Nice Hand

I’m wary of sharing too much non-basic strat in the forums. It’s overkill. First of all, most of these guys don’t really even require it to beat low stakes poker. Second, with all the time I put into finding and creating it, I don’t need to pass it on like some sort of poker NGOer laboring in Tournadonkistan. Third, I don’t want the games to be harder than they are. What I do like to do is pick out spots here and there that are worth discussing because of an important concept or an issue worth debating, or most commonly, where a novice needs some fundamental help. I give so that I can receive; I don’t want you actually following my advice because that is not good for me. However, for the dedicated reader who travels all the way through the wild and bully click jungle to this site, which doesn’t even come up on a reasonable search for poker blogs and has the relative SEO power of outcast high stakes gamer and now professional virtue-signaller Haseeb Qureshi, who feels the need to assure you that he “wrote all this stuff,” I will go the extra mile. Welcome to the temple, Indy.

Faithful poster Skors recently posted a hand so well played I was ready to shed a tear. A few things can be said about it.

First off, I like the hand history itself. We get critical information, rather than the usual ipecac self-praise that pimples hand descriptions (“I’ve been running over the table and now sitting deep with 150 bbs…” “Several fish and one guy who is decent and respects my game and I respect his game and we respect each other’s games…”):

Lots of limping and limp calling. Players have turned over some bad hands.

So we know the game is getting loose passive preflop. This is a common development in a low stakes poker game, and in fact, in almost all games. We start carefully, then relax – into what, is always the question. We want to counter this particular loose-passive development as soon as possible by attacking weak ranges and eating up equity that tighter games will not spill onto our plate. (We can neither confirm nor deny that they will continue to play like this postflop, however.)

Then we get game flow information specific to the OP:

However I started picking up some hands and was raising a lot in the last couple orbits.

The table knows we are picking up steam. Therefore, unless we are playing cards at a local meeting of Remaining Men Together, someone wants, and will try, to pick us off. We know our image, and they know it, too. Once this is established, the battlefront is set, because we are on the same field, that is to say, in pokerese, the same level. This hand will rarely play out this way in the first few orbits of the game, where no one knows what’s what. It’s our job as non-fish to know this.

From the small blind, Skors attempts to pull aside a weak member from a herd of limpers with QdQs, and succeeds. Villain calls from LP with what must be a very speculative hand, as the squeeze was open to him, too.

FLOP ~$120 [Td][9s][6d]

Skors immediately recognizes something important about this board:

With 2 diamonds and a semi-coordinated flop this board rates to hit Villain more than me.

So then, how do we approach this situation? Fortunately, we are given a foil for our argument from enthusiastic poster Kagey, who stands in for the regs at the table.

if the pot is 120 on the flop, I’d have bet 100-110.

Kagey makes the reasonable deduction that he is ahead. Fair enough, but he does not notice what the board is telling him; he is not examining the field of battle. He’s thinking about the very real but very one dimensional concept of equities as opposed to the sequences of actions which comprise a poker hand. He is not looking in every direction. He is the guy who heads out into the arterial simply because there is a crosswalk in front of him.

Despite his reasonable injunction,

Good to great players are looking to get the most out of their premium hands – so they take betting lines that extract the maximum without risking their stack.

he contradicts himself as soon as he proposes his plan for this spot. By polarizing his perceived range vis-a-vis the board which does not rate to hit him, he is folding out most everything (similar to what he thinks the effect of Skors’ eventual action will do) he directly beats, setting himself up to capture one bet maximum from those he does, while also incentivizing draws – the hands he actually should fear the most – to continue at their leisure. See the difference between a bet and a check raise? Drawing hands, on a drawing board, natch, can call in position assured they are getting better than 2:1, leaving one bet to capture for profitability or to set up a steal because of all the room remaining to play. Betting pitches into the caller’s wheelhouse.

Further, Kagey’s bet, supposing for a moment it is his normal cbet, is so large he can be shoved on profitably because the board does not hit him. He burns up big blinds with all his low pairs and ace highs, which comprise more combinations than his overpairs and sets; attempting to balance the error is whack-a-mole. Most average players will not, in fact, raise him, preferring to simply take it away on the turn, for value or a bluff, but all that’s just potatoe-potato.  By blindly walking out into traffic while focused only on the inviting white paint, he sees and hears nothing, and is easily sent to the hospital on the flop or the morgue on the turn.

