Ten Nine, Off and On

The nine ten off, with salt rim

I’ve found an unusual game at a small cardroom previously unknown to me. Worn out by emotional fatigue and the stress, frustration, and guilt of spending down my bankroll on various relaxations, I’ve wanted to warm up to the bigger games – 5/10 with our old friends such as the Sommelier, the Banker, the Koala, and the tourney pros that round out my scene – slowly. The structure and the game culture of this tiny casino – 1/3 with usually just as much or more money on the table than in the local 2/5 – is entirely situated to my skill set: deepstack, multiway poker.

Exactly what I needed, in other words. After a couple weeks, I’m averaging an absurd thirty bbs per hour, which is a perhaps more suggestive of how big it plays than it is sustainable – but I’ll take them all the same. I want to feel entirely On when I get back to the Big Boy games- a feeling I have had trouble recapturing since my troubles of last spring.

In any case, since I’ve been remiss in sharing sessions of late, I thought I would write up a small one I found interesting. Beyond the balance of concerns that create a good line, the spot reminds me of how inaccurate my or anyone’s hand-reading can be until we know an opponent extremely well.

I had been opening large – exactly 7x in honor of some ridiculous tweet – but in truth it was not far off my usual 5x or 6x. Still, reacting ranges were being contorted only mildly. It’s true that the nits were now flatting some premiums. However, I could easily get away from certain runouts – and had to in one unhappy spot. For them, the problem is greater. Despite the safety of flatting strong, it is more or less impossible to range me, as [8d][4d], [4c][3c], [5s][3s] and such are in my EP deepstack opening range. They have to wait until the turn or river, where both the tightest and widest ranges, under the duress of equity and money pressure, each compress and shrivel holdings into clearer view.

Moreover, nits are easy to identify and play perfectly against. The issue for many unfortunate players is that they can’t make 1 + 1 = 2, and give action far too lightly in certain spots. It occasionally makes my blood boil, while I’m laboring to make [qd][10d] sing as my premium for the evening, when some rock gets all he can eat with his [ax][ax] and goes home rewarded for playing horribly.

It means his opponents aren’t even playing the game, even if he isn’t really, either: crash test dummies fill many poker seats, not just Poker Butts.

On the other hand, many players have harder strategies to identify and define. Fortunately, what often unites them is the desire to to gamble, especially among those whose tools are primarily suited to play Donkey Chain Poker, an equity realization style which exists all the way up the food chain. (Even the biggest games I’ve played in are not free from weak play, which should give hope to anyone trying to move up or cease being scared of The Regs.)

Pot odds, like the sleep of reason, can justify anything, apparently. Naturally, in medium stack games this strategy is terrible and a clear loser – I would have no poker career if this were not true.

However, nothing is ever simple. In these deeper games, where everyone has at least 200 bbs, the preflop error is changed, if not lessened. If you were to run a hot-cold analysis of how their range plays, you would not find it far behind mine – a disaster when we play the 80 bb showdown game, but here they may get to use this against me, given room to play, an overlay, and the fear of a protected pot. Hands can transform from tickets to suckerville into moldable pieces of equity if offered stacks to fight for.

Deep into this session, and with exactly the image I want – shady – I opened [10s][9c] from middle position and picked up three callers. With about 85 in the pot and against a variety of stacks – I have $1500 and am easily covered by the button – all of us see [Ks] [Js] [6c].

I do have a backdoor spade draw but because I am assuming these guys are not folding any suited ace, I am not looking to barrel through spades. That said, I do want to barrel this flop in anticipation of dodging spades. Because I hold key cards in a middle preflop calling range, I am going to find a cbet here on a moderately good board.

First, though, a note on my preflop holding. It is not in my opening range as contrived, as I tend not to use unsuited cards and thus control my range. Barreling is key in deepstack play, and I need backdoor equity in almost every pot when taking on 2-5 opponents.

