Poker is not life and death, but the pressure is real. Consider waking up early on a Sunday with the goal of making a 5-course meal for friends and family that night. You spend hours at the grocery store finding all of the necessary items and time the preparation in such a way that the food will be hot when served. Exactly one hour before dinner, the water shuts off in your home, leaving you unable to complete the meal. How are you feeling in this exact moment? Anxious? Embarrassed? Feeling the pressure to feed these people? A similar feeling exists in Poker.
Poker players can sit for hours (even days) making all of the correct moves only to come up empty when close to the finish line. What are the odds that the water will go off exactly one hour before the meal is to be served? Probably very similar to losing to a 2% “one outer” on the River right before a Final Table. Final dinner table to eat a delicious meal, Final Poker table to win a bunch of money; same thing. In both scenarios, the unlucky victim will feel a gut-wrenching hit of anxiety.
What we are able to control in both situations is how we react. Some will never want to cook again while others will reschedule for next week. Some will throw their laptops against the wall and others will reinvest, putting themselves in a similar position that week.
We can call a moment of feeling intense pressure as being “under the gun”. In a standard game of No Limit Texas Hold’em, however, “under the gun” is an actual table position, one left of the Big Blind. The reason that this seat is referred to as “under the gun” is because this player has the least amount of information to make a pre-flop decision, putting more pressure on him. There is nothing about who has folded, called or raised for the player to analyze. There are also the maximum amount of players moving clockwise around the table that have not acted yet, able to have a playable hand. This means that being under the gun gives the player the highest possible chance of receiving pre-flop action.
For these reasons, a player who raises from under the gun is said to be representing a good hand, while a player who raises from the Button is said to be attempting to steal the blinds. This logic leads to the idea that when facing a raise from under the gun, we should have a good hand, while we may not need such a good hand when facing a raise from the Button. What we have just described is straight-forward, honest Poker.
Let’s get real though, if we know the logic in the above paragraph, then we’re able to take advantage by raising with weak hands from Under The Gun and strong hands from the Button; this will help us disguise the strength of our hand.
Remember that regardless of table position, The Poker Model has specific rules for what hands to play based mainly on stack sizes and the cards themselves. Do not run in circles trying to figure out what your opponents are thinking of your raise, sometimes you’ll have a strong hand on the Button or Under the Gun, sometimes you have a weak hand on The Button or Under The Gun.
Today’s example shows an Under The Gun vs. Big Blind hand and reminds us that a continuation bet does not always mean, “I have something”.
I’m in the Big Blind with blinds and antes at 35/200/400. This means that players are forced to put in $35 on every hand, $200 when in the Small Blind and $400 when in the Big Blind. I’m holding 10c7s and my stack is around 51 big blinds ($20,421/$400 = 51). This hand is at the low range of hands that I would call a raise from the Big Blind with because it is not two cards over 7. 10-7 is still playable because a straight can be made using both of the cards. I will not be calling all-ins with 10-7 because it will not be dominating any of the hands that would make the all-in move.
Uh oh, a raise from Under The Gun! The raiser makes a minimum raise which shows that he has some knowledge of the correct amount to raise pre-Flop. This information implies that he is more likely to make a continuation bet post-Flop and also that he is aware that it’s okay to raise with weaker hands from Under The Gun pre-Flop.
If the Under The Gun raise was to $1600 (4x the big blind), then we could expect that this player doesn’t know the correct pre-Flop raising amounts, may not know what a continuation bet is and probably has a stronger hand because of the confidence to raise from Under The Gun. Again, a raise to $800 shows that the player does know the correct amount to raise pre-Flop, probably has an understanding of continuation bets and may have any two cards when raising from Under The Gun.
If any of the other players in the hand make a 3-bet to the Under The Gun raise, then I’ll fold because they would be representing hands that are far superior to 10-7. If players choose to call behind, then I’ll most likely call as well because I’m getting good pot odds, meaning there is more money to win with the same investment. If five additional players called behind, then there would be an extra $2000 (5 x $400) in the Pot. For me to call from the Big Blind, I’d still only need to invest $400 more giving me good “pot odds”. We’ll drill down on specific pot odds situations in other posts.
The action folds to me in the Big Blind. First things first, I have a nice stack (+50 big blinds) and my opponent has a smaller, but still good stack (40 big blinds). 10-7 is an average hand that can fold or call here. As described in “Fifty Shades of Spades”, I’m probably going to miss the Flop if I call. I can also expect a continuation bet after I check to my opponent based on the logic that if he knows how to raise pre-Flop, he’ll know how to bet post-Flop.
