KKing David

Ruminations on poker

An Embarrassingly Bad Call

I didn’t want to write this post, but I’ve been thinking about this hand for several days and need to purge it from my consciousness.  This blog originated as a place to vent and purge bad thoughts, back when no one was reading.  In the hand I’m going to describe, I found out exactly where I stood, knew it, and called off my stack anyway out of sheer stubbornness.  Or stupidity.  Or tilt.  I hoped I could forget about it and move on, not owning up to it here, but it’s still rolling around in my head… THAT’S THE ONLY THING SHE COULD HAVE!  And of course, she did.

I still don’t want to write this post, mostly because I’m embarrassed that people will read it.  Now, dear readers, you have a choice.  Either read on to find out what I did that was so awful, or skip the rest of this post.

As usual, I’m playing no limit Texas hold’em in a private game, at someone’s garage.  Most of the players are regulars.  So far, this night has been frustrating as I’ve either had shitty cards, or totally missed the flop with my hands like AK or AQ.  I had bought in for 200 Big Blinds, won a few very small pots, and started this hand with about 170-175 BBs.

The villain is a young woman, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Stardust.”  In the cutoff seat, she opens the action with a raise to 4 BBs.  The button calls, and with QQ in the big blind, I re-raise to 16 BBs.  Stardust very quickly calls and the button folds.

Immediately, I’m thinking she is set-mining with some sort of medium pocket pair.  With a pair higher than my Queens, she would have made a bigger raise in the first place.  With a really low pair, she would limp.  Perhaps she has AK, but again she would have made a bigger raise.  Stardust doesn’t balance her pre-flop range by using the same bet size regardless of hand strength.  A lot of players don’t seem to notice the bet sizing tells, so with certain opponents this can actually be an exploitative strategy.  Her stack is about the same size as mine, so set-mining is mathematically justifiable.

The flop is Jd 8c 2d.  I bet 20 BBs and she quickly calls.

The turn is 7c.  Now there are two possible flush draws – diamonds and clubs.  An open-ended straight draw with T9 also got there.  I discount that based on the pre-flop action.  Stardust might have raised to 4 BBs with T9 suited, but wouldn’t have called my re-raise with so little hesitation.  But what I’m really thinking about is whether she might have flopped a set of 888s.  How can I get her to tell me?

I bet 25 BBs.  Stardust stacks all of her chips other than the $1 chips and puts them in for a large raise.  I ask the dealer for a count, and it is 115 BBs more.  She didn’t announce “all-in” so I can call the raise and still have a few $1 chips of my own left.  The conventional response, if not folding, would be to put the last few dollars in as well, but that would alter the order of the showdown.  She would be calling my shove, and I’d have to show first.  By just calling her raise and leaving the handful of remaining chips alone, I am the caller and Stardust will show first.  If I call and lose, nobody will know exactly what I have.

The main failure here was not taking enough time to ponder Level 3.

Level 1 thinking is “what do I have?”  I have QQ, an over-pair to the board, which is generally considered a strong hand.

Level 2 thinking is “what does she have?”  She raised, smallish, pre-flop then quickly called a re-raise.  She called a flop bet, then raised big over the top of the turn bet.  Of the hands that beat me, I can safely conclude she does not have AA or KK – she would have raised my larger pre-flop.  She does not have JJ – same reason.  She does not have 22 – she would have limped in pre-flop.  She does not have T9 off-suit – she would have folded to my re-raise pre-flop.  She might have T9 suited – a total of 4 combinations – but I think the speed with which she called my pre-flop re-raise effectively rules that out.  She never has 2 pair here – all of the 2P combinations are too weak to raise pre-flop AND call my re-raise.  That leaves 88, which perfectly fits the betting patterns and our reads about Stardust’s playing style. This along is enough to justify folding here.  With Level 2 thinking alone, I should fold and move on.

What about Level 3?  Level 3 thinking is “what does she think I have?”  I re-raised from out-of-position pre-flop, then led out with bets on the flop and turn.  Doesn’t this smack of an over-pair?  My hand should be pretty obvious to anyone paying close attention.  It might be AA, or KK, or QQ, but at this point in the action, these are all equivalent hands.  With this being the case, and two flush draws on the board, can she be raising effectively all-in here with a flush draw?  Stardust just put 140 BBs with of chips at risk.  Would she do that as a semi-bluff, and have any reasonable hope that I would fold after showing as much strength as I’ve shown?

My turn bet was intentionally small.  There was about 77 BBs in the pot and I bet 25 BBs, giving her about 4-to-1 odds on a call.  With a flush draw, Stardust can justify calling.  On the other hand, she might not have much fold equity, and might not be increasing her expected value by shoving.  My hand looks too strong for that, and it’s not here style to bet that aggressively without a made hand.  The only flush draw she can have is with a combo like Ad Kd or Ad Qd. Anything weaker is likely to fold pre-flop, and any Ac Kc or Ac Qc would fold on the flop and not hang around for the second flush draw that came on the turn.

If I have any lingering doubts about her having 88 after the Level 2 thinking, they should be totally erased by the Level 3 answers.

What is weird sometimes is the precision of the hand analysis.  It’s also disconcerting.  Surely there is something else she can have… but there isn’t.  After removing my hole cards and the flop & turn cards, there are 46 unknown cards.  Out of those, there are 1,035 combinations of two cards.  My Level 2 and Level 3 analysis reduces this to exactly three combinations that Stardust can really have.  They are:  8s8h, 8s8d, 8h8d.

After thinking through Level 2, I heard “Trust your reads,” from the imaginary gremlin perched atop my right shoulder.

“You have an over-pair!  Won’t it feel great to bust her?” asks the imaginary gremlin atop my left shoulder.

I call, knowing inside I’ve just made a colossal mistake.

Despite each of us having between $5-10 remaining in $1 chips, she immediately flips over her pocket eights.

The dealer delivers the river card, the Kc.

Technically, we aren’t all-in yet, and her set of 888s is laying face-up on the table.  It’s not like I can bluff her into folding, as if I have KK or made a flush.  So I announce loudly, “I check.”  Stardust looks sheepish now, and also checks.

I buy more chips and two hands later, lose half of them again when a different villain hits a flush on the river after getting all-in with me on the flop against my top pair / top kicker.

I buy more chips.  This ain’t going to be my night.

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