Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Should I Be Thinking About Here?

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).


  1. You butchered it preflop. You even said the lady limps often and gets lucky often. Get her out preflop! Once you're beat, you're beat. One of them has a 7, you're done.

    1. Thanks, xdex7, that's certainly a valid observation. As I said, 3-betting with 9's is quite yet in my bag of tricks, but also, I think I have to make it $20-$25 which is a lot considering my stack (and the others). And in a short stack game, you always have to worry about someone shoving their short stack, which would probably force me to fold (depending on the size of the shove, of course).

      But that certainly is something to consider.

    2. Let's assume you don't 3bet PF, because... well... you didn't. Not saying you should, but putting the field up against a high / middling pocket pair is never going to be good post-flop unless, as you did, you flop a set. So, a min raise to $4 is effectively an uber limp, so expect all the random hands to call the extra $2 that would ordinarily call a limp. FYI, that includes 66,77,88, as well as a host of 7x hands, 98, T9, JT (or just generally Tx) - hands which, given a bad enough player - will go to war with a 4 straight board. However, the odds of 2 players smashing that board, yet having less than a 7 for the straight are far less likely. Therefore, the way I figure it, you have less than 10 outs (if you put one player on a top pair and one on the 7), this is a fold. $72 to call to win $182 with action behind you pending inclines me to begrudgingly lay this down. I acknowledge that I'm going to be laying down the best hand part of the time - and I acknowledge players at these stakes are going to war with stupid crap, but I can't feel very good putting my stack on the line for what amounts to a limped pot PF against 2 players.

      Here are the scenarios that play out in my head:

      1. They both show up with 2 pair or multi-way re-draws (i.e. JT, T9, etc.). You scoop.

      2. The wild card lady shows up with top two: T9 or some such craziness but the shover shows up with a straight. You're calling (or shoving to the lady's call) $72 + $64 (your remaining stack) meaning you're getting $64 + $64 back to marginally lose in the hand.

      3. You call / shove and the lady folds; you lose the $72 turn call and the pot.

      FYI - there are some inconsistencies and missing data in your story (and I realize it's tough to take live notes, so I get it...). Those points are important to the hand history:
      1. Your position (if you're in early or mid position, it's a lot more difficult to 3bet than late.
      2. Someone raised - was it one of the remaining players? If so, I discount either of them to hold a 7x hand and move their range towards overpairs who are spazzing out.
      3. "On the flop it folded to me." Did everyone open fold to a check? How many players were you facing?

      All told, though, I fold this hand and fight another day.

    3. Thanks, PM, great analysis, as always. But then I expect nothing less than you.

      Regarding your questions 1,2,3, you missed it in the post on 1 & 2, and caught me on 3.

      1. "On the button, I had pocket 9’s." And btw, I also said that 6 players saw the flop.

      2."Neither of the players who had called me had been the preflop raiser."

      3. Well maybe because of this screw up, you can be forgiven for 1 & 2. I meant to write it CHECKED to me, not FOLDED to me. I have corrected this now. Sorry about that.

      And regarding not three-betting, I think it was because of the game and the stack sizes, kind of odd to 3 bet there, I think (and again, not something I usually consider doing with 9's)

      What do you think of Tony's suggestion that I just shove preflop?

    4. Okay - yes, I did miss the position "On the button" statement - sorry. Given that, a squeeze seems like an optimal play. With $16 in the pot when action gets to you, bump it to $26 and see what happens. FWIW, you should consider 3betting with bloated pots in other situations - and when you have hands like 72o. That's why it's called a squeeze: if you think there's a good chance to pick up the pot without seeing a flop, and the pot is getting juicy, go for it! You can reasonably rest assured that you're one of the very very few that are 3betting air, and you'll get a TON of respect for it since most 3bets are for value (i.e. AA,KK,QQ,AK). With 99, I can go either way; 3bet or just call.

      As for Tony's suggestion... $160 into $16? I think he's trolling you...

    5. As best I can remember, it was one raise to $4 and a call before it got to me, after 1 limper. So I guess $13 in the pot when the action got to me. I guess a bet of $25 would have been ok.

  2. Replies
    1. Shove $160+ into a $11 pot, Tony? Seriously?

      I mean, seriously?

  3. It's an easy fold based on your description and read. You really need better than 4/1 to make the call if she won't ship over the top of you. If she has the straight you have to assume she will go all in on your call. You have $24 invested. Move on to a better spot.

