KKing David

Ruminations on poker

Archive for the tag “UTG”

“F**k Sklansky”

There’s going to be a lot of poker math here.  If you don’t like the math, this post may not be for you.  I’ve heard it said that math is only for bad poker players.  Maybe that’s me… here goes.

In several recent posts, I’ve referred to David Sklansky’s classic book, The Theory of Poker.  One post was about Sklansky’s definition of mistakes, as imbedded in his The Fundamental Theorem of Poker:

Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.

Sklansky also was the first (or among the first) poker scholars to fully develop and explain the math side of no limit Texas Hold’em.  Other prior posts included discussions about “Skansky Bucks,” (including one here and another one here) a theoretical calculation of the expected value (EV) of all-in bets or calls that occur prior to the river card.

Last night one of my regular blog readers was at the game.  For purposes of this post, I’ll call him “Rob” since that’s what I called him last month after he hit a 3-outer on the river to chop a large pot, after he thought he was drawing completely dead.  Rob mentioned Sklansky, except when he pronounces the author’s name it sounds more like Sklinsky.

After awhile, Rob raised to five BBs from under-the-gun (UTG), an action that conveys considerable strength.  I called with Ad 9d and there was one other caller.

Flop (16 BBs):  Jd 9c 7d.  I have middle pair with a nut flush draw.  I like it!  Rob leads out for 8 BBs.  Since I’m not going anywhere, I might as well apply some pressure, so I raise to 28 BBs.  The other player folds and Rob calls without very much hesitation.  The strongly suggests to me that he has either top set (JJJ), an overpair (AA-QQ) or AJ.  There are three combinations of JJ and AA, six combos of KK and QQ, and nine combos of AJ.  Against that range, my equity is 45.1%, although I discount the set of JJJ’s as he would be more likely to re-raise on such a wet board.

Turn (72 BBs):  8c.  This doesn’t help my hand but is an interesting card as it creates a second flush draw (which helps Rob if he has exactly Ac Jc) and also means any T now has a straight.  He checks.  I can represent a very strong hand here, which could be a flopped straight with T8, or a flopped set of 777’s or 999’s.  I have 65 BBs left and his stack is approximately equal to mine.  I shove all-in, first of all hoping he will fold if he has KK or QQ (which seems most likely) or praying to hit one of my outs if called.

If his range is exactly KK-QQ here, my equity is now 32.3%.  Against KK, any T would create a straight on the board and we would chop the pot, although with QQ that would simply give him a higher straight.  If he has the Kd or Qd, that takes away one of my flush outs.  This is virtually a break-even proposition.  If he calls, I’ll win a pot of 202 BBs 32.3% of the time, for an expected final stack of 65 BBs — the same as I would have by simply surrendering.  If he folds with any non-zero frequency, the EV of shoving is even higher.

Rob tanks for quite awhile, appearing to change his mind multiple times.  He states that it seems like I flopped a set of 777’s.  I try not to give off any tells.  Inside my mind is screaming, please fold please fold please fold, as I know more than 2/3 of the time I’ll go bust if he calls.  Eventually, Rob calls.  The river is the 2d, however, giving me the nuts.  He showed QQ, including the Qd.  Against his exact hand, my equity is 29.5%, and I would need to expect him to fold 8% of the time for this to be a break-even play.

Put me down for 202 BBs after this hand, but only 60 BBs in Sklansky Bucks.

A few minutes later, Rob asks me if his call was a mistake.  In the Sklansky definition of mistake, it would be a mistake if he would not have called knowing my exact cards.  He says he definitely would call in that situation, a flush draw was what he was hoping I had (I’m not sure he considered that any A or 9 was also an out for me, but those extra outs don’t make his call a mistake; he was ahead).  We agree that he played it right, made a good call, and just got drawn out on.

“Well, f**k Sklansky!” he says, as a way of ending the discussion, and the whole table has a good laugh.

Much later I have two more all-in hands.

In the first, I raised from UTG with JJ and got two callers.  On a flop of T22 I felt pretty good and made a continuation bet. The player to my immediate left, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “John” calls again.  He can have any Tx or most pocket pairs below T and still make this call.  I’ve played with John many times and he calls both pre- and post-flop bets with a wide range, and he has position on me.  If I’m C-betting with AK or AQ, he can take this pot away on many turn cards and may have the best hand.

Turn (43 BBs):  9.  He only has about 29 BBs remaining in his stack and I have him well covered.  I decided to go ahead and bet enough to put him all-in.  He might call with a weak pocket pair.  John does call, and flips over Qc 2c, and his trip twos wins.  Ugh!  That’s John, however, and his calling a pre-flop raise from UTG+1 seat with a hand like this doesn’t really surprise me.  At the time the chips went all-in, I had two outs and my equity was 4.55%.  I lost the pot, but I can nevertheless assign nine Sklansky Bucks to my account.

