Forty-Love

The final week of Wimbledon is underway, with its traditions of grass and Brits and strawberries & cream.

As a young fellow, from my pre-teens until early 30’s, I played a lot of tennis. I was pretty good, too (5.0 on the USTA rating scale, for those who understand), until bulging disks and a torn rotator cuff made me a poker player.

One of the key metrics in any tennis match is unforced errors. An unforced error occurs when you are in control yet hit the ball out of bounds. Whether wide, long or into the net, unforced errors lose points, hurt your score, damage self-confidence and reduce future aggression.

So it goes in poker too.

For example, last night I was playing in a local, private $1/2 no limit Texas Hold’em game. Lo’ and behold, I wake up with pocket aces, A♠A in late position. A player in early position raised to $7 and the next player called. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call them “Henry” and “Harold,” respectively.

I 3-bet to $25, and both of them call, with Harold taking a few extra seconds before doing so. The flop was interesting… J98. On the one hand, I have an over pair with the nut flush draw. On the other hand, Henry’s and Harold’s ranges can include some sets, straights and flushes here.

They both check, and I check back. I’m adopting a pot control strategy for now, and will re-evaluate based on the turn and river cards.

The turn is the 5♠, essentially changing nothing unless one of them has pocket fives. Henry checks, but Harold bets $50. Hmmm…

I’m definitely not folding, but should I raise? I decide to call –> if I raise and get called, I’m probably behind, possibly way behind. Harold has about $120-130 remaining and I have him covered, so a raise also makes me pot-committed. Henry folds.

The river is the 5♣. If Harold flopped 2-pair, this card saves me. But… for him to flop 2-pair requires him to have called my 3-bet, while out-of-position against me, with J9, J8 or 98. That seems unlikely, but I won’t rule it completely out.

Harold bets $70, more than half of his stack, but less than half-pot. It’s a weird size. He could go all-in and it would be less than a pot-sized bet. My range should look like QQ+, AQ+ with a diamond. If I’m going to call another bet, why wouldn’t I call the full amount?

And it’s Harold, who I’ve seen turn thin value hands into bluffs. He could have TT, or KJ with the K or something similar. He could also have a monster with 99 or 88. One thing for sure is he’s making that whole pot-control thing impossible. On this runout, I’d have been happy to win a modest sized pot. Now I’m either going to win a large pot or lose one.

After a bit of time in the tank, I decide the math is too good. There’s $245 in the pot and it will cost me $70 to call. I need to be good here about 23% of the time for calling to be profitable. (The final pot if I call will be ~ $305 after deducting rake and tip. $70 / $305 = 22.9%.) The price is just too good.

I call and Harold shows J♣7♣. My hand is good.

Harold made three unforced errors. His pre-flop call of my 3-bet got him involved against a much stronger range. This is like dumping a tennis ball into the net. Point for me. In tennis scoring terms, it’s 15-0 (pronounced “fifteen-love”).

Then with top pair / weak kicker on a very wet board, he bet the turn. This might be the least bad of his unforced errors, as I’d surely fold AK / AQ type hands without a diamond, but his equity against those is already pretty good (86.4% against AK with no diamond; 77.3% against AQ with no diamond). That puts him way ahead or way behind, as I’m rarely folding any hand better than his. Too much power sent this tennis ball long. Another point for me. It’s thirty-love.

Finally, after my call on the turn, Harold tried to get cute with his smallish river bluff. If he was ahead after the turn, he’s still ahead. If behind, it’s unlikely that I’ll fold to this size bet. Like a sharply angled cross-court shot that sails into the doubles alley, Harold’s last unforced error makes it forty-love.

I might as well be serving for the match.

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