If you are familiar with a lot of the training material over on my site CrushLivePoker.com you know that I think that there are a lot of old poker adages that are flat out wrong when it comes to No Limit. Having to call the river when the board does not change, only betting if your hand is strong enough to call a raise are just a few pieces of bad advice that I am still amazed that I hear spouted out from time to time by poker trainers, players and authors. I have done a lot of live commentary over the years especially at the WSOP and another one of these “bad adages” I often hear other pros say is that you should know what you are going to do beforehand if your opponent raises you in a given situation. I think that this is basically hogwash and I will explain why.
During the WSOP Monster Stack this summer I got involved in a tough spot about seven levels into the tournament. In any other $1500 tourney this would not be all that early on but in the Monster Stack with such a slow structure only about 20% of the field had been knocked out. An older gentlemen had limped in at $200-$400 blinds with a $50 ante with about $20K effective under the gun and I made it $1200 to go on the button with A♦ Q♦. A very loose aggressive player in the big blind called and the limper also called. The board came out Q♣ 3♣ T♠. The blind checked and the limper lead out at the pot for $2k. For a number of reasons including the fact that I did not want to give the guy in the blind good odds to peel and the pot size was approaching half of my stack plus I thought the limper would call with worse queens and flush draws I decided to raise to $5K. The limper was a gentleman in his late 40s to early 50s and I could tell by the way that he physically handled his chips that he was not the most experienced player (later I found that he was actually quite new to poker). I have been playing professional for nearly ten years and have picked up on certain betting patterns and actions of novice players. I would say that when a player like this leads out at the pot that AQ is the best hand here about 95% of the time. Now that does not mean that raising is always the correct play as we do not want to get all hands weaker than our hands to fold and only better to continue on. It would be a disaster for him to fold 19/20 times and only continue 1/20 with a better hand. But I just did not think that this was the case in this situation especially with my rather small raise sizing. Why do I think that I am good here so often? It is just very rare that players like this lead out with a monster hand like a set of 3s or top two pair. Also when you look at the distribution of suits on the board and what I held in my hand there is only one combination of QT suited and three combinations of set of threes. Sets of queens and tens were unlikely as those hands most likely raise before the flop. So most likely the guy was leading with the nut flush draw, a combo draw or a weaker queen.
Much to my surprise, however after the blind folded, the gentlemen thought for about 20 seconds and moved all-in! Now I definitely was not expecting that. Did I know what to do immediately? Definitely not. I went into the tank for a long time thinking about all of the possibilities and combinations. Some would say that I “should have known my decision before I made my raise”. But this of course is rubbish because I am going to be reraised so infrequently why would I waste the mental energy to think one step ahead about a situation that is so unlikely to happen?
You only have a finite amount of memory in your brain—kind of like a computer—and I truly feel that you need to properly ration it. There are going to be many times when you raise someone, especially on later streets, that when you get raised back your opponents’ range is going to be extremely polarized which means that most of the time they are going to only call or fold. You don’t have to think about what you are going to do in advance to counter the very few times that they actually do come back over the top.