KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “straddle”

If I Had a Time Machine

If I had a time machine, it would be a very simple time machine.  My time machine would only allow me to go back in time; I don’t need to see the future before it gets here.  Not far back either – a maximum of about 15 minutes would be enough.

You know all those times you say something that doesn’t come out right and you know it immediately?  Like when Mrs. asks if I like HGTV, or do I want to go to the grocery store.  Or Mom calls and asks why I don’t call her more often.  Many self-inflicted kerfuffles could be fixed with a quick trip to my time machine.

If I had a time machine, my life would be more harmonious.  I’d also be rich.

With my time machine, I’d do-over a few poker hands from this week.

First, there was that hand where the button straddled for five BBs, several players just limped in and I put out a big raise from the cutoff seat.  I just wanted to pounce on the limpers’ chips, holding decent but far from dominant cards.  The small blind — for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Dave” — called rather quickly, so fast the thought flashed through my mind that my raise had been large enough that it should give him pause.  After two more callers (jeez, some of these guys want to see every flop!), another original limper re-raised all-in with a short stack.  I’ll call him “Andy.”

Andy’s limp/re-raise seemed unusual, in the sense that there were three limps before his.  Why wouldn’t he go ahead and raise the first time around if he has a monster hand?  Now the pot has approx. 195 BBs in it already and I have the other players covered.  It will only cost me 38 BBs to call Andy.  With juicy odds, I’m not folding, but a fancier thought enters my head.  If I shove all-in here, I can drive out Dave and the other callers and isolate Andy.  With lots of dead money in the pot, this would be a profitable play.

As I announce my all-in bet, Dave slides his entire stack into the center so fast it gets there while the sound waves emanating from my mouth are still moving across the table.  I think back to his original limp as the first player to act after the button straddle, and to his rapid response call of my original large (30 BBs) raise.  While I’m retracing these steps in my mind, a fourth player also calls, explaining later the pot was too big, too tempting not to join Andy and me as lemmings following each other off the cliff.

The fact that I have an ace reduces the probability of Dave having two aces, and also is irrelevant.  A reduced probability is not a zero probability.  I like Dave, however, and think he likes me.  Of course, he does have pocket AA, a/k/a American Airlines, and flips them over without forcing me to show my soul crushing hand first, despite protocol dictating that I show first.  It’s easier to be magnanimous when you are scooping in a pot with 900 BBs, plus or minus a few.  There are some speculative comments as to what I had while I suffer silently.

If I had a time machine, I’d play that quite differently.

Second, there was a hand later that night when I was in middle position with 6s 3s.  One nickname for 6-3 is the Spanish Inquisition, in reference to a Monty Python movie line, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

Before the action got to me, however, another player raised to 8 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Ray S.”  Still wounded from Dave’s ambush, I fold.  Playing junky cards like these – low, suited, with two gaps – is a losing proposition.  Playing from behind sometimes works, but starting out with the lead is smarter.  Ray S. does get a couple of callers, so we see a flop of Kc 8h 7s.  Everybody checks.  The turn is 5s.  Had I called pre-flop, now I would have an open-ended straight draw with my 6, plus a spade flush draw, with the 4s potentially giving me a straight flush.  Now Ray S. bets and gets two callers.

When you are running bad at poker, the badness comes in all forms.  Sure enough the 4s comes, and I wish I had my time machine.  At this game, there is a straight flush piggy – a jackpot that builds every week and is paid out when someone makes a straight flush.  The piggy is now 540 BBs.  Ray S. shows pocket KK.  He flopped top set and decided to check the flop for deception.

Third, there was one more hand that same night where I raised pre-flop with QJ.  Some poker pros called this hand Hawaii, as in “if you don’t play QJ for a year you will save enough money to go to Hawaii.”  Another player – I’ll call him “Rob,” makes a massive re-raise.  My raise was 6 BBs.  Rob goes to 50 BBs.  Is this a show of strength or just a move to try to blow me out of the hand?  He still gets one caller.  Some of these guys want to see every flop.  I want to see this one.  But I don’t have a time machine, I’m still bruised from shoving into Dave’s aces and bleeding internally from the curses of the Spanish Inquisition.  And someday I might like to go back to Hawaii, so I fold.

