A strange realisation, and a piece of strategy
I’m back from Paris, looking forward to a few days to catch up on work and relax, before the difficult looking task of finding my way to Deauville next week for the next leg of the EPT.
As I was on the plane home, a strange realisation dawned on me. If I think back through my results over the last year or so, my only successes seem to come in precisely the places I least like going to. London, scene of my biggest cash to date, is a wrench to get to, and a place whose impersonality always get me down. Paris is a beautiful place, but the city where I have made 2 final tables on the last 3 visits, is host to the only unpleasant casino on the poker tour. I can only think that Luton, where I have my most consistent record of cashing, suffered a real injustice when it lost its top spot to Hull in the list of The 100 worst places to live in Britain.
I really enjoy going almost everywhere else, but nowhere more so than Ireland, and every new town has seemed to offer the opportunity to see a new beautiful place with the same friendly banter. I think I made a day two there once, but it lasted no longer than ten minutes. I always look forward to going to Brighton, a great place by the sea, and having a good time with the English contingent, but I’ve always come back penniless.
I think it’s just a coincidence, but it will be interesting to see if the trend continues. Maybe there is some subconscious determination to stay in the tournament in the most miserable places. Anyway, here’s a piece of stratgey I wrote; I’m just off to find out the dates of the Humberside Poker Championships.
Finding the right line
A poker hand can offer so many different lines that it often seems impossible to find the right one. There is no magic formula; I am going to show you how good poker relies so often not on complex maths or incredible reads, but just on good old common sense. We’re going to look at a number of different hand examples, using just two simple rules to seek out our line.
Let’s think about it from the start. Poker is really just a sequence of bets. It is important to be clear each time you make a bet, that there are really only two purposes. Have a look at the examples that follow, and ask yourself these two simple questions each time.
• What hands that I can beat will call this bet?
• What hands that I am losing to will pass to this bet?
Example 1- the pointless bet
You see a board roll out QsJs3c6h5d, and a player bet the flop, check the turn and now make a large bet on the river. He is called, and his Jd10d is no good against his opponent’s 6s5s, whose flush draw on the flop went through the back door to two pair. He throws his arms in disgust at his misfortune, but what is his mistake? Our two rules highlight a lack of logic in his river bet. It is very unlikely that an opponent will call with a worse hand. Unless he is devising an intricate bluff targeted at a hand like KJ, there is basically no hand that has him beat that he can make fold here.
There is no point to this play, so what would be the right line on the river? It is important to avoid the temptation of hindsight, so I would check here, and snap-call a bet from my opponent. I would say there that the number of flopped draws that have missed makes this a very obvious line. It makes little difference in this hand, but on a lot of other occasions you will gain a lot of value by inviting your opponent to bluff.
Example 2- top pair and the flush draw
One occasion that leads to a confusion in logic more than any other comes when a player flops top pair and a flush draw. The kind of hand where have a made hand and are drawing very well against the few that have you beat is such a strong hand that it affords you a real flexibility of which line to take.
You hold Ah2h in a heads-up pot, and see a lovely flop of Ac9h3h. You are playing a 12,000 stack in this 5,000 pot; what line are you thinking along, when you are the big blind, and have called a raise before the flop?
A number of different lines could be best, but I would argue that there one line that is very clearly the worst. Many player s realise they have a great combination of decent made hand and strong draw, and move-all in. This is a complete waste of the hand, and our two rules easily show why. We can assume that our opponent will not call with many hands worse than ace-deuce, and it is probably too hopeful to think that we can make him pass any better aces.
How do we make use of our hand?
It is important to realise that we will be committed to putting all of our money in, even on the turn. So, before we do, we should try to get as much of our opponent’s in as we can. Most good opponents will continuation bet here, and so it is important to hinge your play on letting them do so.
Against one type of opponent, the hyper-aggressive player, I might try to represent uncertainty by making a small lead-out, making their decision to continuation bet all the more costly. There is another type of opponent who brings an interesting spot here, and that is an opponent who has been seen to make very tight folds. It is in this scenario that you have the opportunity to turn your hand into a semi-bluff, and just possibly show enough strength in a pot-committing check raise to make your opponent worry you can beat his A10 or AJ. If he is not scared enough to pass, we have the strong consolation of 12 outs.
