We train in poker so that we can make the right decisions. Many of us dedicate a huge amount of off-table time to this game. It reminds me of a cheesy 90’s motivational poster of a wrestler in my high school gym class. The caption:
“Train for months, win in seconds.”
Training is why we are here, and making the right decision at that critical moment can be the difference between losing a medium pot or winning a large one.
This is a game of pattern recognition. You can learn to see patterns like:
- Bet sizing tells
- Pre-flop ranges
- Continuation frequencies
- Board textures
- Physical tells
All of these patterns give us one key insight: What does the other fellow hold? Once you know that, the rest of the game becomes much easier.
Here is a hand I played at the Mirage $2/$5 during March Madness, where all kinds of patterns came together to make one decision that will pay my rent this month.
The Villain and I had not been playing together very long, but here are the things I knew about him:
- Twenty-something male
- Bought in with plenty of black chips that he pulled from his pocket
- Clearly familiar with the game
- Was willing to sling chips into pots
- Was not talking or acting like a recreational player
All of this together pointed towards him being someone that considered himself a professional or aspiring professional player.
There were things that contradicted this also:
- He had a split pre-flop range: often limping sometimes raising.
- His clothing indicated he was from out-of-state.
- I have never seen him in the Mirage.
So, this gives me an idea that he is capable of making some moves. He is certainly aware that I abuse limpers, though I have not been getting noticeably out of line.
I would have been happy picking up the limps, but being called is not a disaster.
The flop comes out solid for the home team (me). I consider c-betting out of position to be a luxury. I ask myself some questions:
- Do I have a value hand? (yes)
- Am I dominated? (unlikely)
- Am I ahead? (yes, except A5s, A6s, 55, 66)
- Can I get called by worse? (yes, sticky pocket pairs, flush draws, dominated aces)
- I note that the ace is the off-suit card meaning that top pair with nut flush draw is possible.
I get called, I am OK with that.
I am not “in love” with my hand, but I am certainly “in like” with it. I think I still have the best hand and I think I am likely against a flush draw given the action. I fire the turn.
Villain instantly shoves all-in, throwing in a big stack of blacks with a verbal all-in.
I am legitimately taking a long time here. It is about $500 to call.
What beats me?
- Ace better kicker
- Two pair with suited Aces
- Two pair with 56s
- A straight with 34s
- Sets of 5’s and 6’s
Do these match up with the action?
- Better Aces – Does AK or AQ limp behind pre-flop? No.
- A5s, A6s – Do they call pre? Yes. Do they just flat the flop? Maybe.
- 56s – Possible but discounted pre-flop. Do they just flat the flop? Maybe.
- A straight with 34s – Doubtful given pre-flop action.
- Sets of 5’s and 6’s – Very possible, but do they flat the flop? Maybe.
So, there are some value hands that go down like this for sure. They all have reasons to discount them though.
What about semi-bluffs?
- Flush draws, especially nut flush draws that have a pair of aces also.
- Combo draws, specifically 7♣8♣ and A♣4♣
Absolutely none of these are discounted. Would he have raise-committed on the flop? We were too deep to make a reasonable shove. Peeling for a street makes a lot of sense, especially with position.
The snap shove on the turn… I have seen this pattern a ton of times. It is often a draw. Value hands tend to think about optimal sizing. Draws know that all-in is the highest fold equity.
Dammit, now I have a story problem to solve, let’s start counting combos and chips…
“CLOCK” my villain says.
What? I got clocked?
Would a Villain with a value hand do something that rude? Where have a I seen an early clock call before? It was a WSOP hand from 2015. (Unfortunately the YouTube video has been removed due to copyright issues.)
This is what happened. A player who had bet called clock after only about forty seconds. That is super fast in a major tournament. The reason the player called the clock so fast was because of discomfort while bluffing. They couldn’t take the stress!
No need to count combos, my gut now says this is a semi-bluff, I am ahead of all semi-bluffs. I wait a few seconds so I don’t snap call immediately after the action that tipped me to a call.
River is a brick.
Villain tables A♣9♣: Nut Flush draw plus top pair. I scoop a big pot fading 12 outs.
This is pattern recognition. I am not always right, but I am right often enough. Put together the action, the physical tells, the other history and we come to a single moment where the right decision is clear, we make it. This is why we study, so that in that clutch moment we are the one doing the right thing.