KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the category “Bad beats”

The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King

My last post dealt with the concept of Reciprocality, which refers to differences in how you handle something and how your poker opponents handle the same thing.  The difference in your approach either adds to or takes away from your bottom line (when considered over the very long term).

One aspect of that is Bankroll Reciprocality.  If you partition your money better than your opponents do, you gain another small edge.  You may not see it, but it’s still there.

I was reminded of this last night at a table with two players who appeared very well bankrolled and played with a hyper-aggressive, borderline maniac, fearless style.  The house policy at this private game allows players to top off their stacks up to the biggest stack on the table.  Early on, these players bought more chips several times to keep up with whoever was fortunate enough to build up a deep stack.

In a cash game, this style wins over the long haul by putting other players to frequent decisions for all of their chips… with monster hands, medium strength hands, missed draws and total air.  Their all-in and bluffing frequencies are so high that you have to call with lighter and lighter holdings.  Once I called an all-in river bet by one of them – for purposes of this blog I’ll call him “Gabe” – with JT on a board runout of T85-A-3 to double up through a busted flush draw.  Do I really like putting my whole stack at risk with less than top pair?  The really interesting part of the hand was rewinding back to the pre-flop betting, where Gabe had open-raised in middle position with 7h 3h.  If we have to put hands like 73 suited in his pre-flop raising range, we might as well not even try to develop a range at all.

Eventually they will make big hands and will get paid off more often than the rest of us.  With such deep stacks, those payoffs put them in a position to run all over the table.  Gabe had earlier called a pre-flop raise from the big blind with T2 (the “Doyle Brunson” hand) and saw a runout of K62-T-2 to make a full house and crack my pocket AAs.  Later the other guy playing a similar style woke up with his own AA when I had AK.  Given the high frequency of his having something weaker, I decided to push my AK extra hard and got flattened.

That’s poker.  With their bankroll leverage, every time they make a winning hand, they’ll with take someone’s entire stack or double up what is already a deep stack.  That increased their leverage and other players who aren’t comfortable playing for large pots with draws or medium strength hands start surrendering more and more often.

Michael Craig’s book The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time, tells the story of a billionaire Texas banker, Andy Beal, who went to Las Vegas in the early 2000’s to challenge the top professional poker players.  Beal insisted on heads up matches and repeatedly insisted on raising the stakes. Before long, the pros decided to pool their bankrolls as they realized Beal’s bankroll edge offset part of their poker skill edge.  He could force them into tough decision after tough decision, and with a run of good cards push we would present an existential threat to each of the pros’ personal bankroll.

It’s a fascinating story, well researched and written.  The pros, led by Doyle Brunson, Howard (the “Professor”) Lederer, Chip Reese, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harmon, Todd Brunson, Chau Giang and others, referred to themselves as The Corporation.  Beal’s bankroll edge forced the top poker players in Las Vegas, each accustomed to operating as a lone wolf, to pool their money and acknowledge that some of them performed more poorly against Beal than others did.

The real lesson is that deep pockets matter, especially when combined with a reasonable amount of skill (which Beal worked hard at developing in between his battles with The Corporation) and fearless aggression.  This concept plays out at all levels, and the power of the deep pockets should never be underestimated.

Bankroll Reciprocality.

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Great Flop for Me

It was Saturday night, which means I’m playing poker in someone’s garage.  Just about everybody is a regular player, so we get to do some higher level thinking.  Level 1, of course, is just thinking about the strength of our own hand.  We like it, or we don’t like it, or we’re not sure.  Level 2 is thinking about our opponents’ hands.  The more we have played with somebody, the more we should know about their style and tendencies and use that information to our advantage.  They should be doing the same.  Level 3 is thinking about what our hand looks like to our opponents.  While we know our exact cards, they don’t, so we can consider what our hand looks like from their perspective.  Level 4 flips back to their hand.  What will they think we are putting them on?

On the button, after several players just call the big blind, I look down at JJ.  I like my hand (Level 1).  So far, no one has a hand worthy of raising.  I don’t know their exact cards, but any hand better than mine would have raised already (Level 2).  When I raise, some of the players will think I’m just attacking the limpers and won’t give me credit for a hand as strong as JJ (Level 3).  So I can raise more than normal and still get called by worse hands.

I raise to 8.5 big blinds (BBs).  The BB calls and so do two of the limpers.

Flop (37 BBs):  4d 4s 2d.  This is a great flop for me.  There are no over cards to my JJ.  While there is a diamond flush draw and a possible straight draw, a paired board makes the flush draw less attractive to anyone who has it, and the straight draw cannot be open-ended unless someone limp/called with 53.

Everybody checks to me.

I still like my hand.  It should be best here (Level 1).  While no one has shown any strength (Level 2), any of these players could have a single A, K or Q, or two diamonds, or a lower pocket pair that could turn a set, so I’m not giving them a free turn card.  I bet 20 BBs, just over one-half of the pot.  Some weaker hands will call another bet, including flush draws and low-medium pocket pairs like 55-88.  They would expect me to make a continuation bet on this flop with close to 100% of my pre-flop range, which they would think includes a lot of unpaired hands (Level 3).

