Three players limp. You make it $15 to go on the button with
J♣T♣. The big blind calls, and two of the three limpers call. There are four players, $63 in the pot, and $285 behind.
The flop comes T♦9♣9♠. Everyone checks to you and you bet $40. One player calls.
The turn is the A♥. Your opponent checks, and you decide that the turn card makes it difficult for you to get more streets of value. So you check it back. There’s $143 in the pot, and $245 behind.
The river is the 3♣. Your opponent bets $30. What do you do?
Not every poker decision will fit neatly under the umbrella of the skills I outline in this book. This isn’t a Skill #2 situation, since the river bet is tiny. It’s possible your opponent is bluffing a busted straight draw like K-Q or Q-J or 8-7.
It’s possible your opponent has trip nines and is trying to squeeze value. It’s also possible he’s got a ten just like you. And if you call, you’ll chop.
It’s possible he’s got an ace. The challenges are many.
The pot is laying you $173-to-$30 odds. So you need to win only 15 percent of the time to justify a call.
Seems like a no-brainer call then, right? Maybe. It’s possible you won’t be good even 15 percent of the time. If your opponent isn’t likely to ever bluff, including with even small bluff bets like this, you might never win the pot outright and only chop it sometimes.
So is it a fold? Not so fast. It’s player-dependent. If you fold the river every time someone breathes on a pot, you won’t do very well at this game.
Also, you might consider a raise. If you raise, your opponent might fold if he’s got a ten like you. If you raise big enough, he might even fold an ace. He’ll likely never fold trip nines. But once in a blue moon, someone will even fold trips with a bad kicker.
I could see calling this bet against some opponents (because I’d expect them to bluff a busted straight draw this way, but bet bigger with trips). I could see folding to this bet against some opponents (because I’d expect them never to bluff, and I’d expect them to check a ten). And I could even see raising this bet against some opponents.
This book won’t give you the recipe for every situation. That’s clearly impossible. My goal is to give you a winning philosophy that you can apply in common and important scenarios. Many times, you’ll have to use your best judgment and just wing it.
Don’t let that bother you. Your opponents have to wing it, too, in many of the same situations. So having to make some spur- of-the-moment decisions in unexpected spots won’t put you at a relative disadvantage. Just make the best decisions you can and move on. Also, trust the decisions you make. You’re smart, and now approaching the game systematically. Those two things will give you an advantage over many opponents, even when you’re forced to improvise.
When hands like these arise, after you’ve made your decision and gotten a result, write the hand down. Take it home. Use the time you have away from the table to reanalyze the situation. Try to decide whether you made the best possible play, or if there was a better available option.
In the end your long-term success will not hinge on how well you perform when you’re forced to play an unusual or unanticipated situation. Instead, your success will hinge on how hard you work to make these situations more familiar. Analyze them in the present, so in the future you expect them, you’re ready for them, and you’re better prepared.