KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “flush draw”

Great Flop for Me

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

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

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

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

Everybody checks to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tilting in My Favor

NOTE:  This entry was originally posted on a different site on February 24, 2017 and has been slightly edited prior to re-posting here.

I don’t like getting bluffed and hate it when the villain shows the bluff.  But that’s what happened on Monday at the Maryland Live poker room, which led to a chain reaction much like dominoes falling on each other.

I was grinding away at a $2/5 no limit hold’em cash game, with about $685 in my stack.  My cards are like the waves on a calm day at the beach, holding very little promise as over and over the fold themselves gently and invisibly into the shore.  On the horizon there appears the makings of a big one, or perhaps it’s just a mirage made worse by the sting a drop of sunscreen rolling down my forehead into one eye.  How long can I watch the waves and resist the urge to play in them?  How many hands can fold without wading at least ankle deep into the action?

With KQo, I wander to the edge of the waves to have a closer look.  The player UTG posts a $10 straddle.  This is the first domino; when it falls, the stakes for this hand rise.  Better cards, higher stakes, bigger waves.  Two players call, including a very loose, aggressive Asian player.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Jun.”  I raise to $45.  Without the straddle, I would only raise to $30 here.  If the only thing that happens is everybody folds, I’ll be happy to take the $37 in the pot (rake-free), tip the dealer and move on.  If I get called or re-raised, we’ll play poker.

The straddler calls, and Jun also calls.  Second domino.

Flop ($140):  622 rainbow.  This is a good flop for a continuation bet bluff.  As the pre-flop raiser, my range is uncapped.  I can have AA, KK, QQ, etc.  They cannot, and are much more likely to have hands like AQ, AJ, AT, suited connectors and gappers, and pocket pairs TT & under.  Without going through detailed range construction and combinatorics, I know this flop misses most of their ranges, and that I can represent a big pair with a confident continuation bet.  They both check and I bet $100, which is designed to say “Guys, I’ve got this!”  Third domino.  The straddler folds, but Jun calls. Fourth domino.

Now I think he is more likely to have any pocket pair, a pair of 6’s (A6, 76s, 65s), or two high cards.

Turn ($340):  3.  This should be a good card for me if I want to continue barreling, representing that I have a big pair.  With my image as a tight-ish, middle-aged white guy, another strong bet would look somewhat like turning a big pair face up.  But this time Jun leads out with a bet of $125.  Fifth domino.

Huh?

The size of his bet and the action of calling the flop then leading into the aggressor make no sense whatsoever.

I have a little bit of history with Jun.  The first hand I ever played with him, a few days earlier, I had 77 and the flop was 722.  Yahtzee!  I called Jun’s flop bet and checked back on the turn.  When a river K came out, he shoved all-in, and looked quite surprised when I snap-called and flipped over a full house. Since then I’ve noted him to be an action player, raising and calling a lot pre-flop (but not many re-raises), and a willingness to make big bluffs post-flop.  Despite my first impression, he isn’t a total maniac and seems wary when involved in hands with me after the initial ambush.

Back to our hand.  Jun’s bet of $125 into a pot of $340, leading into the aggressor, makes no sense.  It feels like the “post oak bluff” described by Doyle Brunson in Super System, where a small bet appears to be begging for a call, which must indicate strength, which makes the bluff successful.  What can he really have that would limp/call pre-flop, check/call the flop, and now decide to lead out?  I’m tempted to raise to around $350-375, although this would be a total naked bluff.  All I have is King-high.  And no draws.  Heck, I can’t even beat Ace-high.  I’ve seen Jun make some pretty light calls.  Players like him who bluff a lot tend to assume that other players also bluff a lot and will pay off a lot of strong value hands.  Do I really want to get into a dick measuring contest when I don’t have a good read, just a nebulous feel?

No.

