|February 5, 2005
Be aggressive. Youíve heard it many times. Youíve practiced it too, raising with Premium Pairs on Third Street; re-raising when you believe your pair is higher than your opponentís. You do this selectively and successfully. But as you move up in limits and as your opponents become better this basic selectively aggressive style doesnít work as well, because your opponents know enough to fold when you represent strength. Any tricks you can learn to keep your better opponents off balance?
Here are some opportunities for aggression that might not have occurred to you. They come up from time to time, especially when youíre playing against people who are thoughtful and observant enough to respond to your betting action. In other words, donít try these moves against poker novices or otherwise bad players. Save them for your good opponents off balance?
Itís Third Street. You have a wired pair of 4s and an Ace kicker. You called the bring-in. Your opponent, to your left, with a King exposed, has raised. Two players call the raise. You called the raise as well, figuring you have an overcard to the likely pair of Kings and a nicely hidden pair. If you hit your trips youíll extract a fortune from your opponents without them knowing your hand. And if you hit an Ace youíre likely to be ahead as well and may well pick up the pot on Fourth.
So you take Fourth Street four-way.
Youíre not terribly happy with the results. You get an offsuit 7. The King gets an 8.
Hereís the play: You check your Ace. The King bets what you presume to be his pair. The other two hands fold. Your move. You raise. A check-raise.
Letís first look at your other options. At first blush this move appears to be a mistake. The tight player in you tells you to fold since youíre behind. Kings beat 4s, after all. Why commit more money to a pot youíre not likely to win?
Well, in fact, it could be a mistake to fold. Youíre only about a 40:60 dog. Heads up against a pair of Kings your low pair with overcard will win about 40% of the pots if you play them to their conclusion. But as Iíve pointed out before, thatís only part of the story. Youíll actually end up making more money on some of your hands when you make trips than heíll make when he makes trips because your pair is hidden. When he hits another King youíll surely fold, saving money because youíll be pretty sure youíre up against trips. He, on the other hand, wonít know what you have when you hit a seemingly innocent 4, allowing you to profit from his lack of knowledge.
Also, the pot that youíre fighting for has been engorged with dead money from two players who called the completion on Third Street. There is a complicated formula for figuring out how close you have to be to the favorite to make calling to the River a positive play in these situations. Leave it to say that itís close enough at 40:60 for it to be generally worthwhile if you have the added edge of this dead money and a hidden pair.
So if Iíve convinced you that folding was probably not the best option in this situation, why might I counsel against calling? By raising youíre doubling the cost of seeing Fifth Street: from one bet to two. Why put extra money in a hand that youíre looking to win by drawing a card?
The answer lies in the reaction to your check-raise. And thatís really what defines many advanced concepts in stud. You have to think beyond the first level of what your raise does to get more money in the pot. You need to think about the effect your raise will have on the betting action of your opponent.
In the case here, with your check-raise with an exposed Ace against a likely pair of Kings, a raise will probably produce a better outcome than if you just called.
First, by check-raising, you may well get your opponent to fold right there. Thatís an enormous plus. If heís a disciplined player, not just a guy who routinely plays until he sees that heís beaten, he may conclude that you either hit trips or were slowplaying a pair of Aces on Third Street. He may look at your check-raise and decide that you must be far ahead of him and that itís not worth continuing to play the hand. So your bet will succeed as a bluff.
Your hand may also improve to the best hand on Fifth Street if you catch a 4 or an Ace. So your check-raise is a semi-bluff: a bluff with a backup plan.
But there are two other reasons for making this bet. One wonít be appreciated until Fifth Street; the other has longer-term rewards.
You may get a call from the King on Fourth Street. King is figuring that itís only a small bet to see his Fifth Street card. If he doesnít improve on Fifth Street, heíll fold, not willing to put in the higher tier bet when heís up against what he gauges to be a far superior hand. This is a bad mistake on his part since you donít have him beat. Consider it a delayed dividend on your check-raise.
Another type of player, who would call you down to the River if you donít improve, will surely fold if you catch a pair on Fifth Street, even if itís not an Ace. He will be adding together the possibility that you now have Aces Up with the possibility that you have two small pair, and he will conclude that it makes sense to fold. This fold is an error for him even though heís behind. Heís close enough (at about 37%) that the dead money in the pot when you bet actually means heíd win money in the long run by calling you down with your two low pair against his pair of Kings.
Finally, thereís a very long-term dividend of this play. It will pay out when you have attempted to steal the antes with a semi-bluff raise on Third Street with an Ace. Youíll sometimes fail and get a caller or two on Third. You wonít improve on Fourth and youíll be faced with a difficult decision: Do you continue with your bluff or check?
You wonít want to continue with a losing ploy. Itís possible youíll continue to be called down and end up losing a lot of money instead of just the Third Street bet. On the other hand, youíll be concerned that your more observant opponents will figure that you were on an ante steal and bet into you when you check -- sometimes on a steal themselves. Over the long haul this will mean youíll have to cut back on the times you attempt an ante steal, since youíll be punished for it by your observant opponents.
But hereís the good news. The play on Fourth Street will cause these same observant opponents to think twice about betting into you when you check that Ace after an ante steal that didnít work. Theyíll remember the check-raise and be concerned that youíre trying to lure them into it again. Theyíll see your check as a potential trap and, thinking theyíre avoiding it, check behind you.
This, in essence, will give you a free Fifth Street card and another chance to win. And thatís what you want: Opponents who are reluctant to bet into you when your betting action indicates that you may be weak. It will allow you to bluff and semi-bluff more aggressively on the early streets, since theyíll be wary about betting into you when you check.
The short-term and long-term advantages of this Fourth Street play make it especially powerful against good players. But donít waste it on the unobservant or the weak. Remember, with this move you can fool only a player who is observant enough and disciplined enough to react "properly" to your ploy.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit HoldĎEm and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit HoldĎEm, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.