KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the month “October, 2015”

Winning the Information War

No limit Texas Hold’em is a game played with incomplete information.  Unlike chess, where are the pieces are visible and all of your opponents moves can be evaluated with full knowledge of the board, poker offers room for deception and bluffing.

Since most hands end before there is a showdown, information becomes a scarce commodity.  I try hard never to show my cards if I don’t have to, nor to say what I had after folding or after the villains fold.  I read somewhere – I don’t recall which book – that you should treat showing your cards like showing your dick.  Don’t… unless you have to.  We are engaged in a war for information, and must learn how to use it – when we do get some – to good advantage.

Last week at the Aria poker room in Las Vegas, I was playing in a $1/3 game.  In one hand, I limped in with Jh Th, after one or two prior limps.  The flop was Qs 9h 8h.  Yahtzee!  Gin!  Cowabunga!  Cha-Ching!  I have flopped the nut straight with an open-ended straight flush draw.

The players in one of the blinds leads out with a bet of $16, and it folds around to me.  In this situation, with the nuts, I want to build the pot with a plan to get my entire stack in by the river.  His range includes straights, sets, two pair, flush draws, top pair, and pair + gutshot types of hands.  I’m going after the top end of his range, hoping he has something like top two pair.  So I raise to $45.

While I haven’t been at this table for very long, this villain strikes me as an above-average but reasonably straightforward player.  Partly I say this due to his stack being pretty large (around $550), partly he hasn’t done anything out of line or weird/bluffy.  When he leads out on this flop, I assume he has caught a piece of it.  How much… I don’t know yet.

After staring at me for a few seconds, he folds, and turns over one card to show me a queen.  He has top pair, yet decides to yield to pressure.  A lot of players at low limits won’t fold top pair on this flop, due to the drawiness of the board, where flush draws and straight draws are plentiful.  I could easily be semi-bluffing with a drawing hand.  He did not have to show me either of his cards, and now I know he has enough discipline to lay down a medium strength hand.

Not long after this, and feeling tired and impatient, with my starting stack of $300 down to about $180, I decide to limp into a pot in the cutoff seat with 4s 2s.  The same guy raises to $11 from the small blind, everyone else folds and I call, really just hoping for some kind of strange good luck.  (Note to self:  This is just terrible.  It’s time to quit, you aren’t playing well.)

Flop ($25):  Ad Td 3s.  At least now I have a straight draw.  The villain bets $12, and I call.

Turn ($47):  8d.  Now there are three diamonds on the board.  Villain bets $16.  Suddenly in the information and decision making fog, I hear a loud fog horn blaring.  Something is coming through.  Then I realize it is a bluffing opportunity.  The villain’s bet on this turn seems weak, about 1/3 of the pot.  Most of his range are hands the don’t have 2 diamonds.  He raised from out-of-position, and the Ace of diamonds is on the board.  Would he raise there with Kd Qd?  Kd Jd?  Weaker than that?  The reality is there are very few flush combinations in his range.  And he has previously shown me that he can lay down a top pair type of hand.

So I raise to $45.  Looking at me very suspiciously, he calls.  At a minimum, he must have a pair of Aces.

River ($137):  6c.  A total brick, this card changes nothing.  He checks.  I slide a full stack of red chips (i.e., $100) into the center with the greatest confidence and rhythm I can muster, while feeling my heart pounding against the inside of my chest.  “Pay me, sucker!” is what I’m hoping my body language says.  (Note to self:  I wonder what it would be like to be able to make large naked bluffs like this and not have my heart start pounding like crazy.)

The villain takes his time.  He stares at me.  He shakes his head, and finally, he folds.

I don’t show my bluff, and try to act as if nothing special has happened.

This would not have happened if he hadn’t shown me in a previous hand that he was disciplined enough to fold a top pair hand, in the earlier case where I had flopped the nut straight (and didn’t be paid).  Now I have absolutely nothing, and get paid far more than I deserve.

Winning a small battle in the information war feels good.

Cowboy Chess Match

Yaacov Norowitz is one of the top chess players in the world. He is an International Master Chess player with a rating of 2435 (on the Elo chess rating system, a rating above 2400 indicates an International Master, and above 2500 is a Grandmaster).  According to the World Chess Federation’s website, Yaacov is ranked 65 among active U.S. players and 1516 in the world among active players. He’s good!  In his early 30’s, he plays in major chess tournaments and teaches chess to others, primarily online and using Skype, for a living.

Some of this I know from simple research on the World Chess Federation and Yaacov’s own websites. The rest I know because I played a bunch of hours of poker with him at the Aria poker room during my recent trip to Las Vegas.  Yaacov told me he came to Las Vegas to play in the 2nd Millionaire Chess Open, at Planet Hollywood (finishing in 17th place in the open division), then stayed to play poker for another week after the chess tournament ended.  If my interpretation of the prize money is correct, it appears that Yaacov won $23,500 playing chess for a few days, as the highest finisher not rated as a Grandmaster.