What “good to great players” actually do is consider their entire range, what it looks like, and what parts of it would do. Let’s put Kagey (nothing against him, seems like a guy with a lot to add) on the spot. Would he pot this flop with AK/AQ? No. A pair of sevens? No. His blocker squeezes? Maybe for a one and done. Top set? Probably not… think about his reasoning for potting it. His range is crumbling apart like the blue cheese on your poker discount mealy iceberg lettuce salad. We can now see absolutely clearly how folding to him when he pots it is entirely profitable, and continuing with all our heavy value and draws is also profitable. When he checks flop, we know we have him because he has no good checking range, because he’s busy thinking “good” players blast away with their value hands. When he checks turn, his hand strength also plummets. Over the long term, his strategy reduces his win rate in soft games and kills his potential to play in tough games because of the folds it earns or the value it misses or the money it burns up with air.

But, wait you scream, BACK UP! He has QUEENS! Q and Q! So can Skors just bet? Players love to bet! I have a hand, so I bet! That’s poker, right? Get hand and bet bet bet! Little Caesar Poker! Value Value!

Well, if the board favors the caller, why would you ever put a chip in with your perceived range that misses it? How do you protect your range? How are you ever playing anything but face up? Essentially, what Kagey proposes is an imbalance so large it is unstrategic.

I get it, though. It’s okay. The value focused exploit play. The meh play. The 1/2 play. The equity bingo play.

It is, above all, the approved Reg™ play. There is no reciprocal advantage to it, either in the short term or the long term. Everyone else will do it, and we trade chips with each other while someone clever collects rake.

Kagey and the Regs have more hands that miss this board, yet they want to beat that value drum and strum that overpair guitar every f’ing time. They want to crunch out a meaty power chord value blast and let everything else go to hell. BUHWONG!!! Maybe sometimes they’ll burn up chips with air cbets (BUHRIP!) or surrender (BUHWAHWAHWAHWAH.), we don’t know. Maybe they’ll go on a multistreet spew with a pair of fours or AK. Anything’s possible if we don’t care about the board and our opponent’s range. What we do know is Kagey has the nerve to say:

I’m not too fond of your thought process – because if feels like it’s all over the place.

Despite what the Godfather told us, the one thing we really know from history is that we never want irony against us. The Reg™ approach would leave Skors completely out of whack, his range scattered and broken. Admittedly, Regthink will definitely get you a few bucks – otherwise, why would they all play this way and pat themselves on the back for stacking novices? However, in the end, unless you take their process to the extreme by being a sick combo counter and relentless value hound like Bart Hanson or his unknown apprentice Gargamel (still exposing yourself for exploitation), you do not have a coherent strategy.

Another thing that good poker players actually do is: predict the future. What I mean by this is that they consider the nature of the board and how the runout will work with their hand. They then play in synchronicity with it, and all the variables of the hand: stack sizes, positions, equities, behaviors. Synchronicity is The Magic. It is Distillation of Shark’s Blood. It is the last drag of your GTO and poker study supply after you burn the books to roll a final cigarette, down in the trenches and ordered to head into no man’s land.

Here is an example of synchronicity, using the sedate language of ranges and expected actions, explained by a legendary expert.

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That one is amazing. Galfond plays his hand exactly as he would much of his four betting range on each street and gets the desired max value, yet it never involves the idea of pot/pot/pot, the equivalent of the Reg’s approach to the game and the fallacious concept of good players always mashing their value hands. Imagine how your average PLO player approaches this spot at your local 5/5 game, and how tilted he is when he doesn’t get action or shuts down on the board pair. (Actually, many are so broken by their poor, standard play after a while, they barely even expect action, because they have no bluffs or deceptive lines, and are just glad to win the pot. Sad!)

No Planning, No Strat, Just Value, Baby: The Reg™.

So to play in synchronicity in a spot where you don’t want to proceed with your Reg™ bet-until-they-shoot-you-in-the-head line, what we want here is a value checking range, because that’s what keeps our possible holdings theoretically intact. Yes. Out of position, we need to have hands that can check – but without the intention of folding. That’s just one part of the puzzle. I’m not sorry it’s complicated; if you are getting the TLDR tingles right now, please buzz off, you’re not needed here. Also, be sure to go pleasure yourself with a cheese grater for not being able to read consecutive paragraphs.

Now we have to look at it from the position of the limp caller. Skors has squeezed to a large sizing and checked a caller’s board: that makes sense. He has more misses than hits in his perceived range. He is unlikely to be slowplaying anything. On account of these simple deductions, the caller will be incentivized to bet his equity (and he will in fact do so, like clockwork). The caller has hands to protect (both big and small): strong draws, weak draws and air. He will think that he can take this down or bet for value. It’s his board, and even from game theory perspective where the squeezer is checking both value and air, knocking back draws is troublesome- he can’t just let Ace high or sevens win at showdown.  He has a delayed cbet to worry about, and he can make a mistake by not betting the flop.

