KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the category “Whoa! I got this one right.”

Thanks for all the Respect

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on September 7, 2016 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

“Thanks for all the respect!”

That was me being sarcastic, at a cash game after raising to 7 big blinds and getting four callers.  It was getting late, and I had told our host about eight minutes earlier that I’d be leaving in 10 minutes.  We were playing 6-handed, as one of our original eight players left early, and another left after going bust, driving to the nearest ATM for more cash, and busting again.

Nobody raised in front of me, and with Ad Kd in the small blind, I’m going to make it expensive for anyone who wants to see this flop.  I’ve been pretty quiet most of the night, but still nearly doubled my starting stack of 100 BBs thanks to one big hand where my KK doubled up through QQ.  It might look like I’m protecting my chips and running out the clock… until I raised to 7 BBs.

I wanted to thin the field, and going to the flop 5-handed from the worst possible position at the table is sub-optimal.  (First-world problems, I know that, but I digress…)

Flashback:  Early last year I was playing a cash game at the Aria.  It seemed like I had folded every hand for at least an hour.  Then I look down at TT and put out a nice raise.  Five other players call, like they are clueless that the nittiest player in all of Las Vegas has just raised.  TT is a fine starting hand, but with this many callers many more things can go wrong than right.  In my best, driest, most sarcastic voice, I commented “thanks for all the respect.”

Anyway, the flop was T42 rainbow, giving me top set.  Lack of respect instantly converts to generosity.  I’m feeling true love for each and every villain.  Everybody checks and a J on the turn improves another player’s AJ hand. There is a bet, call, raise, call, re-raise and shove.  Three of us are all-in, with my set of tens holding up over a set of fours (he thought he was trapping me!) and pair of jacks / ace kicker.  It was one of those wonderful moments when you can hear heavenly choir.

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And memorable for the phantasmagoric emotional shift from finally seeing a decent hand, to the sarcasm, to hating five callers to loving a monster flop to raking in all those chips.

[FLASHBACK ENDS]

Lightning strikes again.  The dealer turns over T32, all diamonds.  I have flopped the nut flush, the pot is already a decent size, and there are four other players.  Hopefully, somebody else also connected with this flop.

I make a smallish opening bet, about 1/3 of the pot.  The next three players fold, but the button (for purposes of this blog entry, I’ll refer to him as “Jason”) calls.  Jason is a pretty tight player who doesn’t make many crazy moves, but he can get stubborn at times when he just doesn’t believe the aggressor has it.  There is no reason for him to believe that I flopped a flush after my pre-flop raise.  The turn is Kh, I bet and he calls again.  The river is 5c.  Perfect… no more diamonds, no pair on the board, absolute nuts for me.  Jason hasn’t made any aggressive actions during this hand, so I don’t think an all-in bet will get called.  I bet a again, but still less than 1/2 of the pot.

Jason starts counting out chips as if he is going to raise.  Or perhaps just seeing how much he would have left over if he called my bet and lost.  Or perhaps just fiddling to kill time and see if I give off any tells.  “I’m all-in!” he announces, and slides his entire stack towards the center.  I feel ever-so-very-very-teeny-tiny-slightly bad for him.

I call and quickly turn over my cards.  He turns over Qd 8d, for a weaker flopped flush.  Poor guy, he was drawing dead on the flop and had no idea, although he handles this cooler very graciously.

[SCROLL UP AND LISTEN TO HEAVENLY MUSIC AGAIN]

Although it feels a bit like a hit-and-run, I had already told our host that I was leaving in 10 minutes, and now it is 14 minutes later.  Cash me out please…

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Facing a Shove on the River With Just One Pair

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on January 3, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

My previous blog entry explored turning a missed draw into a bluff, after my opponent checked on both the turn and the river, soliciting your comments on the villain’s range.

Last night another, bigger decision presented itself via an interesting puzzle. Let’s unpack the puzzle pieces, assemble them, and see if we can find the missing pieces…

This was at a private, house game (no limit hold’em) with blinds of $1/2. I’ve been having a rough night so far. Shortly after joining the table, I lost my entire stack when I turned a full house, only to lose to a larger full house on the river. I had TT, and the board ran out Qs Qh 6h – Th – Kh. Everybody checked on the flop, then my gin card arrived on the turn, also completing any flush draws. Unfortunately, the other player had KQ and got there on the river. Ouch!

I bought another $300 in chips, and continued trending down. Less than a full orbit prior to the Big Decision, I caught my first big break of the night, with AA > KK on a pre-flop all-in with the same player who had cracked my full house. She had frittered away most of the stack from that hand and had slightly less than $150 remaining, which I was glad to take.

Now I have about $395 in front of me, and look down at King-Queen offsuit. There is one limper in front of me and I raise to $12. Four players call, and I quickly decide not to make a continuation bet unless I connect with the flop.  Let’s protect these newly begotten chips.

Flop ($62): Kd 4d 3c

This is a very good flop for me.  Not huge, but my top pair / 2nd kicker should be the best hand, and I can get value from flush draws, straight draws and kings with weaker kickers.  Giving four other players a free card or ceding the betting initiative would be a mistake.  It is checked to me and I bet $35. While not much more than one-half pot, this shouldn’t look like a run-of-the-mill continuation bet with air as there are four other live players.

The player to my immediate left calls, and everyone else folds. For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Matt.” While I’m a long-time regular here, Matt is a newbie.  Solving the puzzle is going to require us to know as much as possible about Matt.  What do we know so far?

Matt is a young white guy, looks about 25 (but might be closer to 30). He has straggly hair that nearly reaches his shoulders, a beard, and has been wearing headphones. Before this cash game started, we both played in a small-stakes tournament here, and learned that he is a roving contractor, currently in the area working on the installation of Google fiber.  He’s polite and pleasant when he does engage in any conversation, which isn’t very much.

Matt looks and plays like a stereotypical loose-aggressive (“LAG”) poker player. Early in the tournament, he built up a formidable stack, showing AA, a nut flush, flopping a set of QQQs, etc. I made a mental note then not to confuse his LAGGY appearance and playing style with the fact that he kept showing down big hands. A bit later, he lost a large chunk of his chips in a 3-way all-in where he had AK.

I had joined the cash game about an hour or so after it started. The only open seat was on Matt’s immediate right. At the time, he had over $550 in front of him (the max buy-in is $300), and I anticipated the difficulty of playing with a deep-stacked LAG on my left.  Oy!  He can make my session miserable.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. Prior to my full house under full house debacle, Matt picked off my river bluff, after I had floated on the flop with a gutshot straight draw (that missed), then he checked behind on the turn, indicating weakness.  He has been raising and 3-betting frequently, including an OOP 3-bet as weak as A6o and several other hands that indicated a wide raising range, especially in position. He straddled regularly on the button (always for more than the minimum), demonstrated positional awareness, and attacked limpers often. His play definitely matches his stereotype as a LAG.

