KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “pocket kings”

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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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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Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECTION 3 – GENERAL POKER RULES

BETTING AND RAISING

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

But wait, there’s more!

SECTION 14 – NO LIMIT AND POT-LIMIT

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

NO-LIMIT RULES

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

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

Whoops!

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

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

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Stuck in No Man’s Land

Last night I was at a low-stakes, private poker game marked by some very loose play.  There was frequent straddling as much as 13 BB’s, along with very light pre-flop raising (like 95s), light 3-betting, and light calling of 3-bets (with hands like T4s and 53s – the latter making quad 5’s).

It was a poker table ripe for Justin Bieber to sing, Roller Coaster, Roller Coaster.

For the most part, I was taking good advantage of this.  I bought in for 140 Big Blinds (“BBs”), felted one of the players with AQ v KQ on a Q-high flop, then felted the same player again with TT v JT after he limp/re-raised all-in with a short stack pre-flop, and built my stack to over 300 BBs.

A little later, I look down at AKo in early position, and raise to 7 BBs.  While this may seem like a large initial raise to online or casino players, it wasn’t unusual here.  My starting hand is very strong, but plays best post-flop against just one or two villains.  If I only raise to 4 BBs, everybody at the table might call and it becomes hard to know where you stand after the flop and turn.  There is one caller, then another player re-raises to 21 BBs.  For purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him “Mitch.”

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

This is the first time I’ve played poker with Mitch.  He is a young white guy, early-to-mid 20’s, dressed like he just came from a  strange 70’s themed party – wearing what appears to be bicycling shorts, a casual shirt, old school nearly knee high basketball socks (white, with wide colorful stripes at the top of his calves), and low-cut white Chuck Taylors or similar footwear.  With a cap sporting the logo of Nag’s Head’s Lucky 12 Tavern and dark sunglasses to look like a real poker player, the whole look makes quite an impression.  I don’t really care how people look or dress, other than sometimes there are clues that help in profiling them as poker players – loose/tight or passive/aggressive or gambly or playing with a very small bankroll or whatever.  I suppose the impression here was not to be surprised by unconventionality.

Earlier in the game, Mitch had called a river all-in bluff on a very scary board (K-9-7-6-5) with KTo and won a large pot.  At the time, I was thinking that I would have folded there.  Before that, he had called a pre-flop raise from me with 92s and made a backdoor flush to beat my trip kings.

I’ve also noticed that Mitch is very friendly with another player, the one that I’ve already felted twice.  Apparently they drove to this game together and have been chatty between hands.  Mitch’s friend has a wild streak, making several large bluffs, showing his bluffs multiple times when were successful, and generally playing in a way that indicates a complete disregard for the value of his money.  Do birds of a feather flock together?

After Mitch’s 3-bet, there are two callers.  Both are very loose players who like to see lots of flops.  Perhaps both have played more than I have with Mitch and their calls indicate a certain lack of respect for his 3-bet.  I have experience with these callers, and think either of them would 4-bet here if holding a monster hand.

With all this in mind, I decide to make a sizable 4-bet myself.  With one ace and one king, I have blockers against Mitch having either of the hands I fear most – pocket aces or pocket kings.  Having started the betting from early position, I can credibly represent a monster pocket pair.  If I raise large enough, the two players who called Mitch’s bet would be forced to fold.  I make it 105 BBs.

Take that!

One player who called my original raise quickly folds.

But Mitch starts counting his entire stack.  He has 130 BBs more on top of my raise, and ships it all in.  I have him covered.

Right then it dawns on me that I’m in No Man’s Land, that terrible spot where you realize charging forward is a mistake and retreating is no good either.  In my youth I played a lot of competitive tennis.  On a tennis court, No Man’s Land refers to the area in front of the baseline, where it is difficult to make normal groundstrokes, but behind the service line, where you cannot make volleys either, at least not hitting the ball at a height that creates enough leverage to hit the ball hard or use sharp angles.  In No Man’s Land, all of your options are bad, unless you enjoy being yelled at by your tennis coach.

