Category: Poker Hand Scenarios

You Look Down at T♣T♥, Now What?

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For most players the middle pocket pairs (eights through tens) are some of the trickiest hands to play.

When playing middle pairs, your position and the number of opponents in the pot should significantly influence your decision-making.

Accurately putting your opponent on hand ranges is also extremely important for taking down pots with middle pocket pairs.

Put your decision-making skills to the test against our Pros with the following scenarios and be ready to make the best decision possible the next time you look down at a middle pocket pair:

Deliberate application of key concepts at the table and consistent practice of your decision-making skills is essential for success in No-Limit Hold’em.

Remember… Amateurs play, Pros practice!

That’s why we ask that you read these scenarios and keep practicing… even if you don’t always agree with our analysis.

See you online,
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Think Like a Pro

Chip Leader with K♠T♦, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT:
You are in the money and the table chip leader in a multi-table Tournament where blinds are 5,000/10,000 with a 10,000 big blind ante. It folds to you on the Button with K♠T♦ and action is on you. What do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are playing a tournament where we just got in the money and we are the table chip leader with 1.6 million chips (160 big blinds) at 5,000/10,000 blinds with a 10,000 big blind ante. We are dealt KsTd on the Button and it folds around to us.

We are now in a very interesting tournament spot that can come up quite often, especially if we have a decent stack and there are a lot of players left in the tournament who have what is referred to as "reshove stacks". A Reshove stack is between 15-20 big blinds. The best move for players with this stack size is to look for spots where opponents have a wide opening hand range and then shove all-in over the top when the opponent raises first into the pot. This move is used to induce a fold and leverage their stack to pick up chips.

In this spot, we are on the Button with a hand that we would normally raise first-in with. The potential problem here is if we open, our opponents have great stacks to reshove with. If an opponent reshoves we will be in a very precarious spot because against aggressive players they will likely have hands like JTs and A4s here in their range of which we either dominate or have great equity against. However, we don’t really want to play a 30+ big blind pot with these hands.

Traditional poker logic often says that with and against reshove stacks we shouldn’t raise any hands we wouldn’t call a shove with, but that logic is flawed. If we only raise hands we will call with then we miss out on a lot of opportunities to utilize our big stack here to accumulate chips. We do have another option though.

Continued below...

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Against players who resteal aggressively with these stacks (which is often appropriate) we can also move all-in. At first glance it may seems like a large overbet.

However, sometimes when we hold certain hands that we may have to call versus a shove we actually reduce our overall variance by just shoving first. This way we make them fold some hands with which they may have shoved against a small open-raise.

Our opponents will still call with the hands that dominate us, but they would have shoved with those hands anyway, and we may have had to call those shoves.

Against more passive players who don’t reshove appropriately, making a minimum raise and folding here is definitely the superior play. When facing players who are capable of reshoving a very wide range in this spot, open-shoving into these two stacks is slightly higher EV and lower variance than both raise/folding and raise/calling.

Moving all-in is the best play.

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9♠9♣ on the Bubble, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT:
You are seven-handed on the Tournament bubble with blinds at 5,000/10,000 and no ante. It folds to the Cutoff who goes all-in for 115,000 and both the Button and Small Blind fold. Action is on you in the Big Blind with 9♠9♣, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are seven-handed on the exact bubble of a smaller multi-table tournament. The payout structure is $980 for first and $130 for sixth with a fairly standard escalating structure in between. The blinds are currently 5,000/10,000 with no ante and we are dealt pocket nines in the Big Blind. It folds around to the Cutoff who shoves all in for 115,000 chips. All other opponents fold and action is on us.

At first glance having pocket nines with 4 big blinds behind seems like a very standard call. However, looking around the table there are 4 other players with 4BBs or less which puts tremendous ICM pressure on us.

If we were to fold here it is highly likely we make the money but very unlikely we face a situation where we have this much of a chip equity edge again. Folding in this spot sacrifices what is likely one of our best chances to build a stack much more capable of a top finish.

Continued below...

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When we run this spot in a computer simulation assuming optimal play from all players, we find that the Cutoff should be shoving 100% of hands in this spot with these stacks. The ICM pressure on the three remaining shorter stacks is very strong meaning a vast majority of the time the Cutoff just wins the money in the middle.

