I F*cked Up is a PocketFives series where the game’s best tell stories of where they got it wrong. Mistakes happen every day in poker and let these players be the first to tell you it happens to everyone.
If you are curious why German players are so proficient at No Limit Hold’em, consider this quote from 2017 WSOP Europe One Drop winner Dominik Nitsche. When asked to recall a hand that he misplayed and learned from, Nitsche noted it was hard for him to come up with a hand.
“The way I play poker, I don’t learn from mistakes that way. I just study all the time. I don’t really make mistakes, I study to avoid mistakes.” Nitsche said.
After consulting with some friends, Nitsche recalled a hand he played against partypoker pro Joao ‘joaosimaobh’ Simao earlier this year. It was in the partypoker MILLIONS Nottingham £10,300 High Roller where Nitsche had to turn his hand into a bluff. Due to an error in preflop hand range assessment, Nitsche made a play that didn’t quite add up.
The action starts at an eight-handed table and 10 players from the money. Nitsche opened off of what he estimates to be 40-50 big blinds in early position with pocket queens for a standard raise. Simao called in the hijack and Jason Wheeler tagged along from the big blind.
Nitsche estimates he’s opening approximately 20 percent of hands in this spot with Simao calling with six to eight percent.
The flop came out K-J-3 with no flush draws and Wheeler checked over to Nische.
“I want to be doing a lot of checking,” Nische said. “[Simao] has a lot of king-ten suited, king-jack suited. I can’t do a lot of three-street betting. The best course of action is to check and proceed.”
Simao bet a small amount and only Nitsche called.
“I have a pretty easy call. If I have pocket threes or pocket jacks, I would consider check-raising. With aces, I would check-raise. Queen-ten suited, I would check-call. Not sure if I have queen-ten offsuit 100 percent of the time.”
The queen-ten comment from Nitsche plays a key role as the hand develops on later streets.
A six came on the turn, and the board was officially a badugi. Both players checked with the river card impending.
“I check because I would check all of my hands. [Simao] could be betting the flop and check the turn. I’m not super comfortable but have a good amount of showdown value. I win this hand quite a bit.”
Action Heats Up on the River
The river produced an ace to put the broadway straight in play with the full board reading K-J-3-6-A. When examining his thought process on this card and how it impacts his next move Nitsche said, “The hands I check-call on the flop are not strong enough to check-raise. Ace-king is not strong enough to check-raise. In my hand, I thought pocket queens would make a strong bluff candidate.”
Nitsche checked over to Simao, who bet half the pot. When faced with the bet, Nitsche conceded his hand was not good enough to call with and moving all-in would give him the best chance of winning the pot.
“If I raise, it has to be a big raise. The only thing I could have is pocket jacks or better. The reason I decide to raise is because I have blockers to his queen-ten. My thinking in-game is that people tend to overvalue bet with the ace not thinking about what [their] opponent has.”
Simao did have an ace and called with ace-queen for his tournament life after a long tank to take most of Nitsche’s stack.
Nitsche observes that not having queen-ten in his range “defeats” his strategy of bluffing the river. Due to his opening from early position with his established range, he has the straight only four times versus if he opened from late position where he would have it 16 times.
“With his queen blocker, I have three combos of the nut straight. It’s a good spot to bluff with his range appearing to be so weak. He made a good call. If he doesn’t fold ace-queen, it’s hard for him to have any other bluffs. I don’t think I made a mistake,” Nitsche affirmed.
According to Nitsche, he and Simao have years of history playing together online and that played a part in him deciphering Nitsche’s bluff.
The takeaway that Nitsche suggests other players examine in their own game is to think about the hands they are opening before they put chips in. Nitsche observed that queen-ten offsuit not being in his preflop range changes the dynamic of the hand and his postflop decision making.
“If only open 15 percent of hands that’s fine. You have to be careful of what you can represent. How often do you have the hand you’re representing? The real problem comes when you open queen-jack offsuit but not queen-ten offsuit.”
Nitsche is not uncomfortable with putting together an all-in bluff. He acknowledges that when he does put chips in, his range should be credible enough for him to be able to properly represent having the best hand.
“Bluffing is a part of poker. Sometimes in these spots, you have to bluff. If your range is ahead of their range, you should be bluffing. To play successful poker, you need to play well in these spots.”