You’re playing in a full-ring $2/$5 cash game in a Las Vegas casino. Everyone has full 100bb stacks. You are seated in the cut-off (CO) immediately to the right of the button. The action folds around to you and you look down to see Q♥-J♦.
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The action is on you. What should you do?
Please leave your answer—and explanation—in the comments below before scrolling down and reading the analysis and answer.
While QJo is not a particularly strong hand, we only have three other players remaining yet to act, and the hand is strong enough to play. Open-raising as a semi-bluff steal is a profitable play.
An offsite Q-J hand is the epitome of a trouble, or reverse implied odds (RIO) hand. Usually with QJ, we tend to win small pots—and lose large ones. Ergo, we want to be careful whenever we get involved with this type of hand.
Conversely, we are in late position with only three players left to act, so we’re in a good situation to attempt a steal and take down the blinds. If we get called, we can proceed cautiously. If we get raised, we may have to fold. Let’s look more closely at the entire analysis to see why this is the way to play QJo in this situation…
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R-is-for-Reading Ranges & Lines:
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Because we’re in a $2/$5 full-ring cash game at a casino, we’ll assume the player pool is a combination of so-so amateurs, low-stakes professionals, and semi-pro regulars. For the sake of caution, we’ll further assume that most of our opponents are modestly competent; I.e., they will understand the concept of position, can make basic hand reads, and perform fundamental poker math. Otherwise, we don’t know anything specific about the three opponents left to act after us.
We also know nothing about the cards any of the three opponents have. Their ranges are, quite literally, any two cards (ATC).
Our own image is not stated, so we’ll assume that we’re unknown to our opponents. That said, our late position open will look like a much wider range than if we had, say, open-raised in early position. Both pure value and total air bluff-steals (and most everything in between) will be in our perceived range. As a result, our opponents may be more inclined to call us (or play back with re-raises) with wider ranges themselves.
E-is-for-Evaluating the Math:
The current pot size is: $2 + $5 = $7.
Pot Equity (PE):
With QJ, our hot-and-cold pot equity against all three players’ ATCs, is 32.6%, which is more than the 25% required if all the money somehow made it into the pot preflop. Per our Poker Cruncher equity calculator:
Fold Equity (FE):
We don’t have a direct measure of our fold equity (FE), but we can estimate the likelihood that at least one of our opponents wakes up with a hand that dominates ours and/or is otherwise considered “playable.” For example, if we determine there is a 25% chance at least one of our opponents has a playable hand, we can approximately FE by 100% - 25% = 75%. (Of course, our actual FE may be lower than this due meta-game effects, our perceived style of play, whether our opponents are tilting or not, and so on.)
There are four pair-type hands that dominate our (JJ+) and five non-pair-type hands that dominate ours (AJ+, KJ+). We will assume that a player holding any of these cards will not fold if we open-raise (i.e., they will either call or re-raise us). These hands represent 104 of the possible 1326 unique starting hands in Texas Hold’em, or 7.8%.
Turning this around, we can calculate that there is a 100%-7.8%=92.2% probability that a single player does not have a dominating hand. Next, given that there are three players left to act, there is a 92.2% x 92.2% x 92.2% = 0.922^3 = 78.3% likelihood that none of the three players have a dominating hand to ours. This is essentially our best case fold equity estimate.
More realistically, we might further assume that an opponent holding any other pair (22-TT), plus a couple higher-medium Aces (A9, AT), might call or play back at us with a “leave-my-blinds-alone” re-raise.
Running the math on these additional combinations, it turns out there’s a 37% probability that at least one of our three opponents has either a dominating hand or an otherwise playable hand. This means our more conservative estimate of fold equity is roughly 100%-37%=63%. It might be a bit more or less than this figure, depending upon our perceived image (e.g., bluffy vs nitty) and the types and tendencies of our opponents (loose vs tight, aggressive vs passive), but it’s probably not too far off.
Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR):
If we open-raise (e.g., to $20) and get called by one player, the pot will be $47 and we’ll have $480 behind, giving us an SPR going into the flop of 10.2. We will therefore not be pot committed on the flop. (To understand why this is true, see this article on SPR and Pot Commitment.)
Probability of Position:
There is a two out of three chance that if we end up seeing a flop against one of these opponents that we’ll have position on them.
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D-is-for-Deciding on the Max EV Line:
We have a reverse implied odds (RIO) type hand. If we open-raise and get re-raised (especially by the button, who will have postflop position on us) we will usually be correct in just folding. Only if we were deeper stacked and/or had additional knowledge about the type and tendencies of the opponent would we consider calling (e.g., trying to see a flop and hit a big draw) or coming back over the top on them with another raise.
Conversely, if we open-raise and just get called, we can probably assume that our hand isn’t dominated. E.g., a player who flats a late position open-raise probably doesn’t have JJ+ or a hand like AK. And we will usually have position (2 out of 3 times) against the opponent postflop.
Finally, our hand has enough equity (~33%) to make open-raising a profitable play. How old do i have to be to gamble in florida. This is why most good starting hand charts include QJo in the cut-off seat:
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I is for Implementing Line with Max Deception, Profitability:
In general, you don’t want to give away the strength of your hand by varying the bet sizing. You should open Aces with the same bet sizing as you would with A-2s or JTo. Because this is a live game, open-bet sizing is typically larger than in equivalent online games. In late position, a bet size of roughly 4-5x the big blind would be reasonable. If this were an online game of equivalent competition strength (e.g., $50NL), a sizing around 2.5-3x the big blind would be appropriate.
(c) Open-raise to $20 or $25.
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There are a few additional points that merit further discussion:
Value vs. Semi Bluff:
Because the hand is EV+ based on equity alone in this situation, it is, technically-speaking, a value hand. That said, it’s useful to think of it more as a semi-bluff/stealing hand. We should be very happy if all opponents fold, but can/will play it if someone comes along with a call. QJo is a medium strength hand, but is definitely not a powerhouse, and, in fact, can be a trap hand if you hit a pair on the flop and get action from an opponent. Therefore, the primary reason to open this type of hand in this situation is to get your opponents to fold. If you get called, so be it, but in general you’re happy with folds and taking down the blinds.
Stack Sizes Matter:
If the effective stack size were smaller (e.g., ~$150-$200) we would have to be careful stealing, as a call from an opponent would be edging us toward pot commitment. This is probably not something we want to do with a hand as weak as QJo.
Stealing Blinds Matter:
It may not seem like much, but the $7 that the blinds have posted is worth going after if presented with a stealing opportunity. Over time, these 1-2bb pots add up to serious money.
Don’t Get Married to the Hand:
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If you get played back at preflop, you should be more than willing to let the hand go. And this holds true even if you flop a pair, including top pair. Your Jack kicker is weak, so be willing to fold if your opponent’s bets are saying they have a strong hand.
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QJo is a fairly weak hand, but more than strong enough to open for a raise in late position as a semi-bluff/stealing hand.
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