The BB folds, but the next guy raises to 60 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Myles.”  Myles likes to see lots of flops and is willing and able to be bluffing here if he thinks I’m just trying to steal a pot with my favorable position.  He knows his check/raise would look very strong, and I would have to consider the possibility that he has trip 4’s or better (Level 4).  As I start to ponder the meaning of his check/raise, the next guy announces that he’s all-in for about 180 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Rob.”

Wow!  A big check/raise from Myles, followed by Rob’s check/re-raise shove.  Similar to Myles, Rob likes to see lots of flops.  Even moreso than Myles, Rob will try to steal a pot with a big bluff when the board gets scary or he thinks his opponent is weak.  Both of them initially limped in, then called my largish pre-flop raise, which makes both of them more likely than me to have a 4 or pocket 22’s.  Myles has Rob covered, while I have the smallest stack with about 75 BBs remaining after my flop bet.

Let’s try to figure out where we are (Level 2), while trying not to wet our pants.

I can rule out AA, KK, QQ based on the pre-flop betting, so the only holdings that beat me are any 4x or 22.  That’s it.  And most 4x hands are pretty junky and would have folded pre-flop.  Calling hands might include A4 (suited or unsuited) 64s, 54s, and maybe 43s.  That’s not many combinations: after eliminating the cards on the board, there are 3 possible combos of 22, 8 combos of A4, 2 combos each of 64s, 54s, 43s.

I don’t think Myles would have called my pre-flop raise with A4 off-suit, but he might with A4s, 64s or 54s.  Not with 43s.  Not with K4, Q4 or worse.  He also could have a diamond draw, with Ad2d+, Kd8d+, Qd9d+, or suited connecting diamonds from JdTd down to 6d5d.  He also could be on a pure bluff, or could have a medium pocket pair that he thinks is the best hand (55-99).  But that assumes he always check-raises with his flush draws.  In reality, sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t.  I’ll eliminate about half of his flush draws (including AdKd, AdQd, AdJd and KdQd all of which would have raised pre-flop), resulting in a range of 99-44, 22, A4s, AdTd-Ad8d, Ad5d, Ad3d, KdTd+, QdTd+, 6d5d, 64s, 54s.  Heads-up against that range, my JJ has 77.4% equity and I should call.

But Rob went all-in, AFTER seeing Myles’ check/raise.  That scares the shit out of me.  He could have the same 22 or 4x hands as Myles could, plus I have to include K4s, Q4s and 43s in his range as I’ve seen Rob surprise the hell out of people before when he makes a junky call and hits the flop hard.  I’ll also include A4o.  He too could have a flush draw, but if he does in this spot, it should only be an A-high flush draw (as with Myles, excluding AdKd, AdQd or AdJd as he would have raised pre-flop with these stronger suited aces).  Rob shouldn’t be shoving here with weaker flush draws because he should know Myles might be on a flush draw too, and shoving a non-nut flush draw and getting called by a nut flush draw would be disastrous.  Rob’s resulting range is stronger than Myles’ range: 99-44, 22, A4s, A4o, AdTd-Ad3d, K4s, Q4s, 64s, 54s, 43s.

Against both of these ranges, my equity is 39.7%, compared to 35.8% for Rob and 24.5% for Myles.  Something about a check-raise following by a check-re-raise makes me feel quite certain that I’m crushed here on this flop that initially looked so good for me, and I expected the math to be even worse that this.  It will cost me 75 BBs to call, for a chance to win (assuming Myles also calls) approx. 320 BBs.  If my equity is greater than 75/320 = 23.4%, calling would be the mathematically correct play.

I take my time, and finally fold.  I couldn’t work out all of the math in my head at the table, so I went with the old “Hashtag: they always have it” and concluded that at least one of them had me crushed.

Myles takes his time, asks Rob if he has a 4 and if so how good is his kicker.  Then he declares that he might as well gamble and calls the all-in bet.

The turn is Qc.  I don’t recall the exact river card, only that it wasn’t a high card or a diamond and didn’t change anything.

Rob turns over Ad6d.  He did indeed have the A-high flush draw.  We can debate the merits of shoving over the top of Myles’ check/raise there, but that’s what he did.  Myles turns over Qd9d, a weaker flush draw.

This burns me up when I first see it, as I was ahead of both of them when I folded.  Later I entered their exact hands and my equity was 53.7%.  Putting in 33.3% of the money and having 53.7% equity is a profitable play all night long, and I definitely should have called.

Then Myles sees that the queen on the turn paired one of his hole cards, giving him 2-pair queens and fours, and he scoops in a pot that totals over 415 BBs.  My JJ would have lost anyway.  That doesn’t change the conclusion that I should have called, however.  Against the ranges I constructed and against the actual hands, calling would be the correct play.  If both Myles’ and Rob’s cards were face up, I would call, especially knowing their flush outs partially cancel each other (and I was holding another out with Jd).  But I folded instead, then got the reverse of “lucky” since part of the draw hit anyway.  What looked like such a great flop for me cost me about 1/4 of my stack and I was lucky not to lose all of it.

