Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Donk Move or a Brilliant Play?

A fair amount of this blog has been devoted to my transition from a limit player to a No Limit player.  It’s getting close to a year now since I started playing NL poker almost exclusively.  When I started this blog I had very rarely played NL cash games.

I guess I’ve become a decent NL player.  Of course, I want to keep improving, and one of the ways I’d like to improve is to expand my game, play more outside my comfort zone.  When I play strictly by doing what’s comfortable for me, I frequently have decent results, but I know by playing so tight and unimaginatively, I am leaving money on the table.  I’d like to get some of that money into my stack and then, into my wallet.
But it seems whenever I expand my horizons, whenever I try something different, it blows up in my face and costs me money.  Now that’s not always true, I’ve done a few posts about times I tried something different—for me, that is—and it worked out well, see here and here, for example.  But mostly it doesn’t work, and the sad fact is, a lot of the times this has happened, I’ve been too embarrassed to blog about those attempts to expand my game.  The great thing about doing your own blog is you don’t have to tell embarrassing stories on yourself if you don’t want to.
But I want to talk about this hand last night and try to get some feedback from my readers.  I tried something a little different, and came away thinking I made a total donk move and got what I deserved.  But maybe what I did wasn’t so bad, and I’m just judging from the results, a mistake poker players make all the time.
By the time I got to the poker table last night, Prudence was already there.  I wasn’t  sitting near her so she texted me her lowdown the table.  The key was that she said Seat 5 was the only solid player at the table.  After a few orbits, I agreed he was a good player, and not just because he had $500-$600 in chips in front of him (most of which I had not seen him win).  I did notice what I thought was a kind of a loose call, but I don’t recall the details.
Meanwhile, I had chipped up and down a bit, winning small pots and losing small amounts.  Nothing dramatic.  But I’d been there long enough for a solid player to have noticed I was playing fairly tight.  I point this out because by now I’ve had enough experience in NL to realize that a lot of the players there have no clue who is playing tight.  They are so bad that the will have played with me for three hours and not realized that when I three bet pre-flop I probably have their King-Jack offsuit crushed.  But I expected this guy to realize when I bet or raise, it means something.
I had pretty much my buy in of $200 in front of me when I was dealt Ace-10 suited (spades) in late position.  I don’t recall whether I limped in first, or if he was raising from the blind, but he made it $12 I believe and it folded back to me.  No one was else was in the hand, and I usually fold there, but I decided to call and see a flop.  I think that was a questionable play, but that’s not really what this post is about.  Ace-10, even when its soooooted isn’t a great hand.  And this guy didn’t seem to be taking advantage of his huge stack to bully people around.  I had to assume his raise indicated he had a pretty good hand.
The flop was Jack high I believe, but what was important was that it was all black.  Two spades, one club.  So I flopped the nut flush draw.  Pretty much what I was hoping for when I called.  Seat 5 led out with a $15 bet.
Here’s where I decided to get cute, at least for me.  Ordinarily there I would just call and hope to hit the flush, right?  I mean, that’s my default, boring (but often profitable) play.  Not this time.
I decided to raise.  I made it $45, a semi-bluff.  I had nothing, but I had 9 outs to the nut flush.  I thought that move from me would give him pause.  Again, because I considered him a good player, he wouldn’t expect me to just be making a move.  It’s much easier to bluff a good player than a bad one since a bad player will call with almost anything.  I figured one of two things were likely.  He could easily fold and I’d take the pot right there, which would have been fine.  This was especially likely if he had AK, AQ, something like that, and was just making a continuation bet.
Or he could just call, more likely if had a big pocket pair.  If he flopped a set of Jacks, he might have checked instead of bet (though maybe not, since there two spades on the board).  That’s ok too.  If he calls, he checks the turn unless he really likes that card, and I check behind him (if it’s not a spade), getting a free river card.  I don’t call on the river unless I make my flush.
But no, he re-raised me.  He put out a stack of around $100.  As he was fiddling with his chips, I made the decision to shove if I had to, I thought he might be putting me all in anyway.  As I said, this was an intentional move on my part to move out of my comfort zone.  So when he put out the stack, I took less than a second to say “all in.”
He groaned. “Oh, you’ve got a set already?”  He was quite concerned.  Neither of us showed our cards.  Unfortunately, the last two card were both red, and even the fact that river card was a 10 didn’t help me.  He showed his pocket Aces and waited for me to flip over my set.  I’m not sure why I showed my losing hand; I usually don’t.  Oddly enough, I think it was because Prudence was there and also that her boyfriend Tom was the dealer that I decided to show my unusual play.
Prudence looked surprised, Tom didn’t react (he never does) and the player in Seat 5 was of course relieved as he took all my money.  He actually was complaining that I had scared him with my shove and that he was sure I had a set.  But I have to admit I was surprised that he didn’t put me on a head that he was behind when I raised there the first time, based on my play to that point.
I spent a lot of the rest of the evening obsessing over that hand.  I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t play out of my comfort zone, it so often blows up in my face (you remember the times it doesn’t work a lot more than the times it does).  I thought of how easy it would have been to just call the flop and then probably fold if he made a big turn bet.  Hell, before I knew he had Aces, it was entirely possible he had air too and wouldn’t fire another barrel on the turn.
I should point out that the move I made would have been unquestionably a good move to make in many, many tournament situations.  In fact, in a tournament, depending on my chip position, just shoving on the flop initially would have been an excellent play.  But you can’t afford to be patient in a tournament.  In a cash game, you can certainly afford to be patient and that’s usually how I make my money—with patience.
I was just getting over this play when the guy in Seat 5—on two different occasions—brought up that hand.  He once again mentioned how I had scared him with my move.  I personally think there should be a special place in hell for anyone who goes out of their way to remind you of the time he took your stack.  Also, the bastard was basically complaining that I scared him—in a hand where he got $200 from me.  So f*ck him.
A few hours later I had a much better poker session, a session I will blog about eventually.  So I was no longer beating myself over that hand.  But then I had a little chat with Prudence, and we discussed that hand.  She told me, to my surprise, that Tom thought it was a great play on my part.  I was stunned.  But he pointed out something that only was in the back of my mind at the time; that should have been in the forefront.  That guy wasn’t going to pay me off if I had my flush.  If I call the flop there, and a third spade hits the turn, he’s not going to bet, and even if he does, he won’t call my raise.  The only way to get a double up there is to get it all in on the flop and hope to hit it.  It wasn’t a bad percentage play with 9 outs to the nut flush.
So, I would love some feedback—was that a decent play or not?  Obviously the results sucked, but that’s poker. 


