POKER PLAYERS talk a lot about trying to maximize value. When they think they have the best hand, they bet and raise the biggest amounts that they believe their opponents will call.
But when they are unsure how good their hand is - and there are a lot of times when they are unsure - the idea is to get away as cheaply as possible if they are holding the second-best hand. At the 2008 World Series of Poker $10,000-buy-in main event at Las Vegas' Rio Hotel, with blinds at $100-$200, bright, talented pro Vanessa Rousso found pocket 9s on the button after the under-the-gun player and a player in middle position limped. She limped, too, as did both blinds, so five players took a flop of K-9-6, all clubs.
After the blinds checked, the under-the-gun limper made it $750, a standard-sized bet of three-quarters of the pot that represents some strength in the face of a dangerous board. The second limper folded, Rousso called with her set of 9s, and the blinds folded behind her.
"He could've had a flush there, but I had to call so the board can pair," said Rousso, one of the pros from the PokerStars online site. "With the three clubs on the board, I couldn't raise. Here's why: I give someone with the lone ace of clubs the chance to make a play at me. If they push all in, I have to fold. If the board paired or if I hit another 9, I have the nuts."
The turn came the 3 of spades, which didn't improve Rousso's hand. The under-the-gun player bet out $1,500, again a fairly standard bet of nearly two-thirds the size of the pot. Rousso called.
"I could have the best hand there," she said. "A lot of players will bet the naked ace of clubs there." The river came the 10 of hearts. Rousso missed her full house. Her opponent bet out $2,000, less than half the pot.
This was either a value bet from someone who had the flush and was looking for an amount that was too enticing for Rousso not to call, or it was a bluff made to look like a value bet that might prompt Rousso into folding.
"Normally I would fold to a bet on the river, but he only bet $2,000," Rousso said. "I had to call the $2,000 because he could be bluffing. He also could have a lower set or two pair or some hands I could beat."
Rousso mucked her set when her opponent turned over the J-Q of clubs.
"It was a great value bet," Rousso said. "I think I lost the minimum on that hand."
Under-the-gun: The first player to act before the flop.
The nuts: The best possible hand.*
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