I love the song “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John. Two lines in particulaer stand out to me:

Refried confusion is making itself clear

Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here.

These two lines remind me of how I used to play losing poker.

I would face a river bet and I just didn’t know how to respond. I was confused as to what my opponent had, I didn’t know how my hand stacked up against his range, I didn’t replay the action of the hand in my mind and I basically just thought about my hand and the board.

When I didn’t know which way to go, I often ended up calling his bet. I didn’t want to fold and be bluffed off the hand, and I didn’t know if I should raise for value or as a bluff. So, the only logical conclusion was to call, right?

via GIPHY

Well, calling is a bad decision when you’re confused about the situation. Committing chips when you don’t know what’s going on just gives value to your opponents and causes you to remain a losing player.

Here’s a not uncommon situation that can confuse us to the value of our once strong hand.

We open-raise with KK from UTG, everyone folds except the unknown BB player who calls.

The flop comes 5c 3h 2d. The BB check-raises us 3 times our c-bet. We figure we’ve got a great overpair along with position and it’s just too early to fold, so we call.

getting check-raised on the flop
Getting 3x check-raised on the flop

The turn brings 2h, making the board very draw heavy along with straights and full houses already possible. We hold a 2-pair hand. The BB player fires another bet of 75% pot and we decide to call with our strong overpair hand, because “Hey, I can’t fold Kings.”

call the turn with a strong overpair
We call a 3/4 pot bet on the turn with a strong overpair

The pot is now 65BBs and the 3d hits the river, making the final board 5c 3h 2d 2h 3d. It’s a double-paired board and full houses are even more likely and straights are still possible.

Our opponent fires the river for 32.4BBs, exactly ½ pot. We reason that we’ve come this far and our KK beats bluffs and weaker overpairs like 99 and 88, so we call.

Our opponent tables the Ah4s for the flopped straight that went for — and got! — three streets of value.

beat on the river
Our opponent’s flopped straight beat us out of 65 BBs

Now you might look at this situation and just chalk it up to a cooler. “My KK lost to A4 when they flopped a straight.” If that’s all you get from this, you’re missing out on an opportunity for growth and you’ll continue to call and lose with reasons like, “Well, I have an overpair. I’ve gotta call.”

Let’s go back to the river before we called.

Before any big calling decision, especially on rivers when mistakes are the costliest, do these two things:

  1. Remove your hand from your mouse or your chips. This gives you a little brain space to think more deeply about the situation.
  2. Replay the action of the hand as if you were a sports announcer. If you’re playing online you can do this aloud. In a poker room, mentally replay the hand.

“He completed the action with his call in the BB, so he has a wide range. He check-raised me 3x my c-bet on the flop. That smells like a set, straight or two pair hand. Most other hands, including 44, 99 and AJ will often just call to continue cheaply, so he probably doesn’t have one of those hands.

“From out of position (OOP), he bet a hefty 75% pot when the board paired the turn. He’s obviously not scared of that 2h or it helped him. My turn call and not a re-raise would signify I have an overpair or maybe a draw I don’t want to give up on.

“Then he fired a third bet on that double-paired river 3d. Sure, he decreased it to just ½ pot, but altogether he’s committed over 60BBs on this double-paired, three-to-the-straight board. Does he do this with a hand worse than KK? I don’t know enough about him to know he’s capable of this ultra-aggressive line from OOP.

“I think he’s got me beat, so I fold.”

When we replay the action of the hand like this and add a little bit of logic behind our opponent’s actions, it all makes sense. We should’ve seen that our once beautiful KK was crushed here and folding is the only play.

It’s critical that you develop the ability to replay the action of the hand to take you from a sense of confusion to one of understanding and certainty. This skill allows you to step outside of the action and your emotions and rationally view the situation to see the truth of your opponent’s holding.

The action of any hand is a puzzle, but as you mentally replay it and think about the range of hands that logically fit his prior actions, the pieces come together and the picture becomes clear. This makes it easier to choose the right play.

You can work off-the-felt with hand reading exercises to help you develop this replaying ability, but there’s also work you can do on-the-felt to train it as a skill.

Take Action: Over the next week, for every turn and river decision you face, remove your hand from your mouse or from your chip stack. Then recite the action of the hand. Don’t think too much about your hand (“I have KK, I’ve got to be ahead!”). Instead, it’s more important that you put your opponent on a range of hands that fits their actions from start to finish.

Good luck and enjoy facing less confusion and more profitable decisions as you work to train the skill of replaying hands.

For more great coaching, strategies and tips from Sky Matsuhashi, check out his poker training site, The Poker Forge. Here’s our review.

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