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Go for value or check behind?

08/11/2019 by Jonathan Little
Hand Analysis

I was recently told about a hand played by an amateur poker player in a $500 buy-in tournament that illustrates a common mistake that many players make on a regular basis. With blinds at 1,000/2,000 with a 200 ante, everyone folded to the player on the button who called 2,000 out of his 80,000 stack. This player is known to call with a wide range from late position, hoping to flop well. The small blind, an unknown player with 50,000, also called. Our Hero, with a 30,000 stack, decided to check in the big blind with 42.

While I am fine with Hero’s check, given 42 isn’t particularly strong, there may be some merit to going all-in. If both opponents fold about 60% of the time total, Hero will win about 300 chips on average. While that may not sound like much, Hero will usually lose some number of chips by checking in the big blind, perhaps 500 or more on average. By going all-in (assuming he steals the pot 60% of the time), he will profit about 800 more chips than he would if he checked. That said, if Hero instead gets called 50% of the time, he starts bleeding money. Knowing roughly how wide the initial limper limps and then calls a 15 big blind all-in will allow you to determine how wide you should go all-in. There is a simple fold equity calculator you can tinker with in the Tools sections at

The flop came AA3, giving Hero a straight flush draw. Everyone checked.

I would have preferred a bet from Hero, perhaps 4,500 into the 7,800 pot, but checking, looking to check-raise all-in if the button bets, is also fine. The turn was the (AA3)-8. The small blind bet 2,000 into the 7,800 pot and Hero called.

This is an interesting situation because if the small blind’s range is somewhat weak, perhaps a pair of 8s and worse, Hero should strongly consider raising. He can either raise to 7,000 with the intention of going all-in on most rivers or go all-in immediately on the turn. Both plays have merit, depending on how Hero expects the opponent to react. Calling is also fine due to Hero’s excellent pot odds. In general, when you have a draw and are not sure how often your opponent will fold to a raise, if you are getting acceptable pot odds, calling is best.

The button folded. The river was the (AA38)-4, giving Hero a weak pair. The small blind checked and Hero bet 5,600 into the 11,800 pot.

I do not like Hero’s river bet. If the small blind has an Ace or 8, he is almost certainly looking to check-call. He may even call with 6-6 or 5-4. While he may also call with a 3, there should not be too many 3s in his range, and even then, he may make a snug fold. This is a situation where Hero is betting what is likely the best hand but will usually only get called when he is beaten. When that is the case, the best play is to check behind. When value betting the river, you need your opponent to call with a worse hand at least 50% of the time, and even more often in a tournament because conserving chips is vitally important. I don’t see Hero getting called by many worse hands in this spot unless the opponent is known to be a calling station. The small blind folded what was presumably the worst hand, giving Hero the pot.