KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “bluff”

Rope-a-Dope

Most poker experts will describe two reasons for betting:  Value Betting and Bluffing.

Betting for value happens when you think you have the best hand, and want to get called by someone with a worse hand.  When they call, you make money.  When you make a good hand, one that is likely or certain to win at a showdown, you want to get as much money as possible in the pot and the way to accomplish that is by betting.

Bluffing happens when you think the other player has a better hand than yours, but will fold it if you make a strong enough bet.  Maybe both of you have weak hands.  Or the board fits with a narrative you can tell that represents a very strong hand.  When they fold the best hand, you make money.

In this hand from last night, however, the best line turned out to be checking for value.

This is poker’s version of the rope-a-dope, made famous by Muhammad Ali in the 1974 heavyweight boxing title match against George Forman.  Boxing in Zaire (now Congo), Ali backed up against the ropes in a protective stance and let Foreman flail away at him.  With a defensive posture designed to deflect Foreman’s power, combined with letting his body bounce against the ropes, Ali’s body absorbed very little pain.  After five rounds, Foreman began to look worn out.  After seven rounds, Foreman was spent.  Ali won the fight with an eighth round knockout over the younger and heavily favored Foreman.

In a casino game last night, I had KJo in middle position.  Not great, not terrible.  I put in a raise to 5 BBs and got two callers.  One will act before me on future betting rounds; the other will be after me.

The flop was K43, rainbow.  This is a really good flop for me, but probably terrible for the other players.  The first guy checks.  This is what makes a hand like KJ difficult to play for value.  What hands can be in my opponents likely ranges that will call if I bet again here, and I can beat?  KT?  Kx with weaker kickers?  Pocket pairs 55-QQ?  The player who will act last is a younger, somewhat aggressive player.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “George.”  This is my first trip to this casino, and he’s only been at the table for an hour or so, so I have no history and very limited information.

I also check, and George bets 8 BBs.  The first player folds.  I definitely think I have the best hand here.  If that’s true, raising will only get him to fold.  I fiddle with my chips to try to look uncertain, and call.

Turn (31 BBs):  5d.  This puts two diamonds on the board (including the king).  I check again.  George looks like he’s trying to size me up.  I would like for him to think I have a hand like QQ, JJ, TT or 99 that will have to acknowledge that he has a king in his hand for a better pair.  I would like for him to think he can bluff me.  He bets 15 BBs.  I shuffle my chips again as if I might call but I might fold.  The only hands he can have that beat me (other than something very deceptively played) are KQ, 44 or 33.  There are three combinations of 44 and 33, and eight combinations of KQ that he can have, for a total of 14 combinations out of his entire pre-flop calling range (which might have 100-200 combinations (7.5 – 15% of all possible hands).

Let’s assume his flop bet was just a simple stab at the pot leveraging his favorable position.  If he has nothing, but the first player and I both seemed to miss this flop, or are scared of the king, that’s a reasonable play.  In fact, it is one of the benefits of being last to act – you get to take down small pots like this that nobody else seems to want.  Then I called his flop bet.  That makes the pot larger and worth fighting for.  How frequently will George fire a multi-barrel bluff?  Given my image as a middle-aged white guy (MAWG), and the way I’ve played during his time at the table suggesting a fit-or-fold style, I think his bluffing frequency is high enough to warrant calling again, and so I do.

River (61 BBs):  7d.  At first this looks like a scary card.  Now there are three diamonds on the board, making a flush possible.  And there is a 345-7, so any 6 makes a straight.  I check again, knowing this looks scary enough for many aggressive players to take a final stab.  In my mind, I’m Ali and he is Foreman.  (Friends, just let me have my moment here, OK?)  I’m backed up against the ropes, with my (muscular?) forearms in a vertical position protecting my upper body and face.

George fires out a much larger bet of 43 BBs.  Let’s assume he actually has a hand that is better than mine.  Would he bet that much?  After I’ve shown (or tried to…) hesitancy in calling his flop and turn bets, and a scary looking card falls on the river, what can I possibly have that would call again.  I raised pre-flop, then turned passive on a king-high board.  Would I play this way with AA, AK, or KQ?  Or KK?  If so, would I call a bet that is nearly triple the previous bet when the river card cannot possibly have helped me?

At the table, I don’t need any time to process this.  George’s bet is begging me to go away, so I quickly flip a single chip onto the felt and announce “call.”  Ryan sheepishly turns over As Ts.  He was bluffing with total air the entire time.

