One of the blessings of playing live rather than online is that live players are much more predictable in their attempts to be tricky. Live players have a few stock moves that they use as misdirections—attempts to misrepresent their hand strength to their advantage. But live players rarely reverse these moves, using them with an unexpected hand to trap you. Because of this, there are times when I will see a stock play and automatically raise. Here are two of these situations.
Bet #1. In a multiway pot, a player donk bets for half pot or less
Say you open for $20 in a $2-$5 game. A player calls behind you, and the blinds both call. There’s $80 in the pot and at least $500 behind in each seat. The flop is
K♠ 9♠ 6♥
The small blind bets out for $25. The big blind folds.
I will raise this bet with 100 percent of my hands.
By betting out, I suppose the small blind is repping a king—maybe something better. And, in fact, I believe that a good percentage of the time the small blind does have a king. But it usually comes with a bad kicker (both because the player was in the blind and because he likely would have checked two pair or a hand like A-K or K-Q). The big blind can also have hands like T-T, 8-8, 6-5, and flush draws.
These are the sorts of hands live players tend to make this play with. They are trying to overrep their hand by donk betting into three players including a preflop raiser. But they don’t quite have the guts to bet pot on it, so they bet quarter- or third-pot, hoping it does the job.
This is a fairly solid read for two reasons. First, the pot is mulitway, which is going to encourage players to play their truly strong hands for a check-raise or possibly for a pot-sized donk bet. The typical live player will worry that if they bet only $25 with their set or whatever, all three opponents will call. Then they’ll have to fade flush and straight cards on the turn against three opponents. This is positively a live reg’s worst nightmare.
So they won’t allow it. They’ll either bet out big, or they’ll check hoping to score a knockout check-raise. If the preflop raiser bets big enough (that’s usually me), then they might even check-call and sandbag it for a street. But they’ll be expecting heads-up action after the big flop bet. If there’s any hint that more than one opponent will come along, they will drop the hammer.
Once you can fairly safely eliminate actually strong hands from a player’s range, you are usually free to raise them and keep betting. It’s nearly impossible to protect yourself mathematically from that sort of raw poker aggression when you don’t have any premium hands in your range.
Every once in a while you’ll get a cold-call behind you when you raise here. It will be as you might expect—a strong top pair, a set, two pair, a combo draw, etc. Obviously when this unexpected thing happens, you must abandon the plan. But it doesn’t happen often enough—and the betting tell is reliable enough—that you can go ahead and raise any two against this action.
Finally, you might be thinking, “Gee, I would reverse this tell in a heartbeat. Donk bet $25 with a set? Absolutely, if it would induce a 100% raise.” Great. That’s a great move if an aggressive player is in the pot (particularly if he’s been the preflop raiser). And if I were playing online, I’d be more concerned about it because online players seem more capable of pulling stunts like that. But my experience is that, in actual live play, people reverse this tell rarely enough that I’m not worried about it.
Bet #2. A player runs a stop-and-go on the turn, but bets half pot or less
Say you open for $20 and get the caller behind and both blinds again. The flop comes
A♠ 7♠ 5♣
The blinds check, you bet $60, and only the big blind calls. There’s $200 in the pot with about $500 behind. The turn is the
The big blind bets out for $60.
I roughly minraise (or a little more) this bet with 100 percent of my hands, planning to shove the river.
Simply put, this is not how people play trips. This is not how people play a full house. This is usually not even how they play Ace King.
With trips, people are either checking to trap or betting out to protect against the flush draw. But they’d bet bigger. Overwhelmingly, this line is an ace worried about a kicker or a draw worried about getting priced out. Either way, the minraise is excruciating, and the river shove gets the fold.
Of course, these plays don’t work every time. Sometimes someone surprises you. Sometimes someone has exactly what you think they have, but they call you down anyway. Or they catch a good river card. But here’s a thing in general about no-limit hold’em strategies — when your opponent is playing a perfectly balanced strategy, you need to play a balanced strategy in response. But when your opponent becomes unbalanced one way or the other—even just a little bit—the ideal response from you is to play nearly every hand exactly the same way. In other words, your perfect counter-strategy doesn’t go from balanced to slightly biased one direction. It goes from balanced to 100 percent one direction.
Whenever you suspect that a player has taken too many premium hands out of his range based on playing an unbalanced line, there’s a good chance your best counter-strategy is to bluff with every possibly bluffing hand you can muster. In both of these cases, I believe the typical player has removed too many strong hands from play. Therefore, I raise.