Fifty Shades of Spades

A dealer sends out two cards to each player around the table. You are sitting in Seat 5 and have not played a hand in over an hour. You collect the two cards and are pleased to see the Ace of Spades is the first one. You slide the ace to the side and, at first, think you see another ace underneath. Unfortunately, it’s the 4 of Spades. Almost getting dealt pocket aces has you thinking, “what if I play this hand the exact same way that I would if I really did have pocket aces?” This is a dangerous thought because there are no measurable reasons why you are making the play; it’s based completely on your instinct that it feels like the right time.

Now let’s change gears to an environment where you are on your laptop on the couch watching Braveheart, with The Godfather coming up next. Every minute or so you hear a beep that it’s your turn to act in the Poker game. You make the standard play and don’t even consider getting tricky because you have a movie to get back to. You are able to be more patient and relaxed.

Lastly, imagine clicking wildly on a 27-inch iMac desktop to keep up with the 12 Poker games you are in. You won’t even have time to consider making a random “feel” play because you may miss other hands if you do. Everything you do must be systematic and organized.

Poker is an exciting game and elicits strong feelings from all who play. We must manage these feelings in order to be successful. The game getting a bit stale at the casino does not justify making an exciting, random play. If your play is not scalable, then it should not be tried just this one time. Maybe online players have more consistent success than live players because they are less bored and feel less of an urge to try something new.

Wherever and however you decide to play, we want you to have a specific, logical reasons for doing what you do. Take a look at an example of two ways to reflect on the same hand:

Good: I was on the Button, had 20 big blinds, and was holding A-A. A player minimum raised from Under The Gun and the action folded to me. I moved all-in because raises from Under The Gun are usually made with good hands and I may get called. Because A-A is the best pre-flop hand in the game, I want to be called. I chose to go all-in instead of just 3-bet because my all-in appears to be a wider range of hands to my opponent than a 3-bet with only 20 big blinds. When I move all-in preflop with 20 big blinds, it may appear that I’m attempting to get my opponent to fold where a 3-bet looks like I want to receive a call (the 3-bet is less expensive). For these reasons, I’ll move all-in with A-A because I’m more likely to get called by my opponent, who sees that the all-in will be made with a wider range of hands, even though more expensive.  My opponent called with 10-10. I lost the hand after a board of J-9-8-Q-2 showed.

Bad: I lost with pocket aces to some idiot that called me with pockets 10s. He must have known the straight was coming. Everytime I get pocket aces I lose. This game is rigged.

If you’ve been following The Poker Model, you’ve learned that there are many places to get creative and to try making moves in a hand of Poker. The key difference that we teach is to be fully aware of stack sizes and tournament life above all else. Each action that we take will be calculated in an effort to keep us alive. There will ultimately be a place where we should be mathematically ahead to double up where we can then grind on.

In today’s hand, I decide to get tricky and make a few moves with tournament life and stack sizes at the front of my awareness.

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I’m in the Small Blind holding Ks-7s with blinds and antes at 35/175/350. I have 48 big blinds and the table has mixed stacks meaning some stacks are small, some are medium and some are large. Remember that generally speaking, under 20 big blinds is small, 21-50 big blinds is medium and 51+ big blinds can be considered large. I’ll most likely be folding this hand if any players at the table raise because K-7 does not fall into my playable hand range. I’d need 22-QQ, K-J+ or A10-AQ to call behind a raise, depending on table position. If players just call into the pot, then I will call the small blind in hopes that the big blind will check, allowing me to see a cheap Flop. I will call with any two cards in the Small Blind if there are only calls in front of me for the same reason, to see a cheap Flop only needing to invest ½ of a big blind.

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The action folds to a short stack of about 8 big blinds in middle position. If this player moves all-in and it folded to me in the small blind, I’d fold my K-7. Although anything is possible, an 8 big blind all-in from this position would be closer to the range of any ace, K-J+ or any pocket pair. My K-7 will not be winning in most cases. This is would be a fairly easy fold. The Poker Model suggests being even tighter when moving all-in with 8 big blinds, somewhere in the range of A-10+, 8-8+ because we want to get called and be ahead. If our opponent had 5 big blinds, then we would call with K-7, because his range will be even wider. Use the search bar on our website to find more on pre-flop hand ranges.