The power of logic
Against the standard solid opponent, however, the equation is more simple. If he has continuation bet 3,000 and you commit yourself for 9,000 more, he is almost definitely going to do the right thing by folding everything we beat, and calling everything that beats us. This magic equation should ring loud bells from our first example, “the pointless bet,” and brings about a very interesting scenario. Although it’s never too bad for us to get all the chips in here, the lack of value in a check-raise should lead you to wonder if there is a better option. There may be; if we just call here, we give our opponent the opportunity to bluff again. He may even fatefully make a half-correct read that we have just a flush draw, and move in on a blank turn with a hand like 10s9s.
A new way of thinking
If the thinking in a hand is new to you, then it is always worth considering whether it applies to other similar situations. Another example might come when you KsJc for the second pair and nut flush draw on a board of AsJs8s . We are not going to pass our hand at any point, but think about whether big move on the flop provides a good answer for to our two crucial questions- what better hands can we make pass, or worse hands can we make call? It doesn’t take long to realise that the two lists would not be very long.
Changing our plan in the hand
What we are building here is an idea that when we have a decent made hand and a strong draw, we can actually find extra value by turning our hand into a bluff catcher, rather than committing our stack on the flop. So, let’s try to think about the conditions that favour this move:
• You must not be allowing your opponent a free chance to make better than our one pair. Of course, nothing in poker is ever safe; in our example where you hold Ah2h, our opponent could turn a pocket pair into a set, but a small danger is something you should be prepared to risk. An example of a scenario where you would be playing with too much danger would be if you held 10h9h on a 9s6h2h board. Here, you should move in and leave your opponent regretful if he has continuation bet his two overcards.
• Our made hand needs to be the sort which is not vulnerable, but also not strong. For example, if you hold AhKh on As10h2h, you should be thinking not of playing passively,but of the best way to get all the chips into the pot.
• You actually have even more room to manouvre on these kind of boards if you have the massive poker advantage that is position. This way, you can ship the rest of the chips in if your opponent checks the turn to you, and avoid an unlikely runner-runner accident.
Example 3- turning a combo hand into a bluff
Put yourself in the position of the player on the button, who has called a raise with 9s8s and hit a lovely looking flop of Js8h6s. Your opponent, who had raised from mid position, makes a pot-sized bet of 10,000, and you wonder what best to with your 80,000 stack…
The obvious option is to move all-in, or to check-raise now and be prepared to call the all-in. The internet player would say this move is +EV, and the real life translation of this is that it can never be too bad. You have a very good chance to win the 20,000 in the pot, and in the worst case scenarios, you will always be drawing to a good number of outs.
There is more to life than +EV
If we think about of list of better hands we are trying to make pass, however, we see it is very short. Pocket tens and nines (especially as you have a nine yourself_ represent a very narrow range at which we are targeting this move. It is important to realise that although we have found a line that is +EV, it does not necessarily mean that it is the best line. Let’s instead think about a flat-call, and see how, with the advantage of position, we can use various turn cards to our advantage.
Let’ say the flop of Js8h6s becomes a turn of Js8h7d6s or Js10d8h6s, both adding an open-ended straight draw to our hopes, and our opponent checks or makes a bet of 15k to 20k. If he checks, bet whatever amount you think he will consider strongest, and if he bets, re-raise all-in. Just think how difficult you make things for him if he holds a hand like KJ. Even with a hand as strong as AJ or QQ, a thinking opponent will be scared of how strong your range is after you have followed this line on this board.
(If you want to go one step further, think about this from the other player’s point of view: would you fold aces on the J876 board? You should definitely be prepared to strongly consider it. Think about the range of hands your opponent has; it is at worst one pair with some kind of draw, and at worst two pair, a set or straight).
Other turn cards that do not hit your hand directly but could well bring an opportunity are an ace, or a jack. Position is so important, as it will allow you to take advantage of any hesitancy your opponent gives away with a check or weak bet. If your opponent had these cards in his hands, he would probably be forced to bet them strongly, and so a check is a particularly strong invitation to turn your hand into a bluff.
It would be possible to argue the ins and outs of these hands for ever, but there is one key lesson to take away. Always be prepared to challenge your thinking, and be ready to be flexible in your play. Do not settle for a good way to play a hand, when you may still find the best.