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John Juanda
Lesson: 11
Don't Play a Big Pot Unless You Have a Big Hand
May 30, 2005

I'm at Foxwoods playing the $2,000 No Limit Hold 'em event. We all started
with $3,000 and now I've got $15,000. At my table is Richard Tatalovitch, a
player whom I've competed against many times.

I raise pre-flop from middle position with K-J offsuit and Richard calls from the
big blind. The flop comes 9-6-4 with two diamonds on the board.

Richard hesitates for a moment before checking, and I put in a pot-sized bet.
Richard thinks for a while and calls. All of a sudden, I don't like my hand -- so

Imagine my relief when a non-diamond J hits the turn. Now I have top pair
and a pretty good kicker. Then Richard comes out betting. Uh-oh.

Now, let me back up a moment and mention that when someone hesitates
before checking, it's usually a huge tell. But Richard is the king of delayed
action, so I ignored his tell and bet the flop anyway. And his bet on the turn
just screams, "Raise me! I dare you!"

I go into the tank and my thoughts go something like this:

1. He flopped a set. That explains the smooth call on the flop - he's trying to
trap me into staying, hoping I'll bet the turn, too.

2. No. If he had a set, he'd have checked the turn and waited for me to hang
myself right then and there, or let me catch something on the river. He can't
have a set.

3. The jack helped him. I don't have the jack of diamonds. Maybe he does,
and he called the flop with a jack-high flush draw. If so, I like my kicker and
my hand.

4. He's betting on the come with a flush or straight draw and is hoping to buy
the pot right there.

I run through these possibilities and reach no conclusion.

Normally, I would just call here. We both have a lot of chips, and I don't want
to put them all in with nothing but top pair. Then, I have the misfortune to
remember a hand from a month earlier at Bellagio:

Richard had been running bad and was complaining about a string of horrific
beats. I saw him check and call with top boat because he was afraid of
quads! A guy that afraid of monsters under the bed isn't going to check-call
top set on the flop with a flush draw out there.

"All in!" I declared.

Oops. This is now a Big Pot. And rest assured, top pair doesn't even
resemble a Big Hand.

In the four years I've been playing with him, I've never seen him call so fast. I
am drawing dead to his perfectly-played 9-9.

Sometimes, we all forget that big cards don't always equal a big hand and
that the smart move can be to play conservatively instead of going for the
quick kill. As for Richard - he had the good sense to be in a Big Pot with a Big
Hand, and the patience to make it pay off.

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