When I started playing poker, I would get so excited when I flopped a big hand that I forgot my main goal: Win as many chips as possible. When I had marginal hands, I would think hard about what my opponent had and whether I could beat it. But when I had a big hand, I just wanted to get all my chips in the middle.
Big hands can mean big pots. But, with a big hand, it’s even more important to strategize and figure out how strong your opponent is. If you think he’s weak, you can slow play the hand, perhaps getting him to call a bet thinking you’re bluffing or, better yet, inducing him to bluff himself. If you think he’s strong, you can let him bet your hand for you, raising on the turn or river to extract maximum value.
In the 2003 Borgata Poker Open, I mixed it up with a small under-the-gun raise with Ten-Nine of Diamonds. I got two callers, including Bobby Thompson in the small blind. The flop came Eight-Seven-Six, giving me the nut straight. Bobby led out with a pot-sized bet and we both called. The turn was an Ace and he bet again. I still had the nuts and, with my inexperience, didn’t think enough about what my opponents could have. Instead, I got greedy and just called again, hoping to get a call from the third player.
If I had thought about it, I would have put Bobby on at least two pair and the third player on a straight draw with something like Jack-Ten. I should have moved in at that point, pricing out the straight draw and figuring Bobby would have to call. Instead, I just called and the third player folded. When a second Ace came on the river and Bobby pushed in, I had a very tough decision and ended up putting my chips in dead as he turned over pocket Sixes for the full house.
If I had put my money in on the turn, the results may have been different. By putting Bobby to the tough decision to call an all-in, I might have priced him out of the hand.
The next year in the same event, I had the very aggressive Jimmy-Jimmy Cha on my right. He made a late-position raise and I re-raised with pocket Tens. He called and we were heads-up. The flop came Ten high with two Spades, once again giving me the nuts. This time, though, I thought about what he might have. Nines, Jacks, and Queens were definite possibilities. If not, he could easily have over cards. Jimmy checked – not an unusual play given that I had taken the lead before the flop. I decided because he was so aggressive, I’d go ahead and bet the hand rather than slow play it. Sure enough, he check-raised me all in and I called. This time I went broke the right way, with all my chips in as a three-to-one favorite against his flush draw.
Then there’s always the chance you’re beat with an even bigger hand. In a televised tournament at the Plaza, I raised with pocket Tens and got called by the big blind. The flop came Queen-Queen-Ten, giving me a full house. But my opponent check-called my flop bet with such a Hollywood act that I put him on at least a Queen. A King came on the turn and he check-raised me. I could beat Ace-Queen or Queen-Jack but not King-Queen or Queen-Ten, so I slowed down and just called. When he made a small bet on the river I just called, suspecting I was beat and, sure enough, he turned over Queen-Ten for a bigger full house. I had flopped a monster and was drawing dead! By analyzing his play and getting a read, I saved valuable chips and went on to the final table.
So don’t let the excitement of flopping a monster make you forget about putting your opponent on a hand. A lot of chips move around during these hands and you want them moving into your stack.
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