Today I played my second preliminary event in the 2007 World Series of Poker. The game was pot-limit, rather than no limit, Texas Hold ‘Em, with a $2000 buy-in. As the name implies, a player may not at any point bet or raise more than the amount in the pot. The game still plays very similarly to no limit hold’em, especially given the relatively shallow stacks we get to work with. The most important difference is that antes are never used in pot limit games, so that the forced blind bets drive the action exclusively. This means pots are smaller pre-flop, and therefore a tighter, more conservative strategy is generally correct. That’s not a 100% good thing for me, because although I’m capable of adapting, that’s not my preferred style of play. However, smaller pots also mean there are more decisions to be made in any given hand, and since I expect generally to make better decisions than my opponents, that’s a source of profit for me.
On the way to the Rio, I had to stop at Bank of America to get some cash. I hate Bank of America. Unfortunately, I got stuck with them after they bought out Fidelity, with whom I’d previously had an account. They constantly mail me credit card offers inside envelopes labeled “Important Account Information!” Jesus Christ, you are a multi-billion dollar financial institution, why are you resorting to fly-by-night, Publisher’s Clearinghouse scam tactics?
Anyway, I go up to the teller, swipe my card, enter my PIN, and tell her I want to withdraw money from my checking account. “Would you like to open a Nevada account now that you live out here?”
What in God’s name are you blathering about? “I don’t live here, I’m just out here for about a month.” I made one other withdrawal a few days ago, and I have no idea, even if the teller knew that she would conclude that I now live in Vegas. And even if I did, why would I want to change my account? Because I’ve always wanted a Nevada routing number on my checks?
“Oh, are you visiting family?”
What? Why do you care, just give me my money. “Kinda, my girlfriend.”
She smiles. “Have you heard about our blahblablah credit card?”
Ugh. “Yes.” Any chance that will spare me the spiel?
“Great, well you can get blah blah blah APR…”
“Not interested,” I interrupt her.
“Maybe just for overdraft protection?”
“No thank you.”
“OK, I’m just going to have to get my supervisor to authorize this, one moment.” As we are waiting for the supervisor, she looks at me with a smile that tells me more inane badgering is on its way. “Can I ask why you’re not interested in the credit card.”
Good @#$% God, enough with the credit card! “I’m really not interested.”
“It’s an $8500 line of credit,” the supervisor interjects.
This is unbelievable. I’m a very level-headed guy, and it takes a lot to get an abrupt response out of me. “Seriously, I don’t want the credit card.”
“OK, then, here you are, sir.” The bitch finally signs the form to authorize my withdrawal, and I leave with my money.
My starting table in the tournament was fairly solid, with at least two other young, appropriately aggressive players. The softest looking spots were a middle-aged man with a big brown moustache and an older guy in blue sunglasses. The older guy largely fit my stereotype of loose passive play, but he turned out to have a bit of crazy in him.
We started with 4000 chips and blinds of 25/50. With fewer than 100 big blinds in the starting stacks, this is a pretty shallow structure that doesn’t allow a lot of room for mistakes or bad luck. The first pot that I played, a few people still had not taken their seats, and one of the empty spots at the table was in the big blind. The action folded to the old guy, who just called the blind in late position. This is generally a weak play, but even more so when there’s no one in the seat to defend the big blind. I decided I was going to raise with any two cards, but then i turned out I had Ace-King anyway. I raised to 275 and took it down. As I was planning on raising thiis guy quite a bit, often as a bluff, I showed him the Ace-King, hoping it would buy me a little credit next time.
Next orbit, one of the better players on my immediate right open raised to 150. This was the first time action had folded to him in late position, and I had a feeling he was going to be opening a pretty wide range. I was prepared to reraise him light, but then found Ace-Queen, which against a late position open is a legitimate reraising hand anyway. I made it 450, and he folded.
A few hands later, the old guy raised to 150, and the kid on my right reraised him to 400, which he called. On a flop of Q94, all different suits, the guy checked and called a bet of 600. The turn was something irrelevant, the old man checked, the kid bet 1000, and then the old man put him all in for 2500 more. Wow, that kind of action from a loose passive old man is usually a pretty strong hand. The kid must have the same thought, because he thought for a long time before calling with a pair of Aces. And the old man has… King-Ten, for nothing more than a gut shot straight draw! Like I said, he had a little crazy to him. The river paired the board, and the kid took down a nice pot.