Later still, I’m on the button and post a live straddle.  John is the small blind and raise to 3x the straddle.  The next player, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Brooklyn Mike,” calls and everyone else folds to me.  I look down at QQ and decided to raise to 10x the straddle (which equals 25 BBs).  John shoves all-in for 65 BBs with little hesitation, then Brooklyn Mike also shoves for 75 BBs.  WTF?

I peek at my queens again, and they seem to be shriveling up right before my eyes.  Calling will cost 40 more BBs, with 165 already in the pot.  I know John can be shoving with a wider range than most players, and also know that he knows that I can be 3-betting from the button straddle with a wide enough range that I would fold part of that range to a shove.  I call.

Neither John nor Brooklyn Mike turns over his cards right away, so I flip mine over first.  The body language instantly tells me that I’m ahead.  After a 9-high flop, John tables AQo.  After a low turn card, John pats the table next to me and says nice hand.  As he stands and adjusts his jacket to leave, the dealer delivers an A on the river.

Don’t hate the players (or the dealer), just hate the game.  John scoops up a huge pot, and I win a small side pot of 20 BBs.

Pre-flop, when all the chips went in, I was a 56.8% favorite in a pot of 205 BBs, so I “earned” 116 Sklansky Bucks in this hand, while only collecting the 20 BBs in the side pot.

The three hands above were my only all-ins of the evening.  In these hands, my Sklansky Bucks were (60 + 9 + 116) = 185.  My actual result was (202 + 0 + 20) = 222 (less about 5 BBs worth of rake and tips) = net of 217 BBs.  My actual results exceeded my Sklansky Bucks by about 32 BBs, and I went home with a very slightly better than break-even night.  Notice how in just three hands the actual results start to converge with the Sklansky.  If poker math and Sklansky Bucks calculations are valid concepts and accurately done, we should expect a convergence over the long run.  Short-term variance turns into long-term fairness.

Except for one thing… recency bias.  We’re all human, and our tendency is to remember the most recent hand more vividly than any others.  That’s where I lost a very large pot to John when he got lucky on the river.  That’s the memory I carried home.

With all the affection I can muster, “F**k Sklansky!”


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Bank Error in Your Favor, Collect $200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

But wait, there’s more!


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


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

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


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

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

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Bad Beat –> Happy Tilt. Oh my!

This post involves our friend “Myles” from the previous post, where I made a massive over-bet all-in river shove.  Read about it here.

About a week later, I’m off to a good start in a $1/2 no limit cash game, having doubled up early when my AA held up against AK on a K-high flop.  At this private game, the host has two interesting jackpot bonuses, both of which are about to come into play.  The first is a high-hand jackpot.  A separate fund is segregated out of the house rake during the night, and the player with the highest hand of the night (paid out at midnight) using both hole cards wins the jackpot, which is usually between $80 – 120.  In addition, there is a bad beat jackpot, which requires losing a hand with JJJ-TT or higher (using both hole cards, although the winner of the hand is not required also to use both hole cards under house policy).  The bad beat jackpot grows by $25 each time there is no winner, up to a cap of $500.  Tonight, we are at the jackpot cap.

In this hand, our familiar villain “Myles” raises to $10 from the UTG+1 seat (i.e., two seats to the left of the Big Blind).  He has about $260 to start the hand, and I have over $400.  Another player calls, and I call with QQ in the Cutoff seat (one seat to the right of the Button).  The Button (I’ll call him “John” for purposes of this post – he has about $200) also calls, but both blinds fold.  I considered re-raising with my QQ here, but decided to make a non-standard call to deliberately under-represent my hand.

Flop ($43):  KQ5 all different suits.  What a perfect spot to have just called with QQ.  Myles bets $20 and the next player folds.  I want to see what “John” is going to do here, so I just call, and John also calls.

Turn ($103):  K.  Now I have a full house, QQQ-KK, which is awesome, and if somehow Myles or John has KK for a bigger full house, I qualify to win the bad beat jackpot.  Also, nobody has posted a higher full house yet this evening, so I’ll be leading the way for the high-hand jackpot.  Some nights this is good enough to win the high-hand jackpot; other nights not.  A couple weeks early I had a 888-99 hand hold up until 11:59 pm, right before payment time, when TTT-QQ stole it away.

Now “Myles” checks.  When “John” called the flop bet, I think he probably has a K or Q, or a straight draw with JT, with a remote chance of a really strong hand with KQ or 55.  I bet $50, about 1/2 of the pot, hoping to get at least one more call from “John.”  If he is on a draw, he may chase it for this amount.  “John” calls $50.  Then… “Myles” slides out $130 for a check-raise of $80 more.  This is really interesting.  He has to consider that either “John” or myself has a strong hand.  So his range is either a bluff, or a very strong hand like AA, AK, KK (quads??? really???) or KQ.

On the other hand, the worst that can happen is I’m going to win the $500 bad beat jackpot, while the most I could lose on this hand is about $260.  Or I’m going to win a huge pot.  Once again, I just call, to see if “John” will put in any more chips.  “Myles” is pretty pot-committed so I should have no problem getting the rest of his chips in on the river.  To my disappointment, “John” folds.

