When To Let Your Opponent Raise You
In my last column, I talked about the first round in NBC’s “National Heads-Up Poker Championship” (on NBC during Sundays in May), a competition that features nearly all of the top poker players in the world. With an NCAA tournament-style structure, 64 would start and 32 would survive round 1 — which is where this column begins. After beating Men “the Master” Nguyen in round 1, I was facing Paul Phillips in round 2.
If Phillips played very aggressively (bet and raised a ton), that was fine. I had a standard counter-strategy and was ready to implement it: Let him do all of the bidding when I had a strong hand and trapping him like a fox in a chicken house, checking all of my strong hands to him.
We sat down at the main table, and Phillips came out playing slowly and conservatively, like most of the great players do when they play against me. OK, this was fine, too. I like to play slowly myself, and the match turned out to be quite civil, not too over-the-top — except for a small outburst or two from me.
I found that I had a strong read on Phillips: I knew when he was bluffing. But I also assumed that he knew when I was bluffing as well. So I picked my spots, bluffed just a little here or there. I knew he wasn’t about to let me bluff him too much.
A key hand came up when I called with Ah-8h in my hand. The flop came down 7s-6h-5c, and Phillips bet out about $2,500 into the $2,500 pot. At this point, I was down to about $21,000 of my original $40,000. With my ace high and my open-ended potential straight, I considered calling his $2,500 and raising $7,500, or raising all of my $18,500. It looked like I could win if the turn or the river produced an ace, four or nine. It was still possible that ace-high was the best hand.
I also felt it would be tough for Phillips to call a big raise in this spot, unless he had a really strong hand. Despite the compelling argument for me to raise up the pot, my gut told me that Phillips would call a raise and that he had me beat, so in the end I decided just to call his $2,500 bet and see what the next card was.
The next card was my dream card, the 4h — for a board of 7s-6h-5c-4h — which gave me an eight-high straight, and also gave me an ace-high flush draw. Now Phillips checked, and I had to decide what to do. I felt I had to bet something, but the question was how much. If I bet too much, he might fold; if I bet too little, I risked winning too small a pot, or he might call and wind up hitting a full house. (For example, if he already had two pair, like sixes and fives, then I could lose if he hit a six or a five.)
Finally, I bet $4,000, and Phillips called me relatively quickly. When a safe-looking 10d hit the river, he checked and I decided I had to make a bigger bet this time. I bet $10,000 into a $15,000 pot. Phillips said, “I think you have me beat, but I feel like I have to call with my seven-high straight.”
He called, and showed me his 6-3, and indeed his three had made him a seven-high straight (the board of 4-5-6-7, plus his three). This turned the match around for me, and a little while later I advanced to the sweet 16.
Ultimately, the best time to raise it up is when:
A) You have a strong feeling that your opponent
B) You have a drawing hand
C) At the beginning of the match
D) In the middle of the match
Answer: A and B