KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “Range”

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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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!

Tippy-Top of His Range

A couple nights ago, I was playing in a private poker game at a friend’s garage.  It’s a $1/2 NL game, and about an hour in, things are going reasonably well.

On this hand, the villain raised to $15 from early-middle position.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Brian.”  Brian talks a lot and likes action.  While not an overly aggressive bluffer, he likes to see a lot of flops and is more inclined to raise even with hands that aren’t super premiums, so his range here is wider than most.

Two seats to Brian’s left, I look down at AK off-suit.  Ace of diamonds, King of spades.  So my first decision is whether to re-raise or just call in position.  I could really go either way here but decide to re-raise as this should clear out a lot of mediocre hands that people at this game like to play, and better define Brian’s range if he continues.  So I make is $50.

It folds back around to Brian, who says something like “I guess I’ll see a flop with you” that suggests his hand isn’t super strong but had flop possibilities.  After the pre-flop betting, Brian has about $300 more behind and I have him very slightly covered.

Flop ($103):  Kxx ddd.  I don’t remember the cards lower than King, other than both were eight or lower, and all diamonds.  This flop gives me top pair, top kicker, and the nut flush draw with my Ace of diamonds.  I like it!

Brian goes first, and leads out with a $50 bet.

My first thought is that he also has AK, with fits perfectly with his pre-flop play and there are 6 AK combos still available.  In that case, I want to get it all-in as I’d be free rolling with my flush draw.  Since I have the Ace of diamonds and the King of diamonds is on the board, there are very few combos he can have that flopped a flush.  Would he call $50 out-of-position pre-flop with QdJd?  JdTd?  QdTd?  Anything weaker?  Two pair hands are even more unlikely.  KQ?  Perhaps he sometimes calls $50 pre with KQ suited.  Would he have called with KQ offsuit, including the Queen of diamonds (and think the Qd would be good if another diamonds hits on the turn or river)?  The other possibility is sets, which can never be fully discounted.

I decide to shove right now.  In an earlier hand with a different villain, I shoved on the flop over his smallish check-raise and he folded top pair face up.  I’ve been experimenting a little bit recently with less conventional bet sizing, and this seems like another good spot… until Brian snap calls.

Uh-oh.

He flips over exactly Qd Jd.  This is the best possible combo he can have given this flop.  The 2nd nuts, which also reduces the number of outs for me to improve.  The turn and river are not diamonds, and Brian scoops up a $700 pot.

Was shoving a mistake?

From a results oriented view, obviously yes.  Heads up against his exact hand, I have 31.7% equity.  This is not worth risking my entire stack, although calling his flop bet leaves me in no-man’s land when he fires another bet on the turn, setting up a river shove.  Would I be able to fold on either street?

But from a process oriented view, we should give Brian a range when he donk-bets $50 on the flop.  And that range has to account for his pre-flop call of $50 from out-of-position.  I’ll assign this range:  AK, KQ, QdJd, JdTd, Td9d, 9d8d, 8d7d, and middle or bottom sets.  That’s 19 combinations.  Now I would have 61.8% equity.  If we eliminate any of the suited, connecting diamonds from his range, my equity goes up.  If we eliminate any of the KQ hands, my equity goes down.  Looked at this way, shoving isn’t terrible here; it just so happened that Brian was at the tippy-top of his range.

Sigh.

Hashtag: They Always Have It

I just returned from a weekend poker trip to New Orleans.  There were eight guys on this trip, one of whom – for purposes of this blog I’ll refer to him as “Tony” – was celebrating a birthday during the weekend.

Happy Birthday Tony!

We stayed in some fancy digs in the French Quarter, and played a lot of poker at Harrah’s New Orleans casino.  On Saturday, there were a number of interesting hands, all at blinds of $1/3.  Because this poker room allows players to buy-in up to the largest stack on the table, and also lets players straddle $6 from any position, the game plays larger than most $1/3 games, and much larger than most $1/2 games.  Let’s get started.

Hand #1 – Nut Flush on a Paired Board

This was early in my day, so I didn’t have much in the way of player-specific reads.  I have Kd Js on the button, and raise to $15 over a single limper.  I started the hand with approx. $300 and the BB is the main villain and has me covered.  The SB folds, but BB raises to $30.  He could simply be putting me on a wide range trying to leverage my position on the button, and trying to re-steal, but his raise is too small if his goal is to make me fold.  He is a middle aged white guy (like me!) making a barely minimum raise, so I need to give him credit for a strong or very strong hand.  Everyone else folds, and I call.  Heads up, in position, I’m willing to call $15 more with $52 already in the pot.  

Flop ($67):  Ad Jd 2d.  All diamonds.  He checks.  I have the King of diamonds for a nut flush draw, and middle pair.  While I could bet here as a semi-bluff, I actually have some showdown value and decide to take the free card instead.  I’m not sure he will fold any Ace to a bet.  I check.  