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Bink!

From FlopTurnRiver.com’s poker dictionary, with examples from yours truly:

Bink – A term used by poker players to describe someone catching one of their outs to a draw. More commonly used to describe a longshot draw that comes in.

Dude, I had pocket tens.  The flop was queen-jack-four and everybody checked.  Another queen came on the turn and I called a small bet.  Then I binked one of the two remaining tens on the river for a full house.

A Cooler is when you are dealt a very very strong hand only to have your opponent be dealt an even stronger hand. There usually is no way you can avoid losing all of your chips in instances like these.

My full house got crushed by a bigger boat.  What a cooler!  This was the day after another cooler when I flopped a queen-high flush and this other dude flopped a king-high flush.

Running bad – Having a string of tough luck, typically involving multiple bad beats or coolers.

KKing David sure is running bad lately.  He binked a river 2-outer for a full house when Patrick was already sitting pretty with a bigger boat on the turn.  If this keeps up, he’ll start acting like Mr. White in Season 1 of Breaking Bad.

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If I Had a Time Machine

If I had a time machine, it would be a very simple time machine.  My time machine would only allow me to go back in time; I don’t need to see the future before it gets here.  Not far back either – a maximum of about 15 minutes would be enough.

You know all those times you say something that doesn’t come out right and you know it immediately?  Like when Mrs. asks if I like HGTV, or do I want to go to the grocery store.  Or Mom calls and asks why I don’t call her more often.  Many self-inflicted kerfuffles could be fixed with a quick trip to my time machine.

If I had a time machine, my life would be more harmonious.  I’d also be rich.

With my time machine, I’d do-over a few poker hands from this week.

First, there was that hand where the button straddled for five BBs, several players just limped in and I put out a big raise from the cutoff seat.  I just wanted to pounce on the limpers’ chips, holding decent but far from dominant cards.  The small blind — for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Dave” — called rather quickly, so fast the thought flashed through my mind that my raise had been large enough that it should give him pause.  After two more callers (jeez, some of these guys want to see every flop!), another original limper re-raised all-in with a short stack.  I’ll call him “Andy.”

Andy’s limp/re-raise seemed unusual, in the sense that there were three limps before his.  Why wouldn’t he go ahead and raise the first time around if he has a monster hand?  Now the pot has approx. 195 BBs in it already and I have the other players covered.  It will only cost me 38 BBs to call Andy.  With juicy odds, I’m not folding, but a fancier thought enters my head.  If I shove all-in here, I can drive out Dave and the other callers and isolate Andy.  With lots of dead money in the pot, this would be a profitable play.

As I announce my all-in bet, Dave slides his entire stack into the center so fast it gets there while the sound waves emanating from my mouth are still moving across the table.  I think back to his original limp as the first player to act after the button straddle, and to his rapid response call of my original large (30 BBs) raise.  While I’m retracing these steps in my mind, a fourth player also calls, explaining later the pot was too big, too tempting not to join Andy and me as lemmings following each other off the cliff.

The fact that I have an ace reduces the probability of Dave having two aces, and also is irrelevant.  A reduced probability is not a zero probability.  I like Dave, however, and think he likes me.  Of course, he does have pocket AA, a/k/a American Airlines, and flips them over without forcing me to show my soul crushing hand first, despite protocol dictating that I show first.  It’s easier to be magnanimous when you are scooping in a pot with 900 BBs, plus or minus a few.  There are some speculative comments as to what I had while I suffer silently.

If I had a time machine, I’d play that quite differently.

Second, there was a hand later that night when I was in middle position with 6s 3s.  One nickname for 6-3 is the Spanish Inquisition, in reference to a Monty Python movie line, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

Before the action got to me, however, another player raised to 8 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Ray S.”  Still wounded from Dave’s ambush, I fold.  Playing junky cards like these – low, suited, with two gaps – is a losing proposition.  Playing from behind sometimes works, but starting out with the lead is smarter.  Ray S. does get a couple of callers, so we see a flop of Kc 8h 7s.  Everybody checks.  The turn is 5s.  Had I called pre-flop, now I would have an open-ended straight draw with my 6, plus a spade flush draw, with the 4s potentially giving me a straight flush.  Now Ray S. bets and gets two callers.

When you are running bad at poker, the badness comes in all forms.  Sure enough the 4s comes, and I wish I had my time machine.  At this game, there is a straight flush piggy – a jackpot that builds every week and is paid out when someone makes a straight flush.  The piggy is now 540 BBs.  Ray S. shows pocket KK.  He flopped top set and decided to check the flop for deception.

Third, there was one more hand that same night where I raised pre-flop with QJ.  Some poker pros called this hand Hawaii, as in “if you don’t play QJ for a year you will save enough money to go to Hawaii.”  Another player – I’ll call him “Rob,” makes a massive re-raise.  My raise was 6 BBs.  Rob goes to 50 BBs.  Is this a show of strength or just a move to try to blow me out of the hand?  He still gets one caller.  Some of these guys want to see every flop.  I want to see this one.  But I don’t have a time machine, I’m still bruised from shoving into Dave’s aces and bleeding internally from the curses of the Spanish Inquisition.  And someday I might like to go back to Hawaii, so I fold.