  4. What do you think the B.L. was leading out with? Did you have a read on her post flop play? I have learned the hard way that just because someone's pre-flop includes the kitchen sink doesn't mean that their post flop sucks as well. Is she a "Oh I have top pair I must be winning" kind of girl or is she a "I'm leading out because I know darn well I'm winning, let's see if these fish will call" kind of girl?

    In looking at the Short Stacks action I think he always intended to shove on the turn. I can't find a storyline for him that makes much sense unless he was playing an overpair or perhaps had a smaller set on the flop based on your description. He called a small pre-flop raise into a multi-way pot but your description does not lead to a conclusions he did that with any two random cards. You bet $20 into a $24 pot, B.L. called then short stack called getting 3:1 odds leaving him a stack of basically pot size. I think he thought he was ahead and planned to shove the turn. But this is where I start to have trouble, what are his range of hands? An over pair, 66's 88's or 77's possibly 10,7 suited? If he had trips why didn't he shove the flop over your $20.00 bet with a board so connected?

    Sometimes when the decision is just too hard for me I fold. I am sure (know) I fold sometimes where a better player would make the right decision. But if I can't reason through the call and I risk my stack it's just better for me psychologically to wait for a better spot. In the meantime I can try to figure out what I need to learn to make that decision easier the next time.

    1. Great comment, AG, particularly your explanation at the end about why you fold. I think I do the same thing often.

      I put the lady on a straight, absolutely. I couldn't see her being aggressive there with anything less than that. From her other post flop play, w/o a straight, with 2 pair or maybe even a set, she checks and tries to get to showdown as cheaply as possible (unless she improves on river) As I said, more likely to me anyway that short stack had a draw on the flop and connected on the turn, but your point is very valid.

  5. One of the primary mistakes that holds back low stakes players is thinking too much about their specific holding. Here you have part of a raising range in an advantageous position, and should be isolating preflop. Once you take an action that is effectively a limp, an action which rewards the $4 raise rather than punishing it, you are very likely only going to play your actual equity multiway, and that means that in the long run, whether you fold or call off here, near the top of your range, is not important, because you'll always be coolering someone or being coolered.

    So it's not that you are a "donkey" when faced with a marginal decision and feeling justifiably lost, it's that you are doing nothing to separate yourself from the pack by flatting pre.

    1. Yeah, this. All of the callers of the $4 raise are effectively limping. What the raiser is doing making this piddly pseudo-raise I have no idea, and his/her stack can sometimes be relevant in how you handle the situation, but you really need to take an aggressive action pre-flop to exploit the callers' mistakes and to increase your chance of winning the pot. On the button I would be raising much wider than 99 on the button with this action.

    2. Thanks very much to both persuado and Kat for their tough love advice (you both do "love" me, right?). As I said, the min raise to $4 at this table wasn't at all unusual, and I see that I should have taken advantage of my position.

      Appreciate the input.

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks, I thought this post might prick your interest.

  7. My buddy Abe sent me a text about this post, here it is:

    "9-8-6 board. well for the love of god 3bet preflop. But as played, this is a situation where I at least full pot it if not over. You want to make the pot to be 1/3 of min(your stack size, largest opp's stack size) so that you can shove turn. This goes back to SPR concept discussed in Professional NLH. As for the turn card, it's all just math at that point and I think you put it in calling. Let the big stack make a mistake and not shove a better hand. Fish won't lead a blank river without a better hand than you either."

    Thanks, Abe...I did text back to him that I did bet the pot on the flop, after the rake it was $19 in there and I bet $20.

  8. I don't do a lot of math really. I am more of a gut instinct action player and I simply ask myself if I am in a hand should I go to war on or not? If war is declared there is no folding and an almost certainty that all of the stacks in the hand are going into the center of the table. I know, not much help...

    On the $1 chips I avoid poker rooms that won't let you play $1-2 no limit with redbirds. Last fall I was checking out Running Aces (just a little bit north of Minneapolis/StPaul) and saw a $4-8 limit game with only $1 chips on the table. REally? I have to put eight singles into the center of the table to call the big blind on the turn? That makes calling a 3-bet a lot of effing work. The stacks at that table were 20-30 chips high with most players having 10 or more stacks. I added that game to my list of games to avoid like the plague...

    1. Thanks,. Lester.

      I've played 4-8 limit in Vegas and I believe every room there plays that game with $1 chips. I've seen $5 chips in play there but it's basically frowned upon.