It seems to me that poker stop-and-go play — a term I first heard used by 2004 WSOP champion Greg Raymer — works much better in online games than it does in cash game play at traditional, brick and mortar casinos.
But don’t ask me why. It just seems to work out that way. At least that’s been my experience. It might not be your experience, but in $15-$30 and $30-$60 online games, stop-and-go frequently works wonders.
I like to think of the stop-and-go play as analogous to a football play you see wide receivers run all the time. A wide receiver goes 10 yards upfield, and then flexes his inside shoulder as though he is going to button-hook back and catch a short pass.
The quarterback does his part too. First he fakes handing the ball off to a running back, which brings a safety up to defend against the run. Then he pump-fakes, just as the receiver dips his shoulder. But as soon as he does, the receiver turns back up field and heads toward the end zone. If the defensive back bites on the receiver’s initial move, the receiver will have a few steps on him, and that’s all it takes. If the quarterback delivers the ball accurately, and the receiver is sure-handed, it’s a touchdown — or at the very least, a long gain. Only a quick recovery on the part of the defensive back, or a safety who takes the proper angle, can run down the receiver before he reaches the end zone.
You can do that at the poker table too, as long as your opponent is a good enough player to get away from a hand when he suspects he’s beaten or he realizes the price to find out is just too high compared to his estimate of how often he’ll win a particular confrontation.
Let’s assume you open with a raising hand like A-K or A-Q and an aggressive player who acts behind you makes it three bets. You call, knowing that your opponent may have a big pair, or he may have reraised with a hand that’s very similar to yours in hopes of knocking out any other callers and allowing him to seize the initiative on the flop in a heads-up pot.
If the flop is ragged and looks like it’s missed both of you, you’re in good position to try the stop-and-go. While most players will check to the guy who made it three bets before the flop, you come out betting. Now your opponent will have a decision to make — as long as he isn’t holding a really strong hand like a big pocket pair.
If he made it three bets before the flop with A-K, he has to assume that the flop helped you or you called with a pocket pair and are now firmly in the lead. After all, once the flop is exposed, your opponent has seen 71% of his hand and the cost of wagering only gets more expensive on the Turn and River.
What can he do? He certainly shouldn’t want to call your bet with A-K, because he probably suspects he’s no longer in the lead. He can fold, and you’d love that because you’ll win the pot right there. Your opponent can raise, but if you really do have a good hand, you’re going to play back at him and he figures to lose even more money. If he’s thinking about how things will probably play out on future betting rounds, he’ll probably conclude that you raised on the flop with the best hand and plan to come out betting the Turn and the River too.
When you come out betting, it’s like announcing that you intend to bet on subsequent rounds too. Since a bet saved equals a bet won, if your opponent doesn’t have a hand he’s probably going to fold now, while he can get out inexpensively.
If the flop carries a big card with it, you still might make this play, particularly if that big flop card is not an Ace. Suppose the flop is J-9-3. If your opponent has A-K, all he has is the possibility that he might win if he hits one of his overcards on the Turn or River.
For him it’s a dicey situation heads-up, because he’s certainly not getting much of a price to draw to his overcards. If that’s not daunting enough, he can’t even be sure whether pairing an overcard will make him happy. An Ace on the Turn might be just what the doctor ordered, but not if you have a hand like A-J or A-9. If you do, he’s dead in the water and all pairing his overcard will help him do is lose more money.
You can also use this stop-and-go play on the Turn. Suppose you bet the flop, are raised, and what began as a multi-way pot becomes heads up when you call and everyone else folds. You can come out betting regardless of the Turn card. If a big card turns that fails to help your opponent, he’ll have to figure it either helped you or you’re betting a pocket pair for value, now that the betting limits have doubled. After all, he raised the flop but now you’re betting into him on the Turn. He’s thinking, “What’s going on here?” If all he raised with were overcards, he’ll likely fold and you’ll take the pot.
If a small card appears on the turn, betting out is even a stronger assertion that you have a pocket pair and are feeling just peachy, thank you, about betting into a ragged board.
Once again, betting puts your opponent in the unenviable position of having to think about calling a reraise if he chooses to continue driving his overcards, or else he has to call passively when he figures to have the worst of it.
Like all things in poker, this sword has two edges. If your opponent really does have a big hand, he is likely to reraise and then you’re the one being put to the test. If your opponent is a skillful player who seldom gets out of line, it’s a test you’ll probably fail. Just as it was for your opponent when he didn’t have a strong hand, discretion is the better part of valor when you have a hand that does not figure to showdown a winner at the River.
Despite the dark side that crops up from time to time, the stop-and-go play seems to tip strongly in favor of the player who employs it. While you’ll cost yourself an extra bet or two when your timing is bad, more often than not you’ll take down a pot without a fight, and there, doesn’t that feel nice.