Stayin’ Alive

There’s a fine line between best and second best in poker. Unfortunately, you will lose more chips with the second best hand than if you had nothing at all. In today’s example, we’ll show you how to navigate a tricky situation and ensure that you stay in the tournament regardless.

I’m sitting Under The Gun+1 (UTG+1) holding Jh-Js with $160K in chips with blinds at 1K/2K. The action folds to me and I come into the hand raising to 4K because my hand qualifies. With over 20 big blinds and no previous action, I should double The Big Blind with any two cards over 7, any Ace, any pocket pairs, suited connectors over 6, 9-7 suited, and 10-7 suited. I should fold all other hands.

The action folds to The Big Blind (TBB), who makes a 3-bet (reraise) to $10K. His raise shows strength because my raise was made from early table position. My raise does not look like an attempt to steal the blinds. So I must be skeptical of the raise and proceed with caution. I will fold most hands to this raise, but with 9-9, 10-10, J-J, and Q-Q, I should call because I will usually flop a mediocre hand or better. With premium hands like A-K, A-A, and K-K, I will 4-bet (raise back) in an effort to get all of my chips in right now.

The Flop comes 8s-3h-3c and my opponent bets $12K. As always, I must qualify my hand as good, bad, or mediocre. In this case I have flopped an overpair to the board. While this may seem like a good hand, it is mediocre because I am not ready and willing to put all of my chips in. As mentioned above, there is a strong chance that my opponent has Q-Q, K-K, or A-A based on his pre-flop play – all hands that dominate J-J. I look to my own stack to determine if I can afford to call or not. Because my stack is well over 20 big blinds, I make the call and proceed cautiously to The Turn.

The Turn is the Ten of Clubs which doesn’t significantly change the hand because it is still an undercard to my J-J. My opponent bets $20K. In this spot I must regroup and determine how I can make it to The River here without putting my tournament at risk, as I always do with mediocre hands. If I simply call, then my opponent will be first to act on The River and can essentially put me all-in. I do not like being vulnerable like this, especially because he could be bluffing.

I choose a Turn Blocker Bet to slow him down while keeping my stack over the 20 big blind threshold. A Turn Blocker Bet is a minimum raise in this spot which will result in a win right now if he folds, a call by my oppenent and potential check on The River, or a 3-bet (reraise) from my opponent right now. If I win right now, then he was probably bluffing on the Turn. If he calls and bets on The River the he most likely has me beat. If he 3-bets (reraises) right now then he probably has me beat. We would like to see a fold or a call then check on The River. Regardless, I will not invest any more chips in the pot.

My opponent calls the additional $20K and checks The River after the Four of Hearts shows. This was one of the outcomes that we were hoping for because we’ll get to flip our cards over without investing any more money into the pot. This is the value of The Turn Blocker Bet.

I check behind and we flip our cards. My opponent shows A-A and I lost a very large pot. I like to look on the bright side in situations like this. If I had not used a Turn Blocker Bet then it’s likely that my opponent would have put me all-in on The River. This would be a very difficult fold for me to make and I’d probably be knocked out. But I chose to invest an additional $20k on The Turn and slow him down, ultimately keeping my tournament life. Remember that no pot is worth guessing on The River for it all. Keep your stack above 20 big blinds and find out the information that you need to stay alive.


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