This same computer simulation suggests our calling range should consist of 66+ A8s+ ATo+ KTs+. In the real world you will run into many players who won’t shove 100% of hands in the Cutoff’s position and against this player type your calling range is likely to start shrinking very fast depending on how narrow their shoving range becomes.

If the Cutoff were only shoving 50-60% of hands then pocket nines could easily become a fold, that’s how powerful the ICM pressure is in this spot. Assuming our opponent is able to recognize the situation at hand, they should be shoving more than enough hands to make this too good of a spot to pass up even if some percentage of the time we bust out on the bubble.

Calling is the best play.

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5♣5♦ on the Flop, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT: In a Tournament where blinds are 500/1,000 with a 1,000 Big Blind Ante the Under the Gun player folds and you raise to 2,500 from Early Position with 5♣5♦. The Button is the only caller. The flop comes 9♦8♥T♣ and action is on you, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are playing the middle stages of a tournament with a 50BB effective stack size and a 1BB big blind ante. It is folded to us UTG+1 and we raise to 2,500 with pocket fives. This is a fairly standard open at an unknown table given these stack sizes. Action folds around to the Button who flat calls. The Blinds fold and we’re off to the flop.

The flop is 9d8hTc and action is on us. One of the first things we want to analyze on the flop is who has the range advantage and who has the nut advantage. In this spot our opening range is slightly narrower than the Button and includes more overpairs. That said, the Button's range can include 76s and it is very unlikely that our range does.

Our opponent may reraise with pocket tens preflop, however they still have slightly more nutted hands than we do. While we have a slight range advantage, our opponent likely has a slight nut advantage on this particular board.

Continued below...

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Next we want to evaluate if our hand would benefit from equity denial. While we could potentially get a hand like pocket sixes to fold here, we benefit most by getting folds from hands in our opponent’s range that contain overcards and at least a gutshot draw such as hands like KJs/AQs.

Against good players we are unlikely to get these hands to fold with just a single bet. Aside from a five or perhaps an ace we can represent on the turn, there are very few good cards for us to turn barrel here.

Since we are out of position and at a slight nut disadvantage, we are unlikely to get folds through aggression and deny equity to the overcard plus gutshot combos in our opponent's range. We are also unlikely to be able to fire again on many of the turn cards with any degree of confidence, so this is a spot where we can just check.

Against an opponent who plays extremely fit or fold or would call with a much wider range than is standard preflop, we could make a case for a different line. It feels bad to open in early position and then just check the flop, however this is one of the spots where doing so against a tough player makes sense.

Checking is the best play.

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Q♣Q♥ From the Cutoff, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT:
You are in a 100 BB deep cash game against tough opponents. The action folds to you in the Cutoff with Q♣Q♥ and you raise to 3 big blinds. The Button and Small Blind both fold and the Big Blind calls. Your opponent checks the K♠8♣J♠ flop and action is on you. What do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: This hand comes from the WPT GTO Trainer and involves a cash game scenario where we are 100 BBs deep and it folds to us in the Cutoff with pocket queens. We raise to 3 BBs and it is folds to the Big Blind who flat calls and we’re off to the flop.

The flop is Ks8cJs and the Big Blind checks to us. Since this is a GTO opponent (all opponents in the WPT GTO trainer play game theory optimal ”perfect” poker) we know that they will be appropriately defending against what is a very wide Cutoff opening hand range.

One of the first questions we want to ask when deciding if we should bet the flop with a made hand is “how many streets of value is our hand worth?” In this particular case even with us opening a wide hand range and our opponent defending with a very wide range, if money goes into the pot on all three streets it is very unlikely that second pair to the board is the best hand.

Another question we want to ask is “does our hand benefit from equity denial here?”. While there are some obvious draws on this board, we are unlikely to fold out any flush draws and we block all the straight draws with our queens even if we choose to bet.

Continued below...

We would potentially fold out some ace high hands that could improve on the turn, however in this spot a GTO opponent may continue with even ace high. In this situation our particular holding doesn’t benefit much from equity denial and it is not strong enough to bet, so we really don’t want to start building a huge pot.