River ($413):  5.  Now the board is KQ5-K-5, or a double paired board.  “Myles” somewhat unhappily tosses out two $1 chips, the minimum bet amount.  Wha-a-a-a-t?  Obviously he doesn’t want to put in the rest of his chips.

Here is where I went on happy tilt.  I’ve fallen in love with my hand, with a flopped set of queens and turned full house.  And the knowledge that I’m qualified to win the bad beat jackpot if somehow I’m beat.  Rather than pause for a second and think about the implications of the river card, I just announce all-in.  The reality is that “Myles” can fold AA here, or anything else he might have that doesn’t include a K.  My raise is totally idiotic – he’s not going to call me with a worse hand, and not going to fold a better hand either.  After considering the possibility of me having KQ rather than QQ, he calls and shows AK suited.  His KKK-55 beats my QQQ-KK.

While I win the $500 bad beat jackpot, I also could have called “Myles'” $2 bet on the river and saved $98 more

“Myles” laughs, thanks me and reminds me and everyone else at the table about the extra $98 I paid him about a dozen times over the remainder of the evening.

Sometimes he reads this blog.  Merry Christmas, “Myles.”  I hope you used it to buy yourself a nice Christmas sweater and matching necktie.

A little while later, against a different villain, my TT runs into AK on a board of KK4-K-9.  The other guy has quad KKKK’s with an Ace kicker, to bump me out of the high hand jackpot.  My KKK-TT again qualifies for the bad beat jackpot, but it has been reset to $25 and the house rule is they won’t pay the jackpot to the same player twice in one night.  I don’t want to sound like a complainer, but a different river card in the first hand with “Myles” and I would have been about $600 richer.

Multi-Way Action

Here is an interesting hand from a $1/1 cash game last night.

I am the Big Blind, and look down at 9d 8d.  My stack is $130.  I’ve been playing for about 2 hours and nothing good has happened yet.  Four players limp into the pot, and the SB completes.  I check my option, so there are 6 players and $6 in the pot for the flop.

Flop ($6):  9s 8h 4c.

The SB (I’ll call him “Dell”) checks.  I like my hand, having flopped top 2 pair.  With this many players, I need to bet for value and to find out who likes his hand enough to continue.

The player to my immediate left (let’s call him “Jeff”) quickly calls.  Hmmm…  He is UTG and limped in pre-flop from this early position.

Another player (I’ll call him “John”) also calls, then “Jason” calls, and Dell also calls.

My $5 bet was 83% of the pot size (albeit still very small in absolute terms) and only scared away one player.  This might turn into an action hand.

Turn ($31):  6d.

This card doesn’t hurt me, unless someone has exactly T7, 75 or 66.  With this loose crowd of players anything is possible, so let’s see what happens.

Now Dell in the SM leads out with a bet of $11.  He does this a lot, leading out into the raiser from a prior street, but it doesn’t necessarily mean great strength.  I debate raising vs. calling and decide to call to help me get some more information.  If my hand is indeed the best, I don’t want to run everybody off with a big raise here.

Then Jeff raises to $35.  Huh?  “Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger, DANGER!” goes the alarm in my head.  John calls $35, and Dell also calls the raise to $35.  It’s back to me.

Here is where I need to think very carefully about what each Villain might have and how they would play it.  Jeff is the biggest concern, so I’ll deal with him last.

Dell is fairly easy, once I think about it.  I’ve played with him several other times, and he is loose and aggressive.  He donk bets a lot of flops and turns where he has hit any part of the board – bottom pair, middle pair, weak kicker, as a way of (1) getting information, and (2) winning the dead money when no one else has anything.  I can exploit this from time to time by raising big and representing a strong hand.  If he does have a really big hand, he bets it aggressively rather than trying to trap.  (For example we had a recent confrontation where he has AJ and I had QQ on a flop of AQJ.  He led out, I raised, he 3-bet and also called when I shoved, playing his 2-pair (top + bottom) like it was the nuts and ultimately doubling me up.)  Back to the present, however, he just calls Jeff’s raise but doesn’t re-raise.  I conclude my top 2-pair is better than his hand.  No need for me to slow down on account of Dell.

Next up is John.  John is a very loose player who likes to see flops with virtually any two cards, and likes to chase draws, including weak flush draws, gut shots, etc.  Hard to push him off of a pot as he is very sticky if he hits any part of it.  He ends up making 2-pair or middling straights an awful lot, and this frustrates many of the other players.   He called my $5 bet on the flop and then called Jeff’s $35 on the turn.  He only has about $30 remaining behind.  Surely he would re-raise all-in if he had a made straight or set.  This looks like classic John chasing some kind of draw, perhaps with a pair + open-ended straight draw (97, 87, 76), pair plus gutshot straight draw (T9, T8, T6, 95, 85, 65) or something like J7 that was a gutshot on the flop and gained outs when the 6 hit.  He also could have 2 pair like 98, 96, 86, 64.  Since he didn’t shove it all-in on the turn, my top 2-pair dominates his range.

