Right Play

There are formulas in art and poker that will get you good results.  Brilliance, however, often goes its own way without all the variables accounted for and balanced, even if they can never truly disappear if the equation is to work.  In Isolde, which I attended last night at the Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn, there was genius in the central metaphor expressing what can and cannot be replaced by another thing or person.   There was genius in the pacing and hypnotic effect of the deliberate acting style.  There was (often) genius in the minimalist direction.  However, the destructive and confused ending lacked coherence.  What Isolde needed was its own organic logic to be concluded.  Instead, the play went somewhere else entirely; literally, at the very close, into the ether behind the main stage.  There seemed to be three endings, where in each one the director proposed to first to raise (the overdone dumbshow); then, unsure, to call (the brutally exaggerated forgetfulness of Isolde under the spotlight), then sighing, fold (Jerry and Massimo mumbling in the dark about what might have been).  Unable to settle on one, he gave us all three.

Poker players know this indecision is impossible, even though they also know that they should consider all available options.  One way forward is going to be best, the which gathers the most value.  Players also know, because they have all experienced it, that it’s easy to be confused without formulas or history or examples, especially when they have reached the limits of their handreading and actionable knowledge.  What happens when you have experimented, gone into that deep backstage ether, but come up with no real conclusions, is that you paradoxically end up duplicating something or someone else, even yourself perhaps, and end by taking an action that does not fit the circumstance.  For example, the calling station trying to be better who now folds incorrectly.  The bluffer who now bluffs too small, having heard it’s about getting the most for the least.  The fancy player who levels himself in a whole new way.  Gargamel somehow tanking longer.

After the disappointing denouement, many in the audience left quickly, chattering in exaggerated bewilderment (raised on self-respect, New Yorkers love their own opinions to excess).  The cumulative effect that the eminent director and actor Richard Maxwell was about to earn in the closing moments had been thrown away in favor of a heavy handed dumbshow, unnecessary technical effects which undercut the lead actress, and, at last and worse, a nearly pointless epilogue which emphasized the importance of the least necessary character while adding nothing to any of the others.

The same organizational chaos can happen in poker when you are not applying basic, working, functioning lines, right from the start.  Excellence in poker is taking account of all variables and designing the best plan, “+EV,” as they say, perhaps too often.  It’s a phrase which is really too glib to be always useful, as obviously poker players don’t say to themselves, “well I’m going -EV this time, that will teach them.” Everyone has their reasons, and they are often more defendable than you might first think.  Sometimes, many lines are +EV, how do you choose?  Are there consequences I might be creating by being obsessed with EV? Poker is not infinite like art, but it does offer so many possibilities that the comparison works.  In any case, plus EV in general is the encore you want to hear.

In this thread, the poster Eazzy wants to limp a weak hand, feeling that he has a significant postflop edge.  This is a reasonable thought in a vacuum.  He has the button; he wants to play from a position of strength; and he wants to ensure he has opponents with weak holdings; he feels his choices will be better at every decision point.  However, like Maxwell, he is choosing complexity, not simplicity- is this the right beginning to his piece?  Is this the highest expectation line?

Isolde is standing and delivering when the play begins: “We know the story. I was to come by boat and save him. But aboard that boat we know there was a saboteur. That bitch. And then I saw… Line?”

It’s a terribly clever opening which orients us to the entire piece: Isolde is an actress losing her mind and memory, perhaps as a metaphor for age, practicing with her husband.  At once we know the thrust of the piece, and the ensuing interchange between them foreshadows her affair with the weightless Massimo.

The thread poster Eazzy himself has started out clever, as well.  The problem is his choice to limp a very clumsy hand.  Amidst the variables of hand strength, position, number of players, stack depth, player types, etc., it is of course okay to do anything if your edge is so great, your genius so vast, that no obstacle is insurmountable.  No doubt Eazzy is a winning player; in fact, this button overlimp is probably a big part of his game, based on his attitude and language.  From everything he wrote, I’m imagining him as something of a bully in his games, willing to mix it up and knock a few heads about.  A guy who doesn’t mind getting caught bluffing every now and then.  The problem is, A9o and his gouty friends A6-A8o have no maneuverability on the vast majority of flops; that should tell you something about limping them.  The motivation for this player’s line is too heavily reliant on his own genius; he would be better off humbly using the formula of raising for isolation.  He wants to limp, but this isn’t the hand.  He’s forcing it.  The juxtaposition of value and action isn’t matching the natural opening lines of Isolde.

Another way to look at it, is that the poster has given up all his preflop edge so that he could create complexity on the flop.  This would work out well if he wants complexity, and is planning to get the maximum when he flops well, which he has.  His flop plan, which is a good one in many senses, is to raise.  However, he believes that when raised in return he most always fold.  The situation is actually simple.  His theme (limping for complexity, i.e. outplaying the field) for the hand is inconsistent.  Consider, for instance, a counterexample, where Dennis Phillips was playing against an opponent of such sophistication on High Stakes Poker that he found himself in the position of needing to stack off with K7, top pair second kicker, correctly, to deal with the complexity of the situation.  In Eazzy’s hand, it’s the opposite case, it’s complexity taking on simplicity, a mismatch and a miscalculation.

This is a significant explanation for why A9o is a raising or folding hand here.  This is not a hand that rewards nuance. The stack to pot ration is in fact too big for when Eazzy limps and makes his most likely value against speculative hands.  Not only could he possibly be outplayed, he is disregarding reverse implied odds because he believes he knows how to avoid them.  Thus another contradiction emerges: the ability to preclude folding the best hand often involves the possibility of being value owned.

Where does A9o belong?  It’s a simple as the situation itself. A9o’s equity share is suited to a low to mid SPR situation; and fewer opponents for that matter. It’s fairly clear to see that the formula for this piece should be raising>folding>limping.  It turns out that limping, to answer the thread question about why you can limp A10 in the same spot, is in the fact the counterintuitive fancy play.  Yet it is probably a default for this player, based on empirical evidence of his success and play style.  It won’t necessarily seem like a natural opening line for him… yet.

isoldeIn Isolde, the issue was difficult straightaway, and demanded a complex formula.  Maxwell’s actions were consistent with his holding.  However, as we all know, everything changes on the river.  Faced with a confusing scenario of possibilities, the director went for the tour de force, the answer to all the questions, even the ones we weren’t asking.  He’s probably done this before.  The river, and the end to a drama, is about resolution-even if it is a reversal or a irresolute resolution.  The drama would have been very powerful if the dumbshow had ended the piece in a ritualistic connection to the original German/Celtic legend, like a terrible dream or spell summoned up the tragic triangle of husband, wife, lover.  We could have done without the Jerry/Massimo confrontation, or, in fact, pushed this bit of moralizing before the last two scenes, in order to accentuate what was the true finale, Isolde alone on the stage losing her mind, as predicted in the opening lines.

So a bit of mess, but one should have sympathy- 5th street is the most difficult to play.  Isolde was wonderful and riveting overall, and that is what counts.  As we filed out of the theater, the young night still in front of us, one attendee pointed at a positive review on a placard and snorted derisively.  I tried to defend the powerful if imperfect Isolde, get a bit of a hand history going and figure out what could have been done.  Maybe over cocktails.  However, no takers, and the dissatisfied woman disappeared down the escalator of laments with her friend.  Everyone wants the very best, the most expected value, whatever that is.

There is a place for all lines, in poker and in theater.  A drink to the first ninety percent, anyone?  It’s still plus ev, right?  Anyone?

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.