Playing in cash games usually means deep stacked, multi-tiered play that will cause you to come across difficult spots to manage pot size, aggression levels, and hand control with. The biggest tool that a player has in deep stacked games is the power to force an opponent to make a difficult decision, usually accomplished by going all-in or making a strong play in an unorthodox manner.

Being able to see where these spots can develop can help you avoid the difficult decision by forcing your opponent to make the difficult decision first. We’re going to look at a hand I recently played at a live $1/$2 game that illustrate how to avoid (and, in one instance, step into) the difficult decision making process.

A Simple Illustration

Poker tipsThe first hand started innocently enough. I opened from the hijack with the 8h9d to $10, with about $500 behind. The button, a slightly erratic, aggressive gentleman, flatted, as did both blinds, and we took off four handed to the flop. It was all diamonds; 4d7d8d. The blinds checked to me, and I elected to lead out $25 into the pot. I had been a little tight the past few orbits, so I figured my continuation bet here looked a lot stronger than it would’ve if I had been playing fast, and could get better diamonds than mine (the 10 and jack, specifically) out of the hand, something that was content with the flop. The button quickly flatted, and both blinds folded. The turn was the jack of clubs, giving me a gutshot to go with my second pair and nine high flush draw. My opponent had about $200 left in his stack, and there was $80 out there already. I had a drawing hand that, aside from the non diamond tens, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make. My opponent’s speed that he called smelled like a diamond draw as well, though. He had position on me, so the question is, what do I want to do with a hand that I think is best but is vulnerable?

Reviewing the Options

There’s a few lines we can take here. The passive approach is to check/call the turn and check/call the safe rivers and check/fold to dangerous rivers (Aces and diamonds are the big trouble cards). This approach has the advantages of pot control and limiting loss, but if he has a hand like KhQd, a turn bet may be enough to convince him to give up on a draw that has 14 outs to beat us on the river. With us expecting to call a river bet from the erratic guy save for diamonds and aces, one of the 6 face cards can cost us $50 to see. So, we lose the ability to protect our hand by being passive.

The combo route is to bet the turn ($50-$75) and check the river to him if we’re called. This bet/evaluate line has become more prevalent in recent years, as players like to protect the hand on the turn then relinquish control on the river, once they’ve “protected” their hand on the turn. The problem with this line comes when perceptive players realize your river check signals a vulnerable hand, in which case, they may make a huge bluff, forcing you to call a huge chunk of your stack off with what they know is a marginal hand. Unless you have a good perception for when your opponent is making a move on the river, this can be the most difficult line to follow through on.

The aggro route is to bet the turn ($50-$75) and shove most rivers if we’re called on the turn. This keeps our opponent, who has position, from doing anything other than reacting to our river bet, and making him make a decision for a large pot. We’re not shoving the river when the diamond hits, but anything else hitting on the river, we’re putting our opponent to the test if they didn’t flop the flush. If they did…we’re spewing off a big chunk of change.

So What Happened?

Choosing to bet the handIn the hand, I chose to bet the turn, betting $45. My opponent called very quickly, leaving himself $155 in his stack. The river was the queen of hearts, and I tanked for a minute or so before checking.

As soon as I checked, my opponent immediately shoved all in for the remaining $155. I was getting a decent price to call if I was right and my opponent bricked the nut flush draw, which is the case here a lot, so after another short tank I pushed out 6 green chips and said, “I have a pair of eights.” My opponent looked at me quizzically, then asked, “What’s your kicker?” I showed my nine, and he shook his head in disbelief and flipped over 89o, the same hand without the flush draw. He turned a marginal hand into a bluff because of how I played the hand, and forced me to make a difficult call on the river.

Had I shoved the river, taking the aggro route, my opponent, based on his reaction to the river, would’ve quickly released and I would’ve won the pot. Checking the turn would’ve probably led to us checking the hand down and chopping. By picking the most difficult line to play, the bet/check line, I could only fold, a lose a good chunk of change, or make a hero call and chop. If I had chose to follow my logic of the drawy hand (which, 89o doesn’t quite fit the drawy range, but it was a hand he could turn into a bluff on the river) and just bet/bet, I would’ve won a nice sized pot with my river shove.

Look for ways to avoid the awkward river spots and difficult decisions in cash games; deep stacks can lead to awkward skirmishes that you don’t want to be the last person to decide on.