Lastly, what about Jeff?  He’s the one who worries me the most here, based on his UTG limp, quick call on the flop and raise on the turn.  Could he have 44?  T7?  These are the two hands that crush me and might follow this betting pattern (especially T7s).  With 44 I think he might raise on the flop, although with so many players behind him, calling to keep everyone in the pot may be his best option despite the possible straight draws with 98 on this flop.  T7 is certainly possible, and his stack is larger than mine.  Ouch!  Or he could have turned 2 pair (or have the same hand as me… suited 98, but only one combination remains), but I’m having trouble seeing which 2 pair would make sense to limp in from UTG other than 98s.  Not that it has to make sense, and I do know Jeff can be very loose passive at times.  He could also be overplaying a strong 1-pair hand (I’ve seen him limp with AA from early position trying to trap).  Without doing all of the combinatorics at the table, it seems like I need to worry about 3 combinations of 44, plus 4 combinations of T7s.  In either case, I’ll have 4 outs (9%) to catch up on the river.  It seems like there is a greater number of combinations that I can beat, plus the pot size is now rather swollen.  There is $147 in the pot, and it costs me $24 to call or $115 more to go all-in.

My last consideration here is whether Jeff could fold 44 if I go all-in, representing that I have the T7 and nut straight.  Would he fold a small set?  I doubt it, but maybe, just maybe…

I finally decide to throw caution to the wind and shove all-in.  All three players (especially Dell and John) have a lot of draws in their ranges and I need to punish them if they are going to chase.  And I might actually get paid.

Jeff folds.  Whew!  I feel better already.

John calls his remaining $30.

Dell folds.

John shows J7o, for an open-ended straight draw, plus one (useless) over card.  He has 8 outs, with the the large pot, he is getting the right odds to make this final call.

The river is a blank and I scoop up a large pot, which puts me “in the black” for the evening.

OESD on button

Here is an interesting decision from last night.

I am playing in a $1/$2 NLHE home game, and familiar with all of the players.

“K” raises UTG to $9 and there are 2 callers, including “R.”  I am on the button with 9-8o, and call.  I could easily just fold here, but I like to see flops on the button as I can manage the pot size better from here than anywhere else, so when I hit a big hand I am more likely to realize good value.

Flop ($36):  Ts-7d-4s.

I have an open-ended straight draw (OESD).  Let’s see what happens.

K opens for $25.  At this point, I think he likes his hand, betting that much from out-of-position.  He is a generally competent but fairly tight player, and would not bet into 3 opponents here with air.  This suggests an over pair like AA, KK, QQ or JJ, or possibly a strong flush draw with As-Ks or As-Qs.

I’m debating whether to call.  The pot odds are not quite good enough, but with my position there is a good chance to realize some implied odds if the flush hits.  I could also raise here, but knowing K I’m not sure I have much fold equity with his range.  For sure I will call if one of the other players calls, especially R who is very loose and aggressive.

R, however, has other plans, and raises to $85.  He has about $55 remaining in his stack.


Let’s try to figure this one out.  R is a very aggressive player who likes to put pressure on his opponents.  He is prone to over-playing top pairs, so we’ll start his range with A-T, K-T, Q-T, J-T and T-9.  We’ll also add sets (TT, 77, 44) as his LAGGY reputation enables him to fast-play big hands and get paid a lot.  Also top 2-pair… he is loose enough to call pre-flop with T-7.  Also 9-8 for the same OESD that I have. Also 6-5 for a lower OESD.  And finally As-Xs for nut flush draws (excluding As-Ks, As-Qs, As-Js that he likely would have 3-bet with pre-flop).  This is 142 combos.

For this calculation, I’m keeping K’s range tight, with only AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, As-Ks, As-Qs, and As-Js.  Just 33 combinations.

My equity is 25.7%, vs. 49.5% for K and 24.8% for R.

My stack is fairly deep with nearly 200BB’s, and K has me covered having just won a large pot in the previous hand.  If I even think about calling here, I have to consider the possibility of K shoving over the top of me.

I must fold, and do fold.

Back to reality:  K calls the $60 raise, and the turn card is a 6 (not completing any flushes), leaving me writhing in agony staring at the large pot in the middle of the table.  K checks, R shoves his last $55, and after a long time in the tank, K calls.  The river is an off-suit five.  R shows A-T off-suit, for top pair, top kicker.  K shows AA and takes down a nearly $300 pot.

AAAaaarrgh! (or equivalent expletive not suitable for a family publication)

Given the facts at hand, folding was clearly correct.

R, on the other hand, really effed it up for me by over-playing his top pair hand against the continuation bet from UTG opener.  It should be noted that I ended the night with a healthy profit, whilst R was last seen slowly shuffling out the door with his pockets empty.

Two Pair on Flop

Here is an interesting hand from a live cash game earlier this week.

The game is $1/$1 no limit hold’em.  This is a regular weekly home game where all of the players are familiar to each other.

