Nuance and the Gucci Wallet

My friend Sasha Sutton, who is superb at both writing and poker, tagged me in a tweet this week. Which means I’m overdue to write something.

Two nights earlier, I was the joyous home-game player at a basic $1/2 NL live cash game, with a couple of interesting hands just below the aforementioned QQ+/AK range. How did Sasha know?

In one hand, I peeked at KQo in the cutoff seat. After one or two limps, the player two seats to my right raised to $10. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Chris.”

I had about $300 in front of me, and Chris had me covered. He’s a smart, aggressive player, and a friend.

First of all, what kind of hand is KQo? Since Sasha’s tweet also tagged Tommy Angelo, let’s refer to the starting hand groups in Tommy’s classic Elements of Poker. Group A is all pocket pairs and Ax combinations. Then there’s Group B. As Tommy puts it:

“Group B is one hand: KQ. I think of KQ as a bad good hand and a good bad hand. It’s right in there somewhere. In these hand groups… KQ is a spacer between groups A and C, put there to make groups A and C more distinct and therefore more useful.”

What makes KQ good? High cards and blockers. KQ reduces the number of combinations of AK, AQ, KK, QQ that another player can have. And it dominates all Kx and Qx combinations without an ace.

What makes KQ bad? It’s easily dominated. Anytime you flop top pair, you should be careful not to give your whole stack away, especially if you weren’t the pre-flop aggressor, as the raiser’s range is uncapped.

Alright, back to the action. Chris raised to $10. Almost every time Chris was the first raiser at this very loose game, he had bumped it to $15. With his strongest hands, he sets the bar high to ward off too much multiway action. I sensed a bet-sizing tell here, and take the top premium hands out of his range. That leaves a lot of the weaker Ax hands, pocket pairs 22-TT, (both groups beating me right then) and non-premium suited connectors and gappers that I was ahead of.

I had also been feeling a need to ramp up my own aggression, to demand greater respect from the table than I was getting. So I 3-bet it up to $40. Everyone else folded, and when it came around to Chris, he said “it’s just not worth it” and folded his cards face up… KQo.

As I collected the small, uncontested (and un-raked) pot, I slapped my cards face-up on top of Chris’ cards. Hah! He dryly noted that I was at the bottom of my range and we shared a laugh.

A couple of orbits later, I was in the big blind with JJ. A middle position player raised to $7 and the next player called. While I was planning my 3-bet sizing, Chris re-raised to $35.

Should I pop it up to $120 or so? Is this the hill I’m willing to die on? Consider the differences here vs. the earlier hand.

Then I had position on Chris. Now I don’t. Advantage Chris.

Then Chris was the first raiser. Now he’s a re-raiser, which narrows and strengthens his range. Advantage Chris.

Then Chris’ bet-sizing was smaller than normal for him. Now his bet-sizing commands respect. Advantage Chris.

Then… if Chris were to come back over the top of my $40 3-bet, I could let go without a major hit to my overall results for this poker session. Now a 4-bet / fold line would inflict far more financial and emotional pain. Advantage Chris.

In no limit poker, folding is nearly always the most exploitative play. The villain reveals her strength; you exploit that information by denying her the opportunity to seize your chips!

I folded.

Two other players, however, didn’t fold until Chris bet another $100 on a 6-6-5 flop, exactly the kind of flop that could bleed me dry when Chris has QQ+.

After the hand, I raised my eyebrows at Chris. “Queens?”

“Almost,” came the reply. “Why? Did you fold tens?”

“One better.”

Now his eyebrows rose. “I guess we weren’t going to see any jacks on that board!”

We had the same hands twice in a short span, first KQ then JJ. While I didn’t make, nor lose, much on either one, I was pleased at the nuanced thinking. I amped up the aggression with the bottom of my 3-bet range in the first instance, then judiciously let go against the bottom of Chris’ 3-bet range in the latter case.

Over the long term, this should put more wealth in my carbon fiber money clip.

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