Practice Hand Example #1

I'd like to do something a little different in this series. I'm going to set up a situation and give you multiple choices as to how you might play out the hand. In this first practice scenario I'm going to place you in the middle of a large buy-in No Limit Hold'em tournament. Let's say you are in the middle stages of a $10,000 buy in event that you satellited your way into. The tournament started each player with 10,000 in tournament chips. The blinds started at 10-20 and now, late into day one, the blinds are up to 100-200. The field of 200 players has been reduced to 80 at ten tables of eight players. The average stack is around 25,000, but you have only 10,000 in chips.

Example Poker Hand

The blinds are not so large that they are pushing the action too much, but they will be going to 200-400 in a few minutes. Players will start dropping out quickly. Let's set up the example poker hand.


You are in middle position (UTG+2), and you are facing an early position raise of 600 total to play. You just moved this table and have no information about the players at the table other than chip position. The player who made the raise is sitting comfortable at 20,000 chips and has no reason to make a move. In fact, all of the players at this table have around 20,000 chips, so no one should be in the mood to try anything "cute". There are no name players at your table, so you're just going to have to start playing "default poker". Just play solid until you get a feel for the table. The action is folded to you, and you wake up with two red queens. What's your move?

  • a) Smooth call the bet.
  • b) Re-raise to 1800.
  • c) Fold your hand.
  • d) Make a small raise to 1200 total.
  • e) Move all-in.

Well, an early position raise from a player with a comfortable chip position can really only be assumed to be a sign of strength. I think you could call, but then you might get action from the players yet to act in the hand. The big blind in particular would be getting a discount on his call. I think it's imperative to raise here. You want to play the pot heads up with your queens, and you have position on the raiser. If you had more information on the players at the table, you might attempt to represent aces with a small raise.

Honestly though, you don't want to encourage too much action with a hand like QQ, particularly against an early position raise. Players who play at large buy in events understand the importance of position and will normally only play premium hands from up front. You might be beaten already. I think it's safe to assume that your opponent has a strong hand, pocket 8's or higher, or a big ace. AJs is a stretch. AQs or AK would be more likely. You will generally see players limping in up front with aces. That's the standard play at high stakes poker games, and kings get played either way.

I think you need to make a solid raise here for two reasons: 1) you want to find out if you're up against a bigger pair, and you'll probably get your answer in the form of a re-raise if that's the case; or 2) you don't want to invite players to come into the pot when they have position on you. Just make it 1800 to go.

You raise to 1800, everyone folds to the original raiser, and he doubles the bet, re-raising another 1800. Now what?

  • 1) Fold. The player is too likely to have KK or AA.
  • 2) Re-raise again. You'll find out right now if you're ahead or not.
  • 3) Smooth call. You're getting a very good price on your call and you have position on your opponent.

Well, that bet looks very suspicious. Doubling the bet is what players do when they want action; he's actually trying to build a bigger pot to play out of position. It's not unlikely that you're up against a bigger pair. If you had more information about the player you could think about raising again or throwing your hand away, based on how you've seen him play. The bottom line though is that there is too much money in the pot now and you have position, a strong starting hand, and no real information on the player. Call the raise for pot odds and position, but proceed with caution. You are getting a huge price on your call, 3 to 1, and you can't just let players think they can take you out of a pot with minimum raises or you're going to be stolen from in future hands. Players at this high of stakes generally miss nothing. Call, but proceed with extreme caution.

I think the player might have AA or KK, and if you knew he did you could fold. He could also be making a move with nothing, or he could have AK. Even if you knew that your opponent could only have AA, KK, or AK there is still a better chance of him having AK than AA and KK together. Mathematically it is easier to make AK than AA or KK combined. If you call against AA or KK, you've made a mistake. You are a huge dog in the hand and the pot odds and position don't quite compensate. If, however, you fold QQ to AK when you have position on the raiser and you are getting 3 to 1, you have made an epic mistake. I mean it's bad. There is one other thing to consider - if you do happen to out draw a big hand like aces, with this size stack there are huge implied odds. It's not unlikely that you can double up. Players have a very difficult time getting away from AA, even at a top level of play. Put the money in and pray.

The Flop

The flop comes: Ah Kh 2h.

Well, that's a strange flop with a lot to consider. This is one of those times when you are very happy to be acting last. The bad news is that if your opponent has AA or KK he just made a set. Even if your opponent has AK, he just out-flopped you. There is almost no chance you are leading at this point. The good news is that you just flopped a draw to the nuts. One more heart will give you the best possible flush. The other great news is that your opponent probably has a strong enough hand that he's going to want to get some value for his monster. It's very unlikely that he has already flopped a flush, but that won't likely enter into this problem too much. You only have 6400 in chips and the pot contains 7200. You just got into a situation where you could go broke, or you could double up. Your opponent checks to you. What's your move?

  • a) Move all-in. You're practically stuck to this pot anyway, and a semi bluff has two ways to win. Your opponent could fold his hand, or you could catch a heart and win.
  • b) Bet your hand for value. You still have a pair of queens and a draw to the nuts.
  • c) Check behind your opponent. He might be looking for a check-raise.
  • d) Make a bet of about the size of the pot to make it look like you've made a flush and are protecting your hand.