So why did I open such a weakling? The answer, among other things, is that frequencies matter.  Balance, if I can use that term here and knock out a question, works from day one of your poker career, and continues to at any stake. Further, the level of doubt and fight at a table can be sensed or deduced, and until we are confronted, a mixture of bluffs and value keeps us with a reasonable image of normal human proportions. Without it, all but the most idiotic opponents can deduce our actions. As for my table, it was still at a simmering point – not scalding but ready for a big pot. I want to be seen as active and ready to put the money in.

Hands do not exist in a vacuum – one of the failings of a more disciplined, GTO inspired approach. If I wait for better holdings – a good defense, of course – I will win the equity war more often but I will not be a part of giant, week-defining pots unless lucky enough to take part in a supercooler. The hold’em player should be playing hands constantly, looking to win a massive pot by creating the conditions for one. His opposite, the nit, is there to avoid losing small pots- his wins are accidental. It is only math, as his table equity share – the nit’s strategic filter – is limited for every session and can’t so be splurged on speculations. Balance helps rectify his condition, even if the idea was developed for other purposes originally.

Now, continuation betting is an art, which is to say it is a science often unexplained. So why is this, of all spots, a good one? For one, my cbetting frequency is, among winning players, extraordinarily low. Therefore my perceived range skews toward polarized and not merged, or to put it into the language of the players at the table, I will have [ax][kx], better, and maybe a little air here a lot when I do choose to bet.

However, that is an illusion. Four way, I will in fact have less [ax][kx], because I will want to check raise this hand from my disadvantaged position. The deep stacked player on the button, who is my target, will be betting out all his kings and draws, and will never fold anything to a single raise with all those bbs to play for, meaning I can achieve the isolation on the flop that the preflop action failed to accomplish. Because I in fact don’t have top pair top kicker or the hands that I will balance it with, but a different portion of my range that does not want to continue in a reraised pot drawing near dead, I want a different strategy.

If I bet out into three players and have a polarized perceived range I will only be raised by hands I don’t mind folding to. However, against calling ranges on a flushing board, I can barrel with impunity, as all sets and two pairs will expose themselves. The one hand I worried about being outplayed by, [Qx][10x], I have a blocker to – I don’t expect to see it as much as the combined kings, jacks, and flush draws.

I want to force these hands to fold, but expecting them to to do it now is too hopeful. Nor do I want to check raise a gutter four way.

So I reverse my check-raising preference.

This is logical because now I can play bet/fold poker – the weakest of all winning strategies – in its best and native environment: with near useless hands, middling value, butt end straight draws and wanky overcards, saving better hands and better draws, hands that want and deserve special treatment, for better tactics.

(You know I love you, [qh][jh]. I would never treat you like this. You’re the one for me.)

However, in order to accomplish all this I need one more item else to make sense: sizing. Normally I bet 1/3 pot or less in order to depolarize my holding and rep a wide range, whether it is the nut low, the nut middle (the donut) or the nut high.

What I am saying is I must be consistent in my logic – remember I want to be polarized in this spot. So now I put in what is a bomb on this flop, at least for me, $60.

Bingo – [Ax][Ax], [Ax][Kx] repped on drawing board, and all contingencies accounted for.

What do I want to happen next? Besides everyone folding, of course, I can anticipate some reasonable counteractions to my bet:

100bb HJ to call would be fine. If he flats, the others will have to come out of the woodwork and raise their real equity or even fold. I will barrel off against HJ. He bombs his good draws and value, so I know how to handle a raise, too.

The button calling or raising me would also be fine – but preference is he gives up. We are 500 bbs effective and has position. Fortunately, he will be hard pressed to bluff when my hand looks like ace-king. I will be barreling off some runouts.

