It was the best of poker, it was the worst of poker.
CHAPTER 1—THE FIRST TWO ACES
I was in a live 3/5 NLHE game at a local card club. There was an under-the-gun straddle to 10. The villain in this scene opened to 40, and it folded to me in the hijack seat. I looked at my cards and two red aces peeked back at me. I made it 135 to go. Not surprisingly, the action folded back to the original villain, whom I shall call Evrémonde. He thought for a while, and then called. We had started with effective stacks of 1300—he covered me.
With 285 in the pot, the flop was a lovely 7-7-2 rainbow. He checked, and I bet 90—I was happy to have him call with pretty much anything. And he did, indeed, call.
There was 465 in the pot when we saw another deuce on the turn, bringing a flush draw. He checked again, and I sized up a bit, planning to go for the rest of his stack on the river. I bet 300.
We didn’t have to wait for the river to go for stacks—Evrémonde announced that he was all-in. Well, that escalated quickly. I had invested 525, and had to call another 775 to win 1825. I was getting 2.4:1, and thus needed 30% equity to call.
Under normal circumstances, I would snap fold. When a villain check-raises the turn for a monster shove like that, you’re not good 30% of the time. You’re lucky if you’re good 10% of the time. If Evrémonde had a seven or a deuce, I had two whole outs—there was no point in thinking about catching up.
Furthermore, I was as sure as a poker player can be that he wasn’t bluffing.
“So, Lee, why the delay? He’s not bluffing, you have two outs. Fold.”
Well. I said, “under normal circumstances.” These were distinctly not normal circumstances. I had been playing with Evrémonde for the last couple of hours. While I was “sure” he wasn’t bluffing, I wasn’t at all sure he wasn’t over-valuing a worse hand. He had raised preflop, so he could hold all the pairs 88-KK. And I had seen a handful of pots where he’d done just that—overvalue good hands when the betting should have told him he was up against a better hand. I thought it was possible—perhaps likely—he was making that move with any Broadway pair. Which I had in dire shape.
Which brings me to a conversation we were having in my poker hand discussion group. One of our smartest members, DavidT, described an Ed Miller video he’d just watched (hint: Ed Miller is always correct). Ed talked about the idea of “maximum adjustment to minimum theoretical error.” That is, if your opponent strays from theoretically correct the least little bit, the correct theoretical response is to slam against the far wall of reaction. This is what Nate Meyvis, of Thinking Poker, calls, “If they move an inch, we move a mile.”
DavidT and I had a great exchange about Ed’s video and its implications.
That conversation was running through my mind as I considered my options (which, to be fair, were binary). I had seen this guy grossly overvalue hands. While he certainly could have a seven or a deuce, he could also have TT, think it was the nuts, and he was protecting against AK. Again, with no knowledge of my opponent, I would be sure he had either a deuce or seven. But my prior experience with Evrémonde told me he didn’t need a hand that strong. If he was over-valuing his hands a little bit, then my correct response was to call with all hands that beat over-valued hands. Aces definitely fit that bill.
I called. He had 7d6d, giving him a full house, and me a two-outer, which didn’t get there.
I reloaded and went back to work. Over the next 90 minutes, I grinded my stack back up to 1600.
CHAPTER 2—THE SECOND TWO ACES
Evrémonde opened to 40 over a 10 straddle. It was folded to me; I looked at my cards and two black aces peeked back at me.* This is where I made an egregious error. I raised to 75. Don’t ask me why I made that mistake (the correct raise would be to 135 or so). I could come up with reasons, but none that make actual sense. It was just a brain-fade.
Furthermore, we were about to have a pot-twist. The dealer said, “75 is not a legal raise.” What? Evrémonde’s raise was 30 more than the straddle – my (mis-click) 3-bet was 45 more than his raise. After some discussion, the floorman came over. It turns out that in this club (and nowhere else I’ve ever been) a raise must be to twice the previous bet, not at least as large as the previous raise.
Fortunately for me, the floorman ruled that my raise must be to exactly 80 – that is, it still stood as a 3-bet. This caused one of the better players at the table to call the 80 cold from the button. I thought to myself, “Well Lee, you’ve stepped in it now. You’re about to play aces in a three-way bloated pot, stuck between a crazy guy and a tough player. All because of your stupid raise sizing.”
They say the universe looks after fools and children. I’m no child, but…
Evrémonde quietly re-arranged his bet to include a bunch of black 20 chips.
“220,” said the dealer. I try hard not to make a mistake the second time within a minute of making it the first time.
I looked at his stack—it was about the same as mine. I wanted to leave a pot-sized bet behind when we hit the flop so I could get the rest in then.
“510 please,” said I. No mis-click this time, as I slid out the chips.
The first good news came from the tough player on the button. “Obviously, I got into the wrong pot,” he said, as he folded.
Evrémonde was not happy about this. “I guess I call.” and he put out calling chips. But we weren’t done with the pot-twists.
The dealer pulled the chips in, burned, put the flop cards face down on the table, and…
Evrémonde said, “I’m all-in.” There’s no way he could have seen the flop cards.
Dealer: “You’re all-in?”
Riddle me this: if you found yourself in my situation, is there any flop you’d fold? K-Q-J monotone of a suit you didn’t have? I was struggling to figure out what to do next, but by this point, the dealer had the flop face-up on the table. It was queen-high, which might not have been great, but it was monotone clubs, and I had the ace of clubs.
I immediately said, “I call,” and turned up my aces.
The dealer ran out a blank board. Evrémonde stood up, said, “You got me back,” flashed pocket jacks to the table, and walked away. We quickly counted down the stacks to be sure that I had him covered—I did, but by less than 100.
You know the first thing I thought when I saw those jacks? “Man, I feel good about that previous call with the aces.”
It was the best of poker—I made a good decision in a tough situation. And the worst of poker—I made an inexcusable bet-sizing error, but got away with it because of my opponent’s recklessness.
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.
* I’m going to write a book called, “Two Aces, Four Aces, Red Aces, Black Aces.”