I shouldn’t have to ask questions like this by now, seems like I’ve been playing poker a long time. So this is probably going to be embarrassing for me. But I’m going to ask you folks for feedback. Not just on the right play, but how I should have been thinking about this when I was faced with this particular decision. It’s a math question, but I think it’s more than that. I’ll get to it after the usual robvegaspoker digression. And since I’m pressed for time as I’m starting to write this, I’m going to leave this post open-ended….I’m going to leave it for you to tell me how I should have proceeded before telling you the result in a couple of days. And I want to thank my buddy Don who went over this hand with me and gave me some great insight. I’m curious to see if I get the same input from you guys—because as we know in poker, it depends.
This happened Saturday at the local casino in Ventura I’ve been playing at a lot when I’m in L.A. Now in the past, I’ve pretty much stuck with the 2/3 game they offer, max buy-in $300. I always buy-in for the max, so it’s 100 big blinds. Basically the same as buying in for $200 at a 1/2 game in Vegas, which is what I do there (if I play 1/3 in Vegas, I’d buy in for $300),
But as I’ve mentioned previously when talking about this room, they do have a 1/2 game too. For some reason, the L.A. area rooms all have ridiculously low max buy-ins in their 1/2 games. I dunno why, but I guess it’s what most of their players want. At the Bike, I believe it’s a $40-$60 spread, so $60 is the most you can buy-in for. I think Commerce it’s actually $40 max. Buying in that short isn’t really poker, it’s more like a lottery. I guess the hope is that you can build up your stack with a few double ups and then start playing poker—assuming your opponents also have enough chips to play poker with you. BTW, at the Bike, they also have a 1/3 game, but the spread there is $80-$120. So you can only buy in for 40 big blinds. It’s not a great game. I tried it once, a few years ago, and told that story here.
The 1/2 at the PC in Ventura is a bit better than the other 1/2 games around town. The minimum buy-in is $50 and the max is $100. So 50 big blinds. Better than 30 of course, but hardly ideal. I always intended to give this game a shot, just to see how it played, but I never have. Well, except for one five-minute, somewhat accidental trial that I discussed here, On Saturday, I finally decided to give the game a try. Part of the reason was that, whenever I was down there playing 2/3, I’d frequently see some huge stacks in the game, obviously a lot bigger than the $100 max buy-in would suggest. So I felt like it was worth investigating if the game could be profitable.
I got to the room early afternoon and didn’t have to wait long for a seat. I bought in for $100. There were a couple of big stacks (over $200) at my table but most were less than $100. Note, one thing I disliked about the game—and knew I would—was that they insist on playing it with $1 chips, not $5 chips. I have no idea why. It’s the same at the Bike and Commerce. Even that 1/3 game at the Bike uses $1 chips. It is such a pain counting out large quantities of $1 chips, it just makes no sense, and slows down the game. Only thing I can figure is that makes the stacks look bigger and so people won’t quire realize how little money is in play.
Since I was buying in short stacked I had to adjust my game and I wasn’t sure the best way to go about it. Of course I’ve played short stacks before, but never intentionally, so I wasn’t sure if I should just be ready to shove with anything at a moment’s notice or play even tighter to wait for that big hand to shove with. Or should I just try to play as normal as possible until I found a situation I could exploit?
I decided to do a lot of observing and just see how it was going. I didn’t get much to play for quite awhile. It seemed like most players were limping in very light, but there wasn’t all that much raising….and then all of a sudden there’d be a big bet or even a shove. Those under $50 stacks got shoved in fairly often but if it was more than that, that was rarely the case. I was probably down to about $80 and starting to wonder if I should just play the stack down or top it off to keep it near $100. I’m kind of thinking in this game it would make more sense to play it down, not keep adding to it since you couldn’t get it to a big stack anyway (except by winning your way there).
Then I got lucky and turned the nut flush against a guy who raised preflop with pocket 10’s. I checked the turn hoping for a check-raise but he checked behind me. Lucky for me, the river was a 10 (not of my flush suit) and he felt obligated to call my $35 river bet (that was about $12 less than his stack, and I thought he’d shove if he would call, but no, he just called).
That got me up to over $40 and I won another small pot and was at around $160 or so when “the” hand occurred. By this time, all those short stacks had busted and rebought a time or two and it was looking like a real poker game could break out. At least half the players had over $100 in front of them, I thought I should try to play my normal game.