The flop is JT9, with two hearts.  That would give me top pair, plus an open-ended straight draw.  If I were in the hand, with a large pot and modest remaining stack, I would cheerfully get it all-in here.  Rob bets about 50 BBs more, and the other player calls.  The turn card is a K, the river a blank, and Rob shows Ah Kh to take it down.  He wasn’t going anywhere on that flop!

Fourth, a different night of the week.  The player to my right raises to 10 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Gary.”  With TT, I call and there are two other callers and we see a flop of 764.  Gary bets 35 BBs.  His large continuation bet indicates a very big pocket pair, like AA or KK.  He’s been studying poker rather furiously over the last few months, trying to improve his game, with one result being much greater aggression.  Another result has been better vision into what’s happening when things get all wonky.  I think he might be able to fold a big over pair on a board like this, if he realizes that his hand is pretty transparent.  When it becomes obvious that you have AA or KK, and another player raises or shoves on the flop, you are toast (most of the time), and this flop connects with set-mining hands like 77, 66 or 44.

So I shove, pretty quickly and aggressively.  Gary looks startled, as he should.  He had about 140 BBs at the start of this hand, and I have him covered.  He asks me, did you flop a set?  Oh well, he says, I guess if you did then you got me, and he puts in the rest of his chips.  It WAS obvious what he had, at least I got that part right.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and spare myself the misery of being right about his hand, right about his ability to smell trouble, and wrong about his willingness to surrender.  Two out of three ain’t good.

Fifth,  there was the hand where I was dealt AA later that same night (or more accurately, in the wee hours of the following morning), we were playing short-handed.  There is a small raise to 3 BBs and Gary calls.  I re-raise to 11 BBs and both call.  Here we go!  The flop was 7c 6s 4s, the same as the hand above only with different suits.  Should that be a tell?

I bet 15 BBs and both call.  The turn is 7s.  This is gross – it pairs the top card on the board and fills out a flush.  Gary checks and I check too.  On the button is a player who, for purposes of this blog, I’ll call “Zach.”  Zach can be very aggressive when he smells weakness, and is sometimes prone to excess aggression towards the end of a long poker session.  He bets 40 BBs and Gary folds.  As the original pre-flop raiser to 3 BBs, it is entirely possible that Zach has a pocket pair higher than 7’s, perhaps including one spade.  It’s also possible he has something that includes a 5 and flopped a straight draw.  Or he could have trip 777’s or a made flush or full house already.

The board is almost perfect for him to apply pressure, which he will do here with very high frequency.  I double check and do not have the Ace of Spades.  Nevertheless, I call.  This is now a leveling war.  He knows that I 3-bet pre-flop, indicating strength.  I know that he calls my 3-bets when in favorable position at the table – and late in a long session – with a wide range.  He knows that I’m trying for pot control when I check this turn, or perhaps have a weaker hand like AK.  I know that he likes to apply pressure and his bet is not necessarily indicative of a better hand than mine.  He knows that I don’t automatically surrender to his big bets.  (Earlier I called a small pre-flop raise from Gary with A9o.  After another caller, Zach re-raised more than the size of the pot, a move popularized by Dan Harrington as the “squeeze play.”   After Gary folded, I shoved with a short stack and doubled up through Zach’s king-high.)  I know that he knows that I know that he knows…

Perhaps neither of us really know what level the other is on.  My flop bet was deceptively small (note to self:  when doing this over in time machine mode, make a man-sized bet on this flop!), so despite the pre-flop 3-bet, my true hand strength is probably under-represented.

The river is the Ts, putting four spades on the board.  [insert curse words]  I check again, and Zach slides his entire stack into the middle.  There is no way I can call now.  I flip my aces face up into the muck, and Zach smiles as he shows a bluff, with 54 and no spade.  My read on the turn was right, but the river card made it impossible to continue.  The badness of running bad comes in all forms.

But I gotta tell y’all, and this is absolutely true, if I had a time machine I’d be rich!

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Mistakes and Coolers

In David Sklansky’s classic book The Theory of Poker, the author introduces his Fundamental Theorem of Poker:

Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.

In his view, a mistake is any play that delivers a gain to an opponent.  It’s worth noting that this is Sklansky’s personal definition of mistake, used for purposes of his book, and deviates considerably from a standard dictionary definition (such as “an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong”).  For a poker action to be a mistake, it doesn’t matter who ultimately wins the pot; you can take an action in a poker hand that you would not have taken if you could see your opponent’s cards, then draw out a winning card on the river despite long odds.  You win the pot, but your earlier action is still a mistake.  It also doesn’t matter if other players would have made the same play, as often happens when the 2nd nut hand loses to the absolute nuts.  If you could see your opponent’s cards, you would act differently.

My previous blog post noted that We All Make Mistakes.  So it seems inevitable that the next time I play poker after writing that piece (last night), I suffered through a flood of mistakes.

