Stuck in No Man’s Land
Last night I was at a low-stakes, private poker game marked by some very loose play. There was frequent straddling as much as 13 BB’s, along with very light pre-flop raising (like 95s), light 3-betting, and light calling of 3-bets (with hands like T4s and 53s – the latter making quad 5’s).
It was a poker table ripe for Justin Bieber to sing, Roller Coaster, Roller Coaster.
For the most part, I was taking good advantage of this. I bought in for 140 Big Blinds (“BBs”), felted one of the players with AQ v KQ on a Q-high flop, then felted the same player again with TT v JT after he limp/re-raised all-in with a short stack pre-flop, and built my stack to over 300 BBs.
A little later, I look down at AKo in early position, and raise to 7 BBs. While this may seem like a large initial raise to online or casino players, it wasn’t unusual here. My starting hand is very strong, but plays best post-flop against just one or two villains. If I only raise to 4 BBs, everybody at the table might call and it becomes hard to know where you stand after the flop and turn. There is one caller, then another player re-raises to 21 BBs. For purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Mitch.”
This is the first time I’ve played poker with Mitch. He is a young white guy, early-to-mid 20’s, dressed like he just came from a strange 70’s themed party – wearing what appears to be bicycling shorts, a casual shirt, old school nearly knee high basketball socks (white, with wide colorful stripes at the top of his calves), and low-cut white Chuck Taylors or similar footwear. With a cap sporting the logo of Nag’s Head’s Lucky 12 Tavern and dark sunglasses to look like a real poker player, the whole look makes quite an impression. I don’t really care how people look or dress, other than sometimes there are clues that help in profiling them as poker players – loose/tight or passive/aggressive or gambly or playing with a very small bankroll or whatever. I suppose the impression here was not to be surprised by unconventionality.
Earlier in the game, Mitch had called a river all-in bluff on a very scary board (K-9-7-6-5) with KTo and won a large pot. At the time, I was thinking that I would have folded there. Before that, he had called a pre-flop raise from me with 92s and made a backdoor flush to beat my trip kings.
I’ve also noticed that Mitch is very friendly with another player, the one that I’ve already felted twice. Apparently they drove to this game together and have been chatty between hands. Mitch’s friend has a wild streak, making several large bluffs, showing his bluffs multiple times when were successful, and generally playing in a way that indicates a complete disregard for the value of his money. Do birds of a feather flock together?
After Mitch’s 3-bet, there are two callers. Both are very loose players who like to see lots of flops. Perhaps both have played more than I have with Mitch and their calls indicate a certain lack of respect for his 3-bet. I have experience with these callers, and think either of them would 4-bet here if holding a monster hand.
With all this in mind, I decide to make a sizable 4-bet myself. With one ace and one king, I have blockers against Mitch having either of the hands I fear most – pocket aces or pocket kings. Having started the betting from early position, I can credibly represent a monster pocket pair. If I raise large enough, the two players who called Mitch’s bet would be forced to fold. I make it 105 BBs.
One player who called my original raise quickly folds.
But Mitch starts counting his entire stack. He has 130 BBs more on top of my raise, and ships it all in. I have him covered.
Right then it dawns on me that I’m in No Man’s Land, that terrible spot where you realize charging forward is a mistake and retreating is no good either. In my youth I played a lot of competitive tennis. On a tennis court, No Man’s Land refers to the area in front of the baseline, where it is difficult to make normal groundstrokes, but behind the service line, where you cannot make volleys either, at least not hitting the ball at a height that creates enough leverage to hit the ball hard or use sharp angles. In No Man’s Land, all of your options are bad, unless you enjoy being yelled at by your tennis coach.
Another player folds. The last player hems and haws a bit, asks for a count of Mitch’s chips, and also goes all-in, for less than Mitch’s stack. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Chuck.” [This is really important, as I know Chuck (or whatever his real name might be) desperately covets a mention in this blog. I hope he leaves a snarky comment after reading this.] Chuck had about 180 BBs at the start of the hand. His call surprised me, as noted earlier I thought my 4-bet would squeeze him out. Even when he called, I interpreted that more as a desire to gamble over a huge pot than an indication of great strength. Still, he could have at least one ace or king, or both, that would cancel some of my outs in the event Mitch has something like QQ or JJ.
