Twice now, in the last three days, I've called an all in bet with seemingly weak cards and both times I've been ahead of my opponent. I won one and I lost one but in both situations I was greeted with shock from the table for calling with my seemingly weak hands. I can't quite understand it because both situations were good calls on my part. I didn't just 'get lucky' by being ahead. Both times, I calculated what the other person had to a fair degree of accuracy by reading the story they were telling with their betting patterns. This, I am convinced is a leading indicator of hand strength and should be paid close attention.
Both situations, which I will describe, had similar elements. I had position both times (on the button), both situtations started with weak raises or limps from my opponents, and both situations saw my opponent make all-in moves that were largish for the pots in question.
The first situation was a cash game. I was on the button with Jd5d (Jackson Five, or Motown). A few people limped in front of me for .50 and I limped as well. The SB raised to $2 and everyone called, including myself. There was about $10 in the pot when the flop came out 2-5-7 rainbow. It's hard to put the SB (the aggressor) on anything at this point but the $2 bet suggested Ace-King, Ace-Queen or King-Queen. My logic is that in the SB, the worst position on the table, a $2 bet is weak into a pot that already has $2.00 in it. The $1.50 raise only encourages everyone to call and if you're holding a monster, you'd want to narrow down the field. However, if you are drawing, the $2.00 bet is perfect because you would want to build the pot so if you do hit the flop, you now have a considerable amount of money in it. Therefore, I would have expected the SB to raise much larger than $1.50 with a monster AA, KK or KQ. So that is my thinking when the SB leads out the flop with a bet of $6.00 The bet is about a half-pot bet so I'm now reading this as a reasonable stab at the pot with a board that is seemingly random. Everyone folds except for the player in the 6th seat who flat calls. I decide that the 6th seat might also be drawing at this point and I want to see another card in position because I very well might be good. I call. There are now three players. The turn is a deuce. I can't think of a hand, other than pocket deuces(!), that anyone might have had to call the $6 turn bet with a deuce, so it doesn't scare me. As a matter of fact, it makes my hand better if I believe both players are on a draw! The SB then throws a wrench into the works by moving all in. There is about $28 in the pot and he moves all in for about $32. The 6th seat folds and it's to me. I slightly outchip him. I'm confused until I put all the pieces together. If he had a monster, he would more likely try to value bet it to get me or the 6th seat to call. We've been flat calling every bet so we're representing draws. An all-in bet tells me he doesn't want to see the river. He's trying to take it down right now. This jibes with my initial impression that he had two high cards to begin with. I call and he turns over pocket threes. I'm ahead and the river is a blank, giving me the pot.
The table was shocked that I had such a 'poor' hand against that kind of show of strength, but the pieces of the story fell into place. The ironic part of poker is that if my opponent had made a much smaller bet on the turn, say $12 or $13 dollars, I would have folded, thinking he had an over pair that he was trying to milk.
The second situation came in a tournament last night. I had A9o on the button and blinds were 50/100. I had suffered a suckout early on and only had about 1300 in chips. 4 people limped in front of me and I raised to 500 in an attempt to take down the pot right there. Everyone folded until it got to my opponent on my right. He called 400 more into a pot of 1050 (not unreasonable if he is drawing). Again, his limp gave me the impression he was drawing. If he had had a decent hand, he would have raised from the cutoff position. He can't depend on the button or the blinds to raise for him if he has a monster. His limp tells me he probably has two high cards. I read him for KQ since I can't imagine Ace-little calling in this position. I tell myself I am going all in if an Ace comes on the flop or a bunch of blanks and the flop comes down 3c-4h-4s. Beautiful. Yes, I'm dead if he has a pair but I still have overcards to draw to. He takes away my decision by moving all in. Once again, and for the same reasons, I read this move as being too strong. Without his raise pre-flop to indicate a monster against so many more players to act behind him, the all in represents an attempt to take down the pot with a marginal hand. I call and he show Ah5h. He has an inside straight draw and a runner runner flush or straight draw. Since the board is paired up, we have a good possibility of splitting this pot but, in all, I am only 30% to lose here. The turn is a 6 and the river is a 7 and he makes his runner runner straight to take it down and put me out.
I'm convinced I played this one correctly but the table was shocked, going so far as to berate me for my decision (A9, that's it?!?). But the story made sense to me.
Now it's possible that someone with AA or KK might one day limp in late position with 4 or 5 callers in front of him, but that person is inviting a huge amount of trouble. So I will continue to make these reads (and get my ass handed to me on suckouts).
I've had a really bad run of luck at the tournament tables lately, but aside from two silly calls I made vs. John in the past month, I can't point to a place where I've made a wrong move. It's mostly been suckouts or runs of cards I can't play (I curse your name Paint-Middle!). I am comfortable in the knowledge that all players go through cold streaks but it's hard when you see other players amass huge stacks by sucking out three times in a row on the ass end of 80/20 draws and you get your hard-earned reads cracked by runner runner. If there is a God, he surely hates me.