The flop is JT9, with two hearts.  That would give me top pair, plus an open-ended straight draw.  If I were in the hand, with a large pot and modest remaining stack, I would cheerfully get it all-in here.  Rob bets about 50 BBs more, and the other player calls.  The turn card is a K, the river a blank, and Rob shows Ah Kh to take it down.  He wasn’t going anywhere on that flop!

Fourth, a different night of the week.  The player to my right raises to 10 BBs.  For purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Gary.”  With TT, I call and there are two other callers and we see a flop of 764.  Gary bets 35 BBs.  His large continuation bet indicates a very big pocket pair, like AA or KK.  He’s been studying poker rather furiously over the last few months, trying to improve his game, with one result being much greater aggression.  Another result has been better vision into what’s happening when things get all wonky.  I think he might be able to fold a big over pair on a board like this, if he realizes that his hand is pretty transparent.  When it becomes obvious that you have AA or KK, and another player raises or shoves on the flop, you are toast (most of the time), and this flop connects with set-mining hands like 77, 66 or 44.

So I shove, pretty quickly and aggressively.  Gary looks startled, as he should.  He had about 140 BBs at the start of this hand, and I have him covered.  He asks me, did you flop a set?  Oh well, he says, I guess if you did then you got me, and he puts in the rest of his chips.  It WAS obvious what he had, at least I got that part right.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and spare myself the misery of being right about his hand, right about his ability to smell trouble, and wrong about his willingness to surrender.  Two out of three ain’t good.

Fifth,  there was the hand where I was dealt AA later that same night (or more accurately, in the wee hours of the following morning), we were playing short-handed.  There is a small raise to 3 BBs and Gary calls.  I re-raise to 11 BBs and both call.  Here we go!  The flop was 7c 6s 4s, the same as the hand above only with different suits.  Should that be a tell?

I bet 15 BBs and both call.  The turn is 7s.  This is gross – it pairs the top card on the board and fills out a flush.  Gary checks and I check too.  On the button is a player who, for purposes of this blog, I’ll call “Zach.”  Zach can be very aggressive when he smells weakness, and is sometimes prone to excess aggression towards the end of a long poker session.  He bets 40 BBs and Gary folds.  As the original pre-flop raiser to 3 BBs, it is entirely possible that Zach has a pocket pair higher than 7’s, perhaps including one spade.  It’s also possible he has something that includes a 5 and flopped a straight draw.  Or he could have trip 777’s or a made flush or full house already.

The board is almost perfect for him to apply pressure, which he will do here with very high frequency.  I double check and do not have the Ace of Spades.  Nevertheless, I call.  This is now a leveling war.  He knows that I 3-bet pre-flop, indicating strength.  I know that he calls my 3-bets when in favorable position at the table – and late in a long session – with a wide range.  He knows that I’m trying for pot control when I check this turn, or perhaps have a weaker hand like AK.  I know that he likes to apply pressure and his bet is not necessarily indicative of a better hand than mine.  He knows that I don’t automatically surrender to his big bets.  (Earlier I called a small pre-flop raise from Gary with A9o.  After another caller, Zach re-raised more than the size of the pot, a move popularized by Dan Harrington as the “squeeze play.”   After Gary folded, I shoved with a short stack and doubled up through Zach’s king-high.)  I know that he knows that I know that he knows…

Perhaps neither of us really know what level the other is on.  My flop bet was deceptively small (note to self:  when doing this over in time machine mode, make a man-sized bet on this flop!), so despite the pre-flop 3-bet, my true hand strength is probably under-represented.

The river is the Ts, putting four spades on the board.  [insert curse words]  I check again, and Zach slides his entire stack into the middle.  There is no way I can call now.  I flip my aces face up into the muck, and Zach smiles as he shows a bluff, with 54 and no spade.  My read on the turn was right, but the river card made it impossible to continue.  The badness of running bad comes in all forms.

But I gotta tell y’all, and this is absolutely true, if I had a time machine I’d be rich!

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Tilting in My Favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        

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

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

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

I call.  11th domino.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Butterfly Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn butterfly!

