Reading a Polarized Range

polarized poker range

Sorry I’ve had a touch of writer’s block recently. I’m back.

This was an interesting hand from last week. I was at a private “house” poker game, with blinds of $1/3. While I’ve played at this game a few times, I’m not a regular there.

In the hijack seat, I have K T. The action folds around to me, so I raise to $12.  he button calls and both blinds call as well.

Flop: ($48 in the pot):  K♣ K♠ 2♠.  At first glance, this is a terrific flop for me. The blinds both check and I decide to bet around 1/2 pot. My actual bet was $23. I want to get more money in the pot with what figures to be the best hand. It’s not so easy to hit this flop, so I can get calls from any pocket pair QQ-33, and from spade flush draws.

The button and small blind fold, but the big blind check-raises to $65. This is a spot to slow down and run through a few questions.

First, how deep are the stack sizes? I started the hand with $373 and the villain has me well covered, having won several large pots.

Next, what do I know about the villain? This is my first time playing with him. From the table banter, I’ve learned that he’s a local university student, early 20’s, who came to the U.S. for school from China. He’s a classic loose aggressive player (LAG), as I’ve seen him make several 3-bets pre-flop and play aggressively post-flop including semi-bluffs with strong draws.

Next, what range of hands should I assign to him? A noteworthy earlier observation is a hand where he got all-in pre-flop with AK. Since he only called my pre-flop raise, I can eliminate AK from his range. His value hands include KQ, KJ and 22, a combined total of 14 combinations. There really isn’t anything else that beats me. His semi-bluff hands include flush draws AX♠♠, QJ, QT, Q9, JT, J9, T9 and perhaps a few random lower flush draws, so I can estimate 18-22 flush draw combinations. Careful not to over-estimate the number of spade combinations he has, as the weaker they are the less likely he should be to semi-bluff with reckless abandon. If he figures me for a hand like QQ or JJ as more likely than KX, then his A-high flush draws have the added outs of an over pair (and thus better to semi-bluff with) whereas his weaker flush draws are missing that extra bit of equity. It is also possible for him to be on a pure bluff, although I cannot come up with a way to estimate the frequency.

I call.

Turn ($178 in the pot, $296 remaining behind): 5

This changes nothing. The villain now leads out for $80, a little less than 1/2 pot.

Next key question… what range of hands is he likely to assign to me? His hand range is very polarized. Ignoring his pure bluffs, he either has me crushed with KQ, KJ or 22, or he has a flush draw. One of the interesting things that happens with poker players is how many of us project our fears of what can go wrong in a hand onto our assessment of the other guy’s range. In this case, if he has a flush draw, he’ll put heavy weighting on Kx hands as part of my range. Since I’m unlikely to fold these to any bet, and I’m highly likely to bet aggressively if he checks, his $80 bet looks like a blocker, a smallish bet to freeze me from making a larger bet if checked to.

On the other hand, if he has KQ or KJ, he is likely to see my flat call of his check-raise on the flop as an indication that I have a flush draw. I don’t, but he doesn’t know that. What he does know – if indeed he has KQ or KJ – is that it is improbable that I also have a King. With AK or KQ, wouldn’t I have re-raised him back on the flop? This is how many poker players think. If they have a made but vulnerable hand, they put you on the draw. If they have the draw, they put you on the made hand. With KQ or KJ, this villain would bet more than $80 in order to protect his hand against any flush draws I might have.

Or he has 22 and flopped a full house. In that case, he has some vulnerability to my Kx hands drawing a better full house. Most of the time, I think he would bet more than $80, as he’ll get paid off by my Kx hands and should be trying to set up a slightly smaller river shove than the $80 bet would leave.

After a quick reassessment of my logic, I’m even more convinced that this villain is much more likely to have a flush draw than a hand that has me crushed. His bet sizing on the turns gives it away.

So I announce “ALL-IN” for $216 on top of his bet. He squirms. He looks unhappy. He asks the dealer for an exact count of my raise. He glances again at his cards. Finally, he folds, asking the dealer to show the river card.

In a casino poker room, “rabbit hunting” is not permitted. But in private games, it’s pretty common and I have no objection. The dealer burns one last card and turns over the 6♠, which would have completed a flush.

My villain winces in pain, acknowledging that my read was correct, saying he just couldn’t call that much with a draw. Of course he had a draw. #TheyAlwaysHaveIt doesn’t have to mean they always have the nuts.

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