YO-YO MA’S BIG HAND

There’s nothing like an interesting poker hand to get my attention. This is one played by my friend Yo-Yo Ma in a 10/20 no-limit hold’em game, and I had questions and thoughts about literally every street.

The set-up: Yo-Yo is in middle position with Td9d. He said in his hand history they were 3,000 “effective”.

A BRIEF DETOUR ON EFFECTIVE STACKS

If anybody ever starts describing a poker hand to you, but doesn’t mention the stack sizes of the relevant players, stop them right there. The number of chips available to be won or lost is vitally important and trying to analyze a hand without that information is pointless.

Also note my use of the phrase “effective.” That means that the shortest relevant stack was 3,000. If I have 3,000, then it doesn’t matter if you have 3,000 or 30,000—either way the most we can play for is my 3,000. So, in such a pot, we can simply say that you and I are, “3,000 effective.”

BACK TO THE HAND

Again, the blinds are 10 and 20, Yo-Yo chooses to open to 70. I probably wouldn’t open ten-nine suited in middle position, but whatever—Yo-Yo’s a good player and can get himself out of jams.

Now the button 3-bets to 240, which is not wonderful. Yo-Yo himself acknowledged this was a light open, and now he’s looking at a decision to fold and forfeit his 70, or call and play a big pot out-of-position (“OP”) with a marginal hand (4-betting here would be nigh on suicide).

But then something unexpected happens—the small blind (“SB”) jumps in and calls the 240 cold. I’ll say right now, I don’t much like SB’s play—I’m not sure there’s a single hand they should do that with. If they have a very strong hand (let’s say QQ or better and maybe AK) they should just put in a cold 4-bet and see if they can get stacks in preflop. Calling there invites the original raiser (Yo-Yo in this case) to call, and now he has to play an already-bloated pot OP against two opponents. Finally, there’s always the danger that Yo-Yo will wake up with a monster, put in the 4-bet himself, and now the SB has no alternative but to fold.

The action is back on Yo-Yo. Had the SB not called, you could make a compelling argument for folding immediately. In fact, I argued that in our hand discussion group. But another poster said, “The SB calling changes everything,” and he was right. Yo-Yo is getting great pot odds to call, and he’s closing the action. If he truly smashes the flop, he can check, let the preflop 3-bettor bet, maybe trap the SB, then drop a big check-raise on them both.

He had written, “I don't necessarily think my preflop call of the 3B from OOP is absolutely horrible given the game dynamics, but looking for feedback there.” Maybe he was alluding to the SB coming into the pot, but whatever; after the discussion I was persuaded his preflop call was fine.

WE HIT THE FLOP. SORTA.

There’s 740 in the pot when Yo-Yo makes top pair with a flop of Td-8s-2c. SB checks, Yo-Yo checks, and Button bets the full pot—740. SB folds and it’s back on our hero.

Well, the SB folding is good. Had they called, it would be difficult for Yo-Yo to overcall.

But with the SB gone, Yo-Yo has an obligatory call. I learned this from Ed Miller, whose writing about no-limit hold’em—and poker in general—is just plain correct. Ed’s point about calling 3-bets is that if you just call then play “fit-or-fold” after the flop, savvy opponents will continue-bet (“c-bet”) you into oblivion. That is, if you call the 3-bet then fold if you don’t smash the flop, the 3-bettor can show a profit by betting any two cards—you just don’t smash the flop often enough to prevent that.

Yo-Yo’s top pair is far more than necessary to continue with the hand. Also he can pick up an open-end straight draw with a 7 or a jack, but that’s icing on the cake. The full pot-size bet is a bit concerning, but this is the situation Yo-Yo has gotten himself into, and there’s no quitting yet.

As we say in the Appalachian hills, “You dance with the girl what brung ya.”

THEN WE TURN A MIRACLE.

The turn, with 2220 in the pot, is indeed a miracle—a ten—making the board Td-8s-2c-Tc, and giving Yo-Yo trips.

Yo-Yo had plans of dropping a sneaky check-raise on the turn, so he checked, but Button didn’t comply, and checked behind.

Actually, I didn’t like Yo-Yo’s plan to check-raise. As I posted in our discussion group, I wanted him to bet out on the turn. Here’s why:

  1. Against savvy book-reading villains, you lead because you know they know that card favors you and not them. Thus, they will not fold because they know what shenanigans you're up to (even though it's not shenanigans). It's even possible an over-educated player will level themselves into calling with AK, drawing stone dead.
  2. Against weak opposition, they're always looking at AA, KK, QQ, or JJ. That's a Big Pair and they just don't fold Big Pairs, especially not for that price.
  3. Turn check-raises are notoriously strong. Some players could get away from overpairs against such a play, which would be disastrous for our hero. Conversely, a bet-bet line might get two disbelieving calls.
  4. You risk exactly what happened—the villain checking behind you.

It can be very tempting to spring the Big Trap when you hit a card like this, but I believe it is almost always correct to just bet out, then plan to bet again on the river. In Yo-Yo’s case, a bet just shy of half pot—1000—sounds right. That would offer better than 3:1 pot odds to the villain, who would be hard-pressed to fold an overpair for that price. But they’d be drawing to a rare 2-outer. If the villain calls the 1000, then there’s 3200 in the pot, with 1200 behind. Now Yo-Yo bombs the river for that 1200, and the overpairs will see that they’re getting almost 4:1, and shrug-call.

THE RIVER IS A VERY GOOD CARD.

The river was an off-suit queen, so the board ran out Td-8s-2c-Tc-Qd. Yo-Yo asked, “What kind of value are we going for on the river, given we weren't able to check-raise the turn?

Here’s the answer I posted:

Before you bet, you need to decide if you're willing to get broke against QQ. I think you should, and here's why: there are three QQs left, but 12 AA and KK. And there are 12 AQs left. I believe that within the field of that game, most villains will put in their stack with any of those hands. We have to discount the AQs because maybe it’s less likely that they bet full pot on the flop with that. So let's discount those by 50%, call it 6 combinations. So, 18 hands that we stack, and 3 hands that stack us.

Rip the whole thing, and plan to get all of the villain’s chips.

I said above that the river was a very good card. That’s because it brought in 12 more AQ combinations that I felt would pay off a shove.

AS PLAYED…

After all the discussion, which Yo-Yo correctly waited to die down, he posted this, “Cool. I bet 900 on the river and got snap-called by KK.”

So many takeaways from this hand…

One thing I got to wondering: suppose I was in Yo-Yo’s shoes, and the turn was a complete blank. Would I call another bet? Suppose the turn is a blank, we both check, and the river is another blank. Do I bet? Do I check? If I check and the villain bets half pot, do I call?

When you play 3-bet pots OP with marginal hands, you’re going to find yourself in some awkward situations—be ready for them.

Thank you to my friend Yo-Yo Ma for a fascinating hand discussion, and congratulations on winning a monster.


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.