Over the course of two consecutive sessions, both entirely profitable and generally satisfactory, I was involved in hands that had me second guessing myself then and now. What makes them worth commenting on is, oddly, even if I was right to act as I did, I’m wishing, in a combination of poker degeneracy and intellectual curiosity, that I had taken the more risky course.
For the most part I was dialed in for this two day work week, attuned to my players and allowing myself the full range of my actions. In the zone, if you like; playing my A game if you prefer. I turned made hands into bluffs, check-raised every optimal spot, and failed in aggression only when I lacked information. I had, earlier in the week, finished my big game session with a gameflow error, and was eager to stay focused- I deeply believe in correcting behavior immediately; this goes back to the old days, when I would go straight back to wherever I lost in an act of petulance.
Even better, I was on my best mathematical game, taking advantage of every bet sizing slip and nuance. I turned in a 500 bb win the first night, and under less auspicious circumstances, a worthwhile 150 bb workday in a less juicy situation. Both were in the limited buy in games I am currently stuck in, so the result was more than solid and capped a strong week. For all that good news, however, I think I really bombed one hand, for better or worse, and I can't seem to let go, pointing to a flaw in my thinking.
I like, for instance, having read the minds of my opponents multiple times. One featured a nearly forgotten character in my poker world: Azrael, at one time a great admirer and fanboy of Gargamel. Azrael does not show up at the Village much anymore. Action around the region shifts and changes, and he mostly darkens the doors of the new center for $5 blind poker in the area. It’s too big of a drive for me, I tell myself lazily, and, more to the heart of the matter, its culture of slowplay, shadiness, and the generally more straightened circumstances of the player pool rob me of some of my weapons and does expose weaknesses in my game. So seeing Azrael at Action Central was a bit of a throwback.
Within the first few orbits, I observed Azrael showdown Q10o after a failed attempt to isolate a limper in early position. This was an eye-opener. I deduced he had been working on his game. Now, it wasn’t a good isolation for a variety of factors I am not going to go into, but the fact that he attempted it meant that he was not the same rock I could once rely on for stone-age ABC Passive Aggressive poker. Jacks or better, Professor Azrael.
So when I in turn isolated the same player, I was at first rather concerned at finding myself watch Azrael count out the three bet. In a capped game, this is somewhat of a paradoxically less and more committing play than you might imagine, because the real fourth raise leaves the first reraiser with nowhere to go but the three bettor is borderline committed anyway. A three bet, in a capped game, therefore, is really somewhere closer to a fourbet, if it could be measured on some cosmic sliding poker scale. It’s these subtleties that come into play, usually unnoticed and uncommented upon, when facing betting or buy in limits. It’s worth thinking about if you are one of those unfortunates struggling to grind out dollars in the horror of small games and you start reading about three and four bets: they need to be retranslated for compressed stacks.
However, in the past, when I might have dumped my holding because of Azrael’s perceived, airtight range, here I did not. While I was thinking through the possibilities, it seemed very likely that the kind of player Azrael was becoming would have made an interpretation of the fact that I had now raised or opened three straight hands. This wouldn’t have mattered to him two years ago, when we sat together for sessions on end. Q10o, you say? PAG no longer, apparently. What happened to Jacks or better, Professor Azrael?
In other words, I think my actions now do matter to him, and that Azrael is making an adjustment. I can imagine him talking with his new poker buddies, reading forums, and growing restless in general with the Nit Lifestyle, all coupons and short stacks and folding "trouble hands." Yes, I am going to live with my read – it makes so much sense. I rip in the four bet for all of his chips. He’s technically committed, but as I said, there is nowhere to go, and I think he is as light as he can be here. It takes some time but I get the fold. I’m not getting it from AQ and other good hands, but by claiming a third of his stack, and eating up his equity, that’s a real win that the value oriented players miss out on. The adjustment to a three bettor with a wide range is the four bet with these stacks, not the fold or the fighting flat I have been tinkering with: I had found the right spot.
