Facing Massive Shove on Flop

Do you subscribe to Poker GO? Do you watch their High Stakes Poker show? Did you see the hand last week that many people are talking and tweeting about between Phil Hellmuth and Doug Polk?

FOMO not, dear readers, here it is:

Quick recap: Hellmuth has Q-T. Polk has T-7. The flop J-9-8 gives both of them a straight, which is very bad news for Polk. When Hellmuth makes a massive overbet shove on the flop, somehow Polk finds a way to fold, saving himself around $90,000.

Fast forward a few days. This hand was still floating around in the recency bias section of my brain when I faced a similar situation. Recency bias is the cognitive bias that gives extra credit to more recent events over historic ones. The recent event may be an anomaly and a terrible point of reference for whatever is happening now. This bias makes next decision based on a similar fact pattern extra hard to get right.

Here is the setup. I’m playing online poker via one of the popular mobile apps, at a $1/2 NLH table. After buying in for $400, I won my first two hands to boost my stack up to $491. 

On my 4th hand, with Q♦ Q♠ in the big blind, I watch the player under-the-gun (UTG) call $2, the next player also calls, and everyone else folds to the button. The button raises to $6 – a small raise that doesn’t suggest a strong range – and the small blind folds.

Before I re-raise, it occurs to me to pay attention to UTG. Is he possibly limping in with AA/KK to set up a large back raise? His stack is $242 to start the hand. I’m not really concerned at this point, just reminding myself to be aware.

I re-raise to $24. I don’t want to play against all three opponents from out of position, but won’t mind if the button calls.

UTG calls $24. What kind of hands would be in his range that call but don’t raise on his first betting opportunity, but are good enough to call my re-raise to $24? Could he have AA/KK and decide that my aggression justifies waiting one more betting round to spring the trap?

The next player also calls. He started the hand with $463. I don’t have any history with this player. Honestly, he should fold his entire over-limping range here. Since he didn’t, his range should include “hope to get lucky” hands like low-to-medium pocket pairs, suited aces, and suited connectors.

The button also calls, which he should do with his entire range given the pot odds and his positional advantage on all subsequent betting rounds. The pot control train has left the station and now there’s $97 in the pot.

Flop: A♥ K♥ Q♣

Well, well, well…this is quite an action flop!

I bet $48, right at 50% of the pot, and feel a quick sense of relief when UTG folds. It’s not that I thought he did have AA/KK, but it wasn’t out of the question. If he had raised, I’d probably puke.

The next player then goes all-in for $439, a 2x pot raise. Ahhh, now I’ve discovered the main villain. For purposes of this blog I’ll call him “Ari.” The button quickly folds.

Now there’s $584 in the pot and it will cost me $391 to call. The math says I have to call if my equity is greater than 40%, and should fold if my equity is lower. [391 / (391 + 584) = .4]

Back to recency bias… in the High Stakes Poker hand at the top of this post, Doug Polk laid down a straight on the flop. My bottom set is weaker than a straight. Do I need to be as good as Doug Polk here?

Let’s try to answer two basic questions. First, what does Ari have? Second, what would he think I have? I’m going to do this in reverse order.

What Would Ari Think I Have?

If he’s an aware, thinking player, Ari will notice that this flop is extremely good for my range. When I 3-bet pre-flop from the big blind, I’m representing a very strong range that includes AA, KK, QQ, AK, and AQ. I bet again on the flop despite being out of position against three opponents, reinforcing the strength. Since I have no history with Ari, that means he has no history with me either. He might ascribe a wider 3-betting range but with so many combos at the top of my range that love this flop, he should fully expect me to have 2-pair or a set here.

Why isn’t he afraid of that?

What Does Ari Have?

My range is uncapped, has a lot of combos that smash this flop, and Ari fearlessly shoves all his chips in the middle. Gulp!

Given his pre-flop play, I’ll eliminate AA, KK and AK from his range. Surely a player who is this aggressive on the flop would have raised with any of those hands pre-flop. That leaves a value betting range of AQ (3 combos) and JT (16 combos).

The only other option is a drawing hand, and only if Ari likes to gamble. Ordinarily, I’d refer to this a semi-bluff. A bluff is a bet designed to get a stronger hand to fold. As strong as my range is, however, it would be smart for Ari to assume I’m never going to fold. With no fold equity, it’s not appropriate to describe his bet as bluff or semi-bluff. It’s gambling.

With the A♥ and K♥ on the board, there are only a few flush draw combos available. The best ones will include either the J♥ or T♥, creating a gutshot straight draw to go along with the flush draw. Q♥J♥, Q♥T♥, J♥9♥, T♥9♥ and maybe J♥8♥ or T♥8♥ but I have no basis to think Ari is bad enough to limp/call a 12 BB re-raise pre-flop with the last of these combos, and he shouldn’t be so bad as to shove here with just a flush draw.

Putting any other combinations in Ari’s range serves only one purpose… rationalizing a decision to call.

Against this range of AQ, JT and 6 flush + gutshot draws, my equity is 48.2%. If I drop J♥8♥ and T♥8♥, my equity drops to 46.6%. In either case, it’s high enough to make calling mandatory.

Unless, that is, I can channel my inner Doug Polk and narrow Ari’s range to only the nuts. Then my equity drops to 34.5% and I should fold. I can feel the recency bias fucking with my brain, but who am I kidding? Not gonna happen! I’m no Doug Polk and hoping Ari’s no Phil Hellmuth.

Not exactly thrilled, I call. Ari turns over J♥9♥ and we run out the board twice, with my hand holding up both times to scoop a $975 pot.

Against his exact hand – one of the weakest in his entire range – my equity was 67.5% and I was fortunate to win both run outs. 

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