Another player folds.  The last player hems and haws a bit, asks for a count of Mitch’s chips, and also goes all-in, for less than Mitch’s stack.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Chuck.”  [This is really important, as I know Chuck (or whatever his real name might be) desperately covets a mention in this blog.  I hope he leaves a snarky comment after reading this.]  Chuck had about 180 BBs at the start of the hand.  His call surprised me, as noted earlier I thought my 4-bet would squeeze him out.  Even when he called, I interpreted that more as a desire to gamble over a huge pot than an indication of great strength.  Still, he could have at least one ace or king, or both, that would cancel some of my outs in the event Mitch has something like QQ or JJ.

Even so, I really don’t think Mitch has QQ or JJ.  Despite my blockers, he virtually always will have AA or KK here.  My 4-bet was so strong that his 5-bet must be stronger.  Hopefully it is KK and my ace is a live card.  Otherwise I’ll be crushed.  This is where my mistake becomes more clear.  I failed to make my 4-bet small enough to keep an exit strategy available.

Let’s review.  I’ve put 105 BBs into the pot.  Mitch has put in 235.  Chuck has put in 180.  Two other players put in 7 and 21, respectively, and later folded.  So the pot has 538 BBs in it, and it will cost me 130 more to call.  I’m getting pot odds of 4.14-to-1 to call, meaning I have to expect to win at least 19.5% of the time for calling to be mathematically, theoretically the proper thing to do.  How can I really justify folding here, even though it’s obvious that I’m in big trouble?

Some more math… heads up against Mitch, the villain I’m most worried about, if his range is AA/KK – which I consider most likely despite my blockers – and nothing else, my equity is 18.6%.  If I think he would also shove here with AKs or QQ, my equity is 33.3%.  Despite all the loose play at this game, I can only assume Mitch has a monster.  After all, loose players still get dealt monster hands just as frequently as tight players.  And not so long ago, I wrote a post entitled “Hashtag: They Always Have It.”  Mitch didn’t hesitate much before going all-in, so now I have to go with this read.

That’s heads up.  What about Chuck?  His range should be wider that Mitch’s, as his body language when calling all-in didn’t ooze great strength.  But he could have blockers to some of my outs.  Let’s give him a range of TT+, AQs+ or AK.  Against that range and Mitch’s AA/KK, my equity drops to 13.1%.  If we again widen Mitch’s range to include AKs and QQ, my equity improves to 20.4%.

Chuck could have some random suited connectors too – perhaps suspecting that Mitch and I have all the high cards and hoping for a hand like 98s to sneak to victory.  So I’ll add 98s and 87s to his range.  This, with Mitch at AA/KK would leave me with equity of 13.8%.  With the wider range for Mitch, I’m at 21.6%.  Chuck’s range has far less impact on how I stand than Mitch’s range, but if Chuck’s actual cards include any aces it kills a very important out for me.

I’m not doing all this math in my head at the table.  With Chuck’s chips in the middle now, it seems like a mandatory call.  I make the crying call, not at all happy, but would still have nearly 100 BBs left if I call here and lose.  If I had made a smaller 4-bet, say in the neighborhood of 60-75 BBs, I would have less hesitation about folding and saving my chips.

As the dealer sorts out the main pot and side pot, Chuck asks who has pocket aces.  Mitch says he has cowboys, i.e., pocket kings.  I actually feel a slight sense of relief at hearing this.  I say that I have one ace, but not two of them, and turn over my Ace of spades.  Mitch turns over his King of spades, then a red king to go along with it. Chuck doesn’t turn over either of his cards, but looks like he’s in a lot of pain.

One more bit of math:  against Mitch’s exact hand, which we now know for sure (and ignoring Chuck, since we still don’t know what he had), my equity is 30.3%.  If Chuck had folded to Mitch’s all-in bet, the pot would have been 389 BBs with 130 more for me to call.  I would need to have greater than 25.0% equity to justify calling.  While calling would be correct, it is only correct because of my betting mistake when I made such a large 4-bet that I stepped into No Man’s Land and pot-committed myself without consciously intending to do so.

