Game Flow: Consider Recent Hands Before Choosing a Line

John Streese

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

We’re back on the tournament grind this week with a hand from the Mid-States Poker Tour. We’re at the Grand Falls Casino, located just about 20 minutes outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a $1,100 buy-in tournament with two starting days and a max of one reentry per day. The event drew 238 runners and paid 27 places, with a first-place prize of about $65,000.

The tournament is already in the money and is winding toward the final table with 13 players remaining. John Streese (pictured above) is among those left, and he has run into a rough patch after cruising with a big stack for awhile. At the point we pick up the action, Streese has opened two very recent pots. Once a player shoved over his raise and Streese folded. In the other instance, Streese opened and then called a three-bet before folding on the flop.

The Action

The blinds are 8,000/16,000 with a 2,000 ante. Streese, undeterred by recent resistance, opened to 36,000 from the cutoff. Big blind Chris Keller, who had not been showing down anything out of line, woke up with an all-in shove from the big blind for 190,000. Streese wasn’t laying down this time and called off his stack of slightly less.

Streese: {a-Hearts}{5-Diamonds}
Keller: {a-Spades}{j-Spades}

Streese was well behind, but the dealer rolled out a board of {q-Clubs}{5-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{6-Spades}{3-Spades} to give Streese an unlikely winner with a pair of fives. He doubled up and went on to finish eighth for $6,925, while a sickened Keller was left crippled and busted a few hands later.

Concept and Analysis

Streese opens with about a 12-big blind stack from the cutoff with {a-Hearts}{5-Diamonds} and then gets stacks in. Whether that’s a viable play or not depends heavily on context, so let’s examine the events leading up to this particular hand.

Streese’s opponents have already recently seen him open and then fold, followed by another open and fold on the flop after calling a three-bet. From their perspective, he’s likely working with a fairly liberal opening range.

Game Flow: Consider Recent Hands Before Choosing a Line 101
Chris Keller

Once your opponents see you open and then meekly fold a couple of times, they are more likely to attack your opens with three-bets and shoves. That’s exactly what has happened the last two times Streese came into the pot. The key concept here is game flow.

Game flow, or the general feel of the way the table is playing, can greatly impact the optimal way to play a hand. Even with the same hand against the same opponent, two entirely different lines might be optimal depending on differences in game flow.

If you haven’t opened a hand for a few orbits and you raise an unopened pot from the cutoff, your raise should get considerable respect assuming your opponents have no prior assumptions about your play. But if you have raised three of the past five hands or so without showing any real strength thereafter, and you open from the cutoff, your opponents will smell blood and likely be ready to pounce on what they perceive to be a weak open with a three-bet or shove.

In a situation like Streese finds himself, it’s usually best to change gears. If your light opens are meeting with resistance by opponents playing back at you, you may be better off tightening up. If you have been meekly folding with trashy cards the last few orbits, it may not be a bad idea to spring to life with a light open or three-bet.

Humans are naturally subject to recency bias. Failure to consider how the table is playing at a given time can be a costly mistake, so think about how game flow affects your ideal approach to your table.

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