$30 home tourney, second game of the night, only one awful player left in this game.
BACKGROUND ON VILLAIN
Villain is Ron, a friend of Sam. Sam is my friend, is a decent NLHE player who likes to listen to Bart's podcast with me when we go to the casino together. However, to be honest, Sam's probably not as good as me or the other people on this message board.
But he does like to argue with me about poker - he has a contrarian streak. He's a winning $1/2 player but spews off all his money when he gets bored, drunk, or gets a case of Fancy Play Syndrome. He could probably beat $2/5 if he reigned in his horses a bit (he claims to beat it in Vegas). A subscription to Bart's podcast is what he really needs.
This is all to say that all I know about Ron, the Villain in this hand, is that Sam says "Ron's probably the best poker player I've ever met." Given what I've told you about Sam, I take his assessment of Ron as "the best poker player I've ever met" with a dash of salt. I've never played Ron before until this night, but I'm keeping my eyes open; other players that Sam has complimented before have proven to be decent enough players, especially in tournament formats. I think Ron plays cash games, or at least isn't scared of them, but I am also pretty sure he has a sweet tooth for tournaments. I know he plays the awful $200 entry tournaments (with a $30 "fee" on top) at the casino whenever they have them.
I played with Ron a bit at another table in the previous game we had and he was tight, and he didn't make too many moves. He saw me making moves and absolutely abusing the weak players to my left when they were in the blinds, while I was also on a bit of a heater. I think he recognizes me as a good player, and I have to assume that Sam has told him that I'm at least knowledgeable. He's stayed out of my way all night and up until now, we haven't even seen a flop together.
So we're 6 handed in the second game of the night, there's one awful player to my immediate left, the rest of the table generally knows what the hell is going on and has read at least their fair share of Dan Harrington books. Effective stacks are about 25BB. I'm in the SB.
Pre-flop: UTG folds, Villain (Ron) opens for 3.5x, BUT folds. I have AhJs. I consider raising but I don't think I'm getting called by worse if I raise, but I could definitely be shoved on by worse and I don't want to have to call off my stack with this hand. I take about 10 seconds, decide I'm ahead of his range, and call. BB folds.
Flop: 872 rainbow. I check to him, he c-bets, and I call.
Turn: 8, brings in a backdoor flush draw. I check, he checks.
River: Another 8. I check to him, thinking that if I were in his position, I would consider betting an ace. Because of this, I'm prepared to call many bets with my AJ. He thinks for a bit, and then just checks. I table my AJ and I'm good; he doesn't show.
After the game, I talked with our mutual friend Sam about this hand. I was excited to be in a hand with a player he respected so much, and I thought I played it pretty well; the other players at the table paid very close attention to the two of us being involved in our first hand together, so I knew Sam would remember it. I asked him if he thought I could have bet the river with AJ; he says he thinks I'm crazy for even considering calling a possible bet on the river.
We go back and forth over this for a while and like all our poker discussions, it just ends with him digging his heels in. So I wanted to present this to you guys:
The way this played out, I KNOW he doesn't have the case 8. I also think his range is very skewed towards high overcards; I am almost certain he doesn't have a pair. (Easy for me to say now, right?) So if I had bet the river, it would look like I was betting because that's the only way I can win the hand; it looks extremely bluffy. He's seen me making moves at the other table in the previous game, as well. For all these reasons, I think I can value-bet my AJ here because I think I can definitely get called by a worse ace, or maybe even in an extreme case, a King.
These are also the same reasons why I can check-call the river, in order to induce a bluff from Ron, because his range is wider than mine and much less likely to win at showdown.
Sam thinks this is all wrong and that I can never call the river - that absent a check-check, the only way I can win is to check-raise all in. But then, strangely, he also thinks I should have led on the river, in an attempt to fold out better. So he sees my hand very differently than I did. For me, it's a bluff-catcher. For him, it's one that can never see a showdown, and he thinks that checking the river with the intention of calling is a passive donkey play. (He went so far as to compare me to a player who is known for flat-calling and calling three streets with KK and AA.)
I realize that my train of thought is a bit inconsistent also; I think I can play this as either a value-bet or as a bluff-catcher.
As a value bet: I reconcile the contradiction with the fact that from Villain's perspective, his OWN hand has turned from a bluff into a bluff-catcher. It is because of how the hand has played out - top pair on the flop is now quads, and two draws have missed - that when I lead the river it looks extremely polarized, and that his A9-type hands are now bluff catchers. I've played passively the entire way, and then I lead this river? Come on... Given what I suspect is a tournament background, I do think he can call a bet on the river with something like A9 because it looks like busted T9 or the case 8.
As a bluff-catcher: If I check the river, and he has two overs, he has one final chance to rep a hand like 66 that has backed into a full house, if he thinks he can get me off of a hand like AJ or 44. He can't value-bet an ace here because his kicker likely isn't strong enough. This is why I can play my hand as a bluff-catcher, which I have the entire way.
Ultimately, I think the best case to be made against me leading the river is that I've played this as a bluff-catcher, I can still get him to bet his weaker aces as bluffs sometimes, and maybe more importantly, I need to be taking the easy chips that I can now given the stack sizes and structure of the tournament (15 min blinds). Value-betting this short-stacked probably isn't as applicable as it would be in a cash game.
So what do you guys think about my logic here? How would you have played the river? And how are things any different if this is a cash game, or if we're 100BB deep instead of 25? Thanks for reading this, I know it's long and probably convoluted...