The blind calling, however, would be Bad News. He will have more draws for me to fade and will not fold as observed. Further, as he is inclined to slow play, I cannot simply bet into this fellow much, as that is his plan for me – remember what I said about players not putting 1+1 together? However, the upside is he is the only out of position player to me and will give me two free cards. Now we see the structure of the game coming together – his Donkey Chain overcall will back fire against me as he will never max out his equity if I play properly. Further, my gutter and backdoor spades will simply realize sometimes or the runout will allow me a questionable river bluff. Not ideal, but that’s life among us mortals.

What happens? Well, it’s door one, apparently. The “short stacked” 100 bb player calls from the high jack, and the others fold. Since my plan is to fire, we have to consider the pot size, as everything – the 7x open, the multiway action, the big cbet, has brought together a rising cost of doing business. Normally I’d have gotten what I want with a smaller cbet, but that was not the natural result of everything and that road made no sense.

No problem, but I have to deal with the consequences.

Meanwhile, the dealer drops a great card (isn’t that convenient for a hand history?): the [7d]. Since I want this guy to not improve more than I need to improve, this is a dream card. I think a Q, J, 10, or 9 are all basically bad for me, and an A or K not really great either, being illusory bluff cards, as several hands fill. A 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 are all beautiful, but a 7 is especially sweet as I now have actual equity: double gutted in an almost impossible to see way.

Our pot size continues to be the problem and the solution at once. With 85 + 120 yielding 205 and high-jack having about that in his stack, it’s time to play for stacks. I put it all in.

In truth, I’d prefer this to be a very large bet. After all, the turn is the most natural overbetting spot in hold’em. I’d like the HJ to have 300 back and then I could pressure him off the most of the Kxs hands that have me in terrible shape, and drive him off any naked draws without trouble. This bet has to work 60% of the time work, which I think easily met and profitable given my assumptions. His jacks all fold, as he would have to call 300 to with 545. He’ll need to find correct calls about 37 percent of the time, meaning from his flop call range of KQ, K10, K9, K2-K8 suited, Jx, Q10, and six likely spade draws, if he will likely dump everything far too often – everything but the lucky K7, KQ – my bet works extraordinarily well.

So in this in game analysis, how did I do? How optimistic was I?

My EV=

(%hefolds.86)(205) + (%hecalls.14)(%wewin.19)(pot + bet 205+300) – (%hecalls.14)(%welose.81)(bet300)=


I have him. The Donkey Chainers behind him have helped create a big pot for me and I have an edge – my perceived range destroys the hands he ends up with. He can’t defend properly against this overbet, I decided in game, and the ridiculous fold equity I assign myself explains the high EV of this play. Hell, he can even hero fold the hands he needs to call with – which is a pretty sick parlay for me. The math of optimism, here, but also experience. (Looks like I forgot some removal here – all part of in game mistakes.)

Ok, ok, unfortunately, he doesn’t have 300 back – this great spot is a hypothetical. What he really has is just a little less than pot of 200. His calling frequency, back in reality, is easier. His defense should only needs to be about 33% of hands, unlike in my more ideal scenario, where he has to right over a third of the time and is in trouble because of his crappy range: he’ll have trouble knowing what to call with.

From his hands that reached the turn of KQ, K10, K9s, K8s, K7s, K5s, K4s, half the Axs, QJ and Q10 (69 combos), he can let go of most non-combo draws and all his many bad kings, and snap me off with KQ/K10/A7s and that damn K7- and still be making an error.

In this more realistic scenario I’ve still made a good play, squeezing money out of the Donkey Chainers with ten-high.


(%hefolds.66)(205) + (%hecalls.34)(%wewin.17)(pot + bet 205+200) – (%hecalls.34)(%welose.83)(bet200)=


So with the principle mostly the same, I put in the bet.

A big tank begins. It looks, at first, that I have run into a hand he feels he needs to defend: must be KQ, my natural fear.

However, he starts talking, and while I half convince him I have a hand, he’s still not done.

What is going on?

I tell him, “You have queen ten.”

