I played this hand a few days ago in an online NLH game against a familiar opponent. Later, he texted a request to blog about it, so he’d have better insight into my thinking.
Here’s the setup. This was a private, online game in a “club” on one of the popular smartphone poker apps. We were playing $1/2 no limit hold’em.
I was in the cutoff seat with a stack of $338. The villain was second to act pre-flop (UTG+1), with a stack of $1,068. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Steve.” He bought in for $1,000, the maximum allowed by our host, and is an excellent deepstack player.
Steve raised to $8 and the next three players all folded. I had Ah Kc. Against most players I would re-raise here. Earlier in this session, I re-raised a much shorter stacked and less skilled player with AKs and he came back at me with a very strong 4-bet that led me to fold. Was I now gun shy? At the time, I noted Steve’s early position raise, indicating a generally strong range, his stack size, and decided not to bloat the pot. So I just called.
AKo is a hand I can 3-bet with, and also a hand I can call with. Neither is a mistake here. Looking back, I still like the lower variance approach.
Everyone else folded. With $19 in the pot, the flop was Ks Tc 3s. This is a dynamic flop, as lots of things can happen on the turn or river. While that’s a very good flop for me, giving me top pair / top kicker, on this board there’s a very good chance it will take something better than one pair to win a big pot at showdown. Compare to a flop like K42-rainbow, where my hand is fundamentally the same – top pair / top kicker – yet there is much less to worry about while building as large a pot as possible.
Steve checked. Surely he would have bet again with the strongest hands in his range, both for value and to protect against draws, and likely also with his own flush draws as a semi-bluff continuation bet. My read at the table was that my hand was best at this point and I should bet for value. And also that I was unlikely to be able to bet and get called three times – flop, turn and river.
I bet $10, just over half-pot. And Steve called, fairly quickly.
This is a critical point in my thought process. Steve’s opening range in early position is pretty strong. Let’s say something like 66+, ATs+, AJo+, KJs+, KQo, QJs. There a few other combinations I could include, but as we’ll see shortly, none of them affect the analysis.
The first thing to notice is there aren’t many flush draws in his range. Since the Ks is on the board, that only leaves these suited spade combos: AQ, AJ, AT, QJ.
What combos in Steve’s range would raise pre-flop, then check/call on this flop, with little hesitation before calling? Even playing online, there’s a bit of a bet-timing tell here. Maybe he had one of the four flush draw combos already listed. Or QJs in the other three suits. Or QQ/JJ, the only pocket pairs ranking below the K but above the T. As I called pre-flop in late position, my range is considerably wider than his opening range. Steve knows that. I can have a lot more flush draw combos – with suited connectors and 1-gappers down to 65s or 97s. I also have a lot of combos that include a T for middle pair – hands like AT, QT, JT, T9s or T8s. And I can have more straight draws too.
Steve’s check-calling range looks like AsQs, AsJs, AsTs, QsJs, QJs, QQ, JJ. Anything stronger would have led out with a bet or check-raised to make me pay dearly for my draws. Anything weaker would have to think just a bit more before calling. While it’s not exactly this simple, this gives me something to form a strategy around.
Steve wouldn’t automatically go into such a passive mode with his draws, so the most likely scenario is that he has and hand like QQ or JJ, or ATs (hearts and diamonds only, as the spades would play more aggressively and the Tc is on the board already). While I need to be mindful of other combos in his range as this is getting close to putting him on a specific hand rather than a range, I’m going to target these hands.
The turn is 7c, making the board Ks Tc 3s – 7c. Now there are two flush draws. Only Qc Jc among the hands in his range would have improved to a flush draw with this turn card. The hands I’m targeting are 12 combos of pocket pairs, QQ and JJ, and two combos of ATs. If I’m right, I’m way ahead.
I’m only hoping to get two streets of value. As dynamic as this board looks, it’s not nearly as scary as it looks if Steve has one of the 14 combos I’m targeting.
What does my hand look like to Steve?
After he checked the flop, my bet could be a value bet, a draw, or a total airball bluff. I could be betting for value with Tx hands that lose to QQ or JJ regardless. He would expect me to bet again with my best hands, however, just on the basis of how drawy the board looks. Most players would bet for value and for protection in this spot.
That’s why I check. My hand was slightly under-represented pre-flop. AKo is right at the top of any calling range. Now my hand is under-represented again. On almost any river card, his QQ, JJ and ATs hands will check/call again, hoping to be good as bluff-catchers.
The river is the 5c. Sure, this puts three clubs on the board, but I’m not worried about Steve having a pair of clubs. He checks again, and this time I bet $17, or just under half-pot.
I want this to look like a missed draw, or random stab, or perhaps a thin value bet with Tx. It doesn’t matter which of these it looks like, as long as it induces the desired call.
He does call, and shows Qc Qd.
Of course, in real-time, the analysis is never this deep. I wanted to keep the pot small against a very good player with a strong opening range. I wanted to get two streets of value and felt in the moment that I was more likely to get value on the river after checking this turn than I was to get a turn bet called. And I didn’t want to face a giant check-raise on the turn that would leave me very unsure about where I stood.
Really not all that fancy, Steve. Amiright?