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The short stack decides to wait for a better spot to go all-in and folds. The action moves to the Button. Recall that the Button is a prime place to steal the blinds and antes when all players have already folded to the right. The player on the Button makes a minimum raise. I observe that I have more chips than him and also that the stack to my left is slightly over 20 big blinds. This means that if I make a play, the player on my left would have to move all-in or fold behind me to be in the hand. Just calling would commit him to the pot and he would not want to fold regardless of what Flop comes. To sum it up, he’ll need a big hand to move all-in with his stack size and that will be unlikely. This will help us if we decide to make a play because we can expect with more certainty to be heads up against the Button instead of in a three way Pot with the Button and Big Blind.

I’ve also made a few 3-bets pre-flop against this player on the Button earlier in the tournament. This means that he would be more likely to play back at me if I choose to 3-bet him here, which I do not want with K-7. The image we have created with this specific player will greatly help us if we pick up a big hand. Our opponent is more likely to play back at us for the same reasons, leaving us in a position to take all of his chips.

Because he appears to be stealing the blinds and I have the largest and most solid stack in the hand (48 big blinds), I’m going to get tricky. I’m going to follow this plan:

  • Call the Raise
  • Expect the player to my left to fold
  • Expect to miss the Flop
  • Check and expect the Button to make his Continuation Bet
  • Check/Raise Bluff if I miss the Flop (most probable), Check/Raise if I hit a big Flop (least probable), and Check/Call if I Flop a mediocre hand, using a potential Blocker Bet on the River.

This play is outside of The Poker Model’s core strategy set, but we can afford to make the play because of our stack size. Got all of that? Feel free to ask questions on our site for more clarity.

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We didn’t hit any piece of this Flop, which is not surprising. Remember that we did not call the pre-flop raise hoping for a big Flop, we called expecting to miss and then to make a Check/Raise Bluff to our opponent’s continuation bet. The player to my left folded, which is good because he will not be in the hand to muddy the waters. By muddy the waters we mean 3-bet pre-flop, make a hand post flop, attempt to bluff, etc. At this phase, my Spades are meaningless. I have no pair, no draw, but I do have a plan. I’m going to check to my opponent and prepare to make my play if a continuation bet comes. If no bet comes, then I’ll have to reassess the hand, fully comfortable because I have plenty of chips in my stack. Reassessing the hand requires viewing any additional information that comes (like the Turn card) and determining if we’ll give up on the hand or adjust in some type of way based on the new information.

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We made it all the way to the end of Phase #3 of the hand with things going according to plan. The Button raised, we called, the Big Blind folded, we missed the Flop and we checked to the Button. At the end of Phase #3, we expected a continuation bet that did not occur. This means that the action is now on us on Phase #4 of a hand that we now have no right being in. What should we do? Giving up is totally fine. We’ve only lost 2 big blinds on the hand and we have a good stack behind us. I was very close to check/folding for these reasons.

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I did notice that the board was now all Hearts. In situations with 4 of one suit and no pairs on the board, the game becomes simplified. If you bet and get called, your opponent will most likely have the 5th suit, making a Flush. If you bet and do not get called, your opponent will most likely not have the 5th suit. This is not always the case, but in most instances it is. In our situation, it is less likely to have a Heart than not, so with all things even, the one who bets usually wins. For these reasons, I decide to make a larger bet to really learn if he has the Flush or not, representing that I do have the Flush. I bet ¾ of the Pot. If I’m called, I’ll give up on the hand and assume he has the Flush. If I’m raised, I’ll give up on the hand and assume he has a high Flush. If he folds, then I’ll win with no Flush and assume that he didn’t have the Flush.

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Looks like he didn’t have the Flush. While he could have raised with any two cards pre-flop with his table position, we can be confident that neither of those two cards happen to be Hearts. I win the Pot with K-7 of Spades on a board of all Hearts.

We hope you were able to follow along with the logic of this seemingly random hand. As a review, we called pre-flop with a hand that doesn’t typically qualify because we had the chips, it wasn’t a completely horrible hand, the Button was appearing to steal the blinds and antes and we expected to miss the Flop and win using a Check/Raise Bluff. We ran into an issue when the Button didn’t make the expected continuation bet. On the Turn, we seized an opportunity to take control of the hand and put our opponent to the test by making a large bet to an all Heart board. Our opponent didn’t have a Heart in his hand to call the bet and we won.

We didn’t feel like bluffing on this one. As you probably saw, the hand could have went south in a number of places. This would have been fine because we planned to abort if such action occurred, still feeling solid because of our stack size and tournament life. When you are on the grind, make sure to keep logic at the forefront and tame your emotions. Stay in the tournament and move on quickly if you make a mistake. After all, there are many ways to call a Spade a Spade.

Brett

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