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Strong Non-Nut Hand on the River

28/02/2019 by Jonathan Little
Hand Analysis
D&B MAGAZINE
Strategy
D&B MAGAZINE

I was recently told about a hand from a $75 buy-in poker tournament that illustrates a major mistake many recreational players make with premium, but possibly second-best, hands.

With blinds at 2,000/4,000 with a 400 ante, an unknown player in second position raised to 9,100 out of his 160,000 effective stack. The player in the hijack and cutoff seats both called, as did our Hero on the button with 87

Hero’s call is perfectly fine. 87 flops well and should be able to navigate difficult flops reasonably well due to being in position. The main time Hero should fold strong suited connectors is when it is clear someone yet to act plans to 3-bet, which was not the case this time.

The small blind also called. The flop came T95, giving Hero the worst open-ended straight draw. Everyone checked around to Hero, who also checked.

I would have at least considered betting about 18,000 into the 53,100 pot. Most initial raisers will make a continuation bet with their strong hands, meaning the initial raiser likely has a marginal made hand or junk. After the initial raiser checks, the remaining players will usually bet with their strong hands, meaning the hijack and cutoff also likely have marginal made hands or junk. This means that the only player Hero has to worry about having a premium hand is the small blind. Especially when in position, it is usually profitable to bet with a wide range of draws and premium made hands into one completely unknown range. If one of the other players calls, Hero should usually bet again on the turn or the river, looking to make the opponents fold almost their entire marginal range.

The turn was the (T95)-3. The small blind bet 13,800 into the 53,100 pot. The initial raiser and the cutoff both called. Hero called as well.

While there again may be a bit of merit in raising because the initial raiser and the cutoff have marginal ranges, Hero’s call is ideal due to getting excellent pot odds closing the action in position. When you have a draw and are unsure if a raise will make your opponents fold most of their ranges, you should call and see the next card when you are getting excellent pot odds. Hero will complete his straight about 17% of the time and based on the pot odds, he only needs to have 13% equity to justify continuing (13,800/108,300 = 13%). When your odds of improving to an effective nut hand are greater than the equity you need to continue based on the pot odds, you should stick around.

The river was the (T953)-J, completing Hero’s straight. The small blind checked, the initial raiser bet 26,500 into the 108,200 pot and the cutoff raised to 60,000. Hero decided to go all-in for 140,700 total.

Going all-in is a disaster for Hero. Even though he improved to what is likely the best hand, it is quite easy for him to be behind one of the better straights when facing a bet and raise. While Hero should not fold (because the cutoff could have a set or two pair), he should not raise because his all-in will usually only get called by a straight. Going all-in may win chips if the opponents make a big call with a set, but in a tournament setting, there is significant value in not going broke. By just calling, Hero will have 80,000 chips remaining in his stack when he loses, and when he wins, he will still have a ton of chips. The risk of going broke is not worth the gains from extracting a bit more value.

Sure enough, the cutoff had K-Q for the nut straight, busting Hero from the tournament. Hero wanted to complain about his bad luck, but in reality, he made a typical blunder that costs many recreational poker players lots money.