And he’s been hit by the deck!  Matt built up his stack to approximately $1,100, with multiple full houses, flushes, flopped sets, and bluff-catcher calls.  Other players commented on how hot he is running, although with his headphones on we don’t know if he heard any of these remarks.

Prior to this hand, however, he has started bleeding away much of his winnings. Some of his lighter, bluff-catching calls have been wrong, and he’s been caught bluffing / bullying several times, including several river bluffs. He also lost a large pot with flush < full house.  He still had nearly $650 at the beginning of this hand.

Back to the hand. After he called my flop bet, Matt and I are heads up, and he has position on me. The pot is getting bloated, with $132 in it.

Turn ($132): 4h. Now the board is Kd 4d 3c – 4h.

Thinking I very likely have the best hand, I bet $65.  I can still get value from flush or straight draws and perhaps a few other holdings.  Matt calls again.

What do you think Matt has here? A diamond flush draw is possible. A straight draw with 65 is possible. At the intersection is a combo draw with 6d 5d, although I think such an aggressive player would raise with that on the flop to apply maximum pressure with so many outs as a back-up. He could have a King and we are in a kicker battle. He could have a four and just made trips, or pocket 33s and flopped another set. But I think he probably would have raised on the flop with pocket 33s to protect against flush draws, as none of the other three players had folded yet when he called my flop bet. I also think he probably would raise now on this turn with any 4x (like A4s), to get value from any AA/AK/KQ or draw that I might have. Even as loose as he is, I don’t think he calls $12 pre-flop with A4o or K4.

River ($262): Th.  Now the board is Kd 4d 3c – 4h – Th

This should be a good card for me, as it misses all potential draws. The only hands that it helps are KT and TT.  I don’t think he has TT – his 3-betting range pre-flop is wide enough to include TT (but not necessarily 100% of the time), and even if he flatted with TT and called again on the flop, he probably would surrender on the turn.

If he has a missed draw, I’m not going to get any more value. In fact, the only hand that can reasonably pay me off on another bet is KJ.  So I target that and bet $85, which is a little less than one-third of the pot and might get a crying call from KJ.

With little hesitation, Matt announces “I’m all in!” and slides his remaining chips out.  The rhythm and tone with which he does this seems very strong.  This is hard to describe, but he seemed calm and confident.  The dealer moves my $85 and a matching portion of his stack to the pot, and there is nearly $450 more on top of that.  I have just under $200 remaining so I’ll have to do any math based on my stack, not his.

I have a collection of short essays on poker strategy from the late Bill “Ain’t No Limit” Hubbard, who was a highly regarded professional poker coach for many years specializing in live cash games. Over the holidays, I’ve been reviewing some of these essays and several concepts now come into play.

In his foundational essay, Bill says to practice SBRTA when faced with a big decision. Stop. Breathe. Relax. Think. Act.  I’m having a little trouble breathing at the moment, considering I’m on my second buy-in of the night and it would really hurt to be down 300 BBs.  How in the **** am I supposed to relax when the realization of what might be happening here almost made me shit my pants?  [Inhaling very slowly…]

In another essay, Bill drives home the strategy of playing small hands for small pots, medium-strength hands for medium-sized pots and big hands for big pots.  My hand is a medium-strength hand.  I have two pair, one of which is the pair of 44’s on the board. So my hand is really akin to top pair with 2nd best kicker (“TP2K”). By the river, this is definitely NOT a big hand, but often good enough to win. Bill says: “One of the most notorious leaks among live poker players is that they break the basic rule of playing a medium pot only with a medium sized hand. I think this is due to most players feeling that they must protect their medium strength hand and thus raise to protect the hand plus find out information.”  Was I doing that here? I thought I was betting for value, to get called by worse hands and draws (which some might call “protecting” against draws), but not really for information.

In other essays, Bill describes the central question for successful no limit Texas hold’em players: “What is the villain’s range and what will he do with this range?” Or “what does he have and how will he play it?” I’ll come back to this later.

In another essay, entitled “The Fold Button,” Bill notes that the most common mistake among live players is that they call when they should fold. Making big, successful hero calls is exciting, but far out-weighed by calling mistakes. Sometimes, we know we are beat, but call nevertheless to get to what he refers to as the “funeral for the hand,” a form of certainty and closure.  Calling forces the other player to show their cards, so now we know and can have closure (i.e., the funeral), albeit at a very high price.   This is closely related to the medium-strength hand –> medium-sized pot rule.  Before calling a large river bet, Bill advises us to ask: Is the villain capable of bluffing (in Matt’s case, yes)? Have we actually seen him bluff (yes)? Should the villain expect us to call this size bet? This is harder to answer. After bringing in my $85 and his raise (i.e., up to my stack size), there is approximately $630 in the pot and it will cost my last ~$200 to call. I’m getting 3.15-to-1 odds.  With those odds, if he is bluffing more than 24% of the time, calling is correct in a strictly mathematical sense.  If you feel compelled to call, what percentage of the time is it due to real factors you have considered vs. the overwhelming desire to call and simply see what the villain is betting with (this is really tough, so let’s consider the real factors)?

In another essay, Bill describes the principle of Occam’s Razor. Named after William of Ockham, a 14th Century British mathematician and logician, this principle states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. More simply, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it is most likely a duck!” When we combine this with the medium hand / medium pot rule, Matt’s all-in bet fundamentally says “I like my hand more than you like yours.” Occam’s Razor instructs us that Matt has a hand worthy of playing for an $800+ pot, and I’m toast.

But still, I’m not convinced. Nor am I unconvinced.

First of all, what am I beating? In reality, the ONLY thing I am beating here is a bluff. There is no possible hand that he can be raising all-in for value here, where he is hoping I will call, thinking he has me beat, but he’s actually behind.  To do so would violate the medium hand –> medium pot rule even worse than I did.

There is a finite range of hands that beat mine, so we can explore each of them to figure out if Matt has it.  This is a reverse-engineering approach to Bill Hubbard’s central question of what does he have and how does he play it?  I went through this earlier in my turn betting analysis, but it bears repeating now.

