Some hands don’t go the way you expect them to. Sometimes a certain card hits the table and throws everything into flux. Sometimes your opponents switch things up on you, betting when you expect them to check, or vice versa.
Often, the best thing to do when something unexpected happens is to wait and see, if that’s possible. You usually don’t have to make the ultimate decision in a hand the moment after you get thrown a curveball. Most of the time, you can play a bit of a waiting game and allow the situation to develop.
Here’s a hand I played in a $2-$5 game with $1,000 stacks in Las Vegas.
Two players limped. I raised to $25 on the button with Kc 10c. The big blind called, as did both limpers.
The flop came Kh 6h 5s, giving me a pair of kings. Everyone checked to me, and I bet $50. The big blind and one of the limpers called. There was now $252 in the pot.
The turn was the 8c. The big blind checked, but then the remaining limper bet out for $100.
This was an unexpected play. Most of the time in this situation, both players would check again to me on the turn. My opponent was betting for a reason.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t immediately obvious what the reason could be. My opponent could have had a strong hand like 8-6, 6-5, 6-6 or even 9-7. If he held one of those hands, he was probably betting to prevent me from checking back and taking a free card.
My opponent also could have been posturing with a weak hand with a draw. Hands such as 8-7, 9-8, 7-7 and Qh 8h would fit this description. He’d be betting with the hope that the big blind and I would fold – and if one of us called him, he could still potentially draw out on the river.
It was also possible that my opponent had a slightly better hand than mine, such as K-Q or K-J. Perhaps he was worried that he was up against a hand such as A-K or A-A, or that one of us had a draw and would have a chance to beat him if he gave us a free card.
The meaning of his bet was unclear. Fortunately, there was plenty of money left to bet, and the situation was likely to reveal itself on the river. I didn’t have to make a final decision; I could just call and wait to see what developed.
I called. The big blind folded.
The river was the 3d. My opponent bet $100 again. This was a small bet for the situation, which indicated that my opponent likely had one of the weaker possible hands.
I raised to $400, trying to get him to fold a hand such as K-Q or K-J, and he folded pretty quickly. I was glad to have waited around to see what happened on the river.
Ed Miller is the author of nine poker strategy books with more than a quarter-million copies sold. Check out his latest book, “The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players,” at Amazon or at his website, edmillerpoker.com.