Human minds are naturally efficient, finding the quickest and most direct solutions to problems. However, what appears on the surface to be a sensible and justified conclusion can be the opposite at the poker table.
A friend of mine recently recounted a heroic bluff-catch he made in an online $2-$5 no-limit hold ‘em game. He was dealt Ad Kd on the button and raised to $15 after action folded to him. Seated in the small blind was a player known as a consistent and substantial loser, who called. The big blind folded.
Heads-up, the two saw a flop of Js 10d 4c, giving our hero two overcards, a gutshot straight draw and a backdoor flush draw. The small blind checked, and our hero bet $30, which was about 85 percent of the pot. His opponent raised the minimum amount, to a total of $60.
Up to this point, our protagonist’s play had been standard and just as likely could have applied to any opponent, but here, he began to use his personal read to navigate the remaining bets. Knowing that this opponent was prone to frequent bluffing, our hero opted to call, paying another $30 to see the turn. He felt confident that his ace-high was in the lead.
The 7s was revealed on the turn. Quickly, our villain bet the full pot, $155. It was a familiar bet size from this opponent, one that our hero had often observed in his opponent’s bluffs. Again, feeling confident that he had the winning hand, our hero called.
The river brought the 2h, an utterly inconsequential card. Consistent with his action on the turn, the opponent quickly led with a pot-sized bet, $465. Also continuing with his play from the previous street, our hero called, banking a lot of money on his assessment that ace-high would win.
That was not the case. The opponent showed 9c 8c, having hit the nuts on the turn, and scooped a $1,395 pot.
In his conviction that his opponent was an inferior player, my friend made a critical mistake, overlooking details in his competitor’s play that should have tipped him off.
First, the small blind made a minimum check-raise on the flop, which is a move he specifically likes to do when he is on a draw. That is not necessarily a reason for our hero to have folded ace-high. However, the small blind also followed through with a large bet on the river, nearly 100 times the big blind in the game, after having driven the action that bloated the pot in the first place. This player is not prone to continue bluffing when he has missed a draw, especially not in big pots.
Near the end of our discussion, my friend complained that his opponent was an awful player, implying that he felt he did not deserve to lose to him. That is a common and dreadful error. No matter how much worse of a player your opponent is than you, you will never beat him in every hand.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.