My option are simple: call the raise if I’m going to make a Check/Raise Bluff on a missed Flop or fold right now if I’m going to Check/Fold on the Flop.
I choose to call, fully expecting to make a Check/Raise Bluff when I miss the Flop. The Flop comes 2c-Qh-Js, which is a complete miss for my 10c-7s. I notice that there is $2080 in the Pot. Before I check to the Under The Gun raiser, I review that a small continuation bet from him would be anything under $700 (⅓ of the pot), making my Check/Raise Bluff less expensive to execute. A bet between $700 and $1400 (⅓-⅔ of the pot) from him would be medium sized, making my Check/Raise Bluff a bit more costly. Lastly, a bet over $1400 (+⅔ of the pot) from him would be large, making my Check/Raise Bluff very expensive. While I have my original plan, the size of his continuation bet will allow me to drill down a bit and choose if I want to follow through or abort at this phase. Generally speaking, we would never want to make this play if it puts our stack under the 20 big blind threshold. Also, if our opponent has a stack lower than 20 big blinds, our move will put him all-in. We never want to cold-bluff all-in because we’ll have a very low chance of getting lucky and winning the hand when the Turn and River come if we are unsuccessful in our bluff attempt.
As a rule, follow through on your original plan if the continuation bet from your opponent is small to medium sized and neither stack is lower than 20 big blinds. There is no shame in aborting if your opponent makes a large continuation bet because it becomes too expensive and we don’t want to give chips away that we don’t have to.
As we saw last week, no continuation bet will change our plan as well. If our opponent checks behind us on the Flop, then we’ve just missed the spot where our Check/Raise Bluff was to be executed. If this happens, Check/Fold unless there is a clean opportunity to win the pot (see Fifty Shades of Spades), or your hand improves by seeing free cards on the Turn or River.
I check and my opponent makes a medium-sized, half-pot continuation bet of $1080. The first thought I have is that this is a prime spot to attempt a Check/Raise Bluff. A player with a good understanding of how to minimum raise is now following up with a correctly sized continuation bet. Our opponent’s play mirrors exactly how The Poker Model would suggest playing a hand from Under The Gun that either completely missed the Flop or made a big hand on the Flop. Consider if we were Under The Gun and had a hand like A-3. A-3 is a qualifying hand and we would min-raise to $800. Next, all players in the hand fold and the Big Blind calls. The Flop comes 2-Q-J and the Big Blind checks to us. The Poker Model tells us to make a half pot continuation bet because we missed the Flop and want to take it down right now. Against most players with 10-7 in the Big Blind, the continuation bet would be successful. Shifting gears to us being in the Big Blind, we know that our opponent could have a wide range of hands because he is playing the same game that we are from Under The Gun. For this reason, we can take it one step further and view the spot as an opportunity to Check/Raise Bluff from the Big Blind against the Under The Gun player. As you can see, it’s important to think about the game from both angles. This becomes second nature over time.
Our job now is to play detective and figure out if he is holding a big hand or merely bluffing, which is more likely. Remember that we have a large stack and will not invest any more into this Pot if we are unsuccessful.
I make a large raise on top of his continuation bet. From this position and level, 3x his bet can be considered large, 2.5x can be considered medium, and 2x can be considered small. The reason I make a large raise is to look strong. If my opponent has a big hand he will most likely raise me back (4-bet) and I will fold. In some cases, players will make 4-bet bluffs because they are aware that the Check/Raise Bluff may be happening to them. When I raise 3x his bet, however, it will force him to commit thousands more chips into the Pot to attempt a 4-bet bluff. Most players will not make this play unless they have much larger stacks.
My opponent folds, confirming that his bet was merely a standard continuation bet hoping to take the Pot down on the Flop. We’ll win a nice Pot without having a hand, also seeing a Flop, which could have been big for us.
My opponent was Under The Gun which to an ameteur, screams “I have a big hand”. After breaking down the situation step by step, we see that players may raise from any position with any two cards. They are able to make these plays because a standard continuation bet on the Flop will give them an opportunity to win if they miss. Today we were able to take full advantage of that flow. We expected a standard continuation bet, had the chips to make a play, and found ourselves Check/Raise Bluffing to victory.
Remember that no matter what pressure comes your way, how you react is most important. Regardless of your position at the table or what move you make, staying over 20 big blinds and keeping your tournament life will keep you alive and allow you to fight another day.