Truth in Poker

If someone is going to go to all the trouble to practically tell you what their hand is, the least you can do act accordingly.

Recently, my local riverboat casino added poker to their roster of games. This is good news for me. Poker is something that I have missed dearly over the past year and half since I moved home. I had hoped to find some local home games, but never managed to find one that worked for me. So over the last week, I’ve started playing again.

Now a lot of people think poker is a game of deception and that is true to a degree. But in a typical poker game, like in life, most of the time people are telling the truth. It’s hard wired into our brains. Besides, one of the easiest players to beat is the player who lies as a rule. Once you realize that the big bet they make on the river is a usually a lie, you just have to wait for a moderately good hand to take a lot of their money. And you know to fold when they make a smaller bet on the end instead of the usual big bet. That bet they want you to call.

So anyway, yesterday afternoon I was playing at the boat and having a decent session. I was up, but I had gone card dead, I hadn’t had a good hand to play in several orbits. I decided to switch gears, and at the next reasonable opportunity, I should raise. A few hands later I was dealt King-Ten offsuit in middle position. It was folded to me, and I decided to raise it to about $10 (this was a $1/$2 no limit table). I got three callers, all behind me, not a very good result. Against one player I would likely autobet the flop, against three, I probably need a flop that I like.

So when the flop came Nine-Six-Deuce, rainbow (all different suits), I decided to check. With three people behind me, one of them is likely to have a pair and is unlikely to fold to a bet from me here. One of the guys behind me bets $10 into the $40 pot, the button calls. I don’t have a very good hand, but it is likely that if I get a pair on the turn I could have the best hand. Also, the $10 bet is pretty small compared to the pot. I’m getting 6 to 1 pot odds, so I called, and the last guy folded.

The turn was interesting, an Ace. Now the ace doesn’t help me, but my opponents will likely think it did. If they are thinking about what I have (I raised preflop, then checked and called on a low flop), they might think it’s likely that I have Ace-King or Ace-Queen, or some other Ace. I decided to see if I could sell this idea and get them to fold, so I quickly made a $60 bet.

The first guy, the one who bet $10 on the flop, had a hard time folding. Perhaps he had a straight draw, or maybe he had paired a nine or a six. He knew I wasn’t giving him good odds to draw, but he still he hesitated before folding. Whew, one down, one to go.

The second guy, really didn’t want to lay down his hand. He took a long time to think about it. He clearly was struggling and finally he folded his hand. But he wanted to show everyone how good of a player he was, so he folded the hand face up. He had Ace-Jack suited. That’s right, he folded a pair of Aces to my bluff. I didn’t say a word, but there was a lot of chatter about his fold around the table. He insisted that I had to have either a better Ace or two pair to make that bet.

Now you might be thinking, “Hey, I thought this was about how people tell the truth when playing poker, but you just lied by bluffing and won.” Yeah, but the story isn’t over.

A few hands later, I’m sitting on the button. The under the gun player limps in and Mr. Ace-Jack raises to $11. It’s folded around to me and I look at Ace-Queen. Ace-Queen is a good hand, and I’m in position, but really I’m probably behind. The way Mr. Ace-Jack played that other hand suggests that he probably has either a big pair or Ace-King to make that raise. By calling, I’m hoping to flop something big or to maybe out play him later in the hand, but honestly, the best I can hope that he has is a pair of Tens or Jacks. The big blind also calls.

The flop looks pretty good for me, it’s Queen-Four-Deuce, all red. I’ve got top pair with an ace kicker, but Mr. Ace-Jack bets out $35 into the pot. This is probably not good. This screams to me that he has Aces or Kings. Still, I feel like it’s worth me making one call, he might have Ace-King and he will likely give up on the turn if I call. He only has another $85 behind him, so I can’t get in too much trouble. I’m sure if I call, he will tell me the truth on the turn. I call the bet and the big blind folds.

The turn is another small card, and Mr. Ace-Jack bets the rest of his money, $85. At this point, my brain is screaming Aces or Kings. That’s really the only possibility. Why? The look on his face. He is angry. He is angry in a way that I recognize, in a way that I empathize with. He has a big hand, a hand that should win (like Aces or Kings), and he is angry that I am calling him. He is afraid he is going to lose. Rationally, a player in his position should be happy and calm. He’s got me right where he wants me. He’s probably going to double up. But at a poker table, rational thought often gives way to irrational emotions. He is winning the hand, but weirdly, he is also on tilt. He fears that I’m going to get lucky and beat him.

Given the way he folded Ace-Jack to me a little earlier, I can’t put him on anything but Aces or Kings. I consider trying to get him to talk, to tell him that I think he has Kings and see what does, but I don’t and I should have. I also should have just mucked my hand, but the fishy part of my brain took over. I thought to myself, “I have top pair, top kicker! The bet is only $85 and the pot is already over $100. He can’t bet anymore on the river. I should call. Even if I’m behind, I have outs!”

I do call, and he turns over a pair of Kings. The river doesn’t help me and my money gets pushed over to him. He was doing everything he could to tell me the truth, to tell me he had a big hand, and I didn’t listen to him and I didn’t listen to my gut.

2 thoughts on “Truth in Poker”

  1. Fun story. I really miss your poker stories, because they are so rich with detail, and still maintain a nice through line of narrative. It’s fun getting caught up in the story.

    I miss poker, too. Online poker is such a poor substitute… and I get sooooooooooooooo easily distracted at home.

    Since my live tourney average (admittedly, with a very small total number of tourneys in the last two years) is 3 for 3 in making the final table, I’m looing forward to my next venture. At the latest, this will be Columbus Day weekend in Vegas. I’m really hoping I can find a way to get to AC before then… but I’m not sure I can…

  2. I loved this. I am just getting into Hold ’em (I’m a little behind the trend) and I love the drama of the whole thing.

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