If you’ve read this far, I’m pleased to report that a beautiful ace fell on the flop, and I won the whole freakin’ thing.  That’s poker I guess, and I’ve certainly been on the other side many, many times.

My stack grew a little bit more by the end of the night and I booked a very nice profit of 700+ BBs.

Thinking about Mitch’s 70’s theme appearance… That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it!

Cowboy Chess Match

Yaacov Norowitz is one of the top chess players in the world. He is an International Master Chess player with a rating of 2435 (on the Elo chess rating system, a rating above 2400 indicates an International Master, and above 2500 is a Grandmaster).  According to the World Chess Federation’s website, Yaacov is ranked 65 among active U.S. players and 1516 in the world among active players. He’s good!  In his early 30’s, he plays in major chess tournaments and teaches chess to others, primarily online and using Skype, for a living.

Some of this I know from simple research on the World Chess Federation and Yaacov’s own websites. The rest I know because I played a bunch of hours of poker with him at the Aria poker room during my recent trip to Las Vegas.  Yaacov told me he came to Las Vegas to play in the 2nd Millionaire Chess Open, at Planet Hollywood (finishing in 17th place in the open division), then stayed to play poker for another week after the chess tournament ended.  If my interpretation of the prize money is correct, it appears that Yaacov won $23,500 playing chess for a few days, as the highest finisher not rated as a Grandmaster.

On the night of my arrival at the Aria, I lost my entire $200 initial buy-in at a $1/3 table to Yaacov over a span of 2 hands. First, I doubled him up when my Ks Ts < 77 on Qs 6h 3s – 8d – Qc board. I had open-raised pre-flop in the cutoff seat, he called from BB.  Yaacov then donked (i.e., led into the pre-flop raiser) $20 on flop, I raised to $55 (trying to represent an over pair), and after tanking a bit he shoved his shorter stack with pot odds that dictated a call with my flush draw + one over card.  A couple of hands later, his AKo > my TT when we got all-in pre-flop for my remaining $60 or so.  He turns out to be a friendly and funny fellow, and we played at the same table for several hours, again on the following day, and again the day after that.

On this 3rd day, Yaacov looked as if he hadn’t slept since I first met him, a fact he later confirmed.  He was spewing chips all over the place (I had yet to figure out how much $$ he had won in the chess tournament), re-buying probably a half-dozen times.  But now he’s won a few pots, so even though he is stuck well over $1,000, he does sit behind a formidable stack.  And he’s an aggressive player by nature.

Then this hand happens…

Yaacov limps into the pot from UTG+1, and I raise to $13 from the Hijack seat (two seats to the right of the button) with Ks Kc.  It is time for KKing David to announce himself.  This session has gone well for “the KKing” and I have about $600+ on the table. Yaacov has about $400.

The action folds back to Yaacov, and he limp-reraises to $39.  Uh-oh.

When someone limps from an early position, then re-raises on the way back around, this represents great strength.  Many players who do this, only do it with AA.  Having played perhaps 10 hours with Yaacov over these three days, I’ve noted his aggression and creativity (although his Fancy Play Syndrome has costs him dearly at times), and have to give him credit for a wider range than just AA.  But how wide?  AA, KK, QQ, JJ. AKs, AQs, AKo.  Maybe some strange bluffs, with suited Aces or other hands with decent backup equity?  Today I’ve seen him go all-in pre-flop with 55 (and a much shorter stack).  Two days earlier against me, he donked/3-bet shoved on a Q-high flop with 77.  It’s really hard to know where to draw the line.  So I call.

The flop is J87 rainbow. This doesn’t really hit his range, with the possible exception of JJ. He bets $65.

I’m on full alert. The number one sensation I’m having at this point is that I’ve seen this movie before – aggressive player limp/re-raises pre-flop from early position – and I know how it ends.  Badly.  Against an unknown player, I should be able to fold here.  Against Yaacov, I’m just nervous as hell, on full alert.  But wait, I’m KKing David, and here I am with KK, the 2nd nut hand pre-flop, and I want to play it.

