a.) You are playing $1/$2 at your local casino, and you are the effective stack with $300. Your opponent is an elderly gentleman who hasn’t played a hand in the last hour. He is Under the Gun (UTG) and raises to $10. You look down at J♦ J♣ in the Hijack and 3bet to $35. It folds back to your opponent who puts in a massive 4bet to $150. Should you fold, call or raise all in?
Ok, so this one is pretty easy. Even if our opponent was very splashy it would still be a dicey situation with pocket jacks, but given the opponent we are up against we have to look at our relative hand strength. How strong is pocket jacks relatively when facing a UTG 4-bet range from an “Old Man Coffee?” It is pretty clear that he has an incredibly strong hand, and even though JJ is a very strong hand as well, his range should be very tight here, probably QQ+ only. we should definitely find a fold in this situation.
b.) You are playing $2/$5 at the casino, and you are the effective stack with $1000. You look down at 9♦ 9♥ in Middle Position and raise to $20.
The Button and Big Blind make the call.
The Flop is 9♣ 2♦ 8♣ ($62)
Big Blind checks, you c-bet $40 and both players call.
The Turn is the T♣. ($182)
Big Blind checks, you decide to check and Button bets $120. Big Blind calls and you call
The River is the Q♦. ($442)
Big Blind leads for $200.
Should you call, fold or raise all in?
In this hand you have a great starting hand, so you raise and get two callers. The flop is great for you as you flop top set, however the turn and river make the board very connected, with any Jack making a straight along with a flush being made possible on the turn. So just looking at the possibilities on the board, our set isn’t looking so great anymore. Then we have to consider the way the betting went down. You are up against not one, but two opponents who have made it to the river. Not only that, but the Big Blind has bet the river into two players after you bet the flop and the Button bet the turn! Especially at $2/$5, there is hardly any chance that the Big Blind is bluffing here. Both you and the Button have shown strength in this hand, and Big Blind is still betting. Your set of nines has little to no relative value, given the way this situation played out. You have to fold your set.
In both of these examples you had a very strong hand (JJ preflop in example a, top set in example b) and in both examples a fold is the correct decision. We were able to get away because we were able to identify that our hand’s relative strength in the hand was not nearly as strong as it was preflop. The next time you sit down to play and are faced with a tough decision, try to start really breaking down the action in your head. Think about table dynamics, the way that the betting took place, and what possible hands you are beating, as well as what hands are beating you. A great way to solidify this habit is by taking notes on hands during play, to review later. You should make it a goal to write down at least one hand from every session you play to breakdown later. You may find that your relative hand strength was a lot different from what you thought in the moment, and maybe you could have gotten away from that “bad beat” you experienced!