I am the small blind, and the player UTG straddles for $2, as he always does.  Three players limp in, and I have 43o.  I really should just fold here, but “it’s only a dollar” plus this is a very loose game, and the straddler does not automatically raise from his straddle position to attack limpers.  I call, and so does the big blind (BB).  Straddler (UTG) checks.

Flop:  ($12)  Ad 4c 3c.

I have bottom 2 pair on a low but drawy board, and can expect to get some value from players with Ax or club draws.  It is unlikely that I’ll see any really strong kickers, as AK, AQ, and probably AJ would have raised pre-flop.

So I open with a pot-sized bet of $12.  There is no reason to slow play here, and bottom 2 pair can turn ugly.

BB calls, then UTG raises to $30, and everyone else folds around to me.

Whoa!  Stop.  What’s going here?  Let’s try to figure it out…

BB is a competent player who is not prone to making really crazy plays, and likely to raise right away with the strongest hands.  I’m going to give him the following range:  Any Ace (other than A-K or A-Q which would raise pre-flop), 6-5o for open-ended straight draw, 7-5o for double gutshot straight draw, any club draw (other than 6c-5c or 7c-5c both of which likely raise now).  That is a really wide range of 207 combinations, but he’s the BB in a limped pot.

UTG is a much more aggressive player and much more likely than BB to be on a semi-bluff of some sort here.  Again, as the straddler, he did not do anything pre-flop other than check his option, so his range is also going to be very wide.  His range includes strong hands like 5-2, 3-3, 4-4, A-4, A-3, all of which beat me already.  Also strong draws like 6-5 and 7-5.  Against this part of his range, my lowly 2-pair is crushed.  But UTG also likes to run multi-barrel semi-bluffs, so I have to include all club flush draws (other than A-K, A-Q, A-J, A-T, K-Q which would have raised pre-flop) and pairs with straight draws such as A-2, A-5, 4-2, 3-2, 5-4, 5-3.  Like BB, UTG’s range is wide (but slightly different) and now includes 249 combinations.

Against these 2 ranges, I have 42.5% equity.  UTG has 33.1% and BB has 24.4%.

Heads up against BB’s range, I am a 65% favorite.  But I’m much more likely to end up heads up vs. UTG and not BB.

Heads up against UTG, I am a 55% favorite.

Complicating my decision, I don’t know what BB will do next, and can expect UTG to fire another large bullet on just about any turn card to put me to a difficult decision.

At the time, I thought I was in worse shape, giving UTG much more credit for the strong part of his range than the weaker part.

So I fold.  I’m increasingly conscious of the need to shift gears from “Oh, goody” to “Oh, shit” BEFORE donking off a bunch of chips.

Now for the rest of the story… after I folded, BB shoves all-in, and UTG calls.

BB has Ac-5c for top pair plus nut flush draw.  UTG has 8c-2c for a weaker flush draw and gut shot straight draw.  He needs a 5 or running 8’s.

My equity against the actual hands now shown is 44.3%, with BB at 47.1% and UTG at 8.7%.

The turn and river cards are both bricks, so I missed an opportunity to win a huge pot.  UTG re-loads.

Looking back at the actual equity, mine is about the same as my calculation against their respective ranges.  UTG is at the weak end of his range, and BB has a lot of outs against my 2-pair, with clubs, deuces, fives and aces all helping him.  Given that 3 players were involved, calling would have been +EV for me, albeit with a very high variance.

But with equity < 50%, folding isn’t terrible either.

The bigger lesson here is the hand cost me $13 and I could have simply folded in the SB pre-flop.  4-3 off suit sucks.  Out-of-position sucks.  Why bother?  Wait for a better set-up.  In this case, I caved to UTG’s positional advantage, then BB pounced.  Not sure what either of them would have done had I shoved over top of UTG there.

In Love with Over-pair

This hand comes from a live cash game in Las Vegas 2 nights ago.  I am playing $1/3 no limit hold’em, and up about $200 at this point.

I was up $250+ (thanks to a straight flush that got paid [put smiley face here] and KK early in the session) but now I’ve been on a run of weak cards for over an hour.

Then I look down at JJ in early position and raise to $11.  Only the button calls.  He is on his 3rd buy-in and I have him well covered.

Flop:  T-7-6 with 2 spades.  I make a continuation bet of $16 and button calls.  Looks like he might have top pair or a flush draw.  I’m confident that I’m still ahead and if a safe card comes on the turn, I’m going to place a large bet.

I’m also tired, having played a very late session the previous night and not slept enough.  I briefly consider that he could have flopped a straight or a set.

Turn:  4d.  The safe turn card I was looking for.  I bet $55, about the size of the pot and he rather quickly announces all-in.

All-in?  WTF?  I wanted a safe turn card and got one.  I call.  Then I find out this is going to cost about $120 more.

Too quickly.  Shouldn’t an alarm sound here.  (see this prior post about danger warnings…)  When the other guy goes all-in, that doesn’t mean he’s always on a draw.  More likely he has made a hand and is more worried about me having a big draw.

