CardRunners: Tricky cash game spots – what would you do?

CardRunners pro Matthew Janda quizzes you on three difficult cash game spots, and explains why the real answer may not be the obvious one

In this article I’m going to quiz you on some poker hands and concepts that are essential to learn. However, as you can’t solve poker completely, a lot of these answers are just going to be what I think is best. I’ll explain why I think it’s best and leave you to see if you agree or disagree with me. I don’t want to pick questions that have a really easy answer because in general you are going to learn more from spots that are tough and require discussion. Ready? Here we go!

Question 1

You open on the button for 2.25BBs in a six-max cash game and only the big blind calls. Which of the TWO following hands make the best checks on a K♣-7♠-2 flop against a reg?

a) A-8♣
b) 6♠-4♠
c) J-8
d) 6-6♠

Check a) A-8♣ and c) J-8

Here is why those two hands should be checked and the others should be c-bet…

a) Check A-8♣
This hand does not retain its equity well as a bet. It will lose a lot of its showdown value when we bet by making hands like Ace-high and Queen-high fold. When we bet A-8
on this flop we are making our opponent’s range a lot stronger, so he will get to the turn with a lot of hands that beat us rather than getting to the turn with hands like A-3 and A-4, that we beat.

It will also make hands that we dominate on an Eight turn, such as J-8 or Q-8, fold now. This hand has no robust equity – by that I mean that it simply cannot make a very strong hand from this flop onwards. This is problematic as we make our opponent’s (continuing) range stronger by betting the flop.

The best play is to check back and hope that your opponent checks back future streets. Be prepared to sometimes call and play ‘bluff catcher’ and hope to win at showdown.

b) Bet 6♠-4♠
This hand has a lot of robust equity. In other words, it will sometimes runner-runner a very strong hand (the flush or the straight) that will win even if we make the opponent’s range strong by betting multiple streets. If the opponent folds on the flop, he also always folds the best hand because Six-high is never going to be good (unlike Ace-high in the previous example). It’s usually always going to be easy to tell when to keep betting with this hand on the turn too (on any Five or spade) and when to check (on a complete blank turn like the J).

A-8 is the exact opposite of 6-4 suited, because with the second hand we know that we need to make a strong hand to be able to win so have to try bluffing too. A-8 on the other hand can’t really get lucky on the turn or river.

c) Check J-8
This was a tough one to get right, but I think it’s a check. Why? We need to check some hands which can be used as bluffs later on. A leak I think most people have is that they never check back with air on the flop because they think betting with any two cards will be profitable. Here, we’re on the button with a K-7-2 rainbow board and we probably can bet profitably with any two cards – but just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.

Try to emphasise bluffing with hands that have robust equity on the flop (hands with backdoor flush draws or straight draws). These hands can get lucky and win large pots. J♥-8♥, though, is pretty much total garbage. If we check and our opponent bets the turn we can fold and not feel bad about it. If he checks multiple times we can bluff on the river when the quality of our bluff doesn’t matter. All bluffs on the river are pretty much the same – if our hand has zero showdown value there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bluffs like there are on the flop. 

d) Bet 6-6♠
This is debatable but I think it’s a bet. I think you can get value from 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 and Ace-high hands that call you. We also need to have some hands that can bet flop, check back turn and (sometimes) call the river, depending on the player and the board runout. Another bonus is that if our opponent folds, he’ll frequently have folded a hand with two overcards.
A further good reason to bet is that our opponent probably won’t check-raise at a high frequency here. If he has a monster he’ll often be inclined to slowplay and he won’t have hands like K-2 or 7-2 in his range to make a weird two pair. So I won’t bet and go ‘URGH!’ when facing a check-raise too often!

If you got this question wrong…

Make sure you understand that just because betting any two cards is +EV does not mean that you should always bet! Think about what a check back from your opponent on a K-7-3 rainbow board looks like. It looks like he has a hand with showdown value (such as A-T, Q-7 or K-2 suited) so when he bets later you’ll usually correctly assume he’s doing it with a value hand.

Question 2

You open on the button to 2.25BB in a six-max cash game and the big blind three-bets. Which of the following hands is least likely to be part of an optimal four-betting range?

a) A-Q
b) J-J
c) Q-9s
d) K-3s

c) Q-9s

Why don’t we want to four-bet this hand? Q-9 suited works best as a call. It’s reasonably easy to play boards where we flop a pair, and calling keeps the opponent’s dominated 9x hands involved (such as 9-8s, 9-7s, 9-6s, 9-5s and so on).

If we four-bet this hand using the logic that we can only call with better hands, then we are folding against three-bets too much.

Let’s look at the other options:

1) A-Q:
A-Q can definitely be four-bet for ‘value’, since an optimal player likely three-bets K-Q, K-J, A-J and A-T, and many of those will call our four-bet (especially if we four-bet small).
Also, A-Q doesn’t hate it when the opponent folds two live cards such as 9-6s. I’m not saying you should always four-bet A-Q here but it’s going to be a profitable strategy in general. There are of course some big drawbacks to four-betting A-Q too. Our opponent may five-bet jam and put us in a difficult spot where we often get shown A-K if we call.

2) J-J:
Pocket Jacks can pretty easily get value from weaker hands and is a standard four-bet. Also, if you make your opponent fold just one live card – such as a suited Q-x or K-x hand – that is pretty useful.

3) K-3s:
K-3s works pretty well as a ‘four-bet bluff’. It may not be strong enough to call with, but it has a nice card removal effect (meaning that it is harder for our opponent to have A-K or K-K because we hold one King), and if the opponent flat calls then our King out may still be live – versus pocket Tens is a good example.

Question 3

The button opens to 2.25BB and you call with K-7♣ in the big blind. The flop comes A-6-5♦. If you check and the opponent bets 3BB into a 5BB pot what should you do?

a) Check-fold
b) Check-call
c) Check-raise

c) Check-raise

The flop is A-6-5 and you have K-7♣. That’s three to the nut flush and three to the straight. There are many realistic value hands that you would check-raise with here. You can represent a lot of two pair combos.

What are you most likely to check-raise bluff here? Most of your gutshots (9-8s) and one-gappers (9-7s) should probably have been three-bet preflop rather than just called, so that leaves K-7 as one of the best hands you can three-bet bluff with on this flop.

The showdown value of K-7 is probably not good enough to check-call with and try to get it checked down after that. So that rules out check-calling. And, of course, jamming all-in was just a comedy answer!

Lessons to remember from this hand…

Most people are on auto-pilot when they are playing online. Let’s say you’re playing $1/$2 on PokerStars against a regular who opened the button and the flop comes down A-6-5. In reality, the person you are playing against is probably playing many tables and will frequently auto-bet here because it’s profitable and because he’ll often just have a hand that works well as a bet.

It is unlikely he’ll actually stop and think, ‘Whoa…my opponent can represent a lot of two pair combos here, and since he three-bets lots of suited connectors and gappers it’s hard for him to have obvious bluffs.’

He will, however, likely realise these things after you check-raise him and if he has a hand which seems ‘close’. If he has pure garbage he’ll likely auto-muck. But if he has a marginal hand or marginal draw, he’ll likely now focus on your specific table and start thinking. Most winners at $200NL on PokerStars are pretty good and will be capable of realising you represent many two pair combos and don’t have too many ‘obvious’ bluffs in your range. This will make him more likely to fold.

Winning regs who are playing as many tables as possible do not sweat and stress over every single tough decision. Once you check-raise a player in a spot like this they will often just give it up to you.

This article is an extract from Classroom: Hand & Concept Quiz #1 by CardRunners pro Matthew Janda. To watch the full video, and more, go to today!


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