Turn ($67):  2c.  This card pairs the board but doesn’t otherwise change anything.  He checks again.  Does have have KK or QQ and hoping to get to a cheap showdown?  In that case, perhaps I should make at least one steal attempt, but I’m not sure he would fold, especially if he has Qd Qx.  Free cards are good, right?  So I check again.

River:  ($67) 8d.  Awesome.  This completes my nut flush.  I’m anticipating another check when he fires out a bet of $45.  I should have the best hand here, and might get a crying call if he has Ax Qd or Qd Qx.  There really isn’t much else in his pre-flop 3-betting range that can make a weaker flush here, and he wouldn’t call me without either that or better.  The Ad and Jd are on the board, and I have the Kd.  Could he be as weak as Td Tc?  I can’t imagine anything else will call a raise.  If he comes back over the top of my raise, however, I need to be concerned about AA or JJ, although I would have expected either one of these to make a small be on the turn, for value, since he would have turned a full house and would want to continue building the pot.  

I raise to $110.  With very little hesitation, he declares that he’s all-in.  Dammit!  Now I pissed at myself for raising instead of just calling, although I can hear the voices of those who advocate bet/folding and raise/folding for value as superior long-term value strategies over calling whenever you have a big, but non-nut hand.  I also here the voice of one of my favorite poker podcasters saying “hashtag: they always have it” (#theyalwayshaveit).  

While trying to get emotionally unattached from my nut flush and decide if I’m a bad enough player to donate the rest of my chips, I replay the hand, try to recall any observations about this specific player and ponder his body language when he went all-in and the meaning of his very small pre-flop 3-bet.  He seemed confident, not the least bit afraid of the fact that he cannot have the Kd.  Yes, he has to have pocket aces here.

I fold, and in an act of pure kindness that I’ll exploit if given the chance, he flashes his AA for the entire table to see.

In hindsight, I think raising was a mistake on that river, as there were too few hands that would call a raise, and his pre-flop action certainly suggested AA as part of his range, with a small raise begging to be called.

Hand #2 – Does Small Turn Bet Signal Weakness?

After Hand #1, I add another $200 to my stack.  Shortly after that, I am dealt Kh Jd in middle position, and two players limp in front of me.  What is it with “jack-king-off” and me this weekend?  I felted a woman (felted her, not felt her!) for a nearly $400 pot with this holding late the previous night, and here it is again in both Hand #1 and #2.  This time, I raise to $18 and get called by the button and one of the limpers.  I started this hand with $326 and the main villain on the button has me easily covered.

Flop ($61):  Tc 9s 7c.  This is an interesting flop, very drawy, giving me a double gutshot straight draw in addition to two over cards, while also hitting a lot of pre-flop calling ranges for flush draws, flopped straights or straight draws, combo draws, sets and more.  The first guy checks.  I want to retain the initiative, and bet $35 as a semi-bluff.  Hopefully they missed this flop badly and will fold.  Or the button will fold and I’ll have position on the other guy.  The button does not cooperate, instead raising to $85, and the other guy folds leaving us heads up, with me being out-of-position

I don’t have any reads or tells on this player, as he is new at this table, a white male who appears to be in his mid-to-late 30’s.  Since he called a raise pre-flop on the button, his range can be pretty wide but would exclude 3-betting hands like AA, KK or QQ.  For now, I’ll give him credit for possibly raising with a flush or straight draw, combo draws, and strong made hands of top pair / top kicker or better.  This range is JJ-77, Ac 2c+, Kc Jc+, Qc Jc, JT, J8s, T9, T7s, 98, 97s, 87, 86s, ATo.  

(Or:  pocket pairs from 77 through JJ, Ac along with any other club, Kc along with the Qc or Jc, Qc Jc, Ace-Ten off-suit, any JT, T9, 98 or 87, and any suited J8, T7, 97 or 86.)

The overall player pool in this poker room is very loose pre-flop.  In position, a large portion will call with virtually any connecting cards (like JT, T9, 98 or 87) or suited 1- and 2-gappers (like J8, T8, 97 or 86). 

This range includes 139 different combinations of two cards, more than 10% of all possible combinations.  Even without a pair, I have 32.7% equity against his range.  With $180 already in the pot and it costing me $50 more to call, I only need 21.7% equity to call even if I’m only assured of seeing one card.  If it’s a blank and he fires out a large turn bet, I might have to bail out.  I call.

Turn ($230): Ks.  Now I have top pair, plus the double gutshot draw, and a second flush draw is now also a possibility.

I check and the button bets $50, less than 1/4 of the pot.  This is a strangely small bet.  With so many draws possible, I would expect a much larger bet from his stronger made hands – flopped straights or sets – as there would be a lot of hands I could have that would call again and he should be protecting against the draws.  If he were semi-bluffing with a flush draw, he should be betting much more here, or else just check back and take a free card.  My range is narrower than his, as I was the pre-flop raiser and less likely to be raising with the weaker connectors and gappers that he may have called with favorable position.