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What Difference Does It Make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please leave your comments below.

Also, if you enjoy this blog, please follow / like / share / post / tweet all about it to help spread the word.

 

Overbet All-in on the River

Last night I was playing $1/2 no limit Hold’em in a private house game, where I am a regular.  It was after 3 am and we were down to 5-handed play when this hand occured.

Before describing the hand, some background and table dynamics are needed…

The group was talkative and lively, despite the late hour.  Straddling on the button was frequent.  There were some deep stacks.  I had about $280 to start this hand.  When there are only five players, the dynamics change a lot from a full table, with much wider ranges being played, and much more bluffing and re-bluffing.

The ‘villain’ in this hand (we’ll call him “Myles” for purposes of this post) is one of the more perceptive players at the table.  His hand-reading skills are excellent, and he’s constantly thinking about what other players have based on their playing style, betting patterns, and physical tells.  We’ve played together many times.

Usually he perceives me as very tight – once he called me the “tightest player in the Triad” (note to “Myles”… we live in the Triangle, not the Triad… but I digress).

Not long before this hand, while also playing 5-handed, “Myles” had posted a $6 straddle on the button.  (Dear readers, if you aren’t familiar with straddles, this is a 3rd blind bet voluntarily placed by a player prior to looking at his cards.  The pre-flop betting action action begins with the player to the left of the straddle, so the straddler buys the privilege of acting last on this round of betting with the option of raising when the action gets to him as is normally the case with the BB.  This game follows the “Mississippi Straddle” rule, which allows a straddle from any position in any amount, and this is frequently used on the button to effectively raise the stakes on a hand where the straddler will have position on everyone else during every round of betting.)  Anyway, “Myles” straddled for $6 on the button, and I am in the small blind with Kc Qc.  I call $6, then immediately realize this was a mistake and I should have raised with a hand this strong.  Playing this hand passively from the worst position at the table, with multiple opponents, is just terrible.  It would be better to take the initiative at the outset.

There were 2 callers, then “Myles” raises $30 more, tossing his chips out in a splashy manner.  Often he stacks his chips neatly and slides them out, this time they scattered across the felt in front of him.

Now I’m even madder about not raising myself.  Is he just trying to steal the pot?  Did he wake up with a big hand after straddling?  Is he F.O.S?  Does he read everybody else as weak?  Have we all been playing way too long?  Should I cash out and go home before making a costly mistake?  If I re-raise here, what will he do with the stronger part of his range, say… TT+ / AQs+?  The weaker part of his range?  In all cases here, his range is pretty wide, and somewhat polarized.

Knowing his perceptiveness, as well as his willingness to bluff-raise from the straddle position (not always, but sometimes), I decide to re-raise to $100.  This is a very bold move, and represents a stronger hand than I actually have.  My range for limping / re-raising (being known at the “tightest player in the Triad”), even in the wee hours of the morning playing 5-handed, is narrower than this.  “Myles” tanks for a long time, asking if I want to get it all-in now or wait until the flop.  He seems to be seriously thinking about shoving here, but finally folds, saying he has pocket JJs.  Just to get in his head a little bit, I show him my cards and he realizes I would have had to fold if he had shoved about $200 more, and perhaps also realizes I’m not always as tight as the label “Tightest Player in the Triad” would suggest.  Just for shits and giggles, I ask the dealer to run out the board, which would have given me two clubs (including the Ac) on the flop and the nut flush card on the turn.  (Side note:  Wow!)

On to the hand that is the subject of this post.

