So I’ve been talking recently in my “I’ve Been Card Dead!” Live training series (Part 3 to conclude this Thursday) about changing your modality of thought from looking for cards (hand values) to looking for situations.  As I have stressed in the classes, hand values can be a part of that equation.  If you have AA and someone goes all in preflop, that’s a good situation based on pure hand value alone.  But hand values are only 1 piece of the puzzle.  If you are in the SB and it folds to you, and the BB is a player who never ever defends their blind without a premium hand, then your hand value plays little roll in your decision to raise… this is a good situation even if you have 2 napkins as the opponent folds way too often and gives up the blinds/antes too liberally, making the raise a profitable play regardless of your actual cards.   So I played a hand this past weekend in a cash game that I think helps illustrate this concept, and demonstrates how looking for situations and thinking a bit outside the box can transform your game out of ABC mode.

I was playing \$2-\$5 NL at the Horseshoe… the game has a \$500 capped buy in and I start this hand with roughly \$600.  The player on my immediate right is a tight, conservative gentleman whom I’ve played with before, sitting with about \$550.    He will speculate cheaply, but he will not put any kind of significant chips in the pot without a hand, and he won’t stack off 100+ bb’s deep unless he feels very confident he’s in good shape.  He plays a very patient game, and basically waits to pick off the loose fish (no shortage of those in this player pool).

So our friend opens to \$20 from UTG+1 and I look down at AQo.  In terms of hand value, this does not play well against his early position opening range, which I estimate to be something like TT+ and AQ+ (with smaller pairs or AJ/AT/KQ he would tend to limp in).  On pure hand value, this is not a good situation.

Now, my general line with AQo facing a raise is to flat in position in live games… there is far less 3-betting live than there is online, and in the lower stakes games players are prone to making large post flop mistakes, so bloating the pot and forcing a marginal preflop edge is often not as profitable as exploiting even larger post flop edges.  In this spot, the nit is someone I would like to play the pot in position against… although the hand value alone is not a good situation, the fact that this guy provides many good floating opportunities means I’d be able to win more than my share of pots simply by using my positional advantage to take them away when the board texture is not good for him.

So while flatting him in position might sometimes be a good situation, there was a problem with it here that turned that into a bad situation as well.   We were UTG+1 and +2, so there were still 4 players left to act behind me.   3 of the 4 remaining players were fairly loose and I felt certain my call would bring at least 2 of them along for the ride.  Floating this guy works well in a heads up pot, but not so much in a multi-way pot.

There was another option however that I felt would turn this into a good situation again.  Back to the 3-betting.  Because of the much lower frequency of this play, preflop 3-bets tend to get a lot of respect, and I had only done so once so far in the session.   So I opted to make it \$60 to go.  I expected this would fold out the players behind me (which it did).  And vs. the original raiser, I am basically turning my hand into a bluff with an ace and queen blocker (meaning because I hold those cards, it’s a little less likely I will run into AA or QQ type hands).   This is a bluff that I expect to have a high degree of success with however due to the nature of this villain and the strength my play represents to him.  I expect him to 4-bet me with AA, and maybe KK.   This was not the type of player that would ever 4-bet/get it in with AK or QQ-TT, and he may fold hands as strong as even TT to this action (hey, I said he was conservative).

I am looking for 1 of 2 outcomes preflop here.  Either for him to fold directly, or to call.  If he 4-bets, I can comfortably fold my AQ  knowing I was in bad shape.   If he calls, that’s actually a good thing and what I prefer in this situation, and here’s why:

His calling range will be very narrow, and consist largely of AK and JJ-QQ (and maybe some TT combos).  Obviously that range is smashing AQ, but remember I’m not playing the hand, I’m playing the situation.  Because my line looks significantly like AA or KK to him, and to get to showdown in a 3-bet pot on 100 bb stacks he will have to put his whole stack in if I barrel, he will not often be continuing this hand to showdown.  If he’s got AK and he misses, he will simply fold to my flop c-bet.  Even if he hits the K, this guy is capable of finding a fold if convinced to stack off I must have AA or AK myself with a K on the board (again, looser players and fish require a much different approach obviously).  If he’s got QQ and doesn’t flop a set, he’ll fold to a c-bet if an ace or king come.  What if the flop is small?  That’s ok, because he is still very unlikely to be willing to stack all the way off with QQ vs. what he perceives must be AA or KK the vast majority of the time.

The flop came 855 rainbow, a fantastic flop for my situation.  He checked, and I continuation bet \$75 into the pot of \$127.  He called me rather quickly.  In understanding the villain and the plan for this hand, the call is actually a good result.  It narrows his range to basically QQ/JJ/some TT’s.  He is never check/calling with AK high.  If you’re thinking “uh oh, he’s got you Dave, you need to hit an ace or queen now”, think again.  Against an opponent who would call down with an overpair for stacks here, we’d need to help our hand.   Against this player, I believe that all I need to do is fire the turn barrel to get him to make his disciplined laydown and not pay off my apparent AA/KK.  If the read is wrong, having an ace or queen to catch is a bonus, a bit of insurance against a misread.  But I was very confident this read was right.

An ace on the turn would be nice, since I’m quite sure that would give me the best hand, but I got the next best card really, a King.  Make no mistake, I do feel confident he was check-folding to a rag card and a 2nd barrel, but when he check-calls the flop he is doing so with the hopes I have AK and will shut it down when called (this is typical play for AK too at these levels).   If I had the AA or KK I was repping, then he’s done, and if I did happen to have AK as his flop call hopes, then I sucked out.

He checked, I pondered a bit as though trying to decide how much to value bet, and came out with \$130.  He tanked for a bit, clearly disgusted, and tried to get a read on me.  After maybe 30 seconds he showed me JJ and mucked.

By using my knowledge of this opponent (very specific reads) and looking for situations instead of hands, I was able to find a spot that I expect will be very profitable in the long term by thinking outside the box, rather than making the more standard play.

In my next blog, I will share another encounter with this villain from that night, and something I did that is very rare for me.   Until next time….