Against his full range, my equity is now 60.5%.  I’m beating hands like T8, 98, 88, 87, AT, JT, and have more outs against his 2-pair hands.  Smelling weakness, I check-raise all-in for $173 on top of his bet.  Now there is $503 in the pot and it costs him $173 to call.  I wish my stack were deeper, but this is still a large enough bet to make him pause and think.  

He finally makes what looks like crying call and I flip my cards over right away.  The river is another 7, putting a pair on the board.   He turns over 99, for a flopped set & rivered full house to scoop up the pot.  I must have sold him that I was representing QJ there for a turned straight and he felt like he was gambling with the call, whereas in reality all he needed was to fade a Q or 8.  

His hand was within the range I assigned to him, but right up near the top of that range.  Once again, #theyalwayshaveit.  I still think his turn bet was curiously small on such a wet board.  Maybe he’s just not a thinking poker player, and that caused a misread on my part.  Against his exact hand, my equity was 25.3% on the flop and 18.2% on the turn.

At this point of my day, I’ve been playing about 45 minutes blasted away $500.  I take a break for a few minutes, then move to another table where I buy-in for $500 more.

Hand #3 – Donk Bets on Flop Signal Weakness

The villain in this hand is an older (early 70’s?), white haired guy, somewhat the “old man coffee” (“OMC”) type — enjoying his poker game, passing time playing fairly tight and straightforwardly.  He started this hand with about $350 in chips and I cover.  After he and a couple others limp in, I raise to $20 with QQ.  Two others call, then OMC calls.  

Flop ($83):  J 9 4 rainbow.  It checks to OMC, who bets $50.  With straightforward players, this “donk bet” (betting into the pre-flop raiser) is usually a good but not great made hand.  This looks exactly like he has AJ.  With 2-pair or better, he would be more likely to try for a check-raise, with greater confidence that his hand would still be best on the turn if it checks all around.  If he does have AJ, I may be able to get his entire stack if I’m patient.  Not too quickly, I call, and the others all fold.

Turn ($183):  7c now puts two clubs on the board.  OMC bets $25, a strangely small bet, but this doesn’t change my read that I should target him having AJ (despite my misread of a small turn bet in Hand #2, it would be an example of recency bias to change my read here).  I raise to $125 by tossing out five green chips.  I hope this somehow looks bluffy. He tanks, fidgets, squirms, appears to decide to fold and then change his mind.  OMC’s as a general rule are stubborn and hate folding top pair / top kicker hands when they’ve been sitting for a long time just to get one.  He calls.

River ($333):  4s.  This is a great card for me, pairing the bottom card on the board.  If somehow he had donk bet with top two pair (J9) he’s now counterfeited.  He checks, I slide out $200 to be sure I cover his remaining ~ $150 or so.  He says “you’re going to put me all in aren’t you?”  And calls with an expression on his face that says “I know I’m beat, but I’ve gone too far in this hand to give up now.”  Without waiting for me to show first, he flips over KJ, confirming my read was almost exactly right.  My QQ is good and I drag home a large pot.

In this case, #theyalwayshaveit turned out to be good for me.  He had it, but “it” was a hand that I beat and the straightforward nature of his play enabled me to confidently play for stacks with a 1-pair hand.

Hand #4 – Can I Fold KK Pre-Flop?

After the previous hand, OMC left the table and was replaced by another older guy (late 60’s?) who was more of an “old man beer” (“OMB”) than “old man coffee.”  He was more social than the first guy, but hadn’t been playing long enough for any other reads prior to this hand.  At the start of this hand he has about $250-300 and I have him covered.

After OMB limps in under the gun and the next player folds, I look down at Kh Kd and raise to $17.  A woman calls all-in for her last $11 and there is one other call.  Then OMB re-raises to $85.  WTF?

Wait… did he limp in earlier or was he the big blind?  Just to be absolutely sure, I confirm the position of the button on the table as it is in the corner opposite my seat.  Then carefully count small blind, then big blind, then OMB.  Yes, he definitely limped then re-raised.  Dammit!  People love to do this with pocket aces.  

I ponder Dan Harrington’s seminal books on cash games, where he says no one is good enough to put an opponent on exactly AA and be right often enough to justify folding pocket kings.  Since you can re-load anytime in a cash game, his philosophy is to just take your lumps when this happens (unless playing with very deep stacks), so I consider just closing my eyes and shoving all-in.

Then I ponder Occam’s Razor, a problem solving principle that says when there are multiple explanations for an occurrence, the simplest one is usually better.  That’s a fancy way of saying #theyalwayshaveit, the simplest explanation for large bets.

And I ponder former poker coach Bill Hubbard, who constantly asked, based on what we know about a villain, “what does he have and how will he play it?”  Working backwards, how did he play it (limp / re-raise) and what does that mean he has?  #theyalwayshaveit, AA in this case.