“Myles” is the straddler again on the button, putting me in the SB.  I call $6, one or two others call, and “Myles” checks his option.  The flop is all diamonds, something like Jd 8d 6d.  I recall that one of my cards was red, but am unsure (a hazard of the wee hours) which one, and unsure if it was a diamond or heart, so I take a second look and announce that I’m checking to see if I have a diamond in my hand.  This also gives me an opportunity to pause and develop a plan for the hand.  If I have a flush draw, do I want to make aggressive semi-bluffs, representing that I already have a flush while having the draw as a my back-up plan?  Or do I want to chase the draw, calling others’ bets but not betting or raising until the flush arrives?  If I have some other hand with showdown value, such as a pair, 2-pair or a set, do I want to bet aggressively to protect against someone with a single diamond improving to a flush?  Or should I be more cautious and try to keep the pot small in case someone made a flush right away on the flop?  If a 4th diamond arrives, will I turn a non-flush hand into a bluff, representing that I have the Ad?  Making it obvious that I’m checking to see if one (or both) of my cards is a diamond can be good or bad… depending on what everybody assumes that means and how that plays into my plan.  It can also be deceptive, as a way to set up a bluff, or appear that I only have one diamond even if I know that I flopped the nuts.  Since I am making it obvious to all that I’m peeking back at my cards, I can factor that into my plan.

Everybody checks to “Myles” who bets $10.  I call.  The turn is a blank (not a diamond, doesn’t pair any of the other board cards) and he follows my check with a bet of $25.  When I call quickly, it sure looks like I’m chasing a flush draw, and the river is the Qd.

There is about $80 in the pot, I have close to $250 remaining, and “Myles” has me slightly covered.  “I’m all-in” I announce, then slide my entire stack forward.

Another player on my left, a young fellow I’ll call “Alex,” laughs out loud.  “Myles” looks shocked, and soon folds but turns his cards face up, showing the Kd 4d.  He flopped the 2nd nut flush, and now folds to a river shove.  All the while I thought he was much weaker, with a 2-pair type of hand that he was protecting against the flush draw, as I would have expected him to check his monster on the flop for deception, at least some of the time, especially if he flopped the nut flush.  Perhaps my peeking at my cards worried him that it signaled I may have the Ad???  Perhaps I surmised from his betting line that he doesn’t have the Ad???  Despite the earlier hand where I limped / re-raised pre-flop with KQs, and the punchiness of this time of morning, he’s not going to risk his whole stack, not even with the 2nd nuts, when my shove is 3x the size of the pot.

This illustrates the power of such naked aggression against a good, thinking player.  I’ve played with “Myles” enough to know that he doesn’t want to go broke there, and would ONLY call a river shove if he has the nuts himself.  But I also mis-read his hand strength, another indicator that I should go home soon.  I’ve seen other villains call in that situation, even after announcing “you must have the nuts, nothing else makes sense.”

Did I make a great bluff here?  Was I planning this all along in case a scary 4th diamond arrived?

Or just take an idiotic risk?

Or did I actually have the Ad and got lucky on the river?  If I really had it, how much should I bet for value to get the most out of a call from “Myles?”

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.

What Can I Beat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF?

He also looks confident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daily Debacle – Straddle Battles

I just returned from a road trip that included a stop at the Hollywood Park Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, WV.  It was my first time there, although I’ve been on several trips to the Mardi Gras Casino in Charleston, WV.

(Yes, the great State of West Virginia has a city named “Charleston” and another city named “Charles Town.”  What were they thinking, other than Charles was in charge back when cities were named.  But I digress…)

Hollywood Park is just over 1 hour outside of Washington DC, and much larger and glitzier than Mardi Gras.  And the poker games are bigger and tougher, with many good players from the DC area.

I played $2/5 NL hold’em, and there were frequent straddles from the under-the-gun (UTG) position.  Apparently they only allow straddles from UTG as there were no button straddles or straddles from any other position.  There is no limit on the straddle amount.

(For the uninitiated, a “straddle” is essentially a third blind bet, equal to 2x the big blind [or more], posted by the UTG player before looking at his cards.  In exchange for this, said player acts last in the pre-flop betting rather than first.  The straddle counts as a bet, so the minimum to see the flop goes up, and frequently the first pre-flop raise is also larger to account for the larger total of the blinds.)

After awhile, I was playing with a fairly short stack and extremely tight.  Too tight, actually (another post to come about that).  On one hand, the big stack in seat 3 posted a $10 straddle, seat 6 raised to $30, and I am in seat 7 holding 6c 6s.  I really should call here to try to hit a set.  But my stack is between $200 – 250.  I know the “rule of 10” says you should not go “set-mining” unless it is possible to win at least 10x the amount you have to call.  I have less than that, a function of my own refusal to put some more $$ on the table after seeing my starting stack dwindle.  Had there been no straddle here, the opening raise probably would have been $20 or $25 and I would be more likely to call.