This hand is an excellent candidate to balance our checking range and induce some value from hands like Jx or 98s or even induce bluffs from a GTO opponent. Keep in mind that against some “real world” opponents who are either very loose/passive or extremely fit or fold postflop, taking a more exploitative line here by betting the flop may be more profitable than checking.

However, against a GTO tough opponent though who may be capable of check-raising us with a variety of bluffs and backdoor draws, checking here to keep the pot small and get to a controlled showdown versus a wide range is the most profitable play.

Checking is the best play.

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A♠A♥ Facing a Flop Check-Raise, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT: In a live $1-3 game with a $6 Under The Gun straddle, the UTG+1 player calls and it folds to you in the Hijack. You raise to $25 with A♠A♥. The Button and UTG call and UTG+1 folds. UTG checks the 3♠3♦5♣ flop and you bet $35. The Button folds and UTG check-raises to $70. Action is on you, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are dealt pocket aces in the Hijack seat in a $1-3 cash game with a $6 straddle from under the gun. UTG+1 calls the straddle and it is folds to us. In this spot it is standard to make it 3x the straddle amount plus the call amount, or $24.

In most common live games players in the UTG straddler tends to be “stickier” than other players. Making an UTG straddle is a bad play, and people do it to either create action or gamble. Because of those reasons the likelihood of UTG folding goes down significantly. In addition, if we make our raise too small the UTG+1 player is likely to call as well, and taking a multiway pot with pocket aces isn’t what we want to do. This is a spot where we should probably make it $30+ but in the moment we elect to bet $25 instead and get called by both the Button and the UTG straddler.

The flop is 3s3d5c and is one of the better flops for us that doesn’t contain an ace. UTG checks and action is on us. Given the dryness of the board and how our hand performs versus our opponent’s ranges, we don’t need to bet very big here. Something in the neighborhood of 35-40% of the pot is perfectly fine, especially given that the stack to pot ratio (SPR) is around 3. The Button folds and the original straddler min-raises to $70.

Continued below...

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This is a spot where some players often see monsters under the bed. The very small raise does make it less likely that our opponent is bluffing, since they can reasonably expect us to call with most of our range. That being said, their range here is much wider than just 3x/55. Our opponent could easily have other overpairs, or could be setting up a big turn semi-bluff with a hand like A2s/A4s/46s/76s. Villain could also be overvaluing a hand like 77/88 or even A5s in this spot. Sometimes our opponent will have 55/3x and we will be crushed.

When we consider all the hands UTG's range we are way ahead, especially once we factor in that our opponent is straddling UTG preflop. Straddling from UTG is a very negative expectation play typically used by people who are looking for action rather than a tight aggressive strategy.

Given the overall wide range UTG can have in this spot and our position, if we move all-in now it gives our opponent the opportunity to get away from some of their semi-bluffs and even A5s type hands fairly easily. If we proceed by calling we give UTG additional opportunities to pot commit themselves on future streets with bluffs and worse value hands, which is very good for us.

Calling is the best play.

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K♦8♦ on the River, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT:
In a Tournament where blinds are 500/1,000 it folds to you in the Cutoff. You minraise with K♦8♦ to 2,000 and it folds to Big Blind who calls. Big Blind checks the 2♠K♣7♠ flop, you continuation bet, and Villain calls. The 9♠ turn is checked. The K♥ comes on the river giving you trips and BB check-raises. Action is on you, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: In a multi-table tournament at 500/1,000 blinds we are dealt K8s in the Cutoff seat. It folds around to us and we make a standard raise for this point in the tournament to 2,000 and the Big Blind is the only caller. Even though we only raised to the minimum amount preflop, often in the mid/late stages of tournaments this small of a raise size is more than enough to put our opponents to meaningful decisions and skew the risk vs reward heavily in our favor, allowing us to steal more often and play more hands.

The flop is 2sKc7s and the Big Blind checks to us. This is a relatively dry flop and we have a massive range advantage in this spot as the preflop raiser. Given both of these factors we should continuation bet and favor a smaller bet size. We choose to make it 2,000 and our opponent calls.

