I’ve never played poker professionally, but I’ve been around more than my share of pros. The successful ones share an important quality: they are even-keeled. Some professions seem carefully designed to winnow out the weak—being a poker pro is the poster child for that. The game sends you through a sinusoid of highs and lows that will shake even the strongest of egos. If you’re a recreational player, you can just step off the ride for a while and let your stomach settle. But if you’re a pro, and playing is how you eat, then you have to sit down and buckle your seat belt every day.
And play your absolute best poker, even if you vomited the last three days.
If you’re the sort of person whose stomach, heart, or head can’t take that, professional poker is not for you.
Which brings me to my friend, Benton Blakeman. Benton is a mid-stakes pro in Las Vegas, and has been for years. He has a wife and a son and a house and all that other Regular Stuff. Which means that he has learned (and/or is constitutionally suited) to stay sober in the middle of the insanity of big poker games. In fact, one of his frequent comments in our hand history group is, “I have enough variance in my life; I don’t need to add any at the poker table.”
Which is why I was shaking my head in wonderment at a hand Benton just posted. He was in a 10/20 NLHE game in Las Vegas. For extra giggles, they’d added a 20 big-blind ante. I’m not sure of the correct strategic adjustments for such a thing (there’s a topic for an article…) but I think we can agree this is a Big Poker Game.
A recreational player limps in for 20 under-the-gun (UTG), then an action player makes it 180 from the hijack seat (two to the right of the button). It folds to Benton on the button, who calls with Td7d.
Right there, alarm bells went off in my head. Yes, Benton is the pro and I’m not, but T7s seems like a hand that’s just going to get you in trouble when big money goes in. Well, they are 11k effective—over 500 big blinds. If anybody is willing to put 500 big blinds into the pot, it will be rare that T7 feels great about the situation. But as played…
The big blind calls, the limper calls, and off we go. Just four to a flop for nine big blinds each—the year 2005 called and asked for its game back.
Benton wins the lottery with a flop of TsTc3c. Now he’s got trips with a, um, suboptimal kicker.
The action checks to him, and he bets 340 into a pot of 750. The big blind folds, and now the UTG player check-raises to 940 (!). The preflop raiser folds and it’s back to Benton. We could debate whether he should re-raise or call here, but that’s not the point—he decides to call.
With 2670 in the pot, the turn is the 6s. The villain bets 2200. At this point, you can make a reasonable argument for any of the three options available to Benton (poker is a fascinating game, isn’t it?). Benton calls again.
Now there’s 7070 in the pot, and the river is the Kd. The villain bets 40% of the pot—2800.
This is where Benton left us all hanging, as he should. “Now what?” he asked. Some of us felt if he was going to come this far with that hand, he needed to call now. That is, if he wasn’t going to call on this blank river, he shouldn’t have gotten to this point in the first place. Others, myself included, thought that by the time we got here, Benton was beating pretty much nothing. Furthermore, that bet sizing screams, “Please pay me more money!” Especially from a recreational player. So we thought a fold was in order. Many of us thought Benton was likely to be shown a ten with a better kicker (QT, JT, T9).
After a bunch of us had weighed in, Benton wrote, “So I made a disciplined fold because I beat nothing. He then showed me 9c8c. I normally move past hands quickly. I’m still texting friends and calling people about this one.”
Here’s my advice to Benton (like I should be giving poker advice to a mid-high stakes Vegas pro)—let this one go, like all the others. Sometimes you make a good laydown, and it was one of the times the villain was bluffing, and he rubs salt in the wound by showing you. That doesn’t make it a bad fold.
A couple of people in the group had done combinatorial analysis to figure out what hands the villain could have, but I had a warning to them:
“Btw, those of you doing combo analysis, don't forget you can't give the same weight to his bluffs that you do to his value combos, especially given the sizing. For every value hand he bets 2800 into 7k, he might have .5 or .3 bluffs per combination. Don't forget that as you figure pot odds. Furthermore, it's rewarding that he showed 9c8c. That's one of his obvious bluffs so our analysis is probably correct. If he'd shown something whacky then maybe we were supposed to call. But he's allowed to have some bluffs and just because he was bluffing this time doesn't make it a call. I think it's a good bluff and a good fold.”
As I wrote above, Benton is a consummate pro, who has provided for himself and his family for years playing poker. One of the main reasons he is successful is he lets hands like this go once they’re over. I was surprised to see his angst over this one. All the analysis suggested he wasn’t getting the right price to call. That doesn’t mean he’ll never be shown a bluff—in fact, this is one of those times.
But don’t fall into the Results Trap. Suppose Benton had a sworn affidavit that the villain was value betting 90% of the time, and bluffing 10% of the time. Should he call? No. Suppose he folds and the villain shows him 9-high. Should he have called? No.
By the time this article gets published, Benton will have forgotten this hand and will be back crushing the mid-high stakes games in Las Vegas. Be like Benton and don’t fall into the Results Trap.
Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.