“Queen ten I’d call in a heartbeat.”


We jabber a little more, and it turns out he has [Ax][10x] and is considering heroing me!

He really thinks it might be good, and further, he’d really like to bink a jack and “put a beat on you.”

I hadn’t really considered that this hand was a part of his calling range.

More importantly, this might mean he was never folding any of those kings.

It looks like for all my surety – I was way, way off!

Can my line with nine-ten off be good at all against such a player? If he calls with all his kings – maybe that is a stretch –  I lose money on this proposition, as he has 38 kings total (corrected from in game estimate) and too few jacks and spades that might give up.

So what does reality turn out to tell us? Let’s say he gives up his range – and a new range at that – only 25% of the time– to explain his real time behavior, which is hard to predict. (I’m not sure if I can pull out weak kings or leave good jacks at this point, so while weighting ranges is a far better way to figure out poker, we’ll just brute force it.)

From AJs-ATs,KQs,KTs-K4s,QTs+,As8s,As7s,As6s,As5s,As4s,As3s,As2s,AJo-ATo,KQo,KTo,QTo+.

My EV=(%hefolds.25)(200) + (%hecalls.75)(%wewin.17)(pot + bet 205+205) – (%hecalls.75)(%welose.83)(bet225)= -$23.

Simply a massive swing in expectation from my initial thought. How did I go so wrong?

I’ll have time to reflect on that: the highjack regretfully throws away the hand.

Wrong but right, another win in a strong night.

Now, many will not like this, but I do turn over and show my cards. It takes my opponent a moment to even piece together what I have. Oh, you have a pair, of course, or, wait, what?

Must be something, making one-two into life and death, never playing hide and go seek, never having fun with the information at the very heart of the struggle. What’s worse for the game than “Mum Poker”? Dressing in a baseball cap, trying to be nobody, dodging questions like you’re in Witness Protection.

Too silly. I’m stirring things up as usual, triggering conversation, and creating complexity for myself and others to deal with down the road.

The game without a challenge is no game at all.

In fact, that – not what the nits and Tommy Angelo say – is poker.

Soon afterwards, I cashed out at the front desk – it’s one of those rooms so small it doesn’t even have a cage.

After only a couple weeks, I already like this place far more than I expected to. I like its employees. Even the bar and lounge area, with a total of two tables and eight seats, calls to me.

The local desperation brings me back to my teens and my stepfather – a strange memory that seems replaced by far more serious troubles. How I wondered about what dark and lugubrious places he got smashed at, dodging our troubled family and his own wayward destiny.

Small time is small time, though. To get that drink I want, I walk the “bartender” through the steps – she’s never really even made a proper cocktail before. It’s not really her fault, people come here to lose and drink Budweiser.

I can’t say it’s the best drink – who uses Crown Royal for their Rye? But it’s mine, and like my game, I can take full responsibility for all its strengths and weaknesses.

Speaking of, did my overall plan make sense, even down to the loose open I allow myself? One way to check, a new one, actually, is to look at some equity visualization software, in this case Doug Hull’s Flop Falcon. Now, I really need more control than FF gives me, and I’ll have to wait until Turn Turtle is released to look at the shove situation I have spent so much time describing, but I can still get a very different glimpse of my own strategy here.

Ten Nine

What is all this? Well, I’ve set up FF to look at a highly specific situation that most of you will never really plan for, in part because it just sounds so bad on the surface – barreling with a dominated draw into marginal made hands and draws. (Don’t try this at home, amici.) The software is going to point out just how poor my actual equity is – of course, I knew that – but there is something else: FF give me a visual hint of just how much fold equity I am going to need to make my racy, Pokersploitation lines work.