The turn is the 9s. This is actually a close decision for us. Our opponent could reasonably have called on the flop with a flush draw, but they could also have any pair as well as ace high. Many of those are hands that we beat that will fold if we bet again, making it tough for us to get additional value out of our hand.

On the other hand we don’t want our opponent to get a free card with any of the random hands containing only 1 they could have in their range. If the pot were much bigger in relation to our stacks, we could make a better case that equity denial is more important than extracting some additional value in this spot. We decide to check in order to induce some bluffs from our opponent on the river as well as get some value out of some 2x/7x hands (or hands like 55 or ace high) on the river.

Continued below...

The river is the Kh and our opponent checks to us. Given the action so far it is difficult to put our opponent on a big hand. We have to figure most flushes or Kx hands would bet this river given the action thus far, so we’re really targeting 7x/2x/55/Ax type hands if we decide to bet. Given those target hands are all relatively weak, a smaller bet sizing seems reasonable. We elect to go with 2,000 which may be a little too small as most players who will call 2,000 here will likely call a bet as large as like 3,000-3,500 as well. Our opponent raises to 5,000.

This is one of those spots where game theory would say to call 100% of the time with our hand. We only need to have the best hand 16% of the time and our line in this spot somewhat caps our hand range, making it harder for us to have a strong hand.

If our opponent believes we have a capped range, they should be bluffing some percentage of the time which makes this a fairly trivial call. In the real world we will run into opponents who simply never check-raise bluff the river and we are ahead here very close to 0% of the time.

The price we are getting to make this call is simply too good given the strength of our hand. If we had an opponent specific read then we could perhaps make an exploitative lay-down here. Absent that information we are simply too strong to fold.

Calling is the best play.

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8♠8♣ Facing a Preflop All-In, what do you do here?

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DECISION POINT:
In a Tournament where blinds are 2,000/4,000 with a 4,000 big blind ante, it folds to the Hijack who pushes all-in for 13BB. The Cutoff and the Button both fold. You have 8♠8♣ in the Small Blind with a 32BB stack and action is on you. What do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: In a Tournament with 2,000/4,000 blinds with a 4,000 big blind ante we are dealt pocket 8s in the Small Blind. It folds around to the Hijack who moves all-in for 52,000 chips. Action folds to us and we have a decision to make.

The first thing we want to do when facing an all-in is estimate our opponent’s hand range. In this particular spot they shoved 13 big blinds. Since most players don’t start shoving all-in until they hit around 10 big blinds, this is far more likely to be a reasonable range of hands instead of a very wide range. In addition, our opponent may not want to play with a low stack to pot ratio (SPR) postflop.

With that in mind, it is less likely, although not impossible, that our opponent has QQ/KK/AA since they would be far more likely to just raise with those hands to encourage some action. If we put our opponent on a range of pairs 22-JJ, A2s+, ATo+, and KQ (both suited and offsuit) we are roughly 59% versus that range. With dead money in the pot it is very hard to justify passing up on nearly a 60% edge in a Tournament. Even against a range that does include the big pairs we are likely to be around a 55/45 favorite.

Continued below...

We could potentially fold if we had a player specific read that they are shoving much narrower here, but without that read we just have too big of an edge with additional dead money in the pot from the blinds and antes.

A shove in this spot is nearly half the Big Blind’s stack so if we continue we want to reraise all-in to maximize our leverage over the Big Blind and shut them out of the pot with big cards that have reasonable equity against us.

Moving all-in is the best play.

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Q♥J♥ Facing a Preflop All-in, what do you do here?

QJ Facing a Preflop All-in-optmzd.gif


DECISION POINT:
In a Tournament where blinds are 800/1,600 it folds to a Middle Position player who limps. The Hijack folds and you raise to 5,200 from the Cutoff with Q♥J♥. The Button folds, the Small Blind goes all-in, and both the Big Blind and MP2 fold. Action is on you, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: In a Multi-Table Tournament with 800/1,600 blinds and a 20 chip ante we are dealt QJs in the Cutoff. The MP2 open limps and it folds to us. We could potentially limp behind and play QJs speculatively as a suited connector. Specifically in tournaments, picking up chips is at a premium and a preflop raise here gives us an opportunity to take the pot down preflop or potentially on the flop with a continuation bet. While calling behind is profitable, raising is a better play. We decide to isolate with a raise to 5,200.

