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The Debate: On the first hand ...

12/1/2008

The beauty of poker is that 10 players could play the same hand 10 different ways. Granted, most of us would raise with aces preflop, but the amounts might be different. Or maybe the way we would play them against different opponents would change our respective strategies.

Although the debate may have been on a hiatus recently, the number of hands that have given many of us headaches have still continued to pour in. Brian Kornfeld, the 126th-place finisher in the 2006 WSOP main event joins me for this week's debate.

Leave your feedback on this week's debate below and your response could be featured in the next debate column. You can also suggest a hand and be featured in a future article.

Let the debate begin. ...

Situation: Our hero has just sat down at a deep stack tournament in which the starting stacks are $5000 with 30-minute levels and blinds beginning at $25/$50.

As players were still taking their seats, the first hand was dealt and only four players were part of the action. The small blind was a dead stack at the time.

The first player to act folded, and the second player in middle position raised to $150. Our hero, sitting in the cutoff, has Ad-Jd.

Feldman: You know how much I love A-J suited. We know very little about our opponents here, but with such a big starting stack and a great structure, I'm inclined to call the raise and see a flop. We know we have position given the dead stack on the button, and I'm willing to throw these few chips into the pot.

Kornfeld: The ranges are very wide, being that it's a shorthanded table and the first level, and while sometimes I would consider a medium reraise here to take control of the pot in position, it's the first hand. Let's hope hero decides to play a small pot.

Action: Hero calls, as does the big blind. The flop is 10d-8d-3d.

Kornfeld: Can you say Yahtzee?

Feldman: Yahtzee.

Hero just hit the nut flush and should be off to a great start in this tournament. I don't want to be aggressive too early here and would probably check the action if it makes it around to me.

Action: Both players check to hero.

Kornfeld: Maybe hero could throw a small bet in here, but even someone with a 10 and no diamond probably won't call. The only thing I can really expect to be called by is someone with the king of diamonds, maybe like K-10.

Feldman: Can hero really entice a call if he bets here? Unless his opponents are playing J-9 or 10-8, the hand would end here with a bet. If someone did have one of those two hands, or even a set, wouldn't he bet out to protect his holdings? I'm not sure that any player who hit this flop (besides the nut flush) would want to see a free card when another diamond could hit.

Kornfeld: I agree. I think by checking, hero can enable a player holding a weak 10 or an 8 to think his hand is good and maybe get lucky and have him hit a second pair on the turn. I think later in a tournament, with an aggressive image, I would lead out here, but in the first hand, I'd sit on the flush and wait for someone to hopefully catch up a bit to pay me off.

Action: Hero checked and the turn was the 10c.

Feldman: I don't love this card, but at the same time I think it might help hero. If by a random chance one of the other players hit a set on the flop, he has just filled up and could have me crushed. Given the lack of betting postflop, I won't rule this out. At the same time, if either player had hit top pair and was worried about his hand, he would probably feel a little more comfortable now and might send some chips hero's way.

Action: The big blind led out for $375 and the initial raiser folded.

Kornfeld: I actually think this is a good card for hero. On an all-suited flop, it's highly unlikely the big blind was holding 10-8 or a set. It's also highly unlikely he is sitting on a big 10 like A-10, K-10 or even Q-10, as he would've wanted to find out where he stood postflop. I still am 99.999 percent sure hero has the best hand here, but now I am guessing my opponent, unless he is on a stone-cold bluff, has outs. I actually think he probably just has an 8 and is betting out thinking he has the best hand, but it's possible he is holding a hand like J-10, 10-9, or 10-7 suited (having ruled out 10-8 earlier).

Feldman: What would this player have called with from the big blind at this point in the tournament? I think almost any small suited gapper, pocket pair or two face cards. I think that he has hit trips here and now wants to protect his hand with a bet. I agree that hero is most likely ahead in this hand, but I think we need to give our opponents a little more respect moving forward. We don't know anything about our competition, but what we do know is that with his bet, he has a hand at this point and isn't just bluffing away chips. That said, I don't think he wants us out either, given the bet size. I think that if he thought either player was drawing, he'd overbet the pot. I'd raise in this spot and have him define his hand.

Kornfeld: I really feel like if I raise here, the hand is over, unless he is holding a 10 in his hand or a baby flush. If he is holding a 10 though, he will pay me off on the river, so I think the best course of action is to call his bet, wait to see if the board double-pairs, play the hand like I have a flush draw and drop the hammer on the river if the board doesn't double-pair.

Feldman: So you have minimal concern that he has a made hand already and that it might cost you on the river? If he does have a full house here, you're drawing dead, so why don't you raise and see if you can save what seems to be an inevitable all-in shove at this point?

