Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie: waiting to pounce
“Nu, Tsatskeleh,” said my Aunt Sophie. “Why do so many online hold’em players wait to the end to wake up?”
We were in Aunt Sophie’s study, where she’d moved the computer from her bedroom. Now her system occupied a place of honor on the desk, complete with large flat-screen high-resolution monitor. I was sipping on the glazl varmss, glass of tea, she’d given me. Sara was in the La-Z-Boy recliner in the corner working on the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.
Aunt Sophie was multitasking, talking to me and playing $5-$10 hold’em at the same time.
“What do you mean?” I temporized.
“You know,” she replied, “till the river they wait to pounce with the nuts. I been saving a bunch of hand histories to show you.” She opened a drawer and removed a sheaf of printouts.
“You want me to read these?” I asked. “That’s a lot to look at. Can’t you just tell summarize? In fact, why didn’t you just email them to me?”
“Because, dollink,” she patiently explained, “right here in my little house you are. Why should something I send you by email when I can show you?”
“Okay, okay,” I assented with a sigh, “but still tell me and we can talk about it.”
Between hands, she grabbed a page. “See this?” she demanded. “Here this flopdanuts limps in the little blind, only him and it’s my big blind, and I got nothing, 9♣ Q♣. The flop is 2♦ 4♦ J♦ and flopdanuts checks and so do I. The turn is 5♣ and again he checks. So now I think since he seems to got nothing I’ll steal it, so I bet, and he calls. Okay, so maybe he’s got a flush draw, because if he had top pair he probably woulda bet. So J♣ on the river. Again he checks, so I think if he had a flush draw, he missed, but I can’t just show it down in case he’s got a king or ace, so I bet. And he check-raises! So I gotta give up, and he’s kind enough to show his hand K♦ 6♦. He flopped a flush and checked it on the flop and the turn. So you’d think he was going for a check-raise, except he didn’t. And he checked it on the river. But why wait that long? And why show it?”
“Well,” I offered, “showing is easy enough. He’s proud of his hand and proud of his play. You didn’t fall into the trap, but he still wants to show off how tricky he is. But why he did it is another question.”
“So okay,” she continued, “another one I’ve got.” She paused to fold in a pot that was three-bet before the flop, and then stuck another page in my face. “Here’s another that waited. This time in the little blind 2♣ 4♣ I got. Matthew666 limps from the middle. Mark7 calls. I call, and the big blind does not raise. The flop comes 6♣ 3♦ 7♥. So all I have is a gutshot, and I check. Matthew666 checks and Mark7 bets. I call, and …”
“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “Why did you call with only a gutshot?”
She shot me a withering glance. “I felt lucky,” she declared.
“I can’t think of a better reason than that,” I acceded.
“So now,” she went on, “the big blind folds and Matthew666 calls. Comes Q♦ on the turn. I check. I’m ready to fold if either one rattles his chips, but they both check. So here comes now the 5♣ on the river, my miracle. I bet, Matthew666 raises, Mark7 folds. I raise, and this time Matthew666 calls. I show my hand and the pot comes to me. Matthew666 shows his hand, Q♥ 6♥, before mucking it. I guess sympathy he wants for the bad beat. But he lost the pot by waiting to the end. If he had bet, I wouldn’t have called.”
“You know,” I theorized, “somewhere a well-known poker writer provided an example of letting an opponent who thinks he’s in the lead keep betting until you pop him with what’s likely the nuts on the river. I think some people have misinterpreted this advice, though, and think it means always to wait till the end. His two pair on the turn was almost assuredly the best and he should have bet it. That flop is exactly the kind of hand one of the blinds might coordinate with, and he should try to protect his hand. On the river is too late. The trouble with raising on the river is that any hand that could not bet till the river is likely either a bluff or a straight. Two pair or top pair would already have bet. He should only call now, but then if he were that smart, he would also have bet sooner. He was, as the saying goes, hosted by his own petard.”
“Aha!” interjected Sara. “That’s it! Petard. I was just stumped by this crossword clue, ‘Shakespearean windbreaker?’ — one of those question mark clues that indicates a tricky answer. Thank you.”
Aunt Sophie folded another worthless hand, and pulled out another sheet. “Here the best one is, also with a petard it comes. I have the big blind and K-2 not suited. An early-position player limps, and I don’t raise. The flop is A-10-4 rainbow. I check, ready to fold if the opener bets, but he checks. The turn is a queen of a fourth suit, and I check and again ready to fold I am, but no bet. So on the river now comes a jack, making me the nuts, except it could be split. I bet. The opener raises. So likely a jack I think he’s got, but I never quit when I have half the pot locked up, so I reraise, and the opener caps. So now I’m sure it’s gonna be split, and he shows pocket aces. He had flopped a set and waited till the river to come alive, and by then it was too late. He lost four bets on the river, but if he’d bet on any of the two preceding rounds or for a raise come in, he would have won the blinds. So now you explain that.”
“I don’t know,” I mused. “But I see it, too, all the time. Mostly they wait to pounce on the turn, because that’s when the double bets start. And sometimes they get cute and try for a check-raise on the turn but no one bets, and they lose out. Being last to act and never making a move till the river, that’s pretty unusual. Just be aware of which players do that and be thankful they do, because every mistake opponents make puts money in your pocket.”