The Debate: An unpredictable villain

The beauty of poker is that 10 players could play the same hand 10 different ways. Granted, most of us would raise with aces pre-flop, but the amounts might be different. Or maybe the way we'd play them against different opponents would change our strategy.

Back at the cash games our hero is enjoying his time at a $1/$2 table, but one of his opponents is playing reckless and unpredictable, causing all sorts of problems when it comes down to evaluating the correct course of action. AG joins us for this week's debate.

As always, read below this week's debate for some of your feedback on the previous entry. Click here to submit your response, and you could be featured next week.

Let the debate begin ...

Situation: Our hero is in the middle of a six-hour session at a $1/$2 no-limit hold 'em table. He acknowledges that the table is playing very weak-tight. Hero is sitting in the big blind with pocket fives and he is hoping that he'll be able to see a flop for cheap. The player under the gun ($410) limps in for $2, as does the player behind ($192). The action folds to the small blind who moves all-in for $12. How should hero act, being stacked at $92?

Feldman: This is actually a bigger decision than it seems for hero. There's no reason that he is forced to get involved here, but if he is going to hope he'll hit a set, I would raise and isolate. My first thought here is to fold. It's a small pocket pair, and either you are racing or most definitely behind, and two players with a larger stack have already made the call. Let it go. No reason to get involved here.

AG: I think it depends on just how weak the table has been. If there have been a series of limpers who fold to raises, hero might not be all that concerned about the two early callers. It also depends on what the hero's take is on the short stack small blind. It's possible 5-5 could be well ahead if the small blind is pushing with A-4 or 3-3 or something. At worst, it's probably a race, and the hero probably is ahead. With the additional $4 in chips from the two early callers sitting there, it is probably worth another $10 if that's the read.

Feldman:You want to knowingly put more money in this pot against at least one other player knowing that you are in a race? If you call here, there is a great chance that the players behind you call as well. Essentially, you'll have to dodge a ton of overs, but hero does stand to win a substantial pot if he manages to flop a set somehow. However, what if the small blind has a bigger pair and pushed with something like that? I highly doubt this was his choice spot to push with a hand like A-4. I'd probably say the worst that he has is a solid ace.

AG: If the perception is that the two limpers won't stick around, then hero is investing $10 more into a pot of $17. If he thinks he's in a race at worst, that's a great spot to be in.

Feldman: I just don't like the spot if there are any callers. Hero is out of position and will simply check-fold if he misses. It's not like the board will come 2-2-3. If nobody else was in the hand, I would feel differently.

Action: Hero calls the all-in, as do both the early-position limpers.

Feldman: OK, we're out of position with the fives, and my assumption would be we're against a minimum of five over cards. Let's hope we hit the flop.

AG: Now that the two early limpers called, hero definitely would like to hit the set here or hope for a really raggedy, unconnected flop. If he hits the set, he could be set up for a really big hand. Given the assumption that the two early limpers have solid but not great hands (since they didn't reraise pre-flop), perhaps the two limpers either have small pairs themselves or are drawing hands like K-Q suited or something.

Action: The flop comes Ah-4h-5s

Feldman: I would like to say that I was wrong, nice call hero, way to flop your set. Now what are you going to do with it? Obviously you have to figure that someone has an ace. Given the action at the table, it just seems like it is very probable that one of the limpers/callers could have a middle ace in this situation, or even better for us, a hand like pocket fours. That said, I think we have to lead out with the straight and flush draw possibilities. I don't think we should give one of the limpers (who obviously could've also limped/called with a big drawing hand) a chance to make their hand.

AG: Agreed, but the decision is how greedy hero wants to get now that he's made his hand. The obvious risk is the heart draw. If you bet the pot or a bit more to try to price out the draw, you're almost certain to take down the $45 pot. Unless this was the 1 hand in 221 where small blind has A-A, you're way ahead of whatever he has at this point. Do you want to try to trap someone else in if your read is that they have a middle ace?

Feldman: The better question is if they are going to bet with their middle ace, or would they just check, given the action that already has taken place? I still think we should fire out here.

AG: Agreed. If you are guessing that one of the two to the left has a middle ace, you'd be really interested in keeping that guy in the hand, unless he somehow has the middle ace and two hearts. I don't like checking here in case the read is wrong and someone is on a draw.

Action: Hero bets $20, as he is first to act. The first under-the-gun player folds, while the other opponent simply calls.

AG: $20 is an interesting bet because it definitely entices a draw to stay in, but did it also sucker in a middle ace? Hero has $61 behind him, so he can definitely push on the turn, assuming a third heart doesn't hit. I'm not sure what the logic behind the call was. That basically screams that he's either on a heart draw or has a very mediocre hand that currently is being dominated. Anything else would warrant a raise, wouldn't it?

Feldman: The call can mean two things, as you said. The first instinct would believe he is on the flush draw, and at this point we know we are ahead without question. He does not have pocket aces and unless he is trying to string us along with pocket fours, he doesn't know how far behind he is. It would also mean a weaker ace that has just hit two pair. I don't see a middle ace calling here, given the action at the table. He either has to be on the draw or strong to make the call here.

