I just played a hand that I thought served as a good example of why you normally don’t want to bet big with a middle strength hand.
Play is heads up, with stacks of 200 big blinds effective, and my opponent limps from the button. I have JJ (spades and hearts), and raise to 3 big blinds. My opponent then 3 bets to 9 big blinds (so a limp 3!).
Heads up, with a premium hand like JJ, I’d normally 4 bet here, but I don’t see this player making this move very often. A low frequency usually equals strength, and so while this would normally be a hand I’d auto-4 bet heads up, I instead call. The pot is 18 big blinds.
The flop comes JcQcTd, and my opponent shoves, making a 10x over-bet of the pot. I think folding is the safe play here, but I elect to call. My opponent shows AA, and I win a big pot.
I’m not sure my call is any good, but I am pretty confident that this over-bet is not how you want to play AA in this spot. AK, the absolute nuts, is surely in my range, and probably almost the full 8 combinations left (since he has AA), as if I’m not 4 betting JJ, I’m not sure I’d be 4 betting AKs. QQ might possibly call, and is again in range (3 combinations). I suspect JJ mostly folds, but hey, it apparently calls at least some of the time… lets say there are 3 combinations, 2 that fold, and 1 that calls. I think KcTc, and some similar hands, might possibly call also, and should be in range. Perhaps some might also call with KK some fraction of the time, since it blocks AK, works as a bluff catcher, and has the straight outs, but not in full combos, as I think KK has to fold at least some of the time.
So I’m guessing there are about 8 to 12 combinations that call with a huge equity advantage, and a much smaller number of combinations that call and have a lot of equity. So the bet doesn’t work as a value bet.
How about as a bluff? Well, first, you’re throwing away a ton of showdown value bluffing here with AA. I’d rather have 54 suited. With 54 suited, anything at all that folds means I picked up a pot I would not have won otherwise (or at least my equity would have been very low against even the folding range). With AA, what better hands fold? Well, maybe TT and JJ. But again, there just aren’t enough combinations. With 8 combinations of AK left, that will call 100% of the time, even if all 6 combinations left of JJ and TT fold, the bet is still losing money. (Note that this is a function of pot odds… a smaller bet could earn money even with the calling combinations that beat you outnumbering the folding combinations that beat you).
AA is certainly vulnerable on this board, and so you can argue you might want to bet for protection. Any king, 9, or two hearts has a ton of equity. If you can get those hands to fold, that has a real value – but that value has to be weighed against the chips you win or lose with your bet. At 18 big blinds, any increase to your equity share of the pot is going to have a very hard time competing with losses on a 180 big blind bet if that bet is going to lose to better hands more often than it will drive off better hands. So what if your equity on 18 big blinds now increases to 100% against K9, when you previously only had about 60% equity?
I’m not saying you can never make larger bets with middle strength hands. Betting big with a middling holding can still work if:
- you think you will still often get called by worse
- you think your showdown value is probably already gone, and there are a fair number of better hands you think will fold