Had I made the more straightforward continuation bet on the flop, George has an easy fold and I would have won a very small pot.  Rope-a-dope for value!

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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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Should I Turn This Into a Bluff?

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on December 30, 2016 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

A couple nights ago I was playing at a private house game, when this hand came up.

In a middle position, I get Td 9d, nice-looking suited connectors.  A player in front of me had straddled for double the big blind.  I call, hoping to see a relatively cheap flop.

There is one other caller, plus the Big Blind calls, and the straddler checks.  So far, so good.

The flop is 8d 7h 5d.  I have the top of an open-ended straight draw, a flush draw, and two over cards.  While the absolute strength of my hand at this point is only Ten-high, it has huge drawing power.  Even against a hand like 9-6, which would have flopped the nuts, I would have 52% equity in the pot.  That’s right, a favorite against the nuts.

On the other hand, against Ad 7d, which would give someone a nut flush draw and middle pair, my equity drops to 35%.  Still respectable…  Against Ad 6d, adding a straight draw to the NFD, my equity drops even further to 27.5%, primarily because a non-diamond 9 no longer improves my hand to a winner.  Against 88 flopping top set, my equity is 40%.

Although it is possible that one of my opponents has a hand as strong as 96, Ad7d, Ad6d, or 88, these are very specific combinations.  My equity against these hands, blended in with my equity against all of the worse options I might be facing, makes this a spot where I’m perfectly happy to get it all in right now.  At this game, the house allows the players to “run it” twice or three times by mutual agreement, which would be likely given my knowledge of the other players.  With that backup plan, I can apply maximum pressure.

The checks to the straddler.  For purposes of this blog I’ll call him “John.”  John is generally a somewhat loose, passive player.  For example, when this game started there were only four players.  John bought in for only 50 big blinds, then immediately posted a straddle on the button.  This effectively reduces his stack to 25x the straddle.  It’s like he has heard that straddling on the button is good, but doesn’t really understand why nor understand the value of having a larger stack-to-pot (“SPR”) ratio.  He rarely raises when straddling and no one else raises.  On another hand with still only four players, he called a pre-flop raise with QQ but did not re-raise.

Back to our hand.  With 8 or 9 big blinds in the pot, John bets 7 BBs.  He typically doesn’t lead out like this with a drawing hand, so most of his range is going to be one pair.  I decide to attack, and raise to 25 BBs.  That should get his attention.  At the start of this hand, I had about 125 BBs in my stack.  John appears to have about the same.

The next player folds, then the big blind ponders for a moment and looks very much like he wants to raise.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Rick.”  Instead of raising, Rick calls.  Rick is a much more aggressive player than John; in fact his bluffing frequency is higher than anyone else at the table.  He also respects my game (I’m classically TAG) and knows I’ll continue aggression when I have a strong hand, so his call here looks super strong to me.

Back to our hand again.  Rick’s call both surprises and scares me.  Did he flop a straight and now he wants to see if he can keep John in the hand by just calling?  Does he have a higher flush draw, counterfeiting many of my outs?  Is he setting a trap for me to walk right into?  When a player as aggressive as Rick check-calls a post-flop raise, knowing the original better (i.e., John) has the option of re-raising, this suggests that he likes his hand.  A lot.

John folds.  Now Rick and I are heads up.

The turn is Kh, putting 2 hearts on the board.  Having missed all of my outs, my equity is essentially cut in half.  Rick checks.

The pot is bloated now, with about 66 BBs, and I have ten-high.  If I want to try to get him to fold a somewhat strong hand, like 2-pair, it’s going to take quite a large bet and leave me pot-committed if he check-raises all-in.  I’m less enthusiastic now, with only one card to come.  As a general rule, it is usually a good idea to check back in position when you don’t have a clear plan for handling a check-raise.  I don’t like bet-folding here, nor do I like bet-calling.  He’s offered me a free card, so I decide to take it and check.

The river card is 3c, missing all of my outs again.  I still have just ten-high.

Rick checks again.  His faces looks slightly pained, like perhaps he has a bigger flush draw than mine and missed.  Or… he’s giving off a reverse tell – which I consider him capable of doing – having read my turn check as indicative of my range including lots of flush draws and figuring the best way for him to get value from me is by bluff-catching.