I made the mistake of being passive when I should have been aggressive, calling a pre-flop raise with QQ, intending to set a trap.  I later learned the villain had TT, after a flop of Js Ts 3s (giving him a set; me an overpair and flush draw).  The 4th T came on the turn, giving him quads.  In hindsight, I might have lost more had I re-raised pre-flop; but at the time of the pre-flop action, not re-raising was a mistake.

I made calling mistakes.  Many of them.

  • In the hand noted above, I called a river bet after a K came on the last card.  Duh… calling when the villain has quads is a mistake!
  • I called turn and river bets with 88 on a board of 432-7-J.  The villain had QQ and just called my pre-flop raise.  His trap worked, whereas my earlier attempt to set a trap with QQ failed.
  • I called flop and turn bets (the latter putting me all-in) with 22 after a flop of 972.  The villain had 99 for top set, crushing my bottom set.  This is a cooler, and fortunate for me that my stack wasn’t too deep.  Under Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker, however, calling was a mistake.  If I could see the villain’s cards, I would not have called.  Ouch!
  • With KQs, I called a check-raise and river bet on a board of K64 (two clubs)-6-5.  This was late, the flop was very drawy, a scary turn card came, and the bluffing frequency around the table escalated considerably in the prior half hour.  Not this villain –> he tables A6.  Had I checked-back on the turn for pot-control, I still would make the mistake of calling a river bet, but would lose far less.
  • There was one at least one other river call mistakes, but thankfully I cannot now recall the details.

I made betting and bet-sizing mistakes.  Many of them.

  • With 77 on the button, I flopped a set on a board of 875 (rainbow), and called a flop bet along with two other callers.  The turn J created a flush draw, and everyone checked to me.  One villain called my bet.  The river K completed the flush draw.  I bet again, and the villain called with a very weak flush.  He had 62s, got to the flop when no one raised, flopped an open-ended straight draw and turned a flush draw.  In addition to the river bet mistake, I was too passive pre-flop.  Another cooler, yet still a mistake according to Sklansky’s definition.
  • I made a flush on the river (after my turn semi-bluff got one caller) and a large bet after the villain checked.  He called again, with a bigger flush than mine.  Yet another cooler / mistake.
  • Several times I made a top pair / good kicker hand on the flop, where the villains were too weak to call a bet.  I bet anyway and they all folded.  Had I been more patient, perhaps I could have gotten some value on a later street by giving them a chance to catch up.
  • Other times I was the pre-flop raiser and made continuation bets on flops that didn’t connect with my hand at all, only to be called and have to surrender later.  C-betting with air against a top pair hand is a mistake.

Of course, I didn’t know the villains’ cards in any of these hands at the time of the mistakes.  That’s the thing with the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.  We have to take actions with incomplete information.  This leads to frequent mistakes.  If we can make fewer mistakes than our opponents, we can win over the long run.  The first key to making fewer mistakes is to improve hand reading skills.  Better reads = fewer mis-reads = fewer mistakes.  The second key is to learn to mitigate the effects of tilt.  Tilt leads to anger and other negative emotions, and intense anger shuts down higher brain functions — especially decision making and self-control.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said: “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.”

Put me down for progress, with a long way to go to reach wisdom.

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Ending Abruptly

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a strong preference for cash game poker over tournament poker.  When asked why I don’t like tournaments, the quick answer is “because they always end abruptly.”

I find that irritating.  Last night I made it to the final table of a private tournament that started with 33 players.  Seven remain.  There is a little extra at stake, as this is the final tournament of a year-long poker league.  The league winner is determined by points that are awarded based on each player’s finishing position in each tournament.  The points leader is also among the final seven, and I’m in second place overall.  If I finish two spots higher than him in this tournament, I’ll be tied for the points lead.  Winning the points title is worth a little over $2,500 (for larger tournament entry fees + travel costs), so I’m pretty motivated to win this game-within-a-game.

He’s trying to wait me out, folding virtually every hand and now severely short stacked with only two or three big blinds remaining.  I have more chips than he does, but also less than 5 BBs.

Everyone folds to the player on my right, who is on the button.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Gary.”  He raises.  In the small blind, I have pocket aces.  Then we are all-in.

Then I’m out.  Abruptly.

Gary also is one of my best friends.  After he wins the tournament, he says “don’t be mad, I’ll buy you a beer.”

 

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I Played That Right, Didn’t I? (Part Two)

Part One of “I Played That Right, Didn’t I?” described a two online poker hands where I was all-in and way ahead, only to see the villains hit a 2-outer and 4-outer, respectively, to win big pots.

After reading the blog, Mrs. asked me how I could be sure the online poker room (in my case, Ignition Poker) wasn’t cheating me somehow.  Perhaps there is an algorithm that identifies you as a winning player, then intentionally [bleep]‘s you over to keep you from cashing out?  How can you know?

This led to a long discussion about variance and Sklansky bucks, among other things, to explain that these things happen in live games with real cards that I can see being shuffled with my own eyes, all of which Mrs. found quite boring.