On the night of my arrival at the Aria, I lost my entire $200 initial buy-in at a $1/3 table to Yaacov over a span of 2 hands. First, I doubled him up when my Ks Ts < 77 on Qs 6h 3s – 8d – Qc board. I had open-raised pre-flop in the cutoff seat, he called from BB.  Yaacov then donked (i.e., led into the pre-flop raiser) $20 on flop, I raised to $55 (trying to represent an over pair), and after tanking a bit he shoved his shorter stack with pot odds that dictated a call with my flush draw + one over card.  A couple of hands later, his AKo > my TT when we got all-in pre-flop for my remaining $60 or so.  He turns out to be a friendly and funny fellow, and we played at the same table for several hours, again on the following day, and again the day after that.

On this 3rd day, Yaacov looked as if he hadn’t slept since I first met him, a fact he later confirmed.  He was spewing chips all over the place (I had yet to figure out how much $$ he had won in the chess tournament), re-buying probably a half-dozen times.  But now he’s won a few pots, so even though he is stuck well over $1,000, he does sit behind a formidable stack.  And he’s an aggressive player by nature.

Then this hand happens…

Yaacov limps into the pot from UTG+1, and I raise to $13 from the Hijack seat (two seats to the right of the button) with Ks Kc.  It is time for KKing David to announce himself.  This session has gone well for “the KKing” and I have about $600+ on the table. Yaacov has about $400.

The action folds back to Yaacov, and he limp-reraises to $39.  Uh-oh.

When someone limps from an early position, then re-raises on the way back around, this represents great strength.  Many players who do this, only do it with AA.  Having played perhaps 10 hours with Yaacov over these three days, I’ve noted his aggression and creativity (although his Fancy Play Syndrome has costs him dearly at times), and have to give him credit for a wider range than just AA.  But how wide?  AA, KK, QQ, JJ. AKs, AQs, AKo.  Maybe some strange bluffs, with suited Aces or other hands with decent backup equity?  Today I’ve seen him go all-in pre-flop with 55 (and a much shorter stack).  Two days earlier against me, he donked/3-bet shoved on a Q-high flop with 77.  It’s really hard to know where to draw the line.  So I call.

The flop is J87 rainbow. This doesn’t really hit his range, with the possible exception of JJ. He bets $65.

I’m on full alert. The number one sensation I’m having at this point is that I’ve seen this movie before – aggressive player limp/re-raises pre-flop from early position – and I know how it ends.  Badly.  Against an unknown player, I should be able to fold here.  Against Yaacov, I’m just nervous as hell, on full alert.  But wait, I’m KKing David, and here I am with KK, the 2nd nut hand pre-flop, and I want to play it.

I call.

The pot is now approx. $215. The turn card is a T, putting a 1-liner to a straight on the board.  In reality, while this looks scary, there are no 9’s in either of our ranges.  I feel confident about that.  Does he know that?  He’s a professional chess player, which is a game played with complete information, whereas no limit Texas Hold’em is a game played with incomplete information.  I wonder what’s going through his mind now.  What does he think I have?

Yaacov checks. If the board simply scares him just a little, he could be checking for pot control with his entire range.  On the other hand, if he’s concluded that I can’t have a 9 in my range, then he could be turning AA into a bluff catcher.  I consider betting, but decide pot control is a better idea and check behind.  I’m beating AK, AQ and QQ, but my hand is still just one pair, and betting now would bloat this pot way beyond the strength of my hand.

Then comes an Ace on the river, bringing to mind the eponymous title of Barry Greenstein’s excellent book.  This is my nightmare card.  Now AK and AQ beat me too.  DAMMIT!  (And other expletives not suitable for a public blog.)

Yaacov slides out a stack of red chips, a $100 bet.  My two black Kings are turning into milquetoast.


I replay this hand backwards and forwards, trying to find a clue that might help me solve this puzzle.  I’m having a good, winning session and don’t want to go back to square one.  There is $315 in the pot and it will cost me $100 to call.  I’m getting 3.15-to-1 pot odds, so I have to be good against his range 1 time out of 4.15 (24%) for calling to be mathematically correct.  Am I winning here 24% of the time against this set of facts?  Could Yaacov be turning QQ into a bluff?  Would he bet $100 on this board with AK?

Finally, I decide to call, just based on the pot size and the math. I don’t expect to win, but think his bluffing frequency is just high enough that I can rationalize the call. Besides that, I want to see what he has, that has played this hand in such an interesting way.  Part of this decision is based on feeling confident that I won’t tilt if I lose the pot.  I’m fully aware this is a rationalized call based on the math, and most of the time I’m going to lose, yet I find enough calm over this awareness to make the call.