With two flush draws and a straight draw after the turn – 8d 7h 5d – Kh – surely I would bet for value again if I had a 2-pair or better hand.  Doesn’t my turn check look more like I’m on a draw (which would be true) and taking the free card?

I’m having trouble narrowing Rick’s range here.  What do you think it is?

One axiom of poker says that in order to bluff, my range should not be too polarized (i.e., only very strong hands or bluffs).  What does my range look like here?  Should I turn my Ten-high nothing-at-all busted combo-draw hand into a bluff here?  If so, how much should I bet?

Please leave replies in comments, and check back in a few days for the spoiler.

Winning the Information War

No limit Texas Hold’em is a game played with incomplete information.  Unlike chess, where are the pieces are visible and all of your opponents moves can be evaluated with full knowledge of the board, poker offers room for deception and bluffing.

Since most hands end before there is a showdown, information becomes a scarce commodity.  I try hard never to show my cards if I don’t have to, nor to say what I had after folding or after the villains fold.  I read somewhere – I don’t recall which book – that you should treat showing your cards like showing your dick.  Don’t… unless you have to.  We are engaged in a war for information, and must learn how to use it – when we do get some – to good advantage.

Last week at the Aria poker room in Las Vegas, I was playing in a $1/3 game.  In one hand, I limped in with Jh Th, after one or two prior limps.  The flop was Qs 9h 8h.  Yahtzee!  Gin!  Cowabunga!  Cha-Ching!  I have flopped the nut straight with an open-ended straight flush draw.

The players in one of the blinds leads out with a bet of $16, and it folds around to me.  In this situation, with the nuts, I want to build the pot with a plan to get my entire stack in by the river.  His range includes straights, sets, two pair, flush draws, top pair, and pair + gutshot types of hands.  I’m going after the top end of his range, hoping he has something like top two pair.  So I raise to $45.

While I haven’t been at this table for very long, this villain strikes me as an above-average but reasonably straightforward player.  Partly I say this due to his stack being pretty large (around $550), partly he hasn’t done anything out of line or weird/bluffy.  When he leads out on this flop, I assume he has caught a piece of it.  How much… I don’t know yet.

After staring at me for a few seconds, he folds, and turns over one card to show me a queen.  He has top pair, yet decides to yield to pressure.  A lot of players at low limits won’t fold top pair on this flop, due to the drawiness of the board, where flush draws and straight draws are plentiful.  I could easily be semi-bluffing with a drawing hand.  He did not have to show me either of his cards, and now I know he has enough discipline to lay down a medium strength hand.

Not long after this, and feeling tired and impatient, with my starting stack of $300 down to about $180, I decide to limp into a pot in the cutoff seat with 4s 2s.  The same guy raises to $11 from the small blind, everyone else folds and I call, really just hoping for some kind of strange good luck.  (Note to self:  This is just terrible.  It’s time to quit, you aren’t playing well.)

Flop ($25):  Ad Td 3s.  At least now I have a straight draw.  The villain bets $12, and I call.

Turn ($47):  8d.  Now there are three diamonds on the board.  Villain bets $16.  Suddenly in the information and decision making fog, I hear a loud fog horn blaring.  Something is coming through.  Then I realize it is a bluffing opportunity.  The villain’s bet on this turn seems weak, about 1/3 of the pot.  Most of his range are hands the don’t have 2 diamonds.  He raised from out-of-position, and the Ace of diamonds is on the board.  Would he raise there with Kd Qd?  Kd Jd?  Weaker than that?  The reality is there are very few flush combinations in his range.  And he has previously shown me that he can lay down a top pair type of hand.

So I raise to $45.  Looking at me very suspiciously, he calls.  At a minimum, he must have a pair of Aces.

River ($137):  6c.  A total brick, this card changes nothing.  He checks.  I slide a full stack of red chips (i.e., $100) into the center with the greatest confidence and rhythm I can muster, while feeling my heart pounding against the inside of my chest.  “Pay me, sucker!” is what I’m hoping my body language says.  (Note to self:  I wonder what it would be like to be able to make large naked bluffs like this and not have my heart start pounding like crazy.)

The villain takes his time.  He stares at me.  He shakes his head, and finally, he folds.

I don’t show my bluff, and try to act as if nothing special has happened.

This would not have happened if he hadn’t shown me in a previous hand that he was disciplined enough to fold a top pair hand, in the earlier case where I had flopped the nut straight (and didn’t be paid).  Now I have absolutely nothing, and get paid far more than I deserve.