At a live, private game Saturday night, there was a 3-way all-in on the flop.  I was just an observer in this one.  One player had pocket aces, another flopped middle set, and the 3rd guy had top pair and a good kicker.  I was sitting next to the guy with a set and told him “nice hand!”  Then another ace fell on the river.  Ouch.

Last night, at a different private game, it was me again.  This game uses the Mississippi straddle rule, allowing any player to post a live straddle of any amount, in any position.  I’ve been experimenting with straddling more frequently on the button, especially when my stack is reasonably deep.  On this hand, I started with a little over 180 BBs and posted a standard straddle.

The SB called blind, meaning he didn’t look at his cards before calling.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Rob.”  I won’t try to explain Rob’s reasons for doing this… he later referred to himself as a “fish/donkey.”  Another player in middle position raised to 7 BBs (not quite 3x the straddle amount), there was one caller, and I called with T7 off-suit.  Rob also called.

Normally I wouldn’t call 7 BBs with T7o, but part of the reason for straddling on the button is to maximize the leverage of being last to act post-flop.  If you’re going to pump up the volume by straddling, you need to stick around for the action in more marginal spots.

Flop (29 BBs):  T77.

As I was saying, when you are last and flop a monster, the effect of the straddle is there is already a larger pot, making post-flop bets also larger coupled with the positional advantage that allows you to manage the final pot size.  With this flop, that’s a good thing.

After Rob check, the pre-flop raiser now bets 9 BBs, and the next player folds.  I don’t need to raise yet.  With a full house already, I don’t have to worry about a straight or flush draw hitting, and I want to see if anyone else wants to keep playing.  I call and Rob also calls.

Turn (56 BBs):  K

Both players check.  I bet 18 BBs.  Rob takes his time, then raises all-in, a total of 52 BBs.  The pre-flop raiser folds.  I call and turn my hand over immediately, showing my full house.

Rob winces in pain, then lets out a sound like a badly wounded fish/donkey.  He turns over one card – a seven – and starts walking away from the table.  Obviously his kicker is lower than my ten, so he’s drawing dead and knows it.

River (160 BBs):  Another K.

Wait a minute!  The dealer studies the board.  I study the board.  This can’t be happening.  (“Oh it’s happening, sweetheart!”)  Rob comes back to his seat.  He never surrendered his other card to the muck pile, and turns it over to show an eight.  The king on the river gives us both the same hand, sevens full of kings.

I didn’t lose any money here, but it feels like a loss.  Having a zero percent chance of winning the pot when he went all-in, Rob quietly stacks his 80 BB portion of the pot.

How do I tell Mrs. that I want her to listen to a “bad chop story?”

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I Played That Right, Didn’t I?

Last night, on the 5th hand of an online poker session, I get the coveted pocket aces.

As a good poker blogger, I must tell you that I have 82 big blinds in my stack, and I’m in the Hijack seat.  The main villain has me covered.

When playing online, when first to raise I generally hit the ‘pot’ button to make a pot-sized raise.  This automatically adjusts my raise sizing for any limps in front of me.  This time everyone had folded already and I make my standard pot-sized raise.

The next player, in the Cutoff seat, makes a pot-sized 3-bet.  Everyone else folds.  While tempted to 4-bet, I decide just to call here to trap him (or her).

Flop (25 BBs): 8c 5d 4c.  There are two clubs, but I have the Ac and therefore not too worried about flush draws.  The Villain cannot have AcKc or AcQc.  Would he 3-bet with KcQc, KcJc or worse?  Not likely.  There are also straight draws here, but those would require him to 3-bet with a hand like 77 or 66, or even worse with A7 or A6, or 63 or 43.  Again, I can discount all of these.

Trapping still makes sense.  If Villain has any over-pair, he should bet again, probably a strong bet as he would consider the possibility that I have AcKc or AcQc.  I check.  Villain also checks.

Now I can guess that his most likely holding is AK.  Few online players will 3-bet with AQ or worse, and even fewer would check back here with pocket pairs 99-KK.

Turn (25 BBs):  Ks.  I love this card.  I make a very small bet of 4 BBs.  This is designed to look like a blocker bet, as if I have QQ, JJ or TT and want to keep the pot small.  Villain obliges by raising to 11 BBs, also very small given the pot size, not wanting to run me off.  More confirmation that he has AK.

Now it’s time to spring the trap.  I 3-bet to 32 BBs, and eight seconds later he shoves all-in.

Boom!  The cards turn over and Villain is crushed with AK.  His play on the flop and turn made this an easy read.

Oh yeah, the river is another K, and Villain scoops the pot.

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Pause for dramatic effect, primal scream, lots of swearing.

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I played that right, didn’t I?

Earlier I had listened to a poker podcast, where part of the discussion was a reminder that the goal is to play each hand correctly.  When other players suck out, I should feel happy, as it means I got it in as the favorite (in this case 95.5% favorite) and played the hand correctly.  Trying to find that level of happiness, but I gotta tell you, this isn’t the emotion I associate with the word ‘happy.’

Reload.

