“Thanks so much for the new wooden spoon, it will look perfect next to the spatula that you got me last year,” you tell your Great Aunt Mary. The smile on her face is more heartwarming than a puppy taking a nap. Nevermind that you haven’t once used the spatula from last year and there is a no chance that you will even touch the wooden spoon, it’s the thought that counts.
You’ll receive gifts in Poker as well. Some will be super shiny and crumble shortly after. Others will start out looking bleak and blossom into a bed of roses by the end. It’s supremely important that we engage in each phase of a hand as one unique part of the bigger picture so we are able to see our gifts when they arrive. Let’s take a minute to review the phases of a No Limit Texas Hold’em game below:
- Phase #1 – Setup: Button, Small Blind, Big Blind and Antes are established. Two cards are dealt to each player.
- Phase #2 – Pre-Flop: Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Fold, Bet or Raise depending on the action.
- Phase #3 – The Flop: Three community cards are revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
- Phase #4 – The Turn: One community card is revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
- Phase #5 – The River: One community card is revealed. Action moves around the table in a clockwise rotation where each player has the option to Check, Bet, Raise or Fold depending on the action.
- Phase #6 – The Showdown: Winning hand is turned up and the Pot is awarded.
7-2 offsuit is notoriously tagged as the worst hand in Poker because there are no ways to make a Straight using both cards and both cards are very low. When we take a closer look, however, we see that it can be more accurately described as the worst hand in Poker at Phase #2. Maybe I’m in the Big Blind with 7-2 and nobody raises allowing me to see a free Flop taking us to Phase #3 where the board shows 7-7-2. Now we have the best hand in Poker even if only for one Phase of the hand.
While it’s important to look ahead and understand what you or your opponent might be holding or drawing to at each phase, we are strongly against assuming that one particular outcome will occur. Casinos are clouded with too much talk about players who will never get a good hand or haven’t seen good cards in ages when they may have already missed a gift. The key is to have the patience and know that there are multiple phases of a hand and your starting cards will not always predict a win at Phase #6.
In today’s example, I choose to make a play at Phase #2 that does not go as expected. In Phase #3, however, an unexpected Flop shows completely changing my mindset.
I’m on the Cutoff in Phase #2 holding Ac-2c with blinds and antes at 25/125/250. I have 48 big blinds with a mixed table (some large, medium, and short stacks). A-2 falls into my playable hand range if the action were to fold to me. As a review, if the action folds and we have over 20 big blinds, then we should raise with any Ace, any pocket pair, most suited connectors and any two cards over 7. A-2 qualifies under the “any Ace” bucket. Let’s see how the action moves around before deciding what to do.
Action folds around and the player to my right raises. Recall from “Seeing In The Dark” that while $515 is not an exact minimum raise, it still is the correct amount and shows that my opponent has some level of knowledge about the correct bet sizing in a pre-flop situation. This piece of information helps us understand that his raise may be motivated by an attempt to steal the blinds or make a continuation bet on the Flop with a weaker hand. We cannot be fully certain that this is the case until we receive more information. It’s definitely possible that he has a premium hand as well. A raise to $1,000 here would provide more evidence towards the idea that he is an amateur player holding a big hand with less understanding of the principles described at The Poker Model.
Classic Poker Model strategies would say to fold A-2 in this situation as it does not fall into the call behind hand range that we suggest. As a reminder, those hand ranges are 22-QQ, K-J+ and A-10 to A-Q in most situations. It would be fine to fold right now.
My opponent’s stack size made me a bit more curious. If he is raising to steal the blinds, he cannot 4-bet bluff me unless he moves all-in because of his 21 big blind stack and I have enough chips to make the play; this may be a good spot to try. Sure he could move all-in on me, but that will tell us that the original raise was made with a good hand. I’m comfortable with folding if that play is made.