So I fold.  Sixth domino.  It gets weird when a player not involved in the hand remarks that Jun flashed his cards to the player sitting between Jun and himself (which I’d seen Jun do on other occasions prior to mucking) and asks if he can see them also.  Jun denies that he flashed his cards and then somebody asks the player in between if he saw Jun’s cards – which are face down on the table but not mixed into the muck pile yet.  This puts an innocent guy on the spot.  A lot of players would tell a white lie, denying that they saw Jun’s cards, rationalizing that the player asking to see his hand is slowing down the game and has no business demanding extra information when he wasn’t involved in the action.  The white lie is “for the good of the game.”  Other players are just straightforward and honest.  “Did you see that?”  “Yes, I did.”  And that’s what happened here.  After some protest from Jun, the dealer turns over Jun’s cards for everyone at the table to see… Jack-Ten offsuit.  Seventh domino.

WTF!  My read and instincts were spot on, but Jun’s inexplicable float / smallish bet bluff on the turn somehow worked, since I had no showdown value or backup equity.

Had I raised on the turn, Jun must fold.  I would win the pot and my stack would have grown to approximately $1,000.

That’s when I tilted.  It took seven dominoes, but the last one – showing the bluff more than the bluff itself – got to me.  I wasn’t the one asking to see Jun’s hand, and didn’t want to see it.  If he bluffed me, congratulations.  Seeing it, however, put me on a tilt.  Not a full-blown demolition tilt where I’m determined to lose the rest of my chips as fast as possible, but more like a goddammit-I’m-gonna-play-more-junk-because-it-seems-to-work-for-these-other-clowns tilt.

Which leads to the very next hand.  This time, Jun raises to $20 and I’m in middle position with 5s 2s.  This is an easy fold, a tiny wave that barely makes a sound as it disappears into the sand.  So I call.  Eighth domino. There are at least 4-5 players still to act who could re-raise.

If anyone other than Jun was the raiser, I would have folded.  The button also calls as does the big blind.  Does anything good ever happen here?

Flop ($80): As 4s 8h.  Good news:  I pick up a flush draw and wheel draw.  Bad news:  I’m going to put more money in the pot with 5-high, and my flush – if it comes – would get destroyed by any other flushes.  But we’re playing poker, so let’s play.  Jun makes a continuation bet of $45.  Since I’m not on full-blown demolition tilt, I resist the urge to raise or jam here and just call and the button also calls, then the BB folds.  Jun’s range is really wide, and the button could have a better flush draw or an Ace (probably not with K as kicker, which usually would re-raise pre-flop on the button).  With the potential draws, I would expect the button to raise with any 2-pair plus hand.

Turn ($205): 9h.  Now there is a heart draw, making one of my straight outs (3h) suspect as it could give somebody else a backdoor flush as hands like Ah Qh, Ah Jh, Ah Th could be in either Jun’s or the button’s ranges.  Jun is first and checks.  With this drawy board, he would bet again with a strong value hand, or any pair + flush draw.  The action is on me.  On goddammit-tilt, with cards I would normally fold pre-flop, it’s time to make some waves again.  I bet $125.  Ninth domino.  In hindsight, I think this should have been more like $160-175 as I really don’t want any callers.

While I’m sneaking a peek at Jun to see if he signals whether he will fold, the button raises to $275.  10th domino.  Holy oversight, Batman!  After a short acting job, Jun folds.  I better assign this guy on the button a “for purposes of this blog” nickname, so from here on I’ll call him “Robin.”

Now there is $605 in the pot and it will cost me $150 to call, with an additional $200 behind.  Robin’s raise sizing begs for a call.  This – in addition to my other reads on him – tells me he isn’t on a flush draw.  Raising with a draw on the turn isn’t his style.  Despite not raising on the flop, Robin has to have a 2-pair plus type of hand and I can’t expect him to ever fold if I jam.  A9, A8, A4s, 88, 44 are all possible, along with the occasional 98.  A9 makes the most sense, improving from a call-strength hand on the flop to a raise-strength hand on the turn.  Any spade that pairs the board makes me a flush but might also make Robin a full house.  So I have seven clean flush outs.  Unless he has exactly Ah 8h, it also means he does not have a heart draw either, so all of the 3’s that make me a straight should be clean outs.  If the 3c or 3d comes, my straight will be well concealed and I’m likely to get paid on a river shove.  I don’t know if he will pay off a flush.

The math is this:  $150 to call with $605 in the pot, and $200 more behind.  My equity needs to be at least 150 / (150 + 605), or 19.9% or better to justify a call.

