Short term results spread over months are hard enough to take, but a single evening of negative convergence can be terrible on the mind, especially when every hand is a buy in. The image of Mason Malmuth in lotus position and a loin cloth, floating on a deck of cards, is probably not going to keep you as emotionally stable as you might think it would.
In other words, we do our best strategically and must play on even without perfect knowledge or ability. What can we improve on when the Friday night shitstorm leaves us soaked? If I know anything about poker, it’s that there’s always something.
The all in per hand situation I mention occurs most often in low buy in cap games, where few players are actually observing a coherent strategy. The classic example that explodes the mind of forum-level type players, who basically know enough to be dangerous to themselves and others, all the way up to the vicious value betting mindset that keeps Gargamel on cruise ships, goes as such:
Taggy 4 Lyfe, sitting on about 480 in a max buy game of 500, opens from UTG and gets four callers. There is now 100 in the pot and the flop is (His Card) (Theirs) (Theirs) or (Theirs) (Theirs) (Theirs). Overall in this simplified example, in an SPR 5 or less pot, it will be very hard to get away from situation one and sometimes two, depending on the holding. In pots involving four or more players, one of the field callers will have flopped significant equity. Taggy 4 Lyfe’s expectation for the session may not change, but his short term swings will sky rocket, since every hand of TPTK or higher will felt itself at SPR 4.
To defeat the Pooflingers, who really do want you to come down to their level (and I’m not speaking figuratively here, it is their strategy conscious or not, and they will verbally cajole you into softer tactics), two related concepts are going to save your session. This is important since you do need to actually think partially in sessions, being a mortal human being and not a poker machine with an endless horizon of play.
Number one, you need to increase your equity share. Number two, you need to barrel correctly.
How do we increase our equity share? One, we play less hands from up front. Easily done but more easily not done. I’m talking about folding KQ/AJ,Axs and small pairs from EP; actual painful, positional discipline. On the flop you also need to fold more often because every raised pot trends toward a protected limped pot in disguise.
Then, when we do bet, open, or raise, it’s got to be bigger. Much bigger.
If you are opening to 4x in these kinds of games, you are at fault, because you are playing their game. They want this. I find myself doing it all the time, so you’re in company, but it’s lazy. I’m lazy. On a Friday eve with the monkeys restless in their seats, have the will to open your entire range to 5, 6, 7x until you find playable spots. This is especially true in straddled pots, which even shortstackers will foolishly proffer. They will still call with mostly the same hands but fewer of them will call, and poker can be played in what is now a perceptibly non-limped pot.
In the illusory world of perfect play, it would not matter how many call or how much you raised. The constant canard is that if we have aces and see a flop four way, that’s great, more money is in the pot and we win more. Someone then trots out a tiresome EV equation and shows how awesome it is when we have aces and the entire state of Delaware flats our bet.
However, the failure of this example is that for the most part we only have a range of hands which are a substitute for aces, aces being the universal threat the UTG raiser brings to the table- and his only positional advantage. The equity of KK, QQ, JJ, and TT versus the field is lower than AA, dropping off at significant standard intervals as they are not equivalent versus wide ranges that are Ax etc heavy. Yet no one is going to suggest folding these premiums from UTG; never mind AK which is exactly what we get most often and they “put us on” most often and which leaves us in the impossible (theirs) (theirs) (theirs) situation most often.
So assuming we are not surrendering these hands out of position and must leave behind the canard of wanting as many callers as possible, we then need to follow maxim two: barreling correctly.
The first step to doing this is deducing from a cbetting matrix if we are going to be able to even put one profitable bet in. Against four opponents the situation, if not always the odds, are stacked against less than aces. If I had a blind for every post in the forum where someone continued into three people+ on a caller’s board then got lost, I would likely have a couple complimentary buy ins for the 3/5 game tonight. Your buy-in, sir...
However, it doesn’t stop there. Without the right number of barrels for your holding, disaster awaits. For every holding and situation there is a correct number. I witnessed the following error which left a friend in frustration. Maybe he saved money, maybe not, but it wasn’t the best plan to maximize wins and minimize losses overall.
Taggy 4 Lyfe (since this could be anyone of you earnest poker students) opens AQcc and picks up a couple Pooflingers. We see 967cc. How to approach this?
For one, there is a real decision. The check raise is optimal on board that yields pairs and gutters that incentivize the button to bet, but barreling has a way forward, too, which might be an option in position.
However, it’s highly polarized to bet into a board which favors the caller, a fact that seems to overlook mostplayers from 5/10 down. So if you are going to represent a nutted hand with a bet, how many barrels do you have to fire to manage this holding correctly?
Yes, you answered it already, three; and you knew it because the interaction of the board, your opponent's range, and your hand dawned on you. Three barrels is the correct way forward, once you start. In this spot, our Taggy 4 Lyfe friends love to two barrel and depolarize their line at the end, not realizing that it was polarized from the start vis a vis the board. In other words, the hands that can fade this board are not middling or merged, and you want bluffs with significant equity. Since Pooflinger ranges are weak, the decision, barring certain runouts, has to trend toward finishing what we started. It’s check/raise if you are interested in balance, or three shells versus weak ranges if you want to play exploitatively.
In this example, the Pooflinger held on with second pair twice and was not tested on the river. That’s a crushing loss of big blinds. Just as importantly, it’s mentally taxing to see Q7 take the pot from you, escaping from domination without a scratch. Think about naked Mason Malmuth. Oh, you’re not feeling better?
We want to 1) punish weak ranges with a bigger raise and so make weak calls even more painful and then 2) zero in on what our holding must do with the board we are given.
Note that barreling decisions can mean not barreling at all, and that’s a lot of the time, more than you are likely doing. At a Friday night game, not only do they not care what you are “repping” (yeah I've got some Xmas presents to rep, too, bro), but they actually kind of hope you have a big hand to crack. That's the fun of poker on a Friday night, right?
Burning up dollars with optimistic bet/folds, whether they happen on this street or the next, isn’t really much different from what they are doing. Someone has to be sage: don’t think you’re a badass ‘cause you like to stick your hand in the saw.
That just makes you the unhappy clown. And boy, the Pooflingers love that shit.