And I ponder myself.  I have to be a good enough poker player to fold here.  But it’s a major ego destroyer.  I mean, like, c’mon, this is KKing David’s poker blog.  I’m KKing David.  I have KK here.  This pot is supposed to be mine.  After getting beat up in Hands #1 and #2, this is the kind of hand I need to get un-stuck.

This time, I win the battle with my emotions, and reluctantly make the disciplined fold.  Since one player is all-in for $11, we get to see the runout.  She has 99 and, sure enough, OMB has AA.  There are no aces, nor kings, nor nines on the board and OMB scoops up a modest pot.  

Deep breathing exercises…

Hand #5 – He Can Only Have Pocket Queens (or Quad Jacks???)

A new player has recently joined the table, two seats to my left.  The entire time I’ve been at this table, one of the other guys on this road trip has been on my immediate right.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Zach.”  Shortly after the new player arrived, Zach softly commented to me to beware of this new player, who seems to be a very strong and aggressive player, although he is drinking a beer and it’s 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon.  I notice his ability to leverage favorable position against passive players.  

In this hand, he is the main villain in the cutoff seat, with a stack around $550, which I cover.  The button straddles for $6 and three players call.  With my first AA of the day, I make it $35.  The villain tanks, counting and re-stacking his  chips in a manner that tells me he is thinking about re-raising.  Zach told me later that it took so long for this guy to act that he was ready to call the clock on him.  I just wanted to see him re-raise, but ultimately he calls $35.  The button folds, but there are two more out-of-position callers.

Flop ($150):  J high and very dry.  I don’t recall exactly the two lower cards, other than there was no flush draw nor possible made straight.  It is checked to me, and I bet $100.  The villain calls almost immediately.

His range for 3-betting pre-flop might be TT+, AQ+ absent any other reads.  This is important, as his pondering a 3-bet indicates something in the weaker part of this range or slightly weaker, and also rules out – assuming my read is correct – weaker calling hands.  While the player pool here in New Orleans is very loose pre-flop, there hasn’t been much light 3-betting pre-flop, and the straddle and callers in front of me has already push the bet-sizing above normal ranges.   He would definitely 3-bet with AA or KK, so that leaves his pre-flop calling range as 88-QQ, AJ+.  I heavily discount the TT, 99, 88, AJ part of this range as I don’t think he would take so long to decide to just call my $35 bet.  

Now he has confidently called $100 on a J-high flop.  There is no T on the board, so he cannot have two over cards with a straight draw (AK, AQ, KQ).  We can rule those hands out.  He would have to think a bit before calling with TT or any lower pocket pair, so we can rule those out also.  I’ve already ruled out AJ based on the pre-flop read, so that leaves QQ and JJ and nothing else.  If he flopped a set of Jacks here, it makes sense for him to just call and see if either of the other players wants to come along too, but they both folded.  There are six combinations of QQ and three combinations of JJ.  

Turn ($350):  A low brick arrives that really changes nothing.  I check, partly for pot control as my hand is still only one pair and I don’t want to play for stacks yet, and partly to see what he does.  He checks  back.

River ($350):  Another J.  Ugh!!!!!  I check.  At first, I hate this card, as an instinctive reaction to seeing the top card on the board pair.  What if he has AJ or KJ – even though I previously ruled these out?  

He bets $200.  Gulp!  I take a deep breath and re-play the hand and re-evaluate my reads based on the action on each street.  I have to trust my reads!  There are still six combos of QQ that he can have, but now only one combo of JJ.  #theyalwayshaveit… in this case “it” is either QQ 85.7% of the time, or JJ 14.3% of the time.  It is an unusually precise read.  Notice the contrast between this read and Hand #2 above where he could have over 130 combinations.  I’m confident that his pre-flop chip handling signaled thoughts about re-raising.  Perhaps I should check-raise all-in here, which would really be sick, but that seems very unwise.  I call and he shows QQ.  Cha-ching!

Zach later pointed out, and I agree, that his river bet there was terrible.  The villain was in a “way ahead / way behind” situation.  The weakest hand I could would beat him is KK, which will almost never fold there.  Most players with a better hand won’t think as much as I did (a flaw? or a gift?) and would just call.  And the strongest hand that he beats would be TT, which will almost never call.  If you can’t get a better hand to fold nor a weaker hand to call, and you are last to act, just check back and go to showdown.  I’m not sure if he thought he was betting for value or if he knew he was turning his QQ into a bluff, or if he even knew why he was betting on that river.

I drag home another large pot, just glad to have turned my day around.

Tippy Top

Last night I was playing in a local house game, when this happened.

A player I don’t know straddled for $4 on the button.  I thought I heard someone call him Reuben once, so for now I’ll refer to him as “Reuben.”  He’s a younger guy – maybe early 30’s – and plays fairly loose.  Tonight, he has been winning thanks to some good cards.

Effective stacks in this hand are $150.

