shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

I only had time to skim this academic letter by Clément Sire entitled Universal Statistical Properties of Poker Tournaments. He primarily argues various types of observed natural phenomena in Physics and Biology evolve the same was as poker tournaments, particularly those where chips are not evenly distributed.

He does seem to make some indication that various “Kill Phil” strategies (i.e., tending to go all-in on the first betting round) have certain advantages in tournaments. However, I feel that he tends to ignore the evolution of hand play and the importance of opponents folding in certain situations. He does argue that individual hand outcomes are not particularly important in tournament play, but I am not particularly swayed by his arguments. I didn't follow every last piece of his math.

BTW, it's worlds colliding for me again: one of my undergraduate professors sent me a link to this academic article formatted in LaTeX (a free software document formatting system) about poker. I wonder how many people in the poker world have enough background knowledge to comment usefully on this article. I am sort of useless in disputing his arguments, since my math modeling and analysis skills have faded so much since my undergraduate days (and I didn't do any in graduate school, really, focusing more on Theory of Computation and other symbolic math).

Oh, and I do like how they call poker tournaments a “futile activity”. I rather like the sound of that. It reminds me that things you do only to make money are ultimately futile, and I think that's how anyone who does not love poker more than most other of life's endeavors will eventually feel about poker.

shipitfish: (u-club-stack-2006-03)

Back at River Street once, I called a bet that was somewhere between $300 and $400. Until last week, that was the biggest single bet I'd ever called (or made, for that matter) in a poker cash game. Thursday night, I made that new amount $452, which yielded the largest pot I've ever played as well: $1,012.

Work Dan (since there are two Dans commonly mentioned in my journal, I'll start being more careful to distinguish) and I went to the U Club for an evening of poker last Thursday. The $1/$2 NL ($300 max) game was more happening than usual. There were a number of calling stations, and a number of would-be “strong” players who would make big all-in raises when they should have just called (e.g., when holding a straight made on the turn on a board that made a three-flush on the river), or who would constantly overplay one pair.

I had built a stack from my $300 buy-in to $475 when the following hand came up. I limped from middle position after one limper with 5h 7h. Most pots were seeing flops with no raises for the preceding fifteen minutes or so; the table was quite passive. Two more limped behind me and the small blind completed. The big blind (BB), a regular who has good starting hand selection but couldn't fold an overpair at all once he saw a flop, raised, making it $25 to go.

The limper between us quickly folded, and I looked to the left. I got the feeling that one of the two limpers behind me was ready to call (a calling station who would pay almost any amount for a draw). I figured the small blind and the other limper were likely to fold. I was offered 25-to-60 (roughly 1-to-2.5) direct odds to call. These weren't great, but I had a really clear idea of what the BB held. He had AK earlier, and had raised a smaller amount from the blind with roughly the same number of limpers. However, with QQ, he'd raised about this amount. I really eliminated the no-pair hands right there — I felt pretty strongly he wouldn't commit that much (he was a bit of an “absolute amount” better) with even an AKs. I decided TT was maybe a possibility, but JJ-AA were the most likely.

The BB was also very deep; he had me covered for sure (I eye-balled it at around $500, turns out it was $580). I decided to call, because if I flopped two pair or better, he would have trouble folding and put a lot into the pot drawing thin. Two folks actually called behind me (the calling station I expected and the button), and we saw the flop four-handed with $108 in the pot.

I watched the BB watch the flop. He didn't love it, but I felt before I even looked myself that he held an overpair to it. He stared for a moment, then looked at his chips and aggressively said “All in”. I began thinking why did he make such a huge overbet? as I looked down to see 5c 7c 5s. Wow! Ok, so I have the second nuts, and someone likely drawing to two outs just bet $450 at me!

I looked behind me to see if there was any way I could showboat to get the short (relative) stacks to call, probably drawing at a flush. They looked as ready to fold as anyone could look, so I said Call and watched their cards hit the muck. He tabled the As Ah, and stared at me, looking worried. When the fourth five hit the board, I turned my hand up saying: You have outs to the bad beat jackpot, I think. (As it turned out he didn't; the bad beat jackpot at the club had been hit the previous night, and they'd increased the requirement from “any aces-full beat” to “aces-full-of-kings beat”, but I didn't know that until after the hand was done.)

