Trust Your Reads

Greetings from Cherokee, NC, site of the current WSOP Circuit stop. Sorry I haven’t been posting much here lately, but a couple of cash game hands warrant a comment.

#1 – Pocket Jacks

You know the old saying: There are 4 ways to play pocket jacks and all of them are wrong.

After joining a $1/3 table and folding every hand for the first two orbits, I get my first playable hand… JJ. In the hijack seat, following one limper, I raise to $15.

On the button is a young player who has just racked up his chips, which appear to be over $1300. The dealer asked if he wanted cards as he was preparing to leave, and he said “sure, one last hand.” The maximum buy-in is $300, so we can assume he has been winning. A lot. With no other information, we should also assume he’s a good player.

He re-raises to $30.

The first moment of truth is deciphering what the size of this raise means. I have observed him playing on the loose / aggressive side, while I’ve been virtually silent. What does he think my opening range is? How does that impact his 3-betting range? Is there a portion of his 3-betting range that would make a larger raise here?

As far as ranges go, let’s put him on 99+, ATs+, AJ0+. Maybe a little narrower given my image.

It’s the sizing that has me curious. He seems to be playing a game of position, hoping to seize the initiative now and leverage his positional advantage post-flop. With QQ, KK or AA, I’d expect a larger 3-bet.

That means… I’m ahead. And that means… I should 4-bet. I bump it up to $100.

And he looks at me and says “OK, you wanna race? I’m all-in.” Gulp! Here I go murdering my chips with JJ.

I have to decide whether I think that’s an honest or a deceptive question, and what honesty or deception means in this case. Most people are honest with questions like this. I read that somewhere recently. Combined with my assessment of his 3-bet sizing, that reduces his range – in my thinking – to exactly AK. Trusting this read is vital, as most of the time JJ is going to get demolished by a 4-bet jam.

With blockers to any AA or KK hands in my range, AK makes sense in predicting a race. And if that is correct, I have to call given that I’m a slight favorite with a considerable investment in this pot so far.

Fast forward… I call, he does have AK, and my JJ holds up to win a nice pot. The read was correct and my trust in it got rewarded.

#2 – Ace-King

The following day at a $2/5 table, I get AKo on the small blind.

There’s an early position raise to $25 from a guy who’s been pretty tight, whereas the table as a whole has been quite loose. After two other calls, I decide to call and evaluate the flop.

Flop: KQ7 rainbow.

That’s good for me, right?

I check. Let’s see what the original raiser does. He bets $55. The other players fold, naturally I call and we are heads up.

Turn: 5c, putting a flush draw in play.

I check and he bets $175. I haven’t seen him make an aggressive move of this size. Now I think he has a very strong hand and wants to get maximum value for it, and sized up his bet just in case I might now have a flush draw (which I don’t) or open-ended straight draw (which I also don’t).

There are several combinations in his range that have me in a lot of trouble, including AA, KK, QQ, and KQ.

I notice he is looking down and away from the table, as if he’s disinterested in the hand or perhaps wants me to somehow forget he’s there. That’s a pretty damning tell, and tells me he is very strong. Even more than his bet-sizing, this is the read I’m going to trust.

I’ll live to fight another day. It’s hard to let go when you get what you wanted, and top pair / top kicker with AK usually spells B-I-N-G-O.

I let it go. I’ll never know. And I’m 100% okay with that. I trust you understand.

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