KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

What Can I Beat?

One way to decide whether to call a big river bet is to ask yourself “What can I beat?”  And of course, it the situations that require this question, the answer usually is “very little” or sometimes “only a bluff.”

This typically occurs when you have some showdown value – let’s just call it a medium strength hand – and the villain’ s range is somewhat polarized.

Here is an example – poorly done on my part as usual – from a live $1/$1 no limit cash game last night.

I am in the cutoff seat, with A-9 off suit.  Villain (I’ll call him Dennis the Menace) is the Big Blind and the player to his left (UTG) posts a $2 live straddle.  We end up in a 4-way limped pot, so there is $8 in the pot.  I have position on the other players, and effective stacks are approx. $120.

Flop:  K-K-T.  A somewhat scary flop.  All three players check, so I toss out $6 hoping to take it down without a fight, which would be nice since I totally whiffed on the flop. Only Dennis the Menace in the BB calls.  This is my first time playing with him, and so far he has been winning but not made any fancy plays.  Moderately tight, moderately aggressive, nothing stands out.

At this point, I have nothing but Ace-high, and his range is narrowed to a K, a T, or a straight draw with Q-J, possibly with some gutshot draws or lower pocket pairs if he reads me (correctly) for a bluff.  Pre-flop he just limped in from the BB.

Turn ($20):  Ace.  Nice, now I actually have some showdown value.  But his Q-J makes a straight, and any K stills beats me too.  He checks, so I check behind.  Now I would be happy to check this down to the river and have a showdown.

River ($20):  8.  No flushes are filled, so this card changes nothing unless he floated my flop bet with exactly 8-8.  Unlikely.  Now he leads out with a bet of $16.


He also looks confident.

I had a discussion earlier in the day with a buddy about the biggest leak in my game continuing to be self-management.  When I just know I’m beat, I still call too much, thus giving away a lot of value.  River bets are the largest, and here is another example.  It cost just $2 to see the flop.  I bluffed for another $6 on the flop.  Now it will cost $16 more to find out if my hand is good.  It doesn’t feel very good.  I know I should fold.

But I don’t.  First, I take some time to think through the possibilities, and still come up with his holdings narrowed to any K, any T, or QJ.

What Can I Beat???  I am only beating the T or a bluff.  If he had a Ten, wouldn’t he also want to check this down?  Or is he bluffing the original bluffer?  I haven’t seen indications of this type of play from him.  But I’ve never played with him before last night.

So I do what bad poker players do:  I rationalize.  My hand is probably (very probably) second best, but I’ll pay him off anyway so I can learn how he played this hand and have a better point of reference in the future.

Announcing that I’m probably beat, I make the call.  Dennis the Menace turns over K-T, for a flopped full house.

I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.


Thou Shalt Not Steal

On most lists of the Ten Commandments, not stealing is number eight, right between the prohibitions on adultery and telling lies.  (Perhaps more on those some other time, otherwise I digress…)

In Texas Hold’em poker, “stealing” is often used to describe making a bet into an unopened pot with a weak hand, in late position.  The hope is that the blinds will fold and you gain a few chips with minimal effort.  In the mid-to-late stages of tournaments, the value of this tactic is magnified, as winning the ever-growing blinds and antes reduces the pressure on the person stealing, and increases the pressure on the victims.

Last night I was playing in a 3-table tournament with a regular group.  We started with 30,000 chips and blinds of 100 / 200.  Mathematically, that means each player starts with 150 Big Blinds.  The cost of folding while the dealer button passes one orbit around the table is 300 chips, and there are 8 players per table.  No big deal.

After 2-and-a-half hours, the blinds are up to 1,000 / 2,000 along with an ante of 200 per player.  My table is down to five players, although we will consolidate from 3 table down to 2 tables as soon as another player is knocked out.  I’ve been playing very tight, won a few pots and lost some others, and now have about 25,000 chips remaining.   Mathematically, that puts me at about 12.5 Big Blinds. The dealer button is passing around the table quickly – every 5 hands – and each orbit is costing me 4,000 chips.  Ouch!

Now I’m in the Big Blind with T-8 off suit, and the first 2 players fold.  The villain in this hand – I’ll call him “Marco” – raises to 4,500 on the button.  I’ve played with him many times.  Right now, he has the biggest stack at the table, and I know from history that he will steal the blinds and antes in this situation with modest holdings.  This is not the first time he’s raised an unopened pot from the cutoff or button.  The small blind meekly folds.

Looks like an opportunity to Re-Steal.  By re-raising, particularly if I go all-in, I’ll show strength.  While Marco has a big stack, he certainly does not want to lose 25,000 chips to me.  Yes, it is possible that he has a big hand, but his range for raising from the button,  5-handed, in an unopened pot, is extremely wide.  The risk to him of calling is losing 25,000 chips.  The risk to him of folding is abandoning the hand and losing 4,500 chips.