I counted out my chips and said, $452, I think, dealer, please recount me, though. Meanwhile, this guy was going ballistic. I didn't listen to most of it; it went on for a full minute. The last utterance was: what do I need to raise preflop to get you off that donkey shit?. I didn't know what to do, I wanted to remain silent but felt bad and wanted to say something. I gave the only answer that came to mind: If you went all-in preflop, I wouldn't have called. I should have kept my mouth shut, because that probably made it worse, but I didn't know what to do with the guy flipping out. (He fortunately wasn't the beat-you-up-outside-later type, but I made sure waited a full half after he left before leaving.)

He kept muttering but I just ignored it as the dealer squared and shipped. There was a lot of chat after the fellow left (an hour later after he dumped his rebuy to Work Dan — more on that later) about why he'd made this overbet. My best theory remains that he was focused on the other stacks, which were only about $200 at most. I think he thought that he was overbetting by about 2-to-1 instead of nearly 4.5-to-1. It's a great example of making sure you know the stack sizes. I didn't feel bad because I'm always careful to keep my stack visible with all greens up front.

In the end, considering his reaction, I think he was more angry with himself for the overbet than he was at me for playing 57s. And, hey, maybe I am a donkey. But, knowing he'd often overplay an overpair, I think I had reasonable implied odds to call. What do you all think?

Obligatory stack pictures are available as always.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

Every time I talk about NL cash games, I find myself, at one point or another, insisting how bad it is to play short-stacked in a cash game. In a tourney, of course, you'd prefer not to play short-stacked, but shouldn't quit just because you are. However, I firmly believe that you are usually better off quitting a cash game than playing in it with a short-stack. In the following rather long article, I hope that I have made that case. )

shipitfish: (Default)

In the last segment of this series, I discussed the classic advice on playing AK in NL HE. Classic, Brunson-style AK play can work in some games -- usually tight or tight-weak games, or games where people have very typical, unimaginative preflop (and, to some extent, flop) play.

I play in a few online games that fit this bill, but in most of the live cash games, the game conditions don't match those that make the "classic" plays optimal. I play against very loose players, and you probably do, too. I wouldn't call their preflop play "imaginative"; however, most of them are capable of waking up with any two cards on the flop, often regardless of how much went into the pot preflop. This is particularly true if the there was multiway action for a small or medium-sized raise preflop.

I believe that AK plays best heads up with position against a single, tight opponent whom you have forced to commit about 5% of his stack preflop. When you make one pair, you want to bet your hand for value and get called when your opponent has a weaker kicker. You also want him to able to fold a hand to bluff on the flop should you both miss. For the latter, it's much better if he doesn't have too much of his stack committed preflop, and it helps too if he's tight enough to fold (for example) middle pair on the flop when heads-up.

I propose that situation as the best conditions for AK; not surprisingly, I consider the opposite situation as the worst for AK. AK is a very tough hand when you are out of position in a large, raised multiway pot, perhaps against a broad mixture of short and big stacks. It is also a terrible hand when heads up against an opponent who has committed a large portion of his stack (I'll talk more about this specific situation in the third installment). Too often, in the current NL HE cash game climate, one or all of these bad factors come to work against you.

For example, in the clubs here in NYC, the NL HE games typically have between a $200-$300 buy-in with $1/$2 blinds. However, the typical preflop raise is about $15. Most of the loose players can't be gotten off "crazy two pair hands" (the name I use for strange hands like J6 that cannot possibly make the best hand without flopping two pair) for less that $15 preflop. Typically, a raise of $15 in early or middle position will elicit four or five callers on a typical night. They are usually calling with small or medium pairs and suited connectors and one-gaps, and a few 20-point (i.e., two paint card) hands. (As a side note, on "tight" nights in these games, you can raise a $2 blind to $15 from early or middle position and get "only two" callers! :)

So let's think through one of these scenarios together. Suppose we hold AK in early position and open-raise to $15 -- if it's any less, the whole table is going to call. That's about 5% of our stack already (assuming we have just bought in). Around the table we see a couple of people nursing $60-$80 stacks, a few nice stacks ($500-$800), and some very loose players who have gambled their way up to very large stacks ($1,000 or more). The rest of the stacks are usually about the size of the buy-in. At $15-to-go, we watch calls come from one nice stack, one or two buy-in-sized stacks, and then a short stack comes in hoping to see a flop and get lucky.

