How Betting Patterns Can Guide Us in Key Spots

By Chris Jones

This month at RecPoker, we’re talking about betting patterns. When we start to notice some of the regular patterns of betting in poker games, we can take advantage of them in certain spots. One of the best ways to use betting patterns is to recognize when an opponent tends to cap their range. 

Here’s an example from a recent final table I played in. We’re down to 3 players left, so there are big ICM implications for each ladder. The chip leader has been very active, especially on their button. They have 49 big blinds. I’m second in chips and in the small blind this hand with 35 big blinds. The short stack in the big blind has 26 big blinds. 

Villain min opens from the button, which they have done for most hands in this formation. I’m holding QcJc, but I want to focus less on my hand and more on the betting patterns of this spot. I elect to flat and the big blind folds. In some formations, I’d consider a three-bet here, but it is a disaster to raise and get jammed on from either position, so I prefer to flat and hope to get heads up with the button with a hand that can flop really well. 

The flop comes KdQs9c and I check to the button. So let me stop us here. We’ve flopped a pretty marginal hand—middle pair with a gutshot. I now have more than 200 hands on this villain and I’ve taken notes on several showdowns. In the hands I’ve seen go to showdown, when villain leads flops on the smaller side (~33% pot), they tended to have value. When they led large (around 75% pot), they tended to have draws. I have seen 5 hands go to showdown that confirms this betting pattern. 

Villain does lead big—about 75k—into a 100k pot. 

So now I’ve got a read and I’m in a pickle, do I trust that read? Well yeah, sort of, but do I trust it to vary from standard play in this crucial ICM spot?I do elect to call this bet. I think I’d call in this spot no matter what, but the read certainly pushed me toward that call. The turn is the brickiest of bricks, the 3h. So we don’t improve, but neither does villain. 

We check again and now villain bets 187k into the 250k pot. When we think about betting patterns, large flop bets followed by large turn bets scream value, or at least polarization. This is top of range or nothing. I think villain may even check back AK in this spot. And like I said, I have a read that villain makes this flop sizing with draws. So I’m still certainly worried that villain has J10, but I’m still putting the bulk of villain’s range on AJ, A10, or even something like 10-8. 

A call here is wildly out of line, ICM-wise. I’m punting my second position to third by making this call. If I call and then fold, I’ll have around 18 big blinds. This could be a several hundred dollar mistake, but based on the betting patterns, I still firmly believe I have the best hand. Not only that, I’ve seen this villain make big river bluffs when they miss. In a vacuum, a call here is terrible. I’m committing 40% of my stack, I’m leaving myself short handed, and I only will have a half-pot bet behind. But I do it anyway, I make the “worst” choice in this spot because I’ve seen villain make these bluffs with missed draws and I want villain’s whole stack. As soon as my chips go in the middle, I plead with the gods not to put an A, J, or 10 on the river. 

The river is the 9s, leaving a final board of KdQs9c3h9s. Again, I hold QcJc. I check, and even though I expect the shove, I’m still sort of hoping for a check back. Do I really trust this stupid read of mine this much? But I knew it was coming and it came. Villain shoves. 

I give some thought to folding. Preserve your stack. ICM. Tournament life. Don’t blow this spot. All these thoughts are circling in my head, but I’ve come this far, I can’t go back. I call. Villain shows Ad10d and I have more than a million in chips and have become the dominant chip leader. 

I go on to win this tournament a few hands later and this is the hand that got me there. This is the power of recognizing betting patterns and using them to make some pretty big exploits.

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