Let’s play a game.
I’ll give you a real live poker tournament hand I recently played. You listen to the set-up and then write down in detail what you would have done next.
Then return to the piece and learn what the likes of poker pros Anthony Zinno, Jessica Dawley, Jason Wheeler, Jon Spinks, Dave Nicholson and Darryll Fish would do.
Blinds 200/400 Ante 50
I’ve been playing full ring with these players for only 40 minutes.
Player 1 — He’s the most aggressive player on the table. He has over 100k and hasn’t lost a hand at showdown. The rare times I have seen his showdown hands he has had a strong hand.
Player 2 — This player has been playing very poor poker. He is limp-calling a lot and folding to any signs of aggression. The only time I saw him show any sign of aggression was a limped pot against me when he min check-raised me on a very dry board when I was bluffing, but I never got to see his showdown hand. At the start of the hand he had 20k chips.
Two Early Limpers — Their line was to limp and then call a raise. Both players had between 20-25k.
Me — I had only played two hands at the table in the 40 minutes I sat there. In the first hand I saw action from the big blind in a multi-way limped pot and folded to a min check-raise on a dry board when I bluffed the turn. That was the only hand I had played. My table image was ultra tight. I had 26k at the start of the hand.
There are two limpers in early position when Player 1 raises to 1,600 in position. Player 2 calls on the button and it falls to me in the small blind. I have pocket queens.
What do you do and why?
Before you read any further, write down your answer. Make it as detailed as possible. Consider the potential flow of the play once you make your move and then expand further.
This is the perfect way to learn to dissect a poker hand. Do not read beyond this point until you have figured out your plays so you can compare it with these folks.
“My line would be to make it somewhere around 5200ish with the intention to evaluate further action but planning to almost never fold my hand pre-flop.
“This bet sizing would make it so that if we get flat called we would be able to make appropriate-sized flop c-bets and turn shove on many boards.
“Also this size doesn’t allow our opponents to profitably call pre-flop against our hand so if they do call they are making a mistake since we can safely presume they don’t have two overcards.
“My reasons for disliking a flat call here is that we will almost certainly be going five ways to the flop, in the worst position, with a hand that doesn’t improve often but is very, very likely to be the best hand both pre-flop and on the flop.
“By flat-calling we are essentially turning QQ into 22 and our opponents would need to be much, much tighter to merit such a thing. Of course, we aren’t thrilled when we get shoved on but QQ plays reasonably well even vs. what will probably be our opponents’ tightest range (AA/KK/AK).
“So barring some live read we are supremely confident in it would be nearly impossible to fold the hand after building such a big pot. I think I would make it exactly 5600 so that we might induce Player 1 to call more liberally.”
“It’s a slam-dunk three-bet to Player 1 and call if he shoves. With stacks as they are you want to size up rather than down, as you are out of position, and you want to be getting close to 1/4 of your stack in pre-flop so you can be all in by turn.
“I would bet around 6,000. I am calling off versus everyone with only the first limper creating a close decision if he shoves on us.”
Lee Davy Note: Dave asks me to describe the type of event I am playing in. I tell him it’s the weekly £35 single re-entry with £10 add-on after Level 6 with blinds at 20-minute intervals. Then he gives his opinion:
“You’ve started the hand with 65 big blinds, which seems like a lot, but let’s remember this is a 20-minute structure. In one hour the blinds will likely be either 400/800 or 500/1000 and in this time you’ll likely have played about 15-25 hands (less than 3 orbits).
“So whereas for now we have a nice stack we really NEED to increase our stack and we need to keep on increasing it too. There is no time to wait around in such a structure.
“Firstly, consider the relative strength of your pocket Queens here. Two players have limped and these players have a history of limping into pots so we don’t find their limps to be too suspicious. Player 1 – a player who has all the momentum and confidence in the world right now as a result of winning nearly every pot he has entered – raises.
“From what we’ve seen of this player he’s not actually as ‘loosey-goosey’ as he likely appears (assisted no doubt by some nice treatment from the deck) but he’s certainly going to raise here with a lot more hands than AA and KK!
“When Player 2 calls on the button (he’s been very loose-passive so far, entering pots passively with weak hands) his participation in the pot is not a worry for us either. Both him and the two early limpers would likely raise themselves if they hand a hand stronger than ours so we look at out QQ and we LOVE it!
“The pot stands at 5,050 when the action falls to you so we want to get both value from our queens as well as a little protection. Our hand is a little vulnerable vs. four other players (if all four play their hands blind our equity would drop below 50%!) so we need to pick a raise size that is big enough that anyone who calls with the wrong hands is making a decent-sized mistake, and not so big that it makes it impossible for them to make such a mistake.
