I play my poker a lot differently these days. My operation has switched from high-stakes single tabling to far lower stakes and multi-tabling. So in a way this is going from high-stakes-low overlay-low turnover to low-stakes-higher overlay-higher turnover. This suits me fine and I have no ego to boost by playing high-stakes poker. To me poker is about making money and if I can make as much money multi-tabling lower stakes games without the added stress, then that suits me fine.
In the process of playing lower down, I have noticed that players make mistakes at a far greater frequency and one of those errors is in choosing when to continuation bet. Here is an example of exactly what I mean. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who plays NL100 and he asked for my advice on a simple hand that he sent me. A player limped in the UTG+1 seat and it was folded around to our hero who decided to raise with the Ad-10s in the cut-off. He told me that he didn’t want too much post flop action and was happy to take it down pre-flop. He raised to $5.50 and the button and small blind both folded. The big blind called the raise but after thinking for a while, the original limper folded. The pot was $12.50 and both our hero and the big blind had $100+ stacks. The flop came 9c-5s-2h and the big blind checked. Our hero made a continuation bet of $7.50 and was called. The turn card was another deuce and the big blind checked again, our hero decided to fire a second barrel and made a $20 bet into the $27.50 pot…..it was called again. The river card was the Kc and the big blind checked again. Seeing no possible draws on the board and fearing that another bluff would get looked up, he checked behind and his opponent showed J-J.
This was an unusual way to play J-J, but I feel that this hand highlights the potential problems that players have when deciding to continuation bet or not and whether they should fire a second barrel. Here our hero lost $27.50 post flop and in my mind that could have been avoided.
Firstly, the big blind has seen an early limper and then a raiser enter the pot, yet he has still cold called the raise. For all he knows the limper could be sandbagging so for him to cold call like that he at least has a decent pair or high cards.
Our hero is representing a high card hand or a decent pair. Yet unless our hero is tricky and a LAG then the flop has missed a wide part of his range! The big blind knows this and the highest card on the flop is a nine so any middling pocket pair isn’t going anywhere. Neither are higher pairs and overcards may also call if you continuation bet as well.
When you factor in the possibility that your opponent may not believe your continuation bet and could check-raise you with air then these are all serious pointers for checking the hand back. Checking also confuses your opponent slightly, as he was expecting you to bet.
He does not know that the reason why you are not betting is because you have sensed danger by reading the situation. In his mind he could be thinking that you are checking to induce action on the turn or river. The action of checking saves you money when a bet would surely get called at least. It also allows you to hit your ace or a ten and these may give you a better hand.
In this case hitting a ten would have still left our hero behind but his opponent could have easily been sitting there with two unpaired high cards or a middling pair. If you were to change this situation to one where the big blind folded and the original limper had called then a continuation bet would be more viable.
But the big blind cold calling a raiser and being out of position to that raiser on all future betting rounds indicates a better hand. Then when you factor in that the big blind is also aware of the presence of the limper, the flop texture and the betting action indicates that getting the big blind away from the hand on the flop may be difficult.
Another sad fact about this hand wasn’t that our hero didn’t pay enough attention to the betting actions and what they told him or to the flop texture and how that married in with that, but that he had data on his opponent from his Poker Office telling him just how nitty this big blind actually was. It also goes to show how merely doing the simple things very well in poker can make you money. You must have read countless times about focusing and discipline. Tactical prowess really does come second to the soft playing skills. The answers to the puzzle of making money in poker are always nearer than what you may imagine.