Beginning poker players tend to fall into two categories: those who bluff way too much and those who don’t bluff nearly enough. Finding the right balance of bluffing frequency is quite a challenge, and recognizing the optimum times to deploy the bluff is no less difficult. They are skills that separate the talented professionals from the less-talented recreational players.
Pots won at showdown represent a much smaller percentage of a player’s chips in the early stages of a tournament. Pots won without showdown are the ones that tend to propel players to final tables, where showdown poker is more important. A recent hand at one of LAPT6 Colombia’s outer tables is instructive on this point.
With blinds at 300-600, a player in middle position opened to 1,400. The next player to act, a middle-aged guy who made all of his decisions quickly and decisively, made a very large three-bet to 6,000. I don’t know if such a large three-bet was unusual for this particular player, but it was unusual as a matter of general course. Most players in this spot would three-bet to between 3,000 and 4,000.
Regardless, the large three-bet was out there. A player in the small blind, sitting behind about 75,000 in chips, debated his action for a minute or two before flat-calling the large three-bet from the worst position at the table. That was enough to scare the original raiser out of the pot.
The flop came A♣2♦9♣. Slowly and deliberately, the small blind waited, then rapped out a check. His opponent in middle position quickly checked behind. The same actions repeated themselves on the 9♥ turn and the 5♦ river. At showdown, the small blind showed two jacks – and the middle-position player showed the other two jacks for a split pot.
I don’t know what might have happened if the middle-position player made a continuation bet. It’s possible he could have induced a fold from the small blind, but instead he checked. He seemed to be unnerved by the strength of the small blind’s pre-flop call.
By the same token, I don’t know what would have happened if the small blind had tried betting the turn or the river. It’s possible he could have induced a fold, since his pre-flop call looked so strong, but sometimes opponents get stubborn, as we all know.
I do know that if either player had tried to bet, he’d at least have put himself in a position to win the pot without showdown. That’s very results-oriented thinking, of course. Each player had to consider the range of hands the other man was holding and the likelihood of either being ahead or successfully taking down the pot with what might possibly be a bluff bet. There are a number of other variables to take into account as well.
Still, watching the hand reminded me of an old expression attributed to legendary rec.gambling.poker poster Abdul Jalib (Mike Hall): “Your opponent cannot fold if you do not bet or raise.”
What was true in the late 90s when Jalib wrote that, and tournament poker had yet to explode, is still true today, when tournament poker is played in places as exotic as Medellin, Colombia. Cards only speak after all the betting is done. Before that, bets and raises do all the talking.
Dave Behr is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.
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