and straight draws are plentiful. I could easily be semi-bluffing with a drawing hand. He did not have to show me either of his cards, and now I know he has enough discipline to lay down a medium strength hand.
Not long after this, and feeling tired and impatient, with my starting stack of $300 down to about $180, I decide to limp into a pot in the cutoff seat with 4s 2s. The same guy raises to $11 from the small blind, everyone else folds and I call, really just hoping for some kind of strange good luck. (Note to self: This is just terrible. It’s time to quit, you aren’t playing well.)
Flop ($25): Ad Td 3s. At least now I have a straight draw. The villain bets $12, and I call.
Turn ($47): 8d. Now there are three diamonds on the board. Villain bets $16. Suddenly in the information and decision making fog, I hear a loud fog horn blaring. Something is coming through. Then I realize it is a bluffing opportunity. The villain’s bet on this turn seems weak, about 1/3 of the pot. Most of his range are hands the don’t have 2 diamonds. He raised from out-of-position, and the Ace of diamonds is on the board. Would he raise there with Kd Qd? Kd Jd? Weaker than that? The reality is there are very few flush combinations in his range. And he has previously shown me that he can lay down a top pair type of hand.
So I raise to $45. Looking at me very suspiciously, he calls. At a minimum, he must have a pair of Aces.
River ($137): 6c. A total brick, this card changes nothing. He checks. I slide a full stack of red chips (i.e., $100) into the center with the greatest confidence and rhythm I can muster, while feeling my heart pounding against the inside of my chest. “Pay me, sucker!” is what I’m hoping my body language says. (Note to self: I wonder what it would be like to be able to make large naked bluffs like this and not have my heart start pounding like crazy.)
The villain takes his time. He stares at me. He shakes his head, and finally, he folds.
I don’t show my bluff, and try to act as if nothing special has happened.
This would not have happened if he hadn’t shown me in a previous hand that he was disciplined enough to fold a top pair hand, in the earlier case where I had flopped the nut straight (and didn’t be paid). Now I have absolutely nothing, and get paid far more than I deserve.
Winning a small battle in the information war feels good.