Even so, I really don’t think Mitch has QQ or JJ. Despite my blockers, he virtually always will have AA or KK here. My 4-bet was so strong that his 5-bet must be stronger. Hopefully it is KK and my ace is a live card. Otherwise I’ll be crushed. This is where my mistake becomes more clear. I failed to make my 4-bet small enough to keep an exit strategy available.
Let’s review. I’ve put 105 BBs into the pot. Mitch has put in 235. Chuck has put in 180. Two other players put in 7 and 21, respectively, and later folded. So the pot has 538 BBs in it, and it will cost me 130 more to call. I’m getting pot odds of 4.14-to-1 to call, meaning I have to expect to win at least 19.5% of the time for calling to be mathematically, theoretically the proper thing to do. How can I really justify folding here, even though it’s obvious that I’m in big trouble?
Some more math… heads up against Mitch, the villain I’m most worried about, if his range is AA/KK – which I consider most likely despite my blockers – and nothing else, my equity is 18.6%. If I think he would also shove here with AKs or QQ, my equity is 33.3%. Despite all the loose play at this game, I can only assume Mitch has a monster. After all, loose players still get dealt monster hands just as frequently as tight players. And not so long ago, I wrote a post entitled “Hashtag: They Always Have It.” Mitch didn’t hesitate much before going all-in, so now I have to go with this read.
That’s heads up. What about Chuck? His range should be wider that Mitch’s, as his body language when calling all-in didn’t ooze great strength. But he could have blockers to some of my outs. Let’s give him a range of TT+, AQs+ or AK. Against that range and Mitch’s AA/KK, my equity drops to 13.1%. If we again widen Mitch’s range to include AKs and QQ, my equity improves to 20.4%.
Chuck could have some random suited connectors too – perhaps suspecting that Mitch and I have all the high cards and hoping for a hand like 98s to sneak to victory. So I’ll add 98s and 87s to his range. This, with Mitch at AA/KK would leave me with equity of 13.8%. With the wider range for Mitch, I’m at 21.6%. Chuck’s range has far less impact on how I stand than Mitch’s range, but if Chuck’s actual cards include any aces it kills a very important out for me.
I’m not doing all this math in my head at the table. With Chuck’s chips in the middle now, it seems like a mandatory call. I make the crying call, not at all happy, but would still have nearly 100 BBs left if I call here and lose. If I had made a smaller 4-bet, say in the neighborhood of 60-75 BBs, I would have less hesitation about folding and saving my chips.
As the dealer sorts out the main pot and side pot, Chuck asks who has pocket aces. Mitch says he has cowboys, i.e., pocket kings. I actually feel a slight sense of relief at hearing this. I say that I have one ace, but not two of them, and turn over my Ace of spades. Mitch turns over his King of spades, then a red king to go along with it. Chuck doesn’t turn over either of his cards, but looks like he’s in a lot of pain.
One more bit of math: against Mitch’s exact hand, which we now know for sure (and ignoring Chuck, since we still don’t know what he had), my equity is 30.3%. If Chuck had folded to Mitch’s all-in bet, the pot would have been 389 BBs with 130 more for me to call. I would need to have greater than 25.0% equity to justify calling. While calling would be correct, it is only correct because of my betting mistake when I made such a large 4-bet that I stepped into No Man’s Land and pot-committed myself without consciously intending to do so.
If you’ve read this far, I’m pleased to report that a beautiful ace fell on the flop, and I won the whole freakin’ thing. That’s poker I guess, and I’ve certainly been on the other side many, many times.
My stack grew a little bit more by the end of the night and I booked a very nice profit of 700+ BBs.
Thinking about Mitch’s 70’s theme appearance… That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it!