On the button, I had pocket 9’s. Someone raised to $4. This was not that unusual a raise for this table, although it was more often between $6 to $12 to open. A bunch of people called. I suppose I could have three-bet there, but 3-betting 9’s (even after a ridiculously small opening raise) just wasn’t in my comfort zone. I also didn’t want to have to face the possibility of a short stack shoving in response.
So six of us saw the flop, which was 9-8-6, rainbow. And it checked to me. I bet $20. Two players called. One was the middle-aged British lady next to me. She had by far the biggest stack at the table, $300-$400. Since I’d been there, well over an hour by now, she had almost never failed to limp in. She would limp with any two cards, and call almost any reasonable preflop raise with any two cards. I recall her flopping two pair after she limped in with Queen-4 off from middle position, for example. She was hitting almost everything, in fact. It wasn’t her stellar play that had gotten her that big stack. It was playing anything and getting lucky. But she hadn’t raised very often preflop, and when she did, it was usually $4-$8. There was no doubt in my mind she would have called the $4 from her small blind with any two cards, including Tarot cards.
The other caller was a short-stack, youngish guy with super cool looking sunglasses. Looked more like a Vegas reg than an L.A. player. He had been short most of the time, but up and down, and hadn’t played a lot of hands, had shoved a few times and taken it down that way. But he seemed fairly tight, certainly not an aggro (though he looked like he could play an aggro on TV). Neither of the players who had called me had been the preflop raiser.
The turn was a 10 of the fourth suit. I really didn’t like that card, as it put all kinds of straights out there. To my surprise, the British lady led out this time. She put out $30. Before I could start thinking about what an odd bet that was into a $80 pot, the short stack announced “all-in.” Before I had a chance to ask for an exact count, the British Lady did. And the dealer counted it, which was a mistake. Only the player who has the action (in this case, yours truly) can ask for a count. But no harm, as I said, I was going to ask.
It was $72 or so. I didn’t like that at all. If it had been $59, would have been so much better. If she had bet out $40 instead of $30, it would have been so much better. You see, in those scenarios, the small blind wouldn’t be able to raise if I decided to just call. But in the present case, she could raise and then I’d be playing for my entire stack. That was definitely a big factor in my thinking as I was tanking.
So what do I do there? And perhaps more importantly, what should I be thinking about to help me decide?
Here’s what I was thinking. I was absolutely convinced they both had straights. With four to a straight out there and two players showing more interest than they had shown on the flop, that’s a logical conclusion. In the woman’s case, this was reinforced by her play during the time I was there. She would not have led out after checking the flop if she didn’t have a big hand, she just wouldn’t, she was not that type of player. I think if the 10 gave her a second pair, she’d have checked and then decided what to do after the two of us had acted. I gave a passing thought to her having a turned set of 10’s—she’d would have probably played it that way if that was the case—but I felt that was just unlikely, set-over-sets are not common.
The short-stack was maybe a bit harder to read. But he didn’t have enough chips to be bluffing (or even semi-bluffing) there. If he had something good on the flop, he’d have bet out, maybe shoved then. So it was very likely he too had a straight. I think he would have raised pre with pocket 10’s and maybe even bet out or shoved with the overpair on the turn.
I assumed I had zero fold equity. The lady is not folding her straight. And even if she did, the other guy is all-in with his straight. Assuming they both had straights, that is.
So in my mind, it was a math question and I honestly was flummoxed because it was a three-way pot, and it mattered whether I called or raised. Do I try to do the math for calling? Or just assume that it will be all in because she’ll raise if I call? Or just shove there and do the math that way, assuming she’ll call. But what if I shove and she does fold? Then my odds were off.
And if I decide to stay in the hand, what are the pros and cons of calling vs. shoving? Like I said, in my mind, I had zero fold-equity (feel free to disagree). So to me, the reason to shove there is, if a scare card for her hits the river, she might fold her straight on a paired board (tho for $60 more, maybe not). Whereas if I don’t hit my boat, maybe I can fold on the river and save myself $60. Or maybe she doesn’t even bet the river if she has less than the nut straight. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s not insignificant in a game of this size.
So I’ll leave it there. Was my thinking up to this point ok? What else should I have been thinking about? How should I be doing the math in my head? Should I get a personal poker coach to help me play hands like these (and every other hand) better? Please let me hear from you.
Now, since the lady in the story is British, and since I can’t think of any other appropriate illustrations, and since this post is rather short (actually, it somehow got a lot longer than I expected), I thought I’d throw in some pics of some really attractive looking British models. I assure you that the lady in my story doesn’t actually resemble any of these ladies.
(Edited to add, conclusion has now been posted and can be found here).
(Edited to add, conclusion has now been posted and can be found here).