After one caller, I raised to $14 with AKo.  In hindsight, I should have raised more, perhaps to $16 or $18, although that would not have affected the outcome.  Just pointing out that my raise was too small.

Reuben calls to defend his straddle, and the other limper also called.

Flop ($42):  As Kc 7s.

This is a great flop for me, with top 2 pair.  It is checked to me.  How much should I bet?

There is no way I’m going to slow play this or try to trap.  There is a flush draw, either player might have an Ace that could improve to a weaker 2-pair, and I’m not giving a free card to any gutshot Broadway draws.

I bet $20, just under 1/2 of the pot.

Reuben raises to $40, a minimum raise, and the other guy folds.

In a hand like this, I really don’t need to try to figure out what his full pre-flop straddle defending call range is.  Much simpler is to consider his range right now, divided into hands that are ahead of mine, and hands that are behind mine.

The only hands that are ahead are sets:  AA, KK, and 77.  If Reuben had AA or KK, he would 3-bet pre-flop.  (Even if I included these in his range, there is only one combination of each, after considering the A and K on the board and A/K in my hand.)  There are 3 combinations of 77.

I am ahead of EVERYTHING ELSE, with the exception of AK which would be a tie (and I also exclude from his range as he would 3-bet pre-flop with this as well).

I am ahead of other 2-pair hands (A7 and K7, 6 combinations of each).

I am ahead of everything else, Ax, Kx, draws…  While I don’t know how many combinations might be in his range, that he would min-raise me with on this flop, it really doesn’t matter because I know for sure I’m ahead.

So against any kind of range, I’m way ahead.

After calling his $20, the pot will be $122 and I have $103 behind.  I go all in.

Reuben calls and turns over 77, the tippy top of his range, and his set holds up.

I have to find comfort in the knowledge that I played this perfectly OK.  Can I every really fold there?  (No.)  Should I try to pot control?  (No.)  If I don’t shove right now, won’t all of the chips end up in the middle anyway, since effective stacks are only 75 BBs?  (Yes.)  Had I raised more pre-flop, might Reuben have folded his 77’s?  (No.)  Given the same set of facts, would I want to play any differently on the flop?  (Not really.)

Sometimes you just run into the top of a villain’s range.  In this case, the tippy top.  The real danger is when you let one hand like this change the way you play.

PS – a bit later, another one of the regulars walked in and joined the game.  I’ll call him “Myles.”  His arrival has nothing to do with this post, other than “Myles” told me recently that he just learned that I write this blog, and wondered why he hadn’t been mentioned in any of the posts.  Now he has.

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…

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip… Uh Oh!

Dear Readers,
Sorry for the bad beat story to follow here, but you KNOW that’s how I get these out of my system.  At least I hope to get it out of my system, ’cause dammit it still hurts.  If you don’t like bad beat stories, consider yourself forewarned to stop now.
Last month I was at the Harrah’s Cherokee casino in western North Carolina during the WSOP Circuit stop there.  I had a really bad cooler in a cash game, as described here.  One of the guys traveling with me (I’ll call him “Chad”) said it was the kind of hand that leaves you restless and angry all night, such that when you wake up the next morning, the first thing out of your mouth is “Fuck!”
Yesterday Chad hosted a 18-player tournament.  This was a bonus event for some regular cash game players, essentially a free roll, with a prize pool of $2,770.  Other than $20 to add-on some extra chips at the first break, there was no cost to me or the other players.  The prize pool was to be divided among the top 4 finishers, 45%, 30%, 20%, 5%.
When we got down to one table of 9 players, we all agreed to take $100 each, then divide the remaining $1,870 among the final 3 finishers, 50%, 30%, 20%.  I thought this was a nice way to mitigate some of the risk.
At the first hand after the next break we were still 9-handed, with antes of $100 and blinds at 400/800.  I have about 25 BBs remaining, which is about 2/3 of the average stack size.  At this point, the play has tightened up and therefore I want to ramp up my aggression slightly.
In UTG+3, all fold to me and I look down at Ad 9d, and raise to 2,100.  The player to my immediate left (I’ll call him “Andrew”) 3-bets to 4,200 and everyone else folds.  Andrew’s stack is almost identical to mine.
I have not played in tournaments with Andrew, but have played with him frequently in cash games.  His 3-bet range is wider than many of the players, including 99+, AJ+, KQ type of hands, and he will C-bet a large percentage of the time especially in position.  Calling him here is debatable, but his 3-bet raise was rather small so he might just be hoping I was raising light and will go away.  I call out of position – in hindsight I should not be doing that for 20% of my tournament stack, but that’s what I did.
The flop was Qd Jd 3d.  I have an ace-high flush, THE STONE COLD FREAKING NUTS!
 
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Zip-a-dee-ay!
My, oh my, what a wonderful day?
Plenty of sunshine heading my way.
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Zip-a-dee-ay!

Oh, Mr. Blue-bird – on – my – shoul-der.
It’s the truth, its actual.
And everything is satisfactual.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Zip-a-dee-ay!
Wonderful feeling.
Wonderful da-a-ay!