We're seeing a flop out of position for 5% of our stack against four or opponents. How should we play the flop? If we flop an A or K, we'll need to play it as the best hand, but we might be way behind someone in this complicated field. If the flop brings a flush draw, we'll be forced to bet something approaching the pot size, which is around $60 or $70. In that case, we'll have committed over 30% our stack to this hand. If our flop bet gets called, it'll be by a stack that has us covered or nearly even, and we'll be looking at some tough reads on the turn. If a short stack makes a play on the flop, we'll be forced to call and hope he's drawing. All this situations can be survived, and are "classically tough" poker situations. Such situations are interesting, and spark illuminating debate on the 2+2 fora. However, these tough NL decision moments are simply not the way to make money in a loose NL HE game. There are much better spots in these games.

Consider just such a better spot: I limped for $2 recently with a $500 stack with A8s in mid/late position in a multiway NL pot, and was treated to two-tone flop of 8-8-4. As I usually do with flopped trips, I bet half the pot (reasons I believe this play to be correct are left for another article), and got check-raised for twice the pot by a $400 stack holding what was obviously a weak 8. I moved in, knowing he'd call me drawing to three outs (he had 86o), and I took his $400 stack. This situation more or less played itself; my only decision point was whether or not he calls if I move in (this player was inexperienced enough that he would never fold flopped open trips for any amount). Compare this situation to our AK situation described above, and consider how they match up in terms of EV, difficultly in play, and certainty of being a favorite if your whole stack goes in the pot.

In loose NL HE games, situations where hands like A8s can win a huge pot as a substantial favorite come up so much more than situations where an AK can win a big pot as a favorite. Loose NL players call off large parts of their stack too often when they are second-best with few outs. We can set up such situations much easier with hands that play well cheaply multiway.

Quite simply, the classic advice on AK is often nowhere near optimal play in loose NL HE games. We can find situations where the classic play need not be modified much, if at all, (such as those tight bonus-chasing online games). But, when we have AK in the typical game these days, we have to know our opponents very well and take great care when pushing a lot of chips forward on a hand that can usually, at best, make one big pair with a good kicker. Playing well enough to allow such a one pair holding survive a multiway pot with highly variant stack sizes isn't where the big EV is in the modern, loose NL HE game.

I don't necessarily want to dissuade you from raising with big unpaired cards, there is good EV anywhere someone is willing to call you with a hand that is an underdog. However, always ask yourself these questions preflop: "Am I raising to build a big pot, or to push this to heads-up/three-handed? And, how likely am I to achieve my goal given all the current game conditions?" If you can't get yourself heads-up against a tight opponent (preferably with position) with your raise, then maybe you should just limp with that AK and see if you can win a small pot if the flop comes favorable. Remember that loose players make those raises cold preflop in hopes of winning a big pot; they are much less likely to "gamble" on the flop when it was only limped around preflop.

In the next installment, we'll consider further how the general thinking evolved that leads most to consider AK in the way that we do. I've already mentioned Brunson, which is a big part of that puzzle, but there are other factors in modern poker that inspire people to misplay AK in the ways these articles discuss.

(While you are waiting for my next and final article on the subject, be sure to also read this recent Card Player article that has some interesting things to say about AK. I don't agree that much Abrams' argument that "people know not to play weak kickers", because I still see plenty of A-rag showdowns, and preflop reraises stupidly with AQ all the time. However, I do agree with some of his points, and it is true that people are unlikely to commit their whole stack with a weak ace until they hit the kicker.)

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