Boy, was I wrong. This is not new, but maybe you can learn from my mistake.
This hand came to me via Ben Adler, of whom you’ve read in these pages. He was sitting in a $5/10 NLHE game in Las Vegas, and got involved in the following pot:
With effective stacks of $1500, Ben opens A♣T♣ to $40 from UTG+2, and gets three callers. With $160 in the pot, the flop is a delightful K♣Q♥3♣, giving our hero the nut flush draw and a gutshot to Broadway.
He bets $120, gets one fold, and then a middle position player raises to $360. It folds back to Ben, and he ?
A bunch of us in the Hand History Lounge immediately jumped in and said (in more or fewer words):
You have a ton of equity, almost regardless of what the villain has.You may have some fold equity against a hand such as AQ, which you’d be delighted to fold out.It will be hard to realize your equity from out-of-position against the post-flop raiser. The most likely outcome of calling is that the turn will be a brick, you’ll check, they’ll bet, and you have to fold away all that equity.
Thus, we argued, you should shove all $1500 in. Maybe they fold, and if they don’t fold, at least you get to see two cards with pretty good equity.
That all seemed great, at the time. However, it ignored two important points.
Point 1: This didn’t come up in the discussion on the HHL, but it’s worth mentioning here. The flop went four ways. That’s three other hands that Ben has to worry about, any of which could have him beaten. This is something that Andrew Brokos talked about recently – that when a hand goes massively multi-way to the flop (and four ways counts), that becomes the defining feature of the hand. The hand strength requirements shoot up because it’s so easy for one of the hands to beat you. Remember, our game doesn’t pay for second place.
Point 2: Benton Blakeman, the host of HHL, let us pontificate for a while (and yes, yours truly was in the “jam it in his face” camp). Then he pointed out what we had completely missed – that card removal made it extremely unlikely that the villain was bluffing.
Here’s how that goes: if we want the villain to fold to our shove, we want them to be bluffing, rather than have a value hand. When I say “bluffing,” I really mean “semi-bluffing,” a term coined by David Sklansky. That is, you’re bluffing now, but if you get called, you have outs to hit the best hand. An obvious bluffing hand would be the ace-high club flush draw.
But we have a problem, Houston – we’re looking at the ace-high flush draw. They can’t have the king-high flush draw because the king of clubs is on the board.
Hmmm. Wait! JT would be an open-end straight draw, and J♣T♣ would be a monster flush+straight draw that we’re beating right now. Oops – we’re looking at the ten of the trump suit (clubs). Could the villain have some other JT combination that they’re bluffing with? Yeeeeeessss…. But it’s not terribly likely.
The sad fact is that we block all the most likely draws that our opponent might bluff with. And, our opponent is the one out of four who looked at the flop, and thought: “I don’t care that the preflop raiser bet 75% of the pot – I want to put more chips in. Even though there are still other people in the pot.”
Benton ran this hand by another $5/10 regular, who had the same response, and also mentioned that they’d bet smaller, being out of position against a bunch of opponents. But they had the same response to the raise: call, and plan to hit on the turn.
So we should call. What happens when we don’t hit the turn? We check, and usually fold. That’s just what happens sometimes, and that’s what both Benton and the other $5/10 regular suggested. It’s worth noting that many people would think this is an easy shove. Benton later wrote:
For the record, on the surface, this looks like a slam dunk shove so don’t feel bad for going that route. It’s just one of those spots where card removal (and his aggressive action) actually trumps our standard line. Interesting spot.
Okay, Lee – what actually happened? First, my standard disclaimer: it doesn’t matter. Either Ben made a good choice, or he didn’t. His choice, whether it was a good one or not, worked out well. Unless it didn’t. What matters here is process – thinking through our options and doing the right thing based on the information we have.
As played, Ben shoved, and got called by a value hand. I don’t even know what it was – it’s not important. Also unimportant for this discussion, Ben didn’t get there, and lost all his chips.
The moral of this tale is not what happened. It’s that Ben (and subsequently, a bunch of us in the HHL) looked at the surface of this problem, and didn’t go the next level up to consider the actual likelihood that the villain was bluffing.
Sometimes it’s perfectly grand to shove a big combo draw such as Ben had. But you need to look deeper into the problem first.