Winning a small battle in the information war feels good.

Fancy Play Syndrome

This hand took place last night at a home cash game, blinds of $1/$1.  Two players limped in, and the button (for purposes of this post, I’ll call him “Jeff”) also limped.  I am the SB with Qs7s, and check, as does the BB (“Russ”).  No reason to get excited about Queen-Seven suited, out of position.

In the immediately preceding hand, both Russ and Jeff were involved.  At the river, the pot was rather large and the board was something like 822-5-2, and Russ made a large river bet.  I recall that Jeff had bet $20 on the turn and Russ raised to $50.  He also muttered something to the effect of “I’m good here unless he has the remaining deuce.”  After Jeff folded, Russ showed a naked bluff with King high.

I have to consider this in the hand we are now playing as both Jeff and Russ are involved.

The flop hits the board Q-T-7 rainbow (i.e., all different suits), giving me two pair.  This is a reason to get excited about my hand, there are straight draw possibilities, multiple villains might have a Q or T, so a value bet is called for.  I bet $4 into a pot of $5. Russ calls, the other villains both fold, then Jeff raises to $15 from the button.

My antenna goes up. The most common scenario with a flop raise is 2-pair or better.  The next most common scenarios are an over pair and top pair with a good kicker.  I have 2-pair with the top and bottom ends. So what does Jeff have?  Pre-flop, he limped in after two other limpers.

Let’s consider the possibilities, in three broad groups:

FIRST – Two-pair plus.  There are 3 ways he could have two pair… QT – which has me crushed, Q7 – same as mine, or T7 – and I would have him crushed.  Better than 2-pair means a set, as it is not yet possible for anyone to have a straight, flush or full house.  A set requires Jeff to have QQ, TT or 77.  The first two of these possibilities I can discount heavily, as he would raise pre-flop with QQ or TT.  Possibly also with 77, possibly not.  I have blockers to QQ and 77, so there is only one combination of each remaining in the deck.  I have seen Jeff bet flopped sets very aggressively before in other games, so his raise is consistent with how I’ve seen him play a set.

SECOND – Over pair or top pair with good kicker.  An over pair would be AA or KK.  As with QQ and TT, he would raise with either of these pre-flop.  Eliminate from his likely range.  Top pair would be Qx, with a strong kicker like AQ, KQ or QJ.  I think Jeff would have raised pre-flop with AQ or KQ, so I’m discounting these as well, although not entirely removing them from his range.

THIRD – Semi-bluff / draws.  Also there are draw possibilities with KJ, J9 or 98 for Open-Ended Straight Draws (“OESDs”), either of which he might be playing more aggressively than normal after folding and being shown Russ’ bluff on the preceding hand.  Less likely would be gutshot straight draws, with hands like AK (would have raised pre-flop), AJ, K9, and J8.

The last consideration is stack size… he has about $55 behind, and I have him covered.

Let’s put everything that makes sense into a range and see how we fare.

Jeff’s range: QT, Q7, T7, 77, AQ, KQ, QJ, KJ, J9, 98, AJ, K9, J8

My hand: Qs 7s.

My equity v. range: 71.2%.  Quite good.

Removing the gutshot straight draws (AJ, K9, J8) and my equity drops to 65.9%.  Still quite good.

Now that we know the correct answer is to call, back to the actual hand as played.

I called Jeff’s raise, and Russ also called.  Maybe I should give some extra thought to Russ’ range.  Now there is $50 in the pot.

Turn ($50): I don’t recall the exact card, other than it was a low blank – not completing any OESDs or gutshots, not pairing the board, not turning any top pair hands into 2-pair.

I check, Russ checks and Jeff goes all-in for his remaining $55.  Then Russ folds out of turn, before I have acted.  This is comforting in that now I don’t have to worry about Russ laying back with the real monster, nor do I have to go through the entire range analysis for Russ here in my blog post.  Whew!

This is not the first time I’ve played with Jeff.  I’ve seen him overplay medium strength hands, especially with a shorter stack.  I’ve seen him shove a short stack with less than the nuts.  I have the impression he wants to end this hand right now. If he wanted a call, he would bet less. (Or so I hope.)

I call, and he turns over AA, a hand that I previously ruled out because he did NOT raise pre-flop.  The river doesn’t help him and I scoop in the pot.