  • Could he have Pocket AAs or KKs…?  Nope! He would have re-raised pre-flop.  Since he didn’t, I can eliminate AA and KK from his range.
  • AK… nope!  Again, Matt would have re-raised pre-flop. I’ve seen him 3-bet much lighter than that and use his position to put me in difficult spots pre-flop with hands weaker than AK.  Besides, if he had AK and planned to raise, he wouldn’t wait until the river.
  • KT… maybe, but I don’t think so. He might call me pre-flop with this, especially if suited (which would leave only 2 combos), but I don’t think he would shove all of his chips in on this river.  The way I’ve played this hand, betting every street, he has to consider AA as part of my range.  With the pair of 44s on the board, it would be a mistake for him to raise instead of just calling again.  But this combo worries me more than the others.
  • TT… nope!  As noted earlier, I think he 3-bets pre-flop with this hand at least some of the time, and also think he releases this by the turn when I show continued strength. My betting looks a lot like I have AA or AK here, especially when I C-bet into four opponents on the flop.
  • 4x… nope!  He might call $12 pre-flop with A4s or 54s, and call the flop C-bet too. But if that were the case, he would raise on the turn after improving to trips, to get value from flush draws, as well as the fact that I might have trouble letting go of AA or AK against a raise as it would look somewhat bluffy based on the board pairing and his image (if he has that level of self-awareness). I don’t think he calls $12 pre-flop with K4, although K4s is a very slight possibility. That would have flopped two pair, which I think he would raise on the flop, again to get value from flush draws.
  • 33… nope!  Again, I think he raises on the flop for the reasons mentioned. Keep in mind there were five players in this hand, it checked to me on the flop and I bet $35. He is on my immediate left, so three other players were still live when he called my C-bet.  He shouldn’t just call there with a flopped bottom set.  If he did and then improved to a full house on the turn, just calling my turn bet and waiting for the river to shove – perhaps hoping to see another diamond in case I’m the one chasing a flush – makes perfect sense. I don’t think he has 33, but this also worries me a little bit.

So here we are.  Out of six groups of hands that beat me, four are a definite “nope” and the other two (KT and 33) are probably “nope” too.  For better or worse, my analytical thinking concludes that with every possible hand that beats me, Matt would have done something different with that hand somewhere along the way. All that remains are bluffs, contradicted by Occam’s Razor and the medium-hand –> medium-pot rule that is screaming inside my head that I’m about to make a big calling mistake.  Matt’s all-in bet looks like a duck, which rhymes with ‘I’m about to get fucked!’

What would you do?  Taking a deep breath, I finally called and Matt tabled Kh 6h.  My hand was good!  He may have thought he was ahead with top pair and a weak kicker on the flop, but by the river realized he need to turn it into a bluff to take this pot.

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Math, Combinatorics and Frequencies

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on June 16, 2016 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

I played this hand at a private cash game a few days ago.  On the river, it was obvious that I needed to fold.  Then again, maybe not.

With QQ in middle position, I raised to 8 BBs following a single limper.  This is a bit more than normal for me, however at this game there were frequently multiple callers pre-flop so I decided to let them pay me a little extra.  Or thin the field.  Either would be fine.

There were 3 callers, making the pot 34 BBs, already a bit bloated.

On a flop of K54 with two spades, I bet 16 BBs and the button called.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Adam.”  Adam is a 23-year-old loose/aggressive thinking player.  He likes to play mixed games and finds Texas Hold’em a bit boring, but plays it because that’s what’s available around here.  Although I’ve only played with Adam a few times, he is willing to mix it up, gamble and be aggressive if he senses an opportunity to steal a pot.

One the one hand, I’m targeting a hand that will call my slightly less-than-half-pot bet like 66-JJ, A5s, A4s or 56s.  On the other hand, I’m concerned about Adam holding either a King or a flush draw with two spades in his hand.  If he does have a King, it’s probably not AK as he would be more likely to re-raise pre-flop on the button.  But it could be KQ or KJ, maybe as weak as KTs.

The turn is an off-suit deuce.  I bet 20BB more and he calls.  My bet is deliberately small, hoping he will call with weaker pocket pairs or other non-flush draw / non-Kx hands that might fold to a larger bet.  He will definitely call with a flush draw and that’s a risk I’m willing to take.  If he has a King with a strong enough kicker, he might raise just in case I am the one chasing a flush.  I know he’s capable of playing his draws aggressively, but not 100% of the time.

The river is the 8 of spades, which completes the flush (if that’s what he’s chasing).  Now I’m faced with a situation that Bart Hanson at Crush Live Poker calls “5th Street Chicken.”  This is where I’m out-of-position, and don’t want to put any more money in the pot.  But if I check, I’m opening the door for Adam to bluff if he actually has one of the hands I’m targeting.

Quick recap:  The board is Ks 5h 4s – 2d – 8s.  I have QQ.  Adam is on the button and called my pre-flop raise, and called my flop and turn bets.  There is now 106 BBs in the pot.

The pot is really too big for my 1-pair hand.  I don’t even have top pair.  If I bet on this river, am I essentially turning a hand with showdown value into a bluff?  Yes.  Is that a good idea?  No.

I check.  Adam bets 32 BBs.

Clearly I have to fold.  He either has the King, or he hit his flush draw, and he’s betting for value.  His bet is small, which it has to be after I waved a white flag by checking the river, all but announcing that I don’t have a flush, nor a hand that is strong enough to bet/fold (for value).

What would you do?  Leave a comment below…

Math

I decided to fold, but before relinquishing my cards started doing the math.  There are 106 BBs in the pot.  Adding his bet of 32 BBs makes it 138 BBs.  By calling, I’d be risking 32 BBs to win 138 BBs means I’m getting pot odds of 4.3-to-1.  I would have to win 1 out of 5.3 times for calling to be profitable, in the purest poker mathematics sense.  That’s slightly less than 19%, a pretty low threshold.  I was recently reading a limit Hold’em strategy book, and recalled some commentary about calling on the river.  Often you will be getting pot odds of 10-to-1 or more in a limit game due to the constraints on bet sizing.  The author’s point was that while most players should fold much more often pre-flop and on the flop, they should call on the river when they have showdown value and there is any chance they are good as little as 8-10% of the time.  That’s just how the math works.

So I ponder this for another minute.  Adam is capable of turning a weaker hand into a bluff here.  What does he think I have?  I went bet-bet-bet-check.  My range can easily be 99-QQ, AK, KQ, KJ, and is probably pretty transparent at this point that I have a 1-pair type of hand.  After I checked the river, the 3rd spade coming in is a great bluffing card for him.  With a King, he’s more likely to check back after the scare card arrives.  But I think he’s figured out that I can fold when it’s obvious that I’m beat.  And he’s got the stones to take advantage of my discipline and tight image.

Combinatorics

I don’t do the combinatorics at the table, but there are far fewer flush draw combos in his range than other combos.  If I include literally any two spades that include an Ace or have two gaps or fewer, that is about 24 combinations.  Plus 3 combinations of pocket 88’s that binked the river for a total of 27 value combos.  I’ll assume that he always bets with these hands.

His non-flush draw, non-Kx calling range for the flop & turn (66-JJ, A5s, A4s, 65s)  has about 39 combinations.  These are the hands that I beat and was targeting with my small bet-sizing.

Frequencies

Now the questions is how frequently will Adam turn one of these 39 hands that I beat into a bluff on the river?  If the answer is 7 or more out of 39, then the mathematically theoretically correct response for me is to call.  Add 7 bluffs to the 27 value combos, and I win 7-out-of-34 times, or 20.6%.  If I do call his river bet, I’m probably going to lose this pot, but poker theory tells me I’ll lose less over the long run by calling in this spot than by folding.  It feels really messed up to have to think this way.  Nevertheless, I think his bluffing frequency with this set of facts is greater than 7-out-of-39, probably closer to 13-out-of-39 (33.3%) or more.  I feel like I’m about to throw away 32 more BBs because of poker math.

