Bleep, Bleep, Bleep, Bleep. You roll over and smack the alarm clock that reads “11:00am” off of the nightstand and onto the floor, it’s Poker day baby. Maybe you take a shower, maybe not. You brushed your teeth yesterday morning so no real need to today. There are a pair of sweatpants and matching hoodie in a ball on the floor which makes the perfect uniform for today. When you finally make it out of your room and into the kitchen, maybe you eat the 4 eggs whites that your nutritionist prescribed for breakfast, maybe you don’t. After all, the sauce in cold pizza can be considered a vegetable. You finally make it out of the door and into your vehicle with only a smudge of pizza sauce on your hoodie, not bad.
The excitement builds as you move through the bank drive-through line and request the $150 cash that you’ll need to buy into the today’s tournament. Sigh, it’s actually $165 with the fee included. You circle back one more time to get that $15.
Now you’re on the road with your Spotify Poker Playlist bumpin’ “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers followed by Lady Gaga’s, “Poker Face” and a plethora of other songs that have the words “poker” and “face” in them. The sun is shining and everything feels right. Could this be my day? I’m really feelin’ it. When you finally arrive at the casino there is an open parking space near the elevator, it’s go time.
“The buy-in is only $150 today sir, we are not collecting fees.” Sweet, up $15 already! The tournament director hands you a slip and you find your seat. These chairs are so comfortable, I could sit here all day. Should I order a coffee? No, then I may have to get up to use the restroom. Darn, I should have recorded Saturday Night Live, I doubt I’ll be back before then. “Shuffle up and deal!”, announces the tournament director on a microphone to the full group of 500 hundred players.
You are dealt Q-Q on the very first hand and feel a rush to your gut. The action folds to you and your voice cracks as you announce, “raise”. “You alright?” says the concerned player on your left watching your hands tremble as you put the raising chips into the middle. The Small Blind calls and the Flop comes 10-J-10. Bingo, as long as he doesn’t have the 10 then I’m in business. The action checks to you and you bet huge. The player from the Small Blind raises huge. There is no possible way he can have the 10, I’ve seen so many players raise here with just the Jack. “Call”, you say. The turn is an insignificant 2. The college-aged opponent says, “All-In”. You are hit with another ping of anxiety. This kid is definitely bluffing. Look at him, he’s probably playing with his parents’ money. Does he even know what taxes are? Screw it. “I call, show me your 10.” The college aged player flips over J-10, “Full House.” You stand up and make the long walk back to your car and head home.
It really is a sad thing to watch hands be overplayed by players who have travelled from far and wide to have a good time and maybe win some money in a live tournament. Over playing a hand is when we place too much weight on it’s value and incorrectly bet as a result. In the above example, there is no possible way that we should be losing our entire tournament on the very first hand with Q-Q on a 10-J-10 board. The only hands that are raising us are hands that can beat Q-Q most of the time. If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position, then today’s example should help clear up some of the confusion and most importantly, keep you in the tournament longer.
I’m in early table position holding Q-Q. Q-Q is a top 4 starting hand along with A-A, K-K and A-K. From this position, we will raise with Q-Q the same way that we would raise with any other qualifying starting hands by doubling the big blind with no other raises in front of us (min-raise). As a reminder, we can make this raise with any ace, any pocket pair and any two cards over 7; Q-Q falls under the “any pocket pair” umbrella. The blinds are $200/$400 and I have 57 big blinds, which is considered a large stack. All other stacks are between 25-60 big blinds.
I make the min-raise to $800. With a premium hand like Q-Q, I will call if I receive a 3-bet. I would make a similar call with other pairs like 9-9, 10-10 or J-J, depending on table position and stack sizes. With K-K, A-A or A-K, I would make a 4-bet. Some players will only 3-bet with A-A or K-K, but many players will 3-bet with a much wider range like A-9+, K-10+, suited connectors or any pocket pair. Other players will 3-bet with any two cards.
After I call, I should play out the hand similarly to other hands described on The Poker Model. I’ll check, then call a continuation bet with a mediocre hand like an Over Pair, Top Pair or Middle Pair (J-10-2 Flop). I’ll check, then fold to a continuation bet with 3rd pair or worse (A-K-2 Flop). I’ll check, then raise a continuation bet with a big hand (Q-2-6 Flop). You can probably see that a hand like Q-Q has fewer Flops that we will fold than a hand like J-10, this is why we call a 3-bet with Q-Q and not with J-10, unless planning to Check/Raise bluff on a bad Flop. Remember that a Check/Raise bluff is used when we miss a Flop, check to the raiser, receive a continuation bet, and raise in an attempt to win the Pot, knowing that the continuation bet is more likely an attempt from our opponent steal the Pot on the Flop by representing a big hand.
The Small Blind calls. I should be in pretty good position here post-Flop and we are waiting on the Big Blind. As described above, if the Big Blind 3-bets, then I will make a call. If the Big Blind calls (making this a 3-way pot), then I will have the best position of the three players in the hand because I get to act last. After the Flop comes, I would expect both the Big and Small Blinds to check to me, where I can choose to make a continuation bet on a bad Flop (like A-K-2) to win the Pot now. I’d also make a continuation bet on a great Flop (like Q-4-9) in an effort to get all-in if my opponents happen to have something. Because Q-Q is already a high pair, it’s most likely that I’ll check a mediocre Flop (like J-10-8) in order to manage the hand and not put my tournament at risk.
