Have you ever reached the river of a hand, with the run out producing a straight or flush, and then watched in agony as your opponent applied maximum pressure and shoved his chips into the middle?
Of course you have. But what do you do about it?
What goes through your mind? Does he or she have it? Is he or she bluffing?
A similar thing happened to me in a Full Tilt Poker Media Tournament recently.
There were only four prizes. There was no money involved. The winners would pick up electronic gadgetry.
How to Play Against a Scary-Board Shove
We were down to the final two tables when I got involved in this hand:
The action folds around to a player called Benjamen who raises to 150 from early position. I call in the small blind with sevens. We go heads up to the flop. Benjamen started the hand with 3,907 chips; I had 2,145.
We both check.
I bet 200, Benjamen raises to 625; I call.
I check, Benjamen puts me all-in, and I fold.
My Thought Process
There wasn’t much of one. His shove immediately triggered anger. I spent so much time complaining that the clock was running down. I didn’t have time to go through a detailed thought process over his range.
The one and only thought was: “If I call, and he has it, I am out.” So I folded.
Bryan Paris: No Need to Bluff Catch
Bryan Paris is one of the smartest poker minds in the business. Playing as ‘bparis' he has accumulated over $8.8m playing online poker tournaments and he has also won over $700,000 in live tournaments.
Here are his thoughts on the hand.
"I play the hand the same way. When we lead the turn we have plenty of straights and flushes in our range, so his raise essentially turns our set into a drawing hand.
"By the river he could be turning 5x into a bluff to push you off a chop, but the upside is limited now (only half pot), and we both have enough flushes in our respective ranges that there's no need to bluff catch with this hand."
How would this hand have played out had the flush not come in on the turn?
"If there's no flush on the board I would call as it's very unlikely for him to have 8x for a higher straight. In this latter case it would be difficult enough for him to have an eight that wants to raise the turn that I'm happy risking my stack for a chop."
"However, the flush here changes the calculation considerably to the point where I think we can't call river."
I often forget to think about what my bet means to my opponent. When I led the turn and he raised, I didn't consciously believe that my bet could have also signified that I had a straight or flush, making his raise much stronger.
I just bet, without any logical thought process backing it up. Bryan says he would call the river if the flush weren't on board. His reasoning is sound. I don't think I make the call because I am not thinking like Bryan is thinking.
My thought process is very one dimensional - if I call and he has it, then I'm out.
Justin Oliver: Having No Chips Disqualifies You
In 2013 Justin Oliver won a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet when he topped a field of 566 entrants to win the $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em 4-Handed Event.
In 2014 he returned to Vegas and came within a fly's thong of winning a second bracelet, finishing runner-up to Pierre Milan in the $2,500 NLHE event out of a field of 1,165 entrants.
Here are Justin’s thoughts on the hand.
"The most important thing to think about, trumping everything else, is the spot in the tournament. If I call this river bet and am right, my stack is 2,300 instead of 1,500."
"However if I call, and he has me beat, I'm out, and that is catastrophic. The number one goal and most important thing - don't get disqualified from the tournament. Having no chips disqualifies you."
But he could be bluffing?
"He could, and if he is, good for him; fold the hand and move on. You need to start looking at all the possible hands our opponent can have."
"Would this type of villain ever check back a flush draw on the flop? Usually not, so flush is unlikely, although he will have it some non-zero percentage of the time. However, he can have an eight. You need to think of what possible 8x hands he could take this line with."
"In these spots, in general, people need to look at what they are risking and what they can gain. So let's just say it's a cash game. In this one, we have to call around 1,500 to win around 700 or whatever it is.To make a call with those odds you had better be damn sure he's very likely to be bluffing. If we are wrong once out of three trials, we lose 1,500, and the two trials we are right we only win 1,400 - so we need to be good like 80% of the time to show a nice profit margin here."
I like Justin's thought process on making the play that keeps you in a tournament. There is always another hand. However, just like Bryan, Justin would have also gone through a hand range thought process before making the play.
I am not sure I am as conscious as this, and could apply more intense focus on this in the future.
Justin also talks about the mathematics behind the decision. It's something I never do when I play poker.
It's a big leak. It leaves me guessing a lot of the time. That will not produce a win rate over the long term.
The most important lesson I took from these two fantastic poker players is never to assume that all scenarios have a perfect play.
When I first approached them for help, I was wondering if there was a particular way of thinking for these types of hands.
Instead I learned that I should be thinking the same way during every hand. Going through a process of hand-range analysis after taking into consideration my opponent's reaction to my action, his action and his previous action up to the point of play.
That’s the view of Bryan and Justin. What’s yours?