I check, and Andrew bets 6,500.  I’ve got him!  He’s now invested more than half of his stack in this pot.  Maybe he has AA or KK or AQ.  I count my chips and have the 6,500 to call, plus 8,700 more. “All-in” I announce, after some theatrics with the counting and shuffling.
Andrew looks pained, and tanks for awhile, saying repeatedly “I have to call” and “if this how it’s going to be, then so be it” and finally calls.  He has me covered by exactly 100 chips.  The pot is just over 50 BBs and more than 1.3x the average stack size.  Winning this pot will put me  in a position to threaten the biggest stacks at the table.  Fan-damn-tastic!!!  Zip-a-dee-doo-dah some more.
Then Andrew turns over QQ and my heart surges up into my throat.  He has top set, with two cards to come that can make him a full house or quads.  This is much stronger than I was expecting given how long he was thinking before he called.  I turn over mine and stand up.  It’s like I’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends.  I’ve just been crowned King of the Prom and handed revolver with two bullets in it for a mandatory game of Russian Roulette in the same gesture.
Click goes the revolver.  The turn card is Ks.  Missed.  Maybe this time the movie will end differently.  77% of the time I will win here, with one card to come. He has 10 outs.
The dealer burns and turns.  3h on the river.  BANG goes the revolver, as Andrew completes his full house.  I feel like my brains just exploded all over the table.  I already know what the first word out of mouth will be tomorrow morning.
Next I have to exit stage right.  I try to do it gracefully, which is difficult when your FUCKING BRAINS ARE SPLATTERED ALL OVER A POKER TABLE.  Andrew has to wipe sweat off his hand before he can shake mine, which we do awkwardly, in the manner of combatants who both know an injustice has occured.  Of course, that is what we signed up for.
I walk straight out to Chad’s deck.  After a couple minutes, I text him – he’s only a few feet away, but inside the house – to request a bottle of water.  I cannot even walk back into the room to get my own.
Here is the thing:  I played well. Early in the tournament I lost a hand with straight < full house that took me down to less than 4,000 out of my starting 10,000 chips.  Patiently, I fought back, and doubled up to about 12,000 on the last hand before the $20 add-on gave me 5,000 more.
I look back at the remaining players, knowing I can play with any of them, knowing I could go deep in this tournament, knowing now good it would feel to bring home the extra cash.  Knowing the pain of being on the outside, looking in.
A few minutes later, Andrew is the next player to bust out of the tournament.

Fancy Play Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hand: Qs 7s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail of Tears

This happened Sunday while at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, in Cherokee, NC during the World Series of Poker Circuit stop.

For the uninitiated, this casino is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the only federally recognized Indian tribe in North Carolina.  Prior to the opening of this casino in 1997, this tribe was best known for its forced removal from its traditional home to a designated area west of the Mississippi River in 1838, under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  An estimated 4,000 Cherokee died as a result of starvation, cold or disease.

But this story is about my own trail of tears…

I was playing a 2/5 cash game in the main poker room, having played in a very large tournament the previous day. For a long time I felt I was being too passive and my image was not good, but the cards and action weren’t giving me many opportunities to change that, at least without too much risk of spewing away a lot of chips. I topped off my stack a couple of times, for a total buy-in of $800, when I looked down at 5d5h, and raised to $20 after an opening limper. My stack was approx. $620 and I am 8 hours into the session.

5’s had been hot at this table all day. I made quad 5555’s once and I’ve seen at least 4 other sets of 5’s.  Two players call, then a very good but loose/aggressive girl in the BB calls and the opening limper calls. On a flop of Ad Td 2s, it checks all the way around. Now comes 5s on the turn and it checks to me. I bet $75 and one old man calls. He has a grumpy scowl that say “you can’t push me off a flush draw with that bet.” After another fold, the girl in the BB check-raises all-in, and she has me covered. WTF?

She has been hopping out of her seat a lot to go chat with a boyfriend at the next table, massaging his shoulders, discussing hands, making out, whatever. Since she joined the table, she made several very aggressive moves, like 3-betting with QTo (which pushed a AQss out of the hand but got re-raised by a very short stack so short that she had to call and show. AQ would have made top 2 pair, but here QT held up to win with just one pair). On another hand she called a raise on the button with something like 53o and made a wheel straight and won a nice pot. More recently she has twice bet $200+ on scary boards and got caught bluffing. Once another woman at the table had QQ and was betting on the flop and turn, then checked the river when a 3rd diamond appeared on a T-high board.  Another time a different old man had pocket JJ’s and flop was JJx. She tried to push him off with a big all-in bet on the turn.

