Here Doug Polk reviews a hand from Live at the Bike. These are two elite players, but the action in this hand is pretty typical in many ring games (even at the higher stakes on Replay). I find it helpful to think through the lines because these types of spots occur a lot. Preflop is pretty standard, you have to raise JJ, and KTo in the straddle is too good to fold and not good enough to 3-bet.
You hate to see an ace on the flop when you have JJ, especially out of position. It puts JJ in the lower half of the distribution of hands you would open, but it is also too good to give up on because while your opponent can have a lot of aces in their range, they should be 3-betting a lot of them (e.g., AK or A5s). He bets 1400 into 3500, which is a smallish bet. These small sizings have become a standard play when the board favors the original raiser’s range. I guess it is ok because it enables him to get some value from worse hands that will continue (smaller pocket pairs, draws) and not lose too much against Ax. At the same time, it is pretty terrible to get raised here because Smith can raise 65s/64s/diamonds and it is pretty hard to call down with JJ. And it is possible for Smith to have 54s or even A3/A2/22/33. But, of the possible options on this flop (check, bet 1400, or bet larger), Darren’s choice seems like the right one because it can get some value, some folds, and his range is protected because he would probably also bet this way with AA/AK/A3s/A2s/33/22.
Smith has the nut flush backdoor/blocker and the nut nothing, so he pretty much has to continue against this size. He is probably planning to rep diamonds or other draw cards (like a 4/5/6), and he also thinks a king or ten will likely give him the best hand (if Darren has 44/55/66/77/88/99). He can raise, but I think there are better hands with less showdown value that he can turn into a bluff. Plus, he blocks flush draws, which are one of the worse hands that he might get to fold when he raises.
The turn is essentially a brick, unless one of them has 77/A7. So, Darren decides to check because his hand is not going to get value from many worse hands. By checking he can induce Smith to bluff and control the size of the pot. This is all pretty standard, and Smith’s decision to bluff is where the hand starts to get interesting. Darren has effectively capped his range here because he would almost certainly continue to bet with a value hand (like AA/AK/AQ) because he would lose a ton of value if his default play was to slow-play and try to induce bluffs (although many amateur players do slowplay by default). So Darren is essentially giving up or saying that his hand is good enough to call down with. Smith also has some showdown value with king high, and he can rep the flush if a diamond hits the river.
I believe that from a GTO perspective it is incorrect to choose Smith’s hand to bluff with because it has showdown value, it blocks flush draws that might fold, and he has other hands that make better bluffs (small diamonds or 64/65). It seems like Smith is making the exploitative play and going with his read that Darren has a hand that can’t call two streets. This is almost certainly the correct read when considering Darren’s range (and his exact hand), which contains a lot of smaller Ax (like A5, not AK) and pocket pairs. His bet sizing of about half pot is interesting because it looks a lot like a value bet. It is not big enough to be polarizing or to get many folds, but it seems like Smith has a plan that it will take two barrels to get Darren to fold, so he is willing to use a smaller bet size. This seems like a small decision, but I think it is actually a key mistake and may be the reason why the river bluff does not work. If he has a monster here, like 77/33/54, then he should make a polarizing bet to get value from Ax (especially since those hands do not block Ax) and apply pressure to diamond draws. But he bets the turn like he has Ax himself, not a monster, since his sizing looks like he is sort of pot controlling or going for thin value. It is possible that this sizing is balanced between big value, showdown value, and bluffs, but I doubt it, based on his river bet sizing and the damage he would do to his value with monsters and fold equity with bluffs by betting this way.
So, the river is essentially a brick and Smith decides to shove $16,100 into $12,700. Again, this seems like a pure read rather than GTO for the same reasons as the turn. KT does not seem like the optimal hand to bluff with because it has SDV, blocks hands that he wants to get folds from like diamond draws, KK, and TT; plus he has many worse hands here to choose as bluffs. He has the correct read that Darren has a medium strength hand, so he thinks that enough pressure can get a fold, but Darren is a better player than that and the turn/river sizing is the give away in my opinion. I was expecting Smith to bet 1/2 or 2/3 pot, which looks like a value bet from a hand like AT/AJ, which would put Darren in a really tough spot, and I think he should fold. But Smith shoves, which is an extremely polarizing bet.
He is probably thinking he wants to be able to get Darren to fold hands like A5/A6, but all he really does is narrow down the range of hands that he is repping. He is no long repping A8/A9/AT/AJ/AQ, but exclusively hands like 22/33/A3/A7 and maybe 54. But given that there were straight and flush draws that missed and that the turn and river were essentially blanks, Darren knows that Smith can have a lot of bluffs. The fact that Smith chooses KT shows that he is probably bluffing too much. So then Darren has to decide if Smith has a monster or bluffs. He clearly has enough bluffs that Darren could decide to call based on that, but his turn sizing is another clue. Does he really bet half pot on the turn with that list of monsters? Especially with a diamond draw on board? I don’t think so. So, he is not effectively repping the narrow range that he has created for himself, and by polarizing himself he sets Darren up to make a hero call with a hand worse than top pair (since Smith himself is no longer repping top pair but something even stronger). It is an extremely tough spot for Darren, but it is probably a call he has to make to avoid being exploited. Smith made the correct read and took a very brave line, but I think his turn sizing made his story unconvincing and his decision to polarize himself on the river did not make sense and narrowed his range too far. Looking at it a different way, I think his turn sizing was good by effectively repping a large number of realistic hands (many Ax hands), but that his river sizing was bad because it told a non-believable story (repping Ax on the turn and a full house on the river). What do you all think? Was the bluff a good decision? Were Darren’s calls good?