This month we will be looking at one of my own hands from my $100k challenge, where I’m trying to turn $10k into $100k online. Any poker hand can end up in a heads-up situation in the blink of an eye even in cash games and this is what happens here. The hand is taken from a NL100 ring game online, which many people may consider not being worth serious study when it comes to heads-up play. But what is instructive about this hand is that the decisions do not reflect any close examination of the opponent, as I simply didn’t know him well enough. However, I was playing nine tables at full ring at the time and so my decisions were based on the concept of group integrity rather than looking at each hand in a vacuum.
The phrase “group integrity” needs a little explanation because it essentially means playing in such a way as to harmonise your game because you are playing so many tables at the same time. Many multi-tabling specialists would scoff at someone who only plays nine tables at full ring when the serious multi-tabling pros can play as many as 20 tables at six-max. However, I have often gotten myself into trouble because I was rushed into making snap decisions in escalating pots that were happening on several tables at once.
My game is based on rakeback and exploiting the weaker deep-stacked players at levels like NL100, and this strategy now suits me fine. In this hand I open-raised with 5-5 from middle position. This is a standard play for me for several reasons. First of all, the hand has post-flop potential and even though the odds of hitting my set are not good, raising gets me the initiative. Furthermore, I can win the pot when no one calls and I can win against a single opponent who flat-calls me. Also, it is easier to play for stacks should I flop big when I have already raised.
Everyone folds around to the big blind, who calls. I have no information on him, so my ABC game will dictate my decisions here. The flop comes 7-6-2 rainbow and the big blind checks. This is a standard continuation bet situation. My single opponent has checked and the flop is relatively favourable for me. If I check this flop this presents me with a potential problem if my opponent bets the turn if an overcard comes. So I don’t want to lose the initiative and place myself into a situation where I don’t really know what is happening.
I don’t believe in always c-betting heads-up, even when I have been the preflop raiser. I think too many players expect the move these days and you need to be somewhat more sophisticated than that. But I have a hand and I don’t want to give my opponent a free card, so I bet $5 into the $7.50 pot and my opponent calls, making the pot $17.50 (less the rake). It needs pointing out here that the stacks sizes are relatively similar at about the $120 mark.
The turn card is a queen, which devalues my hand, but it is unlikely to have hit my opponent. I would ideally like to know how this player operates post-flop – if he will call one barrel with air to see what I do on the turn and if he is prepared to call further barrels.
It is very useful to know on what streets your opponent has a bias towards folding. There was no flush draw present on the flop and an eight-out straight draw would mean that my opponent had to have called with a hand like 9-8, 5-4 or the more unlikely 8-5. The latter two hands are clearly unlikely given what my own hand is and so a straight draw is unlikely.
These are all possibilities but I felt that my opponent had the type of hand that his play indicated, and that was a mediocre hand that wouldn’t go away on the flop. If he has a pair of sevens or sixes or maybe a hand like pocket eights, then I need to make him fold, as a showdown is useless to me.
I also feel that I need to make a sizable bet on the turn now that the queen has arrived because checking the turn and seeing my opponent check it back is going to make it tougher to bet the river if my fives turn into a bluffing hand. I also think that stacking off on the river is something that I need to look at also. I bet $12 on the turn and my opponent tanks before calling, making the pot around $40. Now I know that I am losing but I also think that sixes can now be eliminated. I think my opponent has a hand like a medium pair that he decided to play slowly preflop.
The river card is another queen, which doesn’t help me as it means that in my opponent’s eyes then I am less likely to have a queen. The only real drawing hand is 9-8 but that is too remote to consider, and so after my opponent once again checks I know that my hand is probably not good. So I need to decide how much to bet or whether to bet at all. This is where I think a big bet gets looked up more often because my range is polarised given that I have bet all three post-flop streets.
I want to make it look like a value bet but just enough for him to find a tough fold. Of course I have no player information and am merely basing my play on my default game plan of assuming that a NL100 is a decent player. I think a small and a large bet both look suspicious, but I want that suspicion to work for me and not against me. I wait a few seconds and bet $17. My opponent once again tanks but this time he folds and he is nice enough to flash me pocket tens.