  1. Love the first raise, but not the all in. You can't figure you have much fold equity after someone bet/3bets. Without fold equity, you're just shoving as 2:1 underdog.

    But let me repeat, I love the first raise.

    1. Thanks, Matt. So my question to you is....after he re-raises, what should I have done? Folded? Really? I guess that's what your saying, since a call would almost have to be the wrong move there.

  2. Hmm. Well, Tom certainly has a valid point about the payoff for hitting the flush. Perhaps the best justification for the flop raise is precisely because he won't read you for a flush draw (at least not a naked flush draw). He will most likely read you for having A-J or K-J, raising to defend against the draw.

    But here your storytelling gets in the way of analysis. We don't know whether there were straight draws possible, because you don't tell us the flop cards. We don't know if top pair and a flush draw was possible (for him to read you as having) because you don't tell us which flop cards were the spades. You even seem unsure whether he raised from early position or from the blinds, which makes a big difference in assessing his range, and you are unsure whether you just called an early-position raise or limp-called a raise from the blinds, which makes a big difference in understanding what range he will put you on. You revert to almost a Tony-like hand history. (Although you fail to tell us which players at the table were black or had girlfriends watching, which are the most critical elements in any Tony hand history.)

    The reason these things matter here is that they affect the degree to which he will think that your raise represents a one-pair kind of hand that is raising to try to prevent a draw from getting there. The more draw-heavy the board is, the more he will be inclined to assign you a made but not especially strong hand. If he concludes that you have just one pair, he knows he has that beat. Conversely, with fewer draws available, he will be more forced to conclude that he's up against a set. (Or maybe a flopped two pair--but again, since we don't know the flop, I can't say whether any two-pair flops are plausible.)

    He obviously didn't think that a set was your entire range, or he wouldn't have called to hit one of two outs. So he must have decided that your range included a decent number of hands that he could beat. He would likely only conclude that if he could see you having hands like top pair and a flush draw, or top pair and an open-ended straight draw. But it's hard to be confident of that inference because you don't tell us what the flop cards were.

    You also don't tell us whether he's the kind of player who routinely raises with small and medium pocket pairs from bad position. I.e., do we have to include all the possible flopped sets in his range, or is it just the jacks that give him a monster flop?

    Once he reraises, you really can't just call. You'll have half your stack in with a call. Whether to fold or shove to his reraise is, I think, a close question. It would depend primarily on a read of him. Is he raising--and making basically a min-raise at that--because he has the nuts and wants to lure you in deeper? Or is he trying to distinguish your one-pair hands from your sets? If the former, shoving is just getting your money in bad with no fold equity. If the latter, then the shove is the correct move.

    (Too long. Will continue in next comment.)

  3. Since I wasn't there to get a read on the degree of confidence and strength with which he was making his reraise, I'm left kind of up in the air. But I'll say this: Even after his reraise, his range contains a lot more one-pair hands (A-J plus the overpairs) than it does monsters (probably only JJ). Which means that his reraise is more likely to be testing your strength than trying to get you to commit your stack. Which means that you should favor the shove.

    If you were deeper, it would be a better play. But another complication here is stack size. You have created a pot of maybe $320, and he only has to call off another $100 to try to win it. As long as there are a fair number of pair-plus-draw hands in your range (i.e., you're not limited to just sets with which he will judge you capable of shoving), he may well be getting the right price to call. Put another way, he may well be good enough to fold aces, unlike bad players, but he may also be smart enough to do some basic calculations of your range and pot odds, and the correct conclusion may be a call. That would not be so if you had a bigger stack. And, again, it will not be so if the flop doesn't support him concluding that there are pair-plus-draw hands in your range. Which we can't know BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T TELL US. Grrrrr.

