Poker: Game is simple for a smoothie

The combination of pot odds, stack sizes and other mathematical variables can make no-limit hold ‘em seem like a complex game.

And then there are times when the game can be as simple as believing you hold the best hand and then betting it, as legendary gambler Billy Baxter concluded in this hand from the $25,000-buy-in World Poker Tour Championship at Las Vegas’ Bellagio in 2010.

With blinds at $1,200-$2,400 plus a $300 ante, J.J. Liu opened for $6,000 in middle position. The player in the cutoff called. On the button, Baxter found 8-9 of diamonds and also called, as did the big blind.

Four-handed, the flop came 6-J-5, two diamonds, giving Baxter a gutshot straight-flush draw.


The big blind checked. Liu made it $11,000, less than half of a pot worth almost $28,000. She could be making a feeler bet or enticing someone to raise. The cutoff folded. Action was on Baxter.

“She could be continuation-betting with anything, but I thought she had a big pair,” said Baxter, winner of seven World Series of Poker bracelets. “A lot of people would raise in that spot, but I think she plays pretty tight. Earlier, she showed me a pair in a hand that told me that.”

If Liu held, say, pocket aces, kings or queens, then Baxter was almost a coin flip with two cards to come. But he also might’ve expected a bigger bet from an overpair to the board.

“So, I just smooth-called because I didn’t want to get involved too much at this point,” Baxter said. “I had position, too.”


The big blind folded, so heads-up they took a turn of the 9 of clubs. Liu bet out $20,400, again less than half the pot.

“I still had a flush draw, an inside-straight draw, and the 9 gave me a pair,” said Baxter, who called again.

The river came the 8 of clubs, giving Baxter two pair. Liu checked. Baxter made it $40,000 into a pot of more than $90,000.

“When she checked, I put her on what I had her on all along: a big pair,” Baxter said. “The 8 meant she had a straight if she had a 7 in her hand, but I didn’t think she had one. I thought she had an overpair.


“She had just bet $20,000, so I went with $40,000 because there was already a lot of money in the pot. I thought I had the best hand and I wanted to bet something.”

Liu called, then mucked her hand when she saw Baxter’s two pair.

“I had a lot of things I was going for at first, but I missed them all and went in another direction and made two pair,” Baxter said. “I thought I still had the best hand and I tried to make money off it.”



Smooth-call: To just call a bet or raise and disguise the strength of a hand.