Monday, November 26, 2007

Poker: A Hand and A Question

The Hand

Just back from Puerto Rico. The last time I was there the casinos offered only 5/10 Limit, but they have No-Limit now. Here's a hand that came up after about a two hours of play.

Blinds were 2/5. I have played bone-tight since I sat down, raising only one pot preflop, and folding all the rest. The game is filled with maniacs.

I open UTG with JJ. The first pocket pair I've seen. I raise to 30$. Everybody folds until it gets to the Big Blind--an older man with what looks like dyed red hair. He has played very tight so far--checkraising two maniacs out of a hand on the turn with a big bet and the Nut Full House several hands ago. Anyone else at the table, holding the same full house (Kings full of Jacks) would almost certainly have called the turn and hoped one of the maniacs hit their draws on the river, but Red Dye pushed hard--too hard--on 4th street, turning what should have been a 400$ pot into a 150$ pot. (In No Limit the real skill isn't in winning hands; it's in maximizing the amount you earn on the hands you do win).

I go into his backstory because his tightness should have affected my play in this hand. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

From out of the big blind, he now reraises to 60.00$. Several things go through my head:
1) Oh no! Not THIS guy.
2) Is there any hand he would reraise with that I can beat?
3) Why such a small raise?

Probably he has me beat. Maybe he has KK and is making a tester raise to see if I will come back over the top. Or, maybe he has AA and is just trying to juice the pot. Could he have AK? If it's me and I have AK, I just call an UTG bet from a tight player. But donkeys abound.

First big decision: call, fold, raise? I can't reraise with JJ. But I don't want to fold. His cheap reraise has given me a chance to see a flop and maybe hit a big hand. If he has does have AA and the flop comes J 4 2, is there any way he's going to be able to get away from the hand? I doubt it. He has 300$ behind, so I'm effectively getting better than 10-1 on my call.

I call.

The flop: Q 9 5, two clubs.

I'm not too worried about the Queen; there's no way this guy has reraised with AQ. If he has QQ, well, I was beat anyway.

I lead out, to see if he has a big pair, betting 100$. He thinks for 20 seconds or so and calls.

I think: if he had KK or AA, he would reraise. He must have either 10/10, J/J, or AK. AK makes the most sense; he's probably calling to hope to hit an A.

The turn is a 4. I go all-in (220$). He calls and tables AA.

I'm broke.

So obviously I played the hand badly. I should have checked the turn. What threw me off is that Red Dye really was worried on the flop. He wasn't pretending to think; he really didn't know if he should call. I assumed that weakness meant he couldn't beat JJ; in other words, I assumed he would play the hand like I would play the hand. If I'm the one with AA there, I reraise the flop. He didn't--not because he was trapping, but because he was worried I might have a set of queens (I think). He knew how tightly I'd been playing thus far, and he was actually worried about his Aces.

It's an interesting hand only because it shows how much our opponents affect our play. If I'm heads-up in that same situation against a strong, pro-type player, I will immediately become afraid after he calls my flop bet. I know a strong player won't call with just AK, so I'm beat. But because everyone else at my table in Puerto Rico was playing loose and stupid (calling 50$ preflop bets with 8 2, e.g.) I assumed, subconsciously, that Red Dye was also loose and stupid. (It didn't help that he looked like he'd just broken out of a mental ward). I made an unwarranted assumption about his play, and it hurt me.

I also got hurt by not thinking more deeply about the table image I was projecting. Red Dye knows how tight I am; he can't believe I'm bluffing. Therefore, if he calls, he MUST have a good hand. Finally, I got hurt because of my own prejudices. I assumed that AA or KK would HAVE to raise that flop--because that's what most 'good' players would do. But everyone plays differently, and trying to make reads on people based on my opinions about how they SHOULD play is not ideal. Instead I need to try to think about how my opponents DO play. And that requires imagination.

In retrospect, I think the right line is to call pre-flop, thinking I'm probably beat, and then either check it down or make a small 1/2 pot-sized bet on the flop and if that gets called, check it down. It's possible that line forces me, against some opponents, to lay down the winning hand. But good players lay down good hands--winning hands, even--all the time. I was impatient and I didn't give my opponent enough credit. And that hurt me.

The Question

A decent player raises UTG. You are on the button with A7 of clubs. How many players do you need to call the UTG raise in front of you before you'll also call?

What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

To answer the question presented: I don't know. I'd probably call with only a few callers. But, that's just me.

