May 21, 2012

Checking for Value

Last month I was in Vegas for a work conference and stayed at the Encore just to check it off my list of Vegas hotels. The rooms were comfy and classy, and allowed me a few convenient sessions of poker in the Wynn poker room. The Wynn poker room was the unofficial host room of the first Ironman of Poker outing, and it has consistently been one of my favorite rooms in Vegas. Classy, reserved, filled with Euro-donks and high-end booze. A little slice of poker heaven.

During one session, I was seated at a $1/$3 NLHE game with the typical cast of Vegas characters—a couple of hoodie wearing "pros", a couple of drunks looking to kill some time, a couple of businessmen with more money than skill, a couple of LAGgy Euros ... and a solid TAG younger gal. In what will be a surprise to my readers, I actually played less than two hands per orbit for the first few hours as I got a read on the table and tried to zombify myself back from card death with the occasional semi-bluff. The two hoodie guys obviously knew each other, and from their chatter they made it clear they were vastly superior to the other players at the table, and most of the other players in the room. Frankly, they made it sound like they were slumming it while waiting for a seat in the $5/$10 or $10/$20 NLHE games. Hmmm, wonder why they didn't head down the Strip to Bellagio or Aria?

Anyway, late in the evening an interesting hand developed.  I had built my stack to just over $500, and the other players in this hand all had $300-$800. TAG Gal limps UTG, hoodie raises to $12, Euro calls, other hoodie calls. I'm OTB with QdTs and call. Yes, it is a marginal call, but I had position and an uber-tight image to my credit, and I had some reads on the other players. Plus, I was bored. TAG Gal called as well, and we see a flop of:


Holy suited flop, Batman! The other players quickly check to me, and I bet $50 into the $60 pot. I figured my nut straight was good here most of the time, and I wanted to give poor odds to a naked Ad or Kd chasing the flush draw. If raised, I would go with my read, but fold most of the time despite my outs against a baby flush—my Qd was really just a blocker and an emergency draw, not a real flush draw. TAG Gal thought, then called. All the remaining yahoos postured, then folded.

The turn was interesting, to say the least:

Jd9d8d  7d

TAG Gal checked quickly. Hmmm, that kind of sucked. If TAG Gal had called with Ad, Kd, or Td, I was now drawing either dead (if she held the Td for the straight flush) or to one out (Td again, but for a gutterball straight flush of my own). About the only legit hand she could hold that I beat here was a set, or possibly top two pair. But I discounted those hands a bit since she did not bet or raise the flop; her hand felt like a draw or combo draw, and the turn made most of those hands good. Of course, she was definitely good enough to be making a move with a weak hand, hoping to represent the flush, but I wasn't sure she would try that move on the flop with three other villains behind her. On balance, I saw no reason to bet, so I checked and planned to call a small river bet with my now nut-straight bluff catcher.

The river served the pickle on this sh*t sandwich of a hand:

Jd9d8d  7d  Js

Yowzer! So most two pair hands and all sets just improved to a full house or quads. TAG Gal thought, then checked yet again. Hmmm, what in hell could I beat? Her entire flop range of flush draws, two pairs, and sets all now beat me. About all I could beat were a pure bluff and a baby flush that I counterfeited on the turn. I thought about throwing out a big bet as a bluff, but decided most of the hands she held that could beat me would call, and the hands I could beat would fold, sort of the opposite of a Sklansky-approved play.

So I checked behind. TAG Gal sighed, grinned, and rolled over Td9h for the straight flush. I laughed and rolled over my hand as well, just to let the table know I hadn't been bluffing the flop. Hoodie & Hoodie, Inc. immediately start jabbering like Monty Python's three-headed knight:

Hoodies:  "You didn't bet the river? You have to value bet that river!"

Me:  "I figured I was beat."

Hoodies:  "She checked the turn and the river! You have to bet for value!"

Me:  "I checked for value."

Hoodies:  "Checked for value? Huh?"

Me:  [pointing to my stack]  "I still have all these chips."

Hoodies:  "But she checked! It's stupid to check behind on the river."

I just smiled and let them continue to lecture me on proper poker strategy until they both busted out and left in search of a "better game". Probably green-chip War at Bellagio.

