Playing with the initiative
It’s a $2-$5 pot-limit Omaha game, and you ($2,500) are dealt the A J 10 5 in the hijack seat. An early-position player ($1,000) and middle-position player ($800) limp in, and the action is up to you.
1. You should:
Action: You raise to $25. It then is folded to the big blind ($1,000), who calls. The early- and middle-position limpers both call.
Flop ($102): 9 7 2. Everybody checks to you.
2. You should:
Action: You check.
Turn ($102): 8. The big blind bets $100, and the other two players both fold to you.
3. You should:
Action: You raise to $400. Your opponent reraises all in for $975, and you call.
River ($2,052): 3. Your opponent says that he has the second-nut straight, and mucks.
Grades and Analysis
1. a(0), b(10), c(8). You have a double-suited Broadway wrap hand with a wheel card, and are not folding. That said, sitting this deep, whether you smooth-call here or raise to build the pot for value in position is probably a matter of taste. It isn’t such a premium hand that it necessarily dictates a raise (a hand like A-J-10-9 with a suited ace would be an automatic raise), but at the same time, you have some Broadway wrap potential, hidden wheel potential, and two suits (the key feature being the suited ace). I think that if you are comfortable playing with the initiative, you can go ahead and raise.
2. a(10), b(0). This is the key decision point in the hand. This is a terrible spot to make a continuation-bet, and for a couple of reasons:
(1) Your hand has a lot of potential, yet if you bet, you would have to fold to a check-raise. I think the nut gutshot-straight draw itself dictates a check, but a lot of cards could come that would also give you a flush draw, an open-end straight draw, or a wrap. You do not want to get check-raised off this hand.
(2) The pot is multiway. Technically, this probably should be the first point, because the most important factor in whether or not you should continuation-bet is the number of players in the hand; naturally, you should be more inclined to continuation-bet in a heads-up pot than a multiway pot.
But the bottom line is that if you are going to raise preflop in this game, you have to be willing to take a free card from time to time. And unless you are playing against three guys who are going to fold to a bet every time they check, this is a clear spot to take a free card.
3. a(0), b(2), c(10). You have the nut straight with the nut-flush redraw. The answer here should be obvious (raise), although I do see people smooth-call and try to slow-play, which I think is a big mistake: The play here is not to trap for an extra bet from a player who doesn’t have the nut straight, but to try to play for stacks on a freeroll.
First of all, the bettor pretty much has to have something to bet here on an obvious straight board into three opponents. And about 99 percent of the time, he is going to show you the nut straight on this board in this spot. That said, if you smooth-call, you lose the freeroll potential. It would be an absolute disaster if, for example, you just call, a heart peels off on the river, and now your opponent checks and folds to a bet, when you could either get him to shove the rest of his stack on a freeroll, or perhaps even fold and give up the bet and his equity in the pot.
The key point of this hand is knowing when to take a free card, because knowing when to take a free card is essential to playing with the initiative. The more comfortable you are playing with the initiative, the more often you can comfortably and profitably raise preflop, whether it is to build the pot for value and/or to isolate limpers, or to attack the blinds.
This hand actually took place at the Rio during the World Series. I thought the $2-$5 games were a bit tougher this year than in years past. I think players are starting to figure out that $2-$5 pot-limit Omaha actually plays pretty big, so the stacks in these games were a lot deeper at the start of the WSOP this year than they were last year, and overall, the players were a bit tougher.
But at the same time, much of the pot-limit Omaha that I played in the past year was either shorthanded with professionals on the rare occasion that I could both play and get a game going, or on the electronic tables at Excalibur in Las Vegas with a group of players who had read my first book. So, it had been a long time since I had seen a player stick in three bets on one street with the second-nut straight in a multiway pot.
And as far as my opponent’s play in the hand is concerned, I’ll put it this way: He’s gotta know that I know that he has something to bet into three players, and that I am probably not raising him without having the nut straight myself. He said that he had “blockers” (he claimed that he had three tens in his hand blocking a straight, although I’m guessing that it was probably more like two tens), and that he thought I was making a play. But if you were in his shoes, you pretty much would have to give me credit for having at least the nut straight here.