Thin Slicing

aria poker Crazy Asian crazian

Thin-slicing” describes the ability to make very quick inferences based only on narrow experiences. Judgments based on thin-slicing can be more accurate than judgments based on much more information. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term with his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

We are thin-slicing when we are speed dating, Facebook stalking, evaluating political candidates, using stereotypes and forming all sorts of first impressions. At the poker table, we are thin-slicing constantly. We sit with a table full of complete strangers and immediately begin making financial decisions using thin slices of information.

There’s Old Man Coffee; I’ll bet he’s very nitty. The next guy looks like an internet poker kid; expect a LAGGY style. That woman looks scared and has a short stack; I can bully her. Another guy made an oversized river bet and everybody folded; he was probably bluffing. Gender, race, ethnicity, attire, grooming, stack sizes, and the first words we hear are quickly processed in temporary conclusions formed.

Last week in Las Vegas, I found myself thin-slicing in the Aria poker room, in a $2/5 no limit Texas Holdem game. An Asian-looking gentleman joined the table, who looked to be in his mid-to-late-40’s, with short, graying hair and a mild accent. He was two seats to my left.

With JT in the hijack seat, I raised to $20. He called on the button, and everyone else folded. The flop was AJ8, giving me middle pair. If I bet again, it would be primarily for getting information, as I might not get called by a weaker hand and it’s doubtful I’ll get a better hand to fold. If called, that’s probably the last chips I’ll add to this pot and being out-of-position I’ll often have to fold. I don’t really like betting here.

Or I can check and see what he does. By checking, I’d be surrendering the initiative, down-shifting from aggressive to passive. A good, aggressive player can represent an ace, betting now and betting again on any turn card if I call the flop bet, likely forcing me to fold my weak pair, weak kicker before a showdown. I don’t really like checking here either. ‘Tis the core problem with being out-of-position.

Not liking my options, I opt to check. At least I’m protecting my remaining chips. He checks back, providing a pat of butter to spread on the thin slice of information I have on this villain so far.

The turn card is a 9. Now the board reads AJ8-9, so in addition to the 2nd pair, I also have an open-ended straight draw. Since he didn’t bet the flop, I may have the best hand, now with outs to improve to a straight. I decide to bet $25. It doesn’t matter to me whether he calls or folds, although a raise would put me in a tricky spot. He calls.

Now there’s about $95 in the pot, and the river is a low card, not appearing to change anything. There are no possible flushes. I’m not in love with my hand, but it’s good enough to take to showdown. I check. Now he fires out a bet of $75.

Thin-slicing… He has position on me. Maybe he figures the only way to win this pot is to bet enough to get me to fold. There is a stereotype of hyper-aggressive Asian players, leading to the portmanteau of “Crazian.” He checked back on the flop; surely he would have bet for value then with any ace in his hand. Does my betting line look overly weak, with a check on the flop, half-hearted looking delayed continuation bet on the turn and check again on the river?

Most unenthusiastically, I call. He says “king high” and shows KQ, for a Broadway straight draw that missed. My hand is good, and I picked up over $100 and another pat of butter in the form of knowing he called a modest bet with a gutshot straight draw.

A couple hours later, he’s still at my table but has changed seats and now is two seats to my right.  He does in fact play in the Crazian style of play (so for the rest of this post, I’ll call him “Crazian”), involved in many pots and frequency betting and raising. He went bust, bought in again, won a couple of very large pots and now sits behind a stack of approximately $1,600, with which he has begun relentlessly bullying the table. Once he called a pre-flop re-raise with 98o, flopped one pair and called another large bet, then turned trips and won a very large pot when the other player never slowed down. The original thin slice is now a thin but fulfilling sandwich.

There was an UTG straddle to $10, and Crazian raised to $40 from the hijack seat, as he had done on several prior straddle pots. I was on the button with ATo. This is not a hand you want to go to war with, but combined with my position it’s good enough to fight back. I had been folding a awful lot since our prior confrontation. If he’s thin-slicing too, he’ll see the quintessential nitty middle-aged white guy (“MAWG), an image that I adore. I re-raise to $145. When a nitty MAWG 3-bets to $145, he rarely has anything other than AA or KK.

Everyone else folds, but Crazian calls. I’m mildly surprised, but shouldn’t be.

The flop was J93 rainbow, giving me a whole bunch of nothing. He checks. I should be able to sell the story that I have AA or KK, so I C-bet $175. He calls again. I still have about over $700 behind and he has me well covered. While we are both checking to a turn 6 and before the river card arrives, I’m both praying for an ace and telling my self what an idiot I am for spewing away my profits for the session by trying to outplay the Crazian at his own game. My attempt to win $50 with a strong pre-flop play is turning into an expensive and emotional roller coaster.

Bink! The poker gods deliver an ace on the river. All praise Barry Greenstein. While Crazian is evaluating this, I decide to check if he checks and call if he bets. I don’t have a good read on his range after he raised / called a 3-bet pre-flop, check / called the flop and checked the turn. There aren’t many draws, and AK / AQ hands should have given up on the flop. I lose to AJ, A9, JJ and 99 and beat most everything else. Most importantly, his bluff frequency at this table has been very high and he may be looking for vengeance for the earlier failed bluff.

He bets big, tossing out $500. Another thin-slicing moment. That’s way too much for a value bet. I have to trust my read. As I quickly toss out a single $5 chip to signify a call, Crazian sighs, says “good call” and mucks his cards without forcing me to show. Winning a $1,650 pot with a hand that can only beat a bluff feels pretty damn good!

On the following hand, Crazian dumps his remaining $600-700 chips into the pot and loses again, then gets up and leaves the table.

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