Before calling, shouldn’t I at least replay the action so far in my head, and ponder what I’ve observed about the villain?  (Hint:  answer starts with Y.)

This is one of the hazards of playing poker when tired.

Last night on the plane back from Vegas, I was re-reading Barry Greenstein’s excellent book Ace on the River.  He describes when he first went to California to play in the card rooms there, he would sleep until 5 pm, go to the card room at 6:00 and play until they closed at 2 am.  He says, “I won consistently and thought it must be because I was the best player.  But that wasn’t the reason.  I was playing against people who had worked all day and had a few drinks to relax.  Meanwhile, I was resting and training for the event.  I didn’t know the difference until I got a job and tried to play after working all day.  I was a basket case.”

So here I am and the only hands I can beat are an over-played top pair hand (not so likely since I represented strength with my UTG pre-flop raise) and an over-played flush draw (also not so likely as I haven’t observed this villain play that way).

I was tired, enduring a boring stretch of bad cards, got a small jolt of adrenaline with JJ (I also had JJ on the hand the made a straight flush earlier), and spewed away my entire gain for the session.

Villain turns over 8s 5s, for a straight with a re-draw for a spade flush (which hits on the river).  Either way, I am drawing dead.  A loose call from the button – I would not have put 85s in his range at all – but it worked out for him.

Daily Debacle – What Not to Play

One of my daughter’s favorite TV shows is TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”  In this makeover reality show, participants are nominated by friends (?), co-workers or relatives to participate in a fashion makeover, but only after being thoroughly humiliated for their bad taste in clothing.

The poker equivalent would be my very own “What Not to Play.”  Let me explain…

Bovada online poker recently introduced “Zone Poker,” a super-fast paced game of No Limit Hold’em.  When you hit the fold button, you are immediately moved to a new table and another hand begins.  A copycat of Full Tilt’s “Rush Poker,” this format increases the number of hands played per hour by a factor of at least 3-4x.

Because you can fold and move to another table right away, it is much easier to simply fold in sticky situations or coin flips and wait for more favorable betting situation.  And because Bovada poker is 100% anonymous, there is no player tracking or stats possible.  On occasion you can recognize a few other players based on their stack sizes – typically those with very large stacks.  Otherwise, you don’t really know if the players at your table include any of the players from the previous hand, or not.

After playing with this for a couple of weeks, I’ve reached a few basic conclusions.  (Alright, some of you might have reached these same or even smarter conclusions much faster… I don’t care!)

Note that virtually all of the play in Zone Poker is at the 6-max tables, and currently Zone Poker is only available at the micro stakes, but it will be introduced at higher levels eventually.

First of all, there is no meta-game to play.  Being caught in a bluff is not likely to get you paid off in a later hand.  Players cannot recall if you are loose or tight, or always check-raise with good draws when out of position.  Staking out a certain image in order to capitalize on it later in the session is a waste of time (“WOT”).

Bluffing works some of the time but not all the time.  If getting caught in too many bluffs causes you to tilt, just don’t.  Some of the big stacks do try to run over the table, but that style has not worked for me.

Position is critical.  Playing speculative hands from the blinds – typically justified based on pot-odds, being “priced in” to the hand or not having to worry about a raise from additional players still to act pre-flop, is a tremendous spew of chips.  (See this prior post for more on playing speculative hands OOP.)  By speculative hands, I mean those where a “good” flop results in a draw more often than a made hand.  For example, suited connectors, suited one-gappers and suited aces frequently (about 10-11% of the time) lead to a flush draw.  Other connectors and gappers often lead to straight draws – more often a gutshot than an open-ender.  So now you are out of position, not sure what the other guys have or plan to do, and have to decide between leading out, check-raising, check-calling or check-folding.  I’ve noticed a lot of check-raise all-in bets getting called when the pre-flop aggressor has top pair or an over-pair, and even the best draws are going to miss most of the time.

Too much variance for me to play these aggressively, too spewy to play these passively.

Also not to play are the weaker unpaired Broadway cards, especially out of position.  JTs, KT, KJ, QTs can get in a lot of bad spots against overpairs or higher kickers.  Against an under-the-gun raiser, I might even fold KQ on the button.  I want to know where I stand, and these hands make it really tough.

3-betting pre-flop is fine with the biggest hands, but no one is tracking your 3-bet percentage.  Again, no meta game advantage to be gained.  I’ve quit 3-betting a lot of hands, such as AK and also cut way back on 3-betting to protect my blinds against button open-raises.  (Side note here:  Annie Duke wrote an excellent poker strategy book called “Decide to Play Great Poker.”  She says many players worry too much about defending their blinds.  I’m not sure the exact quote but basically she says Let the Dick Measurers Measure Dicks!  Yikes, that’s one tough lady!)  In Zone Poker you don’t have the same guy on your right constantly attacking your blinds, so there is nothing gained by sending a message.  If you think you have the best hand, bet.  Otherwise, move on to another table.