How useful will this turn out to be? I don’t know. I do almost everything by hand – even Flopzilla irritates me too much to use more than a few times a year.  (I would really need Hold’em EQ to work a lot better but it is both too primitive and ugly to look at.) Perhaps in future iterations there will be ways to build into Flop Falcon nodes that really serve what I want – that would be intriguing. While I have used the Solvers and they are amazing, once you understand their principles they are not liberating and in fact choke you with their answers. This messy piece of software that Doug has created seems much more suited to the creative person, because what the mind needs are basics and reasons and understanding – not bbs/action. Why trumps all.

I take a sip. On the other hand, maybe I know nothing, and simply need to learn to use software better.  With Equilab, my one, only, and favorite tool, no longer scaling properly on my beautiful laptop/tablet and so approaching unusable, I’ve been at near complete poker tech sea for months. My notebook, in turn, is overrun with notes and work. That might be for the best but I feel like something is missing.

Too much to think about, really, and I am already feeling the alcohol. I finish my cocktail. Well chosen, if imperfect and made of some strange stuff. Good enough for tonight – just like my line with ten-nine. Overall, I love my strategy, the way I play, and I think part of it is because I love being responsible for it. With right and wrong actions so wildly hard to differentiate sometimes, I’ll take a smooth, too sweet, but still smokey result any time.

Cheers to somebody.



Für Otto, seine Lohn

17 thoughts on “Ten Nine, Off and On

  1. Great stuff. Always enjoy a HH and some technical review. However, shouldn’t the pot size on the turn be 205 instead of 225. I thought the pot on the flop was 85, then you bet 60 and got called in one spot. So, 60+60+85=205, right?

  2. Question about the pot post-turn. I thought I saw a $60 bet with one call, but that doesn’t tie with 85+160=245. $80 bet?

    Love your writing and the strategies!

    1. I mean, the key aspects of the strat, for sure: Deciding to open, choosing my line and why, and evaluating my opponent(s) (wrongly, in the HJ’s case). It’s possible, further, that he calls down with all his kings, as crazy as that sounds, and that the EV of my turn shove is even worse than I have calculated. Buyer beware.


  3. I think to simplify this in my mind (is this generally correct?): With players that tend to call too often pre-flop, post-flop multi barrel bluffs are much more likely to work since they get to the turn and river with too many weak made hands and draws. Also, when they are at or near the top of their ranges, they will often split them into (strong=raise, weak=call or fold) and let you know what they have early in the hand.

  4. “Must be something, making one-two into life and death, never playing hide and go seek, never having fun with the information at the very heart of the struggle. What’s worse for the game than “Mum Poker”? Dressing in a baseball cap, trying to be nobody, dodging questions like you’re in Witness Protection.”

    Love this and completely agree with the sentiment. Having fun at the table and enjoying the social side of the game is an aspect that’s been evolving for me recently.

    I enjoy Tommy’s writing but having thought about it some more, coinciding with the above, I can’t agree with some of his practices. I think they were designed specifically to help him stop tilting. But trying to apply them as dogma, as if mum poker is the one true path, is misguided. (And unnecessary if one doesn’t suffer the same tilt issues.)

    And even if mum poker is good for oneself, what about the good of the game (as you mention)? What becomes of a social game if all of its participants decide to remain mum?

  5. Almost forgot to come back to this: “In truth, I’d prefer this to be a very large bet. After all, the turn is the most natural overbetting spot in hold’em.”

    From what I understand about theory, I think that the river is most natural for an overbet. It should be when ranges are both most polarized and most capped. So, is there an exploitative reason that you think the turn is more natural than the river? (Maybe the additional equity denial vs. villain’s draws.) Or am I missing something?

  6. Yeah, if your strat involves equity denial it’s too late on the river and a theoretically balanced overbet is not that hard to combat- that’s one of the reasons they always start there with calling decision examples. No one ever talks about calling turn big bets because the equities are trickier and exposes bluffcatching/non-flop threebetting lines/non good checking or non donking strats as unmanageable, nor about the mahatma shoving flop strategy, which i guess is even less “natural.” Maybe i should have said “natural to me.”

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