I make the 3-bet about 2.4 times the minimum raise. Generally speaking, 3-bets should be between 2-3 times the size of the original raise. I’m relieved when the three players to my left fold. If any one of them had picked up at big hand, like A-K, K-K, A-A, Q-Q or A-Q, then they would 4-bet me and I’d have to fold. Again, I have plenty of chips to make this move and will be just fine folding. Additionally, making a 3-bet fold will help my table image if I do pick up a big hand later. Other players may think I’m making moves and bluff their chips away to me. For example, if I’ve been 3-betting often and my opponents have been folding hands like 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, K-J and K-Q, they may start to question if I’m making the 3-bet with a big hand or simply bluffing. If on the next hand I pick up A-A, they will be more likely to 4-bet me with the very same hands or nothing at all, thinking I do not have a big hand. In the above example, a 3-bet fold would reinforce the idea that I have been 3-betting without a premium hand because I would have called the 4-bet behind me with a premium hand. It will look like I 3-bet the original raise with nothing and have my opponents 4-betting me with hands that they typically would not against a tighter player in future hands. This will work in my favor when I do in fact have a premium hand and perform a standard 3-bet later on.
Because my opponent raised the correct amount preflop, I would expect him to move all-in or fold after my 3-bet. If he just calls, then I’ll be in a position to make a continuation bet on the Flop after he checks. This is why we made the play. We’ve put intense pressure on him to either risk his entire tournament with the 21 big blind stack or fold, giving us the Pot. We happen to have Ac-2c, but this play could have been made with any two cards, even 7-2.
A totally unexpected situation has presented itself. First, our opponent flat called our 3-bet. This is a major no-no because as you can see, he is forced to check and then fold to a bet if he misses the Flop. Even worse is that he now has under 20 big blinds and hoped to see a big Flop instead of keeping his stack where it needs to be.
After assessing my opponent’s play and changing my opinion of his poker experience level, I look up and realize that I’ve flopped Two Pair. Thanks for the gift, Poker! I’m now in a situation where I’ve hit “All of the Flop” instead of our standard “None of the Flop” where my original plan was to 3-bet bluff. This has drastically changed Phase #2 to Phase #3 for me. Remember that “All of the Flop” is usually Two Pair or better and should be bet to get all-in. The heart draw on the board is there, but my opponent has under 20 big blinds and I’m in a situation where I’m betting to get all-in anyways because I have Two Pair. This means that I’ll make my bet (which looks like a continuation bet) in hopes of my opponent going all-in where I’ll call. Again, I’ve come to this decision because I have a big hand and my opponent will move all-in on me with worse hands than Two Pair.
I make a ⅓ size bet, hoping to induce an all-in from my opponent. Many players would move all-in with One Pair, a lower Two Pair or a Flush Draw. I’m a big favorite against these hands with Two Pair. Also important to note is that if I bet too much here, I may get a Flush Draw to fold. The intrigue of the Flush Draw all-in is that it may get me to fold a hand like K-K or worse. So I want to bet small enough that a Flush draw would move all-in. This is the reason for the ⅓ size bet instead of a large bet.
My opponent folds and I win a nice pot. The flat call of the 3-bet followed by a fold on the Flop with under 20 big blinds tells us that this player may understand how to raise in Phase #2 of a hand, but doesn’t understand how to fold in Phase #2. Also observe how my plans in Phase #2 were completely changed by a gift in Phase #3. Imagine the level of complexity that can occur in Phases #4 and Phase #5! For example, when you have 5-5 on a 6-K-K Flop and another 6 comes on the Turn changing your hand from fives to five-high. It’s okay, take a deep breathe and remember that The Poker Model will keep you even no matter what phase we are in because we’ll focus on our own two cards.
It’s very easy to remember all of the bad beats that we have taken as poker players; we challenge you to remember the gifts and question how you’ve played them. Today I adjusted my core set of values because I saw an opportunity to take advantage of a short stack. My plan failed due to an inexperienced player wanting to see a Flop, but I was bailed out with gift that turned my hand into the monster that it appeared to be PreFlop. No matter what play you are making or spot that may look good to take advantage, always accept the gifts that come your way as you’ll certainly be on the other end of it soon.