If either player happens to bet out before giving me a chance to make a continuation bet, then I will adjust my plan according to the texture of the board, potentially using blocker bets to control the Pot. Remember that a Blocker Bet is a tool used to slow our opponent’s betting, while keeping control of the hand.
The Big Blind folds and the Flop comes 10s-Jd-10h (10 of Spades, Jack of Diamonds, 10 of Hearts). Not a bad Flop for me because the only hands that have me beat are hands that are unlikely to occur (any 10, J-J, K-K, or A-A). If my opponent has the Jack, then it will be difficult for him to put me on Q-Q because my pre-Flop raise was disguised as if I had 3-3 or any other qualifying hand. If he has a hand like K-Q, 9-8 or 9-9 then he’s likely to give me action because of the draw opportunities and mid pair value. The previous reasons support the idea that we should make a big bet here if it checks to us. But let’s remember our friend in the beginning of this article that was unable to fathom that his Q-Q could be beat. He made a huge bet on this Flop and didn’t consider tournament life. The Poker Model holds tournament life above all else in these situations and takes the guess work out of it. If our opponent checks and we check behind, then we take all of the risk out of the hand and leave an opening to still get major value later.
My opponent checks and the action is on me. As briefly described above, I do not want to bet here and be raised because I will lose control of the hand. When we have a mediocre hand and are raised, it becomes extremely difficult to know what our opponent is doing. Many players will Check/Raise bluff (representing the 10) if I bet. Others will make the same play with a draw (like K-Q or 9-8). If I call a Check/Raise then I am at the mercy of their Turn bet. The only card that improves my hand is an additional Queen, which is unlikely (<10%). Our goals are: to not fold the best hand, minimize risk and win the Pot. This is why we check the Flop with an Over Pair.
I check, the Turn is the 2 of Clubs, and my opponent makes a half pot bet. The 2 is insignificant unless my opponent was holding 2-2, which is unlikely. We are in a very similar situation on the Turn as we were on the Flop, but now we have a bet from the Small Blind. This bet can mean:
- “I want to start bluffing now because you checked the Flop which shows weakness“
- “I think my mediocre hand is now the best hand because you checked the Flop“
- “I have a draw and am betting in hopes of you folding now or hitting my draw on the River“
- “I had a big hand on the Flop and was expecting you to bet. You didn’t so now I’m betting my big hand“
I don’t know which option my opponent is playing but I’ll use The Poker Model to manage any of them. I cannot fold because Q-Q is beating too many of the potential scenarios, the only hands that beat Q-Q here are Full Houses, Three of a Kind and A-A or K-K which are very unlikely (<10%). We can rule out A-A or K-K because these hands would have 3-bet Pre-Flop in most cases.
A good option is to use a Turn Blocker Bet to slow down my opponent. Remember that a Turn Blocker bet is when we check the Flop like we did here and min-raise our opponent’s Turn bet to slow him down. It can be used in many situations with multiple players in the hand. After the min-raise, our opponent can fold, call or raise but we expect that he will call on the Turn and then check to us on the river. The reason I elected to not use the Turn Blocker bet here is because my hand is too good. Turn Blocker Bets are better suited to execute when we have Middle Pair or Top Pair/Over Pairs with a draw-heavy board. We want our opponent to check to us on the River so we can check behind if a potential card came that hurt us.
In our situation, the only obvious threatening River cards are an Ace or King, which would make our Queens second best if our opponent has A-X or K-X. Additionally, many players with only a Jack would 4-bet my Turn Blocker bet (raise me back) thinking they have the best hand and forcing me to fold Q-Q which is the best hand. The reason we would need to fold is because the very same play would be made if our opponent had the 3rd 10.
To eliminate some of that confusion, calling is a great option. The Pot and our stack will remain manageable. Recall a huge bet on the River would be about $5,000 here because it would be a Pot-sized bet. $5,000 is about 13 big blinds. Because this amount will not put us under 20 big blinds if called and incorrect, we are comfortable making the call with an insignificant River card.
I call the bet, the 6 of Spades shows on the River and my opponent makes an average sized bet. My decision becomes easy at this point. I can’t fold because I have an Overpair to the board and players will make this line of betting with a pair of Twos all the way up to Jacks. My Q-Q is ahead of all of those hands. My opponent can also be bluffing because the 6 didn’t help any draws.
I do not want to raise here because the only hand that calls me is one that is beating me, like A-10. There is nothing worse than betting on the River with a strong hand, only to be put all-in by an even stronger one.
The easy decision is to call. We’ve played the hand in such a way that we can still win a nice pot with very little risk. I’m certain that my opponent does not think I have Q-Q here because of my Flop check. Most players will bet Q-Q on a 10-J-10 board.
I make the call and my opponent flips over J-10, making a Full House. That’s why we checked the Flop and played conservatively on the Turn and River. Players will make any move with any two cards. We lost about 10 big blinds on the hand, but could have easily lost our entire tournament. It is moments like these that I’m grateful for The Poker Model. No other system relentlessly stresses being careful with less than monster hands as The Poker Model does. While we lost this hand, we gained a tremendous amount of value by keeping our tournament life and 47 big blinds.
Don’t feel too bad for the player in the introduction to this article. There are endless resources and ways to improve your game. Regardless of the why and how we won or lost, there is something special about entering a tournament and enjoying the ride. It’s clear that it becomes even more special when you take some cash with you on the long drive home.