Flushing Meadows: Part I

Brian Alspach

Poker Digest Vol. 4, No. 7, March 23 - April 5, 2001

I promise never again to mention my five week trip to Australia this past Christmas, but it plays a role in this article. The length of the trip from the hotel in Sydney to our home in Regina was 27 hours, and I managed about two hours of sleep during that stretch. As you might guess, I arrived home thoroughly exhausted. Since I got home in the evening, I went to bed fairly early in this tired state and slept about 10 hours.

I try to go to bed at the normal bedtime for my destination -- tired enough to sleep through the first night and get a good rest. I find I get over jet lag very quickly when I manage to do this. In the past, I have found my strategy to be effective against jet lag However, the second night I awoke after being asleep only two hours, and I was unable to get back to sleep the rest of the night. Consequently, I was drained that day, but this did not deter me from heading down to Casino Regina for my usual Friday afternoon hold'em session. After all, I had been unable to play poker for six weeks, and a little fatigue was not going to stand in the way.

We had been playing about two hours when I found myself in the big blind again. When it was my turn to act, I looked at my two cards and saw $Q\clubsuit 7\clubsuit$. There had been no raises, and I didn't raise with this hand either. I have never had any problem remembering my hole cards and make a practice of not looking at them after my first peek. The flop came $A\heartsuit K\clubsuit 8\clubsuit$. At that point I made a mistake -- I think it was due to fatigue rather than creeping senility. My brain transformed my cards into $Q\clubsuit
J\clubsuit$ of clubs. I checked and called a bet from the player on the button. A third player also called after me.

The turn card was a non-club 10 so I believed I now had the nut straight. I knew almost certainly that the player on the button had some kind of king and that he would bet it, so I checked. The other player checked and the button bet. I raised, the third player folded and the button called.

The river card was a blank. I bet and the button folded. I decided to show the button, against whom I have played many hours, that I had a real hand. I whipped over my two cards and was just as surprised as he when the $Q\clubsuit 7\clubsuit$materialized.

My first mistake may have been playing in the first place as tired as I was -- but the memory lapse under discussion was the only mistake I made due to fatigue. When people do make mistakes, the best action to take is to ask themselves what can be learned from the mistake. In this case, I won the pot because of the way I bet the hand, and the fact he never improved his hand beyond a single pair of kings. I learned something about what may work against this opponent, but for a while I am going to have to show him the best hand whenever we are involved in a showdown.

You might say that since he knows I know I will have to show him the best hand, a bluff will, in fact, work because of that. Let me assure you that level of thinking is not going on here. The preceding outcome emphasizes the general principle that a pot won without a showdown has been won because of what the opponents think a player has, not because of what the player actually has.

While talking about mistakes, I want to mention a common mistake I have seen several times in recent low-limit games. Let me illustrate with one particular example.

The game was loose and passive so the under-the-gun player limped in with $4\heartsuit 5\heartsuit$. As he suspected, there were numerous callers and no raises. The flop came $5\spadesuit 5\clubsuit 8\spadesuit$. The players in the small and big blinds checked and our hero bet the maximum of $4. Two players called, including the player in the small blind. The turn card was the $9\heartsuit$. The small blind checked, our hero bet $8, the other player folded, and the small blind called. The river card was the $10\spadesuit$. The small blind checked, our hero bet $8 and the small blind then raised. Our hero then dumped his hand.

Yesterday, I did pretty much the same thing with a player betting after me. I had a huge number of outs after the turn card and was up against a player who almost always will keep betting no matter happens with respect to the river card. The river card gave me a nut straight. I checked, he bet, I raised, and he called the raise. Given this player's normal play, I was not at all surprised it went that way. His two pair were no good.

Let's take a look at the two situations just described. One player has flopped a good hand -- three-of-a-kind or two pair -- and a player in an earlier position is check-calling. We don't need to get fancy here, with subtle deception being involved. In a low-limit game, this almost always means the early position player is on some kind of a draw and the late position player is trying to make her pay for drawing and hoping her hand holds up. She knows, however, her hand is vulnerable to straights and flushes unless it improves. If neither a straight nor a flush is possible following the deadly river card, and the first bettor checks, what should the second bettor do given her hand is unimproved? On the other hand, if the river card is the third card in some suit or allows straights, and the first bettor checks, what, then, should the second bettor do?

There is a general principle I follow: If I am the second bettor and the first bettor checks, I will bet if I want the player who checked to call or raise. In other words, if I am prepared to reraise, I will bet. If I am going to fold to a raise, then I will just check and see who has the better hand. This does not mean I necessarily believe I have the better hand. Now and then, I may reraise a raise from the player who checked if I suspect a reraise may get him to throw away his hand.

From another viewpoint, suppose the first player checks. If you are thinking of betting in hopes of inducing him to fold, but are concerned that he may have you beat -- and you hope he doesn't call -- then check. This is the classic situation mentioned in many books: If he doesn't call, you have gained nothing and, if he does call, he probably has you beat. In the latter case, you have actually lost more than necessary.

So, in the first example above, if the river card had been the $4\spadesuit$, giving the under-the-gun player a full house, our hero will bet it. He hopes to get called, and if the small blind raises, he will reraise. Since he did not improve, he should have checked with the hope trip fives would win the pot.

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