To succeed at no limit Texas Hold’em, however, you have to trust your reads.  My read on Adam says his bluffing frequency is high enough for me to call.  And my read on this situation overall is that the most important question right now is the one about his bluffing frequency.

So I call.

He says “I have a pair of fives.”  With 6-5, the turn card gave him a gutshot straight draw to go along with his weak pair… just enough for my small bet to keep him in.

When he sees my cards, he says he figured it was something like that.  “What do I have to do to get you to fold?”

I start to say “Math” but shrug my shoulders instead.

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When Dreams Come True

You know that poker hand you dream about?  When you’ve been running so bad you resort to writing terrible poetry, but laying in bed or driving around in the car alone you imagine that special hand and what it would be like if that actually happened?

Perhaps you imagine being in a casino poker room and double your starting stack.  But the most obnoxious player at the table has tripled his.  He’s drinking too much, talking too much but slurring his words.  He makes blind raises then backs into a winning hand, picking up chips through a series of improbable wins and gloating about it.  His mere presence is a constant irritation.  Even though you don’t actually know each other, you start feeling like there is a personal score that needs to be settled.

Mr. Obnoxious and you are the two biggest stacks at the table and you’re thinking, in your imagination, just get me the right spot to take him down.  Yeah, you want his whole stack.

Maybe you will raise with a medium pocket pair, like nines, and he will 3-bet in a manner that telegraphs a very big pair.  It’s got to be either pocket aces or kings.  So you call, of course, because this could be it.  And the dream continues when you hit top set on the flop, with two suited cards so he’ll have to consider that you might be raising as a semi-bluff.  When he makes a strong bet on the flop, Ka-Pow!  No matter how big of an overbet it is, you’re just going all-in right away, because it’s too much and that will confuse him.  Besides, he’s half-drunk, so his decision making is impaired.  Even the half-drunks can fold pocket aces when the board gets scary enough on the turn or river, but your flop overbet shove reeks of wanting him to fold.  He can’t stand the thought of being bluffed, and his winning has made him start to think he’s invincible, so he calls.

He flips over his pocket rockets and you show your set.  For the first time since he sat down, he’s speechless, realizing he just blew nearly 300 Big Blinds running through a stop sign and police barricade along the way.

Doesn’t everybody who plays poker have a daydream like this?  Don’t you practice, in your mind, what you will say or how you will stare at the villain?

In my dream, I want to act like I’ve been there before.  No hooting and hollering like I’m surprised or feel like I just got lucky.  I want to stay in control, be cool, show everybody at the  table this this is normal for me.  So don’t F- with me as this session continues.  Power commands respect.

Dear readers, I hope your dreams will come true too.  Mine did.  It feels awesome.

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Why Avoid the Bad Players?

Yesterday I was hanging out with two poker friends, talking poker talk and gossip.  One of them, who for purposes of this blog post I’ll call “Melanie,” mentioned that she just started playing online poker again, at the micro stakes.

The problem, says Melanie, is that the players are so bad at blinds of $0.02 / 0.04 that it’s hard to win.  But once she moved up to $0.05 / 0.10, the play becomes a little bit more rational and she’s winning at that level.  One of her complaints is that at the micro-est of the micro stakes, there’s not enough money at risk for people to be willing to fold.

When I play online (cash games only), lately it is at blinds of $0.50 / 1.00.  I’m not sure if this is “low stakes” or “mid stakes” but it’s still pretty low in the overall scheme of things.  I told Melanie there are still plenty of bad players at this level, and all of the levels in between.  Rather than try to avoid the bad players, why not exploit them?

One way to exploit bad players is by folding.  If they won’t fold, you won’t win by bluffing.  So playing lots of junky hands with the intention of “out-playing” them when you smell weakness isn’t going to work.  Another way to exploit bad players is by betting strong hands for value, in ways that maximize the pot size when they call.

Here are two examples:

1 – Eight-Four is Money!

In this hand, I was the big blind with 84 off-suit.  There is a min-raise to $2 from middle position and everyone else folds.  Really, I should just fold as well.  In the back of my head I hear the voice of our friend Myles saying “eight-four is money!”

Since this summer’s World Series of Poker TV broadcasts, I’ve noticed a lot more min-raises in these online cash games.  Apparently, people see the pros on TV making very small pre-flop raises, frequently just 2x the big blind.  It’s one thing to do that in tournaments, where the blinds are increasing, causing lower and lower stack-to-pot ratios as the tournament progresses, and chip preservation is paramount.  It’s a fine strategy for tournaments.  But for deeper stacked cash games, I  think it is ill-advised.  If we are going to exploit other players by value betting when they call too much, we should bet as much as we think they will call, which is more than a min-raise.

Anyway, I call the extra dollar, and the flop is A84 rainbow.  Yahtzee!  I have bottom two pair.

I check, with the intent to check-raise.  If he makes more than a token C-bet, indicating a good chance he has an ace, I’m going to make a very large raise.  He does and I do.  He bets $4.50, which is a pot-sized C-bet.  A pot-sized re-raise would be $18, and I decide to make it $21 as a slight overbet.  If he calls, I’m going to shove any non-ace turn card.

Perhaps this seems too aggressive.  Won’t he fold a hand like AK to such a large raise?  Yeah, maybe.  Or maybe he’ll spazz out.  And he does, coming back over the top with an all-in shove.  I started the hand with $99 and he had me covered.  Of course, I snap call, and to my amazement he only has TT.  The turn and river cards don’t help him, and I double up my stack.

I guess he just convinced himself that I was full of shit, my raise was so large it must mean that I want him to fold, and being the pre-flop raiser he could represent a stronger hand than I could.  I wish I could have seen the look on his face when my hand was revealed…

2 – Putting the Tilted Guy on Tilt

In this hand, the villain in Seat 8 had lost 1/3 of his stack just two hands earlier, in a pre-flop all-in battle of the blinds.  He had AK in the BB, while the SB had AA.  Whoops!

Here is a link to ShareMyPair to see a replay.  When the river gave me quads, I decided to go for the whole enchilada, expecting a nominally tilted guy to run through the stop sign and crash.

Thank you kind sir!  I’ll take better care of your poker chips than you did.

Bad players make bad mistakes.  We can exploit them – trust me Melanie, this is fun – as long as we keep in mind that the #1 mistake bad players make is calling when they should fold.

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Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200

It’s Friday night poker, and a Monopoly game breaks out.  I roll the dice and land on Community Chest.  The card says “Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200.”  The banker hands me the money.  Let me explain.

We are a couple hours into this private, home game of no limit Texas Holdem, with blinds of $1 and $2.  The player to the left of the big blind, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “John,” raises to $11.  John is a fairly loose player, so even though he is under-the-gun (UTG) here, his raising range is not nearly as tight as many other players.  Still, I know he’s positionally aware so I’ll give him credit for having something decent.