With 10 outs, my equity should be a little over 22%.  After the fact, putting this range into my handy-dandy Poker Cruncher app (A9, A8, A4s, 88, 44, 98), I come up with equity of 23.9%, so calling is correct.  I didn’t include 99 in his range, but he might have that too.

        

Somewhere I think there is a quote that says math is for people who are bad at poker.  I can’t find it right now, but feel like I’m playing some really bad poker.  While calling $150 more is mathematically correct, I’m not happy about this at all.  Let’s review why.  On the previous hand I lost $145 when I got bluffed.  Had I re-bluffed, which I seriously considered, I would have gained over $300.  The bluffer, Jun, was forced to show his bluff – not by me, but by another player who wasn’t even involved in the hand.  This put me on tilt.

Now I have garbage that I should fold pre-flop without a second thought, but called in the unrealistic hope that I might spring some kind of trap on Jun.  I flopped a combo draw, bluffed at the turn card only to get raised, and I’m about to put $150 more, for a total of $340 into this pot, with 5-high and a combo draw, while the target of my ire is now just a spectator.  The distance between what my stack could have been after the previous hand and what my stack is probably going to be after this hand is $800.

Why am I here?  What am I doing?  When are we going to have fun?

I call.  11th domino.

River ($755):  3s.  Holy Magic Lantern, Batman!  And cue the Heavenly Choir.  It’s like the 12th domino is spring-loaded, and snaps back to flip all the other dominoes upright again.

Now I know why I am here!  I know what I am doing.  I’m having fun, right freaking now!

I shove my last $200, and Robin says “Well if you have a flush, good for you” and calls, showing a set of 8’s.

My stack is now approx. $1150… $150 more than it would have been if I had followed my read on the previous hand, which would have led to folding this one.

As a side note (yes, I know this post is rather long), this poker room was paying high hand bonuses all month every day other than Friday’s and today (President’s Day).  Any other day and my straight flush would have brought me an additional $525 windfall.  Not bitchin’ just sayin’.

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Variance is a Bitch

In poker, variance is a bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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But you would never do that!

This is all about the question that was asked several minutes after the hand was over.  In the spirit of “beginning with the end in mind” I’ll go to the question first, then we can ponder that as we review the actual hand history.

A couple more hands had already passed.  Out of the blue, “Tim” asks me this:  “What would you have done if I had e-raised to $75?”  I had trouble coming up with an answer at that moment.

Now let’s back up and see what had happened.  We are playing $1/2 no limit Texas Hold’em, at a private house game.  I have $167 to start this hand.

3 players limp into the pot.  The player in the cutoff seat (immediate right of the button) also limps.  For purposes of this post, we’ll call him “Tim,” and notice his stack is larger than mine.  The button (we’ll call him “Patrick”) also limps.  He is nursing a very short stack, approx. $40-45.

Yours truly is the Small Blind, with A7o.  I complete, and the Big Blind checks.

Before the flop is spread out, I announce “check in the dark.”  I’m not normally a big fan of doing this, but with this many players in the hand, I like this move.  I get to see what everyone else is doing without necessarily revealing any information about the strength of my hand.

Flop ($14): Ah 7c 3c. (Note: my ace is not Ac).  I have top 2 pair.

Everyone checks until it gets around to “Tim” and he bets $6. “Patrick” calls on the button.  Then I check-raise to $16.  My raise is somewhat small, as I want to keep an Ace with weaker kicker in the hand.  I’ll be giving flush draws a fair price to see the turn card.  If another club comes on the turn, I will have to re-evaluate (especially if “Tim” and “Patrick” are both still in.  I’ll lead out with a much larger bet on any safe turn.  Everybody folds back to “Tim.”

Looking confident, “Tim” re-raises to $51.  (Go back to the top and re-read his question:  What would I do if he had raised here to $75 here?)  And “Patrick” goes all-in for a little bit less.

WTF?  Did somebody wake up with a set of 3’s, or the only remaining combo of 77’s?  Is there any worse hand that can pay me off if I come over the top?  I have to think through my history with both “Tim” and “Patrick” and how they play certain situations.  Here we have an Ace, a flush draw, and a multi-way limped pot.  After my check-raise, rather than slowing down, they both mashed the accelerator.