I call.

The pot is now approx. $215. The turn card is a T, putting a 1-liner to a straight on the board.  In reality, while this looks scary, there are no 9’s in either of our ranges.  I feel confident about that.  Does he know that?  He’s a professional chess player, which is a game played with complete information, whereas no limit Texas Hold’em is a game played with incomplete information.  I wonder what’s going through his mind now.  What does he think I have?

Yaacov checks. If the board simply scares him just a little, he could be checking for pot control with his entire range.  On the other hand, if he’s concluded that I can’t have a 9 in my range, then he could be turning AA into a bluff catcher.  I consider betting, but decide pot control is a better idea and check behind.  I’m beating AK, AQ and QQ, but my hand is still just one pair, and betting now would bloat this pot way beyond the strength of my hand.

Then comes an Ace on the river, bringing to mind the eponymous title of Barry Greenstein’s excellent book.  This is my nightmare card.  Now AK and AQ beat me too.  DAMMIT!  (And other expletives not suitable for a public blog.)

Yaacov slides out a stack of red chips, a $100 bet.  My two black Kings are turning into milquetoast.

DAMMIT!

I replay this hand backwards and forwards, trying to find a clue that might help me solve this puzzle.  I’m having a good, winning session and don’t want to go back to square one.  There is $315 in the pot and it will cost me $100 to call.  I’m getting 3.15-to-1 pot odds, so I have to be good against his range 1 time out of 4.15 (24%) for calling to be mathematically correct.  Am I winning here 24% of the time against this set of facts?  Could Yaacov be turning QQ into a bluff?  Would he bet $100 on this board with AK?

Finally, I decide to call, just based on the pot size and the math. I don’t expect to win, but think his bluffing frequency is just high enough that I can rationalize the call. Besides that, I want to see what he has, that has played this hand in such an interesting way.  Part of this decision is based on feeling confident that I won’t tilt if I lose the pot.  I’m fully aware this is a rationalized call based on the math, and most of the time I’m going to lose, yet I find enough calm over this awareness to make the call.

Of course, the entire table is watching, as both of our moves and counter-moves have been slow, deliberate and intense throughout the hand. It has been a chess match at the poker table.

Yaacov turns over his cards first and all I can see is they are both red and both paint.  Two red queens???  I lean forward to see better, and it is actually the two red kings.  I flip over my two black kings, and there is a big “WOW!” all around.  He looks just as relieved over the chopped pot as I am, so I stand up and walk around to his end of the table to shake his hand and we have an awkward bro-hug.  He says he actually considered the possibility of us both having pocket KKs, although I really didn’t.

Whew!!!  My good session continues.

 

Deja Vu

According to Wikipedia, “Déjà vu is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, which is often not the case.”

Yeah, whatever.

Here we go again, this time at $0.25/0.50 blinds on Bovada Zone Poker, and quite frankly dear readers, I’m getting tired of it:  http://mysmp.me/h_duP

 

KK v. AA, part 3

Here is another in a lengthening series of hands where my KK runs into AA.  This is the 3rd time in less than a week, including this one vs. “Cinderella” who never raised me and this one I managed to lay down the following night.

Now I’m playing online in Bovada’s Zone Poker game, at the micro stakes (6-handed).  Blinds are $0.10 / 0.25.

Here is a replay of the hand, on ShareMyPair.  The key question here, as always and to be explored in detail below, is “what is his range?”

To recap the hand, I have KK on the button.  UTG raises to $0.75, UTG+1 calls, and I 3-bet squeeze to $3.10.  UTG and UTG+1 both call.

Flop ($9.65):  Js 8s 5c.  At first glance, this is a somewhat drawy board, but should be a good flop for my hand.  I hope somebody has AJ.