The benefit to me of folding is losing my Big Blind (2,000 chips) but otherwise keeping my stack intact and hoping another player busts out soon so we can combine tables and play 8-handed again.  That alone would moderate the pressure as the blinds increase.  The benefit to me of raising all-in is I can gain 8,500 chips, increasing my stack by over 30%.  (I would win my big blind back (2,000), plus the small blind (1,000), plus 5 antes (1,000), plus Marco’s 4,500 chip raise.)  The potential gain to me is much greater relative to my stack size than the potential loss is to Marco.

The risk to me is busting out of the tournament.

I just don’t like playing with a short stack for long stretches.  I pretend to think long enough that Marco might decide I’m trapping him with a huge hand, then announce “all-in.”  He quickly calls.  Uh-oh.

I turn my cards over with the 10 showing but the Eight completely covered by the 10.  Okay, says Marco, and he turns over a Seven, with his second card similarly covered.  The flop is 6-2-8.  Bingo!  Now I have a pair of 8’s.  Hopefully his other card is another 7.  I spread my cards now to show my Eight and that now I have top pair.  All of a sudden, I feel good about this.

The turn card is a 3, followed by an Ace on the river.  (Shout out here for Barry Greenstein’s excellent book, “Ace on the River.”)  Marco slowly slides his Seven to one side, revealing an Ace underneath.

He eventually wins the tournament.

For me, it’s a short walk over to the cash game table, to join the other losers.  Every one of them has a story to tell about the tournament.  Every story ends the same.

In Love with Over-pair

This hand comes from a live cash game in Las Vegas 2 nights ago.  I am playing $1/3 no limit hold’em, and up about $200 at this point.

I was up $250+ (thanks to a straight flush that got paid [put smiley face here] and KK early in the session) but now I’ve been on a run of weak cards for over an hour.

Then I look down at JJ in early position and raise to $11.  Only the button calls.  He is on his 3rd buy-in and I have him well covered.

Flop:  T-7-6 with 2 spades.  I make a continuation bet of $16 and button calls.  Looks like he might have top pair or a flush draw.  I’m confident that I’m still ahead and if a safe card comes on the turn, I’m going to place a large bet.

I’m also tired, having played a very late session the previous night and not slept enough.  I briefly consider that he could have flopped a straight or a set.

Turn:  4d.  The safe turn card I was looking for.  I bet $55, about the size of the pot and he rather quickly announces all-in.

All-in?  WTF?  I wanted a safe turn card and got one.  I call.  Then I find out this is going to cost about $120 more.

Too quickly.  Shouldn’t an alarm sound here.  (see this prior post about danger warnings…)  When the other guy goes all-in, that doesn’t mean he’s always on a draw.  More likely he has made a hand and is more worried about me having a big draw.

Before calling, shouldn’t I at least replay the action so far in my head, and ponder what I’ve observed about the villain?  (Hint:  answer starts with Y.)

This is one of the hazards of playing poker when tired.

Last night on the plane back from Vegas, I was re-reading Barry Greenstein’s excellent book Ace on the River.  He describes when he first went to California to play in the card rooms there, he would sleep until 5 pm, go to the card room at 6:00 and play until they closed at 2 am.  He says, “I won consistently and thought it must be because I was the best player.  But that wasn’t the reason.  I was playing against people who had worked all day and had a few drinks to relax.  Meanwhile, I was resting and training for the event.  I didn’t know the difference until I got a job and tried to play after working all day.  I was a basket case.”

So here I am and the only hands I can beat are an over-played top pair hand (not so likely since I represented strength with my UTG pre-flop raise) and an over-played flush draw (also not so likely as I haven’t observed this villain play that way).

I was tired, enduring a boring stretch of bad cards, got a small jolt of adrenaline with JJ (I also had JJ on the hand the made a straight flush earlier), and spewed away my entire gain for the session.

Villain turns over 8s 5s, for a straight with a re-draw for a spade flush (which hits on the river).  Either way, I am drawing dead.  A loose call from the button – I would not have put 85s in his range at all – but it worked out for him.

“Have You Lost Your *’ing Mind?”

I’m in Vegas this week, and two nights ago had a good time and some success playing $4/8 limit Omaha Hi-Lo 8-or-better (“O8”) at The Venetian.  Omaha   Most casinos don’t have reliable, regular O8 games, but the Venetian does at several limits.

So last night I decided to take a shot at the next level, $8/16.

(If you aren’t familiar with O8, here is a quick primer.  It is played almost exactly like Texas Hold’em, with a couple of basic differences.  First, you get 4 hold cards instead of 2.  Second, you must use exactly 2 of these hole cards combined with exactly 3 of the community cards to make your 5-card poker hand.  The community cards and betting rounds are the same as limit holdem – pre-flop, flop, turn, river.  Third, the pot is split between the best high hand and the best qualified low hand.  To qualify for the low hand, all 5 of your cards used must be 8 or lower – including Aces as a low card – and unpaired.  If no one qualifies for the low hand, the high hand wins the entire pot.)

