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Last week I covered a hand where I thought through my opponent’s hand range, considered all the options, and made the wrong play. A few days later a surprisingly similar board popped up in a cash game and another interesting hand developed.

The game was $2-100 spread limit, which plays a lot like $1/2 no-limit, especially in small pots. I raised to $7 from early position with a pair of fours and the big blind called. Both stacks were deep, a fact that I thought might be important when I flopped a set on a board of #As#Ks#4d.

Flopping a set on an ace high board is about as good as it gets in a cash game. With an ace on board, it is likely that your opponent has a hand he won’t let go, and he may even raise you with one pair and play a huge pot if he is inexperienced.

The bad news was that my opponent was a strong player who knew who I was. We had played together many times. My opponent, we’ll call him Tony because, well, his name is actually Tony, is a very aggressive young player who learned to play online. He is the very prototype of the young online player and is friends with a whole group of online players who have some similar strengths and weaknesses and all play in the same card room.

The good news is that I know these players and I have played with all of them many times. I learned to play online too, and aggressive players don’t scare me. Sure, I would rather avoid them when I can. My opponent is a solid player and I would rather not have him at the table, but it is important not to be fearful or timid when playing against aggressive players. It feeds into their game perfectly if you play scared whenever you are in a pot against them.

Tony checked the flop. Checking back here would be terrible. If I slow play my hand, I may win one extra bet at some point, but as soon as I put chips in the pot after checking behind on the flop he will know I have a set and fold. If he has a draw, top pair or two pair, all of which are likely, then I win a much bigger pot by betting. I bet $10, Tony called, and after the rake the pot was about $35.

Scary turn card

The turn was the scariest card in the deck for me, the queen of spades. With Ace-King-Queen of spades on the board, and my opponent just calling a bet on the flop, it would seem likely that he has a flush or a straight here, but remember who my opponent is.

Tony will call a bet on the flop with nothing to take the pot away from me if I check the turn. He may even call to represent the flush or straight if a scare card comes and raise me. If I have a hand like ace-jack, he assumes that I will fold to a raise on the river or even check and fold.

At least that is how a player like Tony thinks, and they are typically correct. They steal pots from weaker players all day, and they steal enough pots to more than offset the times when they get caught. But a tiger can’t change it’s skin. In most cases, hyper-aggressive players have trouble finding the brakes and can be trapped. The fact that he made this play against me instead of waiting for a softer player is Tony’s only mistake in this hand. Most of the table would have folded most of their range at some point in the hand.

I bet $20 on the turn after Tony checked. I wasn’t betting small because I was scared and didn’t want to bet too much when I was going to have to fold, but it sure looks like it doesn’t it? I looked weak. It was probably at this point that Tony decided to run a bluff if he missed the river. I was actually hoping for a turn raise, but he called and waited for the river.

River arrives as #jd

The river was the jack of diamonds. Now I was losing to any ten, any two spades, or a higher set. With four cards to a broadway straight on board, many players would check behind with bottom set, but the real money is made in no-limit holdem with value bets on the river.

There are a few players that are tricky enough to check-raise with a big hand here, and I would check behind if I thought I was playing one of those opponents. Tony might check raise if he had a ten for a straight, but what hands could he have that include a ten? Ace-ten maybe, but not many others. Any hand that was already strong would have raised the turn, and there just aren’t very many combinations of cards that my opponent is likely to have that include a ten.

I also know that Tony knows that if he leads out with a bet on a scary river, I am going to call with any reasonable hand. And I think that Tony assumes that I will bet my monster hands and bluffs and check behind with anything less than a straight. It’s smart thinking against most opponents, because very few players will bet again with a medium strength hand here, and those who do will often fold to a raise.

Check-raise from aggro

Tony checked and I bet $30. Another small bet, looking weak. Maybe I was betting a monster trying to get a call from a weak hand, or maybe I had a monster and was trying to get paid off. Either way, it fits with his assumptions about my betting range.

He raised to $80, and I wasn’t terribly surprised. The only mistake I made in the hand was calling immediately. If I thought for awhile before calling, and made it look like a tough decision, Tony may make this mistake against me again. He, and some of the other players at the table, might not realize that I had planned the hand out well ahead of time and that I knew I was calling a check-raise. My snap call was a significant mistake that gave away information and also may have taught Tony something about how I play the game.

When I was 30, and playing with mostly older players, I was seen as the loose and aggressive “Internet kid,” but those days have passed. I’m 40 now and the Internet kids think I’m a nit. When someone has an idea about your game, push them farther in that direction. If they think they know all about you, let them hold on to that belief as long as possible. Don’t show your true colors until you must.

When I called, Tony said something like “You must be ahead” and I showed my set of fours. He mucked and looked surprised. I should have waited to see what his hand was, because he clearly had a little something or he would have just mucked as soon as I called.

Analyzing the possibilities

Let’s take one last look at my river call. The hands that can beat me are:

A flush – A flush, unless it included the jack, would have raised the turn. Even the nut flush probably would have raised the turn or bet out on the river. I don’t believe my opponent ever has a flush here.

A bigger set – Tony is too smart to slow play a set for two streets on a board full of draws. He never has a bigger set here.

A straight – Once in awhile Tony has a straight, but not very often. Most hands that include a ten would have folded a long time ago, and would a straight check-raise here? There has to be some possibility that I have a flush, and if I bet I usually have a flush or nothing, so raising a straight doesn’t always make sense either.

I know Tony is a smart player, and you can’t always be sure of your reads on a smart player. Every once in awhile he is going to show me a hand I didn’t expect, or my read is just going to be wrong, but the pot was almost $185 and I only had to call $50. Those odds are too good to pass up, and if I wasn’t calling a raise I would never have bet the river in the first place.

Sometimes, against an aggressive player, you just have to make a hand and hold on to it. You don’t need a set to do it, sometimes a pair is good enough, but make sure you are thinking it through and not paying them off every time they make a big hand, because that is how they get rich. From players who are tired of their aggression feeding them huge pots every time they make a big hand.



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Chris Wallace

Chris "Fox" Wallace is a professional poker, author, and poker coach from St Paul, Minnesota. While he spent most of his career playing cash games,Fox recently started playing more tournaments and won a bracelet in the $10,000 HORSE World Championship in 2014. Follow him on twitter