In the cutoff seat, I have KK.  I start to re-raise to $31, then grab two more $1 chips to make it $33, triple the amount of John’s bet.  He has a history of calling 3-bets from out-of-position lighter than he should, so I want to take advantage.

Then the small blind shoves all-in with a short stack.  He has $51 in total.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “KP” after the comedy duo of Key & Peele.

The action is back on John.  What are his options?  My raise was $22 more than John’s bet.  KP’s raise was $18 more than mine.  Can John raise again, or is he limited to calling or folding only?

John does call $51, then says he doesn’t think I can re-raise again.  Since KP only had $18 on top of my bet, which is less than the amount by which I had raised John’s original bet, that’s not a full raise and therefore closes the action.  Right?  John asked for clarification only after he has called the bet.

If so, my only options would be to call $18 more, or fold.  Note that if I had only raised to $31, as was my initial inclination, that would be $20 more than John’s raise.  Then KP’s shove of $51 would be $20 more than my bet and constitute a full raise.  In that situation, the action would clearly remain open for me to raise again.

John and the dealer have a short discussion and review of the betting action, while KP and I sit quietly.  The dealer notes that KP’s raise is over one-half of the minimum, therefore it does not close the action and I can raise again if I want.  If KP had only enough chips to raise $10 more than my bet, or less than that, I would be prohibited from making another raise.

John appears satisfied with that answer.  After calling $51, he has about $150 left in his stack, maybe slightly more, and I have him well covered.

I ask the dealer to confirm that I can raise again if I want, and after he does confirm, I announce all-in.  John shrugs and with very little hesitation says, “OK, I call, but I probably need help.”

I turn over my pocket kings.  KP shows KcJc.  John shows Ac8c.  I’m a 61.4% favorite to win this 3-way pot.

The board runs out KQJ-4-Q and my full house sweeps the pot, albeit with a bit of a sweat.

After the hand, there is some more discussion about the ruling that additional raises are permitted after KP’s shove was less than a full raise.  I ask the dealer if this is a house rule or they are following a guide like the Tournament Directors Association or Robert’s Rules of Poker.  He says he has a copy of Robert’s Rules and believes his is being consistent with that guide, pointing out that the TDA guide sometimes has some quirky tournament-specific rules that don’t work well for cash games.

Now in the comfort of my own home again, I’m curious.  What does Robert’s Rules of Poker actually say here?  Let’s take a look… (emphasis added)

SECTION 3 – GENERAL POKER RULES

BETTING AND RAISING

5. In limit play, an all-in wager of less than half a bet does not reopen the betting for any player who has already acted and is in the pot for all previous bets. A player facing less than half a bet may fold, call, or complete the wager. An all-in wager of a half a bet or more is treated as a full bet, and a player may fold, call, or make a full raise. (An example of a full raise is on a $20 betting round, raising a $15 all-in bet to $35).

But wait, there’s more!

SECTION 14 – NO LIMIT AND POT-LIMIT

A no-limit or pot-limit betting structure for a game gives it a different character from limit poker, requiring a separate set of rules in many situations. All the rules for limit games apply to no-limit and pot-limit games, except as noted in this section. 

NO-LIMIT RULES

3. All raises must be equal to or greater than the size of the previous bet or raise on that betting round, except for an all-in wager. A player who has already checked or called may not subsequently raise an all-in bet that is less than the full size of the last bet or raise. (The half-the-size rule for reopening the betting is for limit poker only.)

Example: Player A bets $100 and Player B raises $100 more, making the total bet $200. If Player C goes all in for less than $300 total (not a full $100 raise), and Player A calls, then Player B has no option to raise again, because he wasn’t fully raised. (Player A could have raised, because Player B raised.)

Whoops!

Since John had not acted in response to my 3-bet, he should have been able to re-raise again if he wanted.  But not me.  And who knows if I would have been able to win John’s full $200 stack if I hadn’t been allowed to raise again in the pre-flop betting round?

Hopefully on the next roll of the dice, I’ll pass Go! and collect another $200.  Until then I’ll just a savor the fortuitous ruling.

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A Small Unexpected Gift

Who doesn’t like receiving gifts?  Raise your hands right now.  (No one…)

My favorite gifts tend to be small but unexpected.  On my birthday or Father’s Day, I expect to get something.  Other times, a gift is delivered when there is no expectation – perhaps a friend returned from an overseas trip and brought a snow globe from one of their stops, or Mrs. makes a peach cobbler just ’cause she knew I’d like it.  There is great delight in the unexpected.

In one poker hand last night, another delightfully unexpected gift arrived.

This is a private game, that features a special jackpot that is paid every time a player makes a straight flush, affectionately referred to as a “piggy.”  Last night, the jackpot was equal to 500 big blinds (BBs), which makes you want to play every suited connector and 1- or 2- gapper, no matter how remote the odds, just in case…  I won a similarly sized straight flush jackpot at this game earlier this summer.

In early position, I limp in with 6h4h.  For many reasons this is a money-losing play.  Many pots have not been raised pre-flop, so I convince myself there is a reasonable chance I’ll get to see a cheap flop.  Alas, one player raises to 3 BBs and there are two callers.  I’m getting a decent price to call despite the poor position (another poker logic fallacy), so I call.  This is exactly what the house hopes for; the presence of the piggy promotes more action.

Flop (12 BBs):  K55.  I check, and so does everybody else.  I would not call any bet here.

Turn (12 BBs): 7.  Now my 64 has developed into an open ended straight draw.  (Sorry readers, I didn’t make note of the suits, and don’t recall if there was also a flush draw… probably yes, but I didn’t make a note of it.)  With 8 outs to make a straight, which still wouldn’t be the nuts on this paired board, and all three of the other players showing weakness on the flop, I decided to make a stab at it, and bet 10 BBs.

The original raiser folds, the next guy folds, but the player on the button calls.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call her “Barbara.”  Barbara is one of the nicest – and most unaggressive – poker players you’ll ever meet.  She comes to play, not watch, thus she calls frequently pre flop to see what develops.  Barbara never complains when she loses and never showboats when she wins.  She treats the game like a social occasion, and the other players like a group of friends.

The fact that she checked the flop and called but didn’t raise on the turn doesn’t always indicate a weak hand.  Earlier she just called bets on the turn and river after she turned a set of 888’s on a board with no obvious straights or flushes, saying after the showdown, “I thought about raising, but just didn’t.”

River (32 BBs): Another 5.  Now the board is K55-7-5.  I’m playing the board.  Should I bluff again?  How much would I need to bet to get Barbara to fold?  What hands could she have that called the turn bet and now would go away against enough pressure?  As I’m pondering these questions for a few seconds, I see Barbara peek at her hole cards.  This makes me think she might have a 5 and just made quads, and has to look again to be sure it really happened.

Betting is too risky, so I decide to concede.  After I check, Barbara peeks at her hole cards again, then hesitates.  She looks like she is deciding how much to bet with her quads, but instead she tosses her hand into the muck and shakes her head.  “I missed, badly” she says.  “Go ahead and take it.”