About an hour later, I have 22 in middle position.  Now my stack is 102 BBs.  The main villain has 100 BBs. It folds to me, so I raise to 3 BBs.  Technically, this is 1/2 of a BB less than a pot-sized raise.  Sometimes I’ll do this with low pocket pairs as a way of setting my own set-mining odds.  Admittedly, the distinction between this raise and my standard pot-sized raise ain’t worth ‘splaining.

Both blinds call.

Flop (9 BBs):  Tc 9d 2c.  I have bottom set or a very wet (i.e., drawy) board.  Both blinds check.

I click the half-pot button.  I want this bet to appear ambivalent, so a hand like QJ or J8 or a flush draw might think he (or she) has fold equity and come back over the top with a big raise.  I’d be happy to get it all-in here and take my chances with the draws.

SB calls, then BB/Villain check-raises all-in.  Thank you sir!  I snap call and SB folds.

My best hopes are realized when Villain turns over T9.  Rather than a straight draw (8 outs) or a flush draw (looks like 9 outs but actually just 7 outs as two of the clubs would give me a full house), Villain has top 2-pair and only 4 outs to improve.

I’m an 83.2% favorite when all the chips go in.  This improves to 90.9% when the Qc comes on the turn.  But the Th falls on the river, and Villain scoops the pot.

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Pause for dramatic effect, primal scream, lots of swearing.

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I played that right, didn’t I?

Still searching for that feeling of happiness when the a villain sucks out.  The math guy in me calculates that I should win both of the hands described above 79.5% of the time based on the odds at the point when we went all-in.  My bankroll would be 385 BBs larger.  And I should win neither hand just 0.75% of the time – that’s three-quarters of one percent!

My “Sklansky bucks” (after the rake) were 150 BBs with my pocket rockets, and 164 BBs with the set of deuces, for a total of 314 BBs.  (Sklansky bucks are determined by multiplying the pot times your probability of winning when an all-in & call occur with cards remaining to be dealt.  It is a theoretical value that indicates whether you are getting it in with the best of it more often than not.  Over the long run, Sklansky bucks and actual results on all-in hands will converge. In the moment, you either win or lose the whole pot, but unless one player is drawing dead, your equity is somewhere in the middle.)

Sklansky bucks calculations are for losers.  Winners never go through this exercise.

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Variance is a Bitch

In poker, variance is a bitch.

But she’s our bitch, so try not to be mad at her.

In a cash game yesterday, I find myself in a 3-way all-in pot after the turn card.  There was $390 in the pot after the flop betting and the turn card gave me a flush draw along with an open-ended straight draw.  The action checked around to me and I shoved my last $260, hoping everyone would fold and knowing I had a lot of backup outs.  One player called with two pair, another re-shoved with the bottom end of a straight and the first player called again.  From a strictly EV (expected value) standpoint, this was a profitable play with two callers, as my final bet was 22.2% of the total pot and I have 27.4% equity in the hand.  From a math standpoint, my EV is $321 (final pot size of $1,160 x 27.4%).  The river misses, and my actual result is zero.

Later in the same game, another all-in ensues, this time heads up on the flop.  The pot is around $1,100 again and this time I’m ahead with top two pair, and the villain big combo draw.  He hits one of them right away on the turn and wins the pot.  This time my EV is $684 (final pot size of $1,100 x 62.2%).  My actual result, again, is zero.

On these two hands combined, my EV was just over $1,000.  Instead, nyet!  I buy-in again, and before too long my pocket aces are cracked by a set of sevens (by the same guy who flopped a set of eights v. my pocket jacks much earlier).  Time to go home.

Such is the nature of variance.  The actual result is always an all-or-nothing proposition.  The expected result is the average that should occur if the same scenario were to be replayed a million times.  Being a favorite doesn’t guarantee being a winner.

Over the long haul, if you are on the right side of the 60/40’s and 70/30’s more often than not, variance will be your friend, despite tormenting you often along the way.

In the short run, this was simply a day of being on the wrong side once (insofar as very large pots is concerned) and being on the right side once, but missing both sides.  Yes, the coin toss can come up heads twice in a row even though I always guess tails.

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The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect, a phrase coined by American mathematician Edward Lorenz (an early pioneer in the field of chaos theory) is a concept that states that “small causes can have larger effects.”

From Wikipedia:  “The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. The butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado, but the term is intended to imply that the flap of the butterfly’s wings can cause the tornado: in the sense that the flap of the wings is a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn’t. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which cascades to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect). Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different—but it’s also equally possible that the set of conditions without the butterfly flapping its wings is the set that leads to a tornado.”

It is a popular metaphor in science writing, in describing how sensitivity to some set of initial conditions can have a very large impact on some later state of things.

Last night a butterfly flapped its dainty wings at the poker table, and the resulting tornado cost me some money.

We were at a private house game.  It’s late.  The host has announced that at the end of the current orbit, he is breaking up the game and sending us all home.  Consequently, the play has loosened up in an already loose poker game, as some of the players want to be sure not to miss out on one last opportunity to smash the flop and recoup some losses or add to their gains.

