Lots of poker hands have nicknames. Ace-king is “Big Slick” or “Anna Kournikova,” (… looks good but never won anything). Ace-queen is “Big Chick” or “Mrs. Slick.”
One of my good friends refers to Ace-jack as the “Soul Sucker” because it is a hand that is easily dominated and he has too many memories of thinking he had the best hand only to feel like his soul was sucked right out of his body at showdown.
When you get AJ, what are you hoping for? If an ace comes on the flop, you are vulnerable to being out-kicked by players with AK or AQ. If a jack comes, you are vulnerable to over pairs AA, KK or QQ. Getting a good read on the villain’s range is critical. Yet AJ suited is still a top 10 starting hand. It’s too strong not to play.
The Soul Sucker lived up to it’s nickname a few nights ago.
Still early in the session, my stack had gotten short and I was about to purchase more chips. I had slightly less than 50 big blinds left, and looked down at QQ. I make my standard pre-flop raise and get a couple of callers. The flop comes Jack high. I don’t recall the exact cards, nor does it matter. I bet again and get one caller. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Blair.” Blair’s stack is about the same as mine and after his call on the flop, our stacks are about the size of the pot.
The turn is another low card. I grab my remaining chips and look at Blair. “What do you want to do, Blair?” I ask. We’ve played together many times, and when he calls my flop bet but does not raise, his range is heavily weighted towards one pair, Jx hands. Whether it’s AJ, KJ, QJ or JT doesn’t much matter. I’m beating all of them. Blair responds, “Whatever you want to do.”
I push out the rest of my chips and Blair quickly calls. Sure enough, he has AJ and I get a full double up.
That’s what can happen when you play with the Soul Sucker. Blair looks soulless now, emotionally paralyzed. Conventional wisdom says he should never fold there, and now he has just a couple of chips left.
Now I must digress and mention one other hand for context. An hour later, I have JJ and raise again. Now my stack is larger, almost 150 BBs. Again, there are a couple of callers, including a newer player in one of the blinds. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Dave.” I can only recall playing with him once previously, and note that he’s very aggressive.
The flop is T77, and Dave leads out with a bet of 8 BBs. The other pre-flop caller folds. Leading into the pre-flop raiser is often referred to as a “donk bet” and often indicates something other than strength. I take a moment to ponder this. The only hands he could have that really scare me are TT or 7x. Would he donk bet after flopping a full house? (No.) After flopping trips? (Not likely.) Wouldn’t he try to trap me with these strong hands?
The only other hand to worry about is 98 for an open-ended straight draw. My blockers effectively reduce this to a gutshot, however, but I’ll consider this if a 6 comes on the turn or river. On the other hand, there’s no reason to raise. He might fold a weaker hand that otherwise would continue barreling. I call.
The turn is a 2. Dave now bets 16 BBs. He has a little less than 50 BBs remaining, so he might be setting up for a river shove. Maybe he has AT and thinks that’s good. I re-assess my read that he would not have led into me on the flop with any hand stronger than mine (over pairs AA, KK and QQ are out of the question as I believe he would have re-raised pre-flop with all of these). Never interrupt your opponent when he’s making a mistake. I call again, so he can lead himself off the cliff on the river.
The river is a 4. There are no possible flushes and none of his possible draws complete. Sure enough, Dave shoves in his remaining chips. After my snap call, Dave says “if you have anything at all, you win.” I wait for him to either muck his hand or table his cards. I don’t really care what he has, but if he wants to see my hand, he’s going to have to show his first. He shows 96 off-suit. Very interesting. Now my stack is up to about 230 BBs.
Fast forward another 90 minutes.
This time, Dave is under-the-gun and raises to 6 BBs. Most of his pre-flop raises have been slightly smaller than that. There may be a bet-sizing tell here, but I’m not 100% sure what it means. With most players, a larger than normal raise from UTG indicates a strong but vulnerable hand, like TT, JJ, QQ. The large raise is designed to thin the field. With other players, it indicates a very strong hand like KK or AA, reasoning that they know they are ahead and want to bet the largest possible amount that anyone might call. With Dave, I’m not sure, so I want to be cautious.
Another reason to be cautious is that I have AJ suited on the button, the Soul Crusher. One other player calls, I call, and the SB also calls.
The flop is J82. When it checks to Dave, he bets 14 BBs. He looks confident. His stack is now over 175 BBs, having re-bought after his shove-with-air debacle and picking up a few small pots since then. My stack is still over 200 BBs. I want to raise here, but decide not to for several reasons. First, I have the Soul Sucker. Second, Dave is UTG and even as wide of a range as he has been playing, I still have to respect his position and the indicated strength of his pre-flop and flop betting. Third, remember that earlier hand with Blair, where he was the one with AJ and lost virtually his entire stack to my QQ? Yeah, that. Fourth, unlike that hand with Blair, now we are deep stacked, and I don’t want to go crazy with a one-pair hand. Fifth, I’m last to act.
Top pair with top kicker is too good to fold here, so I call.
Then the small blind, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Pierre,” check-raises all-in for a merely 6 BBs more. Dave calls. Now I think again about putting in a large raise, to isolate Pierre. This is a private house game, and in the moment I cannot recall if the house would allow me to re-open the action after Pierre’s less-than-half sized raise. Some private games allow that. I’m afraid that if I ask and the answer is no, I’ll give up information that might benefit Dave. I call again.
Now the pot is approx. 85 BBs, Pierre is all-in, and there is no side pot to fight over as of yet.
The turn card is something low, I don’t exactly recall other than there was no reason to think it changed anything. Dave leads out with another bet, this time 42 BBs. Yikes! While its a half-pot bet relative to the main pot, it’s a large bet in absolute terms and very large considering there is no side pot.
So often in private poker games, the betting stops after short stack goes all-in and gets called twice, unless someone has a really big hand. Pierre is representing strength. Top pair / good kicker should be the bottom of his range. My pre-flop and flop calls suggest I’ve got something I like, which should be at least middle pair or better. What does Dave think he’s up against? Why is he so eager to funnel more chips in? Is he trying to get me to fold, to isolate Pierre for the main pot? If so, he must feel confident he can beat Pierre.
Or is he trying to get me to call? In our earlier clash, I called all of his bets with an over pair. Are the tables turned now? His actions are entirely consistent with having an over pair –> QQ, KK or AA. Mine are not. Am I in the position Blair was in earlier with the Soul Sucker up against a hand like QQ? Is this payback time for Dave?
If I call, the total of main and side pots will be ~ 170 BBs, and Dave will have approx. 120 BBs remaining, perfect for a river shove. Does he read me as a calling station? Am I a calling station?
To quote the angry fish from Dr. Seuss’ classic The Cat in the Hat, after the Cat comes crashing down from his perch hopping on a ball, holding the fish bowl on a rake, a cup and a cake, books, umbrella, a toy ship and toy man and some milk on a dish, while fanning a fan, “Do I like this? Oh no. I do not. This is not a good game. No, I do not like it, not one little bit.”
Since Pierre is all-in, I’ll get to see the showdown regardless. Reminding myself that the title of this blog is They Always Have It, I find my inner nit and fold.
The river is a 9. Dave shows JTo. Pierre tables JKo. I had both of them out-kicked! The rest of my night goes quickly downhill.
I’ve been re-playing Dave’s betting line in my head all week, and still can’t make any sense of his betting on the turn like he’s got the nuts, when there is no side pot. Sigh! Whatever! [writer’s block…]
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