Apparently he was hoping to trap Russ by limping on the button and hoping Russ continued his aggression from the previous hand by raising from the big blind.

The fancy play cost Jeff his entire stack, in a situation where the straightforward play – raising on the button with pocket aces – may have netted him only a small win, but a win nevertheless.

What Can I Beat?

One way to decide whether to call a big river bet is to ask yourself “What can I beat?”  And of course, it the situations that require this question, the answer usually is “very little” or sometimes “only a bluff.”

This typically occurs when you have some showdown value – let’s just call it a medium strength hand – and the villain’ s range is somewhat polarized.

Here is an example – poorly done on my part as usual – from a live $1/$1 no limit cash game last night.

I am in the cutoff seat, with A-9 off suit.  Villain (I’ll call him Dennis the Menace) is the Big Blind and the player to his left (UTG) posts a $2 live straddle.  We end up in a 4-way limped pot, so there is $8 in the pot.  I have position on the other players, and effective stacks are approx. $120.

Flop:  K-K-T.  A somewhat scary flop.  All three players check, so I toss out $6 hoping to take it down without a fight, which would be nice since I totally whiffed on the flop. Only Dennis the Menace in the BB calls.  This is my first time playing with him, and so far he has been winning but not made any fancy plays.  Moderately tight, moderately aggressive, nothing stands out.

At this point, I have nothing but Ace-high, and his range is narrowed to a K, a T, or a straight draw with Q-J, possibly with some gutshot draws or lower pocket pairs if he reads me (correctly) for a bluff.  Pre-flop he just limped in from the BB.

Turn ($20):  Ace.  Nice, now I actually have some showdown value.  But his Q-J makes a straight, and any K stills beats me too.  He checks, so I check behind.  Now I would be happy to check this down to the river and have a showdown.

River ($20):  8.  No flushes are filled, so this card changes nothing unless he floated my flop bet with exactly 8-8.  Unlikely.  Now he leads out with a bet of $16.

WTF?

He also looks confident.

I had a discussion earlier in the day with a buddy about the biggest leak in my game continuing to be self-management.  When I just know I’m beat, I still call too much, thus giving away a lot of value.  River bets are the largest, and here is another example.  It cost just $2 to see the flop.  I bluffed for another $6 on the flop.  Now it will cost $16 more to find out if my hand is good.  It doesn’t feel very good.  I know I should fold.

But I don’t.  First, I take some time to think through the possibilities, and still come up with his holdings narrowed to any K, any T, or QJ.

What Can I Beat???  I am only beating the T or a bluff.  If he had a Ten, wouldn’t he also want to check this down?  Or is he bluffing the original bluffer?  I haven’t seen indications of this type of play from him.  But I’ve never played with him before last night.

So I do what bad poker players do:  I rationalize.  My hand is probably (very probably) second best, but I’ll pay him off anyway so I can learn how he played this hand and have a better point of reference in the future.

Announcing that I’m probably beat, I make the call.  Dennis the Menace turns over K-T, for a flopped full house.

I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.

 

Married to Big Slick, Part II

To understand my angst in making this post, please check out my immediate prior post here.

Last night I’m playing in a live cash game, with my regular Friday night crowd.  We play $0.25 – 0.50 blinds, no limit Hold’em, with $50 buy-in.  Note this is not the same crowd that was involved in the prior post.

We’ve been playing for awhile now.  I was up to about $65, then card-dead for a prolonged period during which my stack slid down to $50 again.  Then lost half of that in one hand when my JJ ran into Tony’s QQ.  Tony has the biggest stack now, courtesy of several good wins, including one very large pot when he held KK, ran into AA and spike a third K on the river.

Now I’m at $19.50, and considering whether to play with a short stack or buy more chips.

I get 99 in the UTG seat and raise to $2.

Tony calls.  John calls.  Then Terri re-raises to $6 and Alex calls.  Terri’s raise does not represent a huge pair (other than AA) as she tends to overbet pre-flop with KK-JJ, and not 3-bet at all with TT or smaller pocket pairs.

I decide to ship it all-in here.  Maybe everybody will fold or I can get an isolation with one villain and some dead money in the pot.  Now seems as good of a time as any.  I shove.

