Daily Debacle – Root Cause Analysis

This hand was played in a live NL Hold’em  tournament last night.  I’ve played with this group several times previously, but only familiar with 2-3 of the other players.

This event starts with a relatively short stack for a tournament, with 50 BB’s to start, increasing every 20 minutes.  There are no antes throughout this tournament.  The room was packed, so they put 11 players at each table initially.  With these starting stacks, we typically starting seeing some all-in moves in the first level.  It only takes one or two raises before feeling pot committed.  There is a resulting tendency to feel a need to get involved in many pots early on (if one can do so cheaply) to maximize your chances of accumulating some chips early.

Barely one orbit into the tournament, I get Jh Th in the UTG+1 seat.  I’ll walk through what happened, and save the analysis for the end here.

I limp in – just calling the big blind.  A player in MP raises to 5BB’s and the button calls.  A few hands earlier, I picked off a river bluff from the MP player with a low pocket pair when he only had Ace-high on a scary board.

The flop is J-T-5, rainbow.  Top two pair for me.  I check.  MP checks and Button bets 15 BB’s.

I then check-raise and my stack is larger than both MP and Button (I started the hand with about 51 BB’s, MP had 32 BB’s and Button had 44 BB’s).  I shove all-in over the top of Button’s bet.

MP calls and after tanking a bit Button also calls.

I turn over J-T for top two pair.  MP shows T-T for a set of tens.  Button shows AA.

The turn is another 5, putting the Button ahead of me for the side pot, and the river is a total brick.

MP wins the main pot and triples up, Button survives with about 25 BB’s out of the side pot, and I’m left with only 7 BB’s.

A few hands later, I bust out of the tournament, when my 55 loses to 33 making a set on the turn by this same Button villain.

After busting out, I walked outside to get some fresh air, sip on a beer and reflect.  I wrote our my recollection of this hand on the notes app of my iPhone and tried to think about what my comments would be if a friend sent me the play-by-play and asked for my feedback.

After the flop, the hand basically plays itself, except the Button’s call after I shove and the MP shoves is a bit suspect.  But it’s so hard to let go of pocket Aces on the flop and had he done so he would have been left with just under half of his original stack.

I checked into the pre-flop aggressor.  This seemed pretty straightforward to me, as I planned to check-raise all-in as soon as I saw the flop.  Had I led out there, it’s possible both other players (of course me not knowing their cards yet) would sense danger and fold.

MP checked behind me and this was a bit of a surprise, but suggested either big unpaired cards like AK or AQ that would hope for a free card, or something like 99 or 88 that is worried about the over cards.  As it turned out he was just setting a trap with his monster flopped set of tens.

Button’s flop bet looked very much like a “both of you guys look weak so why don’t I just take this away from you” type of bet.  At least that was my interpretation at the time.  He had called pre-flop, so I was not suspecting he would have a big pair like AA.  Give him credit for deceptive play, and criticism for giving me odds to call pre-flop and make it a multi-way hand.

At the flop, the pot was 16.5 BB’s, and Button bet 15 BB’s.  After calling 15, the pot would now be 46.5 BB’s and I would have 31 remaining.  No reason to get cute – shove it!

So did I make a mistake on this hand?  Was this disaster avoidable?  Should I have had a read here that I was in big trouble?

I’ve been trying extra hard lately to accept and apply the basic principle in no limit Texas Hold’em that if your cards are good enough to play pre-flop, they must be good enough to raise.  If they are not strong enough to raise – given your position and the prior action – then you must fold and not call.  Calling is passive.  Calling is for dummies.  Calling is spewing chips.  Calling leads to death!  And I’ve been drastically reduced the number of limps and calls pre-flop.

Yet here I limped with Jh Th.  They look so good, these suited-connecting-Broadway cards.  Yet I know this is not a monster hand, and with 11 players at the table and I’m 2nd to act, I did not want to inflate the pot to a level that I could not call a raise.

That was my mistake.  JT suited is not in my raising range for such an early position.  Therefore I must fold, not limp.  At the time I was thinking about all the good things that can happen, and the importance of seeing some flops before too many other player built up big stacks.

But re-read the hand and think about two alternative scenarios.  The first is that I fold.  Easy peasy.  I still have 51 BB’s and can wait for a better opportunity to attack.  After all, this is still blind level 1.

Alternatively, I could have raised.  Surely either MP or Button (or both!) would have re-raised.  If MP calls, I cannot imagine Button flat calling with two other players and he has AA.  He can try to represent a squeeze play (a big raise after an opening raise and one call, which implies great strength, consequently this is used at times as a bluff) or just decide the chips in the pot are worth attacking.  Besides, one or both of us might call.  If MP re-raises, even if Button then flat calls (more likely he ships), I’m probably going to fold.  JT is no good against a re-raiser and caller and I’d be out of position for the rest of the hand.  So if I raise (say… to 4 BB’s), it is nearly certain that I’ll end up folding pre-flop and still have 47 BB’s left to play with.

Hmmmph!  That’s not so bad.

In hindsight, limping pre-flop resulting in setting my own trap, then walking right into it after the flop came out.

Either folding or raising would have avoided that.

I finish my beer and wait for the cash game to begin.

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,787)

Month-to-date online results:  + $118


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