Poker Check Nuts River

I played an interesting hand the other day that provides a nice example of how player’s actions imply things about their ranges that we can use to improve our decision making, and perhaps earn more profit with winners or save ourselves some of our losses when beat. These are concepts many readers will have been exposed to before, but sometimes in the heat of battle we lose sight of them. Let’s run through the hand first, and then talk about each street.

We are playing in a 200nl full ring game online, with 8 players at this table. With a starting stack of $200, we open from MP with A♠A♥ to $6. The SB ($342.50) and BB ($185.05) both call, and we take the flop 3 handed:

  1. Again, if the players are allowed to check behind to see their oppenents hand, or to bet the minimum to induce a bluff, then there cant be a rule for checking the nuts in position. Just to confuse things further, if its a satelite and its on the bubble and a player was to check behind with the nuts, this would be soft play and worthy of a penalty.
  2. Example drawing to Outs Make on turn Make on river Make on turn or river Prob. Odds: Inside straight flush; Four of a kind 1: 0.0213: 46.0-1: 0.0217: 45.0-1.

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Flop ($18)

2♥3♥4♠

SB: Check

BB: Check

Hero: Bet $6

Poker check nuts river reservoir

SB: Raise to $18

BB: Fold

Hero: Call $12

Turn ($54)

2♥3♥4♠Q♣

SB: Check

Hero: Bet $18

SB: Call $18

River ($90)

2♥3♥4♠Q♣2♠

SB: Bet $45

Hero: Call $45

Poker Check Nuts River

Poker Check Nuts River Float Trips

Poker Check Nuts River

Before we reveal the showdown, let’s talk through the hand.

Preflop: We raise to 3x the big blind, which is very standard on 100bb stack depths. Both blinds call. I’m a regular in this pool and don’t recognize either player, so they are not regulars. Beyond that we have no read.

Flop: We bet 1/3rd pot when checked to, and the small blind player check/raises to 3x our bet size, folding out the big blind. What range of hands does this imply? In terms of made hands, the SB check/raising range can include all the sets here. 2 pair combos we can’t be sure about… will the SB call preflop with 43s for example? That seems very ambitious (read: not profitable) not closing the action, a good reg wouldn’t call and a bad reg probably wouldn’t either, but a fun player might. They can also have a hand like A5s for the straight. 65s again is similar in genre to 43s, so we shouldn’t expect to see that too often. Their pure value check/raises are largely sets and A5s. Their bluffs are going to be draws. This board does offer a flush draw, and some straight draws perhaps. A hand like 7s6s makes a nice check/raise bluff with its gut shot, back door spade draw, and no showdown value. The rest of their check/raises are probably overpairs in the 55TT range mostly, that are raising for a combination of value and equity denial. We decide to call and play the turn in position.

Turn: Now the villain checks to us, and we bet $18 or 1/3rd pot, villain calls. This is the key part of the hand from the perspective of ranging our villain. The pure value check/raises on the flop would tend to always barrel the turn here, and probably for a large sizing. Sets, 2 pairs, and straights can both get value from everything we called the flop raise with, plus people in general tend to continue fast playing these very strong hands on boards that include draws once they’ve “sprung the trap” and raised with them. This makes villain’s range unlikely to include the stronger hands like sets, 2 pairs, and straights and weights them significantly towards the 55-TT over pairs and draws giving up on the bluff but hoping to hit for this price when they check/call turn. There is another category that might play this way… specifically the flush draw that was semi-bluffing the flop, but includes the Q♥, thus turning significant showdown value with top pair. This becomes very relevant when we get to the river.

River: The board pairs the 2, and now our villain decides to lead out for $45 which is half the pot. So now we have a decision, to fold, call or raise. Often players debate internally between folding or calling, and usually click call. The real debate here however should be between calling or raising. By virtue of the turn actions our villain took, they are highly unlikely to have a full house because all holdings that make a full house on this board would have been extremely likely to play the turn more aggressively. So we can conclude that the vast majority of the time here, we are looking at a busted draw that is making a desperate bluff, and one pair hands making a sort of blocking bet (either overpairs to the flop or the Q♥J♥ type hands hands). In essence, I expect us to be ahead virtually all the time with our aces. Nothing is 100% but we are good at a very high frequency based on the action sequence.