This was surely the nittiest fold I made the whole session.  But I folded.  I’m likely to miss the flop, see multiple overcards, and have to fold then.  There goes another $30 out of an already too small stack.  Plus, there are still 6 players left to act (the game is 10-handed) and a re-raise would force me to fold without seeing the flop.

Two other players call, including the straddler.

The flop was Jh 6h 9h.  I would have flopped a set of 6’s on a monochrome board.  All players check and the turn is the 9c.  Full house for me, had I stayed!

Inside I’m crying.  Why me?  Why can’t I play with more confidence?  Why don’t I have a bigger bankroll, so I can mix it up more without fear?  Why didn’t my earlier medium pocket pairs fill up?  Why am I here (i.e., on this planet Earth)?  Why am I thinking such existentialist thoughts at a poker game?  Why do the bigger stacks keep winning and not me?

Everybody checks again.  The river is a blank – does not pair the board nor is it another heart.  The straddler now bets $55 and everybody folds.  He shows Ah Qh for a flopped nut flush, then throws his cards into the muck in disgust that he never got any action trying to slow play his big hand.

To quote from B.B. King’s famous song,

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now ‘cos I’ve got the blues

A little later, a new player (“Carl”)  joins the table, in seat 9 (i.e., two seats to my left).  His first time UTG he posts a $20 straddle and makes it clear that he likes posting “crazy straddles.”  He straddles every time the opportunity comes (and generally plays a crazy / unpredictable / large bet / garbage cards / I’m here to gamble — win or lose style of poker.  Eventually his straddles increase to $50 and then to $75.  He clearly does not care about the money or traditional poker strategies.

Meanwhile, my stack gets back over $300, then down again and now I’m at $180.  On my small blind hand, Crazy Carl posts a $75 straddle.  Everybody folds to me and I have Ah 2h.  Against a random hand, which is all I can assign to Carl since he hasn’t even looked at his cards, I am a 57.4% favorite.  Good, but not great.  Still, I like my chances, it’s very late and I’m running out of patience.  I shove.

Another guide here would be the “Sklansky-Chubukov Rankings.”  [See http://www.pokerstrategy.com/strategy/sss/1097/1/ for more information about the theory involved here.]  Developed by noted poker strategist/author David Sklansky and UC Berkeley game theorist Victor Chubukov, the rankings show the maximum bet that would show a profit over time from the small blind v. the big blind.  In other words, you can always shove and have a positive expected value if your stack is lower than the S-C number the corresponds to your starting cards.  After doing the necessary math, the S-C number says I can shove profitably with $545 or less in my stack.  My shove is mathematically justified.

The big blind quickly folds and Crazy Carl quickly calls, turning over a pair of 3’s.  Already a bit unlucky for me as I’m behind and one of my cards is lower than his pair.  Pocket 3’s is still slightly weaker than A-2s against a random hand, but stronger heads up.  According to one chart for heads-up play, A-2s is at the 24th percentile of strength and 3-3 is at the 35th percentile.  Both of us have top 40% hands.  Heads up, he is now a 65% favorite.

The flop is Th 7d 7h.  I pick up a flush draw, and any Ace also wins for me.  The turn is an off-suit 6, then the river completes my flush.  Such a beautiful shape, a heart with its red color and luscious curves.  I’m feeling the love already.

But wait a minute!!!  It’s the 3 of hearts, and while that makes a flush for me, it also makes a full house for Crazy Carl.  WTF?  How is it that a straddler gets to make a full house after being stupid enough to make a $75 blind bet?

I’m busted now, it’s nearly 3:00 a.m.  I stumble back to my hotel room, sleep (if you can call it that) for about 4 hours, then start the 5.5 hour drive home.  Tired, poor and pissed off.

More questions.  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why didn’t I call with pocket 6’s?  Why didn’t I fold to a $75 blind straddle?  Why do I love this game so much?  Why do I hate this game so much?

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,945)

Month-to-date online results:  + $133

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