Ok, you should be pretty sure that your opponent is slow playing a monster hand. If he'd somehow managed to miss that flop he would have probably made a continuation bet. That's what good players do. If they bet before the flop they bet on the flop, most of the time. I think your opponent has a true monster of a hand, and he's not giving you credit for a flush draw. He might have put you on AK, making it impossible for you to be drawing. Maybe he has a set and hopes that you'll move in with your two pair. There is no doubt at all as to how you should play this hand. Just check behind him and take the free card that he, erroneously, gave you. It's time to capitalize on his huge mistake. Wow, what a great result for you! You check behind him.

Let's take a moment to think about what that looks like to your opponent. He knows you showed a lot of strength before the flop and now you checked that flop after him. If he's extremely savvy he might have you on exactly QQ with a draw to the nuts. You should always think about these things. What do I think my opponent has? What do I think he thinks I have? What do I think he thinks I think he has? That might sound confusing, and it may be a bit difficult for an intermediate player, but I promise you that these are the questions all of the top poker players have in their heads every street of every hand.

The Turn

Fourth Street: Qs, the board now reads Ah Kh 2h Qs.

The bad news is that you missed your draw, the good news is that you just took the lead against AK. You are, however, still way behind AA and KK. This is the kind of poker hand that comes up once in a hundred sessions. To me, it's what makes all the boring hands worth playing through. Your heart is pumping, your gears are turning, and you are in murky, murky water. Let's hope for another free card, but let's not hold our breath.

Your opponent starts counting out firing chips. So much for the free card. He asks you for a count, you tell him "6400 chips". The pot contains 7,200. He fires out 2,000 chips into the pot. Now it's time to do some math, but first, let's consider what that bet likely means. It could be a probe bet - maybe he has aces up and wants to find out where he's at.

It could also be a value bet - maybe he's sure that you have QQQ and he wants to get paid. I think the probe bet theory is a bit of a stretch. If you call his 2,000 and move-in on him, it will only be another 4,400 chips into a monster pot. He'd have to call that with almost any reasonable hand just based on pot odds. The most logical guess here is that he has a set of aces or kings. Now what? What's your play?

  • a) Fold the hand. You're beaten.
  • b) Call the bet. You've got the right pot odds.
  • c) Move all-in. You're stuck to it anyway.

Let's do the math now. Even if you are against a bigger set you still have a lot of outs. Any of the nine unseen hearts will make you the nut flush and the case queen gives you quads. That's ten outs, you are over 20% here, usually you can count your outs, multiply them by two and add one to see what your odds are of hitting your hand. On the river it's actually a bit better than that. You are right around 23% to make your hand. The pot is offering you a price of almost 4 to 1. That's just about what you need even if you are behind.

There's also a little bit of implied odds to consider. Your last 4,400 would probably be easy to get in if you make your hand. The big problem is that you will have a pretty hard time throwing away your set if you miss the draw. This is complicated. If you knew you were one of the best players at the table you might just throw away your hand and look for a better spot, at this high of stakes you just don't know that, this might be your best chance of doubling up and becoming a force at the table. If you add the 4,400 you have left to the size of the pot, you are in slight overlay. I say call and pray. This is poker, you are gambling, you just have to make sure you make profitable decisions and look to win in the long run. If the tournament was nearing the end you might just throw your hand away and try to survive into the money. With so many players left in the field though, you should play it roughly as though it were a cash game. You call.

The River

Fifth Street: Qc, for a board of Ah Kh 2h Qs Qc.

Jackpot! Your opponent has likely put you on a flush draw at this point. He checks to you, probably trying to induce a bluff that he intends to pick off. There's no reason for multiple choice here - you got really, really lucky. Your play?

  • a) All-in

Your opponent folds his hand. What on earth could that mean? I think we've just exposed our opponent as one who likes to make fancy plays. He must have had nothing from the beginning and was just "making a move", or he is really, really good and was able to get away from a huge hand when you caught your quads. Maybe he had the AK, and he was actually able to fold his hand when you made yours. Maybe he had AJ and just hoped you'd come in with a lesser hand.

You just won a huge pot, and you didn't have to reveal your hand. You also got a great deal of information about the player you were up against. File it away and look for more evidence. You should only need to see him show down one or two more hands to have a fix on his playing style. My best guess is that he was making a move - he was representing aces and tried to take you off your hand. But you don't know that for sure. You must keep all of this information in your head. By playing a few more poker hands against him you should have him totally wired. Now, roll all those chips into a victory and split your money with me, the man who put you in the tournament and helped you win this big pot! Until next time, Good "luck!"

Poker Hand Analysis Series by Dead Money

Starting Hand Analysis

AA: Pocket Aces
AK: Big Slick
AQ: Ace-Queen
A2s: Ace-Deuce Suited
AX: Ace + Any Card
KQs: King-Queen Suited
KJ: King-Jack
QQ: Pocket Queens
JJ: Pocket Jacks
JTs: Jack-Ten Suited
33: Pocket Threes
72o: Seven-Two Offsuit
Practice Hand #1

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