I posted this spot on a 2+2 forum and got wide ranging feedback ranging from “ugly situation” to “easy shove.”  I tended to side with the “ugly situation” crowd.  Generally my read here is that one or both of them have 2-pair+ or a flush draw.  2-pair+ hands include 77 (only 1 combination is possible, as I have a 7 and one is on the board), 33 (3 combinations), A7 (chopping the pot) and A3 (6 combinations).  AA would have raised pre-flop.  73 would have folded.  There are lots of combinations of flush draws that can limp pre-flop, although I don’t believe “Tim” is re-raising with most of them.  I do believe “Patrick” can call with a flush draw, as now he’s getting decent odds on a draw.

My combinatorics at the table got close enough to this to decide to shove. Now “Tim” went into the tank.  The longer he tanks (he finally called), the more obvious it becomes to me that he must have A3, which was exactly right.  “Patrick” had a middlin’ flush draw.  The turn and river miss all draws and my hand is good.

Now back to the question:  What would I have done if “Tim” had raised to $75?  I’ve thought about this several times since that night.

The fundamental problem with the question is that “Tim” would never do that.  Why would he, given that we now know he had A3?  Would he be expecting to get a weaker hand to call?  No… weaker hands are going to fold to $75.  Flush draws no longer have the odds to chase, Aces with weak kickers will fold.  Aces with strong kickers, like AK or AQ, cannot be involved, as someone holding such strength would have raised pre-flop.

Would he be expecting a stronger hand to fold?  The only stronger hand that could even consider folding on that flop would be A7, exactly what I had.  A flopped set isn’t going to fold.  Top 2-pair isn’t likely to fold (although I did consider that option).

Would he be trying to get a weaker hand to fold?  Not smart poker.  We want to give weaker hands a bad price to call, and then have them call, not fold.  That’s how we make money.

And this is why the question was so difficult to answer.  Since I already knew his hand, I couldn’t project myself into a situation where a re-raise to $75 made any sense.  The only way it might make sense is from a player who would bet extra-aggressively with a strong flush draw (i.e., top pair + flush draw).  In that case, I would shove.  Such a move would be highly atypical for “Tim” however.

Note to “Tim” — interesting question, but you would never do that!

Too Nitty?

I may have been too nitty on this hand last night.  When this happened, I was having a bad night, having tried to turn KK into a bluff and having this backfire badly, then having QQ cracked by JJ after a villain called a large pre-flop 4-bet (and then admitted that he thought his JJ’s were in trouble).

The good news, perhaps, is that I’m aware things are going badly and trying to be careful not to let emotions overrule good decisions.

Now I have KQo in middle position.  This being a $1/2 no limit Hold’em game, I raise to $11 following one limper, which is fairly typical for me.  The button calls (I’ll call him “Mike”), one of the blinds calls, and the limper calls.

Flop ($40):  Kd 8d 7s

This looks like a good flop for me, but the flush and straight draws can hit the villains’ ranges.  It is checked to me and I bet $17.  In hindsight, this bet is too small, and should have been more than 1/2 of the pot.  But my TPGK, while good, is still just a 1-pair hand and I don’t want to bloat this pot out of control.

Mike, on the button, raise to $43, and both other players fold.  At the start of this hand, I had about $250, and Mike has me covered.

Mike is a tough player, good at hand reading and willing to bluff.  And he has position on me.  With many villains, my default in this situation is to give him credit for 2-pair plus most of the time, and top pair / over pair the rest of the time.  Let’s quickly eliminate the only over pair… AA, as he didn’t 3-bet pre-flop.  But I know Mike will play his draws aggressively, and he might have a K as well.

I decide to re-raise, $45 more.  I want to leave myself room to fold if he comes back over the top and convinces me that he’s flopped a set.  I also, however, want to find out where I am in this hand (and believe I might be good), as I realize after his raise that my C-bet was too weak.  If he calls, that suggests he is on a draw and I can re-evaluate after seeing the turn card.