I got the impression that she and her boyfriend are traveling WSOP Circuit grinders. While some of her plays may be questionable or her ranges may be too wide, she clearly knows what she is doing and her strategy is to put lots of pressure on weaker players. Clearly she knows  that most ordinary / routine players make their decisions based on the bet-sizing and not due to the logic of the play. She bought in deep and keeps putting other players to difficult decisions with large bets. I had actually moved to an empty seat two seats to my right to get closer to her left.  This is the first time we’ve tangled with each other with any sizable pot.

It’s hard to put her on a range here, as the board now has both diamond and spade flush draws on it (Ad Td 2s 5s), and she over-called pre-flop from the BB knowing it would be a multi-way flop. But let’s try:

She could have the Nuts (or could she?):  43, suited or unsuited, 16 combinations. But really, did she call a pre-flop raise out of position on everybody, with 43?  It’s very hard to give her credit for that, but if somehow that is what she has here, I suppose it is consistent with the Check/Raise All-In on such a drawy board.

Other hands that beat me:  TT, 3 combos.  I’m not going to include AA here, as she certainly would have re-raised pre-flop after my raise and two callers.  After my raise to $20 and 2 callers, I think she might have made a large 3-bet with TT from the BB, but I cannot be 100% sure.  So it has to be in her range now, and checking the flop with her set would be OK with an Ace out there and so many players.

Strong hands that I beat:  22, AT, 12 combos.  Again, I think these are more likely to lead out on the turn after no one bet on the flop, for all the reasons mentioned.

Draws:  The biggest imaginable draw would be ATss, for top 2 pair plus a nut flush draw. But there are other combination draws with KQ, KJ, QJ of either diamonds or spades having flush draws + gutshots, Txss having middle pair plus a spade flush draw, Axss having top pair plus a spade flush draw. If I include any Ax spades, T9ss+, any KQ, KJ or QJ spades or diamonds I get 19 semi-bluff combinations (not including ATss, which I have already accounted for in the prior paragraph).

I would expect her to lead out with a healthy bet on the turn with all of her strong hands – straights, sets, top 2 pair, due to the presence of both spade and diamond flush draw possibilities.  With 5 players, it would easy to have at least one player chasing diamonds and another player chasing spades.  This is the time to punish the drawing hands, and once one of them calls, the others will too.  Why risk letting it check around again and giving them a free card (plus any gutshots to a Broadway straight) when a strong bet is likely to get called at least once?  If she checked, and everybody else also checked, and the river is any diamond, any spade, or any K, Q or J, her poor position leaves her in quite a pickle trying to figure out where she stands.  So the Check/Raise All In play, which typically represents great strength, appears more consistent with having a big draw than having a big made hand.

Against this entire range, my equity is 59.3%. On the other hand, if I were in her position and had one of the hands that beats my 555’s, I would lead out with a strong bet here, so it is questionable whether 43 or TT even belong in her range.  For that matter, it is questionable whether 43 belongs in the range from the pre-flop action, but I want to include it as a way of thinking about all the hands that could either have the strength for such a large bet or could have enough equity via a big draw plus whatever fold equity they might have to make this a +EV play.

It seems like most of the time she is going to have a big spade draw with the ace of spades. That gives her top pair plus a nut flush draw picked up on the turn, giving her plenty of equity (or so she might think).  A narrow range looks like mostly 22 or AsTs, although it would be a mistake on my part to try to narrow her range that much.

So… (drum roll please) I call for my entire remaining stack, over $500, and she turns over 43 off suit. The river is 6c and I go searching for a beer into which I can pour my trail of tears.

Here is a link to watch the hand and its resulting $1,350+ pot on ShareMyPair.

Two days later, I’m still trying to figure out if I am supposed to be good enough, or to become good enough, to be able to fold in that situation.

I’m also fascinated (whilst participating in) the emotional and financial variance that comes from one card.  When I called, I still had 10 outs to make a better hand and win.  If one of those had come, I’d be singing a happy tune and buying dinner for friends.

Am I supposed to become detached enough not to feel the pain (or pleasure)?  As a human being, it just seems wrong to want to strip away all the emotions from losing / winning in a competitive activity, however much pain I’m still in today.

Bottom Set = No Good on Dry Flop

Here is an instructional hand that I played online recently, in Bovada’s “Zone Poker” game, at the micro stakes level with blinds of $0.10 – 0.25.

For the uninitiated, Zone Poker is a lightning fast game, where you can click “Fold Now” at anytime after the cards are dealt, and not only is your hand automatically folded when the action gets to you, but you are also immediately re-seated at a newly formed table with a new group of players to start another hand.  This takes anonymity to a new level.  In Bovada’s regular cash games, all players are anonymous – i.e., only identified by their seat number and not by any actual or screen name – but over the course of several dozen hands you can observe each player’s habits – loose, tight, bluffs a lot, defends blinds aggressively, etc.  But you cannot recognize a player from the previous day or last week and recall that “PokerBum123” is a certain type of player based on the prior sessions.

With Zone Poker, EACH HAND is with a new group of players, so you don’t even have the benefit of knowing how they played the last 10 or 20 hands in the current session.

