Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bad Mouthing Ace Jack!

Many of our friends on the Card Club Forums have been bad mouthing Ace Jack as a starting hand in No Limit Hold Em, and those who play it poorly. They are breaking bad under the guise of helping their forum buddies to become better tournament players, but the reality is, they just can't stand losing to such a "mediocre" hand.

I was able to reach Ace Jack by telephone yesterday, and he asked me to do a little sticking up for him.

Now, I don't advocate calling off your chip stack with Ace Jack, don't get me wrong, but it does have a lot of value.

First off, when opening the pot, from any position, AJ is (any) two cards, which sometimes is simply good enough. I have played 8T and 46 in a manner which these AJ-naysayers would quickly chastise my play, were I to have two cards as good as AJ - and I have had a lot of success doing so. To talk about the hand, irrespective of your image, position in the hand, and general playing style of the table, I believe, is a mistake. I concede that we are starting to discuss the hands themselves, but please don't bad mouth Ace Jack in a vacuum!! Now his mother, AQ, is even starting to call me to ask for my help.

Ace Jack, against a random hand, is a 2:1 favorite, and against two random hands it is about even money. Of course if you're facing heat after the flop with it, you're not against any old random hand, but if you can make good on an inexpensive flop, there's obvious value.

Would I ever call an all-in bet, pre-flop, with AJ?

Of course! In the following situations:

  • Against a short-stacked opponent who is all in, and the call represents a small percentage of my stack.
  • Against a player who consistently overvalues his holdings, and plays aggressive pre-flop and passive post.
  • Against a player on whom I have a good read and I am in position.

Would I ever raise pre-flop from early position with AJ?

Yes! In the following situations:
  • Against a tight table, where there is much to be gained by taking the pot down pre-flop (blinds and antes are significant)
  • Against a predictable table where most opponents will re-raise with a hand that beats AJ and call with marginal holdings, like a smaller Ace or a medium to small pair.
  • Against one or two very loose opponents who will consistently call with worse hands, hoping to out-flop me. It is best if these opponents will play predictably when they hit or miss their holdings (and many do play this way).

I'm confident that in most of these situations I will play my opponents and the board to an advantage post-flop. I also know that a disconnected board, with a single ace, can be very dangerous. I might check-call a small bet on the flop to see what happens on the turn. I might check fold to a big bet (fearing an overpair or bigger Ace). Of course, it all depends on my opponent and his/her tendencies. Sometimes, the bigger the flop bet, the weaker their holding.

With a medium tournament stack, this becomes a very marginal hand. You cannot afford to "explore" with this hand, nor to make a mistake that will cost you any measurable portion of your chips.
  • I will fold this hand up front.
  • I will fold this hand in late position with any action up front.
  • I will come in for a raise if no one has acted, and get away from a re-raise (unless odds strongly dictate a call - AJ is a 5:2 dog against AA-TT and AK, AQ).
Each hand has its merits at the right place and the right time. When faced with a tough decision, consider your table, consider your image at the table, consider your position relative to the button, and consider your transportation options should AJ suffer the inevitable bad beat. ;)

My phone is ringing.... If this is Ace Ten calling, leave a message!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

WSOP2007 - Event #38 Recap Part 3

Continued from this part 2 post.

Coming back from dinner break, I felt like a new man. I was rejuvenated, refreshed, and well nourished. I don't know if it was the overfull bladder keeping me awake, but I was now focused on my opponents and their play.

I kept ahead of the blinds and antes for the next couple hours and just played my game.

I moved tables twice after the break. The second move was to a table along the rail all the way at the north-end of the Amazon ballroom. I had been broken from table 36, which was really good news. We were 9-handed at this point, and 35 tables meant 315 people remained in the event. The top 270 would get paid.

I was seat next to a very tall, muscular, athletic, and intimidating looking fellow. Actually, he was intimidating in build and size, but had a friendly face and a warm demeanor. I decided to break the ice right way.

