If you feel like your opponent is on a draw don’t make a small raise with awkward stacks to feel like you have to call on the river when it gets there
I got into a great spot last week in a Commerce $5-10 $1500 cap game because of a huge raise-sizing mistake my opponent made on the turn. Effective stacks were $1100 and an under the gun raiser opened the pot for $50. This guy was very tight and this normally indicated a very strong hand from early position. I was in MP1 and called with T♣ 8♣ as both the raiser and I had over $2000. The small blind, who is the villain in this hand, also called with the $1100. This guy was a middle-aged gentleman and was obviously a recreational player there to just blow off some steam. We took the flop three ways to a board of 9♠ 6♠ 2♣. The small blind checked, the under the gun raiser thought for a bit and also checked and I thought that this was a good spot to take a stab at the pot. I knew that almost 100% of the time the UTG player would bet an overpair and deduced that he most likely had AK. I also knew that if I could get the small blind to fold his hand there was a very good chance that I would win the pot. I also thought that even if the small blind called, unless he was slowplaying something big, he would have a very difficult time calling future bets on the turn due to the good chance that he either had a draw or at best a nine. I bet out $110. The small blind thought for a bit and called and the preflop raiser folded. The turn brought in the J♦ giving me an open ended straight draw. With the pot being now being about $375, he checked and I bet $280. At this point he put on a bit of an act, fiddled with his chips and raised to $600 total. This left him with just under $350 left in his stack.
These types of bet-sizing patterns from recreational players usually mean the same type of thing—a gigantic hand. If he was trying to make a move with a check raise semi bluff on the turn he would be much more likely to just go all-in to maximize his fold equity. Also, if he had a hand like J♠ X♠ he would either only call or “just go with it”. It would be extremely rare for him to min raise and leave money behind in his stack. This small turn raise usually represents at least J9 in this situation but most likely should be interpreted as a set. His sizing and his remaining stack opened the door for a great +ev situation for me. Because the pot was so big and he had so little left it would be almost impossible for him to fold the river no matter what appeared and he basically allowed me to take a free shot at the rest of his money. Let us take a look at the math. After his check raise the pot was $1255, $320 for me to call. But this is a great example of why draws can be powerful as I also had the implied odds of the money behind.
In actuality, we can look at this situation as me calling $320 to win $1255+$350 for a total of $1605. Getting over 5-1 with my eight out draw I was priced into making the call just as long as I always thought I would get the rest of his stack, which I certainly did in this scenario. You see my opponent would be getting what I call extreme “reverse pot odds” at the end. After I made the call on the turn the pot would be $1575. If he checked and I moved him in for his last $350 the pot would lay him $1925 for $350 or almost 5.5-1. No recreational player is going to find a fold there with two pair or a set especially when my draw is somewhat hidden. This spot is actually one of the advantages in having a straight draw versus a flush draw because not only are the completing cards not that obvious but we do not have to worry about the board pairing, making our hand and losing. Sure enough the river came the Q♣ and my opponent open shoved into me. I quickly called and he was rather disgusted by my hand as he tabled a set of sixes. He could not believe how “lucky I had gotten” and “how bad I played”. I do not really blame the guy for being that upset. Most recreational players hate taking what they think to be bad beats and lot of them do not get their money in good in large pots that often. Of course, he did not get his money in a good even though it appeared to him as if I had made a bad call.
There is another reason why I have a problem with his small raise size on the turn besides the fact that he priced me in with the implied odds of the situation. If I am betting say TT or A9 on the turn for value his sizing screams like he has a big hand even more so than if he had moved all-in. So why would he want me to fold out all of my weaker made hands and only continue with my draws? It is the approach to the game that a lot of recreational players take that is just flat out wrong. We do not flop big hands all that often in Holdem and sometimes players think that they want to “win some money” by playing their hands tricky. To winning NL players if you wait until a later street to make a small raise on a drawy board you look super strong. You are not doing yourself any favors by basically opening your hand face up. In these types of situation it is much better to play your hand fast for deception. Now obviously if he had raised check raised the flop I would have just folded and he would have only won my bet. However, even if he chose to wait until the turn to make his play, he should not made it look so obvious that he had a big hand and also he should calculate the situation correctly with regards to the pot and his awkward stack size.
Whenever I talk about this topic with some of my private students or on my training material over at CrushLivePoker.com I usually say that if you are not going to be able to fold on the river because of bloated pot size than maximize your possible bet on an earlier street so that the player your playing against doesn’t get a freeroll on the rest of your stack. You also make the most money when they call. It would be a disaster for this guy, if deeper, to only make a small raise sizing if I actually had a draw that was big enough to call an all-in—like an open-ended straight draw and flush draw. In that spot he is not only giving me a cheaper price to crack him but if I miss he lost the value of the rest of the raise that I would have called. We all know that maximizing value is a huge part of being a great player in a no limit cash game.