World Series of Poker Europe Coolbet Open

Relative Hand Strength with Jon Aguiar

Jon Aguiar

Jon "FatalError" Aguiar has traveled the globe playing in the world's richest poker tournaments. In the last five years, he's accumulated $1.1 million in winnings in live and online tournaments.

Aguiar's latest trip was to Monte Carlo for the European Poker Tour Grand Final. While there, PokerNews caught up with Aguiar to talk about two hands he played while in Monte Carlo, both which illustrate this week's concept: relative hand strength.

Before we talk about these two hands, can you better explain what relative hand strength means?

Relative hand strength is the value of your hand versus your opponent's potential range of hands, whereas absolute hand strength is just the value of your hand on the hand chart like a flush beats a straight. A lot of times, that doesn't matter because of the way your opponent has played a hand up to that point, he can only have certain things.

Hand #1
Tournament: EPT Grand Final Main Event
Blinds: 50/100

An older online qualifier raised under the gun to 250. A middle-position player called, and I called on the button with {K-}{Q-}. The player in the big blind called, too. The flop came {Q-}{10-}{4-} rainbow. It checked to me on the button and I bet 650. The player in the big blind folded, the preflop raiser called, and the other player folded. The turn was a {9-}, which completes one of the straight draws and gives me a gutshot. He checked, and I checked behind for pot control. The river was a {J-}, and he checked pretty quickly again. I bet 1,425. He thinks and takes five 1,000 chips and gingerly places them into pot.

What are you thinking after he check raises this river?

I'm thinking, "what the hell does he have here?" He doesn't have any bluffs. No online qualifier check-raises as a bluff on this river. It’s either a {K-}, or {A-}{K-}. I basically figured I'm chopping 30 percent of the time and losing 70 percent of the time. Even though I have the second best straight, my relative hand strength is the worst possible hand against his range. I can only chop or lose. I showed him a king and folded. He looked pretty dejected and slid his cards into the muck.

Later on, I saw him play a hand where I check-called him on two streets after raising preflop with eights on a board of something like {10-}{5-}{4-}{X-}. The river came a {3-} and he just checked behind with a set of fives, so I'm pretty sure he wasn’t doing anything crazy with just a king in the other hand.

Can you sort of explain in more detail why you decided to check the turn for pot control?

I have a pretty good hand and a pretty good draw, but if I get check-raised, I have to fold. I just don't see him check-calling many worse hands.

Hand #2
Tournament: $5,000 no-limit hold'em full-ring side event
Blinds: 150/300 with a 25 ante

The next hand was against a Finnish player or some sort of Scandinavian player who seemed to be competent. He raised under the gun plus one, got a caller, I called with {K-}{Q-} suited on the button, and a bad player came along from the blind. The flop came {Q-}{7-}{4-} rainbow. It checked to him and he made a standard continuation bet. The caller to my right folded and I called. We went to the turn heads up.

The turn was another {Q-}, giving me trips, but putting a flush draw on the board. We had like 1.7 times the pot left in our stacks, and I decided he’d be check-folding a ton of his range if I bet here. He checked and I checked. Unlike the other hand where I checked the turn for pot control, this was for deception and to get value.

The river was a {J-}, which completed a backdoor flush draw. He wakes up and bets 9,000 into 11,500. In this spot, I should have been thinking about the fact that betting flop and checking turn and betting river is a very, very uncommon bluff line for people. They are either going to barrel all three streets, or bet-bet and check river. Just like the last hand, his range just doesn’t have much air in it at all. When you look at my relative hand strength, the only hands that I'm really beating at this point that make sense are like a really thin value bet from a hand like {A-}{J-} that bet the flop, or a hand like {Q-}{10-} or {Q-}{9-} suited, but people aren’t always raising a hand like {Q-}{9-} suited or {Q-}{10-} from under the gun eight-handed anyway. So, I made the call and he had pocket jacks. In this hand, I was thinking, "I have three-of-a-kind. I call," but looking back at it, I really started berating myself for it. My hand really isn’t that good versus his range.

In hindsight, it seems like checking the turn was the perfect play against his hand.

Yeah, he’s check-folding the turn a substantially higher percentage of the time than he folds the river when it goes check-check on the turn and comes a blank on the river. There are only eight bad river cards that come for me versus jacks — the aces and kings, and only two cards in the deck that will lose me the pot. If I river quads, he pays off huge.

Understanding relative hand strength is one of the biggest problems amateurs have. When someone says, “They are just playing their cards,” is when players don’t think at all about relative hand strength and only consider their absolute hand strength. You get a lot of people, like at the Series, who are just face down in their whole cards and trying to catch and make certain hands instead of thinking what their opponents have and how wide or tight their opponent’s hand ranges are on any given or board, or any given river based on previous actions. That’s why it’s important to be able to put your opponent on a range of hands, and then evaluate the strength of your hand versus the strength of your opponent’s range.

Where should players start when trying to learn the difference between relative hand strength and absolute hand strength?

I think it’s important to be asking yourself questions throughout the hand like, “What type of hands would he be doing this with?” When your opponents are making bets and checks, ask yourself, “What does he want me to do when he does this?” or “What does the size of this bet mean?” Like when my opponent bet so big on the second hand, it was pretty obvious he was going for value. He probably would have been more like 60 or 70 percent of the pot with a weakish value hand. When he bet 80 to 90 percent of the pot, it looked like he wanted me to hero call the river and he wanted to get big value. Just think about what hands your opponents start with by what position he raises in and start eliminating hands after considering the actions.

Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.

What do you think?

More Stories

Casino News

Other Stories