Mike tanks for a bit, and seems to be considering multiple options.  Then he announces “I’m all in.”

Uh-oh.

Now I go into the tank.  The pot is indeed bloated, now approximately $220, and will cost me $150 more to call.  My hand is just one pair, and I hate going broke with just one pair (even moreso having already been felted once in this session).

I settle on this range:  88 (3 combinations), 77 (3 combos), multi-way draws (Td 9d, Jd Td, 7d Ad, 7d 6d, perhaps 7d 9d, perhaps Ad Jd and Ad Td — total of 7 combos).  I note the K is a diamond, so a top pair / flush draw cannot be in his range.  I think he would 3-bet pre-flop with Ad Qd and any AK.  Neither of my cards is a diamond.

With the sets, he has me crushed.  With the biggest draw… Td 9d, he has 15 outs and would be a favorite to win the hand.  My equity doesn’t have to be over 50% to justify calling from a math standpoint, as I would be calling $150 to win $370.  I really only need 29% equity ($150 / $520) for calling to be correct.  But I’m not really thinking about that at the table, I’m thinking about being stuck 2 full buy-ins if I lose, and that thought pisses me off.  And I’m thinking about my long-term image if I’m viewed as the guy who over plays a one pair hand (especially with less than top kicker).  The draws seem more likely than the sets, as I’m not sure he shoves a set here.  On the other hand, with a set he might think I’m overplaying AK or AA here, and shoving a set for value could be smart before the board gets scarier.

Reluctantly, I fold.  This wasn’t a math fold, it was a variance fold.  I’d already suffered more variance (see above re QQ losing a large pot to JJ) in this session than I like, wasn’t prepared to buy-in again if I went all-in and lost here, and was sitting on the left of a couple of players who have a history of spewing off lots of chips.  I like my chances if I keep playing.

After saying I thought he had something like Td 9d, he says I’m close and some prodding gets Mike to tell me he had a 7d and another diamond, for bottom pair and a flush draw (14 outs).

Against the range above, my equity is 27.2%.  Against only Td 9d, the drawing hand with the most outs, my equity is 43%.  Against 7Xdd, my equity is 47%.  Gambling for sure, but high enough to call.

Methinks I should have called.  We’ll never know.  But given how poorly the rest of the session went,  I might as well have gambled here.

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.

Bliscipline

One of the best poker books ever written is Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo.  One of the author’s charming qualities is his invention of words, that heretofore didn’t exist, to describe things that need their own special word.  Word inventions like gobsmacked, tiltlessness, Kuzzycan, and fast rolling.  And bliscipline.

Of bliscipline, he says:  Bliscipline is when you are at the table and you are so totally in control of yourself and so totally at peace in the situation that no matter what happens next, you’ll still have plenty of resolve in reserve.

I needed some bliscipline at the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few days ago, when this hand occurred.  I was playing at a $1/3 game, had bought in for the maximum of $300 and started this hand with a somewhat short stack of approximately $170.  Having lost some pots, I was searching for my bliscipline before topping off my stack.

Villain #1 for this hand (V1) is the BB.  Villain #2 (V2) is UTG+1, and opens the action with a raise to $10.  A young Russian girl calls.  I call with 8h 7h in the Hijack seat, i.e., two seats to the right of the button.  There is another call and V1 calls from the BB.

V1 seems like somewhat of a novice player.  When he first sat down, he made a comment about “being new at this” when he didn’t understand the protocol for something (straddling? string bets? I don’t exactly recall) Then in an earlier hand, I raised to $12 with AQ from a late position, and he called from one of the blinds A6o.  On a flop of AJ6 rainbow, he led into me with a $20 bet, which I mistakenly interpreted as his having an Ace with a weak kicker.  With no history on this Villain, I called his flop, turn and river bets and now my stack is short.  He looks and acts like a tourist or conventioneer, wearing a golf shirt and being social in a way that says I’m here for entertainment, let’s play poker and drink some and yuk it up.

V2 is very aggressive post flop; on multiple hands he has tried to push people off the pot when he smells weakness.  He is not overly aggressive pre-flop, but has made several raises to $10, almost as if sweetening the pot to try to take it down later in the hand.

