The value of a showdown at the poker table

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Here’s a recent hand I played at the beginning stages of a tournament. With blinds at 25-50 and starting stacks of 10K, I raised to 200 in middle position with pocket nines. The big blind called and the flop came {9-Diamonds}{6-Spades}{2-Hearts}. The BB checked and I bet 400. He called. The turn was the {j-Hearts}. Again, he checked and this time I bet 500. He again called. The river was the {3-Hearts}. This time the BB bet out 1K.

Before I explain my next move and thought-process, I want to share the following conversation. When I explained this hand to a friend, he was pretty adamant it was an easy raise on my part. He felt the odds were fairly large that I had the best hand and I should raise to extract maximum value.

So what did I do? I called. I agree it was likely I had the best hand. I was extremely confident in that supposition. It wasn’t likely my opponent hit a straight or a backdoor flush. The real questions, however, were: What was his likely holding and what was his motivation for betting the river?

The only hands I bet I get action on are smaller sets or a hand such as A-J or K-J. The way he played the hand made me rule out a set unless he hit the set on the last card. However, the most critical part of this hand was figuring out his motivation for betting. With a real orphan flop, I think he thought there was a good chance I missed and was making a continuation bet. Thus, I think he was thinking about floating or letting the hand develop to see how I played. That’s a dangerous proposition out of position.

When the turn came, he checked again. Maybe he was going to bet but didn’t like the jack. In any event, I wanted him to buy in to his storyline. So I made an undersized bet to the pot on the turn that made it look like I wanted to end it but didn’t want to risk too much as I didn’t really have anything. He bought the story.

Then he bet out with confidence on the river. It was a perfect card for him as it made a flush and a straight and doesn’t help a strong opening hand such as A-Q. Now, if I believe he was floating or looking for an opportunity to outplay me, he would make that bet as it is the only way for him to win the pot. He could’ve backed into a hand doing that. If I raise, he has to believe he’s been sandbagged and has to put me on something better than A-J. So, I only get called by a better hand. And what do I do if he three-bets the river?

I called and he turned over K-3 offsuit. My hunch was confirmed. If I had raised and saw a fold or a reraise, I never would’ve seen his hand. There was real value in that and I don’t mind showing a set there.

— David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable – Play Your Best Poker, is available from Amazon for $5.99. Contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.