I was driving home from Foxwoods Resort Casino (see my poker room review on this great poker room) with my friend Jim. He and I were celebrating our 30th year of friendship with a trip to our favorite poker room. It had been a late night and it was about 5:00 AM. We were discussing poker strategy, as we often did on these trips.
We had a serious disagreement. I will lay it out for you here because I think it's instructive. I think I was right, of course, but I'll leave it to all of you to draw your own conclusions.
The player to my right at this $10/20 stud game, Felix, had drawn a flush on his first five cards. He had been betting since then into an opponent, Jerome, whom he correctly put on two pair: jacks and fours. On the river, Felix checked. Jerome checked as well. Felix raked in the pot, adding to me, by way of explanation for not betting I guess, "There were no jacks or fours out so I had to check".
Felix was correct about the cards that were out. There were no jacks or fours out. The question was whether Felix was correct in checking into his opponent's full house draw.
Jim and I strongly disagreed. I insisted that the check was a missed opportunity to get full value from the flush on the river by betting. Jim insisted that I was mistaken. His argument was that Jerome would have raised if he hit but folded if he missed – there being no value in Felix's bet.
I argued that the situation was akin to a player with two pair facing an opponent whom he put on a flush draw on the river. Holding aces up, for example, I will routinely bet the river into someone I think is drawing to a flush. Jim disagreed even more strongly with this, insisting that the guy drawing to the flush would fold if he missed but raise if he hit – costing me money in the long run. I disagreed.
Here's my thinking on it. Let's take the flush, betting into the two pair that's drawing for the full house. Though it's certainly true that my opponent will raise my bet if he hits a full house on the river, and that I'll call him nearly all the time, costing me a bet, I'd argue that he would call my bet nearly all the time with two pair even if he misses his full house. With this premise, I figure that since there are only four cards that will give him a full house, and in a typical game more than 28 cards that will not give him a full house, that the odds are better than 7 to 1 in favor of him calling a losing bet. I'll make $20 seven times when he misses and lose $20 once when he hits. That sounds like a good proposition to me.
Jim argued initially that he wouldn't call me when he missed. But I think that by the end of this part of the argument even he agreed that he would probably call me on the river with his two pair. Still, he insisted, it didn't make sense to bet two pair into a flush draw. In that situation, he argued, the player on the draw would not call a bet if he missed but would raise if he hit.
I see it differently. Here's my thinking. There are many, many hands that a stud player will call a bet with on the river when he misses his flush draw. A missed flush isn't necessarily the same as no hand at all. And on the river, unless you have no hand at all, it generally makes sense to call because of the size of the pot, no?
Think about your own play. Let's say you're on sixth street with a flush draw and also a pair. The river doesn't give you a flush but you get two pair – maybe a low two pair. Your opponent bets. Do you fold? How about if you had a high pair and a flush draw and it misses, leaving you with only a high pair? Do you fold to a bet on the river when there are at least six large bets in the pot? How about when the river fails to give you a flush but pairs one of your high cards? Do you fold then?
I know that on the river, if I have any hand at all, I'm generally calling a bet because of the size of the pot, unless I see that I am beaten on the board. So I suspect my opponent will generally do the same thing – call on the river even if he misses.
My opponent only needs to call my bet one time in four or so for me to show a profit on my bet on the river. He'll hit his flush a little less than one time in four, and raise. I'll call his raise and lose a bet. So if he misses and calls my bet one time in four or more than one time in four I'm ahead of the game. At least that's how I figure it. And my experience is that players will call more than half the time when they miss their flush on the river. The way I see it, I make at least two bets for every bet I lose.
There are four additional reasons that I make this bet. First, sometimes when my opponent makes his flush I'll make a full house and can re-raise him, making two extra bets. This happens about one time in thirteen. Second, sometimes when my opponent makes his flush he will just call and not raise my two pair. This happens especially when I am showing a paired door card or showing two or more suited cards headed by an ace – threatening that I may have a higher flush. In those situations, my opponent, like Felix in the initial example, doesn't want to risk being raised – and so only calls with his flush – saving me a bet.
Third, I think there's an advantage to having my opponent fail to see my hand when I bet the river and he folds. Let him guess. Let him think that I might have been bluffing – that I might have bluffed him out of the pot. Maybe the next time he'll call. And finally, it's also good for my table image to be seen as someone who doesn't give free cards. I want to be known as an aggressive bettor. Betting on the river helps reinforce that image.
I think I won the argument. But my friend Jim stays unconvinced – equally sure that I am wrong. What do you think?