I’m under the gun (one left of the big blind) with approximately 53 big blinds in my stack, holding Ah-5c. I see one large stack (about 85 big blinds), one medium stack (about 36 big blinds) and many short stacks (less than 20 big blinds) to my left. Entering a hand under the gun has historically been viewed as showing strength because there are so many players to the left that can potentially have a premium hand. For example, if I’m dealt J-J under the gun at a 9-handed table, then 8 other players have the opportunity to have Q-Q, K-K, or A-A behind me. On the contrary, if I’m on the button with J-J and all previous players fold to me, then only 2 players may find Q-Q, K-K, or A-A in their hands. While it’s certainly important to understand table position, these “Premium vs. Premium” hand situations do not happen as often as it may seem, which is why we are able to play A-5 from under the gun and show strength.
I briefly think through some pre-flop scenarios by asking, “What will I do if Player X calls or raises?” Remember that we want to have full control of the hand and can play out these scenarios before making any moves. In this case, I’ll be folding to any pre-flop 3-bet or all-in (because A-5 will not be a dominating hand to the range of opponent hands that would make these raises in most cases). Lastly, I remind myself that I have 53 big blinds. This means that if I lose my min-raise (2 big blinds at risk), I’ll still have 51 big blinds in my stack. 2 big blinds out of my stack is not a big deal, while 2 big blinds out of a short stack is.
A-5 falls into my playable hand range so I raise from under the gun. Everyone at the table folds except the big blind, who calls. Now that I have one caller, I must hone in on his stack. Player 354 has about 12 big blinds. My thinking in this situation goes something like, “if the action checks to me and I do not have middle pair, a draw, or better, then I will make a standard continuation bet in hopes of getting a fold.” A small continuation bet (about 1/3rd of the main pot) in this situation should put enough pressure on our opponent to fold his hand if he did not connect on the flop. This is because his stack size is small and he has very little wiggle room to call on the flop and fold later in the hand. His options here should be limited to “all-in or fold” (although many players make the mistake of call/folding in this spot). The smaller our opponent’s stack, the more powerful our bets become.
As seen in the image above, I did connect on this flop. My two pair is a monster hand in this situation because I will be a strong favorite against almost any two cards that Player 354 could be holding. Some exceptions are A-J, J-J, and A-A (which are likely to go all-in pre-flop). Also, 5-5 beats my A-5, but is a very unlikely hand in that it would mean all of the 5s are in play. While it certainly happens, the odds are so low that putting Player 354 on 5-5 here would be unwise.
Bet when you have it, bet when you have it, bet when you have it. Too many players slowplay their hands and miss out on all of the value. Yes, there will be times when you have it, bet, then get no action; however, you will see the same outcome by slowplaying many times as well. This is why in the hand above I must bet. I have to bet for the obvious reason that I have a big hand, but let’s consider other factors. Because Player 354 has 12 big blinds, he should be in “all-in or fold” mode. As discussed in a different post, we don’t want to be under 20 big blinds and calling our chips away without knowing if we win or lose by the end of the hand. So Player 354 is most likely thinking, “is Player 407 just making a standard continuation bet with nothing? Would he call my all-in with a draw? Middle pair? Will my mom be mad at me if I lose my allowance in a poker game?” So much to consider! But if you are reading The Poker Model, you will learn to focus on your own actions, and not get too caught up in every last “what if.” So we’ve made our bet, fully aware that if our opponent folds, we are perfectly happy and will grind on to the next hand. What we prefer, however, is that Player 354 slightly connected with a pair or even a draw (scary but we’d still like the action).
Let’s take an even deeper dive into our approach for all of the possible choices our opponent may make. If he calls, then I’ll have to see what Player 354 decides to do on the turn and what card comes in order to begin my thought process on how to play that part of the hand. I do not like to speculate or worry about “what could come” or “what my opponent may do” until the free information is presented to me. At a high level, I’m fairly certain that my goal in this hand is to get Player 354 all-in (no matter if it’s the flop, turn, or river) mainly due to the strength of my hand. Scenarios that may throw red flags would be if two more spades come on the turn and river (leaving a one card flush) or if two high cards like a K and Q (leaving a one card straight). So if I receive a call on the flop, I’ll most likely be looking to put Player 354 all-in on the turn, but no guarantees until we see the turn card and what Player 354 does.
As touched on above, I’m fine if Player 354 folds. I’ll win a small pot and move to the next hand. Remember that a big part of winning multi-table Texas Hold’em tournaments is staying in the tournament! Your stack will fluctuate all tournament long, but keeping out of risky “tournament life” situations is key. If Player 354 folds to my monster hand, I’m still picking up chips with zero risk.
If Player 354 raises, then I will put him all-in. Because his stack is only 12 big blinds, a check/raise will require almost all of his chips anyway. My hand is good enough to make this play or to call the all-in bet from Player 354.
Player 354 went all-in! Because we had the discipline to bet when we had it, now we have an easy “snap call” for all of an opponent’s chips. Remember that if we chose to over-think and get tricky in this hand, we may not have put ourselves in this dominating position.
As expected after his all-in, Player 354 had a pair and we were dominating. I don’t fault Player 354 for going all-in with top pair and 12 big blinds because I had previously made a number of min-raises and continuation bets, giving me an aggressive table image (I’m more likely to bluff in his eyes). My stack size, table image, and betting when I flopped a monster helped in this hand to knock out a low stacked opponent.