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Monsters Under the Bed in the Texas Hold 'em Poker Home Game
Here's a fact: a professional poker player worries a lot less about getting beat by the nuts than does the average home game poker player. That's because a professional poker player spends considerably more time assessing bet strategies, tells, and various other things that the home player does not.
In the home game, you will frequently hear players of most levels expressing fear about getting beat by a better hand when they hold a very good hand. If a player holds two pair, they will often fold citing fear of a flush or straight. If the board pairs, a player who has made trips will fold and express fear of a full house. Whenever three of a particularly suit come on the board, players will announce that a flush is out there.
One of the reasons this happens in the home game is that more players are often in more pots and the odds of the nuts being present is higher. However, if you understand this fear and pay more attention, you can use it to your advantage.
This fear is known as Monsters Under the Bed.
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Don't Be Too Afraid of the Monster
"Monsters Under the Bed" refers to the tendency of players who are in a hand to assume that their opponent has the best possible hand. Thus, they assume there are "monsters under the bed" at most opportunities.
I find this is a very powerful inclination at my home game. Many of our players assume the worst rather than thinking through the hand and the betting that has taken place and using that information to weigh the various options. I will say this about most relaxed home games: the odds of the big hand are directly proportional to the number of people in a flop. If you have a game with a lot of good players where raises are made pre-flop and only a few players see the flop each hand, you don't have to worry as much about monsters under the bed. If you're in a home game like mine, where often all ten players will see a flop, it's a greater possibility.
Still, using the tendency of fearing monsters under the bed against players at your home game can be a very profitable endeavor. Here are a couple of examples. Both occurred on different nights, but against the same player.
I held KJos. My opponent held 66. I may have raised pre-flop from our standard blind to 4x the blind, but that usually isn't enough to drive too many players out. That being said, the pre-flop betting isn't that relevant here. The point more is that if you know an opponent is susceptible to seeing monsters under the bed, you should do everything to use that against him.
The flop in this hand came 3-6-J. Although I did not know it, my opponent had hit his set. He bet a small enough amount that I called, given I had top pair with a good kicker. Also, being that he is a weak player who'll play any two cards, I did not think he had me beat. The turn came down and it was a meaningless card to me and it did not pair the board. Again, he bet a small enough amount that I was not scared away. The final card was a K, giving me two pair. I went all-in.
Now, I made a pretty bad mistake here generally-speaking. I didn't need to go all-in, for one thing. I could have found out where I stood betting less money. But this isn't standard poker either and I quickly found out I was beat because my opponent said the following: "Well, I guess your set must beat my set." Are you kidding me?!? Talk about monsters under the bed. In his position, I would have snap-called, but because of his inexperience and my trapping style of play, he had to think about it. Now, it amazes me right now that nobody said anything because usually our table is vocal about what to do when somebody announces their hand, so I was fortunate there. I also played up the situation by responding to his statement with something like: "that's definitely a possibility." I didn't want to sound too enthusiastic about his statement because that would have been a give-away, but I also wanted to get in his head if I could. The result: he folded. I nodded, told him that was a great fold, and threw my cards into the muck (far too many people show their cards at the home game).
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Now, the following situation came up the next week. I held QQ. I raised pre-flop a decent amount and the same player was the only caller with K6os. So he made a terrible call, but one that's common at the home game when a player is holding a face card. The flop came 2-K-5 with two spades. I held the Q of spades. He bet a decent amount for our game and I was sure he had the K. Now, normally I might have folded here and certainly would have in a game with better play, but I called. Even if he held the K, who knew what his kicker was and there was always a chance I could make him fold. The turn was another spade and he was first to bet. Fortunately, the table announced the appearance of the third spade. My opponent looked at me and gave a "hmmmm" and I quickly said, non-chalantly: "Three spades. That can be dangerous." He smiled and checked. I quickly checked wanting to see that last card and hoping for a spade.
Was this a mistake? Probably. I could have likely taken the pot right there by betting hard, but I didn't, believing that the small pot probably wasn't worth the trouble of getting called on a bluff. I preferred using what I knew about him to see another card, which worked. The next card was indeed a spade and for whatever reason, he went all-in without holding a spade in his hand. I snap-called with my Q of spades and took the pot down.
I am not saying that my overall play in either of these situations is great from an expert's standpoint, but both illustrate how you can sometimes use the tendencies of your opponent against him in the home game. Given that monsters under the bed is a common occurence at the home game, I hope you find these examples useful as a way to think about playing in your own home game against opponents with the same tendency.