That said, an equity analysis yields that I can shove incredibly wide in this spot when I can identify it, down to thirty percent of hands. This is funny, because some of the top thirty percent of hands aren’t even in my opening range! Naturally, the mathematical top order of hands is not equivalent to the playability of hands – this is why I was the founding member of Team Four Three Suited. Silliness aside, picking up on this sort of thing is tricky and how Azrael adjusts- should we meet again – is the question. Numbers are nearly meaningless compared to real poker concerns, because numbers come from context. GL with your new game, Azrael. NH.
I pulled off a very different fourbet in a different formation a few downs later. This one I wonder if I overplayed. Well that’s not the word, but you’ll see.
There was an open from a fairly straightforward player in EP to 3x (which struck me as a speculative size), then a call from a promising player with a lot of flaws, and now a small three bet from a very good player in middle position. I knew immediately that this talented player (a new dude, a rare thing, maybe travelling or just having found The Village) was picking on the sizing tell from EP and the dead money from the call.
I think he made a mistake, though, thinking he could risk less with his three bet. My general error is to go too large, but I think it's better on the whole. Did I overdo it here or was I simply stealing effectively?
I found a great holding once action was mine, KQdd, but could not flat with 125bbs effective with the three bettor, and more importantly, with the 60 bbs effective of the original raiser. This is key. If I went to say, $175 and got flatted by the three bettor, I leave myself with a pretty gross Stack to Pot Ratio. As in Hand 1, the illusion of depth and the funny mirrors of action and stack sizes affect everything in a capped game.
If I imagine 8 4 2, $400 in the middle, I am stuck with two barreling. I can cbet $150, which I like a lot, but then even if I shove turn, it is less than a pot sized bet. This is what they mean by awkward stacks. I know a lot of people like small bets in general, but this won’t be the situation, as in a three or four bet pot equity will want to go to showdown. I can check behind on the flop to reduce the streets- but it doesn’t actually solve the SPR problem.
I decided the answer was brute force. This involves trusting my read absolutely - which I did - because I’m risking my whole stack to win $90. In any case, I did just ship it on them, getting fast folds. I wonder, though, having been right: did I want to get a call and then get a fold later? Can I start making seemingly dumb cold calls and playing in position in a multiway three bet pot? What sizing really makes sense? Cap games are constraining and as I push the boundaries of my game, I am running into the walls on a regular basis.
So, that’s really pushing the envelope, almost turning myself into a fish. I need to think about the bet sizing for a four-bet pot and 125-150 bigs.
Again, one hand leads, not even subtly, to the next. Sitting on about $800, a short stacker with a wide range (don’t ask) opened from UTG with a typically small 3x, and a very straightforward woman, Press-On, three bets to sixty five, her value sizing, and with her value timing, at that. We have similar stacks, so when it folds around all the way to me in the BB and I see two jacks, I am in another odd spot. Press-on is conservative, in my view, and I can’t see set mining because she will not punt with an overpair. I would be out of position and have trouble getting my implied dollars. If she has QQ and it’s QJx, what will I do when she ships the turn? Nor do I like flatting in this spot in general, as the shortstacker can reopen the betting and get me tied up versus the top of an ABC player’s value range with a no-man’s land hand.
I want to make a hard strategy decision, and not turn docile. I consider turning my hand into a bluff. It has more advantages than you might think. For some of you, this may sound strange, as perhaps jacks are already a fourbet for value or protection, or are a natural overcall with enough to play for behind. However, against Press-on’s range, jacks are definitely behind and I would definitely be turning them into a bluff. However, in a wrinkle to the spot, I believe I can soul read her for QQ or AK because of her specific behavior- now the jacks are stronger but the outcome still unclear.
Is there a good chance I can fold out AK and QQ? For more than a minute, I freeze the action while contemplating a committing raise. I really thought that, afraid for her now playable stack in a capped buy in game, she would let go of these hands. If in fact, that’s exactly what she has, it’s possibly a good play. She only has to fold about twenty percent of the time to show me an immediate profit, ignoring the single/careful double street play from there.
If I’m wrong, however, and AA-KK are in there, it’s a disaster. How much do I trust myself?
