Ellie Biessek: Talk about your hands if you want to improve your game

If you’re lucky enough to have friends that play poker, talk to them about your hands, says Grosvenor Pro Ellie Biessek. You’ll learn a lot and improve your game…

Talking through hands is a great way to improve your game. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who is a extremely successful online player and I found his insight on these two hands really interesting.

Hand 1

The tournament has just started so I don’t have any information on the players I’m sitting with. The blinds are 25/50 and we all have starting stacks of 25k so we’re playing proper deep-stack poker.

I get 9-2 in the big blind and everyone folds to the button who makes a min-raise. The small blind gets out of the way and I decide to defend.

Let’s stop right here… Is that a good call? I’m going to be out of position for the entire hand with a weak holding – is calling actually a good decision?

Mathematically speaking it is. It’s costing me 50 to win a pot of 175, which means that if my chance of winning is at least 22% I’m getting the right price – not even mentioning the implied odds. The question is am I getting this 22%?

The answer is better than you might think, but first I need to think about what sort of player the button is and what hands he can be raising with in his position?

Mr Nit

The nit will be raising with 14.3% of hands – 22+, AT+, KJ+, A9s, KTs and QJs.

Mr Tight

He will be raising with 28.5% of his hands – let’s add all Broadway cards, all Ax hands and some suited connectors down to 7-8s.

Mr Loose

Mr Loose will be raising 50% of his hands. Let’s add loads to the mix, like all suited Kings, connectors, gappers and hands like J-7s.

How much equity do we have against each of them?

Against Mr Nit I have 31%, against Mr Tight I have 32% and against Mr Loose I have 36%. As you can see, I actually have more equity than I need against all of them. I need this as I’ll be bluffed off the best hand a lot of the time, which means I won’t realise the actual equity I have.

So we’ve deduced that the call is mathematically sound. Let’s get back to our hand. The flop comes A-2♠-K♣ and I check. The button now bets 175 into the 375 pot – that means I need 31% equity, but assuming my opponent is going to c-bet his entire range I only get 19% against Mr Nit, 32% against Mr Tight and 43% against Mr Loose. I’m only getting the wrong price if I’m up against Mr Nit so let’s call!

The turn is the K and this is where the conversation with my friend got interesting. He thought I should bet here, and although my initial reaction was to disagree, I actually like the logic behind it.

Imagine that you are the button. When another King turns up and the big blind starts betting into you, what hands are you calling with?

You’re probably folding all pairs lower than J-J and even Q-Q has a tough decision. You’re probably not folding an Ace or a flush draw but you’ll still have a tough decision if the big blind goes ahead and bets again on the river.

Now it’s the button who will struggle to realise his equity. Unfortunately I just check and the button checks behind. The river is the Q♣ and the fact that the button has checked behind me makes it rather unlikely that he has a King. If I make a big bet he is probably folding the majority of hands that have me beat. It’s a scary board now for a raggy Ace, underpair or even a Queen.

I just check the river and lose the pot to A-4o but it was interesting to discover that playing hands like this more aggressively could actually be a good line to take in the long run.

Hand 2

This is a hand that my friend played recently. The blinds are 100/200, with a 25 ante, and my friend has a stack of about 30k. There is a very dangerous and thinking player on the button with a stack of nearly 23k behind.

My friend raises to 450 with Q-T in mid position and the button three-bets to 1.2k. Three-betting light (without a premium hand) is in fashion at the moment – and especially on the button.

My friend has already observed him three-betting with a lot of A-x type hands so he doesn’t give him too much credit for a big hand at the moment. The flop comes down 8-T-J with one heart and my friend check-calls 1.3k.

The turn is the A. My friend checks again and the button bets 3k… Now let’s stop and think again. My friend has a flush draw, a double gutshot and another Ten might be good for him as well. K-Q is currently the nuts, and my friend already has a Queen in his hand, so it’s less likely his opponent has it. My friend three-bets to 8k, which is semi-bluffing and representing K-Q, trying to take the pot now. But the button doesn’t give up and after some deliberation he calls.

At this point my friend is ready to give up. It seems like the button has two-pair or a set. The river is the Q♣.

Well, that’s not as perfect as a heart, a King or a Nine, but a Queen is a good card to carry on the story my friend was telling on the turn.

The way the button has played the hand, it’s highly unlikely he has a King – what hand containing a King is calling the turn? K-Q is even less likely now that another Queen has landed. K-T and K-J almost always fold. A good player is tank-folding A-K because he is beaten by everything that my friend is representing and it is hard to improve. The button has 12k behind and my friend has him covered.

My friend continues the story of saying that he has K-Q for the nuts to put the maximum pressure on his opponent and shoves all-in, risking 12k to win a pot of around 21k. It works and the button folds. It’s a good example of a hand where taking an aggressive line paid off nicely.


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