When Your Opponent Plays His Hand Heads-Up

by Lou on February 13, 2009

He might as well have played the hand face up. At least that’s what I was thinking during this hand—and I still think so.

Sometimes an opponent plays a hand so transparently that you almost know for certain what he has.

I was in a mid-limit hold’em game at Agua Caliente Casino, my local card room, when I was dealt pocket eights. Three players limped in and I called from late position, hoping to flop a set or at least see a board that didn’t figure to help anyone else.

I knew all my opponents. The early position limper—the first guy in—was a very aggressive player. The other two were pretty much straightforward, A-B-C players, and were fairly easily read.

The big blind checked his option and the small blind folded. We took the flop five-handed. The flop looked positively benign; it was 7-5-2 with no flush draw. Everyone checked to me and I bet, hoping to fold anyone who might be hoping to hit one of their overcards on the turn. The big blind folded, the aggressive player who was the first one to voluntarily enter the pot before the flop raised, and the others all folded.

What kind of range could my opponent be playing? He could have held, in my estimation, any pair from aces down through sevens, as well as A-K through A-T suited or not, and even a hand like A-9, A-8, or even A-7 suited. That’s a pretty wide range of hands, and with six ways to make a pair and sixteen ways to make combination hands like A-K, that’s a total of 36 pairs that would have me beaten, along with 112 big-card hands that I was ahead of, along with additional cards if he was fooling around with a really small pair, or a hand like A-6s down through A-2s.

While I didn’t do the math at the table—it’s really tough for me to run numbers in my head and kept track of the game too—I really didn’t have to. From the range of cards I knew my opponent would play it was clear that I figured to be ahead at that point in the hand. Moreover, I knew my opponent would probably not raise if he had a genuinely big hand. Instead, he’d try to get me to take the lead so he could checkraise the turn.

In other words, if he had A-A, K-K, or Q-Q, he would have called my bet instead of raising. If he had 9-9, T-T, or J-J, he might have raised in order to force anyone holding a queen, king, or ace to fold. This meant the chances of his hand being ahead of mine were really small, and I pretty much knew where he was in the hand.

So I reraised, representing a much bigger hand than I really had. By doing this, I gave myself any big cards, like a queen, king, or ace, that might fall on the turn. Because I rerasied, I knew he’d now have to consider the possibility that I had a big pair and that’s why I three-bet him. If an overcard fell that did not give him a set, he’d now have to consider the likelihood that I was holding a set over him.

He called, but he slowed down too. He checked the turn when another deuce fell, pairing the board but changing nothing. I bet and he called. A queen came on the river. He checked again. I bet and he folded.

When a tricky player raises the flop in a fixed-limit game instead of calling and trying for a checkraise on the turn—when the bets double—it’s usually a sign that he does NOT have a big hand. And in the case of my opponent, who is aggressive and eager to checkraise at every opportunity, his raise on the flop had an effect that was precisely opposite from what he intended. He wanted me to believe that he was raising with a big hand. But coming from him, it was clear that he had no hand at all.

Had that play been made by one of my other opponents, the A-B-C players, I would have credited them with a big hand, not a couple of big cards that the flop missed completely. But against Mr. Tricky Aggressive, his raise exposed his entire hand to me, and allowed me to get the maximum value from my own rather middling pair of eights.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen enough, but when it does, and you can play against an opponent who’s essentially confronting you with his hand face-up, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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