Taking some time, Tony calls.  Jeez, what is good enough to call $2 but not re-raise, and still good enough to call $19.50?  Either a pair higher than mine or AK?  Now John tanks for a bit, then announces “re-raise!”  WTF?  He only called the original $2.  I know he’s capable of some very unorthodox plays, and eventually we’ll find out ’cause I’m already all-in.  He raises $25 on top, for a total bet now of $44.50.  Did I mention the blinds are $0.25 / 0.50?  I guess he wants to isolate with me and some dead money.

Terri squirms and reluctantly folds.  Alex folds.  Now it goes back to Tony, and incredibly (to me at least), he calls again.  Call $2, call $19.50 with the 3-better live and still to act, and now call $25 more, but never a raise.  I make a mental note about his calling station tendencies and pledge to make more notes after the hand is done.

Flop (main pot $71, side pot $50):  Qd Jd 4s.  No set for me, but two over cards.  I’m sure one of these guys just made a set of JJJ or QQQ.  Tony is first and bets $25.  John tanks again then calls.

Turn (side pot now $100):  Kc.  Both Tony and John check.  I lean towards Tim, who isn’t involved in the hand and ask if he thinks there is any way I can win here.  Assuming I have AA, he answers that maybe an off-suit T will hit on the river.  I laugh.

River:  (still $100 in side pot):  2h.  This card changes nothing, and Tony checks again.  Now John goes all-in for his last $38.50.  This is a very big bet for this game.  I have no idea what he has.  Maybe a set and checked behind on the turn to give Tony another chance to hang himself.  Hard to tell with John, and remember he originally called my $2 pre-flop after Tony’s call.  AA would re-raise right there before allowing a 4-, 5- or more multi-way pot.

Now it’s Tony’s turn to go into the tank.  I’ve given up all hope of winning this pot, with my 99 and K, Q and J on the board plus over $200 in chips out there.  Tony finally announces that he’s pretty sure his hand isn’t good enough to win, but he just can’t fold, so he calls.  I’m screaming on the inside:  “TONY, IF YOU ARE BEAT, FOLD!  HOW CAN YOU ANNOUNCE THAT YOU KNOW YOU ARE BEAT AND STILL SHOVEL THIRTY-EIGHT MORE BUCKS INTO THIS POT?  DON’T KILL YOUR GOOD NIGHT!”  Externally I maintain my calm, or so I think.

Showdown:  Tony shows AK off suit, for top pair / top kicker.  Now for the kick in my stomach, John flips over 88.  Yep that’s right, 88.  A pair of eights.  Snowmen.  Had his bluff worked, either pre-flop or on the river – both times would have made sense for Tony to fold and save his Big Slick for another day – I would have won the main pot and increased my stack from $19.50 to $71 in a single hand.

Instead I reach for my wallet…

Daily Debacle – Bluffed Again!

One of the consequences of tight-aggressive play is that sometimes the tight part is just too tight.

I recently posted about folding KK pre-flop in a live cash game – for the first time ever.  As it turned out then, the villain had AK suited, not the feared AA.

Last night it happened again.  I was playing in a no limit Hold’em tournament at a local sports pub.  The starting field of 22 players was whittled down to the final seven, and I look down at 22 in middle position.

I should fold.  But… I’m playing poker and a flopped set would be really nice.  My stack is above average.  My table image is strong.  I’ve knocked several players out of the tournament already and not been caught with my hand in the cookie jar.

So I do the worst possible thing – limp.  Rhymes with wimp.  Shrimp.  Gimp.  Imp.  Nothing good here.  In online games, I’ve virtually eliminated pre-flop limps and calls from my repertoire.  If it’s not strong enough to raise or re-raise, I fold.  The results of doing this, finally accepting and applying some wisdom I’ve known for a  long time, have been quite good.

Back to last night.  The cutoff and button both fold, the small blind calls and the big blind checks his option.

Flop (3 BB’s):  Ah Kc 7h.  Both blinds check.

Then I realize I’m the only player in the hand that didn’t start out in one of the blinds.  They both look weak.  I can represent an ace here and take this down.  I bet 2 BB’s, and get ready to drag in some more chips.

But my plan is derailed when the small blind calls.  Hmmm… sure looks like a flush draw.

Turn (7 BB’s):  4s.  SB checks.  I hate giving him a free card, but hate even worse spewing away chips at this point of the tournament.  At the start of this hand I had about 20 or so BB’s in my stack.  No time to get cute with just a pair of deuces.  I check back.

