It's always good to give them a chance to spaz. Players commonly make the mistake of shoving to try to win a hand immediately, since they're reasonably sure that they have the best of it or suspect that their opponent is bluffing. This usually works because they are usually right.
Sometimes they run into a bigger hand and lose the maximum and call it bad luck. But by shoving, they deny themselves the chance to let their opponent give away all of his chips.
Online poker is finally back in the United States, albeit limited to Nevada for the time being. Ultimate Poker has been the only site running for the past few months, and it's been great to play poker on my computer in a safe and regulated environment on home soil (as opposed to other countries). I was simultaneously playing several tables of $1-2 and $2-4 no-limit hold 'em shortly after the World Series of Poker Main Event, and I was dealt Ah Ks in the big blind in a $1-2 game. Action folded to the small blind, who limped.
There was a time when you could give me two sugar packets with absolutely zero showdown value in this spot and I would raise. Things have changed, however, and players often limp from with good hands in the small blind instead of always limping their bad hands and always raising their good hands. I've got A-K in this spot, though, so it's an easy raise, and I make it $7.
Instead of folding, the villain re-raised to $23. I had $100 in my stack, and my opponent had $116. With these stacks in a tournament, there would be much more merit to shoving. Quickly adding 23 percent to my stack is much better than risking funny business breaking me. However, the punishment of getting busted in cash games is just having to reload, and our goal should be to maximize value.
I reraised to $46, giving my opponent room to spew rather than forcing him to fold the worst hand. We want our opponents to put more money into the pot when they have the worst hand. The villain called.
The flop came 2c 5h 8d, and the villain shoved.
The villain was risking $54 to win $92, so his shove doesn't have to work that often for it to be profitable. It can mean so many things and there's so much money out there that it essentially means nothing. I have the nut ace high, it's really hard to make a pair (especially on that board), and the one thing his shove actually means is that he doesn't have the top of his range, something like a set or a big pair, especially since the big pair probably would have gone all-in preflop once I committed half my stack.
I called and was shown the Kc Qc. Got 'em!
The turn was the Jc, and the river was the Ac. Oh no! Variance got me!
Variance, as much is it stinks, truly is our friend. If players never won when they put it in bad, then the game of poker wouldn't be good. Consider it a victory when you get them to put all their money in bad, regardless of outcome.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as “Devo” on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings. Follow him on Twitter: @devopoker