Deciding when to slow play
This hand illustrates a common mistake that small stake no-limit hold’em cash game players make on a regular basis. With blinds at $1/$3 with a $300 effective stack, an unknown player called $3 from the cutoff. The player on the button, we will refer to him as Hero, called as well. Both blinds elected to see a cheap flop.
While I am fine with Hero’s preflop limp, I would usually raise in this spot, especially if I thought the cutoff’s limp was a sign of weakness. From late position, almost all players raise with the best hands, meaning that when they limp, they usually have marginal hands. While Ac-5c is not too far ahead of the cutoff’s range, taking the initiative and applying aggression will allow Hero to steal the pot on flops where both players fail to improve.
The flop came 4d-3c-2s. The small blind checked and the big blind, another unknown player, bet $7 into the $12 pot. Only Hero called.
I am not a fan of the flop call. When playing with 100 big blind stacks in limped pots, it is mandatory that you raise with your best hands in order to build the pot such that you can reasonably get your entire stack (or most of your stack) in by the river. If the pot on the flop was larger (because there was a preflop raise), calling would be acceptable. Notice how the money will likely go in when Hero just calls the flop. On the turn, the big blind may bet $18 into the $26 pot and on the river, he may be $32 into the $62 pot. That leaves a large amount of unused money in Hero’s stack. If Hero raises the flop to $20 and the big blind calls, he can then bet $40 on the turn and $100 on the river, getting much more money in the pot. Of course, raising may result in everyone folding and Hero winning a tiny pot, but that is the risk you have to take if you want to be able to play large pots with your best hands. One additional benefit to your opponents folding to flop raises is that you can start mixing in semi-bluffs with hands like 7-5 and Jc-Tc.
The turn was the (4d-3c-2s)-9d. The big blind bet $20 into the $26 pot and Hero called.
While I despise the flop call, I merely dislike the turn call because in small stakes games, turn raises are primarily made by players who have premium hands. As on the flop, Hero’s goal should be to play for all his money. By just calling, he makes it nearly impossible to get his stack in on the river. Again notice that if Hero raises the turn to $55, he can then reasonably bet $110 on the river, which would be a fine result. Do not develop the costly habit of slow playing your strong hands.
The river was the (4d-3c-2s-9d)-Qc. The big blind checked, Hero bet $45 into the $66 pot, and the big blind called. Hero thrilled to win the $156 pot.
I am fine with this bet on the river. There are numerous hands that can call a sizable value bet, making a large bet the best option. Going back to my flop and turn complaints, by only calling on those streets, Hero missed out on an additional $60 or more on the river. While many players are happy whenever they win a nice pot, they should instead by asking if there was a realistic way to win more. In this situation, raising the flop would have likely led to an even larger victory for Hero.
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