This results in very polarized play:  a lot of players play in a very straightforward, “ABC Poker” manner, or they make large and frequent bluffs.  Any style in between tends to get crushed.

Here is a link to a replay of the hand.

I am at a 6-handed table, and have the dealer button, and a starting stack of $30.35 (the maximum buy-in at this table with blinds of $0.10 – 0.25 is $25.00, so I’m up a little bit.  I look down at 33 and it seems like I’ve had 33 or 22 dealt a lot in the last several sessions and surely one of these times I’m going to flop a set and win a huge pot from some unsuspecting villain.  (Of course, I have similar thoughts about many starting hands, but I digress.)  The Hijack and Cutoff seats both limp in for $0.25 and I raise to $0.75.

Some people might not raise here, but my rationale is to build the pot a little bit just in case the set comes, so the next round of betting one-half pot or three-quarters pot sized bet will be large enough to mean something.  Plus, with certain flop textures, I may be able to take down the pot with a strong continuation bet even if I miss.  The Big Blind (BB) calls and so doe stye Hijack seat (HJ = 2 to the right of the button), and the Cutoff folds.

Here comes the flop:  ($2.60)  9s 4c 3d.  Cha-ching!  Now it’s time to make some money off these chumps.  Because I raised pre-flop, whereas most players would just limp in if their strategy is set mining here, my set of 3’s is well-disguised.  Think about it:  if you were developing a range of hands for me based on my position and raise (remember, I’m a totally anonymous player), would 33 be part of that range?

The BB checks and HJ bets $0.25, the minimum amount.  That’s a strange and fishy amount, and probably means (1) he’s just a bad player who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or (2) a blocking bet hoping to preempt me from making a larger continuation bet, typically indicating a player chasing a draw (the only possible draws on this flop are straight draws with 76, 75, 65, 52, A5 or A5), or (3) a weak made hand like 9x, 4x, or 88-55, and trying to find out where he stands, or (4) some kind of disguised trap or setup for a bluff on a later street.

I’m not going for any of that, so I raise to $1.50, trying to think about the bet increments that will be needed on the turn and river to build up the largest pot possible.  To my delight, BB calls.  Then HJ re-raises to $2.75, the minimum re-raise amount.

Huh?

Zone Poker only gives you 15 seconds to make each decision, with no option to request extra time (their regular cash games give you 30 seconds, with the option of requesting 30 extra seconds if needed).  So I must process this quickly.  FIrst I note how dry the flop is.  943, rainbow.  No flush draws at all.  Not many straight draws – see above – and many of those hands should have folded to my pre-flop raise.  I’ve learned that most of the time a Villain raises or re-raises pre-flop, they have 2-pair or better.  After that, they probably have top pair or an over pair.  Over 85% of the time, they will have one of these possibilities.

Rather than shovel my money in as fast as possible, I decide to call and buy a few extra second to think about this.  The BB also calls.

Hands that I can bet include:  2-pair?  That requires starting cards of 94, 93 or 43.  Nope, not in any decent player’s range, not even at this low level.  Over pair?  Nope.  The flop is 9-high, so over pairs include TT, JJ, QQ, KK and AA.  I think ALL of those would have raised pre-flop from the HJ seat, either right away (when he limped) or as a re-raise after I raised on the button, having set a trap by limping with a very strong hand.  Top pair?  Maybe but not likely.  A9 or K9 should be wary of my enthusiasm for the hand.  I raised pre-flop, indicating strength, and raised on the flop, further suggesting that I might be the one with an over pair.  Certainly AA-TT is in my range here.  A thinking player would slow down after I raised to $1.50.

Besides, the BB called both my re-raise and HJ’s re-re-raise from out of position.  Is he the real villain in this hand, sitting there with a monster?

After eliminating 2-pair and over pair hands, and reducing the likelihood of HJ having top pair, now I have to worry about sets.  Since I have a set of 33’s, either or both villains here could have 44 or 99 (the latter being more likely for BB as a calling hand after my pre-flop raise, and less likely HJ as a limp/calling hand from the outset).  If this is the case, I’m toast!

Turn card:  ($10.85)  Jh.  Now no flush is possible, and nothing really seems to have changed.

BB checks again, and HJ bets $1.50.  Being wary, I just call, and BB now raises all-in.  HJ quickly calls, and both villains have more chips in their stacks than I do.

Holy Bankruptcy, Batman!

I’m not positive which one of them has a bigger set than mine, but surely one (or both) of them does.  I fold.  One of them might be an idiot, and I’ll find out which one in a few seconds, but not both of them.  (Not that i can use the information for any advantage in Zone Poker, however.)

BB shows J9 for top 2-pair.  HJ shows 99 for top set on the flop and wins the final pot of approx. $70 – which is freaking huge at these stakes.

I’m thrilled to have ‘only’ lost five bucks on this hand and $25 + change remaining in my stack.

Ok Bovada, how about giving me 2 more cards and let’s try again…

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