In all seriousness, I guess I can see some tournament or higher stakes games with a lot of meta-game factors in play where betting the river might be a decent play. But in low stakes games, in my experience players usually have what they represent, particularly with coordinated boards in a multi-way pot.

But what do you think? Obviously in this case TAG Gal was check-raising any river bet, but is her range wide enough to make a river bet a decent play to consider? Was I a total donkey on this hand? Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. I just have one question. Did you play that hand on every street like you would have if her cards were face up? I have to believe that you probably did, so in my opinion you played it exactly right. Screw those lagtards...

  2. I'm with you, Grange. I'd expect her to fold any hand you could possibly beat, so what's the point of betting the river? Check it down and hope she flopped a baby flush that she played too passively on the flop.

  3. I love how you played it. At those stakes, most everyone plays fit/fold poker. Her hand is pretty face up and it's doubtful she pays off a bet by you w/a weaker hand, like some random non flush straight, so she either has you crushed or nothing to call with. Knowing your opponent obviously helps as well. Well played IMO.

  4. Good hand reading, good analysis, good job

  5. Moral of the story: Don't let the hoodies make you question yourself!

  6. First - I really miss strategy posts. Where have all the poker bloggers gone?

    Okay - NLH is a turn game. Value betting the river is silly here. Your only job now is to admit to H&H that you played the hand like a fool, and of course they were correct. Sort of a reverse glass-tapping move. That said, bet the turn. It's the only way you'll get information. Reading tells is fine, but the information you get from a bet is far more valuable. It has nothing to do with the chips you have left.


  7. I think if you bet the turn it ends up the same anyways except you lose a little on the turn... She calls your turn bet and checks the river probably trying to induce another bet.. but you are too smart to bet when she cold calls your turn bet..

    There is no way you bet the river there... everything you put in her range except like one or two hands beats you... so why bet? You are going to put money in when 85-90% of her range beats you badly? No way you put in a bet there.

  8. Your hand went from third or fourth nuts to behind every hand you put her on, with that rivered Jack. Doubleplusungood. If you bet she'd raise you back, and it wouldn't be small, and you'd have to fold it down. So - yes, you played the hand well imo; really, all you could beat at that point was indeed a bluff or a beginner's overvalued hand.

    Digging your references btw - Austin Powers, Princess Bride, now Monty Python: it's like we share the same cultural touchstones. I might start cribbing that shtick on my blog, crediting you of course...

  9. Well played, but I wanted to make a small point. You said in your post, "But in low stakes games, in my experience players usually have what they represent, particularly with coordinated boards in a multi-way pot." Well, in this case, she was representing that she had a weak hand (her checks on the turn and river). So, I think your point (although usually true) is not applicable here.

    I think a more accurate statement is that when playing low stakes, you should trust your gut and reads, because most players are fairly predicatble. In this case, you had a read and went with it. But your opponent was certainly not "representing" a straight flush. She was trying to represent weakness.

  10. @ Jordan: I think you're overlooking the flop play. TAG Gal check-called the flop OOP with players behind. This looked like mostly Ad/Kd/Td, possibly baby hearts, or less likely a set/top two. In this context, the check on the turn is usually a trap by Ad/Kd/Td, or a sign of caution by baby hearts, set/top two. The check on the river is a sign of caution by Ad/Kd or baby hearts, and a trap by Td or full house/quads (though I think personally a bet out might be better there for TAG Gal).

    Basically, with her flop call, TAG Gal was representing Ad/Kd/Td, baby hearts, or flopped set/top two. Her play the rest of the hand was consistent with that range, at least for a typical low stakes NLHE game. There might be something of a "read" there, but the line TAG Gal took is pretty standard for that range of hands--a range I couldn't beat.

  11. I think you got aggressive in this hand when you needed to and shut it down once the board got extremely scary. She wound up being in the exact range you thought she would be. You were sensing a monster and all signs pointed to it. (Not to mention Kd or Ad shut you down as well. Nothing wrong with that, and I wouldn't question yourself over it.

    She did you a favor in checking on the river, I get checking the turn and trying to lull someone into a trap, but not attempting to get some value out of the SF on the river is silly, especially since it appears you weren't in typical play mode for the night. Even if you throw it away after a bet, it's a case where I think she wound up getting too cute.

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