Over and over, non-standard plays seem to backfire more than they work. Deceptive play is believed by many to be the biggest key to poker, so making non-standard plays (looking weak when actually strong / looking strong when actually weak) is recommended by some as a way to keep opponents off-balance and improve results.
On the other hand, I’ve been particularly focused lately on adhering to the more standard play of never calling pre-flop. If the cards are good enough to play, they need to be good enough to raise. Conversely, if they aren’t good enough to raise, you should simply fold. This has three benefits: (1) you are more likely to be starting out in the lead on the hand. If the opponents are behind and have to catch up, you will win a higher percentage of the time. Simple math. (2) you are always the aggressor when starting a hand. This buys more flexibility post-flop, as opponents will likely defer to you in the betting. If you are last to act and everybody checks, you may make a bet to take down the pot even with unimproved cards based on weakness shown by the other players, or you may check behind and take a free card. (3) reading your opponents hands is easier. If an opponent re-raises pre-flop, they are signaling a very strong hand and you can easily fold the weaker part of your range. If they limp and then call your raise, you can begin narrowing their range more easily than if you had let them see the flop more cheaply.
I recently posted about a tournament hand where I limped, then call after a raise and one other caller. Before I knew what hit me, 90% of my stack and 100% of my tournament hopes were gone.
Last night playing $0.10 – 0.25 NL online, it happened again. I had decided that for this session I would stick to the mantra of never calling pre-flop 100%. Then a hand came along that seemed like a perfect exception to the rule. I had QQ in the big blind. Everybody folded to the button, who had just joined the table a couple hands earlier, and he raise to $1.00. I was about to make a pot-sized 3-bet when a flash of brilliance overcame me, that I could make more money here by slow-playing the entire hand (as long as an A or K didn’t show up).
Flop ($2.25): 9h 8c 6h. I check and button makes a continuation bet of $1.75. Standard-ish continuation bet, and I call. I don’t have a really good read on my opponent, but I do know that most flops miss most hands (thanks Dan Harrington!), and my overpair should still be good. My call probably represents a draw to either a heart flush or a straight with me holding a 7.
Turn ($5.75): 8d. This doesn’t change anything unless he has an 8 in his hand. Now that there are two 8’s on the board, this is even less likely, and his range is still too wide to be able to write it all down. The button now bets $3.50. OK, now it is more likely that he has something with showdown value, or maybe he puts me on one of the draws and hopes to push me off the hand now or on the river if a safe card comes. I call again, thinking my QQ is good.
River ($12.75): 4s. A safe card for the button if I am indeed on a draw. He bets $8.50 now. I wonder what he has, still suspecting it is most likely 2 high cards or maybe a busted draw of his own. This is also a safe card for me. If I was ahead on the turn, surely I am still ahead. The only hand this river card could help is 44. I call again.
Button turns over 8h 9c for a full house! I shoveled $14.75 into this pot (59 BB’s) never knowing where I stood but thinking I was the cleverest guy at the table. (Cleverest? Is that even a real word? Spell-check didn’t flag it, but I digress…)
Had I make a pot-sized 3-bet before the flop, he probably folds and I win $1.00. That’s $15.75 better than the actual result.
Before the flop I was an 84% favorite. I should have made him pay for the chance to try to catch up.
Thinking about Phil Collins’ song title: Against All Odds. Gotta try rewriting the lyrics to make this a poker song and not a stupid love song.
Year-to-date online results: (- $1,831)
Month-to-date online results: + $74