Here are two hands in which I was dealt an identical pair of ducks in the span of 10 minutes: 2♥-2♦. Both hands took place in a tough full-ring, $100NLHE online cash game. Would you play these two hands the same way I did?
- Hand #1: I have a pair of deuces in the small blind and get open-raised 3xbb by a tricky and aggressive player in late position. He is purposely playing a short-stack of 30bb. He opens for 3x the big blind. The action folds to me. I muck.
- Hand #2: I have a pair of deuces in the CO seat facing a 3xbb raise by a TAg UTG player with a full 100bb stack. I call.
What? Deuces are deuces, right? And the first villain in middle position has a much wider (read: worse) hand range than the second villain in EP, right? Don’t I have the actions in these two hands backward? Nope. Let me explain…
Yes, the EP raiser’s range in the second hand is much stronger against my deuces than the middle position player’s range in the first hand, but that’s not the key to understanding how to play these two situations. In the first example, if I called, I would have been OOP post-flop against a tough opponent who has a short stack. His range is indeed pretty wide and therefore weak. In other words, it’s unlikely he’ll pay me off if I hit a set on the flop and bet into him. Yes, I am technically getting enough quantitative implied odds to call (30:2 = 15:1), but I’m not getting enough qualitative implied odds.
So, if he’s so weak, why I don’t just re-raise pre? Because he’s short-stacked, that’s why; a 3-bet from me would very dangerous; e.g., what, would I do if he re-jams all-in over the top? And post-flop, because I have to act first, I basically won’t have a clue where I stand in the hand on essentially any flop except one that has a deuce in it. And then I’m probably not going to get paid off. If I miss, the villain can rep pretty much anything by betting if I check to him, and then I’ll have to fold. So why waste money getting to that very likely situation on the flop when I can see it coming now? Muck now and make life simple. Folding costs me nothing, so it’s the easy and right play.
In contrast, with the second pair of ducks against the EP opener, if I call I’ll be in position against an opponent I can put on a more easily defined hand range. Yes, this range is quite strong and currently crushes my ducks, but that’s actually a good thing. It’s what you want when you’re set-mining– you want a villain with a strong hand that is more likely to pay you off than not; you actually want the villain to have Aces or Kings. Yes, I’m serious. Said another way, in this hand I was getting both very good quantitative implied odds (due to 100bb stack depth) and qualitative IOs (due to the strength of the villain’s hand). I am in the perfect situation to make the call and try to hit a set.
Note that it’s OK if I miss and have to fold; it’s still plus-EV to call preflop, and then check and fold post-flop. Yep, still serious. Note, too, that I can also try to take the pot away on the flop if I get checked to on a dry, low-card board and pick up some kind of read that indicates the villain whiffed and is giving up. Position, stack sizes, and understanding the villain’s range means I will be in great shape post-flop and know very accurately where I stand. It’s hard to go wrong in poker when you know where you stand. So, unlike the first hand, the right play in this one is to call and play some post-flop poker.
The key to winning poker begins with paying attention. From there, you can put the bad guy on a logical range, do a basic evaluation of your hand against that range, and then take the time to think ahead to where you’ll likely be post-flop in the hand. After that, making the right decision on what to do in a hand is actually pretty easy. And yes, I’m still serious!
Just because it waddles, swims, and quacks like ducks, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same as the last pair of ducks you saw swim by a few hands earlier. In fact, it probably isn’t. Quack!
Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.