This is an important tip that many players seem to ignore all the time: when the blinds are low and the Ms are high, you never know what kind of hands you might be up against. This is true even if you make a standard raise to 3x the big blind (or 4 or even 5x the big blind). You can never be assured that your raise will clear away all the trashy speculative hands you could be up against. What’s more, if you end up in a multi-way pot you need a much stronger hand than usual in order to proceed with confidence. Take this example from the very first hand played at a $12 Poker Stars tournament I ended up winning. Naturally, one of the players at my table managed to bust needlessly on the very first hand.


Everyone starts with $1500 in chip stacks. With blinds at $10/$20 everyone has a very healthy M of 50. The under the gun player makes a standard raise to $60. One player folds, MP1 calls. Another player folds, and I call from MP3 with the QJ of hearts. The cut-off folds, the button calls and both blinds fold. There are now four players seeing the flop and they all only had to invest $60 out of their $1500 stack to enter this pot. The flop comes: KJA all diamonds!


Now my first thought is that’s I what I like to call a “trainwreck flop.” A suited, coordinated flop like this with already-possible flushes, straights, sets, and two-pair opportunities galore is just inviting a bust-out. Needless to say my bottom pair, inside-straight draw hand that could be crushed ten different ways is an easy fold. But I’m expecting one of the other players in this pot to get clipped pretty bad. I wasn’t disappointed.


As it happens, the action is mighty suspicious given what a powerful flop that was. The under the gun player checks in what is an obvious betting situation. When an early position player fails to make a continuation bet in a situation that clearly calls for one (i.e. an ace and/or a king and/or a queen on board), I’m immediately on heightened suspicion. There’s no reason he shouldn’t lead out here and try to represent at least an ace on this board; he might be trying to keep the pot small but there’s just too much that could go wrong even if he had a hand like AK and flopped two pair. The second player checks, I check, and the button makes a small bet of $80 into the $270 pot.


It’s at this point that all hell breaks loose. The under the gun player check-raises more than the size of the pot, $400. Then MP1 check re-raises all-in to $1440. Naturally I fold: my hand sucks and even if it didn’t when you see someone re-raise a check-raiser you get the heck out of the way. Or as I say in my book, the first raise might be a fellow just fooling around, but the second raise is almost always for real. You need a really strong hand to play after the second raise. The button folds behind me, and the under the gun player calls all-in.


Their hands? The under the gun player had KJ of clubs for two-pair, while MP1 had the mighty 43 of diamonds for a made flush. UTG may think he has four outs twice (two kings and two jacks) but we folded one of his jacks, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the button folded either a jack or a king. He’s at the most 12% to make his full house by the river.


What’s the moral of this story? Well, firstly, two-pair is not always a powerhouse hand. Certainly, in a heads-up pot the board would have to turn pretty ugly before I’d fold two-pair. But in a multi-way pot, with low blinds, on a suited and coordinated board like this? He should have been able to get away from bottom two-pair.


Also, he shouldn’t have check-raised his hand. For one thing his hand was way too vulnerable to risk being checked all the way around and everyone seeing a turn. For another thing, he needs to find out where he’s at quickly in a spot like this. If he’d led out and then been raised by MP1 and re-raised by the button, he’d have lost a LOT less money and been able to get away from his hand.


Failing that, he should have known after launching his massive check-raise that MP1 probably wasn’t check re-raising all-in with just the queen of diamonds. The UTG was representing a hand strong enough to call any kind of over-the-top semi-bluff.


Now, if this were the $100/$200 blind level I’d be shocked if I was in the UTG’s seat and I got a call from a player with the 43 of diamonds after making a standard raise. And it would be crazy for a player in early middle position to call an expensive raise with a suited connector in the late game, especially vs. an early position raiser. But Hand #1 with $10/$20 blinds means that anything goes.


You never know what players will choose to speculate with early. A standard raise is not going to clear out all the small pairs, suited cards, ace-rags, etc. You have to be on your guard and avoid committing yourself too heavily to a pot. If you don’t have the discipline to avoid getting overexcited by one-pair or two-pair hands when you could be up against monsters in a multi-way pot, it might be better to just automatically fold your way through the first one or two levels of extremely low blinds. But if you discount the value of AK/AQ type hands early and play the speculation game (like MP1 did here) you might get paid off from players that simply overvalue top pair early.

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