The dealer slides the entire pot over to me.  It is a gift from Barbara, somewhat small and totally unexpected.  Thank you Barbara.  You are a much nicer person than I am.  Somehow – most likely in a non-poker way – I hope to be able to surprise you back!

Interestingly enough, about an hour later a different player made a straight flush and won the piggy.  He had 53s, didn’t fold before the flop, and banked a nice payoff when the perfect river card arrived.

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Aces, Aces Everywhere

Towards the end of a frustrating poker session last night, I finally got dealt pocket aces.

Until then, double A batteries seem to have been present more than normal at this game, just not for me.

Early on there was a pre-flop all-in confrontation where the rockets flopped a set, only to be cracked when KQs hit a gutshot straight draw on the river.

I’m pretty sure there was another early hand where snake eyes were cracked in a large all-in pot, but I cannot recall the details.

Once I had QQ and made a 3-bet after an initial raiser.  The next player then goes all-in.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Jason.”  Jason is not normally the type of player who makes a cold 4-bet all-in just for fun, and after the initial raiser folded so did I.  While Jason never showed his cards, its about 50/50 either bullets or cowboys. Later, Jason made a large 3-bet pre-flop and got multiple callers.  He bet-folded on a flop of 986 with two clubs, and after the hand stated “Alan Alda no good there.”

Another time, on the first hand after buying more chips, I called an all-in from a short stack who had open limped.  Duh… he has American Airlines and they hold up.

Another time the player on the button raises after a couple of limps, and with KQ in the big blind I make a re-raise.  When he comes over the top, I quickly surrender and he flips over the Eyes of Texas.  Less than 10 minutes later, the same guy gets Teepees again.

I’m probably omitting a couple more.  The Banditerna seemed to be everywhere, and finally, near the end of the night, I have them.  Will mine join the list of broken sticks?  Will they win the blinds and nothing else?

I raise and get three callers.  The flop is A23 with two clubs.  This is both great and dangerous, so I bet 15 BBs.  Not giving any free cards.  This time I get two callers, including Jason and the biggest stack at the table, who for purposes of this blog I’ll refer to as the “Other Dave.”  The Other Dave has had a charmed night.  The very first hand featured a 3-way all-in on the turn, with the board showing AJT-Q and two spades.  One player had shoved with a king in his hand, holding the nuts.  Jason had called with a nut flush draw.  The Other Dave then over-called with AJ for two pair.  A jack fell on the river giving him a full house and early triple up.

The turn is another 3.  Bang!  Let’s try to get maximum value.  One of these guys probably has the case ace and a decent kicker.  The other… maybe he flopped a set of threes (uh-oh!) or twos, or possibly even a straight.  Otherwise, he must have a flush draw, or some decent pocket pair and isn’t giving me any credit for hitting that flop.  I make the same 15 BB bet again on the turn.  Jason goes all-in for 42 BBs.  The Other Dave calls.

Wth only 37 BBs left on top of this action, I shove too.  The Other Dave confesses he is about to make a bad call, then does exactly that.  He shows AJ, Jason has 66 (WTF?).

Did I mention what a wonderful evening of poker this was?  A Rocky Mountain high will do that, you know…

 

I fold. Will you show?

Quick story about a hand at Harrah’s New Orleans last Friday night, at a $1/3 no limit table.

Near the end of a horribly bad, losing session, refusing to put any more money on the table, I stumble into a Broadway straight on the turn, get snap called on a smallish bet by the pre-flop aggressor, and ship my last $100 or so in despite the river card pairing the board.

How we got to this point is irrelevant.

The villain is a 40-ish woman who is irritatingly loud.  I truly do not know her name, but for purposes of this blog I’ll refer to her as “Irene.”  On the one hand, Irene is not a very experienced player.  This poker room allows a blind straddle from any position.  She keeps asking for an explanation, claiming she doesn’t understand what a straddle is, when to do it, why or why not, and consequently gets confused as to when to call $3 vs. when to call $6.  On the other hand, she is shown a surprising amount of aggression prior to this hand, and had min-raised to $6 (or maybe thought she was calling a straddle???) then 4-bet over top of my raise on this hand.  I shouldn’t have called but thought she might be a little bit drunk; then I got lucky.

Calling my all-in bet will consume 80% of her remaining stack.

After thinking and squirming for a minute, she says “I fold.  Will you show?”  Two of my buddies were at the same table, and we all heard the same thing.  Thinking the hand was now over, I said “Sorry, I don’t show.”

Then Irene says “In that case, I call!” and pushes forward the stack of chips she had counted out for the call amount, then flips over pocket jacks (the board is AT4-Q-Q).

I’m sure my straight is good, but expect the dealer to intervene and tell Irene she can’t do that because she already announced a fold.  But I go ahead and show my KJ and the dealer pushes the entire pot, including the final calling chips, in my direction.

Wha—?

All’s well that ends well, in this case, but suppose I had been bluffing?  Then there would be a big difference depending on whether she really said “I fold.  Will you show?”  Or said “If I fold, will you show?”  I don’t know how that would have turned out but the angle shooting accusations would make quite a more colorful story.

Hashtag: They Always Have It

I just returned from a weekend poker trip to New Orleans.  There were eight guys on this trip, one of whom – for purposes of this blog I’ll refer to him as “Tony” – was celebrating a birthday during the weekend.

Happy Birthday Tony!

We stayed in some fancy digs in the French Quarter, and played a lot of poker at Harrah’s New Orleans casino.  On Saturday, there were a number of interesting hands, all at blinds of $1/3.  Because this poker room allows players to buy-in up to the largest stack on the table, and also lets players straddle $6 from any position, the game plays larger than most $1/3 games, and much larger than most $1/2 games.  Let’s get started.

Hand #1 – Nut Flush on a Paired Board

This was early in my day, so I didn’t have much in the way of player-specific reads.  I have Kd Js on the button, and raise to $15 over a single limper.  I started the hand with approx. $300 and the BB is the main villain and has me covered.  The SB folds, but BB raises to $30.  He could simply be putting me on a wide range trying to leverage my position on the button, and trying to re-steal, but his raise is too small if his goal is to make me fold.  He is a middle aged white guy (like me!) making a barely minimum raise, so I need to give him credit for a strong or very strong hand.  Everyone else folds, and I call.  Heads up, in position, I’m willing to call $15 more with $52 already in the pot.  

Flop ($67):  Ad Jd 2d.  All diamonds.  He checks.  I have the King of diamonds for a nut flush draw, and middle pair.  While I could bet here as a semi-bluff, I actually have some showdown value and decide to take the free card instead.  I’m not sure he will fold any Ace to a bet.  I check.  

Turn ($67):  2c.  This card pairs the board but doesn’t otherwise change anything.  He checks again.  Does have have KK or QQ and hoping to get to a cheap showdown?  In that case, perhaps I should make at least one steal attempt, but I’m not sure he would fold, especially if he has Qd Qx.  Free cards are good, right?  So I check again.