Both villains check, so I bet $6.00.  UTG then check-raises all-in.  He has me barely covered.  UTG+1 is short-stacked, with only $4.25 behind and calls.  All this action is rather unexpected.  Now there is $41.50 in the pot and it will cost me my remaining $15.60 to call.  I’m getting 2.66:1 pot odds.  Should I call?  I need to have equity of at least 27.3% to justify calling.

I call.

Let’s look at this hand on Flopzilla.  For starters, I’m going to ignore UTG+1 since he is short-stacked and I’m not calling his bet.  Then I’ll explain why that might be a mistake.

UTG’s range (for calling my 3-bet) should be something like this:  77+, ATs+, KQs, AJo+, KQ, QJs.  I’m giving him “credit” for calling a bit wide here, as many villains would be expected to play tighter.  On the other hand, he might interpret my 3-bet as a light squeeze play, since I have the button and there was another caller, and I have no other information about him (or her?) as this is Zone Poker and everybody is anonymous on every hand.

Now I’ll narrow the range to hands that can check-raise all-in, as sets, two pairs, overpairs, top pairs, flush draws, and open-ended straight draws. Based on this portion of his original range, here is what he can be shoving with:

Set                   15.8%   (JJJ or 888)

Overpair         34.2%   (AA, KK for a chop, QQ)

Top pair         39.5%   (AJ, QJs)

Flush draw     10.5%  (AsKs, AsQs, AsJs, AsTs, KsQs, QsJs)

OESD               0.0%   (T9 and 76 not in his original range)

Against this range, my equity in the hand is 54.5%. I definitely have to call.

What if I narrow his range for calling my pre-flop 3-bet from out-of-position, perhaps removing QJs and AJo?

Now it looks like this when he shoves on the flop:

Set                   23.1%    (JJJ or 888)

Overpair         50.0%   (AA, KK for a chop, QQ)

Top pair         11.5%     (AJ, QJs)

Flush draw     15.4%    (AsKs, AsQs, AsJs, AsTs, KsQs)

OESD              0.0%     (T9 and 76 not in his original range)

My equity is now down to 43.5%.  Things aren’t looking so good, but I’m still well ahead of the needed equity of 27.3% to break even on my call.  This still looks like a proper call.

I guess I shouldn’t feel to bad here, but this is the 3rd KK v. AA hand I’ve played in about a week.  When do I get to play AA v. KK?  Hopefully soon… hopefully at higher stakes… hopefully mine will hold up.

But wait, there’s more!

After UTG+1 put his short stack all-in, there are 2 separate pots.  The main pot has $22.40 in it, and the side pot has $19.10 including the portion of my flop bet that exceeded UTG+1’s stack, along with the portion of UTG’s all-in bet that exceeded UTG+1’s stack up to the amount of my stack.  It will cost me $15.60 to call, so my odds from the side pot are 1.22:1.  I need equity of at least 45% to justify calling based on the side pot alone.  If I fold, I sacrifice my equity in the main pot.

The key point here is that my equity in the main pot is different from my equity in the side pot due to the presence of another player.  If these villains’ hands were reversed, for example, I would have lost the main pot, but won enough in the side pot to wind up with a profit on the hand.

To get this entirely right, I should develop a range for UTG+1’s hand, as he called twice pre-flop and then shoved in a short stack on the flop.  I’m still not going to do that, as I’ll never, ever put 76o in his range and that’s what he had, for an open-ended straight draw on the flop.  If I plug his actual hand into the equation with my actual hand and UTG’s ranges, my equity in the main pot goes down.  There are now more outs against me.

With the wider version of UTG’s range (including QsJs and AJo), my equity against both of them is 33.4%.  Removing QsJS and AJo from UTG’s range, now my equity against both of them is 27.7%.

I still thing calling is correct, but it’s much closer when looked at this way as my equity is inherently lower with another player involved.  If I were to slow down – not really possible on Zone Poker as you only get 15 seconds to take action when it’s your turn, but imagine this were a live game and the stakes were higher – I might be able to reason my way into folding here.

On the other hand, folding to a check-raise all-in on the flop when I have an over pair to the board, is never a huge mistake.  Time and time again, I’m simply beat by 2-pair+.  Time and time again when I’m not beat, the villain will draw out anyway.

