The perils of card removal

I think people tend to overemphasize the importance of card removal in their decision making. It’s indeed a valuable tool but doesn’t apply in all situations. One example is this live hand I witnessed some time ago between two players I would describe as competent regs.

~200bb effective stacks

EP Open
LP (KsQs) 3bet
BB (AsAh) 4bet
EP Fold
LP Call

Flop: 9s8s3h

BB: Bet ~35% pot
LP: Call

Turn: 2c

BB: Bet ~35% pot
LP: Call

River: 4s

BB: Bet ~10% pot
LP: All in +100% pot
BB: Call

In this case LP can use card removal to his advantage and make an absolutely brilliant river shove. LP correctly reads the small river bet as a blocker and not an induction bet. Given the preflop action and BB’s position it’s very unlikely he has AsXs. But if he has AA with a spade BB may hero call his overbet shove.

For BB card removal is going to bite him in the rear. Having the nut blocker seems like a good thing. He can safely block bet the river and get a cheap showdown, LP being unlikely to raise even if he rivered a flush. But what can he do about LP’s polarizing shove? If he relies upon card removal he’ll have a hard time folding. So many combinations of flushes are removed because of BB’s ace blocker. What value hands can LP be shoving with? The backdoor straight completes but A5 and 56 are somewhat unlikely here. And would he shove a straight when the flush completes? It seems the logical conclusion is LP has decided to bluff, possibly pouncing on the perceived weakness of the small river bet.

After a great deal of thought BB eventually calls and loses, revealing his hand and explaining he called because of the As blocker.

“Blockers are for fish” someone at the table remarks.

Card removal helps you to understand the odds more accurately, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win the hand, unless you can remove all the cards that could be used to beat you, which is rare.

One time I had Kings and bet huge, and got called. Flop had two Aces. Good, that’s two aces my opponent can’t have. I bet. V called. A third ace on the turn, I had the best full house. An now my opponent should be even less likely to have an Ace!

Cut to the showdown, they did have an Ace.

Funny how card removal works.