It folds to the Small Blind who moves all in for 19,000 chips. All of the other players fold and it is back on us with a decision to make. At this point there is 27,560 in the pot and it is 13,800 more to call. This means we are getting almost exactly 2:1 pot odds. Preflop hand values in No-Limit Hold’em run close enough together that it is extremely rare for a hand to have less than 33% equity versus all but the narrowest of ranges. We also have a reasonably strong hand for this situation, although probably not the best hand at the moment.

Continued below...

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Even if our opponent has a fairly narrow range such as 88+, ATs+, KQs, AJo+, KQo we still have over 33% equity here. The final factors to evaluate are specific to this tournament. If calling in this spot would have a significant impact on our stack’s ability to accumulate chips in the rest of the tournament we could consider passing on this edge. For example, if we call and lose and our 25-30 BB stack is reduced to 10 BB stack, we would lose the ability to steal or reshove and must play push/fold poker.

In this situation, if we call and lose this hand our stack will be reduced from around 30 BBs to 20 BBs. While the impact of losing our stack is not insignificant, it is not enough to warrant passing up on a profitable call here.

Calling is the best play.

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Q♥Q♦ Facing a River All-In, what do you do here?

QQ Facing a River All-In-optmzd.gif

DECISION POINT: In a Tournament a Middle Position player raises and it folds to you in the Big Blind. You 3-Bet with Q♥Q♦ and get a call. On the 8♠A♥J♣ flop you bet and MP2 calls. You check the 4♦ turn, MP2 bets, and you call. The river is 5♠ and you check. Your opponent goes all-in and action is on you. What do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are dealt pocket queens in the Big Blind. It is folded to MP2 who raises to 2.5 BBs. It folds to us and we reraise to 10 BBs and our opponent flat calls. The flop is 8sAhJc. With a stack to pot ratio (SPR) of just under 2 here it’s very difficult to get away from our hand. So the question is: how we can extract the most value out of our Pocket Queens?

A pure GTO solution to this situation involves a mixed strategy of checking to induce bluffs as well as betting extremely small (around 5.5 BBs). Both of these strategies keep our opponent’s range extremely wide and allow them to either bluff with much of their range (when we check) or call with worse hands than ours (when we bet small). In this situation we elect to make a small bet of 5.5 BBs and our opponent calls.

The turn is the 4d, which changes very little. Given our small bet on the flop we have encouraged our opponent to float (a float is when someone calls the flop to take the pot away on a later street) with a wide range. This means checking to them makes a lot of sense here to potentially encourage bets from many of the back door flush draws, weaker hands, and pure air that is in our opponent’s range. We check and our opponent bets 8 BBs.

Against tougher opponents who are capable of fighting for pots in this spot it is very important that we call here or else we have set our opponent up to be able to float us VERY profitably in this spot with their entire range. Against very straightforward opponents who are not capable of floating or bluffing with the correct frequencies we could make an exploitative fold here, but against tougher opponents we must call and we do.

Continued below...

The river is the 5s which changes very little given neither of our ranges rarely connect with it. We check and our opponent moves all-in. This is an extremely difficult spot versus a tough opponent. We’re getting nearly 3:1 on our money so before considering any other tournament factors, we need our opponent to be bluffing here around 25% of the time as we should only beat a bluff. If you use a GTO solver on this problem, it actually recommends a mixed strategy of calling and folding.

This is one of the real benefits of GTO solvers. It shows us how to optimally play against the very toughest opponents who are fighting hard for every last chip. Against the absolute toughest opponents who are capable of bluffing in this spot we should absolutely be calling some percentage of the time.

So the question we have to ask ourselves is: Is our opponent capable of floating and bluffing in this spot? In most regular tournaments where the field isn’t as tough and doesn’t play as optimally as the computer does in these spots, most players simply aren’t bluffing in these spots for all their chips often enough to justify calling here against all but the absolute toughest opponents.

Knowing the optimal way to play a situation and then adjusting for opponent tendencies is essential to adapting to the field in a post solver world.

Folding is the best play.

What would you do here?
Share your answer in the comments below!


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