By 3-betting less, the stack-to-pot ratio is larger and so are the implied odds.  I have less invested in the hand, so I can fold on a sticky flop situation without feeling like I’m making a big write-off.  For hands that need good implied odds, such as set-mining with medium pocket pairs, this helps.  Of course, I’ll still open-raise with many of these in an unopened pot, but rarely 3-bet.

Calling from good position with speculative hands is OK some of the time, but generally should be limited to the button and multi-way pots.  I’ll over limp with suited connectors on the button, and sometimes call a raise if there is already one caller.  Otherwise, what the hell am I doing in the hand with 97s when I can start another hand in less than 5 seconds?  And God forbid, what am I going to do if the pre-flop raiser checks on a flop like Q-7-3 and I have 9-7s?  Seems like every time that happens and I bet, the guy has flopped top set and is trapping.  Since folding pre-flop on the button is FREE, let’s take advantage.

The end result of all this is a style of very tight / aggressive ABC poker.  Play good cards, especially when there is no prior action, play big hands aggressively, stay out of trouble.  Tricky, trappy play rarely makes sense, other than a basic check-raise when out of position against a pre-flop aggressor.

Paradoxically, many of the players in this game – remember this is only at the micro-stakes for now – are the most dis-believing of your straightforward play.  A little while ago, I called a pre-flop raiser in position with 66 and hit a set on the flop.  I called on the flop then raised all-in on the turn noting there were 2 suited cards on the board.  Sensing a flush draw, the villain called with top pair (Q’s) and a 9 for his kicker.  Really.  Q-9s calls an all-in turn bet on a Q-high board.

Easy game.  (or perhaps not as the remainder of this post wlll illustrate all too well…)

Year-to-date online results:  (- $1,958)

Month-to-date online results:  + $119

Daily Debacle – It’s Only One Pair

One pair, even a pair of aces, can quickly become very weak after the flop.  Even the strongest pair is still ONLY ONE PAIR.  Top pair with top kicker is ONLY ONE PAIR.  An overpair to the board is ONLY ONE PAIR.

What beats one pair?  Glad you asked…

Two pair





Straight flush

“Gee KKingDavid, that’s quite a lot of possibilities that are better than one pair.”

On Sunday I was playing in a live tournament with about 45+ players.  Thanks to a suckout on a hand I played rather badly (by going against my read on another player), followed by some decent play, I had slightly more than double the starting stack.

On level 6 of the blinds, I got TT while in the big blind.  I have about 35 big blinds left in my stack, one of the largest (possibly THE largest) stacks at my table, and well above the chip average.

The player to my immediate left was a young, new guy.  Prior to the beginning of the tournament he politely introduced himself and said this was his first time playing at this venue.  For several orbits he was very tight, passive and appeared not to have much confidence about his play.  Since then he has opened up a bit and accumulated a pretty good stack, about 30 big blinds, while showing down very few times.

The blinds just went up.  He attempts to open for 2.5 BBs, based on the previous level.  His raise is actually too small for even a min-raise at this level, so he adds a couple extra chips to make a minimum raise.  Everyone folds to me in the BB, and I call.

Perhaps I should have raised here, but I have great respect for UTG raises, no matter the player.  I’d like to see the flop and evaluate.

Flop (4.5 BBs):  Qh 4c 3d

Only one overcard.  I decide to donk bet (i.e., lead out into the pre-flop aggressor) and hope to take down the pot if he whiffed.  I bet 2.5 BBs.  Villain:  “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.”  He squirms visibly, tanks a bit and finally calls.

His range is narrowed a bit now, but still includes:

Overpairs: AA and KK (6 combos each)

Monster:  QQ (3 combos – if his squirming was an act of deception)

Pairs below QQ:  JJ-77 (6 combos each)

Unpaired overcards:  AK (16 combos)

Top pair:  AQ, KQ (16 combos each)

What else could call here?  (NOTE:  Not doing this at the table, only now after the fact.)

I think I can push him off this pot.  He has a big enough stack to lay down here and still comfortably continue.

Turn (9.5 BBs):  Jh  Another heart.  JJ gets there.  I decide to fire another barrel.  Now I’m basically turning my TT into a bluff, unless he has AK or a pair lower than mine.  What am I representing?  Given the very dry flop, about the only bluffs I can effectively represent are 44, 33 and QJ.  I bet 7 BB’s.

I don’t think his hand reading skills are likely to be good enough to put me on one of these specific bluffs, but I do think the pressure is building, the pot is getting too big for a one-pair type of hand – his most likely holding, and surely I’ll fire a third barrel on the river if I have a really big hand.

He squirms some more.  He counts out the chips to call, holds them, and looks over his remaining stack.  He tanks again and looks ill.

Then he calls again.  If he had either of the monster hands (QQ or JJ), surely he would re-raise here.  Nope, his anxiety is real.

He would fold AK, KQ, 99, 88, 77 here.  His remaining range must be AA, KK and AQ.

