KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “blind straddle”

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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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.


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.

Daily Debacle – Straddle Battles

I just returned from a road trip that included a stop at the Hollywood Park Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, WV.  It was my first time there, although I’ve been on several trips to the Mardi Gras Casino in Charleston, WV.

(Yes, the great State of West Virginia has a city named “Charleston” and another city named “Charles Town.”  What were they thinking, other than Charles was in charge back when cities were named.  But I digress…)

Hollywood Park is just over 1 hour outside of Washington DC, and much larger and glitzier than Mardi Gras.  And the poker games are bigger and tougher, with many good players from the DC area.

I played $2/5 NL hold’em, and there were frequent straddles from the under-the-gun (UTG) position.  Apparently they only allow straddles from UTG as there were no button straddles or straddles from any other position.  There is no limit on the straddle amount.

(For the uninitiated, a “straddle” is essentially a third blind bet, equal to 2x the big blind [or more], posted by the UTG player before looking at his cards.  In exchange for this, said player acts last in the pre-flop betting rather than first.  The straddle counts as a bet, so the minimum to see the flop goes up, and frequently the first pre-flop raise is also larger to account for the larger total of the blinds.)

After awhile, I was playing with a fairly short stack and extremely tight.  Too tight, actually (another post to come about that).  On one hand, the big stack in seat 3 posted a $10 straddle, seat 6 raised to $30, and I am in seat 7 holding 6c 6s.  I really should call here to try to hit a set.  But my stack is between $200 – 250.  I know the “rule of 10” says you should not go “set-mining” unless it is possible to win at least 10x the amount you have to call.  I have less than that, a function of my own refusal to put some more $$ on the table after seeing my starting stack dwindle.  Had there been no straddle here, the opening raise probably would have been $20 or $25 and I would be more likely to call.

This was surely the nittiest fold I made the whole session.  But I folded.  I’m likely to miss the flop, see multiple overcards, and have to fold then.  There goes another $30 out of an already too small stack.  Plus, there are still 6 players left to act (the game is 10-handed) and a re-raise would force me to fold without seeing the flop.

Two other players call, including the straddler.

The flop was Jh 6h 9h.  I would have flopped a set of 6’s on a monochrome board.  All players check and the turn is the 9c.  Full house for me, had I stayed!

Inside I’m crying.  Why me?  Why can’t I play with more confidence?  Why don’t I have a bigger bankroll, so I can mix it up more without fear?  Why didn’t my earlier medium pocket pairs fill up?  Why am I here (i.e., on this planet Earth)?  Why am I thinking such existentialist thoughts at a poker game?  Why do the bigger stacks keep winning and not me?

Everybody checks again.  The river is a blank – does not pair the board nor is it another heart.  The straddler now bets $55 and everybody folds.  He shows Ah Qh for a flopped nut flush, then throws his cards into the muck in disgust that he never got any action trying to slow play his big hand.

To quote from B.B. King’s famous song,

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now ‘cos I’ve got the blues

A little later, a new player (“Carl”)  joins the table, in seat 9 (i.e., two seats to my left).  His first time UTG he posts a $20 straddle and makes it clear that he likes posting “crazy straddles.”  He straddles every time the opportunity comes (and generally plays a crazy / unpredictable / large bet / garbage cards / I’m here to gamble — win or lose style of poker.  Eventually his straddles increase to $50 and then to $75.  He clearly does not care about the money or traditional poker strategies.

Meanwhile, my stack gets back over $300, then down again and now I’m at $180.  On my small blind hand, Crazy Carl posts a $75 straddle.  Everybody folds to me and I have Ah 2h.  Against a random hand, which is all I can assign to Carl since he hasn’t even looked at his cards, I am a 57.4% favorite.  Good, but not great.  Still, I like my chances, it’s very late and I’m running out of patience.  I shove.

Another guide here would be the “Sklansky-Chubukov Rankings.”  [See http://www.pokerstrategy.com/strategy/sss/1097/1/ for more information about the theory involved here.]  Developed by noted poker strategist/author David Sklansky and UC Berkeley game theorist Victor Chubukov, the rankings show the maximum bet that would show a profit over time from the small blind v. the big blind.  In other words, you can always shove and have a positive expected value if your stack is lower than the S-C number the corresponds to your starting cards.  After doing the necessary math, the S-C number says I can shove profitably with $545 or less in my stack.  My shove is mathematically justified.

The big blind quickly folds and Crazy Carl quickly calls, turning over a pair of 3’s.  Already a bit unlucky for me as I’m behind and one of my cards is lower than his pair.  Pocket 3’s is still slightly weaker than A-2s against a random hand, but stronger heads up.  According to one chart for heads-up play, A-2s is at the 24th percentile of strength and 3-3 is at the 35th percentile.  Both of us have top 40% hands.  Heads up, he is now a 65% favorite.

The flop is Th 7d 7h.  I pick up a flush draw, and any Ace also wins for me.  The turn is an off-suit 6, then the river completes my flush.  Such a beautiful shape, a heart with its red color and luscious curves.  I’m feeling the love already.

But wait a minute!!!  It’s the 3 of hearts, and while that makes a flush for me, it also makes a full house for Crazy Carl.  WTF?  How is it that a straddler gets to make a full house after being stupid enough to make a $75 blind bet?

I’m busted now, it’s nearly 3:00 a.m.  I stumble back to my hotel room, sleep (if you can call it that) for about 4 hours, then start the 5.5 hour drive home.  Tired, poor and pissed off.

More questions.  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why didn’t I call with pocket 6’s?  Why didn’t I fold to a $75 blind straddle?  Why do I love this game so much?  Why do I hate this game so much?

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,945)

Month-to-date online results:  + $133

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