Pumping the Brakes

We’d like to let you in on a little secret here at thepokermodel.com today: You cannot win every hand. Even if you could magically see your opponent’s cards, the flop, turn and river, you still cannot win every hand. Because losing hands is such a big part of poker, we’ll be looking at an example where folding was my best option today. It’s also important to understand that most of the time nobody has a monster hand, simply because monster hands are far less likely to occur. I like to think of each hand as a mini boxing match with the winner being the player who gets the other to fold. This and other articles have real hands that show how to risk the minimum while putting your opponents to the test.

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I’m in middle position holding Q-9 with blinds at 350/700. I notice that all stacks except SrJOAO1972 are under 25 big blinds. My first thought is that typically players with less than 25 big blinds will be all-in or folding to an initial raise. This is because they have too few chips in their stack and should wait for one good opportunity to double up. Some players will make the mistake of calling behind an initial raise with a short stack (less than 25 big blinds) and a marginal hand. I do not recommend this play because you will most likely face a continuation bet on the flop. When facing a continuation bet with a short stack, your options again should be all-in or fold. The only difference this time is that you are viewing a flop. Consider having 20 big blinds and picking up a seemingly good hand like Qc-Jc on the button. A player from under the gun raises 3 big blinds and you decide to call (leaving you with 17 big blinds). The flop comes Ad-Js-2h and your opponent makes a continuation bet for 7 big blinds. You decide to call with middle pair (leaving you with 10 big blinds) and the turn is the king of spades. Now your opponent puts you all-in and you must fold because too many other hands are beating you. You’ve just called off 50% of your stack without even flipping your cards over! Also notable is the idea that if you get a monster hand like A-A and double up in the near future, you will only have the original 20 big blinds before the Qc-Jc hand. If we had just folded the Qc-Jc, then doubled up with the A-A, we’d be sitting pretty at 40 big blinds! Remember to wait for a premium hand or spot when playing a short stack and do not “splash around” or “see what comes on the flop.” Now that we have thought about the other players’ stacks, I review my own. I have over 30 big blinds and a qualifying hand if the action folds to me.

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The action folds to me. If a player had raised before me, I’d fold because I’d need a better starting hand like a pocket pair, K-J or better or A-10 or better. There are certain situations where I’m able to get tricky and put more pressure on my opponents, but I like to have over 50 big blinds in my stack when I do so (it ensures that I don’t waste too many chips). A quick example would be a hand where an initial raiser only has 24 big blinds in his stack and I have over 50 big blinds in mine. If he min-raises (2 big blinds) and I 3-bet to 6 big blinds, then he must make a fold or move all-in. Most players will need a premium hand to go all-in, so in many cases I’ll get him to fold without needing to have a hand. We look forward to covering hands of this nature in more detail in other posts.

Back to the hand. No raises in front of me, I have over 30 big blinds, and my hand qualifies (any ace, two cards over 7, 8-7, 9-7, and 10-7 suited, any pocket pair) so I min-raise. I’m happy in this situation if everyone folds because I pick up the blinds and antes. If I receive 3-bets or all-ins from players to my left, then I’ll fold my hand and have only lost 2 big blinds putting me closer to 30 big blinds (a fine stack in tournaments). If I receive call behinds then I’ll most likely make a continuation bet on the flop in an attempt to take it down. If I flop a big hand (like a straight, top two pair, or trips) then I’ll bet because I have it (see bet when you have it post). Lastly, if I connect on part of the flop (like top pair, middle pair, open ended straight draw) then I’ll check and break down the hand further as it plays out. The most important thing to grasp from the above thought process is the idea that we can make a plan for any string of events that may follow our actions. It is this very idea that separates pros from recreational players. Recreational players spend thought and energy on “hoping a card comes,” while pros spend this energy on preparation and thinking like, “if this happens, then what would I do?” I can’t stress enough that these “pro-concepts” can be learned. In the above part of the hand, we have full control over our actions regardless of what happens next in the hand. It is our hope that you will review your own hands with similiar insight and ask questions if you are unsure of how to “think ahead” like the pros.

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The image above jumps ahead to post-flop, action on me. To catch you up, I received a call from 8bitkid with about 20 big blinds on the button and also from nbobekove with slightly more from the big blind. Nbobekove checked to me and I made a small continuation bet. Let’s back up for a minute and mention that I’ve flopped an inside straight draw (meaning I only have one card, a jack, to make my straight). Because the odds of hitting an inside straight are so low (about 9%), treat them as if you have nothing for now. Why? Because there are better hands and opportunities moving forward. I make the same continuation bet with the inside straight draw in this position that I would make if the flop where 222. If my bet gets called, I’ll immediately shut down (only 5 big blinds lost on the hand) unless my hand improves in some way. If both players fold, I’ll win a nice pot. If either player raises, I’ll fold my hand.

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8bitkid calls, nbobekove folds and an ace comes on the turn. I didn’t hit my inside straight draw, big surprise! These are the moments that separate the beginners from the pros. We’ve done everything we are supposed to do and our opponent is not folding. You know what this means most of the time? He has it. It becomes very easy to write a story in our mind that he is bluffing, hates you, and wants to steal all of your money, but that is not the case. I find it very easy to check, then fold, then recalculate my big blinds, then move on. Remember that we came into this hand in a systematic way with a plan of action. We whiffed on the flop and can get out easy. You will play this hand (and hands like it) the very same way and get both players to fold, or even better, hit a great flop and bet your monster.

I do want to introduce the idea that some players will view your continuation bet as a bluff and “float-call” on the flop with nothing, leaving you with the ability to double-barrel on the turn. The double-barrel is a second continuation bet on the turn and shows serious strength. When using the double-barrel, your opponents will usually think that you have it and will only stick around if they have a draw to a big hand or have a big hand already. Make sure that your double-barrel does not put you under 20 big blinds! Also, remember that if they call on the flop, they can also call on the turn and you will be unsuccessful – players can do anything with any two cards, so don’t be surprised if called with a mediocre hand. We’d love to discuss this topic in more detail, just let us know.

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After receiving the call on the flop I choose to not double-barrel, and shut down on the turn. I make the check, my opponent bets, and I fold. The first thought that I have is not “ugh, why can’t I ever win?” or “this site is rigged against me.” I’m instantly calculating how many big blinds I have and how the stacks at the table have changed. Who has more than 25 big blinds now? How many big blinds do I have? In order to win a poker tournament, your stack will fluctuate and you will have to fold many hands. The most important question of all is, “are you in or out?”

Brett

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