Flop ($50):  6h 5s 4d.  This is fantastic!  A rainbow flop that gives me the top end of the nut straight.  Rather than bliss, I feel s surge of energy and I plan how to maximize my value for this hand.

V1 checks, V2 C-bets $15, and the Russian girl calls.  I decide to call, in part because I’m hoping V1 has some reason to call here as well.  There is one fold and V1 does call.

Turn ($110):  9d.  A safe card, albeit putting 2 diamonds on the board.  Time to build this pot and set up a river shove.

V1 checks, V2 bets $20.  Methinks he might have an over pair, although his bet sizing is weak.  On the other hand, his bets when trying to push people off hands earlier has been much larger, so maybe this is his style for value bets, ie., bigger bets are bluffs and smaller bets are for value.

The Russian girl calls $20, and I raise to $55.  After my raise, I have about $90 behind.  I’m trying to find the raise size that an over pair will call, and that makes it very difficult for anyone with any value who calls this raise on the turn to be able to fold when I shove on the river.  I am definitely not trying to push anyone off this pot.  While there is a flush draw now, there aren’t many hand with two diamonds in them that would have put in $15 on that rainbow flop, just to chase a backdoor flush draw.

V1 and V2 both call, but the Russian girl folds.   Hmmm… flush draws still seem unlikely, but a possibility.  Sets (I think a set would have announced itself loudly by now)?   Over pairs?   Two pair?  Pair + Ace kicker?  V1 could have virtually anything with any value, or could not even know what he has, as he still just doesn’t seem like a very good / thinking player.  V2 still seems more likely to have an over pair than anything else.

River ($295):  6d.  This is a nightmare card for me, as it brings in not only a 3rd diamond, but also pairs the board.

V1 checks again, and while my heart surges up into my throat, V2 suddenly perks up like a race horse coming around the final turn with his ears pinned forward.  He straightens up in his chair and starts cutting out chips for betting, 3 small stacks of 5 red (i.e., $5 each) chips, then stacking them up, and eventually sliding $75 into the pot, in a manner that tells me that I just got fucked.  Or as Tommy Angelo would say, when negative fluctuation occurs, you get fluct.

Hello?  Bliscipline?  Where are you, my friend?  I’d like to find you, ’cause I could really use your help.  Right now!

My emotions go crazy.  I started this hand with $170.  Flopped the nuts.  I’m entitled to get my last $90 in on this river, and win this pot, which will give me an ending stack of $470 or so after rake and tip.

I coined my own term and acronym awhile back, for Sudden Onset Entitlement Tilt.  Or SOET.  Pronounced “SWEEEEET!”  SOET is easily confused with Bliscipline.  At its (sudden) onset, SOET seems like a prelude to bliscipline.  I just flopped the nuts (or I have pocket AAs), and I’m going to win a huge pot, and after I do that I will feel blissful.  I have many times gotten fluct while experiencing SOET, when a nightmare card arrives (i.e., I get gobsmacked!) and despite the preponderance of the evidence that my hand is no longer good, I continue to pour all my chips into the pot.  Suddenly, this looks like one of those times.

I find just enough discipline (but definitely not my friend Bliscipline) to slow down and think about it.  While in the think tank, I glare at one of my travel companions who is at the same table (for purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Zach”), in a way that I’m sure he will interpret as I just got fluct.  Zach confirmed to me later that my glare indeed meant I had flopped the nuts.

It is $75 to call and the pot is now $370. I’m getting 5-to-1 odds so my straight only has to be good 1 out of 6 times for this to be a correct call in a mathematical sense.  Poker players tend to do this type of math when they know they are beat, but want to justify calling anyway so they can confirm beyond any doubt the villain’s hand.  I’m about to call, as this was a back door flush so it’s not like he was chasing it from the get go.  And the highest card on the board is a 9.  Did V2 raise pre-flop with pocket 99’s or some other combination that just made a full house?  Wait a minute KKing, think this through.