His spot wants to bet this board. He backed into this situation and most interestingly, it’s really close to what he wanted to happen. (Look at the clustering of hands that take a small piece of this board in a reasonable calling range here.) He’s not wrong, in other words.

Thus, he will do so some high percentage of the time. Now Skors is faced with how to play his own range. Yes, he will have some x/f hands here – that would, in fact, be optimal: hands like small pairs and hopeless Ax blocker squeezes. He has some x/c hands here, such as some pairs and weaker draws that don’t want to be raised; that would make sense, too. Notice what villain’s range is: because of his limp call, he ends up with a handful of draws and mid-equity hands. Our squeezing range still dominates this range at this point. Skors stated this succinctly in his explanation. We can now raise and put max pressure and go for value against all pair + gutters and other draws, whether we happen to have AK or QQ; our actual hand is partially irrelevant. We have induced a bet from a wide range and now capitalize on having played our range in synchronicity with the board. In this hand history, we simply happen to have value. I’d like to see a good frequency of the x/r with nut draws, pairs, sets, and some percentage of AK/AQ here.

I’d also like to see a slightly bigger raise, but that’s trivial.

Shocked into to his senses by the unusual line, Kagey does get cagey in objecting to this action:

What would you have done if he 4-bet you all in on the flop?

Here we must play poker, and go back to the very start. Remember we are playing in a loose passive game. Our villain is not going to come over the top without the nuts- he’s not that good, frankly. He limp called a giant raise and we have no intelligence suggesting he does this in a balanced way – we can guess his preflop range was dense with playable marginalia, suited connectors and gappers, decent suited Ax, small pairs. He had the same isolating opportunity we did. So when facing the four bet, which has few sets and two pairs (see below), we can get away from nits or make a read and go with it. Just as we made an evaluation on the flop as to what his range is, we do it again.

Skors gets a little shaky here, planning on just folding to renewed aggression, a little ashamed of his bold play. I would not advise just snap folding. We should have a raise/gii range if this is the right guy, I advise going with this hand in general: it’s simply now the bottom of our range for that action. Our villain is probably not the right guy, however, for the get-it-in line in this hand. This, however, points to the power of fast playing draws in big pots with significant money behind; were I Villain, I would not bet my nut draws without the intention of reraising all in and fighting back against the x/r. Now I get Skors to fold when he is ahead. I have several blog posts which highlight bet/three betting, an underrated aspect of the game and a strong counter to the usual pot-control, wait-until-I-know-better schtick that defines Regthink.

The turn brings the 8c, for [10d][9s][6d][8c], leaving a one liner to a straight. This is what Phil Galfond might call a false scare card. A level one thinker sees the board and will be frightened. What do I beat now? However, he hasn’t thought through what is calling- or how the sequence of actions changed his current holdings.

If Skors has the [Qd], the [Qd][Jd] is not possible, which is a hand that has to continue against the check and raise. In fact, the combinations of QJ are halved. (QQ is the nut best overpair to take this line with because of this factor.) We can use our handreading ability to discount this holding from villain. However, there’s more! If he did have QJo or QJhh, for instance, how did he call the flop? We have played our hand like a diamond draw – and he’d be right, this is how to play [Ad][Kd] – so if he is calling to realize his equity, he likely has two less outs and reverse implied odds to give him the shivers. Same thing for hands that include sevens.

Now rewind the tape and try on QQ with the Reg™ line. I have a value hand. I like my equity. I bet. A one liner comes in and the board is now terrible for a continuing range versus one bet, a range which has many more sevens and QJ hands. Do I now check? And then what? Turn my hand into a bluff catcher? Cautiously check fold my top 2% hand like a 2/5 expert? Hope he’ll play weakly as well and we can check it down?

Skors AWe can see how a wide overcalling range, inspired by the limps, fills out in this scenario. First off, for the fearful and cautious in the back of the comedy club, the MUBS terror that inhibits putting two bets onto the flop can be eradicated by just looking at how a 15% calling range might look.  Less obviously, it shows how little value there is to betting as part of a three street play there is, as well. (Are there three combos of A10s?) You will never get three streets or even two except from the very best top pair hands, and they can fold, too. Yet look into the yellow warning light area. A wide limp calling range is going to be able to peel away when you bet. The draws comprise more hands than the value you can charge for multiple streets. Those backdoor and gutters have pairs.  When all these hands get or seem to be made, believe me, they will like your bet/bet/get confused plan. Thumbs up!