On the other hand, I would have cheerfully stuck it all-in pre-flop had UTG simply asked for it then.  Sigh.  By waiting until the flop, UTG actually gave me a chance to be able to fold…

Folding KK Pre-Flop

In No Limit Texas Holdem, one of the hardest things to do is to fold pocket kings before the flop.  My friend Mike did it recently, and I’ve folded KK myself twice… once in a cash game (ironically, Mike was the Villain in that hand, as described here) and once in a tournament.

Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie wrote a series of classic books on No Limit Holdem.  In Harrington on Cash Games, he asks “Should kings ever be folded?”  Then he answers his own question.  “As I discussed in Harrington on Hold ’em (addressing tournament play), the practical answer is ‘No.’  It’s true that you look like a genius when your opponent puts in a third raise and you show your kings and fold them, and he then shows his aces.  But if you’re willing to fold kings, I guarantee you that sometimes you’ll be folding them to queens, or ace-king, or a total bluff, and over time, your willingness to fold kings will cost you money.”

Last night I was at a $1/2 home game, and another player who I’ll refer to as “Patrick” raised to $11.  In the cutoff seat, I peek at my cards and see red KK’s.  What would KKing David do?  Obviously I re-raise, to $31.  Everyone folds back to Patrick, who re-raises to $85.  He has about $100 more behind and I have him easily covered.

Does he have pocket AA’s?  Getting dealt KK and another player has AA only happens about 1-out-of-every-5,000 hands.  Here is the math:  I’ll get KK 1-out-of-221 hands.  There are 9 other players at the table.  Each other player will have AA at the same time as my KK about 1-out-of-204 hands (i.e., the frequency increases just slightly after taking into account the elimination of my two kings from the deck).  There are 9 chances (9 other players) that this happens, increasing the frequency to 204/9 or approx. 1-out-of-22.5.  Multiply 1-out-of-221 times 22.5 and I’ll have KK vs. AA 1-out-of-every-4,972 hands that I play No Limit Holdem at a full table.  We can round this up to 5,000 to make the general point.  (This also means I should get AA vs. a villain’s KK the same 1-out-of-5,000 hands.)

What is the general point, you might ask?  In this case, I’m thinking about the fact that I had KK vs. AA one night earlier, vs. “Cinderella” as described here.  So at the moment of this hand where Patrick has slid out a 4-bet to $85, I’m feeling some injustice.  I’m not due for this again.  It’s only been a couple hundred hands, or fewer, since the prior night’s KK vs. AA confrontation, so “it’s not fair” for that to be happening again so soon.

Back to Patrick.  Patrick and I have played with each other quite a few times before.  I know he’s not crazy.  He’s not what I would call an expert player, nor a total drooler, and he’s never shown any inclination to push this hard with a deep stack and AK or QQ or anything weaker.  In fact, I’m trying to think of another hand where Patrick got his whole stack in pre-flop when he was this deep.  I do know that when he gets short-stacked, he tends not to buy more chips to top off his stack, and accordingly is more willing to get it all-in  with a short stack and a hand like JJ or QQ.  But this is not such a time.

More importantly, I believe he respects my game too.  At this point in the night, I had a solid, emotionally stable, winning image based on aggressive plays that have won several small pots without showdowns.  This was the first time I had 3-bet this large all night.  There is no reason for him to think my 3-betting range is very wide.

I stare at Patrick for a minute and he looks very peaceful.  His eyes aren’t blinking rapidly, and there are no signs of stress.  He’s not 4-betting light here, not out-of-position, not against me, not committing nearly half of his stack after my strong 3-bet.

I think about the consequences of folding and not knowing (for absolutely sure) what he has.  I will have to live with that.  I think about the impact on my emotional state of losing $31 with KK and not even seeing the flop.  I think about the consequences of shoving all-in, the resulting impact on my emotional state of being right, i.e., seeing that he actually does have AA and losing a very large pot.  Will I recover?  Will I tilt and spew away hundreds more?