Soon after, the old guy, who still had a fair number of chips, called the blind bet of 50, the same young guy called also, and I raised to 275 with Ace-nine of spades. The old guy was the only caller, and we saw an AK5 flop. He checked, and I decided to check also and give him a chance to launch some crazy at me. He bet 500 on an 2 turn, which I called. The river was a 3, and he checked. I thought it was unlikely he’d call a bet with anything worse than my top pair weak kicker, so I just turned over my hand, and he mucked.
Next orbit, I opened from late position with a raise of 150 holding Ace-King. A guy on my left who’d been quiet and pursed his lips like a duck bill whenever he played a pot called, and one of the more aggressive players in the small blind reached for some chips. I don’t think I had a particularly aggressive image, but nonetheless, some players will often reraise light in this spot with what is called a ‘squeeze play.’ Basically he is hoping that I will fold often because I’m worried about the guy left to act behind me, and that the guy behind me will not often have a strong hand since he elected not to reraise me the first time. With the blinds plus my raise and a call already in the pot, that’s a lot of chips to take down without a fight.
Given that Ace-King is a strong hand in its own right, and that there was some chance the kid was just on a squeeze play, I was prepared to come back over the top of his raise. However, he ended up raising very small, making is just 400. This made me suspicious, because the fact that he’s offering such good odds on a call suggests he could have a very strong hand like AA or KK. I opted just to call his reraise after all, as I could get away cheap if I was behind and might be able to keep dominated hands like AQ and KJ around, whereas they would probably fold if I put in another raise. On the right flop, those hands could lose a lot of money to me. The flop was all rags, though, something like 753, and I folded to a bet. Oh well.
Despite his occasional crazy tendencies, the old man was still my best source of chips, so I kept hammering at him, raising his next call with a pair of 9’s. The flop was KQ9, all clubs. Trips 9’s is a very strong hand, but with all those clubs out there, slowplaying is too risky. I bet 400 into a pot of about 600, and much to my disappointment, he folded.
At this point, the table broke, and we all got moved to empty seats at other tables. Blinds went up to 50/100, and I didn’t get much in the way of playable hands. I did open to 300 once with a pair of Queens, and an Italian (actually from Italy, not an Italian-American) called out of his BB. The flop was 7c 5d 2c, he checked, I bet 400, and he raised to 1000. It’s pretty unlikely I’m beat here, but there are a lot of scary cards that could fall on the turn, and even if I just call, my opponent may slow down with worse hands than mine anyway. So, I moved all in for about 4000 more, and he folded.
On the last hand before our first break, the action folded to me on the button. I opened for the maximum, which was 350, holding a pair of 4’s. The thing is that with a pair of 4’s, I probably have the best hand, but anyone holding two overcards, even something as weak as 65, has the odds to call. Hence, I raised a little more than my usual 300. The big blind called anyway, and then he led into me for 500 on a Td 5h 2d flop. Hmmmm. When people call out of position pre-flop, they almost always check to the raiser on the flop, because the raiser usually bets the flop whether he hit it or not. Then the out of position player can raise if he likes his hand. The fact that this guy did attempt to check-raise me made me think he could be trying to steal on the cheap, and although there are two cards higher than my pair on the board, I felt I could still be ahead, so I called.
The turn was the 7h, putting two flush draws and several straight draws on the board. The guy bet 500 again. The pot was now 1750, and he was betting less than 1/3 of that, which gives me good odds if I’m on any kind of draw. This could mean that he himself is on a draw and wants to prevent me from making a larger bet, or that he is worried about the strength of his hand, or that he is bad at poker and trying to ‘trap’ me. Unfortunately, with about 5000 chips in my stack, I was in an awkward spot. I felt that if I just called the bet, it would be clear I was weak (since I’d passed up two opportunities to raise on a board where a lot of draws are possible), and he’d be able to bluff me on a lot of scary river cards. I also felt that even a small raise could be threatening to some of his better hands, because he will then be in the same situation on the river: even if he suspects he’s ahead now, unless he wants to risk 5000 chips to find out, he’ll be out position and potentially facing an all in bet on a scary river card. So I made a small raise, to just 1500, prepared to fold if he moved all in.
But he just called, and the river was the Ad, completing the flush that was the most likely draw for him to have had. He checked, which is actually bad to do if he just made a flush, but live players do this all the time anyway. There was about 5000 in the pot, and I had 3500 left in my stack. I contemplated moving all in to represent the flush and possibly knock him off some mid-pair hands that were beating me, but I decided the turn raise wasn’t very consistent with me having a flush draw, and so I just gave up and checked. He turned over Ace-five offsuit, exactly the kind of thing I was hoping I could make him fold on the turn. Oh well, he probably would have snapped off my river bluff anyway. Not a great way to start the break.