Kornfeld: A raise here establishes hero's hand as strong, but one of three things is going to happen:

1. He has a 10 and goes all-in. I call, and he is drawing to a full house.

2. He has a made full house and goes all-in. I call and I lose.

3. He has an 8 or is just taking a stab at the pot, and he folds.

If he has trips, hero will get all his chips on the river shove anyway, so why not wait and see if the board double-pairs or if a scare card comes out on the river? With a flush on a paired board, I like to proceed cautiously because he is sitting on probably 8 outs, and most of them are obvious outs (like an 8). I think by raising here, I am opening myself up to winning a small pot or losing a big pot, whereas by calling I am more likely to lose a small pot and win a big pot.

Feldman: I still don't like the flat call here. What if a scare card comes on the river? What do you do then? I'd rather see the hand end here and win a smaller pot than go bust on the first hand if I know that there was a chance to get away from my flush.

Kornfeld: If a scare card hits the river, I can just call his river bet (which is inevitably coming) if I believe it is possible that I am ahead. If I feel like I am beat I can, of course, fold to a river bet. Just because I have a monster hand does not mean I cannot get away from it. Hero needs to be that disciplined. As I said, by calling here I am attempting to win a big pot or lose a small one.

Action: Hero called. The river was the Ah.

Feldman: As weird as this sounds, that ace should be a big blank -- unless he has A-10, which is very doubtful. I think this is a good card for hero, who will most certainly have to wait for a bet from the big blind.

Action: The big blind instantly bets out $1,100.

Feldman: A good-sized bet here. I'm now in a tough spot where I'm almost positive that hero is ahead and should probably reraise all-in, but hesitant that the 10 that paired on the turn could've been hero's downfall. I honestly think all of hero's chips are going into the center here.

Kornfeld: The ace is a good card for hero. As I said earlier, I think that with a hand like A-10, the opponent would have led out the flop. The fact that he bet so quickly makes me believe he had a hand strong enough to bet on the river, but not strong enough to feign any weakness.

With the board the way it is and a non-scare card coming on the river, I would usually just call a river bet in position. I do not feel like this is a hand in which hero will only get called if he is beat. I believe the opponent will call hero with any 10, and on the odd chance he has a hand like A-8, he still may pay me off, putting me on a missed flush draw.

Feldman: I definitely agree with you in the fact that our opponent will call hero with trip 10s with just about any kicker. If we reflect on the way hero played this hand postflop, hero has represented a flush and perhaps an all-in here would give off an "I know I can only win this hand by being aggressive" vibe. If he had hero on the flush draw, he'll call the shove.

Kornfeld: I do like a raise here, but now the question is how much. All-in seems like a strong bet, but being that this is the first hand, a lot of players like to play survival and won't call off all their chips without the nuts. Additionally, in the event he does have a full house, not going all-in can save my tournament life as well. I think hero should raise to about $3,000, which is a lot more likely to be called with a hand like ace-8. Your thoughts on a value bet?

Feldman: OK, so now you raise to $3,000 and are left with $1,475. Are you going to fold to a reraise here? I agree that we're trying to get value, so maybe a little more than a minimum raise might fit the bill, but I think an all-in shove is more likely to be seen as a bluff. And as you mentioned, a weaker hand might call. If we're afraid of a full house, we should've just called his river bet, right?

Kornfeld: If he reraises all-in, I probably have to fold and leave myself with more than 25 big blinds. I think I left myself with more questions than answers, but believing I have the best hand here, I am expecting him to call or fold. I am not afraid enough of a full house to just call his river bet. There are way too many hands that he would pay me off with on the river that aren't a full house.

Feldman: So what is the magical bet in which you reraise him and if he comes over the top, you fold but still leave yourself with a ton of play?

Kornfeld: $3,250. I figure this number would be most likely to be called, optimizing hero's value, while still giving him a chance to come back on the odd chance that he was beat.

So what happened?: Hero raised to $3,100. His opponent immediately threw all of his chips in the pot, then flipped over A-10, without declaring a raise or a call. Seeing he was beat, hero folded his hand and saved his last chips.

Feldman: What a major mistake of not realizing the bet sizes on the table. It saved hero his final chips and the pain of making a very tough decision.

Kornfeld: In retrospect, hero could have called his river bet, but in the long run, I believe hero was not maximizing value by just calling, because more often than not, he's ahead and will be getting paid off. However, by not going all-in on the river, his tournament life was saved. It would have been a tough choice facing that final river bet, but given the situation, hero probably would have folded to that bet on the river.

What would you do if you were in this situation? Leave your comments below and we'll take a look at your thoughts next time.