Calling is out of the question.  I’m not getting anywhere near the proper odds for set-mining (hoping for a 3rd K on the flop/folding if I miss), and how would I possibly be able to fold if the flop is all rags and Patrick open-shoves?

I think about Dan Harrington.

I think about my never-ending quest for better self-discipline, a willingness to let go (physically letting go of the cards, emotionally letting go of the sense of entitlement that I have a big hand and deserve to win) that so often eludes me.

I think about trusting my reads.

I slide my Kings into the muck.  “Nice bet, Patrick.”

Cinderella

My father will celebrate his 81st birthday next month.  He still plays in a weekly home poker game, every Thursday night, which he enjoys greatly.  But theirs is a low limit, fifty cent maximum bet, dealer’s choice game.  Lots of variety and camaraderie, very little poker skill is required, and nobody gets hurt.

No limit Texas Holdem, which I like to play, is different in the sense that you can lose your entire stack, or double it up, at any time.

With this in mind, at last night’s No Limit Holdem home game with blinds of $1/1, there was a player I have never seen before.  For this purposes, I’ll call her “Eileen,” a very lovely and entertaining 81-year-old women who frequently reminded us that she was “just and old woman.”  She also mentioned that her father once played professional soccer in England, so perhaps she has an in-bred competitive nature that isn’t readily obvious.

In this game, there is a high-hand bonus at 1:00 am, paid to the highest hand of the night that uses both hole cards.  The bonus is usually about $100.  On one hand, “Eileen” had pocket 99’s, flopped a set of 999’s, and did not bet aggressively at all, later stating that she didn’t want to run everybody off and miss out on a chance for the 4th nine to arrive and put her in the lead for the high-hand bonus.  (At this point, another player already have flopped quad 6666’s.)

Meanwhile, I am having a wonderful night, having started with $160 and now sitting at approx. $450.

In middle position, I get KK and raise to $6.  Eileen and one other player call, and the flop is AK7 with 2 hearts.  Ba-da-bing!  If somebody has an Ace, I’m going to get paid off here.

I bet $6 again, a small bet to find out who has the Ace.  Eileen calls and the other player folds.  I need to be careful not to overplay this hand, as she seems a bit timid and may be the type of trusting soul who will just believe me if I bet too aggressively.  I’m going to make the kind of bets that can get called 3 times by a hand like AT or A9.  I just don’t know her capacity to call large bets.

The turn is 8h.  Now I also have to be concerned about flushes as there are 3 hearts on the board.  Since 2 of them are the A and K, it is less likely that she has a flush draw, although her pre-flop calling range could include QJhh, QThh, or JThh.  But this is exactly 3 hand combinations, a very small part of her range, and Ax is much more likely.

I now bet $10, and she calls again.

The river is Jd.  Eileen leans towards me with her eyes opening wide now, as if to say “Whaddaya gonna do sonny?  Keep bluffing and I’ll call you.”  It’s actually a little scary looking and I should remember that look for future reference.  A tell, perhaps?

I bet $15 on the river, a very small bet into a pot that is now approx. $50.

She calls again, so I turn over my cards and announce, “I have three Kings.”  Eileen responds, “Well, I have three Aces” and turns over pockets AA’s.

She called pre-flop, called on the flop with top set, called on the turn, and called again on the river.  Never ever ever ever ever ever would I be able to include AA in her range in that situation.  On the other hand, I lost the minimum.  If she raises on the flop, I would cheerfully get it all in there and double her up.  Once again, Eileen explained that she was hoping for a 4th ace to make the high-hand bonus, or alternatively after the 3rd heart fell, hoping for the board to pair on the river so the flush possibility wouldn’t slow her down.

I’ve never felt such a sense of relief after losing a hand.  Flopped KKK vs. flopped AAA!

About 30-45 minutes later, Eileen hits a Q-high straight flush, which easily holds up to win the high-hand bonus.  After making the straight flush, she bet $5 on the river!