I’m in the small blind, when the player on the button posts a live straddle of 4 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Chris.”  Chris is not one of those players who always straddles every time he has the button, but this time he does.  I don’t really care whether other players straddle or not; it requires some adjustments and I generally feel confident that I can make these adjustments better than most players.  (Then again, maybe not.)

Anyway, I look down at pocket kings.  There were eight players at the table and I briefly considered just calling the straddle in hopes that one of the seven players to act after me would raise.  If Chris were known to frequently make big raises from the straddle position even with random card strength, as a stealing strategy, I might have done that.  But it seems unwise to risk a cascade of callers, so I raise to 11 BBs.  In hindsight, I could and should make a larger raise and still expect a caller or two.  I don’t want to run off all of my customers with such a strong hand.  Despite Chris’ straddle, 11 BBs is a large opening raise for this game, but I’ll be first to act on all subsequent betting rounds so a multi-way field is not very desirable.

The next player, in the big blind, very quickly calls.  Given the size of my raise and the speed of his call, this indicates strength.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Jeff.”

One other player calls, and Chris also calls, which given his positional advantage post-flop and the great pot odds he is getting (7 BBs to call with 37 BBs already in the pot gives him approx. 5.3-to-1 pot odds), he can call with a very wide range.

The flop is 887.  “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” goes the voice in the back of my head, and I check.  Jeff bets 20 BBs, and consistent with my earlier thoughts when he called my pre-flop bet so quickly, I think his range is dominated by pocket pairs 99-QQ.  One player folds, but Chris calls on the button.  I call as well.  I’m not ready to put all of my chips at risk, but folding at this point would be way too nitty.  For perspective, Chris started the hand with about 95 BBs, Jeff started with around 175 BBs, and I have both of them well covered.

The turn is a 4.  I check again, hoping to keep the pot small.  Jeff bets again, this time 45 BBs.  So much for pot control. Chris pauses briefly, then takes a deep breath and goes all-in for his last 63 BBs.  I would have called Jeff’s bet, and still feel good about my read on him.  Chris, on the other hand, isn’t risking his entire stack with a drawing hand like T9, nor a middling strength hand like A7 or even 99 on this board.  He doesn’t seem afraid of either of us and has no real fold equity here.  Does he think Jeff might fold for 18 more BBs, with 212 BBs now in the pot?  Hardly.  I fold my kings, and Jeff makes a crying call, declaring that he knows he’s never good here unless he hits a 2-outer.

The minor surprise is that Chris doesn’t have an 8 in his hand, but 65, for a turned straight.  This actually gives Jeff 4 outs, as he flips over pocket queens.  Another queen or 8 would make him a full house.  The river misses, however, and Chris scoops up a nice pot.  I silently congratulate myself on sensing danger and releasing my hand, and tell Jeff and Chris what I was holding as I’m pondering the dynamic of what just happened and wondering how I might have played this differently or whether I simply lost the minimum.

After the hand is over, Chris comments about the impact of his straddle, saying that if he had not straddled, the entire hand would have gone down differently.  He might have called whatever action occurred prior to him on the button, but surely with pocket kings in the small blind I would raise enough to make it impossible for him to continue.  Not only that, but with pocket queens in the big blind, Jeff might put in a big re-raise over the top of my bet, especially if he thinks I’m just trying to steal the dead money in the pot.

Not only all of that, but Chris also notes that the only reason he straddled is because the game is about to break up, so this would be his final hand on the button and he straddled just in case he might get a good situation for leveraging his positional advantage.  15 or 30 minutes earlier he would not have straddled.

As played, I was first to act, so my raise communicated enough strength to make Jeff cautious about re-raising with six more players yet to act pre-flop.

It is tempting to describe Chris’ straddle as the flap of the butterfly’s wings that altered this hand.  But it is more subtle than that.  The initial small change in conditions that led to other changes ultimately shifting chips from Jeff’s and my stacks to Chris was the clock, and our host’s need for sleep.  Our host was the butterfly, fluttering his wings by announcing the game would end soon.

Imagine this hand without a button straddle.  There might be multiple limpers or a raise to around 6-8 BBs.  Chris would over-limp, and may or may not call a modest raise.  From the small blind with pocket kings, I’m definitely going to re-raise.  I cannot say for sure how much, as it would depend on the action in front, but it would likely be more than Chris would call with 65.

With Jeff being the big blind, last to act with pocket queens, he and I could have ended up in a pre-flop raising and re-raising war.  That would have turned out good for me.  If we didn’t get all-in pre-flop but were heads up, I would have been more likely to take a bet/bet/bet line post flop.

Alternatively, what if I had just called Chris’ straddle, as I briefly considered, hoping to trap a raiser and subsequent callers?  Another flap of the butterfly’s wings.  Then Jeff likely raises with pocket queens.  I’m not sure how much, but likely more than 11 BBs given that there would already be one caller of the straddle.  When it got back around to me, I would still re-pop it, having the effect of driving Chris out of the pot if Jeff’s raise didn’t already do that.  Again, this scenario is probably very good for me.

Damn butterfly!

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