Construction and its Discontents, Part I

In one sense, the day someone becomes my student is the day they should fire me. Why? Because I supply them with the question that ultimately answers all poker questions:

What is a bet?

Not just any bet, mind you – although we start with that – but a bet in poker. From the general to the specific. In fact, it’s the first of two connected and highly effective homework assignments that launch aspirants, sink or swim, into the world of actually thinking about poker instead applying technique. So effectively, in fact, that I’ve abandoned my miasma of poker exercises and Easter egg hunts (six parter on aces UTG, anyone? Thought so.) Knowing what a bet is, rather than just racing out to make more of them, helps you decide your range, your actions (such as making a logical choice between leading or check-raising and so escaping the endless forum drivel of I like a ____ here, bro…), and all your adjustments.

Well, bad news: I’m not going to tell you here what a bet is and what it directs you toward. That would be a little self-defeating, no? It’s apparently far too useful and valuable to know how to walk before you run. Stumble away, you’ll be fine.


Nevertheless, as I owe the poka peeps a few reviews, including on a singular NLHE spot stoking the furnace of The Back Room, we will get fairly deep into the nature of betting and what defines, maybe not a bet, but certainly a good bet and a bad bet.

Sizing within a Constructed Range

In these hands from the Red Chip poker forum, Master Sammwigg has made bad bets. The first is only a sizing error. In it, our hero covers the table by a wide margin, while in reality the effective stacks nearly all have the standard 100 big blinds. The under the gun player open limps, and hero, uh, “isolates” with AsAc; naturally he picks up three little orcs with cold calls, including possibly the big blind – it’s not clear from the hand history.

On an impossibly favorable flop of kc8s2h, hero bets pot, picking up only the initial cold call, then on another incredibly fortunate card, finds a 40% wager. Yet villain now decides to fold.

Sammwigg HH1A
A crushing spot, even against the tighter range of the EP caller our villain acting next…

What happened here?

Our hero is laying a high price for his villains to continue on the flop. On this board the combinations of value that even three players can assertively come up with is no sustaining Elfin savouriness. It’s a miracle Master Sammwigg got value, and the action speaks to an extremely loose game or a villain hand that simply can’t fold, such as a set or a passive AK, which may be discounted and therefore have fewer combinations than sets.

So you can clearly see how sizing is not arbitrary and is really the manipulation of one’s combinations against another’s. By choosing a bet size that only targets AK/KQ, Sammwigg is targeting only a very precise portion of his opponent’s range. Now, this is not a useless idea, but is this the spot to contort a response range so narrowly? Well, in the case that he knows his opponents’ holdings and tendencies very, very precisely, and wants to polarize smart bomb that range in order to protect a turn shove bluff, well… okay – that has to be granted. He can turn this bad bet into a good one one street later. After all, it’s generally not what you do in life or poker, but how. That said, this tactic was not likely Sammwigg’s intention, and his action on the turn confirms.

Our stout hero should feel just a tad uneasy about this flop call if it is made by a strong opponent who recognizes the meaning of prices. Sammwigg is getting value from some AK and maybe KQ, given that the latter will sometimes fold as stacks are now in play right on the flop, thanks to the overplay. There are no real floats in villain’s range, unless we realize that a king is just a float against this size!

Pretty sick. Every other correct call pummels the raiser, even though there are no natural two pairs. So how does anyone maximize here?

What’s happened is that hero has elevated his perceived range when he’s already inclined to be at the top of it. Postionally and facing a field of orcs, Sammwigg’s bluffs on Kxxxxx have likely dwindled – is he really blasting ATs in here- well we’ll see. In layman’s terms, he’s overrepping, bro; on the dark path toward turning his value hand into a bluff. On a board where he has all the perceived simple value but many misses, the combinations he has are incentivized to bet smaller. Every time a weak king folds here or an eight or an underpair like JJ that didn’t like the massive isolation size from EP, a poker angel weeps (don’t worry, it’s all crocodile tears). It does not make sense, if we are representing a balanced range of hands, to lay a terrible price when he has all the big hands: AA, AK, KK, KQ. Therefore all bluffs become very expensive. It’s unnecessary and unsightly. Hence a primarily guideline to betting: when we have an abundance of value and few bluffs, our bets can be smaller.

Sammwigg HH1B
…yet so many other hands (line 2) require capitalization and the support of AA that won’t be bet like this.

Aggressive and Passive Dead Money

It may be a counterintuitive concept to some, but this concept runs into what Andrew Seidman, the great genius of exploitative poker philosophy, calls Aggressive Dead Money. The excessive wagering, or, in other words, the inappropriate price offered for the ranges of the other players to find continuance, is a classic NL mistake. The leverage an EP range needs on a board like this over multiple streets is not the laying of 2:1.

Fortunately for Sammwigg, they are not exactly playing with a full deck at the Post Oak Poker Club. This means he will get calls from hands he should not, and that overrepping his hand may be more effective than I give him credit for. In other words, the combinations that should respond will be perhaps joined by others – this is a legitimate exploit.

With the dud deuce on the turn (we’ll call it a diamond as the history is wrong), Sammwigg now slows down, making a pretty sweet bet of $100. Given stacks and his absurd bet on the flop, this one, as Hobbity as it looks, makes more sense. The villain is already essentially committed, and really should be felting an extremely strong range. He’s suddenly run out of sets, those deuces make a mere combo of quads, and is left with a calling range that would be forced to offer up some sacrificial top pairs for minimum defense frequency, as irrelevant as that concept really is here given the multiway pot and tight PFR range.

Ah: maybe not useful for shaping a calling range, but very useful for telling a story of just how unwise Sammwigg’s bet is and just how tightly you can defend against it in this multiway spot. Of villain’s 145 combinations, he lands on the turn with maybe 33 – far, far below what Sammwigg wants to see, and every single one should be at least top pair. So what does villain do now if he found a call with Kxjx? Should those be thrown away, too? Prices really do matter.