River:  ($67) 8d.  Awesome.  This completes my nut flush.  I’m anticipating another check when he fires out a bet of $45.  I should have the best hand here, and might get a crying call if he has Ax Qd or Qd Qx.  There really isn’t much else in his pre-flop 3-betting range that can make a weaker flush here, and he wouldn’t call me without either that or better.  The Ad and Jd are on the board, and I have the Kd.  Could he be as weak as Td Tc?  I can’t imagine anything else will call a raise.  If he comes back over the top of my raise, however, I need to be concerned about AA or JJ, although I would have expected either one of these to make a small be on the turn, for value, since he would have turned a full house and would want to continue building the pot.  

I raise to $110.  With very little hesitation, he declares that he’s all-in.  Dammit!  Now I pissed at myself for raising instead of just calling, although I can hear the voices of those who advocate bet/folding and raise/folding for value as superior long-term value strategies over calling whenever you have a big, but non-nut hand.  I also here the voice of one of my favorite poker podcasters saying “hashtag: they always have it” (#theyalwayshaveit).  

While trying to get emotionally unattached from my nut flush and decide if I’m a bad enough player to donate the rest of my chips, I replay the hand, try to recall any observations about this specific player and ponder his body language when he went all-in and the meaning of his very small pre-flop 3-bet.  He seemed confident, not the least bit afraid of the fact that he cannot have the Kd.  Yes, he has to have pocket aces here.

I fold, and in an act of pure kindness that I’ll exploit if given the chance, he flashes his AA for the entire table to see.

In hindsight, I think raising was a mistake on that river, as there were too few hands that would call a raise, and his pre-flop action certainly suggested AA as part of his range, with a small raise begging to be called.

Hand #2 – Does Small Turn Bet Signal Weakness?

After Hand #1, I add another $200 to my stack.  Shortly after that, I am dealt Kh Jd in middle position, and two players limp in front of me.  What is it with “jack-king-off” and me this weekend?  I felted a woman (felted her, not felt her!) for a nearly $400 pot with this holding late the previous night, and here it is again in both Hand #1 and #2.  This time, I raise to $18 and get called by the button and one of the limpers.  I started this hand with $326 and the main villain on the button has me easily covered.

Flop ($61):  Tc 9s 7c.  This is an interesting flop, very drawy, giving me a double gutshot straight draw in addition to two over cards, while also hitting a lot of pre-flop calling ranges for flush draws, flopped straights or straight draws, combo draws, sets and more.  The first guy checks.  I want to retain the initiative, and bet $35 as a semi-bluff.  Hopefully they missed this flop badly and will fold.  Or the button will fold and I’ll have position on the other guy.  The button does not cooperate, instead raising to $85, and the other guy folds leaving us heads up, with me being out-of-position

I don’t have any reads or tells on this player, as he is new at this table, a white male who appears to be in his mid-to-late 30’s.  Since he called a raise pre-flop on the button, his range can be pretty wide but would exclude 3-betting hands like AA, KK or QQ.  For now, I’ll give him credit for possibly raising with a flush or straight draw, combo draws, and strong made hands of top pair / top kicker or better.  This range is JJ-77, Ac 2c+, Kc Jc+, Qc Jc, JT, J8s, T9, T7s, 98, 97s, 87, 86s, ATo.  

(Or:  pocket pairs from 77 through JJ, Ac along with any other club, Kc along with the Qc or Jc, Qc Jc, Ace-Ten off-suit, any JT, T9, 98 or 87, and any suited J8, T7, 97 or 86.)

The overall player pool in this poker room is very loose pre-flop.  In position, a large portion will call with virtually any connecting cards (like JT, T9, 98 or 87) or suited 1- and 2-gappers (like J8, T8, 97 or 86). 

This range includes 139 different combinations of two cards, more than 10% of all possible combinations.  Even without a pair, I have 32.7% equity against his range.  With $180 already in the pot and it costing me $50 more to call, I only need 21.7% equity to call even if I’m only assured of seeing one card.  If it’s a blank and he fires out a large turn bet, I might have to bail out.  I call.

Turn ($230): Ks.  Now I have top pair, plus the double gutshot draw, and a second flush draw is now also a possibility.

I check and the button bets $50, less than 1/4 of the pot.  This is a strangely small bet.  With so many draws possible, I would expect a much larger bet from his stronger made hands – flopped straights or sets – as there would be a lot of hands I could have that would call again and he should be protecting against the draws.  If he were semi-bluffing with a flush draw, he should be betting much more here, or else just check back and take a free card.  My range is narrower than his, as I was the pre-flop raiser and less likely to be raising with the weaker connectors and gappers that he may have called with favorable position.

Against his full range, my equity is now 60.5%.  I’m beating hands like T8, 98, 88, 87, AT, JT, and have more outs against his 2-pair hands.  Smelling weakness, I check-raise all-in for $173 on top of his bet.  Now there is $503 in the pot and it costs him $173 to call.  I wish my stack were deeper, but this is still a large enough bet to make him pause and think.  

He finally makes what looks like crying call and I flip my cards over right away.  The river is another 7, putting a pair on the board.   He turns over 99, for a flopped set & rivered full house to scoop up the pot.  I must have sold him that I was representing QJ there for a turned straight and he felt like he was gambling with the call, whereas in reality all he needed was to fade a Q or 8.  

His hand was within the range I assigned to him, but right up near the top of that range.  Once again, #theyalwayshaveit.  I still think his turn bet was curiously small on such a wet board.  Maybe he’s just not a thinking poker player, and that caused a misread on my part.  Against his exact hand, my equity was 25.3% on the flop and 18.2% on the turn.

At this point of my day, I’ve been playing about 45 minutes blasted away $500.  I take a break for a few minutes, then move to another table where I buy-in for $500 more.

Hand #3 – Donk Bets on Flop Signal Weakness

The villain in this hand is an older (early 70’s?), white haired guy, somewhat the “old man coffee” (“OMC”) type — enjoying his poker game, passing time playing fairly tight and straightforwardly.  He started this hand with about $350 in chips and I cover.  After he and a couple others limp in, I raise to $20 with QQ.  Two others call, then OMC calls.  

Flop ($83):  J 9 4 rainbow.  It checks to OMC, who bets $50.  With straightforward players, this “donk bet” (betting into the pre-flop raiser) is usually a good but not great made hand.  This looks exactly like he has AJ.  With 2-pair or better, he would be more likely to try for a check-raise, with greater confidence that his hand would still be best on the turn if it checks all around.  If he does have AJ, I may be able to get his entire stack if I’m patient.  Not too quickly, I call, and the others all fold.

Turn ($183):  7c now puts two clubs on the board.  OMC bets $25, a strangely small bet, but this doesn’t change my read that I should target him having AJ (despite my misread of a small turn bet in Hand #2, it would be an example of recency bias to change my read here).  I raise to $125 by tossing out five green chips.  I hope this somehow looks bluffy. He tanks, fidgets, squirms, appears to decide to fold and then change his mind.  OMC’s as a general rule are stubborn and hate folding top pair / top kicker hands when they’ve been sitting for a long time just to get one.  He calls.