After that happened, I realized I was playing poker with a “mature” Cinderella.  While Eileen looked more like the fairy godmother (or great-godmother?), after flopping a set of 999’s, flopping a set of AAA’s (vs. KKK’s no less!), and a rivered gutshot straight flush at a game that pays a high-hand bonus, it became clear that this was her night at the ball.

There were no glass slippers, no pumpkin turned into a fancy chariot or mice turned into coachmen, no fancy ball gown that I could see.  But the handiwork of a fairy godmother was evident all over the place.  She called her prince to explain that she would be home a bit later than promised so she could stay and collect the high-hand bonus.  At 1:00 she left, saying how much she looked forward to seeing us all again next week.

I hope the spell lasted long enough for Cinderella to arrive home safely.

It I see her again at a poker table and she ever makes a truly aggressive move, I’m running out the front door as fast as I can.

KK vs. AA & QQ

I was in Las Vegas last week with my buddy Mike, and this was a hand that he played in a $1-2 NL cash game.

A player in early position raised to $12, and an older gentleman called.  Mike – on the button –  squeezed his cards and found KK, and 3-bet to $36.  The Small Blind calls for $36 and the opening raiser folded.

Then the older guy – who hasn’t done anything fancy up to this point – goes all-in.  Huh?

Pretty easy actually… he has exactly pocket Aces.

Mike figures it out and folds, and the SB then folds QQ face up.  The Villain proudly shows his Aces, and Mike says “Nice hand sir, I had pocket Kings.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

Another player at the table complimented Mike on being able to let go of KK’s there.  This player, while not involved in the hand, had been sitting at the table for awhile with his professional poker coach sweating him (i.e., watching over his shoulder).  Rather often, both the player and coach would leave the table for a few minutes of private conversation/coaching, then return for more play.

When the older guy left the table, the coach told Mike that the older guy badly mis-played the hand and that he, the pro/coach, would have “felted” Mike in the same situation, by flat calling Mike’s 3-bet.

Later on, Mike and I debated how that might have worked.  For starters, we both acknowledge that some percentage of the time, either a K or Q would hit the flop, and either Mike or the SB would win.  We know that any pocket pair will flop a set about 1 in 8 times, so the chances here with both KK and QQ seeing the flop are about 23% that one or the other (or both) will flop a set.  So a flat call by the AA hand entails a moderately high level of risk.

Let’s assume all 3 players have starting stacks of $300 (equal to the max buy-in at this table).  The pre-flop betting totals $12 + $36 + $36 + $36 = $120, and each player has $264 remaining.

If the flop is all low cards, and the older guy checks, Mike is certainly likely to make a strong continuation bet, say $60-90 range.  If both call $60, now the pot is $300 and each player has $204 remaining.  If Mike bets $75 and both call, the pot is $345 and each player has $189 remaining.  Maybe Mike can sniff out the Aces, but we can see how the pot size escalates to the point where it becomes very difficult to avoid being pot-committed by the river.

We also explored another line the older guy might have taken.  Suppose, I asked, he re-raised the minimum pre-flop after Mike’s raise and the call from SB, to $60?

All of the color suddenly left Mike’s face.  “I probably would have shoved it all-in right there,” he said, “in order to protect my big hand against going to the flop against 2 villains instead of one.”  He reasoned that calling $60 surely brings SB along for another call, and the raise size doesn’t scream “I HAVE ACES!!!” like the old man’s call/shove line.  This could easily be AK or QQ prepared to fold to a shove.  If it goes 3-ways to the flop, Mike would have felt very vulnerable to any Ace on the flop, and one or both villains could have a lower pair and flop a set.  Any Q, J or T would be terrifying, so why not make them pay the maximum price now?  If both fold, he still wins $60 from the old guy, $36 from SB and $12 from the original raiser, for a total profit in the hand of $108… not bad for a $1/2 game.

The min-raise, we decided, would be the play the old guy should have made to maximize the likelihood of felting Mike.  While he was probably happy to win, he may have missed out on a lot more value.

 

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