Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mega-Thinking When the Other Guy Isn’t

One crucial factor in separating good poker players from bad ones is the ability to put yourself into the other guy’s head, and try to see how he might be thinking about the hand.  Too often, at low stakes (where I play, and quite frankly, most of us play), players only consider their own cards.  If they think elsewhere at all, they might think about what the other guy holds, but rarely do they consider anything beyond that.

Despite the following example, it’s a good idea to try to look at how the other player might see the hand unfolding, and, if you can see it like he sees it, you have a better idea how to play your hand.  This hand occurred at the end of a pot-limit 6-handed Sit ‘n Go where I placed second behind the obviously Villain.

In this last hand, I found myself heads up with the Villain, behind in chips by about a 3-1 (roughly 6800 to 2200 before we posted blinds).  I had the button (and the small blind).  Blinds were still small (100-200) due to the fact that the Villain had knocked just about everyone else out quickly with some great River draws - two flushes and a straight.  He hadn’t played great, but hadn’t played poorly, either.  He just stuck around to try to catch something, and when he did he went all in and everyone called him as if he was bluffing (it was pretty obvious by the third time).  The only other hand he won was when he had ace-five and an ace flopped - he bet out and took the pot uncontested.  I had won three hands, two hands without showing, and the only other time I showed my hand - on a hand that I bet hard - I lost.  These two items are important - remember them.

So as I said, I was on the button, and was dealt a pair of pocket 5’s.  I raised the pot, and he called.  The flop was a disaster…Ace, King, and Jack, with two spades.  He checked.  I was either way ahead, or way behind, but as I was getting low on chips, I thought I could take a stab at it and see what the turn brought, and if it was a scary card I might go all-in on a bluff.  Or, he might not have anything and he could fold here, and I’d pick up some chips.  I had raised initially, and if he had a smaller pair (jacks, for example), he might fold to a pot-sized bet thinking I had the ace.  So I bet the pot, and he called.


I assumed he had something, and was waiting…not necessarily setting a trap, mind you, but just doing what he had done in previous hands…waiting for a fourth card to make a straight or a flush, or perhaps another jack to give him trips.  Granted, I could have the straight, or flush, but he’d have to see if and/or how I bet the turn, and besides, I was getting low on chips, so he might think I might be inclined to try to bluff him off. 

All of this was being considered when the turn brought the five of spades.  That gave me trips, but also made a flush possible.  And, of course, there was also the potential for that Ace-high straight.  I strongly considered going all-in regardless of what he did, and to no surprise, he checked.  I did not hesitate, and pushed all in.  He considered…waited almost until the end of his time limit…then called.

I was not terribly surprised that he called.  I figured he was holding one pair at least, and while unlikely he made a flush (he would have bet it), he might still have the straight.  He might also have a high spade hoping for a four-flush to take the pot, or maybe even trips.  I figured that I was in good shape - even if he had the straight or the flush, I could catch the last five, or one of the board cards could pair giving me a full house. 

He had to have something.  If I was bluffing, his pair could win, but if he had nothing, or, conceivably, if he was “waiting” again for the river to hit a four-flush or straight, he was getting the worst of it.  He was well ahead in chips, and by calling the turn, he was giving me a chance to catch up to even.  If he folds with nothing or almost-nothing, he saves himself chips to use for the next hand when he has the button.  He’d still have a substantial lead, and if I had any kind of a hand, he was in no position to spew chips needlessly.

Still, I was not terribly surprised that he called - until he showed his cards.  He had the two and three of hearts.  No straight.  No flush.  No pair, and…even if I was bluffing with absolutely nothing, HE COULD NOT BEAT A BLUFF.  The ONLY way he could win the hand was if a four fell on the river, giving him the A-5 straight.  And remember - before he saw what I had, there was already the potential for an ace HIGH straight, and a flush.  Both demote his possible straight to second best.

So here’s the lesson - it’s not enough to consider what hands you might have, but what your opponent might have, and, what he’s thinking.  He had to assume that I was running a bluff, but he was in no position to beat any kind of bluff unless he got incredibly lucky once again on the river. 

That is how you’re supposed to think, and that’s how you win.  You get the odds in your favor, think about how your opponent is playing the hand, and go for the gusto.

Oh, yeah, postscript.  The river was a four, and he beat my trips with his next-to-impossible straight.  You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

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