“Let’s think as well about how the hand will play out post-flop from our pre-flop sizing. If we make it 6k and get 1 caller (most likely Player 1) the pot will be 14,450 on the flop and we will have 20k behind. This will leave us with a nice 7,000 flop bet and 13,000 turn all-in. If we get 2 callers then the pot will be 20,000 and we can also move all-in.
“If we were to raise here and be put all-in then it’s almost certain you will have run into a big hand. After all, you said you had a very tight image (still we include JJ and AK in these big hands), but we have to go with our hand because the structure is too quick for us to fold.”
“The key to this hand is really the two limpers that started the action. If they’re not in the hand then you have way more options at your disposal.
“For example: if you are three-handed you could decide to see a flop and keep your hand strength hidden.
“However, these two limpers, followed by a raise and a flat call, means that if you just call here chances are that the two limpers will also call.
Then you are going five-handed to a flop where your Queens are not likely to be the best hand by the time you get to showdown.
“So, the only option is to raise the queens. Sizing has to be at least 3,600 if you’re willing to go three-handed to the flop and 4300-5k if you want to go heads up or just take the pot down.
“The only real decision here is if you want to try to get max value from QQ by taking it three-handed post-flop or if you are just trying to take down the pot with a small chance of getting heads up.
“In all cases you must raise this pre-flop. Even if that turns your cards pretty much face up. The only real decision you have here is the re-raise sizing.”
“First thing I do is three-bet to slim the field and find out where I am to some extent.
“With so much $ in the pot already I would make my three-bet size higher then normal given the previous action in this hand.
“I would make it 6500 and possibly fold only to the UTG limper, but get it in always versus everyone else.”
“Your goal here is to try to get heads up with Player 1. Even though you’re out of position you have a monster and want to extract maximum value.
“If you shove all-in pre-flop it’s likely to result in everyone folding. This isn’t bad because you’ll chip up a bit but it’s the lower-risk (lower reward) play.
“So, I’d make it around 4800-5200 to go. We expect the limpers to fold and Player 1 to give us some action. Player 2 will likely tank a bit and fold.
“Then, depending on the flop, we can try to get the full double through Player 1 since he has so many chips to gamble or bluff with.
“Quick side note: if one of the limpers shoves over the top, be wary of KK or AA!
What I Actually Did
All my concentration was on Player 1. I knew I had to raise because going 5-way to the flop with QQ is suicidal. I didn’t go through the in-depth thought process applied by the pros.
When it came to bet sizing my thinking was very basic. I 3x the initial raise and add what I believe is a sufficient number of chips to scare off the other players. I am expecting only Player 1 to call, fold or raise.
I had already drawn a line in the sand at this point. I wasn’t going to fold because I knew it was a fast structure and although it seems I have enough chips to take a hit and move on that’s not really the case.
I made it 6,000. Player 1 made a small 4-bet, I moved all-in and he called. He showed KK and went on to eliminate me.
This is what the players said when I told them that Player 1 4-bet me:
“6k is fine but doesn’t look as potentially bluffy to me and I want there to be room for the opponents to try and make me fold. It’s actually pretty sick if you make it 6k and the original raiser makes a small 4-bet but I would probably still end up stacking off.
“However I could see having a read on someone that they wouldn’t make a small 4-bet in that spot without having it, which would dictate a different course of action.”
“It really doesn’t matter. You can’t ever three-bet fold to someone here because AK can always be in his or her range.”
“Yes even though Player 1 has always showed a big hand when he got his chips in, you’re holding QQ so only KK and AA beat you. If he has one of those, we just embrace the cooler and move on.”
I loved the way that Dave Nicholson enquired deeper about the type of tournament and then structured his analysis around the feedback. This did form part of my thinking although I didn’t think as deeply about it as Dave, so this was a refreshing point for me.
The players made their pre-flop decisions based on what they were going to do on later streets — particularly in terms of stack sizing and what that would mean for their flop and turn bet sizing. I didn’t go into this detail and it was a real eye opener for me.
I loved Jason Wheeler’s thinking about trying to get maximum value from the queens. This was very advanced thinking for me and way above my pay grade. I wanted to either take the pot down pre-flop or get heads-up with Player 1 if I am honest
I would have preferred not seeing a flop as I would go lame on an ace- or king-high flop. The thought of trying to size my raise to induce three-way action never entered my head. I like the fact that he was even considering it.
I also liked Anthony Zinno’s phrase: “Your goal is to try and get heads up with Player 1.” That really helped me. If I could learn to ask: “what is my goal?” before every decision it would really help me to calm down and center myself.
Zinno, like Wheeler, also touched upon the need to get maximum value from the hand I was holding and I wasn’t thinking like that.
The last piece of advice that I think is crucial, and most people might miss, was Wheeler’s parting comment: “Just embrace the cooler and move on.”