In any case, while a shove makes more sense for pot geometry, for polarization (meaning Sammwigg could conceivably have more bluffs here – ah, that’s where that ATs might fit in), it’s unnecessary given the overplay on the flop which has destroyed the possibility of any floats. Sammwigg leaves some room for the caller to make an error – which he did not do on the flop – by raising all in or calling given price.

However, villain folds! Remarkable. Being laid 3.5:1, villain now surrenders on a drawless board. Villain’s error was calling on the flop, if this was his plan. After finding continuance, even with players behind, he should look and be extremely strong, and now the price is small. There should not be so much fold equity built into the leveraging flop bet – stacks were in play there and then, unwisely, by the amount of Aggressive Dead Money that exceeded the need for leverage.

So what we are seeing here is Seidman’s brother concept – Passive Dead Money. It cannot be the case that many hands or maybe no hands – leverage themselves and then fold after accepting the horrible price to continue. When too much fold equity is built into a call – in other words, when a call has a high probability of ending up not continuing on the next street – Seidman calls this Passive Dead Money. It’s obvious that the call included a substantial amount of future fold equity, because the price of the turn or opportunity to shove was offered and denied. Since villain likely had an underpair on the drawless board, and can expect a bet on the turn, including a shove, it is easy to see how poor in theory Samwigg’s large bet was.

Dealing with Complexity

Armed with Aces again, this time bespaded and bejeweled, Master Sammwigg makes another isolation attempt, curiously to the same size as over the one limper before, so that this time the price he lays is far more favorable to the field, as in fact, it appears everyone is in for a limp. Three little orcs once again flat.

However, this time the flop is a photo negative 7h8hJs – bad news for those aces. Sammwigg once again loads up his slingpot and wagers the full $80 into the hungry piggies. Naturally, their flatting range gobbles up the bet, and good Master Sammwigg folds, right or wrong. After all, while it’s possible those aces are up against bottom set or two pair, if they didn’t raise, the js being not the suit of the draw leaves many top pair and flush draw combinations, among other mixed equity, that can capitalize on the flop bet that is representing an overpair. Maybe it’s money saved in the short term – but it’s also strong equity surrendered. And having no Ah should really have been on Sammwigg’s mind if he was thinking of actualizing.

So this is a double error of construction. Setting aside the sizing, is this flop a bet? What are the best actions available to Sammwigg? If we examine a set of reasonable calling ranges, it’s easy to see that it is going to get value from top pair, draws and combo draws. Value is a thing, and yes, Jeffnc, aces are a good hand. However, no protection will come of this bet. Why is that?

Out of position on a caller’s board, Sammwigg is betting as big as he realistically can and yet he still is offering a good price to the in-position callers. That’s because this time, their range corresponds to the board and can handle streets of betting. All the implied odds are on their side, and all have the position that makes their continuance straightforward.

Sammwigg HH2
It’s hard to be behind in this spot, even on a brutal board, but that isn’t your real problem.

The discontented think they have a solution. Bet bigger! Don’t be scared! Show strength! Punish the draws! Ok, well now we move everyone closer to commitment and “charge” the max – in a game where only calling is allowed.

Is there a sign saying no raising is allowed at the Post-Oak? Right next to the forbidden check and raise bulletin?

That’s the catch – what if you decide to fold? Who is really being charged?

Why, it’s good Master Sammwigg. By placing Aces into his bet/fold range, not only is this bet lost, Sammwigg loses the absolute max by overrepping his range and realizing zero equity. This time, you see, his hand really is a bluff! And he folds it – like the bluff he forced it to be.

Yet his hand, even on this board, rates to be ahead. It’s the playability that he is behind on.

Now, it never had to come to this. If Sammwigg had checked, for instance. He can check/smash when he incentivizes the middle equity ranges to fight for the pot. Or, he can represent a wider range with fewer bluffs and more middle value by betting smaller. He can bet/shove having induced a wider range to take action – very cool.

He can even bet/fold if he likes – but then the question is again – why so much?

Why put so much fold equity into your hand and cost yourself win rate?

Aggressive and Passive Dead Money, in the darkness of low-stakes poker purgatory, are what binds the games together. We’ll be talking more about this – after all, it’s especially on my mind, with two Easy Game study groups currently doing great work under my instruction.

You see, in a complex spot, any action can make sense – I’m looking at you, Kagey – but the selection of what hands to do it with, what to do against adverse responses, and with what sizings, are the essence of construction.

We’ll look at a few more hands in this series, culminating with Eldar vs. Soto, where we see the intricacies of a mixed response to range advantage.

9 thoughts on “Construction and its Discontents, Part I

  1. This is a very “insider” article. I think those that regularly read you probably understand it all but for me the apparent references and innuendos make it difficult. Even hard to follow how the hands played and who took what action. I think in the second hand hero folded after making an $80 bet!? Not sure. I’ll poke around here a bit more and hopefully I’ll come to understand your vocabulary. I can at least tell I have a few more years of education waiting on me…

  2. “Yet his hand, even on this board, rates to be ahead. It’s the playability that he is behind on.” Technically, with 43% equity against the combined ranges of all Villians, he rates to be behind (less than 50%). However, if/when he checks and only one Villian bets, and we reconstruct the equities, he may still be ahead of that single Villian. If two Villains bet and it returns to him, my guess (not having done the math) is that he is behind at least one of them. Great example for analysis.

  3. The thought process breakdown, range construction, actions and their reciprocation. This article was awesome, I hope you get back what you give the community for free man, it really is a great insight into the lens of how you view the game and each hand.

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