Thoughts from the Felt: My Thought Process

14 March 2009, Created By: Sean Lind
Thoughts from the Felt: My Thought Process
The other day I made a decent series of calls against an opponent for a nice pot. After the hand some of the other players asked me how I knew the other guy was bluffing.

I don't like talking strategy at the poker table, so I told them that I'd have to sit down and think about it to give them an answer.

Truth is, I knew exactly what I'd been doing, and why I'd been doing it. The only thinking I needed to do was how to put it into words.

Here's how things played out:

  • I'm on the button with Q Q.
  • Buddy McBluff makes a standard (live poker standard of 7x the big blind) preflop raise.
  • I call, taking us heads-up to the flop.
  • Flop comes 5 A 9.
  • He bets three-quarters pot.
  • I call.
  • Turn T.
  • He bets three-quarters pot.
  • I call.
  • River is 4.
  • He moves all-in for one and a quarter times the pot.
  • I snap-call and show Q Q.
  • He mucks.
  • I take the pot.
  • I write this article.

On the surface, he bet three times with an ace on board; I called with queens. If you didn't know any information about either player or the situation, it would be safe to assume that I'm a calling station and got lucky.

If you still want to believe that after reading this blog, please do so, and be sure to come sit at my table when you get a chance.

My Table Image

One of the two most important factors of this hand was my table image at the time of the play. I was up two buy-ins at the time, playing strong poker. I had been talking poker a bit, and one of the players recognized me from having read a lot of my articles.

I was active, aggressive and solid, having made no large mistakes and a few strong plays up to that point.

Michael Schulze
Always be aware of your table image.

Generally at live games I value-bet hard and strong. More often than not players are willing to pay you out if you bet large in these games. I like to build massive pots with big hands, and am never one to shy away from a little action.

His Table Image

I'm not exactly sure what my opponent thought his table image was, but the way I saw him was as a player with too much gamble, and an ego feeding the belief that he was a much better player than he actually was.

Most players who think they are very strong will play weak to moderate hands out of position, rationalizing the play with the thought that they can just outplay their opponent post-flop.

He was good enough that this may have been true against many of the mouth breathers who play cards on a Friday night, but against any serious student of the game, he really stood only a small chance of success.

My Thoughts During the Hand

I choose to flat-call the queens preflop for deception purposes. The player raising is a player prone to bluffing, and hero-calls. The best way I can get his stack is to let him hang himself. By just calling he puts my range as:

  • Pocket pairs 22-TT
  • Suited connectors 4-5 - K-Q
  • A-Q
  • Possible A-K
  • Possible suited A-J, A-T

There is a chance I have something like a suited one-gapper, but he feels my range is mostly what I just listed. He suspects that I reraise any pocket pair JJ or higher with my position, the only exception being AA. AA is strong enough that many players will slow-play it here.

The Flop

When the flop comes 5 A 9, he is now almost certain I don't have AA. This also means that I'll only call or play back at a c-bet with an ace or a flush draw. He feels that almost the entirety of my range will fold here, even if I have QQ or KK.

When I just call his bet, he is now sure I'm on a draw, or a weak pocket pair. His sense is that if I had an ace I would have raised the flop to protect against a flush draw.

The only hand he's worried about here is an ace with the flush draw. Anything else he feels I will fold. If he has something like JJ (I never got to see his hand), he's ahead of most of my range at this point as well.

I don't know exactly what he has, but the only hand I need to really worry about here is an ace.

I feel that he's c-betting almost every flop in this situation, and the majority of those times I'm well ahead of him. If I raise, the only hand that ever calls me is a hand that has me beat; therefore, I make an easy call.

On the turn he bets again. The bets are starting to get large as the pot grows. The turn card is a blank as far as both of us are concerned. I flat-call again. He's now fully duped into thinking I have a flush draw.

My line of thinking hasn't changed much from the flop here. Although it is possible that he has an ace, the way I've played my hand makes him believe that I only have a draw, or a weak hand. I feel he's going to bet any two cards here against me. Also, his bet sizing leads me to lean more toward a bluff.

Arnaud Mattern
Some plays are just easy to make.

This player isn't afraid of making large bets, and understands that I'm not either. If he's value-betting here with an ace, it would only make sense for him to be betting full pot. If he assumes that I'm weak or drawing, and he really is ahead, he will want to charge me, and will feel that I'll call a full pot bet.

I feel that he's trying to disguise a bluff as a value bet by (uncharacteristically) betting less.

The river is an absolute blank. If I wasn't sure on the flop I was ahead, I'm 100% sure on the river, as he insta-pushes all-in for 1.25 times the pot.

If he was a beginner I'd assume the insta-push means he has a set. But this player, who somewhat understands the level of poker I'm playing, would never make this bet unless it's a bluff.

If he actually had a set, he has the nuts, and would want to make sure that he gets paid. An all-in overbet is too scary a bet to get paid on, so we can rule a set - or even two pair - right out.

Since I didn't believe he had an ace on the flop or the turn, it makes no sense to change my mind now, especially since the action on the river is much more fitting to a bluff than any other possible hand.

The final nail in the coffin was his physical play. He was acting and looking very strong the entire time. No hesitation, portraying heavy confidence and intimidation. Straight out of the first chapter of Caro's Book of Tells, this was a simple case of strong meaning weak.

I snap-called the all-in bet on the river and immediately turned over my queens, not considering for even a second that I could be beat. My opponent sat wide-eyed in a fit of tilt, mucking his hand before leaving the poker room for the night.

The money I won in this hand was great, but after the whole table watched the hand play out, I knew that for the rest of the night not a single player on the table would have the gall to try and bluff me. When you know how the entire table is playing against you, poker becomes a really easy game.





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