Marginal Hands
This is the fourth column in a series that highlights some of the hands discussed in the new book Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, Volume II, by Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Jon “PearlJammer” Turner, and Jon “Apestyles” Van Fleet. In this book, each author chose one tournament, and discussed the key hands from once he made the money all the way down to heads-up play. In this column, I’ve chosen one hand from each author in which he three-bet preflop with a marginal hand.

PearlJammer – Hand 31

Seat 3: 128,894
Seat 4: 358,617
Seat 5: 556,890 Button (PearlJammer)
Seat 8: 57,754 Small Blind
Seat 9: 268,845 Big Blind

4,000-8,000 Blinds, 1,000 Ante

Preflop (17,000 pot) KSpade Suit 5Spade Suit: Seat 4 raises to 17,988. I have just increased my chip lead to a very healthy margin, and I want to really begin using my stack. I also notice that Seat 4 is raising into the blinds of the two weakest players at the table. Since the table is now five-handed, I expect Seat 4 to pick up his aggression. I also expect that he views me as tight and not likely to three-bet him lightly. The short stacks at the table should help to make him extremely hesitant to play a big pot preflop with me, or to play back at me without a monster. All of these reasons make him a prime target to three-bet in position, regardless of the strength of my hand.

Just in case Seat 4 flat-calls me or Seat 8 wakes up with a hand to call off his stack, I will make this play only with a hand that at least has marginal post-flop value (I would not three-bet here with a hand like 10-3 offsuit), but I expect to take down the pot preflop the vast majority of the time. Seat 4 will probably fold anything worse than 9-9 or A-Q, and may even toss the weakest of those into the muck, given his chip position. I raise to 49,750, almost three times the size of his bet, and everyone folds.

Rizen – Hand 21

Seat 2: 80,374 Button (Rizen)
Seat 3: 77,114 Small Blind
Seat 4: 114,223 Big Blind
Seat 5: 98,204
Seat 6: 33,244
Seat 8: 55,591

1,500-3,000 Blinds, 400 Ante

Setup: In the last six hands, I’ve won two pots when raising with A-J offsuit and 7-2 suited preflop, trying to take advantage of the overall tightness of the table. No one has played back at me so far, and I have taken down the blinds each time.

Preflop (6,900 pot) 7Diamond Suit 7Club Suit: Pocket sevens is a strong hand at this point in the tournament, but I’ll have to assess what to do based on the action in front of me. Everyone folds to Seat 8, who opens with a minimum-raise to 6,000. Seat 8 started the hand with just over 55,000 in chips, roughly 18 big blinds. Minimum-raises from shorter stacks can be difficult to play against. Sometimes they’ll be slow-playing a monster, and other times they’re simply trying to leave themselves room to fold. Smooth-calling behind him is not a very good play. First, it does nothing to help me define his hand, and his stack is too shallow to play for set value. Also, I have a very good player acting behind me who is quite capable of three-betting, putting me in an awkward spot.

Making a small reraise here is by far the best play, because of my previous read that this player is capable of minimum-raising as a steal-bluff. This read makes me believe that his range includes both very weak steal-type hands and monsters (Q-Q+/A-K) that my sevens are in real trouble against. It turns my sevens into a bluff the vast majority of the time. However, a small reraise accomplishes two goals: It forces Seat 8 to define his hand, and it prevents me from having to make marginal decisions post-flop when the small blind squeezes and I call. I reraise to 16,888, and everyone folds.

Note that these stack sizes enable me to three-bet without committing myself. If my opponent’s stack was a little smaller, this hand would play differently, as I would now be forced to call an all-in four-bet from him.

Apestyles – Hand 33

Seat 1: 318,476
Seat 2: 115,006 Button
Seat 3: 55,824 Small Blind
Seat 4: 482,694 Big Blind (Apestyles)

1,500-3,000 Blinds, 400 Ante

Setup: Since we’ve been four-handed, Seat 2 has open-raised about 30 percent of his hands.

Preflop (6,100 pot) KClub Suit 10Club Suit: Seat 2 raises to 8,125 and I’m in a tough spot. Usually, I’d be reraising with a wide range to put pressure on Seat 2, since he should avoid busting out before Seat 3, the short stack. However, he’s raising from the button around 40 percent of the time, so K-10 suited is ahead of, and may even dominate, his opening range.

This situation creates a common tournament problem. If I make a standard three-bet, I’ll be getting good odds to call a four-bet, but I’m behind his hypothetical four-bet range. Also, if I reraise, he’s likely to fold all of the hands that I dominate, like Q-10, J-10, and 10-9. There are two solutions: I could call and see a flop out of position, or make a very small reraise (maybe around twice the original raise or a little more than a minimum-raise) with the intention of folding if my opponent moves all in.

Flat-calling is the standard play, but I’d like to discuss the merits of a making a small reraise. First, most opponents won’t fold too often when they’re getting odds in position. They’ll still call with worse hands, like Q-10, J-10, and so on. Effectively, I get to play the pot against their whole opening range, but with the initiative.

Most of the time, my opponent will miss the flop and fold to a continuation-bet. Other times, I’ll be willing to “stack off” on a 10-high or king-high board, depending on my opponent’s action. Conversely, this small reraise may induce my opponent to four-bet all in light, but I highly doubt that. If anything, Seat 2 will be worried that I hold a premium hand, which is possible.

Also, Seat 2 probably doesn’t want to risk early elimination with Seat 3 so short-stacked. Many good players disagree with making small three-bets in this spot with marginal holdings, since it creates a situation in which you play a bloated pot out of position. However, against weaker opponents who won’t use their positional advantage post-flop, I think this play might be best. Also, position matters less when the stacks are shallow. For all of the above reasons, I make a small reraise to 15,125. Seat 2 folds.

By reraising here, I looked very strong. My opponent was getting 3.7-1 pot odds in position, and still elected to fold. 

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