    Conclusion: I wouldn't go so far as Tom to say it was a great move, but I'm also not concluding it was a donkey move. I think it was close and at least reasonably justifiable--more or less so depending on some of the details the story left out.

    Side comment #1: Why pick on one of the only 2 good players at the table, when there are so many bad ones to make your money from?

    Side comment #2: If you had gone outside your comfort zone by reraising pre-flop, he almost surely would have 4-bet it, which would tell you all you needed to know to fold, suffering a loss of just $30 or so instead of $200.

    1. Well, Grump, I've been in a funk all day after reading your comment. No, it wasn't the poker critique per say, it was the comparison to Tony. Really? Ouch.

      You're right, I left out important details. I'm sorry. Sometimes when a hand gets inside my head like this, I'm too busy obsessing over it and don't write down the details. All I could remember is the broad strokes, by the time I was ready to take notes (or in this, do the blog post) the finer details were lost to my memory.

      I need to try harder to record the details right after the hand, so I have everything straight. That would be a good idea whether I'm planning on blogging about a hand or not. Sorry.

      But as always, I appreciate the free lesson you've given me. You make some very good points, and I will study your response to learn from it. You definitely reminded me of some things I should keep in mind when playing a hand like this--or considering it.

      Regarding your side comments....#1, well, I wasn't picking him to go after, its just that in my mind, I thought an opportunity had presented itself, and in my mind, it really seemed like it was to my advantage that he was a solid player. Guess I should have thought it through a little more.

      #2, wow, that's really something for me to consider, I really need to make that play more often. Thanks for the reminder and thanks for a very thoughtful analysis.

      By the way, your comment is actually longer than some of my posts, but I'm not complaining one bit.

  4. A fair amount of this blog has been devoted to my transition from a limit player to a No Limit player.

    And they say humor is dead.

    OK, on to the hand. It even has a name. You made a post-oak bluff. We anguish too often about the actual cards and how we might appear. Yeah, some of that is always there. What is more deadly is predictability. When you are that you are going to donate/screw-up/whatever in ways that are worse than making a failed move. Don't anguish over situations where your processing was at least as much right as wrong. Those are the real coin flips. Oh, and you do those most often against good players and not donks who don't know how to anguish. Donks you let pay off made hands.

    1. THAT'S your quote for proving I was joking? That I'm transitioning from being a limit player to a no limit player? Come one Ken, you can do better than that. The hanging curve I gave you (and everyone) is calling myself a decent poker player.

      Thanks for the rest of your comment, which was actually encouraging.

    2. No, that wasn't the joke. Player is the joke. [pounding on the bar laughing]

      Don't worry about it. Work the decision tree with good branching. You ask Dave, if he'd play. It circumstantial and with this guy probably not often. That makes for a short decision tree. In poker, decision trees are seldom binary. That makes it more fun.

      Instead of just looking at the cards, look at the decision that are available and how they will link to better or worse future options.

  5. While it's not a donk move (because it has a chance of getting him to fold or you could draw out), it's not my style. You might get your next shove paid off I guess.

    1. So I'm curious, MOJO, do you just call his flop bet, or fold to it?

  6. I am still trying to figure out how KenP plans on making a post out of a piece of oak. Wouldn't cedar be better?

  7. nice post, and congrats on a year of learning - NL is pretty tough.

    that said, you still have a lot to learn, which you seem willing to admit.

    first, your bets and raises shouldn't "mean something." it's easy to beat fishy lineups playing nothing but strong hands, but you won't beat anyone decent. further, you're probably giving up plenty of great spots to bluff fish if you always have it. if bluffing more is tough for you, think about spots where people have folded a lot and be more aggressive there when you have air.

    second, you're doing things for the sake of doing them. it's definitely great to push yourself and expand your comfort zone, but you should think about it beyond just committing to something daring. why did you call preflop there if you think your hand is dominated? why did you raise the flop? why did you jam? none of these things is necessarily bad, but the fact that you committed to a course of action without much more consideration is.

    third, you need to relax about wins and losses. yes, he "got $200 of your money," but if you can't painlessly lose a stack in a spot like this, you're playing too tight or too invested in your immediate results.

    also, to the first poster, matt, it's a very easy shove once we have been reraised. we don't need fold equity when we have almost 30% of our stack in and the nut flush draw and an overcard. we have 40% equity against JJ, overpairs and AJ - and this is a tight range with no bluffs or worse flush draws. it's a very easy shove and folding would be a big mistake.

    1. Thanks very much for your thoughtful, insightful comment, Justin, very much appreciated.

      I am very much willing to admit that I have a lot to learn. That's really the reason I did the post, hoping for intelligent feedback, and I'm glad to see I indeed got what I was looking for.

      Not much to argue with, but I did want to point out one thing, Justin. I was obsessing over the fact that I felt like I played the hand badly, not over losing the money. I've progressed to the point where I can handle losing a buy in or two without going crazy over long as I made the right play. And now, from all the good comments I got, I kind of think I paid $200 for a poker lesson and it was worth it.

      Thanks again.