Daily Debacle – Straddle Battles

I just returned from a road trip that included a stop at the Hollywood Park Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, WV.  It was my first time there, although I’ve been on several trips to the Mardi Gras Casino in Charleston, WV.

(Yes, the great State of West Virginia has a city named “Charleston” and another city named “Charles Town.”  What were they thinking, other than Charles was in charge back when cities were named.  But I digress…)

Hollywood Park is just over 1 hour outside of Washington DC, and much larger and glitzier than Mardi Gras.  And the poker games are bigger and tougher, with many good players from the DC area.

I played $2/5 NL hold’em, and there were frequent straddles from the under-the-gun (UTG) position.  Apparently they only allow straddles from UTG as there were no button straddles or straddles from any other position.  There is no limit on the straddle amount.

(For the uninitiated, a “straddle” is essentially a third blind bet, equal to 2x the big blind [or more], posted by the UTG player before looking at his cards.  In exchange for this, said player acts last in the pre-flop betting rather than first.  The straddle counts as a bet, so the minimum to see the flop goes up, and frequently the first pre-flop raise is also larger to account for the larger total of the blinds.)

After awhile, I was playing with a fairly short stack and extremely tight.  Too tight, actually (another post to come about that).  On one hand, the big stack in seat 3 posted a $10 straddle, seat 6 raised to $30, and I am in seat 7 holding 6c 6s.  I really should call here to try to hit a set.  But my stack is between $200 – 250.  I know the “rule of 10” says you should not go “set-mining” unless it is possible to win at least 10x the amount you have to call.  I have less than that, a function of my own refusal to put some more $$ on the table after seeing my starting stack dwindle.  Had there been no straddle here, the opening raise probably would have been $20 or $25 and I would be more likely to call.

This was surely the nittiest fold I made the whole session.  But I folded.  I’m likely to miss the flop, see multiple overcards, and have to fold then.  There goes another $30 out of an already too small stack.  Plus, there are still 6 players left to act (the game is 10-handed) and a re-raise would force me to fold without seeing the flop.

Two other players call, including the straddler.

The flop was Jh 6h 9h.  I would have flopped a set of 6’s on a monochrome board.  All players check and the turn is the 9c.  Full house for me, had I stayed!

Inside I’m crying.  Why me?  Why can’t I play with more confidence?  Why don’t I have a bigger bankroll, so I can mix it up more without fear?  Why didn’t my earlier medium pocket pairs fill up?  Why am I here (i.e., on this planet Earth)?  Why am I thinking such existentialist thoughts at a poker game?  Why do the bigger stacks keep winning and not me?

Everybody checks again.  The river is a blank – does not pair the board nor is it another heart.  The straddler now bets $55 and everybody folds.  He shows Ah Qh for a flopped nut flush, then throws his cards into the muck in disgust that he never got any action trying to slow play his big hand.

To quote from B.B. King’s famous song,

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now ‘cos I’ve got the blues

A little later, a new player (“Carl”)  joins the table, in seat 9 (i.e., two seats to my left).  His first time UTG he posts a $20 straddle and makes it clear that he likes posting “crazy straddles.”  He straddles every time the opportunity comes (and generally plays a crazy / unpredictable / large bet / garbage cards / I’m here to gamble — win or lose style of poker.  Eventually his straddles increase to $50 and then to $75.  He clearly does not care about the money or traditional poker strategies.

Meanwhile, my stack gets back over $300, then down again and now I’m at $180.  On my small blind hand, Crazy Carl posts a $75 straddle.  Everybody folds to me and I have Ah 2h.  Against a random hand, which is all I can assign to Carl since he hasn’t even looked at his cards, I am a 57.4% favorite.  Good, but not great.  Still, I like my chances, it’s very late and I’m running out of patience.  I shove.

Another guide here would be the “Sklansky-Chubukov Rankings.”  [See http://www.pokerstrategy.com/strategy/sss/1097/1/ for more information about the theory involved here.]  Developed by noted poker strategist/author David Sklansky and UC Berkeley game theorist Victor Chubukov, the rankings show the maximum bet that would show a profit over time from the small blind v. the big blind.  In other words, you can always shove and have a positive expected value if your stack is lower than the S-C number the corresponds to your starting cards.  After doing the necessary math, the S-C number says I can shove profitably with $545 or less in my stack.  My shove is mathematically justified.

The big blind quickly folds and Crazy Carl quickly calls, turning over a pair of 3’s.  Already a bit unlucky for me as I’m behind and one of my cards is lower than his pair.  Pocket 3’s is still slightly weaker than A-2s against a random hand, but stronger heads up.  According to one chart for heads-up play, A-2s is at the 24th percentile of strength and 3-3 is at the 35th percentile.  Both of us have top 40% hands.  Heads up, he is now a 65% favorite.

The flop is Th 7d 7h.  I pick up a flush draw, and any Ace also wins for me.  The turn is an off-suit 6, then the river completes my flush.  Such a beautiful shape, a heart with its red color and luscious curves.  I’m feeling the love already.

But wait a minute!!!  It’s the 3 of hearts, and while that makes a flush for me, it also makes a full house for Crazy Carl.  WTF?  How is it that a straddler gets to make a full house after being stupid enough to make a $75 blind bet?

I’m busted now, it’s nearly 3:00 a.m.  I stumble back to my hotel room, sleep (if you can call it that) for about 4 hours, then start the 5.5 hour drive home.  Tired, poor and pissed off.

More questions.  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why didn’t I call with pocket 6’s?  Why didn’t I fold to a $75 blind straddle?  Why do I love this game so much?  Why do I hate this game so much?

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,945)

Month-to-date online results:  + $133

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