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Shifting Gears in No Limit-Hold'em
By: Basil Nester



Texas Hold’em Tournament – No Limit


Blinds are $1,000-$2,000 – Antes are $500


Seat 1, Lee (Small Blind) – Chip Count: $78,500


Seat 2, Max (Big Blind) – Chip Count: $46,000


Seat 3, Tom (Button) – Chip Count: $39,500




TOM: Adiamond.gif Kdiamond.gif


“This is a premium hand, and the game is shorthanded. I’m a favorite against anything except a pocket pair. I’m going to raise here, hoping to fold everyone and pick up the blinds and antes. If I get a call or a raise, then I still have a good chance of winning the pot.”


RAISE TO $5,000


LEE: Kspade.gif Kheart.gif


“I love my hand! The only hands I fear are pocket Aces or one Ace in the pocket with an Ace on the flop. Besides, I’ve got a big stack, and that gives me firepower. I’m going to re-raise here to knock out the big blind and get me heads up with the button.”


RAISE TO $10,000


MAX: Jspade.gif Jdiamond.gif


“I love my hand! This is my first big tournament, and I’m at the final table. Wow! This is so cool! My opponents are probably bluffing with bad cards like those pros on television often bluff. But just in case someone is holding a serious hand, I’m only going to call.”


CALL TO $10,000


TOM: “Hmm… That didn’t go as I expected. Both of my opponents are still in the hand, and I’m facing a raise. Oh well. I’ve got a great hand, and it’s a reasonable price to call.”


CALL TO $10,000


POT = $31,500


FLOP: Kclub.gif Jheart.gif 7diamond.gif


LEE: “Top trips! Yes! Now I want to suck in the other players. I hope that I’m up against a big pocket pair or a hand like A-K or K-Q. Let’s see what happens when I make a semistrong bet. Maybe they’ll think that I’m trying to steal with a bluff.”


BET $10,000


MAX: “Trips! Yes! I have a great hand. Now I want to suck in the other players. But wait… Does someone have pocket Kings? Um…probably not. But just in case, let’s bump it up and see what happens. Please, please, please don’t re-raise me, because that might mean someone has pocket Kings. Then I would have a tough decision and I might have to fold.”


RAISE TO $20,000


TOM: “Hmmm… It looks as if I have top pair. But there are a lot of ways I could be losing. Hands that could beat me include pocket Aces, K-K, J-J, or A-J. Lee is a solid player, and I don’t think he’s bluffing here. I’m putting him on pocket Aces or pocket Kings. Of course, Lee could have a hand worse than mine, but there is also Max to consider. Overall, there are too many ways for me to lose, and the price to call here would eat up most of my stack. Something doesn’t feel right. Besides, if I fold now, then Max might be knocked out of the tournament, or Lee could lose a lot of chips. Either way, I’ll move up to second place.”




LEE: “I think Max is playing a legitimate hand, maybe pocket Jacks or A-J. Too bad for him, because I’m going to show him how an expert poker player can spank a novice. First I’m going to wait a long time before calling, as if I’m calculating my outs. Then I’m going to call with a bravado that will seem to be masking weakness.”


CALL TO $20,000


POT = $71,500


Turn: 2spade.gif


LEE: “Perfect. I’ve got my paddle ready for the spanking.”




MAX: I thought that Lee might have pocket Kings, but now I don’t think so. Why did he check the turn when a small card hit? He shouldn’t have checked unless a scare card hit the board. Or maybe he would bet as a bluff with a scare card, and check with strong cards as a trap. I don’t know. Suddenly I’m confused. Is he waiting for the river to put me all in? If I show weakness here, maybe he’ll bet the river with an inferior hand. I don’t know what to do. He’s been showing weakness since the flop, but I’m the one sweating bullets. What’s happening here?”




POT = $71,500


River: 6club.gif


LEE: “This is going to be fun.”


BET $16,000


MAX: “Oh Jeez! I’ve got to go all in to call. Only K-K can beat me. Is Lee holding K-K? He raised before the flop, but he played weakly the rest of the way. Now his bet on the end may be a bluff. On the other hand, he may have slow-played top trips. I’ll feel like an idiot if I throw away trip Jacks. There are so many ways for me to win, and only one way to lose. I’ve got to know.”


CALL ALL IN $16,000


Showdown: $103,500 pot goes to Lee. Max leaves the table.


LEE: “Yes! That’s the way to play championship poker.”


TOM: “My instincts were correct. I’m down, but not out. And I’ve moved up a notch to second place in the competition. Overall, that was a good hand for me.


MAX: “Wow that was a bad beat. I wonder if I could have played that hand better. Hmmmm… Nah, I was perfect. The cards just came the wrong way.”


Analysis: Max made some classic mistakes. His first and most deadly mistake was calling with pocket Jacks in the face of a raise and a call. As I mentioned in a previous column, big pairs don’t do well against multiple opponents, especially when those opponents are solid players. In a limit game, pocket Jacks certainly could merit a pre-flop call (or even a re-raise in some cases). But this game is no limit, and Max failed to shift gears. Folding in this situation shouldn’t be automatic, but it needs to be an option. Lee and Tom played Max like a violin. In particular, Tom used a strategic fold to catapult himself into second place.


Basil Nestor is author of The Smarter Bet Guide to Poker, The Unofficial Guide to Casino Gambling, and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit SmarterBet.com and drop him a line.


(© 2005 BluffMagazine. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)


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