Of course, the entire table is watching, as both of our moves and counter-moves have been slow, deliberate and intense throughout the hand. It has been a chess match at the poker table.

Yaacov turns over his cards first and all I can see is they are both red and both paint.  Two red queens???  I lean forward to see better, and it is actually the two red kings.  I flip over my two black kings, and there is a big “WOW!” all around.  He looks just as relieved over the chopped pot as I am, so I stand up and walk around to his end of the table to shake his hand and we have an awkward bro-hug.  He says he actually considered the possibility of us both having pocket KKs, although I really didn’t.

Whew!!!  My good session continues.



One of the best poker books ever written is Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo.  One of the author’s charming qualities is his invention of words, that heretofore didn’t exist, to describe things that need their own special word.  Word inventions like gobsmacked, tiltlessness, Kuzzycan, and fast rolling.  And bliscipline.

Of bliscipline, he says:  Bliscipline is when you are at the table and you are so totally in control of yourself and so totally at peace in the situation that no matter what happens next, you’ll still have plenty of resolve in reserve.

I needed some bliscipline at the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few days ago, when this hand occurred.  I was playing at a $1/3 game, had bought in for the maximum of $300 and started this hand with a somewhat short stack of approximately $170.  Having lost some pots, I was searching for my bliscipline before topping off my stack.

Villain #1 for this hand (V1) is the BB.  Villain #2 (V2) is UTG+1, and opens the action with a raise to $10.  A young Russian girl calls.  I call with 8h 7h in the Hijack seat, i.e., two seats to the right of the button.  There is another call and V1 calls from the BB.

V1 seems like somewhat of a novice player.  When he first sat down, he made a comment about “being new at this” when he didn’t understand the protocol for something (straddling? string bets? I don’t exactly recall) Then in an earlier hand, I raised to $12 with AQ from a late position, and he called from one of the blinds A6o.  On a flop of AJ6 rainbow, he led into me with a $20 bet, which I mistakenly interpreted as his having an Ace with a weak kicker.  With no history on this Villain, I called his flop, turn and river bets and now my stack is short.  He looks and acts like a tourist or conventioneer, wearing a golf shirt and being social in a way that says I’m here for entertainment, let’s play poker and drink some and yuk it up.

V2 is very aggressive post flop; on multiple hands he has tried to push people off the pot when he smells weakness.  He is not overly aggressive pre-flop, but has made several raises to $10, almost as if sweetening the pot to try to take it down later in the hand.

Flop ($50):  6h 5s 4d.  This is fantastic!  A rainbow flop that gives me the top end of the nut straight.  Rather than bliss, I feel s surge of energy and I plan how to maximize my value for this hand.

V1 checks, V2 C-bets $15, and the Russian girl calls.  I decide to call, in part because I’m hoping V1 has some reason to call here as well.  There is one fold and V1 does call.

Turn ($110):  9d.  A safe card, albeit putting 2 diamonds on the board.  Time to build this pot and set up a river shove.

V1 checks, V2 bets $20.  Methinks he might have an over pair, although his bet sizing is weak.  On the other hand, his bets when trying to push people off hands earlier has been much larger, so maybe this is his style for value bets, ie., bigger bets are bluffs and smaller bets are for value.

The Russian girl calls $20, and I raise to $55.  After my raise, I have about $90 behind.  I’m trying to find the raise size that an over pair will call, and that makes it very difficult for anyone with any value who calls this raise on the turn to be able to fold when I shove on the river.  I am definitely not trying to push anyone off this pot.  While there is a flush draw now, there aren’t many hand with two diamonds in them that would have put in $15 on that rainbow flop, just to chase a backdoor flush draw.

V1 and V2 both call, but the Russian girl folds.   Hmmm… flush draws still seem unlikely, but a possibility.  Sets (I think a set would have announced itself loudly by now)?   Over pairs?   Two pair?  Pair + Ace kicker?  V1 could have virtually anything with any value, or could not even know what he has, as he still just doesn’t seem like a very good / thinking player.  V2 still seems more likely to have an over pair than anything else.

River ($295):  6d.  This is a nightmare card for me, as it brings in not only a 3rd diamond, but also pairs the board.

V1 checks again, and while my heart surges up into my throat, V2 suddenly perks up like a race horse coming around the final turn with his ears pinned forward.  He straightens up in his chair and starts cutting out chips for betting, 3 small stacks of 5 red (i.e., $5 each) chips, then stacking them up, and eventually sliding $75 into the pot, in a manner that tells me that I just got fucked.  Or as Tommy Angelo would say, when negative fluctuation occurs, you get fluct.