River (7 BB’s):  2h.  Voila!  I make a set, but the 3rd heart also comes.  Now the small blind thinks a few seconds and bets 4 BB’s.  I don’t recall ever playing with this guy before and he hasn’t done anything unusual.

Let’s review:

  • Pre-flop:  he limps
  • Flop:  he checks, then calls
  • Turn:  he checks, I check
  • River:  he leads out for just over half the pot

Looks like a flush.  I know I’m beat.  But then again… I’m a poker player.  If I fold, I may never know for sure.  This fact haunts me over and over.  I examine my stack.  If I call and lose, I still have enough chips to be able to throw some weight around, but can’t really afford another passive, spewy hand like this one.  If I fold, I feel much more confident about the fold equity.

As they say, the chips you lose in a tournament have more value than the chips you win.

But I really wanna, wanna, wanna call.  The whole point of getting into this hand in the first place was hoping for a set.  I got it.  How’m I going to fold?

I stare at him hoping for a tell, a glimmer of inspiration as to what to do.  Ultimately I decide that if I’m wrong, I’d rather be wrong folding than be wrong calling.  I announce that this is a really big laydown, and fold my set of deuces face up.

Before merging the pot with his stack, he shows AJ off-suit, smiles and says he thought I might have 2 pair and he hoped the 3rd heart would be scary enough that I’d let it go.

I lost 3 BB’s in this hand.  With a call, I could have gained 8 BB’s, a huge swing late in this tournament.

And that’s how poker goes.  When I thought I was ahead, I was actually behind.  Then the river card came which helped me but helped the hand I imagined the villain to have even more.  Now I thought I was behind, but I was actually ahead.

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1798)

Month-to-date online results:  + $107

Daily Debacle – It’s Only One Pair

One pair, even a pair of aces, can quickly become very weak after the flop.  Even the strongest pair is still ONLY ONE PAIR.  Top pair with top kicker is ONLY ONE PAIR.  An overpair to the board is ONLY ONE PAIR.

What beats one pair?  Glad you asked…

Two pair

Three-of-a-kind

Straight

Flush

Four-of-a-kind

Straight flush

“Gee KKingDavid, that’s quite a lot of possibilities that are better than one pair.”

On Sunday I was playing in a live tournament with about 45+ players.  Thanks to a suckout on a hand I played rather badly (by going against my read on another player), followed by some decent play, I had slightly more than double the starting stack.

On level 6 of the blinds, I got TT while in the big blind.  I have about 35 big blinds left in my stack, one of the largest (possibly THE largest) stacks at my table, and well above the chip average.

The player to my immediate left was a young, new guy.  Prior to the beginning of the tournament he politely introduced himself and said this was his first time playing at this venue.  For several orbits he was very tight, passive and appeared not to have much confidence about his play.  Since then he has opened up a bit and accumulated a pretty good stack, about 30 big blinds, while showing down very few times.

The blinds just went up.  He attempts to open for 2.5 BBs, based on the previous level.  His raise is actually too small for even a min-raise at this level, so he adds a couple extra chips to make a minimum raise.  Everyone folds to me in the BB, and I call.

Perhaps I should have raised here, but I have great respect for UTG raises, no matter the player.  I’d like to see the flop and evaluate.

Flop (4.5 BBs):  Qh 4c 3d

Only one overcard.  I decide to donk bet (i.e., lead out into the pre-flop aggressor) and hope to take down the pot if he whiffed.  I bet 2.5 BBs.  Villain:  “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.”  He squirms visibly, tanks a bit and finally calls.

His range is narrowed a bit now, but still includes:

Overpairs: AA and KK (6 combos each)

Monster:  QQ (3 combos – if his squirming was an act of deception)

Pairs below QQ:  JJ-77 (6 combos each)

Unpaired overcards:  AK (16 combos)

Top pair:  AQ, KQ (16 combos each)

What else could call here?  (NOTE:  Not doing this at the table, only now after the fact.)

I think I can push him off this pot.  He has a big enough stack to lay down here and still comfortably continue.

Turn (9.5 BBs):  Jh  Another heart.  JJ gets there.  I decide to fire another barrel.  Now I’m basically turning my TT into a bluff, unless he has AK or a pair lower than mine.  What am I representing?  Given the very dry flop, about the only bluffs I can effectively represent are 44, 33 and QJ.  I bet 7 BB’s.

