You’re in a $5/$10 NL full-ring 9-handed cash game. Everyone has about $1000 stacks. You raise UTG with Js-Jh. It is folded to an expert player in the SB, who calls. The BB folds, and you see a flop heads up, which is: 2s-2c-Td. The SB leads for $80. You raise to $250, and the SB re-raises you to $650. Your image is tight-aggressive, very tight in EP, and you rarely bluff. What should you do?
- Raise all-in
- Call and fold the turn if he bets again
- Call and get all-in on the turn if no overcard hits
- Call and get all-in on the turn regardless of the turn card
Introduction & Overview:
This is one of those hands that can get beginners into a lot of trouble. Jacks look strong, especially heads up on a very dry flop like this one, so it’s easy to go broke unnecessarily here. Let’s see why folding is the right (but maybe not obvious) play…
REDi stands for Read-Evaluate-Decide-Implement, and it’s the basic framework that I use for analyzing poker hands, both on- and off- the poker tables. It’s a very simple—yet powerful—system for logically working through a hand situation and deciding on the correct course of action. For those of you unfamiliar with my REDi process, I suggest a quick refresher read by clicking here.
Got it? Good. Here’s what REDi has to say for this particular hand:
R is for Reads:
We’re in a 9-handed game with full 100bb stacks. We’re first to act preflop and have open-raised UTG into the entire field. The action folds to the villain in the small blind, who is an expert player. The term “expert” can imply a lot of things, but at a minimum it means he knows where he’s at in a hand and is putting us on an accurate preflop range. In this case, that perceived range is very strong; we’re considered to be a very tight (especially in early position), positionally-aware player who doesn’t bluff very much. We have opened UTG at a full table. This means that our perceived range is very strong, probably something like AA-88, AQo+, AJs+, and maybe KQs. Pretty much everything else we’re folding.
The villain also knows that he will be out of position (OOP) against us throughout the course of the hand post-flop, and most likely be heads-up with us (unless the big blind wakes up with a huge hand, which he doesn’t). Given all of this, the villain just cold-calls our raise.
Okay, so we have to ask the question: Why does he just call and not re-raise? Remember, good players bet and raise for one of two primary reasons in poker: a) get worse hands to call; and/or b) get better hands to fold. The villain knows our range and presumably doesn’t believe we’ll call with enough worse hands and/or fold out better if he raises. This essentially rules out AA and KK from his range. So what does that leave?
At a minimum, the villain could have small to medium pocket pairs 22-99 (e.g., is ABC set-mining against us), some very strong, but non-RIO suited connectors like T9s-76s that he thinks can/will get paid off by us if they hit and we get married to an overpair, and maybe some of the stronger pocket pairs like TT-QQ that he wants to see a flop with. He knows he’s going to be out of position, but in his mind, this is compensated by the relatively deep stacks at play here. Re-raising with any of the aforementioned hands would take away a lot of post-flop maneuvering room (plus it opens up the possibility of us 4betting preflop all-in). Calling, on the other hand with implied odds hands can be profitable for the villain, even with the positional disadvantage he’ll have in the hand.
The flop of 2s-2c-Td is just about as dry as you can get. We were the preflop aggressor, so villain’s donk bet into us is really strange. Checking to the raiser is the standard play, so a why would he do this? Remember, we bet for one of two reasons: get worse hands to call or better hands to fold. Also recall that the preflop range we assume the villain has put us on is AA-88, AQo+, AJs+, and KQs. Assuming the villain whiffed the flop, what worse hands in our range are we going to call? Answer: essentially none.
Similarly, assuming the villain whiffed the flop, what better hands in our range are we going to fold? The answer again is none. So why is he donk-betting into us? Hard to say, but caution says maybe it’s because he didn’t whiff the flop after all.
This is confirmed when we re-raise to $250 and then Villain 4bets to $650. And, just as telling, this 4bet leaves just $320 behind in Villain’s stack, which means he’s pot committing himself. Further, this is an expert player, so he’s well aware of all these factors. His initial range we put him on of QQ-22 and some oddball suited connectors just got whittled down to QQ, JJ, TT, and 22. Yes, he could be running an elaborate bluff with 99 or 88, but that feels very odd here given his perceived perception of us and our range. We have to put the Villain on a very strong range at this point.
E is for Evaluating:
Against a QQ-TT, 22 range that the villain could easily have here, we’re absolutely crushed on this board (90:10). And even if we include 99 and 88 as villain pseudo-bluffs, we’re still at best in a coin-flip equity race (~50:50).
The problem statement doesn’t actually say how much we open-raised for preflop, but if we assume it was 3bb, or $30, then (ignoring rake) after the postflop donk, our 3bet, and villain’s 4bet, the current pot size $970
We’ve already 3bet to $250, so the price we’re getting to call is $400.
Therefore, the pot odds we are being offered are: 2.3:1, or 29.2%.
The stack-to-pot ratio on the flop was $970/$70 = ~14, which means we’re not pot committed on the flop.
If we call, we’ll have $320 left behind, which means we will be pot committed.
D is for Deciding:
Our pot equity is either 50% or 10%, depending on whether we think the villain is including bluffs or not.
Our fold equity is very low, as the villain has put 68% of his stack in the middle, so he is telling us he’s pot committed and ready to go with his hand.
If we think the villain is including bluffs in his post-flop actions (I.e., with 99 and 88) then we should call, as 29.2%<50%. If we don’t think he is, then we should fold as 29.2%>10%.
As always, it costs us nothing to fold.
For me, this comes down to a tale of caution. We are either in a coin flip or we are crushed. Therefore, folding is the safe play.
I is for Implementing:
Hold your nose and fold the hand. Watch the villain closely to see if there’s anything you can pick up that might give away the strength of his hand; it doesn’t help here, but for future action, you might be able to use the information to your advantage when making these relatively close calls.
The donk lead on the flop by the villain is confusing. Bad players do this sort of things often as a blocking bet and/or as a probe bet. The fact that the villain isn’t a bad player, however, leaves us scratching our heads a bit. More telling, however, is his 4bet over the top of us on this dry flop, which is a major sign of strength.
Remember a good rule of thumb in poker is to fold if you don’t know where you’re at in a hand. Here, we’re either crushed or flipping, neither of which is ideal. Worse, we don’t know which it is. The right move is, therefore, to play it safe in these kinds of situations and don’t tangle with the expert players. Instead, look for weaker opponents and better spots to get your money in with. Or just get up and find an easier table to play at.
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