Owner and Lead Pro
Professional Cash game trainer Bart Hanson has been producing strategy content for over fifteen years. He first started on Live at the Bike! back in 2005, then moved on to host "Cash Plays" on Poker Road, then "Deuce Plays" on Deuces Cracked and then to CrushLivePoker in 2012.
In his career as a professional poker player, Bart Hanson has:
-6 WSOP Final Tables
-Over 15 years of experience at the table
-Over $1,000,000 in tournament earnings
-Multiple appearances on ESPN and Poker Night in America
-4th place finish in 2019 WSOP Monster Stack
When playing in low stakes live games, getting maximum value with your strong hands is very important. Low stakes players for the most part tend to be too passive and nitty, meaning that if you want to win all of the money, you’ll probably need to start betting more yourself. In today’s article we’ll be taking an in-depth look at a hand clipped from the Crush Live Poker Call-In Show, where our Hero makes a questionable play on the river that could cost him a lot of money in the long run.
Let’s start by looking at how the hand played out, then we’ll go street by street to see if our Hero could have played it any differently:
Hand: $1/$3 No Limit, $800 effective stacks.
MP limps for $3, Hero raises A♣ 6♣ in the CO to $25, BTN calls, BB calls, MP calls.
The flop is 7♠ 5♠ 4♣ ($100).
Action checks to Hero who c-bets $50. BTN calls, BB and MP fold.
The turn is the A♥ ($200).
Hero bets $75, BTN raises to $200, Hero calls.
The river is the 6♥ ($600).
Hero checks, BTN bets $325.
Preflop Dynamics and Action:
Our Hero describes this $1/$3 game as particularly juicy, with a lot of action to be had. Hero describes the player on the BTN in particular as “special,” and according to Hero is playing literally every hand preflop. The standard open in the game is around $15, but most pots that are opened to this amount result in almost a family pot going to the flop. Hero decides to raise bigger to $25 because of the limper, and still gets three callers despite the larger preflop sizing.
Hero flops ace high with an open-ended straight draw and a backdoor flush draw on a flop of 7♠ 5♠ 4♣ ($100), and decides to c-bet for ½ pot. Only the “special” player on the BTN continues, BB and MP both fold. Bart notes that Hero’s c-bet is a bit questionable here. Usually at equilibrium (when working with solvers), multi-way pots are supposed to be bet for a very small sizing, and for the most part Hero’s range should be checking this board. Betting here would be better if Hero was in last position, but with BTN being a maniac and likely to continue, Bart prefers a check-call on this board. Nevertheless, getting heads up with a maniac can never be too bad, and Hero’s bet isn’t a terrible play, just perhaps not the best decision on this flop multiway.
The turn is the A♥ ($200) and Hero bets again for $75 into a pot of $200. This sizing is great, since BTN probably has a very wide range and Hero is now likely ahead with top pair. Betting small here for value is the best play since BTN seems extremely sticky and will likely call with a lot of worse holdings. Hero’s hand is also probably strong enough to call a raise here on the turn, so there’s really no reason to not go ahead and bet for value.
BTN raises pretty quickly to $200 ($125 to call). It’s difficult to really put BTN on a slowplayed hand on the flop, since there were two people left to act behind him and he just called in position. He could have the stone-cold nuts but with a flush draw out there and multiple opponents, raising the nuts would make more sense. BTN is most likely to have a hand like a straight draw or flush draw for his bluffs, or a hand like aces up (2 pair) or a top pair hand like ace-jack or ace-ten. However, at the end of the day, the sizing BTN raised to makes our Hero’s decision pretty easy. Hero only has to call an additional $125 to potentially win $475 (around 4 to 1 odds), certainly giving him the right price to continue with an open-ended straight draw and top pair.
The river is the 6♥ ($600). Hero checks with around $525 left in his stack. BTN bets $325, and Hero has a decision to make. While checking the river with this hand against strong opponents is probably the best play, Bart questions whether a small lead from Hero might not be the better play against this particular player. We have a hand that can get value from BTN’s top pair holdings as well as his lower two pair holdings like A5 and A4, which might want to check-back river and showdown.
Check-calling on the river in low stakes games is usually bad. When you check-call on the river you typically want one of two things to be true. First you have to believe that your opponent is capable of bluffing in a specific spot and second you want them to be able bet worse hand for value that they otherwise would have folded to a bet. In this scenario Villain hasn’t shown us that he’s capable of either of these options, which is pretty typical at low stakes (making check-calling the river a bad play most of the time). Leading out $150 for value is probably the best play against this Villain, who is likely to call with a lot of worse holdings that he would be more likely to check back with. However, in this instance Hero checks and BTN bets around ½ pot.
Under normal circumstances against most opponents this is a classic “5th street chicken” spot. Hero has a medium strength value hand that’s definitely not the nuts, got raised on an earlier street, and now probably has to fold the river to a decent sized bet. However, since BTN is such a maniac, Hero’s decision becomes a lot closer.
BTN’s bet is pretty polarized, he’s pretty much repping an 8 or nothing here. A8 and 68 are really the only combos of 8x that take this line, narrowing his value range to a select few combos. Given that we block both of these holdings with our A6, our particular hand makes for a really good bluff catcher here. Hero does make the call and ends up winning the pot versus BTN’s A♠ T♠ that he turned into a bluff.
In hindsight, if you could somehow know that your opponent had A♠ T♠ on the river, and it was your action, would you choose to bet $150 for value or check? Obviously the Hero in this instance got max value because Villain made a weirdly polarizing, fishy bluff (it’s questionable if he even knew he was bluffing), but most players would probably just check back and showdown their top pair in the BTN’s position.
Recognizing spots where you can get thin value is one of the keys to crushing the low stakes. Check-calling the river is simply the worst option more often than not. When you check-call the river with a medium strength value hand, most Villains at low stakes will likely be under-bluffing and will likely not go for thin value with many of the hands that you beat. When they do bet you’re usually up against a pretty value heavy range, most of which will probably beat your hand.
If you enjoyed this breakdown and you’d like to listen to in-depth analysis of this hand, clipped from Bart’s call-in show, you can watch it on the Crush Live Poker YouTube Channel by clicking here.
Thin River Value from OOP
By Bart Hanson
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By Bart Hanson