After stacking my chips at the new table, I found an unused chair a few feet away and stacked it on top of my chair. I had done this a few times throughout the tournament, preferring to sit a little higher on the table. After sitting on my double-stacked chair, I turned to the physical speciman to my right, who had noticed my stacking efforts, and said "it's for physical intimidation". He broke into a huge grin. We became fast friends... until I took some of his chips, that is.

I soon learned that he was Audley Harrison, Superweight olympic gold medalist boxer, Briton, Audley Harrison. The dude's hands were so big, I never knew if he had cards under them. Hell, I often didn't know if I had cards under them.

Within an hour or so, we were down to 275 players, five from the money. From here, the whole field would play hand-for-hand, meaning that each table would start each hand simultaneously, and then wait for all of the tables to complete that hand. It seemed to take forever to lose five players, and coordinating hand-for-hand across 30 tables was a logistical challenge.

There were short-stacked players at my table who simply stopped playing. They reported of AK hands and midle-pair hands that were simply mucked while they tried to squeeze into the money. And they did. One player at my table had 3 antes left (less than a small blind) when the bubble was burst. He busted in the next hand, in 270th place - the first to cash.

Now it was back to work. I had a fairly aggressive table, and as time went on, all of the chips were accumulating to my left. I continued to maintain and pick up a few chips here and there. When 2 AM rolled around, and we were packing it in for the night, I had a decent and above average stack, but it felt short compared to the three players to my left.

About two hands before we broke for the night, the player to my immediate left, already the table chip-leader, busted two players in a huge pot to nearly double his stack. After we broke for the night, I learned that he was the big stack in the tournament at the end of Day 1.

What a bad beat! I was coming back Sunday morning in the absolute worst seat in the tournament, to the immediate right of the biggest stack in the tournament. And what's more, the two stacks to his left had me covered as well.

Regardless, I was ecstatic to be coming back the next day, and exhausted. It took Mrs. Chicago and I more than 30 minutes to get a cab back to Caesar's, and less than 30 minutes to pass out upon returning.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

WSOP2007 - Event #38 Recap Part 2

Continued from the first recap post.

After my big call, the cards dried up completely. It felt like I passed on 40 or 50 hands and we were getting close to the break. It became evident that the hand being dealt would be the last hand before break.

I was in the big blind, and as I watched the action proceed around the table, I reflected upon all of the anecdotal stories and tips about playing right before the break. "Don't go broke before the break" say some, while others like to take advantage of everyone's desire to get to break and get aggressive. I decided that if I woke up with something playable, I would put pressure on my opponents.

There was a mid- late-position raise from a somewhat quiet, tight player. The button thought for a moment, and then smooth called. The SB folded, and I looked down to find pocket kings! I think I had four premium hands in two days of poker (and never aces) - this was one of those hands.

I was out of position and there was already a good stack of chips in the pot. I wasn't particularly deep, so I decided to simply push and hope that the first raiser didn't have Aces. I pushed and he pondered. This was a good sign. Eventually both players folded, and I picked up a nice little pot without a fight. I was short, but comfortable going into the break.

Coming back from break, I looked for my opportunities. I played very tight, very aggressive. I continued to get my money in good, but was chased down twice. My opponent got his money all in twice against me, both times that overcame the odds (two-outter once, three-outter another time) to suck out and chop out my proverbial chip legs. Fortunately both opponents were short-stacked at the time, and I managed to hang on. I built my stack to about 9500 by the second break. Personally, I had been all in at least four times in those two hours, but called only once, where I had the best hand.

Four hours down and I felt like I had been playing for days.... I was exhausted, not as exhausted as Mark Vos (pictured above sleeping on a bench in the huge hallways of the Rio), but exhausted nonetheless.

We broke and returned for round five. The details of rounds four and five are very fuzzy to me. It must have gone well, because I built my 9500 chips to 45,000 chips. This put me in the chip lead for the table, and probably near the higher end of the field. I was counting down the moments until the dinner break, and when it finally came I ran straight to the Tilted Kilt bar and restaurant.

An hour and a half break, a vodka tonic, some pasta, and about six glasses of water rejuvenated me for the post-dinner run. I missed most of the next round in the men's room, but I was rejuvenated....