In game I chose to call, but I think this was a mistake. My reasoning in game was, villain will simply fold all busted draws to a raise (obviously). And the made hands are all 1 pair which can’t be good facing a river raise, so those will fold too, thus raising gains me no value. I believe this reasoning was flawed however. Specifically in the assumption the 1 pair hands will bet/fold the river. A good player will probably bet/fold to a raise here, if they chose to lead the river rather than check/call, but it’s possible a good player may level themselves into a call given the line they chose. And a fun player may well call simply because they have a pair and want to believe we’re bluffing some busted flush. Another key point to raising is this: If our ranging assessment is accurate, there is virtually no downside to raising. If they fold all worse hands to a raise, there would be no value in raising. But, if they actually hold no better hands than ours (as we suspect from their actions and the subsequent range those actions imply), then there’s literally no risk associated with raising either. Any time we can bet or raise “risk free” (like when we have the nuts for example) it’s a good idea to do that. My actual hand isn’t a 100% lock scenario of course, we can’t fully rule out weirdly played better hands like 44 or A♦2♦ in the hands of a weak player, but we will also get called by worse pairs a lot more than 0% of the time when we raise, and the fun player types who can show up with A♦2♦ are also much more likely to pay off our raise with a hand like 88 and certainly will have much difficulty folding their top pairs like Q♥J♥. On balance, upon further review I felt a river raise carries with it little risk, and will net us more money long term than it loses us thus making it +EV.

By working on ranging your opponents, and modifying/adjusting their range based on the actions they choose, we can sometimes find ourselves with a much clearer decision later in the hand based on the ranges those actions imply. Try and stay in tune with this at the tables, particularly when an action indicates great strength, or when it indicates a lack of great strength, and use this information to your advantage to gain an additional edge.

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Sometimes when you river the nuts you should go for a check-raise, but how do you know when? In this week’s strategy column, I discuss it using a hand from a $5/$10 no-limit hold’em cash game I played.

Here’s how it went down. Action was eight-handed when it folded to the player on the button, who was sitting with $1,900 and opted to open for $40. The small blind folded and I looked down at the in the big with around $2,150 in my stack.

Usually in a spot like this, where the open is big and we’re deep, I actually tend not to defend too light. That’s because when there is rake where the house takes a cut out of the pot whenever you see a flop, and the fact you’re out of position, all of these things should make you defend substantially tighter.

All that aside, I decided to three-bet by making it $165 to go. This is a spot where a lot of players get in the habit of calling with a hand that flops well but just check-folding whenever they miss. That’s way too weak. You’re actually better off taking these hands and bluffing with them part of the time, which I was doing here. When out of position you want to diminish the effect of the deep stacks to the best of your ability, which means raising a bit larger, such as four times the amount of the raise.

My opponent called and the flop fell giving us top pair. You can bet or check, I think both plays are viable, and we went for a small bet of $110. My opponent called and the dealer burned and turned the giving us a backdoor flush draw.

'Now, if I keep betting on the turn, what is my opponent going to call with? You have to be honest with yourself.'

Now, if I keep betting on the turn, what is my opponent going to call with? You have to be honest with yourself. If you bet big, your opponent is likely to only call with a big hand, such as a better queen here, and folding out the rest, such as an eight or deuce. So, I could find myself in a spot where I’m only getting called when I’m in bad shape. That’s not something I want.

Poker Check Nuts River Reservoir

We’re in great shape if we check and our opponent bets the river, which we can call, but we’re only in marginal shape if we bet and our opponent calls. It wound up going check-check and our opponent’s range lost a lot of its bluffs. Instead, it was more likely to be small pairs or good ace-high sort of hands.

The river gave me the flush, the second nuts. If I bet, what’s going to call? Well, the ace-high is going to call because it just made a pair, but all the other small pairs are likely to fold. But what would happen if I check?

If they have the ace they’re sure to value bet, so we’d get the same money in the pot if we check. If they have a small pair, like fives or sevens, they may turn it into a bluff. By checking we give all the non-showdown-value hands an opportunity to bluff.

When you’re in a scenario with the effective nuts on the river, ask yourself what your opponent’s range looks like. If it looks like a whole lot of good hands that will value bet or just total garbage, you almost always want to check the nuts. If their range is more marginal hands, say a queen in this spot, that would check behind if I check, then you want to bet a size you think will get called.

Here I think it was a pretty good spot to check with the intention of check-raising. I do check and my opponent bets $350. Nice! Now we have to decide how much to raise. That often depends on your image, how much you’ve been mixing it up, etc.

Poker Check Nuts River Vale

I end up check-jamming all in for $1,925 (watch the video below to find out why) and my opponent calls off for $1,625 with the for two pair. With that, I pulled in a $4,105 pot.

Note: had I bet the river, say $400, my opponent would’ve just called. I’d have extracted value and won the hand, but I also would’ve missed out on the other $1,200.

For a more thorough breakdown of this hand, check out my thoughts in the following video:

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com. Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at PokerCoaching.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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