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One Mediocre Pair -- Show it Down or Try a Bluff?

Mid-States Poker Tour
  • Mo Nuwwarah considers whether to check back third pair or bet and force his opponent to a decision.

  • What would you do on the river in this hand from a Mid-States Poker Tour Main Event?

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

I recently had the opportunity to take a weekend trip and play in the $1,100 buy-in Mid-States Poker Tour Meskwaki Main Event just a few hours from my hometown. The tournament usually draws one of the biggest prize pools in my section of the Midwest, and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take part.

Last week I shared the hand that saw me bust my first bullet. I bought back in and my second attempt was going better than my first when the following hand went down.

After being moved to a very good table I was able to run my stack of around 20,000 up to about 36,000 as the blinds/antes moved up to 400/800/100. The lone tough player at this new table was Aaron Johnson, a skilled pro who plays solid, aggressive poker the times I’ve observed his play.

The exact details of the hand are a bit faded in my memory so forgive me, but the general concept still applies.

The Action

Action folded to Johnson in middle position, and he raised to 1,700. I looked down at {a-Diamonds}{10-Diamonds} on the button and called. The big blind called as well.

The flop came {j-Clubs}{10-Hearts}{6-Spades}, and after the big blind checked Johnson put out a standard-sized bet of about half-pot. I called, and the big blind folded. The turn was an offsuit {4-}, and we both checked. The river was the {k-Spades}, and Johnson checked. I checked back, and Johnson showed {j-Diamonds}{9-Diamonds} and took down the pot.

Concept and Analysis

The first question in this hand is whether to three-bet or not before the flop. Three-betting was actually my initial instinct since I figured I was ahead of Johnson’s range in this spot. My read on his general style is that he would open a good amount of hands weaker than ace-ten, especially at a juicy table like this one. So there’s value in charging his inferior hands to continue.

One Mediocre Pair -- Show it Down or Try a Bluff? 101
Aaron Johnson

On the other hand, calling allows me to play a pot in position and invites players in the blinds to come along. They’re more likely than Johnson to pay me off if I make a hand postflop, and they will play lots of hands that ace-ten dominates since they’re getting a great price at this point.

Second pair with an ace-kicker on a three-way flop isn’t the worst when you’re last to act. Johnson does go ahead an fire a continuation bet, which I would expect him to do with lots of hands on a board with plenty of possibilities. This isn’t a great flop for him to try to push two people out who flatted preflop, so it’s more likely than not that he has something. Calling and seeing what the big blind does, and what Johnson does on the turn, is the only real option.

Checking back the turn seems pretty standard to control the size of the pot with my showdown value if I’m not going to turn my hand into a bluff, but the river {k-Spades} brings up an interesting spot. If my opponent had a hand like ace-king or ace-queen here, I would expect him to bet for value since I checked back the turn, so he can’t expect me to bet when checking to me.

It seems like my opponent’s most likely holding is either another ten or a pair of jacks, but I could possibly get a pair of jacks to fold here with a river bet because the {k-Spades} could well have helped me. Hands like {k-}{10-}, {k-}{j-}, {q-}{9-}, and {k-}{q-} all fit my action so far, and I could even have flatted {a-}{q-}.

At the time, I just checked hoping to win a showdown, but in retrospect, I think betting the river and turning ace-ten into a bluff would have been the best option in this spot. I may very well have been called since Johnson did have a decent hand, but at least I would have put my opponent in a tougher spot.

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