What does he have and how would he play it?  I rewind the hand.  V2 open raised to $10 pre-flop. Then he C-bet $15, which was weak given the pot size.  Then he bet small again ($20) on the turn, and called my smallish raise to $55.  Was that a C-bet with total air, followed by a blocker bet when a flush draw became possible?  This actually makes some sense if he has Ad Kd or Ad Qd or Kd Qd. Maybe Ad Jd.  I suppose I can buy that story line.

His body language, however, is compelling.  When the 6d hit the board on the river, he sat up, leaned forward, looked happy, and grabbed chips like a man on a mission.  While his bet is larger in absolute terms, it is still very small in relation to this bloated pot.  He wants to be sure he gets paid, and shows no fear of 2 other players still in the hand.

Goddammit!  (TILT)  This pot was supposed to be mine. This is where my session is supposed to get untracked. (TILT TILT TILT)

This is a time that calls for discipline.  When you are beat, you are beat.  I finally fold, suffering in silence.  I’ve gotten much better in the last six months at being able to fight off the tilt and lay down hands like this.

A young Israeli guy 2 seats to my right nods in approval.  He mouths the words “he has full house” towards me.  This is fascinating, as if this other player who I don’t know, never played with before, haven’t had any table conversation with, half my age, is suddenly pulling for me to make the right decision.  It is so much easier to see what is happening with great clarity when you are not involved (financially nor emotionally) in a hand.  The young Israeli sees it.  I see it too, although it takes a couple minutes of staring and glaring before I can let go of my cards.

Then, to my surprise, V1 check-raises to $150.  All along, I had disregarded him as a threat after V2’s bet and body language, as he had checked and called every street.  Now he makes a minimum raise. WTF?

V2 quickly calls. V1 shows Ad 8d and V2 tables Kd Qd.  V1’s Ace-high flush beats V2’s K-high flush to drag in a nearly $600 pot.  V1 called the flop $15 bet with a gutshot straight draw and 2 over cards.  V2 did not have an over pair, but made a flop continuation bet with 2 over cards, then a blocker bet when a 2nd diamond arrived on the turn.

According to my Poker Cruncher app, my equity in the pot after the turn card was 81%, V1 was 19% (including his equity in the possibility of a chop if the river was a non-diamond 7), and V2 was already drawing dead.

I’m glad I found the discipline to fold.  But I’m not feeling any bliss.

I continue with my sub-$100 short stack for about an orbit and a half, trying to get my mind right again.  Then on my next button hand, I add $200, and immediately get dealt 9h 9d and call a pre-flop raise.  The flop comes Kh 9s 3h.  When the opener C-bets, I raise him and he spazzes out and shoves (AA, AK, KQ range), probably assuming I’m semi-bluffing with a flush draw.  I call, the turn and river are both hearts and my 9h makes the winning flush to take his full stack (which was under $200).

Slowly, bliss begins to return. I missed you Bliss, you are my best friend. Let’s play on…

Table Talk

Last night I was playing in a $1/2 holdem cash game at a friend’s house.

I was down a little bit when this happened.

I have Kd Qd in the hijack seat.  After one limper in front of me, I raise to $11.  The button (we’ll call him “Chris”) calls, saying that if I had raised any more than that, he would have folded.  Both blinds fold and the limper also folds.  We are heads up.  He started the hand with about $190-200 and I have him covered; but not by very much.

Flop ($27):  Qc Td 5d.

I have top pair, 2nd best kicker, and a 2nd nut flush draw.  In the era of Facebook, this is a “like.”

I’ve played with Chris several times before.  He is a pretty straightforward player, who treats others as straightforward too.  He makes decisions on later streets as much based on the size of the bet as based on the logic.

So I look in his direction and ask him, “What is your budget for this flop?”

And he answers, “$21.”

I am wondering if this means $21 is the top of his calling range, or the bottom of his folding range.  Since I definitely want to get more money in this pot, I’m going to be close to that, but slightly less.  I bet $18.

Now Chris grabs a large stack of chips that looks like about $75 or $80, without taking the time to count them out, and places them in front of himself as a raise.

Huh?  On the one hand, I loved this flop.  On the other hand, right now all I have is a pair of Queens and a good draw, and Chris is the sort of player who rarely (never?) raises like this on the flop without a 2-pair ++ hand.

What should KKing David do now?  And why?

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