Differing from the first installment of this slightly dull series of posts, aimed specifically at the die-hards (including myself) and the cubicle grinders who read my pieces on smartphones between hands or on the toilet at work, these spots were part of two adjacent but brutal sessions where very little went my way in terms of results. What connects these to last time's crushing sessions is the buy in and betting caps which foreshorten the action, as well as the gameflow adjustments which are at the heart of winning poker in any circumstance and escaping the TAG's Dilemma. I mention this in part because nothing is more boring than hand histories. They are skeletons; gameflow is the spell that makes them dance. (I will soon compose a post on What Makes a Good Hand History and Why.)
Oddly, I don’t believe there is a textbook for dealing with these capped cash games, so far as I can tell. The capitols and metropoli of poker have naught but disdain for us backwoodsers (maybe someone will correct me). Much like seat selection versus competing concerns and deep positional dynamics, the wisdom available for the nuances of these situations is limited and what is there is "trop simple," as a frustrated cab driver once complained about my illiterate and enthusiastic directions. I have my theories, which I will not always share explicitly, but as usual, you might find them in between the lines. In any case, travelling about less and less and hosting less and less, these games have become my bread and butter.
Before I get to a series of PFR Flop Check-Raises, which I know will interest a few out there, I will instead lead with a perhaps well-played hand by a villain and I, where I extract the absolute maximum after putting my tough opponent to the test.
Two competent young players sit down. You know they learned online, not even because of some personal habit or appearance, but by their nitty betsizing which is intended to accomplish the most for the least. That’s not live poker on the whole, which is big and sloppy and where every hand matters. Online, players form a kind of Walmart of poker, where every edge is accounted for and they shave pennies off dimes. UPC code poker. Here in the live low stakes, we’re more Mom and Pop. Every customer’s order is different and nothing has a price tag on it. We'll sell it to you for the price that feels right.
So when NL25 Grinder #2 opens to $15 at my 3/5 game from the cutoff, I don’t get to use the usual betsizing info that can make my life easy or even very easy. However, because of his frequencies, his age, and his overall demeanor, I think he has an boringly predictable opening range consisting of solid value or potential (suited only) value holding, and is not picking on the blinds as I would with almost anything remotely smelling of three days old playable. There is also the more obvious problem with his raise: I get a great price to play in position against him. Theoretically he should be very tight or balanced or good to overcome this approach.
But more about me. His action further means that when I see the QJdd on the button, I can’t lazily raise him- and in truth, nor do I want to. This hand is perfect to flat with and play for such a good price. With 100 bbs to play for, calling is a good option versus this player at this time and chances of a squeeze near zero. Deeper, a three bet might be better, or perhaps if I were out of position and would want barreling opportunities in an reraised pot, the benefits of initiative, and good board coverage.
Our flop is 10c7d4s, which he bets. I will be definitely floating this flop. In fact, it’s pretty much a nut flop to continue on, with multiple draws that can come in and cards that will improve my hand.
The turn is a funny one, though: the 10d. It’s obviously in my range and improves my equity. Yet now that it is paired, it is harder for me to have it. NL25 Grinder #2 checks to me.
Since I would bet trips, I am surely going to bet my bluffs as well. In fact, I plan to shove the river and follow up satisfactorily. I have my tactic, and frankly, it’s a good one. I’m a little surprised when NL25G#2 calls me: he’s cottoned on to what I am doing, it seems. Lots of tables in this one!
The river peels off an offsuit Queen, which he once again checks. Now I am still shoving, but the board has given me different reasons to do so. If I had diamonds, I can get looked up light by jacks or nines. If he has aces, maybe he can fold.
I don’t care. I have my plan and now it’s not just a bluff but a merge.
After some thought, NL25G#2 calls, sees my hand and is dismayed. He saw through me on the turn, recognized the likelihood of a move once he checked, but could not anticipate the queen. I am paid the max by what was likely an adventurous pair of nines: the danger of playing bluff catcher.
I like my play and his here; maybe his a little less. If he was planning on calling the river, what a great x/r he could have made on the turn! There’s a lot to be gained from this hand, including river sizing, fighting floats, and the careless power of merging. What would I do against a check raise on the turn? If brodude did that, it's time to pop the cork on the Red Bull and head to NL50.
In a more straightforward spot, I open JJ to 5x and find one caller, mostly unknown to me, who is in position with 100 bbs effective. He's lean and stingy-looking: I read Careful and Prideful plus Ramen Noodles. The flop is 894 rainbow. Because he rates to have so much air, gutterballs, and pairs that will not pay off more than one street, and which I will have to pay off should a disguised hand come in, I choose to let him bet for me, and check. Since he is prideful, I expect a steal or at least a bet. He bets 40 into 55. I raise to 130.
Stingy takes a long time with it- I am surprised. He seems genuinely concerned about this spot. It’s true that I will take this line with hands like AK, and I wonder if he was thinking of shipping 76 or 98 on me.
After all, it’s what I want. However, Stingy does fold, and I collect. Would I make the call with AK given his tank? That is the 100 bb question. Not all check raises are equal, nor do I find the need to be committed: all actions are information and all dollars equal value.
I actually like this hand the most, as simple and short as it is, because it involves knowing my man so well. Here I open A5ss to 5x, and unfortunately pick up the only mini stack at the table.
My villain I know. He’s a tournament reg who is extremely, self-destructively active. He probably started the evening off with an amount of money in his pocket, and after busting the donkament, has no problem sitting in at cash until it's gone and time to head home. He’s a cocky fellow, physically fit and perfectly calm running his myriad moves. Obviously with Ax and only 40 bbs to play for, I would need a hand to play him if I had a more Regthink™ style.
