Pocket cowboys look great pre-flop, but as our panel of pros show, how you play them will depend entirely on what happens next
You’re playing in a 40-player freezeout, which is now down to 23 players. You’ve got about 6,500 in chips, the third-highest stack on the table. The blinds are at 200 and 400, going up to 400/800 in 20 minutes. The table is eight-handed. You’re dealt K-K in seat 2. This is the first hand you’ve played for about 15 minutes. The table has seen that when you do play, you like to raise three times the big blind. Once again, you raise three times the big blind to 1,200. Everyone folds apart from seat 5, who calls. The player in seat 5 has about 8,600 in chips: his stack is the second biggest on the table and he has used it to see a lot of flops with suited connectors and marginal hands such as K-9 and K-10. From what you’ve seen, this player is pretty loose, likes to make what he perceives are value plays and has been lucky to outdraw a number of players on more than one occasion. The flop is Qd-2s-8h. You bet another 1,200 and seat 5 calls. The turn is the Ac, the one card you didn’t want to see. What now?
Considering the situation, the key mistake was made on the flop bet. In a tournament situation with the blinds so high and your opponent having more than you, the bet on the flop should have been much bigger – in fact, all-in would have been fine. However, if the situation came down like this, I’d probably check the Ace and see what my opponent did and take a read.
I now bet 2,000 at the pot. I’m not as worried about the Ace on the turn as you might suspect. He’s not going to call a bet on the flop with A-J or A-10. And I’m not putting him on A-K or A-Q because I suspect he might have raised before the flop.With no straight or flush possibility, if he calls my 2,000 bet here, I’m done with putting any more money into this pot.
The first problem I see here is betting 1,200 into a 3,000 pot. Small blind + big blind + seat 5’s 1,200 + your 1,200 = 3,000. You explained that this player was likely to have any number of marginal hands in the two-big-card range. Many of these will include a Queen, in which case, betting somewhere in the 2,400-2,800 range will usually get a call and let you know where you are. This move will also get rid of hands such as K-10, K-J and A-J that are drawing very slim or drawing dead to runner.
The other way to play it would be to check it as if you had A-K and had missed the flop. That way, if his hand does contain a Queen, he’ll usually overbet to get rid of you and get himself pot committed, or he’ll try a bluff with a hand like the other ones I mentioned for about 2,000, in which case, moving in on him will end the hand with you picking up a lot of extra chips.
If seat 5 just called you, he can’t have Aces or Kings. If he did, he would have reraised you. The best he can have is pocket 8s, pocket Queens or A-Q. I doubt he would have called your raise with pocket 2s. If the Ace hits on the turn, and you’ve got 4,000 left and there’s more than 5,000 in the pot, you have to go all-in. You don’t know for sure he’s got an Ace: he could have pocket Jacks or K-Q. Make him realise that you’re pot committed. It was a mistake to only bet 1,200 on the flop when the pot was already 3,000. That was definitely an underbet. You should have gone all-in on the flop. You haven’t got that strong a hand. You want to win the pot there and then and avoid headaches. If your opponent does have pocket 8s or pocket Queens, it’s obviously all over and you can’t do anything about it. However, if you bet 1,200 and he raises you, what are you going to do? You need to protect your hand and make him pass. The only way you can bet so little is if you have a set – you might even check.
The type of tournament, the number of players and your chip stack remain the same. As before, you pick up K-K in seat 2 and make the same raise of 1,200. This time, everyone folds except the small blind and the big blind. The small blind has a medium stack of about 3,200 and calls your raise. She’s a pretty tight player who you’ve only seen play in late position. She also has a habit of showing her cards when people fold to her before the showdown. So far, she’s turned over an A-K and a K-Q.
The big blind has the second shortest stack on the table, at around 1,500. In the previous hand, his top two pair lost to a flush on the river, diminishing his stack by about half. After about ten seconds of deliberation, he goes all-in. As such, the action comes to you – 300 more to call. You call the 300, as does the small blind. The flop Is Qd-2s-8h. You put in a bet of 1,200 and the small blind calls. The turn is the Ace. Now what?
Check for sure. There’s an all-in player who can’t be bluffed and your opponent won’t likely be bluffing if they bet when the Ace comes. If they did, it would be a foolish play.
Well, this seems simple. The small blind started with 3,200 and called 1,200 raise from me before the flop and the extra 300 all-in bet of the big blind. As such, she has 1,700 left. With 4,500 in the pot, I don’t care what comes on the turn, I set her all-in. If she hit an Ace on the turn to win, good for her.
After the big blind’s all-in raise, there’s 4,500 in the pot with the small blind left with 1,700, so the 1,200 bet seems odd. If you wanted to bet, you would just go ahead and bet the 1,700 and try to get it heads-up, or you could induce a desperation bluff to extract that 1,700 by checking. With the pot now at 7,400, by betting 1,200 and leaving her just 500, you’re basically forced to check and call a bet on the turn.
As before, the small blind can’t have Aces or Kings. If she’s as tight a player as you suspect, she would have raised you all-in. She probably has A-Q or K-Q. Even if you suspect she has the former, she’s only got 800 left and it’s worth seeing the river just to see if you can hit the King. The correct play would have been to move in on the flop because the bet of 1,200 was too small for a 4,500 pot.
The type of tournament, the number of players and your chip stack remain the same. You pick up K-K in seat 2 and raise 1,200. This time, everyone folds except the button, who’s chip leader with about 10,000. This player has stolen about three rounds of blinds in the last ten hands with overbets of 2,000.He hasn’t shown his cards once. He calls your raise and the flop is Qd-2s-8h. You check and the button checks. The turn is the Ace. What now?
I’d check. There’s little value in betting, as the button will only call when you’re beat. If you check, he could attempt a bluff. I’d call a small bet on the turn and make my big decision on the river.
First, I’d never check this flop with two Kings, especially against the chip leader. He might have two 6s or two 3s, hit one on the turn and bust you. If he calls a 2,000 or so bet on the flop and catches an Ace on the turn to beat me, well, ‘that’s poker’.
Given these exact circumstances, I’d check and fold to any significant bet and then swear to myself that I would never give another free card to someone. The best ways to play this hand would be to put in a decent-sized bet of 2,000 or so on the flop, hoping he has a Queen and gets out of line with you. Or you could put in a strange underbet of, say, 800-900. This sign of weakness will often trigger an aggressive reraise from this type of player.
You can’t bet now because you’ve put yourself in trouble. You should check. If he sets you in, I’d have to give him the benefit of the doubt and fold. The most I’d call is 1,000 and then check on the river to see what he does. What you should have done is gone all-in on the flop.