Our mistakes don’t always stem from being wrong. Often, we simply overlook part of the picture. At the poker table, this mental trap is deviously easy to fall into, because seemingly logical thoughts can lead us to the wrong conclusions.
Some of my friends were recently discussing a hand that another friend, not present for the conversation, had played. She is a professional who frequents the $2/$5 no-limit hold ’em games in Las Vegas and is known in our circle for having an unpredictably aggressive style.
One player had limped in for $5 when the action came to my friend, and she looked down at Qc Jc in middle position. She elected to raise to $25, presumably hoping to thin the field and take control of the hand as the first aggressor. A tight-passive player on the button and the limper both called, bringing three players to the flop with $82 in the pot.
When Jd 7s 3h rolled off, our heroine was looking at top pair with a decent kicker — a hand with which she would only hope to win a small pot.
After the first player checked, our hero opted to check as well. Without considering her plan for the remaining streets, I like her decision here: Checking as the middle player in a three-way pot is something that can be done often and with a variety of hands, as part of a difficult-to-beat style. Her opponent on the button bet $40, and the first player folded, so she called with her pair.
The 8d fell on the turn, and both players checked uneventfully. But when the river brought the 8s and our heroine checked for the third time, the button chose to make another bet, this time for $100.
I’m sure my friend had been hoping to just show down her hand and pick up the $162 already in the middle, but now she had to make a choice. Calling risked losing to a stronger hand, and folding meant giving up — both unattractive options. So, she decided to raise and turn her top pair into a bluff. After she made it $280, her opponent quickly called and tabled 9h 8h, comfortably scooping $722.
From the parts of the conversation that I heard, I gathered that my friends disagreed in their analyses of this play. My friend had told them that she was representing a full house, with a hand like 8-7 suited or pocket sevens. It was true that she could, in fact, play a full house this way. But her aggressive and somewhat wild style meant that she could show up with a bluff at any time. On top of that, her opponent could easily have a strong hand (which he actually did) or simply decide that he could not fold a weaker (but still winning) hand, such as A-J. Representing a full house was only a minor factor.
Poker players everywhere struggle with this type of error. It’s easy to make an apparently sensible decision while forgetting some simple facts. It behooves us to be not just logical but also thorough, so as to approach problems from every angle and minimize our mistakes.