The up’s and downs of ring games
Ring games always create a few surprises, even for pro TrickyRock. Read how best to handle them.
The Ups and Downs of Ring Games
I was asked an interesting question a few weeks ago – where is the best and most interesting poker played? I think my friend was referring to poker tournaments, but not even the best structured tournament provides the depth and psychology of the ring games. Even the biggest ‘live’ ring games have a sense of predictability about them, with players playing in a standard way against unfamiliar opponents. In fact, nothing compares to the style and trickiness of the big online ring games, and 32Red Poker hosts some of the best.
When you see a player pick off a counter-bluff with an all-in move of his own and show that he had nothing, and moments later make an incredible lay-down with a massive hand, you see that each hands involves an incredible amount of thought and history.
Any session, however good or bad, will throw up a lot of highs and lows, and the key to developing a good game is to learn equally from them. Here are a few hands that have come up this week, and my thoughts on them:-
A successful bluff
I am in the big blind with , and the action is passed round to a young Danish player in the small blind. He raises the $50 big blind to $175, and I call to see a flop. The Dane bets $350 the size of the pot. This seems like a very standard fold for me, as of course I do not have the odds to call. However, this is a call I will often make in such an aggressive game, for a number of reasons:
• The crucial factor is that I am in position. The Dane may well be bluffing, and if he is and checks the next card, I may pick up pot with even a small bet.
• There will be a number of opportunities for me to represent a hand that I do not have. This is an opportunity I can seize upon in position if the Dane’s bet seems at all uncertain on the turn or river. Of course, a club may provide me with the best opportunity as I can represent a flush. However, a card like an ace could also allow me to represent a strong hand, and would give me the added advantage that my draw will improve to an open-ended straight draw, If the Dane does have some kind of hand on this flop, the ace will make his hand seem weaker more times than it improves it.
• I cannot justify the call solely on trying to hit my six for a gutshot, but it will be an unusually valuable card if I do, because it is so well hidden. On this board, it looks far more like I am drawing to a flush than a straight.
I make the call, and the turn makes the board . This card does not help me at all, and could well be in the playing zone of the Dane’s hand. He bets out for $300 into $700 pot, and this is very untypically small. I am not at all sure what is going on, but judge that it will be one of two things.
-This bet could be a “dangler” with a very big hand, maybe something like a set of jacks. It could be trying to encourage action with its small size, or even to tempt me into a re-raise.
-The bet could well be what it seems – uncertain. It looks very much like the turn has changed my opponent’s hand, as the size of his bet has changed. One big possibility is that a continuation bet with an type hand has now hit the second pair.
Both options seem to fit well, but there are always more possibilities for your opponent’s hand to be a marginal one than a strong one. If my opponent did have a strong hand, he would probably protect it with a very big bet on such a strong drawing board.
This is probably the biggest factor into me deciding to make a move with a hand that is still just five high! I raise the $300 bet to $800, and am not thrilled as my opponent call. We have a $2300 pot.
Mentality becomes really important in poker in this kind of position, and even more so in the live game where the pulse will inevitably be fluttering at this point. I have been caught bluffing, but need to keep my emotions in check as the river comes in order to judge whether an even bigger move will win the pot.
An on the river is an interesting card, and makes the board . I of course still have five high; the clock is ticking; I need to read the Dane’s hand, and quickly, if my bluff is going to be convincing. Here are my thoughts:
– My overriding suspicion is that it is very unlikely that my opponent has a flush. For him to have a flush would mean that he played his club flush draw in a strange way, with a tiny turn bet following a big flop bet.
– The board is now looking very scary, with many possibilities for a big hand. It seems unlikely that the Dane has benefited from this middling board with a hand like or , and more likely that he is not enjoying a marginal situation with a hand like or . If I was to make a big bet, he would be faced with knowing that even a hand like can only beat a bluff.
I fire $2000 into the pot. One of the beauties of internet poker is that I can at least cross my fingers and cry “fold” at the screen without giving the game away!
This decision was a marginal one for me, as this is a very imperfect bluff. A bet so big is really claiming to have a straight or flush type hand, but this is a claim that does not quite fit with my actions. My raise on the turn and big bet on the river now means that I must have been lying at some point of the action. The hope is that the Danish opponent believes that my lie came earlier. Principally, however, I am hoping that with a one pair hand he just feels too much pressure from a massive pot and scary board.
And so, the clock ticks slowly by. The time bank goes on, and eventually…….. Pass. Five high takes the pot!
An interesting hand indeed; the play from me might not have been the best or even right one, as the bluff only just sneaked through. It shows that maybe even the best readers of the game, like the Dane is, can often feel confused enough by piling on the pressure on a threatening board that they will not make a massive call.
An awful bluff
The beauty of poker is that, whatever success or failure has happened, the opposite is probably just around the corner. Soon to come was a horrible
bluff gone wrong.
I’m going to outline what happened not to blame myself, but because the thought process my opponent put into reading the hand is an interesting one. In fact, there is never too much point in ever congratulating or blaming oneself, as it is often only the slightest margins that change whether someone hits the call or fold button.
The best players would prefer to not think it, but it is very often emotions that tilt the balance- maybe they got bluffed earlier on, maybe they are very slightly on tilt, even what is going on around them sitting at that computer influences people without them realising it.
Anyway, here’s the hand, and how the bluff went wrong…
I am playing the button with , and when an American raises to $150 in the cut-off, it is a hand I would obviously like to play. With the advantage of position and the fart that we are both playing big stacks, it seems a good idea to play it for a re-raise, and so I make it $450 to go. If the American were playing a stack of about $1500, this would be a dangerous re-raise, as it easily opens a window for him to go all in with a hand like . However, with both of us having stacks of over $5000, the American is far more likely to flat-call with a hand as strong as this, and lend me the initiative in the pot.
The flop comes , missing me completely. With $900 in the pot, the American checks, and I check behind. I figure that there will still be a good opportunity for me to represent a big hand on later streets, and that I can even build this check into a very strong play later on. Often with a hand like , I would check here, both to disguise my hand and to slow the action down just in case my opponent had flopped a set. However, I put too much importance on my opponent knowing this, and this weak check turned out to be my downfall.
The board on the turn became , and the American led out for $550 into the $900 pot. This was not bad news for me, and gave me the chance to build a really strong play. I made it $1350 to go, and the American made a slow call. With really no draws likely on the board at all, my opponent had to have some kind of made hand, and I would need to find the right bet on the end to convince him it was no good. The river brought another blank , leaving us with a board of that seemed unlikely to be in either of our playing zones. With $3600 in the pot and me holding just king high, I decided a bet of $2000 would maybe look stronger than most.
This was another big situation, and I was desperate to get the bluff through in this massive pot. The American thought for a few seconds, and eventually…. called, and showed .
This was in my opinion a cracking call, and a very difficult one to make. My reaction had to be to query what went wrong for my opponent to make a call with a hand that could not even beat some bluffs!
It would seem that he correctly read the check on a dry flop to mean that I did not a have a hand, and I had over thought the situation in hoping that this would suggest strength. Quite simply, whenever the original aggressor checks the flop, it is likely to build the action on later streets. I still feel that a flop check is an underrated play when you flop a massive hand, especially if you are in position and can dictate the action later on. Of course, on this hand, I did not want action with king high, but still admired the American for a sick call!
– Stuart “TrickyRock” Rutter.