River ($333):  4s.  This is a great card for me, pairing the bottom card on the board.  If somehow he had donk bet with top two pair (J9) he’s now counterfeited.  He checks, I slide out $200 to be sure I cover his remaining ~ $150 or so.  He says “you’re going to put me all in aren’t you?”  And calls with an expression on his face that says “I know I’m beat, but I’ve gone too far in this hand to give up now.”  Without waiting for me to show first, he flips over KJ, confirming my read was almost exactly right.  My QQ is good and I drag home a large pot.

In this case, #theyalwayshaveit turned out to be good for me.  He had it, but “it” was a hand that I beat and the straightforward nature of his play enabled me to confidently play for stacks with a 1-pair hand.

Hand #4 – Can I Fold KK Pre-Flop?

After the previous hand, OMC left the table and was replaced by another older guy (late 60’s?) who was more of an “old man beer” (“OMB”) than “old man coffee.”  He was more social than the first guy, but hadn’t been playing long enough for any other reads prior to this hand.  At the start of this hand he has about $250-300 and I have him covered.

After OMB limps in under the gun and the next player folds, I look down at Kh Kd and raise to $17.  A woman calls all-in for her last $11 and there is one other call.  Then OMB re-raises to $85.  WTF?

Wait… did he limp in earlier or was he the big blind?  Just to be absolutely sure, I confirm the position of the button on the table as it is in the corner opposite my seat.  Then carefully count small blind, then big blind, then OMB.  Yes, he definitely limped then re-raised.  Dammit!  People love to do this with pocket aces.  

I ponder Dan Harrington’s seminal books on cash games, where he says no one is good enough to put an opponent on exactly AA and be right often enough to justify folding pocket kings.  Since you can re-load anytime in a cash game, his philosophy is to just take your lumps when this happens (unless playing with very deep stacks), so I consider just closing my eyes and shoving all-in.

Then I ponder Occam’s Razor, a problem solving principle that says when there are multiple explanations for an occurrence, the simplest one is usually better.  That’s a fancy way of saying #theyalwayshaveit, the simplest explanation for large bets.

And I ponder former poker coach Bill Hubbard, who constantly asked, based on what we know about a villain, “what does he have and how will he play it?”  Working backwards, how did he play it (limp / re-raise) and what does that mean he has?  #theyalwayshaveit, AA in this case.

And I ponder myself.  I have to be a good enough poker player to fold here.  But it’s a major ego destroyer.  I mean, like, c’mon, this is KKing David’s poker blog.  I’m KKing David.  I have KK here.  This pot is supposed to be mine.  After getting beat up in Hands #1 and #2, this is the kind of hand I need to get un-stuck.

This time, I win the battle with my emotions, and reluctantly make the disciplined fold.  Since one player is all-in for $11, we get to see the runout.  She has 99 and, sure enough, OMB has AA.  There are no aces, nor kings, nor nines on the board and OMB scoops up a modest pot.  

Deep breathing exercises…

Hand #5 – He Can Only Have Pocket Queens (or Quad Jacks???)

A new player has recently joined the table, two seats to my left.  The entire time I’ve been at this table, one of the other guys on this road trip has been on my immediate right.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Zach.”  Shortly after the new player arrived, Zach softly commented to me to beware of this new player, who seems to be a very strong and aggressive player, although he is drinking a beer and it’s 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon.  I notice his ability to leverage favorable position against passive players.  

In this hand, he is the main villain in the cutoff seat, with a stack around $550, which I cover.  The button straddles for $6 and three players call.  With my first AA of the day, I make it $35.  The villain tanks, counting and re-stacking his  chips in a manner that tells me he is thinking about re-raising.  Zach told me later that it took so long for this guy to act that he was ready to call the clock on him.  I just wanted to see him re-raise, but ultimately he calls $35.  The button folds, but there are two more out-of-position callers.

Flop ($150):  J high and very dry.  I don’t recall exactly the two lower cards, other than there was no flush draw nor possible made straight.  It is checked to me, and I bet $100.  The villain calls almost immediately.

His range for 3-betting pre-flop might be TT+, AQ+ absent any other reads.  This is important, as his pondering a 3-bet indicates something in the weaker part of this range or slightly weaker, and also rules out – assuming my read is correct – weaker calling hands.  While the player pool here in New Orleans is very loose pre-flop, there hasn’t been much light 3-betting pre-flop, and the straddle and callers in front of me has already push the bet-sizing above normal ranges.   He would definitely 3-bet with AA or KK, so that leaves his pre-flop calling range as 88-QQ, AJ+.  I heavily discount the TT, 99, 88, AJ part of this range as I don’t think he would take so long to decide to just call my $35 bet.  

Now he has confidently called $100 on a J-high flop.  There is no T on the board, so he cannot have two over cards with a straight draw (AK, AQ, KQ).  We can rule those hands out.  He would have to think a bit before calling with TT or any lower pocket pair, so we can rule those out also.  I’ve already ruled out AJ based on the pre-flop read, so that leaves QQ and JJ and nothing else.  If he flopped a set of Jacks here, it makes sense for him to just call and see if either of the other players wants to come along too, but they both folded.  There are six combinations of QQ and three combinations of JJ.  

Turn ($350):  A low brick arrives that really changes nothing.  I check, partly for pot control as my hand is still only one pair and I don’t want to play for stacks yet, and partly to see what he does.  He checks  back.

River ($350):  Another J.  Ugh!!!!!  I check.  At first, I hate this card, as an instinctive reaction to seeing the top card on the board pair.  What if he has AJ or KJ – even though I previously ruled these out?  

He bets $200.  Gulp!  I take a deep breath and re-play the hand and re-evaluate my reads based on the action on each street.  I have to trust my reads!  There are still six combos of QQ that he can have, but now only one combo of JJ.  #theyalwayshaveit… in this case “it” is either QQ 85.7% of the time, or JJ 14.3% of the time.  It is an unusually precise read.  Notice the contrast between this read and Hand #2 above where he could have over 130 combinations.  I’m confident that his pre-flop chip handling signaled thoughts about re-raising.  Perhaps I should check-raise all-in here, which would really be sick, but that seems very unwise.  I call and he shows QQ.  Cha-ching!

Zach later pointed out, and I agree, that his river bet there was terrible.  The villain was in a “way ahead / way behind” situation.  The weakest hand I could would beat him is KK, which will almost never fold there.  Most players with a better hand won’t think as much as I did (a flaw? or a gift?) and would just call.  And the strongest hand that he beats would be TT, which will almost never call.  If you can’t get a better hand to fold nor a weaker hand to call, and you are last to act, just check back and go to showdown.  I’m not sure if he thought he was betting for value or if he knew he was turning his QQ into a bluff, or if he even knew why he was betting on that river.

I drag home another large pot, just glad to have turned my day around.

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