Cash game strategy: Big pot poker

CardRunners coach Verneer looks at some hands he played at low-stakes cash games and offers some lessons on big pot poker

When I analyse students’ hand histories I like to look at big pots they were involved in, as that can tell you a lot about how they are playing. When you look at all the big pots I’ve won or lost I tend to do pretty well over time. My graph correlates pretty well with my overall winning graph,  and it’s important yours does too.

To help you analyse your own hands, I’m going to go over some big hands that I’ve played. The first few are from $25NL full-ring cash games, while the rest are from $50NL full-ring games.

Hand 1: Four-betting Queens

Verneer’s Hand: Q-Q
Position: Small blind

In this hand there is a raise from the hijack to $0.75 and I end up calling with pocket Queens in the SB. I’m not sure why I just call here, but I get three-bet by someone with a shorter stack in the big blind and the original raiser calls.

Because the short stack bought in short and I don’t have many hands on him we can assume he is a weaker player and that Queens would be good in this spot. When the original raiser flat-calls I think he could be trapping with Aces, but with a hand like A-K he would four-bet. I think he has a hand like Tens or Jacks that he likes but isn’t in love with.

I think this is a great spot to move all-in and so I shove and get called by the short stack. The hijack ends up folding, confirming my read. I end up against A-K and it’s just down to variance. I win the flip, but I like the way I played it. If I had a better read on the short stack then calling is okay, but with no further reads four-betting is best.

Hand 2: The big flush

Verneer’s Hand: A-K
Position: Small blind

In this hand an aggressive button open-raises to $0.81 and I three-bet to $3.25 in the SB with A-K. The flop is 7-7-T and I am very happy to get the money in. I bet and he calls. The turn brings the 9, so I make my flush and decide to slow down a bit and check.

The reason I check is because I want to make it seem like I am looking to control the pot. In retrospect I would like to have bet this turn to represent A-Kx, and in that case I don’t expect him to fold any one-pair type hands such as T-J. I also think he’s going to bet some of those hands, but he checks back.

The river is a 5, I bet for value and he shoves on me. It’s kind of gross because he can easily have T-T or 9-9 here, but if so I will just attribute it to a cooler. I call and he shows J-8 for the straight. I’m surprised he didn’t bet the turn. Calling preflop was bad, but not betting the turn was worse.

There are a lot of rivers I am not putting any more money in the pot with, and if the 2♦, 3♦ or 4♦ comes he just has a worse flush.

Hand 3: Set gone wrong

Verneer’s Hand: 9-9
Position: Big blind

In this hand there’s a raise in early position from a player playing stats of 33/17. I have 9-9 in the big blind and don’t like raising from this spot, so just call. The flop is pretty good for me, with top set on a draw-heavy 7-9♣-8 board.

I like checking here to give the raiser a chance to bet. He bets a fifth of the pot and I put in a hefty check-raise, both to charge draws and to get value from worse. He calls and the turn is the A♣.

This is not a great card, because if he has a hand like tens or Jacks or Queens he might put me on some kind of Ace-high flush draw. On the other hand he might have the flush draw, so I like betting here. I bet and he calls. The river is a fairly innocuous 4♣. If I was ahead on the flop I am probably still ahead now. He could have a flush or a hand like Q-T, but there is a much higher chance he has a worse hand here.

I end up shoving for value, hoping to get a call from Tens or Jacks and he calls with the nut straight. He played the hand pretty passively and I just put this one down to a cooler.

Hand 4: Aces cracked

Verneer’s Hand: A-A
Position: Big blind

In this hand we have three limpers and an isolation raise to $1.60 from a guy in the cutoff with stats of 15/10. I re-isolate in the big blind with Aces. I make it $4.75, which I think is about the right size. The flop is J-4-2, which is great for me, and I end up betting half the pot. I don’t think any kind of one-pair hand is going to fold here.

The turn is a four and is about the best card I could hope for. I bet $6, enough to make him shove or be committed on the river. The river is a King, which is not the best card for me as he could have K-K, but he could have Queens or A-K with a flush draw.

At this point I have less than a third of the pot left and I shove, and sure enough he calls with Kings. I would call this a bad beat, even though I put in 40BB dead on the river. I think I played the hand perfectly and I win the pot on any other river. I like my bet preflop and my bet sizing, and the river is what it is.

Hand 5: Winning isn’t everything

Verneer’s Hand: 2-2
Position: Hijack

Here we have a min-raise from a weaker, shorter stacked player. I end up calling with pocket deuces in late position and we go to the flop five-handed. I flop bottom set on a 2-Q-6 board and there is a very small bet from the weaker player. I like a raise here, but I end up just flat-calling and two other players flat as well.

