***side note, I don't know if I could've folded here.***
One of the skills that separates average poker players from tournament professionals is developing the competency to fold a "strong" hand when facing adverse circumstances. Most novice tournament players get "married" to big cards and then have tremendous difficulty folding when faced with the actuality that their strong hand is no longer the best hand.
An example of this occurred recently at a tournament in Mississippi. After this hand occurred, I discussed the situation with the player in question (who shall remain anonymous). His bust-out was quite typical. In fact, this is the kind of hand that eliminates a lot of poker players from tournaments. He was dealt a good hand, then saw a favorable flop. His mistake was, that he failed to process all the information that was available to him -- which indicated he was beat (at worst), or would win his money back in a split-pot (at best). So, he lost the hand and was eliminated unnecessarily from the tournament because he played the hand poorly. Here's how the hand developed:
(Note: This is a no-limit holdem tournament during the middle stages. Both players have average stack sizes)
The HERO is in late position. He is dealt A-K. One player (we'll call him the ADVERSARY) limps in from middle-position.
The HERO makes a standard raise of three times the size of the big blind. All fold around to the ADVERSARY, who calls.
The flop comes K - 8 - 4 (rainbow). This is a very good flop for the HERO. The ADVERSARY checks. The HERO makes a pot-sized bet. The ADVERSARY check-raises "all-in."
If you are the HERO, what do you do in this spot?
I suspect that if you are like 95 percent of all poker players, you would probably call this bet. In fact, most players would call instantly. After all, you have top pair, and top kicker. How can you possibly lay down this hand given what I have described?
Let's look more closely at the situation.
First, the ADVERSARY is a conservative player. This player is not overly aggressive in tournaments. This player makes a fair number of final tables, primarily by playing solid cards in mostly a straightforward style. This is NOT the type of player that throws chips into the pot freely and takes a lot of chances. Now that you know more about the ADVERSARY, what does his "all-in" check-raise mean?
With this additional information, we can probably eliminate several hands, including the following:
It's highly unlikely the ADVERSARY has two pair. No player in this profile would play a hand like K-8, or worse.
It's possible the ADVERSARY has flopped a set -- perhaps 4s or 8s. However, most opponents would trap on the turn and try to maximize their gain. There is little to be won by check-raising the flop with a set in this situation. Therefore, we can say with some confidence the ADVERSARY does not have a set.
We can probably eliminate any kind of drawing hand. There are NO DRAWS with this flop. No flush draws. No straight draws. The ADVERSARY is not betting on the come.
We can probably eliminate a pair of 8s (assuming the ADVERSARY called a pre-flop raise with a hand like A-8 suited). Most players in this profile would not make such a bold play to raise with second-pair against an opponent who has shown strength pre-flop, then caught a King on the flop.
We can certainly eliminate a pair of 4s. Under normal circumstances, only a bad player would be in a NLHE hand with a 4 in middle position, catch a 4, then play it by moving "all-in."
We can probably eliminate any K-x (where x is Q or a lower rank), since the opponent is unlikely to play K-x from middle position, and if he did -- he would most certainly BET the hand when he caught a king on the flop. K-Q is possible, but not very likely since most smart players must fear they are up against A-K. Few players in this profile would re-raise with a hand like K-Q in this situation -- which basically puts them in a situation to be called ONLY if he is beat.
That essentially leaves two possible hands for the ADVERSARY. One of these hands is a tie (a split-pot). The other hand is a huge favorite over the A-K.
That's right, the ADVERSARY held A-A.
The ADVERSARY check-raised on the flop with A-A. The HERO made a knee-jerk call -- and lost. He was eliminated from the tournament because he failed to add up all of the facts which suggested (at best) he was drawing to split the pot and get back his money. At worst, he was up against A-A or (worse) was up against a set.
Given this was the middle stage of a NLHE tournament, there was absolutely no reason to lose all the chips in this spot. Had the HERO thought this entire thing out and added up the facts, it's clear (in retrospect) that folding to the check-raise was the proper play.
Wait, there's more. The HERO made at least one more mistake. When facing an "all-in" re-raise, it's almost always prudent to STOP and THINK. Unless you hold the stone-cold nuts, you should freeze the action and think things through before acting. Most average poker players call quickly, without carefully contemplating all the particulars of the hand or the implications of losing the pot (which is often elimination). Haste makes waste. Speed kills.
Of course, there are situations where folding to a check-raise with top-pair, top-kicker would be a huge mistake. No player can hope to win a poker tournament by repeatedly folding to an opponent who shows strength. Nevertheless, there are situations which literally scream out, "YOU ARE BEAT! FOLD IMMEDIATELY!" This was one of them.
SIDE NOTE: One of the most interesting things about this hand is the notion of slowplaying A-A, that is, not raising with it pre-flop. In the HERO's defense, since the ADVERSARY did not raise pre-flop, it is difficult to put the opponent on pocket aces.
However, the table was playing tight at the time and the ADVERSARY must have thought his pre-flop raise would win only the blinds. When faced with a raise to his left, the ADVERSARY played the hand very creatively (e.g. deceptively) by not re-raising and immediately giving away the strength of his hand. This strategy proved effective, although it's certainly risky to slowplay pocket aces in most situations.
I have to say that I agree with the concept - that being successful at poker often requires the discipline to fold - but the specific example in this article is so contrived it's stupid.
With a hand like this, TJ and Doyle both say almost the exact opposite thing in their books, and I would say that those two probably know what they are talking about more than Nolan Dalla. Certainly if HERO had been holding only middle pair or something other than top-pair top-kicker would caution have been readily advised, but the example that his opponent has only AA is silly. Both TJ and Doyle would likely advocate a call here on the basis that AK vs AA is so rare an event that if it does happen it's just an unavoidable consequence of playing poker instead of chess. (TJ would say, "well, that's just poker")
In defense of Nolan Dalla, it is certainly important to know the player, and he alludes to this in his postscript, but I personally would need to know a lot more about the circumstances than simply "it was the middle stages of a tournament at a tight table". And even then, only a really really talented hand-reader, LIKE TJ CLOUTIER would really be qualified to make a such a judgment: that a raise in that situation signified AA from his oppoent. Naturally, learning when to fold in those situations is how someone like TJ has won so many tournaments, but for the average Johnnymac or Fro or Junelli, the value that would be given away from regularly folding in this situation would likely be much more costly than whatever is saved in the rare circumstance that he really has AA and isn't just making a bad raise with an inferior hand or or a bluff with nothing.
In fact, in most of the games I play in these days, and in most of the games that most of the people on this board play in, it's much much much more like that a raise like that signifies a bad preflop call that got lucky and - this may end up sounding like a cop-out - in those situations I probably would end up folding, but it's not because I am afraid of AA. More likely it's because I am afraid of the dumbass who called a raise with 88 or 44 or K8s.
Basically, what I am saying is that I agree with the concept - it's something I always say myself - that a poker game is full of information that shouldn't be ignored and that often that information says that folding is often the right thing to do, no matter how disappointing it may be to throw away good cards. But the contrived example of AA vs AK+K isn't all that helpful in illustrating the point. All the example does is provide a neat tight example that fits into a 500 word column.
Agreed. The hands I'd worry about are K4o or K8o. Most of the morons I play with, would raise and/or call a raise with those hands. Even so, all the hands he eliminated through deduction are possibilities in these games.
The point is, always be looking for a reason to fold. The day I learn that is the day I'll make some real money.