We see 10s 2c 4d. A neutral flop – one where neither of us has range advantage and the runout will favor the aggressor, not the range. I can’t bet because I will be trapped by his flat, and can be raised off my equity. I have hidden information, though: that is to say that I know his range is incredibly wide. My challenge here is claiming the pot and not letting him leverage his mini stack and position.
Because he is very aggressive, I expect him bet when checked to - even with absolute air and getting close to commitment. That's playing the player. A quick look at a possible range for him confirms my in-game intuition that he is nearing empty on value hands. Moreover, while I have air as well, I have some stuff going for me: My ace is likely good (but I'd prefer he folds the ones he does have), given that he raises or shoves good Ax, and the gutter and the back door floor give me a few pips of equity. Against this ridiculous range that I'm giving him, I'm actually a slight favorite.
Once I check my plan is not leave him any wiggle room if he bets. I like checking as well because I can improve for free. It's the right play.
However, he does choose to bet, and now, to follow through, I put him all in. It's an overbet but plays the stacks correctly, one of my big concerns in poker.
That's when the psychologically interesting thing happens. Villain starts muttering to himself. He is angry: a rarely expressed emotion for him. He's fallen into a check raise, the hardest play to combat in poker. I've given him no room to maneuver. He's even more deeply in a box because he thinks of me as a much tighter player than I am: the benefit of managing your game and image carefully. His disgust registers the idea that I can't be bluffing and he is going to make an unhappy fold of some piece of equity, such as one of the many draws or perhaps a weak pair (not many of those) which he can't feel is good. With no flush draw to put me on, the dry board does not lend itself to my having air or worse than AK.
He releases, and I'm happy to have defeated a short stacker. What was his error? Really, it's just getting involved in the first place versus my early position raise and holding a speculative hand. If I had bet flop, it would have been as bad as his preflop call. Stacks are everything in cash game poker, if not beyond.
The most interesting of the hands came in sequence after the others - this matters. After chipping up in this fashion, without showdown, I now well cover the table- silent and weary when I am involved- with the exception of one player. When you are deep enough to be painful with someone, you have to pay special attention to their play, and here a unique situation occurs which may have cost me a bet or thrown me. At the very least I also think I sized my turn bet incorrectly and cost myself a few more blinds than necessary.
Again I am in EP with a playable hand, AcQh. After opening to 5x, I pick up the villain in hand 5, as well as the deeper opponent who will be most relevant here and who is on the button. I have observed him to be straightforwardly tight but unwilling to let go of draws. In other words, not entirely a nit. For this reason, when the flop comes a challenging Ah Jc 8c, I again decide to check raise. If I take a bet/bet line, I will not know which draw either villain is on, and my hand is strong enough to play for 125 bbs. I'm also expecting to have a much tougher decision if the tournament player bets and the solid villain in absolute position raises. I don't expect him to raise with a draw but instead pursue. I have now check/raised multiple times in the past two orbits and I don't expect these players to fall into my plans so easily. Oddly, this might have influenced the button's decision to bet, as I likely seemed a bit hesitant on the flop: I had considered betting to mix up my lines and press the easy button, even if it is less optimal.
So once the tournament player checks, I have my green light. Button bets $40 into $80 and I raise to $130, still not committed. To my surprise and discomfort, he seems very happy to call, asking "how much?" while gathering the chips. He has a big draw or is slowplaying two pair, of which all combinations are available. He does not have a set. With the Ace of clubs in my hand, I'm a little confused - what does he have? The Kc, Qc, 10c, and 9c all compose parts of his range.
On the turn things go awry. It's the 7h, and he checks out of turn. I have to use this information to my advantage. I don't think it's angle, at least at first- so what can he check behind with??? The obvious draw has not come in, and only 109 completes. That means I can still be ahead. I continue, betting 3/4 pot. Looking back, this is a mistake.
He now shoves on me and I am boxed in. I thought I had been taking advantage of his order of action mistake, but at least one of two things have happened. I have been angled, and could have checked leaving him unable to bet as per rules for this situation. Because I have not improved and his range has, I needed to let this free card come if my plan was not to call a raise. The second possibility is that he has forgotten what position he is in, is checking to induce, and which is a good play against a thin value bettor, a strong range, and a neutral play against a range that will not bet most of the time.
Why would I not call a raise? Because I had my read: he was a chaser and a value bettor. This was never a move. Also, as I mentioned, my bet was a tad large. Two thirds pot was fine, and I see I was trying to discourage a call with a massive draw, being out of position.
Nerves and a poor interpretation of the out of turn check costs me two nice stacks. More deeply, I somewhat dislike my exploitative bet on the turn: someone once pointed out that we need to stay balanced for more than the obvious reasons - where is that post? In any case, Villain and I discuss, briefly, the hand and I believe him when he explains it was not an angle, and that he did have 109 for the nuts.
Well, hopefully that wasn't too dreadful. A few hands later I end up switching up my tactics, certain that after watching this hand go down that my check/raise line was going to be exploited. Instead, again holding top pair on a dangerous board, I make an inducing bet, hoping to get shoved on by a short stack. However, he simply calls and binks turn, leaving me with another loss after his very poor flop call (flatting my 9x iso with 58hh and $200 back). I called it a night. After four straight check-raises it felt like the right move, and given how indifferent this player was to odds or thinking about equities, I doubt the results are different.
Speaking of, I had decided to take a break from blogging to deal with personal issues, but I am back at it, it seems, though less often. While I still have much to fix, I have discovered that the blog is something positive in my life and abandoning it was not really the answer long term. Hopefully at some point I'll get back to my prior frequencies, but until then, thanks for reading and for your support.