I don’t think his hand reading skills are likely to be good enough to put me on one of these specific bluffs, but I do think the pressure is building, the pot is getting too big for a one-pair type of hand – his most likely holding, and surely I’ll fire a third barrel on the river if I have a really big hand.

He squirms some more.  He counts out the chips to call, holds them, and looks over his remaining stack.  He tanks again and looks ill.

Then he calls again.  If he had either of the monster hands (QQ or JJ), surely he would re-raise here.  Nope, his anxiety is real.

He would fold AK, KQ, 99, 88, 77 here.  His remaining range must be AA, KK and AQ.

River (23.5 BBs): 9h.  While this fills certain straights and flushes and makes the board more scary looking, it really changes nothing.  My actions are not consistent with a straight or flush draw.  Nor are his.  Nor his remaining range, which is quite narrow.

I take a very long time to decide, alternating between waving the white flag with a check and putting him all in.  He has about 18 BBs left and I have about 23 BBs left.  Surely I am behind.  Can I make him fold?  Will he call and put his tournament on the line with only one pair?  Can he interpret my actions as a small set?

I shove all-in.

He looks likes he’s going to pee in his pants, starts to call, then fold, then … (tick tock, tick tock) … he calls and turns over AQ off suit.

Several other players comment on his amazing call, and note they would have folded with the same cards in the same situation.

On the very next hand, I get sent to the rail.

Daily Debacle – Mini-Tilt

I played this sequence of hands at $0.50 / 1.00 NL last night.

The players to my immediate left and immediate right were engaged in a lot of chat in the chat box.  On my left was a complete fish, with VPIP=42 and PFR= 5 over 55 hands.  Yet somehow he was up more than 2 full buy-ins.  On my right was another weak player with VPIP=37 and PFR=13.  The chat was a bit annoying, about how the site might be rigged, the poor guy on my left never connecting with enough flops, general whining, but nothing too egregious nor directed at me.

So I am UTG and dealt Tc Td, and raise to $3.  Everybody folds to the BB (on my right) who calls.

Flop ($6.50):  Qd 9c 6d.  One overcard.  Villain checks and I decide to check back for pot control

Turn ($6.50): 5s.  Villain bets $3.  This looks like a pretty weak bet.  Perhaps he has a straight draw, diamond draw, top pair or middle pair.  87 just made a straight.  He could also have air and be stealing based on my failure to make a c-bet.  I think I’m ahead of his range, with only the top pair or better hands causing me trouble.  I call.

River ($12.50):  Ah.  He checks.  This is a great bluffing card for me.  I could have called with overcards (i.e., AK) or a hand like A9s or A6s.  To a fishy player, an ace on the river is a scare card if he doesn’t have one, regardless of whether he is thinking at all about my hand.  I bet $9.50, trying to make the same bet as I would with A9.

He quickly calls and shows QJ to win the pot.

Now the fish to my left enters some chat about my failed river bluff and they have a quick back-and-forth general guffaw over my play.  I’m steamed a bit about making the bluff and also that it didn’t work.

The very next hand, the same villain is now the SB and I’m the BB.  Everybody folds to the villain, who raises to $3.  Still steamed, I decide to show him who is the boss and 3-bet to $9 (I only have Jd 3s, but who cares?  He’ll fold and wimper back in line.)

He calls.

OK, now I just gotta outplay him.

Flop ($18):  Qc 5h 4d.  A pretty dry, rainbow flop.  I’ve represented strength; time to represent more of it.  He checks, and I make a c-bet a bet of $13.  He calls again.

Turn ($44):  4h.  Now the pot is rather bloated and I only have $53 behind, slightly more than 1x pot.  He checks again.

Do I want to risk the rest of my stack on this hand?  I have total garbage.  The villain is a loose-passive player who could call me down with anything that has even marginal showdown value based on my failed bluff on the immediately previous hand.  I’d never be playing this way had that not happened.  Aha!  I’m on MINI-TILT!

“Dude,” I tell myself.  “Calm down.  You can out play these ****ers (I’m including the fish on my left in my imaginary conversation just because he is chatty), but you must do it with better cards.”

I check back and we both check the river, another Q that puts 2 pair on the board.  He shows TT and takes this pot too.  Both players now chat some more, har-har look at that terrible bluff with J3, what a fish!  That’s how you play pocket tens.  And so on…

I deserved every bit of it.

Year-to-date online results:  (- $626)

Month-to-date online results:  + $580

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