From now on I plead the Fifth

December 29, 2010  

When our forefathers drew up our Bill of Rights they created the Fifth Amendment, which essentially says you’re allowed to keep your big yapper shut under any circumstances. You hear it on those TV courtroom dramas all the time, “I plead the Fifth.” Perhaps poker players, yours truly included, should’ve paid more attention in 10th-grade Civics class.

A carefully crafted statement at a poker table can induce the desired response (a call or a fold from your opponent), but if you open your mouth and aren’t well-versed in table talk, you could very well get the reaction you weren’t looking for.

Let’s take a look at two hands from our recent Ante Up Poker Cruise aboard the Monarch of the Seas en route to the Bahamas.

This first hand comes in a $1-$3 no-limit hold’em game. It’s six-handed, and after two folds there’s a call in the cutoff, a raise to $10 from the button, who’s a competent, yet loose, player. He has everyone at the table covered with about $400 in front of him.

I looked down at two black 10s with about $275 in front of me. Normally I might reraise here just to take the pot down because I’d be out of position. But I felt like I might be able to double-through the button player with the right flop, and I thought the raise might be enough to get me heads-up with him. So I just called. Much to my surprise the big blind, from whom I had taken a few pots, called. He was a fairly tight-passive player and was very quiet all afternoon. He had about $180.

The initial limper folded, so we’re three-handed headed to the flop, which was Q-Q-4 rainbow. This seemed like a fairly safe flop for my 10-10, so with about $30 in the pot I bet $15. The BB called and the aggressive button folded. So we were heads-up when the {5-Clubs} fell on the turn, putting two clubs on the board.

The pot was about $60 at this point, and his mere call on the flop had me a little concerned. If he had a hand like Q-J or K-Q, given his penchant for passive play, I think this is how he would’ve played it. So I checked to see just how strong he was. Perhaps I should’ve put out a blocking bet, but I really felt like I would get my answer regardless, and why waste $15-$25? After all, as Daniel Negreanu once said on our weekly PokerCast, “They’re just 10s.” But the big blind checked.

The river brought a harmless deuce. Like an idiot I checked again thinking we would just table our cards. It really felt like that was the way the hand was going and I’d get some showdown value for my hand. But that’s when he woke up and bet $25 into the $60 pot. What? Where did that come from? There’s no way he had A-3, or 3-6 for that matter. Those hands would’ve folded preflop, and even if they hadn’t, they couldn’t have called the postflop bet. Floating just wasn’t in his arsenal, especially with the loose-aggressive button still in the hand when a float would have been executed.

Did he really have a queen in his hand? I went into the tank. Yes, it’s only $1-$3 NLHE and yes, it’s only $25, but regardless of stakes you always need to try to make the best decisions possible at all times. I narrowed his range to three types of hands: any queen, a small pair (sixes through nines) or air. Given the type of player he was I quickly ruled out air. So that left me with a coinflip. I gave nothing away as I contemplated, just sitting there thinking about how the hand played out. In my mind I was about to fold, and then it happened. The big blind spoke! Here is a guy who said NOTHING all session, and now he pipes up and says, “If you don’t have a queen you can’t call.”

Wow, what does he mean by that? So I started to analyze the hand (and his comment) again. If he had a queen would he really have checked the turn behind me with two clubs and a straight draw (albeit an unlikely one) on board? And if he had a queen would he really tell me I can’t call unless I had one, too? Clearly, if I had a queen I would not have checked the turn, and I certainly wouldn’t have been in the tank with trip queens. So he must know I don’t have a queen, and if he knows that then why is he trying to scare me, or “help” me with some advice?

There is one hand I didn’t consider: 4-4. But if he flopped a boat, would he have checked the turn? Maybe, but isn’t he hoping I have a queen, and if so wouldn’t he bet before the river to protect his underboat?

I deduced his comment was meant to dissuade me from calling and I threw five purple chips in the middle. He turned over 8-8; I showed my 10s and dragged a fairly healthy pot. I said, “I was going to fold until you said that,” and he just shrugged.

The next day I was in a $3-$6 H.O.R.S.E. game and this hand comes in the razz rotation. I was up a bunch at this point and really enjoying a good session. I had won two of the past three razz hands, showing down a six and a seven, so I felt like people were only seeing strong hands from me.

The door cards on the hand in question were 7-2-10-K-J. I had an ace showing, 3-4 underneath, and I was to the left of the jack. The king brought it in for a buck, the jack folded and I completed to $3. It folded around to the 10, who called.

The king mucked, and on fourth street my opponent picked up a nine. I got a deuce for four to a wheel. I was first to act and said, “Sorry, I have to bet.” He called.

On fifth street he got an eight and I paired my three, only he didn’t know that. My board read: A-2-3 and his was 10-9-8. I bet $6 and said, “I never miss,” or something equally cocky and stupid. He called again, which was great because I’m a huge favorite.

On sixth street I actually made trips and he got an ace. He checked to me — since I paired my board he had the best hand showing — and I bet again, and again he called. I suppose I could’ve checked there but my board was just so strong regardless of the pair that I felt I still had a TON of outs in case he made a nine or eight.

Now I bet in the dark, which was wrong because he obviously still had the best board. The astute dealer pointed this out and I apologized. My opponent checked and I again bet $6 without looking. He called and I peaked at the {k-Hearts}, making just a king-low. He showed his 10-low and won a nice pot from me. I chuckled and showed my starters, looking for sympathy, for which I received none.

After we got through the stud/8 rotation I realized dinner was in 30 minutes so I took my nifty little profit and headed for the elevators. In there was my opponent, and I said to him, “Man, how much did I have to bet to get you off that razz hand?” To which he replied, “You wouldn’t shut up. I knew you didn’t have it.”

Touché. I did have any 10-9-8-7-6-5 to beat him, but his point was well-taken, and turns out it’s the moral of the story. Our Fifth Amendment is there to protect ourselves from self-incrimination. Perhaps we should start using it more often at the poker table. I know I will.

— Email Chris at chris@anteupmagazine.com.