I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and to my surprise my good friend Nick showed up. Over an early dinner at the Venetian's Asia Noodle restaurant we discussed a couple of interesting hands he played.
The first comes from a $2 - $5 blinds cash game. This particular casino offered a Mississippi Straddle (to $10) for the button or the under-the-gun player. If you straddled on the button you had last action, and straddling, as a result, was almost always the correct decision from that spot. Nick straddled from the button on this hand. After everyone folded to Nolan-an excellent and tricky player-he raised to $35 from middle position. Everyone folded around to Nick who looked down at J(S) J(C) and elected to call.
I like Nick's call. He'll have position throughout the hand, and he's disguised the strength of his hand. Nick defended his straddle most of the time, so he also could represent a variety of hands. Both Nick and Nolan started this hand with about $1,000.
The flop was K(D) Q(D) J(D) giving Nick bottom set. Nolan bet about half the pot, $40, and Nick was faced with a quandary. He knew that Nolan would make a continuation bet on almost every hand. Unfortunately, Nick also knew that Nolan could have hit this flop too and might be way ahead of him. Nick raised to $120 for two reasons. He might have been far ahead of Nolan on this hand, or he could obtain some more information from him. Nolan called after a momentary hesitation.
The turn was the KS giving Nick bottom full house. Instead of the expected check by Nolan-the normal action given Nick's raise-Nolan bet $135. As Nick said over dinner, "This smelled like ace-king, probably with the diamond ace." Nolan's call of Nick's flop raise indicated that he had a real hand. "I put him on AA, AK, KK, QQ, KQ, or A(D)x," Nick told me. "I thought I had about 2-to-1 odds on him, so I decided to shove. He looked pained for a moment but called, and flipped A(D) K(H). I was about an 80 percent favorite, but the Q(C) came on the river."
I complemented Nick on his read, and getting his money in with the best of it. "That's the beauty of cash games," Nick said to me, "Over the long run I'll win a lot of money on hands like that. And an orbit or two later I got to see a flop from my straddle with 8-3, flopped a full house, and tripled up. Both my opponents slow-played overpairs and didn't hit their two-outers. "Now if I had been playing one of those $1,500 tournaments and that first hand had happened to me, I'd be out and really on tilt. It sure takes a long time to hit the long run in tournaments, or at least it does for me." I replied, "Yeah, but I played in one of those tournaments, and made it through into the money."
"But didn't you tell me," Nick replied, "that while your mean (average) result is positive your median (most likely) result is negative in tournaments?" "That's true, but where else can you win a huge prize-first place in that tournament was over $600,000, after all."
Nick had the last word. "Yes, but you spend twelve hours playing just to make the money. I'll take the way of the tortoise every time and stick to cash games where both my mean and median results have been positive."
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