Putting a Player on a Hand in Poker
I remember one specific incident when I had caught top two pair against a player I knew to be very conservative. With two hearts out I bet to "protect my hand", and he raised me. I called. The next card fell, and it seemed to do nothing for either of us. He checked, and I bet the full size of the pot, believing I was ahead and not wanting to let him out draw me if he was looking for the last heart to complete a flush. He thought for a minute and called. The last card came out a heart; he stopped for a moment and moved all-in. I hesitated and added up all the pieces of the puzzle. I traced back the whole hand one step at a time. I raised on the button before the flop with ATs, and he called in bad position after limping UTG.
The flop came out AhTh9c. He checked the flop, I bet, he raised, I called the check raise. He slowed down after that, just calling my big bets down, including a pot sized bet on fourth street. Now a heart comes off, and he moves all-in. It just didn't add up. His early limp and then call looked suspiciously strong, and so did the check raise on the flop. Then he backed off but still called a pot-sized bet. At that point I was pretty sure he was on AK, but I was a bit worried he'd made a set, specifically aces. I only doubted that he would have checked the flop to me with aces because of the two hearts on the board and the two connecting cards. Then when he moved all-in when the heart flopped, I thought if he had the flush or the set he would value bet it. I also thought it was unlikely he would call a pot sized bet trying to draw to a flush. I was convinced now, he had AK, and if they where hearts, I don't like this all-in move at the end, and I didn't believe he'd play it that way. I called with two pair and beat his AQ; close enough. This is what becoming a "poker detective" means. Let's analyze this further.
Our first information comes from what we've observed of the pre-flop action. Let's assume we're in the early rounds of a $100 buy-in tourney at an aggressive table with mostly strong players and a couple weak ones. If a strong player raises 3 BB's UTG and then a tight player calls the bet from middle position, we can start putting our opponents on a range of hands. We actually have more information about the middle position call than the first position raise. If we think back to our discussion about gap concept, it means that it takes a better hand to call a raise than to make one. The first position raiser seems to have a strong hand, but the caller almost definitely does.
Let's try some detective work on the earlier opener and see what range of hands he could have. If the table is semi-aggressive and has good players at it, we might suspect the strong player that raised in first position would have limped in with AA, (it's the standard play at an aggressive table), so it seems unlikely that he has aces. The 3bb open is pretty standard for someone on a category A B or C hand, so let's assume he has one of them, probably not AA. The middle position caller must think the UTG raise shows strength, so I think we can probably put him on an A or B hand, but it's not impossible he has a category C hand. He may have raised instead of called with an A hand; I would think he's on a category B. We look down on the button with AsKs. We're not sure we have the best hand right now, but we're definitely not gonna throw it away. The question is "raise or call?"
I would raise here, but not huge. I want to put the original opener in a sandwich. That is to say, if he calls the bet he still has a player acting after him who can raise, so he would need an exceptional hand to continue in the pot and may well throw away a hand like PP tens that could have caused you trouble. If he calls the bet we know he's got a great hand. Let's say he calls the bet and the next player to act folds. Now the flop comes out 9c 7s 2s. It seems extremely unlikely that this flop has helped your opponent. He is first to act and elects to check. Now we have a decision to make - we can take a free card to see if we can connect, or we can make a semi bluff bet. I like the semi bluff bet here, about half the pot seems right. He pauses for a minute and calls the bet. What does this mean? It seems unlikely that he's drawing to the same flush, and if he is he'd have to have KQs, so he's going to be in big trouble if the spade comes out. I think it's probably more likely that he's slow playing a set of nines. I don't like his call with the nines pre-flop after a call and a raise, but it's not unreasonable. Either way we hope the spade comes off.
♣ Continued at: Putting a Player on a Hand (Part II)
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