The Venetian games also play with a “half-kill.”  A “kill pot” occurs when the pot is at least 10x the big blind and one player wins all of it.  On the next following hand, the stakes are increased by 50% and the player winning the kill must post an extra blind that is 50% larger than the normal big blind.  Then the stakes return to normal unless / until another kill pot occurs.

So in the $8/16 game, the blinds are $4 and $8, all pre-flop and flop bets and raises are in increments of $8, all turn and river bets and raises are in increments of $16.  In kill pots, the kill player posts an extra blind of $12 in addition to the regular blinds (both only $12 if he is in one of the blind positions for that hand) and pre-flop and flop bets are in increments of $12, followed by turn and river bets in increments of $24.

So I’m playing this game.  It is an action game with some very large pots.

An older, somewhat hillbilly-ish looking guy, sits down to my immediate left.  He has bad body odor, and seems to be playing virtually every hand.

Along comes a hand where I’m the big blind, and have something like K-9-7-3.  I don’t recall all of the cards, but what is important here is that I did have a 3 and an otherwise weak O8.  I would not play this unless in the big blind.

The flop comes Jh 3h 3s.  Good for me as now I have three of a kind.  I bet, hillbilly and two other players call.  The turn is 6s and the betting pattern repeats.  The river is 4s, putting three spades on the board as well as straight possibilities.  I know all too well that a large percentage of O8 hands are won with the nuts or nearly the nuts, so I slow down and check.  Now hillbilly bets $8, gets one caller and it comes back around to me.

I don’t feel good about my hand anymore, but call anyway.  Hillbilly turns over Kd Qs 9c 6s for a runner runner flush to win the high half of the pot.  Another player wins the low half.

I stare at his cards laying on the table for a second.  This guy called a flop bet of $4 with a pair on the board, 2 hearts on the board, and he has absolutely nothing at that point in the hand.  A total whiff.  He didn’t pair the board, didn’t pick up a low draw, flush draw or straight draw.  His only chance of winner was some sort of runner runner high hand, and even then the board was already paired, bringing full houses into play and he has absolutely 0% chance of making a full house (remember that he must use exactly 2 of his hole cards to make his 5-card hand).

I ask “What the * is that?  (short pause)  How could you call that flop bet?  (another short pause, and now I’m staring right into his face)  Have you lost your *’ing mind?”  This was not said in any sort of jovial manner, but more incredulous than hostile… at least that is how is sounds when I replay the questions in my head.

Hillbilly, on the other hand, took offense and snarled back at me a command not to curse at him.  His face turned a little more red and then he started to rise out of his seat, when the dealer intervened, I blurted out a quick “I apologize for the language” and told the dealer that if she needed to call the supervisor over to tell me what I already know, please go ahead.

Normally, I take pride in my self-control at the poker table.  Berating bad players is bad policy.  I know the rules when I walk into the poker room – any idiot can play any cards any way they want to as long as the have the chips to do so.

Over the next couple of hours, hillbilly and I sat next to each other playing the same game, O8 at $8/16 betting limits with a half-kill.  And playing very different games too.  My game is mostly by the book – play premium hands, fold the rest.  His game was unlike any that I’ve ever seen.  He never folded pre-flop.  Never.  He chased every draw, weak draws, strong draws, gutshots, hell – in the hand described above he wasn’t really chasing anything (I don’t consider chasing a runner runner hand to be “chasing.”  Make-a-Wishing perhaps, but not chasing.)  And hitting winning hands over and over.

At the far end of the table, several players began a running commentary / ridicule of his play.  The worst hole cards in O8 are 7’s, 8’s and 9’s.  They cannot win with straights unless the pot is also going to be split with a low hand.  They cannot win low hands either.  Hillbilly won pot after pot with these cards.  Once in a kill pot, there were 4 pre-flop raises, thus each player had $6 x 5 = 30 invested pre-flop.  The players at the far end sounded like they might set up a side pool on what hand he would win with this time.  I thought to myself, “Self, I’d put my money on a flop of T-8-6 and he makes a nut straight with 9-7.  The only way that straight can remain the nuts after a turn and river card requires that one of the other cards be a low card, resulting in a split pot.

The flop comes out T-6-4, rainbow.  Close, but not quite.  More betting ensues and the pot is huge.  The turn is a 2.  Still now flushes are possible, but now a low hand is all but assured.  More betting, hillbilly calling all the way.  The dealer burns one last time and places an 8 down for the river card.  The other players check and hillbilly bets now, gets called and turns over A-7-7-9 for a nut straight to win the high hand.

The whole table is highly entertained.

Except for me.  I’m losing my *’ing mind.

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