A few nights ago, my girlfriend and I went out for a few beers at one of my favorite "chill" spots in Vegas, Fado's Irish Pub at Green Valley Ranch. After a few perfect pints of Guinness, it seemed like a great idea to check out the poker room. The floor staff was eager to please, and shortly after our midnight arrival, we were seated next to each other in a $1-$2 no-limit hold'em game. I like giving her position, so I sat on her right. She then informed me that she only had Canadian currency, and I had to loan her the buy-in. I thought about trying to Roshambo her for it, but then reconsidered: she's beaten me about 10 times in a row.
After about 30 minutes of non-action (she plays a very tight, aggressive style, of course), an interesting hand came up that I believe is very instructive.
Blinds: $1-$2. Everyone folds to a loose, aggressive player on my right who sits in middle position. He smelled a bit like rotten tuna, which, coincidentally, matched his poker skill.
The Big Tuna, with $140 in front of him, raised to $15. Clearly, this is a massive overbet of 7½ times the big blind. At the time, I remember thinking, "He's probably sitting on pocket 10s, Jacks, or Queens. Maybe A-Q or A-J offsuit."
I folded my hand and watched as my girlfriend, on the button, counted out some chips. She eventually settled on a raise to $45, bumping it up $30.
I love that bet. She's made it three times his bet and leaving him around $100, which will be the size of the pot should he call. Her reraise will ensure that the blinds fold, and she'll be heads-up in position. No matter what her hole cards were, I thought this was the perfect raise. (Secretly, though, I knew she had a monster I didn't think she'd have the nerve to use my money on a bad hand or a positional bluff with me sitting next to her.) I put her on pocket Aces or Kings. Those were really the only two hands I thought she could have.
Mr. Albacore called the raise, leaving himself with about $95. With $93 bucks in the pot, we saw the flop:
Kh 7d 3h.
Tuna Melt checked, and after a minute of thought, my girlfriend bet enough to put the guy all-in. He agonized for a minute and finally folded. She showed her pocket Aces, and while I was happy that she won the pot, I told her later that I didn't like the big bet after the flop whatsoever. She was confused, so I explained.
In situations like this, I always try to envision my opponent's hand and give them the biggest problem possible. Let's analyze some possibilities:
Opponent has A-K. He's clearly planning on an all-in check-raise, and we're going to call and have him drawing to about a 8 percent chance to win. Great result no matter how much we bet on the flop.
Opponent has K-Q. Only a true fish would call out of position with K-Q and a short stack relative to the size of the pot, but it is possible. Any fish willing to make that play will be moving all-in after any bet we make on the flop. He's about 20 percent to win.
Opponent has A-x of hearts, and is on a flush draw. He's probably planning on an all-in check-raise, and he's not making that big a mistake to do it, either. He's about 35 percent to make his flush and a winning hand, and he's getting 2-1 on his money. I very often check-raise all-in in these situations to give myself some folding equity.
Opponent has KK (unlikely), 7-7, or 3-3. We're probably going broke. No way to get away from this hand.
Opponent has Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, 9-9. With these hands, we really want our opponent to call a bet, any bet. He is 1 out of 25 to spike a set on the turn, and just about any reasonable-size bet will give him insufficient odds. If he really has this hand, even a check on the flop trying to induce a post-turn bet seems like a valid play -- sacrifice a 4 percent chance that he'll hit on the turn for a 30-plus percent chance that he'll read us for weakness (a hand like A-Q, A-J, 10-10) and try to steal the pot.
When you look at the hand this way, it hardly matters how much you bet, as long as you bet something that your opponent can call with the pocket pair hands. He's either always going to check-raise all-in (which you of course will call instantly) or he's missed the flop completely and he's always going to fold (A-J, A-10). The only real gray area on the hand is Q-Q, J-J, 10-10 and 9-9. With those hands, we may be able to get our opponent to make a further mistake with a small bet.
Think, I told her: If her opponent turned over his hand and showed you J-J or Q-Q, how much would you bet?
She thought about it a few minutes, and then said, "well, with a pocket pair like Jacks or Queens, he's about 1 out of 25 to hit a set on the turn. That means that just about any chips he commits to the pot at this point will be in the pot without the proper odds. I think I'd bet about one-third of the pot and hope he reads the bet as weakness."
And that, dear readers, is one of the many reasons she's my girlfriend. She's super smart and definitely becoming a good, solid, winning poker player.
Bad Beat on Cancer Update:
Thank you all for your overwhelming responses to the Bad Beat on Cancer article I wrote to kick off 2006. Your pledges have kept me very busy on the phone. Quite a few people pledged $500 last week to get a private 30-minute phone lesson from me. We have several $50,000 fund-raisers lined up, and many of you have written to ask about the initiative. We appreciate your support. For more information, visit the www.badbeatoncancer.org Web site. Thanks also to ESPN.com for donating a link to the cause on the poker home page -- love you guys.
Phil Gordon is a World Poker Tour champion, host of Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown," and plays online exclusively at FullTiltPoker. Phil Gordon's educational poker DVD, "Final Table Poker", is available at ExpertInsight.net and his "Little Green Book" is available now.