Monday, September 24, 2007

Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

And keeps my mind from wondering, where it will go...

The Beatles recorded it in 1967, and I've been replaying it in my head all week. My game, at least my online game, at least my online SnG game, has taken a bit of a beating in recent weeks. Hell, who am I kidding, my live game, my online game, my tournament game, and my ring game have probably all suffered. Its hard to know exactly, when playing against a variety of competition, at different levels, in different games. Some of these sessions have been winning ones, but could they have been more lucrative?

I've felt some holes in my game, and during a series of SnGs on Full Tilt in the last week, its been downright breezy! If memory serves (and I'm 500 miles from my desktop and Poker Tracker), I failed to cash in seven straight Sit-n-Gos of 9 to 45 participants. That is unusual for me at the stakes I play.

In live games, I've gotten careless. I've occasionally missed logical holdings of my opponents, I've played middling holdings for big pots out of position, I've made loose river calls against opponents who rarely bluff beyond the flop.

Here's a hand I played where I lost a "big" pot. A year ago I'd have gone broke on this hand every time, but in the last 12 months, I feel my game has progressed. I have focused on controlling pot-size, reading my opponents, narrowing their hand ranges, etc.

I was playing in a micro-blind No Limit hold 'em game in the neighborhood. This is a weekly game with many regular (repeat) players. There's a maximum $200 buy-in and blinds are $0.50/$1.

A player who I seemed to get tied up with regularly was under the gun, and came in for a BIG raise - 12x the big blind. This guy seems to have a very high opinion of his own game, and for whatever reason, I enjoy get involved in hands with him. This is probably my first mistake, as most players have more success when emotion isn't involved in the hand. I was on the button with a suited Jack-Ten, and after all of the players in between us folded, I made the call.

Jack-Ten suited is a fun hand against multiple opponents, and I will often play this in a raised pot. However, against a single opponent, facing a big raise, when I have no money invested in the hand, this should typically be an easy fold. I decided that I wanted to make a big hand and get paid off.

The flop came QTT. Gin! I flopped trip tens, and unless my opponent played AT for a big raise, I should be WAY ahead. Notice that this is the first time I've mentioned what my opponent may have. Notice my incredibly myopic assessment of what could beat me. I'm not just foreshadowing here, this is demonstrative of how careless and short-sighted I've been playing.

My opponent made a standard continuation bet, and I decided to set a little trap. I smooth-called behind him.

The turn was an incidental 6 (suits not relevant in the hand). He checked. Oooh, did I freeze him with my smooth call on the flop? I got cagey and checked behind. Plus, what if he DID have me beat? At least I could control the pot size. Note again, I didn't really consider HOW he might have me beat, just that he could - I knew enough to consider that I didn't have the nuts. The turn was like magic - a nice shiny Jack. There were no flush possibilities, but AK would give my opponent Broadway (the Ace-high straight). I had a monster, tens full of Jacks.

My opponent made a smallish bet into me with little thought. "I've got him in my cross hairs", I thought to myself. I put on a little act - considering his bet, counting my chips, reviewing the board. Then I cracked a little smile and said "raise". I put in a pretty good size raise. I had started the hand with less than $200, and had now just put the majority of the remainder of my chips in the pot. Now my opponent went into the tank for a full minute. Finally he said, "okay, I'm all in". I insta-called and turned over my full house.

He turned over... QQ, having flopped Queens full of Tens for a bigger full house. I shook my hed and re-bought. Then I proceed to get bad beat (yes, truly bad beat) for another $200 when I got outdrawn on 5 of the next 7 hands I played (I'm being literal here - I got my money in good all five times).

Most of the table seemed to think there was nothing I could do about this full house over full house hand, and that made me feel a little better. In fact, it made me feel good - their deterministic attitude is the reason I like playing in that game. Perhaps they would have all gone broker there, but when I'm playing tuned in, I should have lost a small pot. Better yet, I would have folded pre-flop.

Where was my biggest mistake in that hand? I should have folded pre-flop, certainly, for my aforementioned reasons. Against many opponents in many positions I will make the call here - but in this case, the right decision would have been to fold.

My bigger mistake, however, was not considering what my opponent held. In fact, had I considered it for a moment, I would have know with 99%+ accuracy that I had to be beat on the river, and with 75%+ accuracy that I was beat on every street. This particular player will make a big raise under the gun (UTG) with only a very small range of holdings. With AK, AA, KK, or a medium pocket pair he will make a standard raise UTG the vast majority of the time. With "trouble hands" like QQ, JJ, TT, he will always make a big pre-flop raise. He has expressed that he'd rather "just take it down" before the flop than play one of these hands out of position. Of course, this is a big hole in his game - why risk $12 to win the $1.50 in blinds? If he does get a call, now he's playing a $25 pot out of position with no idea where he is. Nothing requires him to play these hands in this seat, and while it isn't the play I'd recommend, I think he is better off open folding than making a 12x raise.

So, had I considered his play, even for a moment, I would KNOW that he had QQ, JJ, or TT in this spot. I've never seen him play any other holding this way. That's pretty damn good information to have - if you use it. When the flop came QTT, which of these holdings could I beat? AHA!! We have a decision here. I should have considered that before. Since I have JT, before the flop I should have thought it less likely that he had JJ or TT. QQ is most likely. Since there was a Queen on the flop, now JJ and QQ are equally likely (I know where one J and one Q are that are not in his hand). Because there are two tens on the board, he is highly unlikely to have the other two, but its certainly a possibility. [EDIT: Um, no it isn't. Thanks to Kenneth for pointing out that two tens on board and one in my hand makes it exceptionally unlikely for him to have two tens. If he did, at least I'd get my money back. :) ]

Now I know his holdings - he has Queens full of Tens or Jacks and Tens [D'OH: or Quad Tens]. I can beat one of those. When he bets the flop, I can call behind, to save money and see if he fires again, or I can raise to find out where I am. Because he might call a raise with Jacks and Tens, I think calling is my best option here (or folding?)

We both check the turn. He's likely to check with an of these holdings. He likes to slowplay monsters, and if he has Jacks, the Queen on the board, coupled with my call, has slowed him down. I could actually get him to fold with a bet on the turn, if he has Jacks. If he calls or raises I know I'm beat and I fold (or check it down).

When the Jack comes on the river, I am up a creek. I cannot beat QQ or JJ at this point. Calling a bet on the end is not advised, but my play, making a big raise... well, now we all know how smart that was.

I'm filling the cracks that ran though the door and kept my mind from wandering where it will go
See the people standing there who disagree and never win

When I start playing poorly, and when I know I've opened cracks that were previously closed, I go back to my spiritual guides. Those guides, of course, are David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth, Dan Harrington, Phil Gordon, Chris Ferguson, etc.

I recently picked up The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition, which has been sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to finish reading the two other non-poker books I've been reading. (Incidentally, one of the "non-poker" books is Positively Fifth Street. I'm a junky).

I decided that I could wait no longer, and started reading Ferguson's chapter on No Limit Tourneys. I've only read the first 15 pages or so, and I've found nothing revolutionary or profound. In fact, I haven't read anything that I hadn't already considered and applied. But... I hadn't been applying it well lately, and Jesus' text (heh heh) really helped me to eliminate mistakes that I'd been making, mistakes that I used to make when I was a beginning player. Jesus helped me to eliminate some of my original sin. (Cue the rim shot).

I have continued to find that continued play, and continued success, leads me to get careless, cocky, and impatient. Just spending an hour or two thinking about the game, reading about the game, or talking about the game turns me back towards the correct direction.

Since I read those eighteen pages, I have played in two small online tournaments. I cashed in both, winning the first. I plan to finish the book next week.

I'm taking my time for a number of things
that weren't important yesterday

and I still go

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

and stops my mind from wandering
where it will go
where it will go

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chicago Poker Hand of the Week

In a ring game, No Limit hold ‘em, at a local poker club. The stakes are $1/$2 blinds with a $300 max buy-in. I have about $850, and am the biggest stack at the table by at least $150. We are at a full table (9 or 10 players) and I am UTG + 2.

The table is fairly loose pre-flop, typically we’ll will have one raise pre-flop to between $8 and $16, depending on the position of the raise, number of limpers, and identity of raiser.


There is a $5 live straddle, so there is $7 in the pot when it comes to me – one player has folded.

I look down to find QQ. I would raise here about 80% of the time, but this is not one of those times. I have two aggressive players behind me in late position, and the straddle will raise his option about 15% of the time. I call the $5 straddle, as do 2 people behind me. The small blind folds, and the big blind, who is the tightest player by far, calls the big blind. There is $26 in the pot, and the straddle uses his option to raise, $35 more. This is a typical raise for him in this spot with a strong hand. He does not want to play this big pot out of position against 4 or 5 callers, and he would probably be content to take it down right here.

I am next to act and there is now $51 in the pot. This is exactly the way I had hoped this hand played out. Given the action on the first rotation, I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to call a big bet. If I re-raise, we are likely to play this hand head’s up with me in position. If the straddler comes back over the top, I may have to consider folding, but I’ll know where I am. He is most likely to merely smooth call a modest re-raise.

I raise to $82, or $47 on top of his $35 (this is ignoring the round of $5 straddle-calls). There is $133 in the pot. One of the callers behind me puts his last $93 in the pot (raising me $11). It folds to the big blind who, much to my GREAT SURPRISE smooth calls the bet. The straddle position, the original raiser, folds. It is $11 back to me, and I do not have the option of re-raising. There is $319 in the pot pre-flop, and it is $11 to me. If I know for a fact that my two opponents have AA and KK, I must still call the $11. I call.

At this point I am not thinking about the all-in player behind me – what’s done is done. I am thinking about the exceptionally tight and solid play in the big blind who merely called the $3 straddle against four other opponents, with only the straddler left to play. There is no way that he could make the assumption that this would be the 1 in 6 time that the straddling player raises – could he? The three of us have played together enough to know one another’s tendencies. I want to rule out AA or KK here, as those would certainly get a raise from his position. Wouldn’t they? He IS the tightest player at the table. I consider that he has one of three hands – a monster (AA or KK). A larger middle-pair like 88 through JJ is possible. Maybe he wants a baby board, or to flop a middle set to crush me and double-up. Or, and most likely, he has AK. He can call most bets with this hand, he’s probably a coin-flip or dominating, but doesn’t want to commit to a “drawing hand”. If a A or K hits the flop, he’ll bet out and take it down – or better, check raise.


The flop comes 2, 4, 5 rainbow. This is a great flop for me. I am 99.999% certain that he doesn’t have A-3, and he certainly doesn’t have two pair. I also can’t imagine this player would have called a very large bet out of position with any pocket pair that would give him a set here. Other players at this table would – not him.

Here’s the thing… he bets $100 INTO A DRY SIDE POT. There’s $331 in the main pot and $100 in the dry side pot. Why did he bet? He has about $250 behind… what should I do?!?


I cannot call here and face another bet on the turn. With $441 in the pot, if he puts another dollar in he will be committing himself. What can he have? Pre-flop I assumed AK was most likely. I am way ahead of AK, but would he have bet $100 into the dry side pot with it? Unlikely. What about the second most likely 99-JJ. Absolutely. This was a perfect flop for that range, and if I have two overs, he may assume that he can get me to fold with that bet, after all, there’s no money in the side pot other than his bet. I have to beat him and the all in player to be eligible for the main pot. Is $100 too small? Is he trying to induce a re-raise? Finally, the third most likely holding, AA or KK. Could he have that? I still feel that he pre-flop raise action is very perplexing if he holds either of these hands. On the other hand, is he tight enough to keep a small pot out of position pre-flop and fold he big holding to any scary board or resistance? Even with Aces? Maybe, but that’s hard to take.

What do I do?

I am on the fence, but after about 90 seconds I decide that my opponent is most likely to have the medium pair. In fact, I convince myself that he has JJ. I push all in, which puts him to a decision for his remaining $255. He thinks for a minute or so and says “you can’t have A3, can you?” I love that he finds me unpredictable enough to even consider this. Then, I think I hear him say, “maybe you have 8s??” This makes me relax a ton… Now I believe he has 99.

After another minute, he calls and shows…. TWO KINGS!?! I’m dead to two outs and neither comes on the turn or river and he rakes in a monster. The all in player mucks face down. I decide that he probably had 7s in this spot, but perhaps he would play AJ suited like this.

I ask my crafty opponent two questions:

1. “Why did you ask if I had 8s?” He responds “I said ACES, not eights!” – I misunderstood his accent, and it gave me a false sense of security.

2. I mused really, rather than asked, “I can’t believe you’d limp there, pre-flop, with Kings”. The original straddle says, “did you really think I was going to raise there? Can you take that chance?” My opponent just shrugged, smiled, and stacked his chips….