A few weeks ago, I was playing in a $2-$5 no limit cash game at the Wynn. This was a deep stack game with a max buy-in of $1500. I’d bought in for the max and had only played a few hands but was already down to about $1300 when this hand came up…
A player in middle position raised to $20 and the button re-raised to $135. I looked down at pocket threes in the big blind and had a decision to make. I think you could make an argument for all three choices here, with calling being slightly worse than re-raising, and folding being slightly better. In this case though, I had a bit more information than you might usually have. I had noticed that the button hadn’t looked at his cards.
A little bit about this player…he exhibited all the signs of a classic tweaker—twitching like Dennis Rodman when it’s 8:30am and the vodka bottle is dry, itching his face, bouncing in his seat…you get the picture. He was wearing dark, aviator sunglasses and sprawling all over the table like a wet blanket. He was aggressively sniffing like a dog at a fire hydrant. He’d already begun to rack up his chips, his stack well over $2000, no doubt in a rush to get to valet to meet his drug dealer.
So why didn’t he look at his cards?
Not only did he not look at his cards, he didn’t even make the effort to pretend to look at them. They were still out in front of him where the dealer had pitched them, he hadn’t even pulled them in!
Even though his complete lack of concern about the societal convention that dictates a player must at least pretend to look at his cards had me questioning whether I’d actually seen what I thought I’d seen, I convinced myself I was correct, which made re-raising the clear choice. 4-betting here would put tremendous pressure on the original raiser who would certainly have to fold most of his opening range (unless he’d seen what I’d seen, and he knew that I’d also seen it, in which case 5-bet shoving would be the optimal play, but let’s face it, this was $2-$5 no limit, not Poker After Dark, and most of these players have the attention span of a gnat, which is why I was playing in the game to begin with. That, and the fact that my bankroll balance has been tumbling faster than Trump International futures markets, but that’s a story for another blog. Or for my mental health worker.)
So, I re-raised, making it $380, a good size raise that caused the initial raiser to fold rather quickly, and The Tweaker to call rather quickly—without looking at his cards.
Here I am playing a monster pot, out of position, with a player who hasn’t looked at his cards (I’m pretty sure), and I hold 33, a hand that’s almost certainly going to be looking at three overcards on the flop. Not only that, the pot contains about $800, and I have about $950 left in my stack, which means that my postflop play is a little awkward. I can shove on any flop, but with a “P” (stack-to-pot ratio) of about 1.2, shoving here is a little out of whack with regard to risk-reward. What I mean is, with a bet of that size, I usually only get called when I’m beat, and I rarely get a better hand to fold, as a player like The Tweaker is unlikely to fold any pair postflop.
I can also make a standard C-bet of like $400, but that puts me in an awkward spot if I get raised, or I can check, but if I check and he bets, I don’t really have enough to make a raise that will get him to fold any pair. It’s just a really awkward spot, and to be honest, I didn’t think it through very well preflop. I really had expected The Tweaker to look at his cards and fold to my preflop 4-bet most of the time. I didn’t have a plan for the hand if he called, and that’s not a good way to play poker.
As the flop is about to come out, I see The Tweaker peek quickly at his hand, which at this point is worse than if he’d continued to play blind, but doesn’t help my upcoming dilemma. What does help it is flopping good, and the flop is almost as good as I could hope for, K83, for bottom set. The problem is that it’s all clubs. Now, this is a problem not because I think my opponent has two clubs very often, but because if he has just one club then he has pretty decent equity. But now is where things really get interesting.
I’m first to act, and as I’m contemplating my decision, The Tweaker grabs a stack of chips—$500—and shoves them into the pot, betting out of turn. And this is really the point of the blog and what I wanted to discuss.
What do you do when someone bets out of turn?
In most casinos – and in the TDA, rule 38 – action out of turn is binding, providing the action doesn’t change when it reaches the out of turn bettor. That means that as long as I check, his action will stand. If I bet—any amount—he’ll have all of his options open to him.
So what do I do here?
My default play when I have a good hand is just to check and make the bet stand. After all, when you have a big hand and your opponent is going to be forced by rule to put chips in the pot, that’s generally a good thing. But what do you do with your entire range in this spot? In other words, what would I do if I had two red fours, or AQ of hearts here?
Ideally, you want to balance your range by making the same play with all of your hands, but with your bad hands here, and with these stack sizes in particular, what’s the best play? If I check and make his bet stand, am I just giving up? Check-folding? If I bet, isn’t that suspicious to a thinking player? I mean, would I really bet my good hands here, wouldn’t I just check them? Doesn’t that mean he could usually just raise and win in most situations?
Range balancing is important in nearly all poker situations, and I don’t think this is any different, despite the infrequency with which this situation occurs. And, to be honest, I’m surprised at just how often it actually occurs at lower stakes. I also don’t think many of the game’s best players have given this much thought…because it can’t occur online, and only rarely occurs at high stakes. But it’s surprisingly common at lower stakes.
So what is the best play? And could a player exploit this rule as a kind of angle shot if you don’t balance your range?
Take this example:
Let’s say I hold a hand like pocket eights. I’m in position and I’ve been reraised preflop, and I called. The flop comes QT4, and my opponent looks like he’s counting out chips for a bet. This is a somewhat awkward situation. Most of the time I’m calling here because I feel that 88 is ahead of his range, and because in position I can call and see what he does on the turn, allowing myself to make a decision with a bit more information, along with exercising some pot control. But, what if I make it my default play to just lead out here instead?
Let’s say there’s $200 in the pot and I think my opponent will often make a bet of around $120, a bet I’ll have to call. If, instead of waiting for him to bet, I fire out $75, I put him in a strange spot. If he has a hand, he’ll usually check, make my bet stand, and then raise me and I can fold. If he doesn’t have a hand, he’ll usually just shrug, shake his head, and check-fold. When he has a mediocre hand, he might just check-call. With any of those situations, I either win the pot or get some great information, and it’s only if my opponent balances his range that I can be exploited.
I wouldn’t actually make this play because it feels a little dirty. It’s a bit of an angle-shot, albeit a strange and potentially exploitable one. But would The Tweaker make this play as an angle? It surely seems likely, and he didn’t react with anything even resembling surprise when he was told he’d acted out of turn. Knowing smirk would be the most appropriate description of his reaction.
So how do I exploit him instead of being exploited myself?
In this case, which isn’t quite as straightforward as it might seem due to so many more of his hands having equity because of the three clubs on board, I still think it’s clear I check and let his bet stand before shoving in the remainder of my stack. But is it the best play with all my range? I certainly have very little fold equity…my stack is less than double his bet which means he’s only folding his complete air hands. I may then want to bet my nothing hands to create fold equity, but then should I also do the same with my big hands—my sets and flopped flushes—in order to balance my range?
The answer is that I really don’t know. I think I should balance by betting all my hands here and forcing him to change his action, but it feels wrong to give up the equity of the forced bet when I have a made hand.
Here, I took my default action which is to check. His bet of $500 stood, and I quickly moved all-in for $950. The Tweaker shrugged, called my bet, the turn and river was the five of hearts and the six of spades, and he calmly turned over 2-4 offsuit for a runner-runner straight, and scooped the pot, after which he quickly and calmly racked up all of his chips and left the game, no doubt running late for his meeting with his drug dealer.
To be fair, he did have the deuce of clubs.
Have I mentioned how much I love poker? I’ll talk to my therapist about it and get back to you.