Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Here's an interesting hand I played a few years ago at a $1,500-buy-in event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
After beginning with 3,000 in chips, I had built my stack to 11,000 by the second level. Blinds were 50-100, and I limped in with 9-8 offsuit in middle position. The player on the button also limped in. The small blind completed, and the big blind checked.
The flop came 6d 10d 7c, giving me the nuts. The blinds checked. I bet 200 into a pot of 400. The player on button called, the small blind folded, and the big blind, looking confused, hesitated before calling.
The turn brought the 9s. With a pot of 1,000, the big blind pushed all in for 2,300. It was my turn to act and I still had one player behind me with 4,300 left in his stack. What would you have done, and why?
I folded the hand. Let me share what was going through my head at that point.
I'd be beaten by J-8, an unlikely (but possible) holding for either of my opponents, because that would mean they were chasing just a weak gutshot draw on the flop. Given the big blind's reaction before his call on the flop, I assumed he had some sort of weakish draw, which could definitely include J-8. However, I ruled that out because he pushed all in on the turn, and I didn't think he would play the nuts in such a way at that point in the hand.
So what did I put him on? In my mind, the most likely possibilities were 6-8 or 7-8, giving him a pair on the flop with a gutshot straight draw. Two pair was also a possibility, as having a 9 in his hand would fit my read of him having a pair, plus a draw. Those hands would likely be 7-9 or 9-10, making him two pair on the turn. His push now made a little sense, because it was a scary board with a flush draw out there. He may have believed he was ahead with his two pair, but he wanted to protect against potential danger on the river.
I concluded that, most of the time, he would have the same straight as me, some of the time he would have two pair, and, very rarely, he would beat me with the J-8. It was 2,300 for me to call, there was still one more player to act, and it was nearly impossible to know what the player behind me had based on the information available. It was possible he had a flush draw, a set or possibly the J-8. I was sitting on a stack of 11,000 and felt I had control of the table. I didn't want to put out 2,300 (with the possibility of the player behind me pushing all in for another 2,000) in a situation where, most of the time, the best-case scenario is that I'd be splitting a 1,000 pot while risking a loss of 4,300.
The player behind me also folded, and the big blind didn't show his hand. During the next break, I asked him what he had, and he told me he had an 8, giving him the same hand as me. I was still satisfied with the decision to fold. Even though you might be almost certain you have the best hand, you don't have to call. The size of my stack and the risk-to-reward ratio made this a spot where folding was the best thing to do.
Scott Fischman is a professional poker in the live and online poker worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace."