Skip to content

Ace Minus Performance

With some determination after an unscheduled night of gastronomic and alcoholic debauchery, triggered by having realized I left the crock pot on while driving in a lethargic rush hour, I made it to the little card room. The fog had well settled- it was time to do the dark things humans do and this was a gathering place for many of them.

I’m preparing for the coming big games, yes, but the truth was I was also too tired to write and no company was around to evade myself. My interior plan? Not lose too much.

Not exactly the recipe for an A+ performance. Suitably then, I was dealt that ever so depressing grade of a hand, the Ace- Jack. The B+ of king-queen feels so much better than this A- holding. I was always a bad student but good performer and saw a lot of these grades – maybe a hidden reason I am always trying to make use of second place ribbons.

One table of NL was running when I arrived. For the first time, the floor recognized what game I wanted, if not my person, and I was seated immediately. I iso’d my first hand, and so like a firm handshake at an introduction, immediately set the tone.

Nevertheless, it was not to be an easy evening and running over the table with my rather questionable “holdings” proved a challenge.

Part of my problem was fundamental: once I establish a rhythm of raising, I tend to break strategy and start raising everything that is in my limping range – lack of discipline or adjustment? Only this morning do I fully realize that this was part of the spew I created with my companion for the evening, Ax Jx. Great as a great limp for various reasons and planned as such, I didn’t work this into my game a single time of the course of nine or ten iterations of the hand. Most of my successes were of the raise and take it variety, which was fine, but I lost money unnecessarily, never hit a pair, and folded to nits’ three bets.

I also burned up money trying to fight for pots. Since I generally don’t fold to three bets, assuming reasonable stack sizes and good pot odds, I ended up scandalously defending ks5s, kcqd, and 5c2c to admittedly poor reraise sizings.

However, my opponents were so scared in each case they potted the flop and allowed me no room to wriggle. In the five-deuce spot, a familiar villain, so worried about a suckout or something, 4x’ed the pot whereas I would otherwise would have continued with a pair and backdoors.

Related, I was again let off the hook when I iso’d 4h2h and picked up my main target for the evening, an erratic player who would later spew off 150 bbs to 4x pot guy and take off: a bad night’s work. Here the flop came 4d6d7s. She checked to me, and although this is a situation I am going to win a lot in position against overcard heavy fish, it’s not a board to cbet. The turn 2d improved me to likely winning equity and would likely have been good facing two checks… but that’s not what happened. She led out for 2.5x pot, leaving a little less than 80 bbs behind.

I mulled it over, as obviously I was beating many hands.  Ultimately I decided she was not capable of a big move here, even with the ad, and so surrendered my hidden two pair. She proudly showed Ad5d- the nuts and the nut redraw. I had dodged another bullet but was rapidly getting stuck.

In the next hand I flatted a min raise with fives and on a great runout for blockers, 2x3x9xjx6x, I potted over a weak river lead. However, no sooner had I dropped my raise onto the felt than my opponent pointed imperiously to the little pile for a count, didn’t wait for the answer,  and called, shoving the chips forward like quarters into a laundry machine . He had rivered two pair with 6d3c. I briefly considered that I could have gone bigger, but given the speed of his call, the issue was moot: he was never going to get him to surrender. The move should have been made earlier, if at all.

Too many bluffs? Too light? Getting out of hand? What happened to the “not lose too much” plan? Perhaps all that and more, but I was working and finding my groove. I got top pair to show and fold. I 3 bet Acqc large, saw a flop, and got a likely Ace-King to let go regretfully against my impossible to play against bet size on 5s7c7d.

I then got what must have been my 8th ace-jack- but this time made something good happen.

After opening from the high jack, the cutoff, the button, and one blind called. On kc9c8d I declined to cbet, knowing the button, a sedate young tech professional liked flatting every good king: he never three bet me, even with Ace-King. The board was also against me, with numerous draws that could make the turn hard, despite top pair in my range and a key blocker. 4xer dude was in the cutoff, and since he tended to play face up, I would see what he would do.

Checked through, which would add complexity to the hand. The turn brought the purest blank, the 2d. It’s not a good card to represent, so I checked again. The cutoff checked, and now at last, the guys began to come out of the woodwork. The button bet small into the $100 pot – thirty.

I went over what this meant. Generally for him, it was thin value or a draw. I wondered at why he had not bet in position when checked to, and concluded it meant thin value. Now my next action doesn’t make the most sense, but because I am not a monkey cbettor, I definitely have some value hands here, unlike many players – I recall writing up the double check of top set out of position which so effectively stacked poor Fausto – so now I check raise to $100, threatening stacks with a half pot bet left over. This raise should get rid of the cutoff and work against the button’s perceived thin value range rather well – far, far better than a delayed cbet. If the button is drawing in position, I will know which cards I can shove on the river.

To my surprise, it was 4xer in the cutoff who seemed really unhappy with this development. He evidently had a hand that wanted to see the next card. Rubbing his face in frustration, I watched him vacillate between all options before pitching his cards at the dealer. He was in the strange area where he was very close to shoving while simultaneously it was never really a possibility.

Interestingly, I observed his difficulty seemed to rub off on the button, who had been observing 4xer as well. Now it was his turn to go into the tank. We were playing for stacks and he had a better hand than his bet represented. I was particularly placid this evening, perhaps too worn out to register nervousness. Freed of the button and heads up, he talked to me, trying to feel me out and name my hand. He kept thinking, focused on the board – then suddenly shooting a glance at me, hoping to catch something informative. Mostly he didn’t like how much I had back: he was up, the night was growing late, and his profit was now under threat.

Disappointed in this futile effort at reading me, he tossed in his cards, which he later revealed in conversation with 4xer to be kxqx, announcing that I must have played axkx as a trap. The cutoff was a little surprised at this analysis, because he claimed kxjx, and so it seemed unlikely that I had ace-king. A draw, he surmised.


What do you call with when facing adverse action and now holding a bluffcatcher? This is the theme of Yosh’s postulation, although the circumstances are obviously different and somewhat simplified in the classic river situation with bluffcatcher versus polarized bet. It’s a key part of a hold’em player’s arsenal of understanding- although I can’t get my mind around suddenly calling with 100% of SDV when a bluffing frequency upticks 1% – not anymore. Nor does ignoring the percentages tell you where to draw the line – my jack high calls have all been correct but the ten high ones failures. I used to be able to see the logic of “nuts or air” but now it seems disproportional and further, puts one in danger of calling with hands that don’t even beat bluffs. Worse, one of the great illusions hold’em players treat themselves to is the fantasy of knowing their opponent’s range perfectly – this one is a striking presumption.

Ultimately, all this might not be that important except where one must make repeated generalized decisions. Stock answers are the undoing of the poker player in a game of adjustments. When one reduces calling frequencies to toy game analogies, a player ends up ignoring the fact that his holdings (including their suggestive blockers), board texture, and all the other action (generally more important than any of these factors) that led up to the final bet can guide a calling range better than the bet/(pot +bet) + bet formulation. Especially in live poker, with its problem being the overabundance of information rather than the reverse, it’s key to make a more precise deduction. At one point, I had a long and winding conversation with good sir Joe Offsuit – possibly the best screen name ever – about a related topic – calling against that theorized perfectly balanced range (so many tightrope walkers in our imagination). While we were able to agree on many things, the quality of bluffcatcher and thus the danger of overcalling was our central point of conflict, as it is in the Torelli inspired thread, and could not be resolved.

For this fellow holding kxqx it should seem rather obvious, that on the surface, he has a bluffcatcher he should defend. While it’s true that I will have him beat sometimes, this plays into the simplified version of the formula rather well. Assuming neither of us are ever folding, he is up against only eight possible combinations of Axkx and maybe two top two pair – both unlikely to always be played this way – but a greater number of flush draws, worse kings turned into a bluff or raised for protection, and other weak holdings. I wonder if he held the qc which would make his call harder, as now I cannot have AcQc. His small bet with such a powerful hand as TP2K means his holding is elevated in his range, not downgraded- he should be more inclined, in other words, to call. Further, it’s possible if you don’t have a clue as to how I play to interpret my bet as repping nothing, in which case he should be shoving over me for value and protection – especially minus that tell-tale club.

However, maybe it’s harder than that. It’s true that if he had turned his hand face up I would not have tried to move him off his hand. However, the power of the check raise is great, especially when seemingly committing. If he assumes I am not capable of a single check raise with air but do have some semi-bluffs and a few kings he beats, such as AKs,KTs,AcQc,AcJc,Ac9c,Ac8c,Ac7c,Ac6c,Ac5c,AKo, then he is worse than a 40/60 dog and will break even by a meager $2 given stacks – maybe I even made a rounding error. It’s possible, also, that to him my range is even tighter than that, and that I have been looking to check raise three nines or an unlikely top set as my lead value hands, in which case he is likely dead and losing piles. All this also makes the cutoff’s fold of Kxjx more reasonable- he has to deal with both the button and me.

It’s for all these reasons that my instinct is to not show the bluff. If I am making an “error” or exploitative play here, I don’t want these guys in particular to know it – unlike the situation from my latest post with 10s9c. Is there a discernible difference in the two situations? I think so, and have hinted at it here, but I will let you figure out what it is.

Soon afterward I won my sole big pot of the evening, evaluating a paired board on the river against 4xer. I had arrived on the river with the ad3d from the small blind. This was interesting because it is not normally a hand I would want to play like this and from this spot, preferring to attack the late position first in raiser – especially with 4xer behind me who seemed to have a rivalry going with the LP opener. However, I think I correctly deduced both that LP was not folding, based on prior behavior and generally strong range, but that I also wanted to play hands post as much as possible with both these guys.

To make a long story short, 4xer had led into a backdoor flush draw that had emerged and also paired the board. It was something like kd7c6s7d. I had floated to take it away from the monkey cbetting PFR, but now had real equity. The river was the 8d, filling many hands including mine. I checked out of position, and now 4xer led for half pot, the preflop raiser called, and I was left with a raise or call decision. From the BB, 4xer really did have a lot of full houses here – Kx7s and all of them, in fact. This was not guesswork, I had seen enough showdowns and face-up folds to know that every face-rag was in his range against his enemy.

However I thought deeply about the situation and concluded that his turn action was a semi-bluff, using the seven to freeze the PFR, which 4xer knew it was impossible for him to have. Given this, I put 4xer on a weak flush or all the naked trips such a player has. It was highly probable that 4xer would check raise or bet bigger on the turn with a nut hand – the bet sizing tell helped me. Further, I simply wanted to be shoving more than full houses here – I actually couldn’t get past that idea and probably could’ve spared everyone a little tanking.

I shoved for my remaining 100 bbs and 4xer snapped me off with the jack-high flush – the lost PFR found a fold. I now had gone from a slow losing session to a solid winner, claiming a 275 bb pot.

However, I could not hold on, first making a bad hero call, and then getting cooled off holding kxkx in my final hand for three way stacks against twin ace-queens who both found the magic ad in the window.

The final tally? I lost twenty-five dollars.

All according to plan, I suppose. Even in a game of adjustments, too much improvisation tonight, not enough strategy. Do better next time, and talk to me after class if you have questions.

A minus.


  1. Yosh Yosh

    What a dance on the turn! Poor button. He played it brilliantly right up until he folded.

  2. Maddog Maddog

    Any table with people snapping 100 BBs with a J high flush on a paired board, is a table I want to be playing on. And/or, you had cultivated a wild LAG image to get that call.

Leave a Reply