It’s strange, isn’t it? Looking at this breakdown, I have all the equity but they have all the playability. That’s range advantage in action. Look further at the ace high, the “nothing” category, the overcard category – are they calling your value line? Do you think they might take action when you check and rep Ax or do you think this is the board for A2 to float? If you are lonely and shivering without your value lead, might that comfort you from the one street you would have gotten from Q10?

When I take the bet out/evaluate approach on boards like this, I will have boxed myself in. What’s philosophically interesting is that I have essentially changed my mind from my preflop action, and rewarded them for calling. Yep, I did it to myself and all I have is my fellow group of regs and the forums left to comfort me – bad board for queens, bro, bad beat, what a suck out. Regspeak. I couldn’t help it, I will tell myself, because that’s what a bet does and what a reg does is bet. I could start getting stupid and over pot everything, or become one of those guys who says, well, uh, just shove and solve the problem.

Catterwampastitzel. You can’t sound a fundamentally wrong note and tune it true by turning up the volume. (You can turn down the volume for entirely interesting effect, but that is not for today.) Betting into boards that disadvantage you is a one street poker line; a spread limit, tournament, viciously capped kind of strategy where there is no maneuverability. There’s little future in it beyond novice games, drunk games, or more interestingly, once we get into a true leveling war which is beyond the 5/5 sphere or a short session with some unknown opponents.

Moving along, Villain calls the check/raise. He has a lot of hands that can make the effective nuts here, which would be, for all intents and purposes, diamonds. He has some two pairs. He has A10 specifically, which is a classic bluff catcher – very likely what Villain actually holds here. (Now he has a two street hand with TPTK – that should turn you on a little.) Villain always shoves with 87 on the flop to protect against our perceived set or diamond draw; that’s one hand he does not have at this point. (He can have it later. We know this, we’re going to play well and be masters of gameflow.) Did he call with 107 and friends? Not likely. What seven does he have that can call the check raise?

Look back at the chart. Not many, because we shut out the equity freeroll a direct bet line creates. We were charging what we ought to charge: all tens and big draws. We were never getting three streets from underpairs. We induced a bet from hands that only benefit from position, hands which were never paying us more than a bet anyway, and then we took that position right back from him (I’ll do this part another day). Miraculous.

In other words, we’ve played our hand as perfectly as we could. There’s a pot sized bet left, we’re committed, and we get the money in on the turn. There’s nothing else to do, and we like it. We can’t bet the turn on nearly half the deck when taking the Reg™ line on the flop, but now we are allowed to. Sweet. We have big diamonds, JJ+, sets, and some other stuff like our AdKx blocker hands we boldly continued with. We have some straights and two pairs, because our isolating range ought to have good board coverage.

We don’t care what villain does now, because… he’s screwed. He can’t make a good decision. It’s the exact opposite result of what the bet/bet/fold approach creates, where the in position player always gets to make the best decision and the PFR makes the most mistakes.

There is an objection to what I am saying which is valid: But Persuadeo, this is not good for my games! I don’t need to be balanced, I just need to bet and they pay me! Why get fancy? Sure, bully for you if you are sitting in, and content to sit, in small, soft games. However, I think it would be a pedagogical error for me to encourage this thinking, even if you can get away with it. Just betting your equity and reevaluating on every street is 1/2 poker. To get better, which is the end many of us dwell on forums and in poker literature for, you have to look ahead and struggle with what is difficult and what is coming next, whether it’s the runout or a concept itself.

Now, the point of the OP’s post was in fact centered on the conversation among the regs. In fact, it sounds like the hand history would never have posted without the grumbling disputation of how Skors played. This is, I think, a great moment which underlines a lot of what I am saying. We want them confused. We want them not understanding. We want them in a full Reg™ uproar. How else are we going to beat a game that is all about reciprocity and all situations are inevitably repeated? We don’t want to play like them, and we don’t want them to play like us. Skors may have gotten a little lost in his reasoning about facing a flop three bet, but that’s fine. In a game where most players can’t even get preflop right, playing the flop in a sophisticated manner means he is miles ahead, and can look forward to a profitable poker future.

So let them babble. Let them quit at paragraph x. Let the games be good. Let them gossip and chortle. All that really needs to be said at the end is…

Nice hand.


Note: Poker Dad was grumpy when I called and asked him for this week’s piece, calling me a “blowhard” and complaining that “posting once a week is like slavery.” Hopefully he’ll be back next Sunday, better rested and feeling more like himself. – P.

4 thoughts on “Nice Hand

  1. Thank you for this really in depth and interesting post. I plan on coming back and reading this quite a few more time.

  2. yeah, I met up with him once and have seen his videos. Separating the cards like that always made me laugh.

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