KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “live straddle”

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.

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The Butterfly Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn butterfly!

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What Difference Does It Make?

Here is the setting, to be followed by a question:

I’m at a private poker game on Saturday night in someone’s garage.  The house takes a rake on this game and provides a dealer.  Most of the players are regulars and know each other quite well.  The game is no limit Texas Hold’em, with blinds at $1/2 and the buy-in is capped at $300.

The house uses the Mississippi Straddle rule, whereby a live straddle can be posted for any amount, in any position, which makes straddles from the button very common.  If two players both want to post a straddle, the player with last position has priority.

At this game, one player has been posting a $5 straddle virtually every time he has the button.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “John.”  Several hours into the game, John has the button but the player on his right – who I’ll call “Joe” – announces a straddle and places his $5 chip in front before John has a chance to do anything.  [Sorry about the boring names here – “John” and “Joe” – maybe I just don’t feel very creative right now, or maybe that’s a reflection of the material I have to work with.]

Joe had just returned from a short break, during which he missed his both of the blinds.  To get back in the game immediately, he is required to post the $3 he avoided by sitting out.  Alternatively, for $2 extra, he converts the entire amount into a straddle and reserve the right to act last in the pre-flop betting round.

Before the cards are dealt, someone remarks that John usually straddles when he has the button, and Joe offers to pull the extra $2 back if John wants to straddle again for this hand.  Instead, John says to Joe to leave his straddle out there; it’s no problem.  After the cards are dealt, John has to act first, and he calls the $5 straddle prior to looking at his cards.

Then John says, innocently, “What difference does it make?”

Somebody on the end of the table repeats this question and a couple others chuckle slightly, which makes me decide to posit the question here in the blog.  What difference does it make?

Let’s try making this an interactive blog post, by asking my dear readers to post comments answering John’s question.  What is John likely thinking when he asks “What difference does it make?”  Is there actually a difference, and if so what is it?  How should each player – and the other players at the table – adjust their thinking or actions in response to what Joe and John have said and done here?

Please leave your comments below.

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