Poker Hand: limping with Aces

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The following hand takes place on “High Stakes Poker” where the blinds are 400/800 with a $1600 straddle.

Eric Boneta limps under the gun for 1600 with Ks Qs, bringing along Phil Laak, who is on the button, with pocket threes. Neither of these plays are out of the ordinary, however, Johnny Chan who is in the small blind, just calls the straddle with two aces in the hole.

At first glance this appears to be a strange play. An A-B-C player would look at this decision and say: “Why not raise and isolate a weaker hand with the aces?” There are two main reasons: First, Chan adds an element of disguise to his hand by doing this. Very good players will randomize their betting patterns to make sure they cannot be easily exploited. Second, he most likely sees Daniel Negreanu, a loose-aggressive player in the straddle, who is liable to “punish the limpers” with any two decent cards.

Enticed by the attractive pot odds, Phil Galfond comes into the pot from the big blind pot odds with Kh 5h. The action is now on Negreanu, who holds 10c 9c. He decides to raise it to slightly more than the size of the pot. My best guess is that this is an attempt to steal the pot right here. However, if he does get a couple of callers, his hand flops well with a lot of money in the pot.

Boneta and Laak call the raise from Negranu, bringing the size of the pot to about 30 thousand dollars. At this point Chan’s trap has worked perfectly. Now he re-raises it to the size of the pot folding out Galfond and Negreanu. In my opinion, Boneta should now give up his hand; however, he decides to call Chan’s raise and this brings in Laak, who is set fishing with his pair of threes.

The pot is now $100 thousand on the flop, which comes two, five, six rainbow. This is a fantastic flop for Chan’s hand and he leads into the pot with a bet of 45 thousand. Then, surprisingly, Boneta looks at his stack size and pushes all in for close to $200 thousand. Laak quickly folds, and Chan snaps calls.

“Wow, great call! I have nothing. I was trying to represent the set,” Boneta said.

If Chan had not already invested $75 thousand in this pot that might have been a decent play. But the board texture is pretty dry, where trying to push aces off their hand is rarely going to work.

Boneta’s flop play was his biggest mistake, but his pre-flop call was also a misstep. Neither of these errors would have happened if Chan had initially raised his aces before the flop. He is one of the best poker players because he causes others players to make mistakes — this is just one example.

Next time you’re at a juicy table with lots of pre-flop action, consider limping with kings or aces to induce action from other players.