Three-betting after the flop without the nuts
This is a hand from the early days of the now-raging $1-$2 blinds, $5 bring-in ($500 max buy-in) game at Harrah’s in St. Louis. The players in the two blinds – Ali and Vafa – are best pals and all-around good guys; they are also pretty lousy poker players, though maybe not quite as bad as they let on. Both occasionally play in the $5-$10 pot-limit Omaha game that runs twice a week.

Little Mike, one of the bigger players in St. Louis, jokes that of the 10 players at the table, Ali is ranked “zero” on a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 being the best player at the table and 1 being the worst. Vafa says that he doesn’t care what his rank is, as long as it is higher than Ali’s. Ali, however, is having a monster session, having run his $500 buy-in up to about $5,000. Vafa is in the big blind with about $1,100, and most everybody else has between $500 and $1,000.

In the under-the-gun (UTG) seat is Steve, a local pro who has a reputation of being an ace limit hold’em player.

1. You ($1,035) are dealt the A 9 8 6 in second position. Steve ($1,000) limps in. You should:
a. Fold
b. Call
c. Raise

Action: You call. Three players limp in behind you. Ali ($5,000) limps in from the small blind. Vafa ($1,100) completes from the big blind. There are seven players and $35 in the pot.

Flop ($35):
9 5 3. Ali bets $35. Vafa raises to $140. Steve calls, and the action is up to you.

2. You should:
a. Fold
b. Call
c. Reraise

Action: You reraise to $625. Everybody folds back to Ali, who also folds. Vafa calls. Steve folds.

Turn ($1,460): 3. Vafa checks.

3. You should:
a. Check
b. Bet your last $405 all in

Action: You bet $405 all in. Vafa calls.

River ($2,270): 7. Vafa shows the Q 8 7 6 for the nut straight, and you split the pot.

Steve is now steaming, saying that he folded three pair on the flop, with which he would have made a full house on the turn.

4. Hypothetically speaking, if you had Steve’s (alleged) hand on the flop, what would you have done when facing Vafa’s raise?
a. Fold
b. Call
c. Reraise
Grades and Analysis

1. a(0), b(10), c(2)

You have too much hand to fold. That said, this hand is also a bit on the speculative side, so raising is not the recommended course of action – particularly from up front. Limping in is the standard play.

2. a(0), b(5), c(10)

You have top pair, the nut-flush draw, and a gutshot, so you should not be folding. Moreover, neither Ali nor Vafa is necessarily all that strong. At this point, you should figure Steve to be on a draw, against which you have to be ahead with your pair, nut-flush draw, and gutshot. You are also well ahead of two pair.

The play here is to reraise.

The idea is to try to knock out a weak made hand, such as two pair or bottom or middle set, and isolate a player on a draw, against which you are a solid favorite no matter what kind of draw he has. Alternatively, if you find yourself heads up against two pair, you are also in good shape, because you have draws to bigger two pair, as well.

Ideally, you would like to isolate one of the players. That said, with your nut-flush draw and gutshot, playing for stacks three-way is also OK.

3. a(0), b(10)

The 3 paired the board, but you have to figure that Vafa is on a draw, as he more likely would have reraised on the flop with a made hand. You should bet your last $405 all in and try to take down the large pot without a fight or value-bet if you happen to get called.

4. a(10), b(2), c(0)

Well, for starters, I can tell you that whatever hand has 9-5-3-X in it is not in the book. That said, with bare two pair, this is a pretty clear fold against a raise – even against a couple of relatively loose players.

It’s worth noting that I was about a 3-2 favorite heads up over Steve’s three pair with what I had, assuming he had 9-5-4-3 (it might have been closer to 4-3, depending on what Steve’s fourth card was), and he would have been drawing dead or near it against a set. He’s also a 5-4 dog with 9-5-4-3 against the A 8 7 6 (an all-draw hand). In other words, he is either a small dog or a big dog against my entire range.

As it turned out, Steve actually would have been a small money favorite in three-way action (roughly 35 percent to 37 percent equity). That said, if you are going to play for stacks this deep with bare two pair against two opponents, you are not going to last very long in pot-limit Omaha. So Steve made the right decision in folding even after Vafa called my reraise.

As the hand actually played out, I was also about a 2-1 favorite (65.7 percent-34.3 percent) against Vafa on the flop, and a 72.5 percent-27.5 percent favorite on the turn. So, I would say, mission accomplished (I knocked out Steve’s two pair), even though we ended up splitting the pot.

This article was originally written by Jeff Hwang. Jeff Hwang is a semiprofessional player and author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy. His latest book is Advanced Pot Limit Omaha Vol.1 and will be releasing Vol 2.

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