While in Las Vegas last month, I found some time to play in a pretty good $2-$5 hold’em game at the Venetian. This particular hand was one of the more interesting I played that day.
I was in the small blind with 9s-6c. I mentally prepared to fold; almost all of the hands at this table were raised pre-flop. Calling with 9s-6c for a raise from the small blind is a good way to separate your money from your wallet and that didn’t appeal to me.
However, five of the ten players at the table limped and I decided to toss in the additional $3. This wasn’t a great hand, but it would be easy to get away from if the flop missed me. The big blind checked his option, so seven of us saw the flop.
The flop was 8d-7d-2h, giving me a straight draw. I elected to check. While I could bet my draw, I thought that with a flush draw possible it would be best to see what was going on. My friend Scott bet $10 from middle position and the button called.
I considered raising as a semi-bluff, but all I had is a draw. Perhaps I could represent a flush draw, too. But what did Scott hold? While he is more than capable of bluffing it’s just not likely when he’s facing six opponents. He might have a straight draw, a high flush draw, or two pair. I gave him one of these hands, or perhaps a combo draw like Ad-2d. I put the button on a similar hand, or possibly just hoping he could take the pot away on the turn. I elected to call.
The turn was the delightful 5's giving me the nuts. I decided to check, and Scott bet $35. The button quickly folded. I could call, but I believed that Scott had a made hand.
I’ve been observing Scott’s play for years. The pot was $40 ($4 had been taken for the rake) and Scott had bet nearly the full pot. Scott has the tendency to make full pot bets with made hands. That gave him a range of 8-8, 7-7, 2-2, 8-7, 10d-9d, and possibly an over-pair like K-K. The latter was most unlikely: Scott rarely over-limps (calls other limpers) with over-pairs.
I decided to raise to $90 and Scott called. The river was the 10f. Given the range I had put Scott on, his hand didn’t change. I also needed to consider the range Scott put me on. He knows I’m capable of bluffing with a draw, and the most visible draw was a flush draw. Most players have a hard time visualizing non-connector straight draws; it was unlikely Scott considered 9-6 to be in my range. He probably considered my range to similar to his, with the addition of some diamond draws and perhaps the bottom-end straight draws (6-5) that hit a pair on the turn.
I decided to make a half-pot bet ($115), and after a moment’s hesitation Scott made the call. He later told me he had 8-7.
The key to this hand was observing my opponent and being able to hand read. Take the time when you’re not in a hand—which should be most of your hands—to pay attention to what your opponents actually hold; soon you should be able to successfully put your opponents on their range of hands. Yes, I got lucky and hit my hand, but luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Russell Fox is the co-author of “Mastering No-Limit Hold’em,” “Why You Lose at Poker,” and “Winning Strategies for No-Limit Hold’em.” He’s a federally licensed tax preparer specializing in gambling, with a blog at taxabletalk.com. E-mail Russ at firstname.lastname@example.org