TIPS FROM THE PROS
January 23, 2006
I'm writing from Tunica, MS, where I've
played in several World Series of Poker
Circuit events at the Grand Hotel and
Casino. A couple of days ago, I played in a
$2,000 No-Limit Hold 'em tournament, and I
saw some of my opponents make some pretty
odd plays. For this tip, I decided to
highlight a couple of these strange
decisions and describe why you should avoid
making similar plays.
A Curious River Raise
Midway through the tournament, I saw
King-9 in the cutoff (the seat to the
immediate right of the button). I raised to
put some pressure on the blinds, and I was
called by the big blind. The flop came T-5-2
rainbow, so it was no help to me. My
opponent checked, and I checked behind him.
The turn was a 9, giving me a pair. He
checked, and I made a small bet that he then
called. The river was a King and I now had
two pair. After my opponent checked and,
thinking that I had the best hand, I made a
substantial bet. At this point, he surprised
me and made a large raise. I was reasonably
sure I was up against a set or Q-J for the
straight, but still, I made the crying call.
He showed pocket Aces and I took a nice
What should my opponent have done?
For starters, he could have re-raised
pre-flop, though calling pre-flop was
certainly reasonable. He also could have
taken the lead in the betting on the flop or
the turn, not allowing free cards to hit the
board. However, his real trouble came on the
When he check-raised, he failed to ask
himself a critical question: What hand can I
call with that he could beat? His river
check-raise showed a lot of strength - so
much, in fact, that I probably wouldn't have
called with any one pair. By the river, he
really had no idea what I was holding. For
all he knew, I could have had Queen-Jack or
any sort of two pair. If I held the
straight, he'd be facing a very large raise,
one that would certainly be a mistake to
In this sort of situation, his best play
was to check-call on the river. By the time
the river card hit, he should have been
looking to showdown the hand with the hope
that his pair survived.
While here, I've seen many players make
similar mistakes on the river. They bet or
raised with any hand that they suspected was
best, including marginal cards like second
pair. But their big mistake was that they
failed to consider their opponent's hand.
When you hold marginal cards, you should ask
yourself two important questions: Do I have
the best hand? And, if I do, does my
opponent hold a hand that he's willing to
call with? If you can't answer
"yes" to both questions, just
check the river and showdown the hand.
Trouble on the Turn
Later in the tournament, I raised
pre-flop in late position with King-6 and
the big blind called me. The flop came
Ac-As-7s. I didn't have an Ace, but I bet
anyway when my opponent checked. After he
smooth-called and a 6h came up on the turn,
my opponent bet big.
This play makes no sense because it
doesn't tell a coherent story. A check-raise
on the flop would be reasonable - my
opponent would be representing a big hand,
maybe trip Aces. A check-call on the turn
would make sense, too. In that case, he
probably holds a monster like a full house
or he could just have a seven.
As it turned out, my opponent had A-7
(that's what he said, anyway), and by
betting he forced me to fold. That wasn't
very smart. If he checked, I might have
continued with my bluff (though that-s
In any case, it's almost never a good
idea to check-call a flop bet, and then bet
the turn if a blank hits. A play like that
might confuse your opponent momentarily, but
you're unlikely to gain much value. Your
flop and turn bets should be related –
they should tell a consistent story.
If you think carefully about your turn
and river bets and what you're trying to
gain, you're sure to improve your results.
You'll get better value on the turn and
avoid drowning on the river.
See you at the next tournament stop.