Reading your scenario, I was struck by something about your play I have noticed. You pretty much point it out, like it's a revelation you've just had. Lots of players don't do what they "should" do. In our past games, I noticed that you would often play other people with the assumption that they would follow good poker play and do what they should do (unless they were Jim Cady). I often didn't do what I was "supposed" to do simply because I did not know what a good player should do. So I would kind of go with my gut and play based on the instincts I had developed from playing a lot. It would be almost a subconscious thing, like this type of hand I have often ends up carrying the day, so I'll just go with it. But I would never do calculations in my head (because I hate math) or go by any steadfast rules.

When I was playing regularly, I think I was a decent player but not a great player. Decent just from playing a lot and learning from obvious mistakes and because I am not dumb, but not great because I never took the next step of learning the true intricacies of proper play. And I hate math.

But, I could beat you at times because I fell in that strange middle category. I was not an idiot, so I wouldn't play like so many boneheads you come across in casinos who have watched too much poker on TV, but I also didn't know enough to follow proper (and I argue, predictable) play. Perhaps I was predicable in other ways in that I fell into my own patterns and you decoded them over time since we used to play at the same table every week for a couple of years. But it wasn't predictable because I was following proper play.

I find it funny sometimes that really good players will get angry when others don't follow what "should" be done. Almost like it is an affront that they did not follow the predictable patterns so they could therefore be beaten or read easily. Like they should not have the freedom to make bad calls and then get lucky at the river. You were not like that, you seemed to always have the appropriate view that these jackasses will get lucky here and there, but over time your skill will prevail. But some other players(including some in our old poker group) would get visibly angry that they lost when the odds and rules of "good" poker play say they should have won, yet they lost. That was always amusing.

So, my comment is that even at casinos where lots of money is being thrown around, many players will be there and not do what they should do simply because they don't know any better. Yet they have also played enough to not be obviously foolish. Those guys can be dangerous.


Anonymous said...


All true. But it's not a revelation I just had--it's one I have over and over again. Because, as in life, in poker we tend to spend a lot of time learning the same lessons again and again (and, if you're me, thinking how stupid you are not to remember).

The only thing I would say in my defense of my (admittedly poor) play, is that after a few more hours, I would have had a much more developed picture of how Red Dye played--how cautious he was, I mean--and would (I hope) probably not have misread his call on the flop for weakness. So while it's true that I do sometimes not give people enough credit, I also work hard to develop comprehensive profiles of how everyone at my table plays. The result is that while I may be only a good player after 2 hours at a table, I think that after five, I'm often very good.

Although at that table, with all the drinking and shouting, I'm not sure I could have lasted five hours. It was pretty crazy.

Also--I don't recall a single hand in the three years we played together where you EVER took any of my money. Not one. Maybe you're thinking of someone else we used to play with--Ferris, maybe?

BTW, there's talk of a game around New Year's time, if HTown. Be there, Evans.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I must have had you and Jim Cady mixed up. Your play is very similar...


JMW said...

Do you mean how many people have to call before I fold?? Maybe I'm more conservative than you and Dezmond, but if I've got A7 suited and a bunch of people ahead of me are playing, I'm probably out (unless I'm just playing a feeling). Am I missing something, or am I just a bad player? (I know it's one of the two.)

Mr. Guapo said...


No, the point is this: an A7 is not a very good hand. The only reason to play it, in my example, is because it's suited. Ideally you hit a flush, or a flush draw, and you win a big pot. But, because you're NOT going to hit a flush or flush draw most of the time, it's not worth playing unless you can get good odds on your call. To use an extreme example: if nine people called ahead of you, you'd definitely call (because there's so much money in the pot). Conversely, if no one else called (leaving you heads-up with the UTG), you should usually fold. Why? Well, because it's a small pot, and your hand is marginal. You're either going to win a little, or lose a lot. If the UTG player is decent, he has you crushed, and even if you hit a good flop--something like 5/6/8, two clubs--he's going to bet so heavily you're going to have to fold. However, if five or six people are also in the hand with you, and the same flop comes up, there's a chance that one or more of them will all put money into the pot on the flop ahead of you. As a result, you'll be getting very good odds on your money--you'll be calling a (relatively) small bet in order to win a relatively large pot. And that's just good business.

The basic principle here is that the worse a hand is, the more people you need to have in the hand with you in order to play it. You also need good position, but since I say in the example that you're calling on the button, that's been taken care of. (You would never play that hand to a raise from an UTG player if you were next to act, for example, unless you knew that the rest of the table was heavy with callers). I was just wondering how many callers my legion of loyal readers would need.

Of course, this all goes out the window in a friendly ring game, of the type at which I often relieve Ray of his spare cash. In that game, I will not only call with A7Clubs, but probably reraise. But in a high stakes NL game, where I could lose a lot in one hand, it's a little different.