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Poker by Jonathan Little: Let the opponent goof up

The following hand is from a 2015 World Series of Poker event. I had been card-dead, playing only two pots that went to the flop in the first three hours of play. If you’re getting no playable hands, it’s probably a good idea to attempt an intelligent, well-timed bluff, especially if your opponents realize you have been tight and will give you more respect than usual.

With blinds at 75/150, I raised to 400 from middle position with Js 10c. I normally would have folded, but since I appeared so tight to my opponents, I decided to get a bit out of line. The button called, and everyone else folded.

The flop came Qs 9d 8c, giving me the nuts.

While slow-playing my hand with a check was an option, I thought betting was a much better play. If you check, looking to check-raise if your opponent bets, your opponent will frequently fold, gaining you only one small flop bet. If you check-call, hoping your opponent continues betting on the turn, you’ll often be disappointed when the turn checks through, because most opponents will realize you must have a reasonable hand to have check-called the flop. In general, checking leads to small pots and betting leads to large pots. When you have the nuts, you want to play large pots. So, I made a standard continuation bet of 575. My opponent called.

The turn was the 6d. As on the flop, I do not like checking, because if I check-raise, my opponent will usually fold, and if I check-call, there’s no guarantee he’ll bet the river. I bet 1,500, and much to my surprise, my opponent raised to 3,800.

I was confident he had a hand that he thought was strong, most likely 10-7, Q-Q, 9-9, 8-8, Q-9 or 9-8. Since a jack or 10 could appear on the river, letting my opponent off the hook with most of that range, and since I only had 2,725 left in my stack, I went all in. My opponent called and proudly turned over his Kh Qc, which was drawing dead.

My play in this hand was fairly standard, but I think my opponent played his hand poorly. I liked his preflop and flop calls, but once I bet the turn, I either had a made hand that had K-Q crushed, a draw that had relatively few outs, or a total bluff. I think my opponent should have called my turn bet, keeping me in the pot with my entire range. He was still going to lose a sizable pot, but he should not have doubled me up. Once I went all in over my opponent’s turn bet, even though he had to call only 2,725 more, I think he should have folded. Given the action, I clearly had a premium hand. When you are drawing dead or nearly dead against your opponent’s entire range, you must make a disciplined fold.

In many tournaments, a huge portion of your potential profit will come from opponents’ errors. If you make very few mistakes and your opponents constantly make gigantic blunders, as my opponent did in this hand, you’ll profit in the long run. But in order to entice your opponents into egregious errors, you have to be somewhat involved in pots and give the impression that you are willing to gamble. If they know you have the nuts every time you put a chip in the pot, they’ll stay your of your way, making it difficult for the chips to flow your direction.

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and coach with more than $6 million in live tournament earnings. For more information on Jonathan, check out JonathanLittlePoker.com, and follow him on Twitter: @JonathanLittle.