The turn is an offsuit four and the weaker player leads again, and for some reason I just call  again. I don’t like my play on the flop or the turn. I end up rivering the full house when another six drops and I overbet and end up taking a pretty big pot from a player with top pair.

He put me on a flush draw, but slow-playing like this on a draw-heavy board and then overbetting the river is a pretty donkish play and I am not very happy with how I played this hand.

Hand 6: Fire with fire

Verneer’s Hand: K-K
Position: Hijack

In this hand there is a min-raise from a TAG player in early position. We are 130BB deep, so I make a big isolation raise with K-K. He calls, we get a very dry flop of J♠-2-3 and he leads for half pot.

I could raise for value here, but I’m not sure what to make of this little bet. I’m either way behind or he is bluffing. I think if I was to raise here I would scare off a hand like T-J or Q-Q. If he has a draw he might call, but I can’t stand a three-bet so I just call.

The turn is the 7♠ and he pots it. I’m not sure what this means, but I just play my hand for value and call. The river is a 4 and he shoves 80BB into a 108BB pot. I’m getting about 30% odds, so unless he has a hand like 5-6 or A♠-5♠ I am probably ahead.

In the stats I have on him his aggression factor is very high, so I close my eyes and call. He shows pocket nines. I have no idea what he was thinking. He can’t possibly have expected me to pay off with worse. But I’ll take it.

Hand 7: Fast and loose

Verneer’s Hand: A-A
Position: Hijack

There is a limper and an isolation raise to $1.75, which is called, and I put in a substantial three-bet to $7 with Aces. The reason I do that is we are quite deep and I don’t expect to see a fold from the original raiser, who is playing 22/17, so I’m looking to bloat the pot.

The raiser actually folds, but the other player calls my three-bet. The flop comes 3♠-8♠-Q♠ and he checks. I have the nut flush draw and an overpair so I shove it in, and unfortunately find myself up against a set. I still have equity, but I end up bricking out. I am 100% fine with how it’s played out though and would consider this a bad beat.

Hand 8: Squeezy does it

Verneer’s Hand: A-K♣
Position: Cutoff

Here we have a raise from UTG from a player who is playing stats of 10/8 and folds to 90% of three-bets. I don’t see a lot of point in three-betting here, as he is folding a lot of hands and there is more value in flatting and either hitting a better flop or hoping someone spazzes out. If he was to four-bet here my A-K just doesn’t look good.

As it is I call, there is a squeeze from the button and the original raiser folds. The squeezer is playing 17/14 and has a 7% three-bet percentage, so I expect to be ahead of his squeezing range. I opt to shove and he ends up calling and we are off to the races.

He has Queens, but I think he could also have had Jacks, Tens or even A-Qs. I end up bricking out and he takes the pot. In retrospect I think the squeezer is very seldom bluffing here, but I think he is going to be isolating much wider than Aces and Kings so I am okay with my shove there. This hand is just straight-up variance.

Hand 9: Quad damage

Verneer’s Hand: 3-3
Position: Small blind

In this hand it’s folded around to the button who raises. He has a 130BB stack, so I just call with pocket threes. I flop four of a kind on a K-3-3 board. It’s not actually that easy to play four of a kind, especially on this type of board where there are no draws.

I begin by checking and he puts in a standard continuation bet. I put in a good raise and my range is so polarised that often I am not going to get credit for anything here. Given how deep we are I am happy to start inflating the pot. I don’t think he is going to fold a King and he is going to have a hard time folding any kind of pair.

It’s so unlikely I have a three or I would do this with a King, so he ends up calling. The turn is a nine and I slow down a little and check to make it seem like I check-raised with garbage and am just giving up. The river is a Queen and I check again. My thought process is that if he has a King he will check back the turn and bet river.

In retrospect, once the river comes his most likely hand is Jacks or tens and I am better off leading the river. However, on the river he bets half the pot, and I put in a substantial checkraise which he calls off with K-Q.

This hand is an example of how playing small pocket pairs from the blinds is difficult. When you’re out of position the other player can apply all sorts of pot-control measures, and even if you apply pressure it’s difficult to get paid off on dry boards. In general, unless I thought the player was very tricky, I would have been better off leading the turn and leading the river to make it seem like I was repping a very narrow range.

This article is an extract from Verneer’s ‘Big Pot Analysis’ series on CardRunners. To watch the full videos or for the rest of the series go to


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