Are you tired of running into the same annoying cash game spots over and over again? Ross Jarvis lists some of the most common tricky situations, and how to overcome them
When it’s all going smoothly poker is an easy game: every time you raise with pocket Kings it’s a low rainbow flop, every time you raise with A-K you hit top pair, and if someone at your table three-bets they always have Aces.
Unfortunately, poker is rarely as simple as that – and especially not in cash games where the stacks are deeper. Most of the time you’ll find yourself facing tough spots where there’s no obvious best line. But don’t despair – we’ve selected five of the most frustrating situations you see at the tables every day, with some essential advice on how to make the best of them.
Ace on the flop
You’ve been card dead for ages and finally pick up K-K. You raise and get one caller. You have visions of doubling up when an unwelcome Ace flops, leaving you unsure what to do.
Unfortunately you can forget about that double-up. The Ace on the flop means you’ll either be way behind and drawing to just two Kings, or you’ll be in a commanding position but find it hard to get value with that scary Ace out there.
Pot control is very important in this scenario. If you’re in position it’s worth firing a standard continuation bet to see how your opponent reacts. If he calls, then try to get to showdown without putting any more money in. If he raises there’s little point getting tricky – just muck the cowboys and move on.
Out of position, your task is even trickier. You can c-bet and give up if called, or check and call one bet. Most opponents are unlikely to fire multiple barrels against the preflop raiser with an Ace on the board, so you shouldn’t be put in too many difficult spots. If the hand is checked down to the river you can even bet and attempt to get value from smaller pairs, confident that your opponent doesn’t have the Ace.
Missing with A-K
You raise from the button with A-K and the flop completely misses your hand. Your tricky opponent in the big blind then checks to you.
Too many players revert to auto-pilot and make a continuation bet with A-K no matter what the flop texture is. While that may win you the hand there and then sometimes, if you c-bet on a 2-2-6 rainbow flop you’re probably only going to get worse hands to fold and better hands to call. Often a better line with A-K is to check back the flop, for a number of reasons.
First, if you’re behind you keep the pot small, and you probably have six clean outs (Aces and Kings) to give you the best hand on the turn. Second, you may already be in a dominating position against a hand such as A-Q or K-J. These hands wouldn’t call a bet on the flop but may lose a big pot to you on later streets if either of you hit a pair. Lastly, a tricky player will often check-raise with air on this kind of dry board, as you’re representing a very narrow range of hands. A good opponent knows this and will simply check-raise you off your better hand a good portion of the time.
Terrifying turn cards
You raise with a solid hand like K♦-J♦ and get a good but dangerous flop of J♣-5♠-4♠. You make a standard continuation bet and your opponent calls. The turn is the scary A♠, which completes the flush draw and brings an overcard.
While that’s the last card you wanted to see it’s not time to give up on the hand yet. There seems little point in betting again (effectively turning your hand into a bluff), so check and wait to see what your opponent does. If he bets, your decision should be very player-dependent. If he is aggressive then it’s likely he would have raised in position with a flush draw, making it possible he is merely trying to represent the flush. If you’re confident in this read you can call and re-evaluate on the river. However, if your opponent is a straightforward player who plays his draws passively it’s an easy fold.
Good players will often use scare cards to exert pressure, so you must look deeper into your opponent’s actions before just giving up. Think about how he has played every street, and how this affects his range, before making a decision.
Getting check-raised on the river
You get to the river with a pretty strong hand. Your opponent checks to you and you make a pretty hefty value bet, only for your opponent to check-raise all-in when you least expect it.
A check-raise on the river screams strength and is very rarely a bluff, especially in lower stakes games. As the pot is so big by this point you are usually getting exceptional odds to call, but it would be a huge leak to always do so.
Deciding whether or not to call depends on your hand strength relative to the board and how that compares to the range your opponent will be check-raising for value. For example, you could value-bet with A♦-2♦ on an A♣-2♣-Q♦-6♠-J♥ board, but once you get check-raised your hand only beats a tiny range of hands that your opponent is raising for value. Value-betting A-2 here is fine, but you must fold to the check-raise as you effectively only beat bluffs.
The trickier spots come when you have hands like a ten-high flush and get check-raised. Deciding whether to call now comes down to a combination of the pot odds, your opponent’s tendencies and how the rest of the hand has played out. Before you put the chips in, stop and think if you ever expect to be shown worse. If you’re getting 4-to-1 to call, and you figure he’d be getting it in with worse and/or bluffing more than 20% of the time, it’s a call.
Dealing with constant three-bets
You are opening in late position with decent hands like A-J, K-T and K-J, but the aggressive player on your left keeps three-betting you, leaving you unsure what to do.
Nobody likes being three-bet. It’s annoying and forces you to make tough decisions, especially if you raise with decent, yet vulnerable hands. As weak as it sounds, many times the best course of action is simply to fold and wait for another spot. With a hand like A-J you really don’t want to get into the habit of calling three-bets out of position against good players. You can easily be dominated by better hands, and if your opponent is three-betting light – as good players often will be – your passive line will mean that you have to hit the flop to continue. In effect, you’ll either win a small pot when your opponent is bluffing, or you’ll lose a huge pot on the occasions when you both flop something and he has the dominating hand.
Four-betting is an option you should consider, but even doing that with these hands is troublesome. You can’t be happy calling a shove and you’ll just succeed in folding out all his bluffs. As you’re not really four-betting for value, you may as well be doing it with a hand like 6-7 suited that is unlikely to be dominated and plays well postflop. Another alternative,
of course, is to really tighten up your preflop opening range from that position or, if you can’t take it any more, just change tables!
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