AG: Can you see the original call with A-4 or A-5, especially given hero has 5-5? Those would be extremely marginal hands, even suited, to call another $10 pre-flop.

Feldman: Given their chip stacks, they could have been speculating here. I wouldn't completely doubt it, but it would definitely be a marginal call.

Action: The turn is the 6s.

Feldman: Well, realistically, that shouldn't change anything, and hero has to bet again to protect his hand from both the original draw and now a secondary backdoor flush draw. Hero should bet out big here and perhaps move all-in to protect his hand.

AG: I don't think there's really any choice at this point. Hero has $61 left, and the pot is now $84 or so. Time to get the rest of the chips into the middle. The 6 doesn't threaten anything ... unless hero was extremely unlucky and the villain holds 8-7 hearts or pocket sixes.

So what happened?: Hero moves all-in and is called by his opponent, holding As-9s for a flush draw. The small blind, who was all in, turns over two pair with Ac-6d.

Feldman: This is as we expected, and now hero must avoid a spade to win the bigger pot, and an ace or a six to win the side pot. The call is questionable, but not terrible. Why he was still in pre-flop/post-flop is more interesting in my opinion.

AG: Did this opponent really need to call the all-in? He's risking another $61 for a pot that's now $145, so getting about 2.3:1 or 2.4:1 on his money. He has to believe he's behind at this point, but would a 9 save him from something like A-K? At best, he has 12 outs with 46 cards left, so he's a bit under 3:1 to hit and getting a bit less than that on his money. Marginal, at best.

And then ... The river brings the two of spades, giving the entire pot to the player with As-9s and the nut flush.

AG: In retrospect, maybe hero could have been happy with the $45 pot and bet more than $20 on the flop. I'm not sure that was egregious, though. There are a lot of questions to be asked of our villain. Pre-flop, he called with a marginal hand with an all-in and two callers ahead of him. Post-flop, he called $20 with a middle ace and a backdoor flush draw. We discussed the turn call above, which was, at best, questionable.

But hey, he's counting the chips in his stack now, right?

What would you do if you were in this situation? Send us your feedback, and we'll take a look at your thoughts next time.

Feedback from the last debate (Hero has A-J, his opponent has ?-?):

Mike (Buffalo, N.Y.) I know this is a satellite, but fold?? I immediately thought the button was stealing. If button is reraised, he can easily release his hand and be in good position to continue. The small stack's all-in is not that meaningful. The blinds are huge, and short stack needs to double up or get his money back, so he has nothing to lose. Shorty's range would include any ace, K-10 or better and any pair, so we're beating a fair share of his range. If we go over the top of Shorty, the button will almost certainly fold, because he's stealing and we are representing a massive hand. The big stack cannot handle short stack having best hand and hero beating him for the side pot. That gets hero heads-up against Shorty, and a likely favorite to win the satellite right there.

Dan (Mankato, Minn.) I think this is an easy fold after a raise and reraise, absent information that both players are in full gamble mode. A-J is solid three-handed, but it isn't often a favorite in this situation. You'll see A-K or A-Q more often that A-10 and lower. Otherwise, it's race against a pair. Not a race we can afford to lose, not a position you want to be calling an all-in. Plus, there is no benefit to being the one that knocks someone out. We aren't playing for first, we're playing not to be third. We are still in a good position after the fold. We'll have $4,750 versus $5,550 and $5,700 (assuming the button doesn't call as was the case here). The bigger decision would have been how to play the hand if the small blind had folded. I'd have called the extra $750 to try to make a made hand, unless the button had been so aggressive that we had to discount his range to make us a big favorite, in which case it becomes an easy shove over the top. Fold, wait for a chance to call with an A-K or a big pair and be aggressive with first in vigor on your side.

John (Tulsa, Okla.) I think at this time you have to call the small blind. The button would be a fool not to call if hero called as well. A-J suited is very strong short-handed and the small blind more than likely knows that the only move he has is all-in. If the small blind calls and misses the flop completely, he has no money to steal on the flop, he will simply be called no matter what the flop is because he has so few chips left. Hero's move should be at worst an easy call. If hero calls an all-in from the small blind the button will certainly call. If hero pushes behind the small blind, the button has a tougher choice to make even if he is getting good odds on the money. Big, suited cards heads-up and enough chips to make the dealer sweat calling his own all-in, I believe Hero should push.

Truong (Tacoma, Wash.) I guess this decision is dependent on how strong you think the button is. If you think he's strong you need to move all-in behind the small blind and assume the button will call. That way everyone will get to see all five cards. So it wouldn't matter if you won or the button won (you would finish second still, starting the hand with more chips). The small blind is desperate at this point with only five times the big blind, so I think the range of hands he has is wide too. It could easily be K-J. I would not mind going heads-up if the button ends up folding. If we call, the button definitely calls, too. This might be a better play if we assume the button is savvy enough to check it all the way down and only to bet with the nuts, not bluffing against an all-in. Trust me, I've seen this before. It's a tough decision overall, but I lean on moving in behind the small blind.