River (23.5 BBs): 9h.  While this fills certain straights and flushes and makes the board more scary looking, it really changes nothing.  My actions are not consistent with a straight or flush draw.  Nor are his.  Nor his remaining range, which is quite narrow.

I take a very long time to decide, alternating between waving the white flag with a check and putting him all in.  He has about 18 BBs left and I have about 23 BBs left.  Surely I am behind.  Can I make him fold?  Will he call and put his tournament on the line with only one pair?  Can he interpret my actions as a small set?

I shove all-in.

He looks likes he’s going to pee in his pants, starts to call, then fold, then … (tick tock, tick tock) … he calls and turns over AQ off suit.

Several other players comment on his amazing call, and note they would have folded with the same cards in the same situation.

On the very next hand, I get sent to the rail.

Daily Debacle – Blind Leading the Blind

This was the very first hand I played tonight – at $0.50 – 1.00 NL online, with my standard and table max starting stack of $100.  I have not played much online in the last few days, with relatives visiting and then a live tournament last night (finished 2nd out of 26 players!), so I’m planning a good long session tonight.  Let’s get started!

I am the big blind and dealt Qs Js.  One of my favorite hands.  Everybody folds to the button, who limps in.  The small blind also folds.

Flop ($2.50):  Qc 8s 9h.  Nice!  I have top pair and a gutshot straight draw.  I check and the villain bets $1.50. As a matter of habit, I try play the first hand of a session really tight, unless it’s a huge hand.  Call me superstitious on this point, but for many, many years I’ve repeated the saying that whoever wins the first hand ends up with a losing night.  I call.

Turn ($5.50):  Ts.  Bingo!  Not only did I make my straight, but also with a redraw to a flush (including a possible straight flush).  Time to try to get some chips in the pot.  I make a pot-sized bet of $5.50.  Now the villain raises to $15.  I guess he also has a Jack and we’re going to chop the pot, unless either (A) my flush comes on the river, or (B) he’s holding exactly KJ – a strong enough hand that he should have raised pre-flop instead of limping, or (C) he’s bluffing (including possibility he just turned a 2-pair type hand into a bluff or a semi-bluff with a higher flush draw).

I’ve vote for (A) or (C), and re-raise to $37.50.  If he has a Jack, it’s not possible for him to also have a flush draw.  If he has a higher flush draw, I have two blockers, leaving him only 7 outs rather than 9.  If he has 2-pair, I’m going to find out if he’ll dump in some more money.

Well, humpty-dump he does, going all-in (and has me covered).

This is starting to remind me of another hand played over the weekend.  (if this were a TV show, we’d now queue some dreamy music and there would be a big swirl on the screen as my mind goes back in time.)

It was just a couple of days ago, and I’ve been at this table ($0.50 – 1.00 NL online) for just one orbit of play.  Now I am the big blind and dealt Js Tc.  The UTG player raises to $2.10 and everybody else folds.  Why not see a relatively cheap flop?  I call for $1.10 more.

Flop ($4.70):  Ac 9d Qs.  I have an open-ended straight draw, to the nuts on either end.  I check to the pre-flop aggressor, and he bets $2.  An easy call.

Turn ($8.70):  8h.  Bingo!  I have the stone cold nuts.  Since he continued to show aggression on the flop, I’ll check here in hopes of putting in a strong check-raise.  One more bet is probably all I’m going to get here, but for a “big blind special,” I’ll take it!  Alas, he temporarily foils my plan by checking behind.

River ($8.70):  Th.  Not a great card for me, as any Jack now has a straight and we could be chopping the pot.  Plus, with a one-liner to a straight (i.e. a gutshot on the board), it will be much harder to get any action if he has anything weaker than a straight.  Gotta try though, so I make a pot-sized bet of $8.70.  He quickly raises to $28.  Holy moly!

Let’s think about this:  the only thing that beats me is exactly KJ.  He made a very small bet from UTG pre-flop, a rather weak continuation bet on the flop, checked back the turn and now bombs the river.  That just doesn’t seem like a play for KJ to me, more likely for JJ (aside from the combinatorics – one Jack on the board, another in my hand, so only one combination of JJ is possible) or TT, both of which I beat.  On the other hand, if he doesn’t have exactly KJ, he should worry a little bit about the possibility that I do.  On the other hand, that presumes he is a thinking player, and here we are playing 100NL online.  Nahhh, not a thinking player.

I call, and he turns over KJ.  Exactly.  Exactly.  Exactly……..


So here I am with the second to the nuts straight and a redraw for a flush, and the villain on the button goes all in.  The only hand that beats me is exactly KJ.

Have I seen this movie recently?  Don’t I know how it ends?  On the other hand, the villain is on the button and KJ surely would open-raise in this spot.  Right?

I call, and he turns over KJ.  Exactly.  One hand played, down $100.

After reloading, the very next hand I piss away another $19.50 on an attempted steal / C-bet in a state of mini-tilt.  Two hands played, down $119.50 at 100NL.  I wonder who the biggest fish is at this table???

Year-to-date online results:  (- $438)

Month-to-date online results:  + $71

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