As poker players we are confronted with decisions during hands all the time. One trend I often see from players struggling to grow their game is a lack of consideration of all possible options. Now granted, sometimes an option is so clearly and blatantly wrong, nothing more than a cursory consideration is necessary. If you get dealt AA preflop in a cash game, when it’s your turn to act you can rightly dismiss the option to fold. Although it’s a legal option, the notion is ridiculous. Calling or raising with AA will both net a long term profit, and the EV of folding is 0, so folding is clearly the worst option. Even the fast dismissal of this option as ridiculous, however brief, at least is still a consideration.
What happens though when the decision is not as clear cut, is that players sometimes get blinders on and don’t stop to consider other options. It’s easy for us as participants in a discussion, or as a coach, to overlook this when the option not being considered seems to us to be obviously bad, as in the fold option for AA pre stated above. But this is a poor habit to get into that may lead us to missing the optimal play.
This concept came up again in a recent hand discussion. Our hero defended their BB in a 2nl 6-max cash game with As2s. The flop came A♣K♠7♣, and Hero check/called a 1/3rd pot continuation bet. The turn was the 10♦ and it went check/check. The river was the Js, putting a 4 liner to a broadway straight on the board. Our hero ended up checking and calling a 75% pot bet, and lost to the straight when villain showed K♦Q♥. Our Hero felt uneasy about the check/call, and asked if there’s any different line they can take out of position here.
A couple posters suggested they would prefer to bet/fold the rive instead of check/calling, one saying they hoped their bet would fold out better hands given the 4 straight on board, and another saying they didn’t think players at 2nl would fold 2 pair+, but they didn’t like check/calling because villain is going to have very few bluffs here (and people in general aren’t good at bluffing on the river), so they felt bet/fold was best. When I looked at the hand, which I did before reading any comments, I felt the optimal river play for hero was a pretty clear check/fold. I was quite surprised to see that neither the hero nor the players responding even considered check/folding as an option, thus they missed what I felt was the best line.
A bet doesn’t make much sense. What worse hands will call us? Likely none. There was a suggestion they might call us with K9s/K8s, which is optimistic imo and also only 6 combos. If we say in fairness maybe they call us with some of those, 4 max I’d say, fine… that’s still only 4 combos of hands we’d be getting value from with our bet, while tied or losing to everything else. And as the PFR the opponent can certainly have numerous 2 pair combos and some sets here, well more than 4 or 6 combos. As a value bet, this is way too thin. What about as a bluff? One comment suggested hope they would fold a better ace or 2 pair. But look at the situation. There are literally no better aces (all aces either made 2 pair+ by the river, or are chopping with us). And trying to make fun players at micros fold 2 pair or sets, even on scary boards, is ambitious to say the least… certainly not where our profits are coming from in this pool, making them fold strong hands on scary boards. (Granted, hand strength is relative but casual players often have a hard time recognizing this… 2 pairs and sets are “strong hands” in their mind so even though the board is now threatening, they tend to call). So we’re essentially trying to fold them off of a chop, to secure the whole pot instead of half when the river checks down (which is what I’d expect them to do with Ax here).
If betting for value is way too thin, and as a bluff way too optimistic, then that leaves checking. Why must we check/call though? We would check/call if we think we’ll be good often enough for the call to show a profit. Here villain is betting .15c into a pot of .20c, so our call needs to be right more than about 43% of the time to show a profit. Villain can never be “value betting” a worse hand on this board, their value is going to be all their Qx (of which there is a fair bit in their range as played) and perhaps some sets going for value vs. our 2 pairs, or AK in the same category. Although much of the non-Q holdings may simply check and show down as players are often afraid of getting check/raised on the river here despite that not being a rational fear (because it’s very rare for someone to check/raise bluff here, they’ll just have the Q when they check/raise, which is wise since villain’s range does include many Qx holdings as well, not great to try and run bluffs into uncapped ranges that include a lot of nut combos). So when we check and villain checks the river behind us, I expect we’ll win sometimes when they’ve given up a hand like 88 for example, we’ll tie sometimes vs. Ax, and lose to 2 pair+. But when we check and they bet, we are rarely if ever good. Yes, not fair to say we’ll be beat 100% of the time when they bet here, of course not… but will we be good more than 43% of the time? There is just no universe this is true unless the villain is a known insane maniac. I’d be surprised if we’re good more than 10% here. Thus checking and folding seems like the optimal play here to me.
There are times and situations where an option is so obviously wrong, we tend to dismiss it out of hand, but this is a dangerous habit to get into. Because there are times when failing to consider all options may cause us to miss the best one. It’s critically important to think about our reasons for choosing our actions. When we do this, we may find that nothing we’re looking at is actually good (like in this case, bet/fold vs check/call). When that’s true, we should next ask ourselves what are legal options we’ve not yet considered? In this case, those were bet/call and check/fold. Bet/call is even worse than bet/fold, when we do bet river and get raised it’s likely a Q 99+% of the time. The only other option left is check/fold, and when all the other options seem like –EV choices, this becomes the one to take. We can only chose this course however, if we are considering it in the first place.