Hello?  Bliscipline?  Where are you, my friend?  I’d like to find you, ’cause I could really use your help.  Right now!

My emotions go crazy.  I started this hand with $170.  Flopped the nuts.  I’m entitled to get my last $90 in on this river, and win this pot, which will give me an ending stack of $470 or so after rake and tip.

I coined my own term and acronym awhile back, for Sudden Onset Entitlement Tilt.  Or SOET.  Pronounced “SWEEEEET!”  SOET is easily confused with Bliscipline.  At its (sudden) onset, SOET seems like a prelude to bliscipline.  I just flopped the nuts (or I have pocket AAs), and I’m going to win a huge pot, and after I do that I will feel blissful.  I have many times gotten fluct while experiencing SOET, when a nightmare card arrives (i.e., I get gobsmacked!) and despite the preponderance of the evidence that my hand is no longer good, I continue to pour all my chips into the pot.  Suddenly, this looks like one of those times.

I find just enough discipline (but definitely not my friend Bliscipline) to slow down and think about it.  While in the think tank, I glare at one of my travel companions who is at the same table (for purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Zach”), in a way that I’m sure he will interpret as I just got fluct.  Zach confirmed to me later that my glare indeed meant I had flopped the nuts.

It is $75 to call and the pot is now $370. I’m getting 5-to-1 odds so my straight only has to be good 1 out of 6 times for this to be a correct call in a mathematical sense.  Poker players tend to do this type of math when they know they are beat, but want to justify calling anyway so they can confirm beyond any doubt the villain’s hand.  I’m about to call, as this was a back door flush so it’s not like he was chasing it from the get go.  And the highest card on the board is a 9.  Did V2 raise pre-flop with pocket 99’s or some other combination that just made a full house?  Wait a minute KKing, think this through.

What does he have and how would he play it?  I rewind the hand.  V2 open raised to $10 pre-flop. Then he C-bet $15, which was weak given the pot size.  Then he bet small again ($20) on the turn, and called my smallish raise to $55.  Was that a C-bet with total air, followed by a blocker bet when a flush draw became possible?  This actually makes some sense if he has Ad Kd or Ad Qd or Kd Qd. Maybe Ad Jd.  I suppose I can buy that story line.

His body language, however, is compelling.  When the 6d hit the board on the river, he sat up, leaned forward, looked happy, and grabbed chips like a man on a mission.  While his bet is larger in absolute terms, it is still very small in relation to this bloated pot.  He wants to be sure he gets paid, and shows no fear of 2 other players still in the hand.

Goddammit!  (TILT)  This pot was supposed to be mine. This is where my session is supposed to get untracked. (TILT TILT TILT)

This is a time that calls for discipline.  When you are beat, you are beat.  I finally fold, suffering in silence.  I’ve gotten much better in the last six months at being able to fight off the tilt and lay down hands like this.

A young Israeli guy 2 seats to my right nods in approval.  He mouths the words “he has full house” towards me.  This is fascinating, as if this other player who I don’t know, never played with before, haven’t had any table conversation with, half my age, is suddenly pulling for me to make the right decision.  It is so much easier to see what is happening with great clarity when you are not involved (financially nor emotionally) in a hand.  The young Israeli sees it.  I see it too, although it takes a couple minutes of staring and glaring before I can let go of my cards.

Then, to my surprise, V1 check-raises to $150.  All along, I had disregarded him as a threat after V2’s bet and body language, as he had checked and called every street.  Now he makes a minimum raise. WTF?

V2 quickly calls. V1 shows Ad 8d and V2 tables Kd Qd.  V1’s Ace-high flush beats V2’s K-high flush to drag in a nearly $600 pot.  V1 called the flop $15 bet with a gutshot straight draw and 2 over cards.  V2 did not have an over pair, but made a flop continuation bet with 2 over cards, then a blocker bet when a 2nd diamond arrived on the turn.

According to my Poker Cruncher app, my equity in the pot after the turn card was 81%, V1 was 19% (including his equity in the possibility of a chop if the river was a non-diamond 7), and V2 was already drawing dead.

I’m glad I found the discipline to fold.  But I’m not feeling any bliss.

I continue with my sub-$100 short stack for about an orbit and a half, trying to get my mind right again.  Then on my next button hand, I add $200, and immediately get dealt 9h 9d and call a pre-flop raise.  The flop comes Kh 9s 3h.  When the opener C-bets, I raise him and he spazzes out and shoves (AA, AK, KQ range), probably assuming I’m semi-bluffing with a flush draw.  I call, the turn and river are both hearts and my 9h makes the winning flush to take his full stack (which was under $200).

Slowly, bliss begins to return. I missed you Bliss, you are my best friend. Let’s play on…

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