Play down to the competition in poker

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I recently played a daily tournament at the Venetian, which I thought might provide a good hand or two for an article. It didn’t take long for me to get a good one.

In the first orbit, this hand occurred. Blinds were 25-50 with 8K starting stacks. Everyone had close to starting stacks. I raised to 200 with A-K. The button player and big blind called. The flop came K-3-5 rainbow. The big blind bet 500. I called, as did the button. The turn was an ace.

The BB bet 1K. I called and the button instantly went all-in. The BB folded. What did the button have and what should I have done?
Let’s start with the flop. After the button called the preflop raise, the BB was getting proper odds to call with a lot of hands. His lead-out bet on the flop could easily signal a hand such as K-J, where I have him dominated.

Typically, I would have raised here, but against poor players and with a benign board, I just flatted in hopes of inducing another bet on the turn. I was a little surprised and a little concerned with the button call behind me. I decided to be more aggressive on the turn. Surprise, surprise, the turn brought an ace. The BB was not yet ready to give up on the hand despite two callers and an overcard coming on the turn. Either he was stronger than I thought or he fit the profile of the typical player at these daily tournaments.

Since he was willing to fire two bullets and I now had top two pair, I decided to flat again to give him the chance to fire his third bullet. No sooner had I called, then the button went all-in. The BB folded, confirming my read on him. Now, I took my time so I could properly analyze the hand, the potential ranges of my opponent and think everything through to make a good decision. The only hand that really made sense was a set of threes or fives or the same hand as mine. In a high buy-in tourney against better players, I probably would have folded here. But this was a daily with a re-entry and the play is so poor that it’s an easy call.

The button rather proudly turned over A-4, top pair with a gutshot. He seemed somewhat shocked to see my hand. In his mind, he wasn’t bluffing. He honestly thought his hand was good and he was protecting it. My hand held, but the takeaway from the story is that while you don’t play down to the level of your competition, you have to understand it.

During my moment of reflection before the call, I reminded myself of that. I don’t claim to be able to get in the head of a donkey, but I do know when I’m playing with one.

— David Apostolico is the author of You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker, ($5.99 for Kindle). Email him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.