When we came back, blinds were 75/150, meaning I could afford only 12-13 more orbits if I didn’t pick up some chips. I stole the blinds once with A2 in late position and with KQ first to act. Then when I was in the big blind, the A5 guy made a pretty weak raise to just 350 from early position and got one call. I decided I was going to make a squeeze play with any hand that had sufficient showdown value, something like a pair or two big cards. But then I found a pair of Aces, the best possible starting hand! I reraised 900 more, but they both folded. At least that validates my feeling that it would have been a good time to bluff.
That put me back around 5000 after paying the blinds. After another orbit at the table, the first player to act just called 150, and I was next with Ace-Queen. I raised to 600, everyone else folded, and he called. The flop was Ah 3s 4h, giving me top pair with a good kicker. To my surprise, the other player led into me for 1000. There was now 1425 in the pot and about 4500 in my stack, so at this point my only objective is to get as much money in the pot as I can. If I’m beat, there’s nothing I can do about it- we’re too shallow for me to fold a hand this strong.
So how do I do that? Even my opponent was bluffing or semi-bluffing, there’s a good chance he’ll give up once I call that big bet unless he improves to a hand that beats me. This is what poker theorists call “reverse implied odds”- if he has this kind of hand, I stand to lose the rest of my chips if he does improve while winning nothing further if he does not. That’s an argument to raise now, just to keep him from improving on a semi-bluffing hand.
If he has top pair with a worse kicker, I also think raising is the best way to get paid off, as there are a lot of turn cards that could scare him, and he may think that I am semi-bluffing if I raise. If he has a better hand than mine, well, then he is just going to win a big pot, and there’s not anything I can do about it. So I raised, he moved all in, I called, and he showed me pocket 4’s for three of a kind. The turn put another heart on the board, and since I had the Qh, this actually gave me a chance to win on the river, but alas, it was not to be. I lost the pot and was eliminated.
This last hand actually presents a very interesting situation, because although I was never the statistical favorite to win the pot, not pre-flop and certainly not on the flop, I believe that the way the hand as a whole will play out results in me showing a long-term profit. Allow me to explain:
When my opponent calls the raise to 600 pre-flop holding a pair of 4’s, he is hunting for that third 4 on the flop to make three of a kind. He knows I’m likely to have fairly strong hand to be raising him from early position, and the times that he catches trips, he’ll have a well-disguised monster and expects me to have something strong enough to pay him off. This is what poker theorists call “implied odds”- although his 44 is actually a slight favorite over my AQ, he has to realize that I could easily have a pair bigger than his 4’s, in which case rather than being a slight favorite, he’s going to be a big dog. He is not counting on the strength of his lowly pair winning the pot unimproved. Rather, he is speculating, making a small investment pre-flop with the intention of either winning a big pot when he makes his trips or getting away cheap when he doesn’t.
But does he actually get paid off often enough for this strategy to be profitable? I think that he does not. Since he has already called 150, my raise charges him 450 more to see the flop. The times that he doesn’t flop trips, he’s generally going to have to check and fold to a bet, and I’m going to bet most flops, whether or not they improve my hand. So for example on a K85 flop, he will be folding the best hand, but he has to fold, since I could easily have AK, KJ, AA, or many other hands that have him drawing nearly dead. He’ll only hit that 4 only about 15% of the time, which means that he’ll be checking and folding about 85% of the time.
I have 4500 chips left in my stack, so if he wins all of them the 15% of the time that he does hit the 4, he’ll come out alright. However, he isn’t going to get my stack anywhere near that often. If the flop had been K84, he would have gotten one bet at most out of me, because once he bet or called a bet, I would have given up on my AQ and kept the rest of my money. He got a “perfect storm” flop that gave me a strong hand and him an even stronger one. Much more often, he’ll miss and get bluffed out, or he’ll hit, but I won’t have a hand that can pay him off. In short, the implied odds aren’t there for him to make that call pre-flop, even though he happened to win a big pot this time simply because the stars aligned in his favor.
Although this is analysis of the situation is a little rough around the edges, I think it illustrates an interesting point. Even though 100% of my money went into the pot when I was behind in the hand, I’m actually the one who stands to make money in this situation long term. Having won a big pot, however, my opponent will likely never realize that he was in fact making a marginally losing play. That’s the magic of poker, and what makes it such a difficult game to master: losing plays work often enough to deceive players into thinking they are winning strategies. And winning players often find themselves playing Monday morning quarterback from the sidelines. …Next: Part 4: $500 6-Max