Ultimately I believe in my read of her hand but not my divination of her potential behavior. I decide I can’t quite be sure what she will likely do. I fold my hand. The shortstacker folds, and Press-on flashes me her two queens.
What was the answer? Interestingly, when I took up this spot with Gargamel, he was shocked at my read, and in his opinion, she was never letting go of AK or QQ. He’s basically telling me I saved a whole bunch of big blinds and my night.
However, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I have gotten her off AK before; yet as had Azrael, players do change- and it was, in fact, a long time ago when I blew her off that particular holding. As my mind sifts though some of her recent play, I can see where Gargamel is coming from. I envision her face, more indifferent to rebuying than ever. Also, it’s important to note that it’s more likely she lays down AK than QQ. If I think about her lack of hesitation, can I deduce it’s more likely QQ – even if combinatorically it is not? I’m not sure. Further, as much as I like my inclination to not set mine, if she is more comfortable stacking off preflop, it could mean I should be seeing more flops with implied odds hands than before. I will have to start flatting Aces behind her to protect my range if I want to do this - that does sound fun and in line with some of the work I did on my game during my mental down time of Spring.
A little past midway through the first, bigger session, a man clearly enjoying his evening in the casino sat down. He was a little plumper than I am, with a great mess of grey hair folded over his forehead and ears. He hadn’t shaved in days, but still gave the impression of someone who worked hard in an office somewhere; maybe on the phone doing sales. Utterly comfortable with himself, he talked and teased the mostly boring and stone faced players. He played nearly fifty percent of hands, and as far as I could tell, knew his way around the table well enough to avoid simply donating. He felted one of those sad mini stackers (I can't call them short stackers when you can't buy in deep, I think) who spend their leisure time hoping the dealer will pick them before off into the night complaining about how unfair and stupid the game is.
That said, this Friday Night Party Guy was playing for fun more than to win. He did unusual things, such as min raising strong opens and snap stacking off, albeit correctly, with bottom pair. He would leap up to the table games every down or so, oddly leaving his glass of whiskey behind: obviously in a great mood.
My problem was that he had played value hands fast and I found myself in a pickle. Limping in, I isolated him from the button with two nines to thirty. The toughest player at the table quickly flatted me from the blinds. He was short, as we are stuck in the capped game and he is waiting for a seat to open elsewhere. He isn’t incentive to gamble that much, and for the most part plays fairly conservatively. Friday Night Party Guy calls, and we see a flop of AA8 with ninety dollars in the middle. FNPG leads out for a very precisely placed sixty dollars. He’s been less neat with garbage, limp calls with ace rag, and as I said, has played his value very hard.
Of course, it’s an unusual line, if you think about it. I should have all the good aces while still rating to not have an ace. FNPG is down to $300 here. I weigh only two things, putting all the money in or folding. My problem is I still have the blind behind me. I need to know what he has.
Oddly, he is feigning indifference. His range is mid ace heavy, as he does not like to three bet AQ, but will call. I want to rip it in for value and protection and to keep up the pace of my running over the table, but if I put the two of their ranges together, I am not sure this is the spot. I tank and fold with great reluctance.
However, my read for the first time in a while is completely off. The blind behind me wasn’t feigning indifference, he was indifferent. Friday Night Party Guy collects a pot and disappears for a few orbits of table game fun. I'm left with questions, an annoying nick to my win, and that glass of watery whiskey and melting ice to stare at.
This one has weighed on me all week, far more than the larger pots. I’m convinced I made not only a mistake in this hand, but that I made a large mistake. The right play was what I considered originally: put the money in the middle. I’m ahead too often here, and again I surprised Gargamel with what I was thinking during our recap. I'm also forgetting just how much value there is for when he doesn't believe me. A donk lead into the AAx board is very often the x or less, not the Ace. I let the multiway pot and a few scraps of information throw me. This was poor combinatorical play, I have concluded. Worse, I may have been lying to myself about the strength of the blind's hand, because I'm not usually wrong with behavior and may have been looking for excuses.
Yes, I think that's it. We don't want excuses, we want reasons.
Coming Next in Part II: Three PFR Check Raises