Teamwork is valuable in poker, but trust yourself

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Last month I talked about the importance of teamwork and how others can help take your game to a higher level. But I also promised to discuss a key hand from the Borgata Winter Open’s main event and how I used this teamwork to improve my game. So here it is:

This tournament had a phenomenal structure: 75-minute levels and 50K in chips. I had a great starting table with only a couple of strong players, some average players and several weak players (calling three bets lightly and seeing many multiway flops).

One player in particular had proved to be extremely loose (sometimes passive, sometimes aggressive) and frequently overly bluff-happy. He was called down correctly at least three times by an opponent with ace-high in the first four levels! He also paid me off in a monster pot with AK on a QK6Q3 board when I was holding pocket queens for quads! We’ll refer to him as Timebomb as we’re waiting for him to explode and donate his chips to someone — hopefully me again.

At the dinner break, I had 77K and was feeling great about my play. The second hand back from dinner, with blinds at 300-600 plus a 75 ante, a tight player under the gun raised to 1,800. I was two to his left with {a-Clubs}{k-Diamonds}. I re-raised to 6,000, in part to isolate in position and also to get information on just how strong the UTG player was. To my surprise, Timebomb called out of the small blind and UTG folded.

Timebomb and I see a flop of {k-Spades}{8-Clubs}{7-Clubs} with 15,450 in the pot. Timebomb checked and I bet 10,000. He check-raised all-in for another 34,300. What now? If I make the call, I would be down to about 26K and if I let it go, I’m still sitting at a very comfortable 61K with a lot of play left at a weak table. I have the {a-Clubs} in my hand, so it’s less likely he’s on a flush draw. But it’s certainly possible he flopped a set, in which case I’d be almost drawing dead. Most players will not flat-call a three-bet out of position with a hand like 9-10 or 5-6, so I figured it was a set or bluff. Based on all of the history with this opponent and all the bluffs, I decided it would more often be a bluff in this spot than a monster. Plus I had shown the ability to lay down hands on multiple occasions, so I made the call. He tabled two kings for top set!

As I mentioned last month, I had the opportunity to discuss this hand with fellow Team PPI Elite players Bill Blanda, Eric “Rizen” Lynch and Kathy Leibert. Bill was adamant about me folding in this spot. My table was so weak overall that it was just not worth the risk of losing that many chips with one pair when we’re still so deep-stacked. In fact, his line of thinking is exactly like what I would do pretty much every time in this spot. Rizen and Kathy thought this was the spot I was looking for against this guy and that based on all of the information I had on him, there was no way I should fold even though folding ensures I maintain a very competitive stack at this weak table.

In fact, Kathy said she would snap-call. Adding to her confidence in this decision was the fact that if I laid it down, I would be questioning the laydown for the rest of the tournament and it could negatively affect my play from that point on.

You have to make the best decisions based on the information you have. You have to factor in opponents’ actions, tendencies, range of hands and so much more. If I took the safe route and folded my hand, I would not be leveraging all of my information and pouncing on the situation I had been waiting for. So while it’s almost always incorrect to call off this many chips with just one pair when you have a deep stack, especially if you’re seated at a weak table, in this case, three out of four PPI pros agree it was right to call.
I thought about this hand a lot the rest of the day and realized we neglected one key detail. This was the correct decision based on my situation at the time. But, I created a more difficult situation with my continuation bet (c-bet). I’m going to c-bet a large majority of the time when I’m the pre-flop aggressor, but in this case, was that the right move? I have a moderately strong hand with top pair, top kicker and I have position against a guy who likes to bluff a lot.

I’m probably way ahead or way behind with this flop, so why even bet? Why not just check behind and control the size of the pot with my one-pair hand? If he flat-called with a pair that didn’t already make a set, he was drawing to just two outs and there was no reason to be concerned about the flush draw or straight draw here based on the pre-flop action. Putting all of this together led me to the correct line I should have taken with this hand regardless of his holding. I should have checked behind on the flop for pot control in this way-ahead/way-behind situation against a weaker, bluff-happy opponent.

If you don’t already have a team of poker friends, develop one. Talk with other players about the hands you play. Learn how they think about the game, get their insight and share yours. The more perspectives you get and the more you really think about the game when you are not in the heat of battle, the better you will become. Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at www.acumenpoker.net.