Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Shorthanded Play: How Would You Counter This Opponent?

You're playing at a $10/$20 6 max limit HE table. You're a good, aggressive player who plays shorthanded very well. You understand the principles and apply constant pressure to the blinds, defend your own blinds well, utlize aggression effectively, yada yada yada.

Four of your opponents are basically nondescript and are largely loose passive. They don't attempt to steal enough and don't defend enough. They aren't terrible but they prefer to limp and see a flop and don't drive the action. They won't often cold-call, though, as they like to limp in cheap.

Your fifth opponent, though, is a different beast. We'll call him Gonzo.

Gonzo sits down and tells the table the following five things:

1) I will raise pre-flop with any two cards if I'm the first in the pot, no matter what position I'm in. Every single time, no matter the cards I hold.
2) If anyone limps in front of me, I will raise with any two cards, except for when I'm in the BB.
3) If I'm first in with a raise, and facing a re-raise from a single opponent and closing the action, I will always simply call, and never re-raise, no matter what cards I hold.
4) If I'm faced with calling two bets pre-flop, 25% of the time I will re-raise, and 75% of the time I will fold.
5) If I'm in the BB and no one raises, I will always check. If I'm in the BB and it's one bet to call, I will always call.

He then follows through on the above, doing exactly that pre-flop. You know, without a doubt, that he will act in the above prescribed fashion, every single hand.

Post-flop, Gonzo is a very good player. He does nothing out of line post-flop and plays a good aggressive shorthanded game.

Gonzo is in the 1 seat, you're in the 4 seat.

The question, then, is how do you adjust your play to take Gonzo into account (and keeping in mind the fact that the rest of the table is generally loose-passive)?

I played with Gonzo for a few hours the other night, and have to admit that I was pretty flummoxed, so I truly am looking for feedback/advice. When I realized he was actually a pretty good post-flop player I was tempted to just get up and find another table, which actually might be the best answer.

My mental thought processes as the session progressed were something along the following lines:

1) That predictable, possibly tilting lemur is raising every single hand when he's first in the pot. And people seem to be getting out of his way too much, as the table's pretty passive. I need to isolate him with any halfway decent hands I have, as the blinds will eat me up otherwise. He's likely just an idiot that doesn't play well post-flop. The table's too passive to wait for monster hands, too, as the eventual pot might not be big enough to offset blind attrition.

2) Hmm. This is actually interesting, as I'm pushing too hard with marginal hands pre-flop, and he seems to play pretty well post-flop. The problem isn't so much Gonzo but when I raise with a marginal hand to isolate and one of the other players wakes up, either cold-calling or re-raising. Since I have to assume that the other players are somewhat aware of what's going on at the table, the next logical step is to assume they have a pretty big hand, so I end up feeling lost post-flop, unable to fire more bullets when the flop doesn't help me, especially when I'm first to act.

I also have to fight the tendency to let his pre-flop play influence my thinking, too, as I keep leaning towards assuming he's full of shit and doesn't have a hand, and am paying him off too much when he does have something. The fact that he simply calls any re-raise pre-flop is interesting, as it disguises his truly big hands, yet his play in general is getting lots of money in the pot.

3) Now I'm overcorrecting too much in the opposite direction, as far as waiting for big cards. I wish we didn't have two players in between us, as this would be easier if he were on one side or the other, preferably the right.

4) Another side effect of his pre-flop strategy is that he gets to see lots of hands free from the BB. While his rules of engagement don't include always raising from the BB, the table often defers to his general aggression and lets him in for free from the BB, when the button or SB would otherwise take a shot at his BB.

5) The always raising a limper no matter what is a bit of a double edged sword. While it discourages limping in front of him (increasing his odds of taking down the blinds uncontested with a raise) it does set him up for the limp-reraise when you have a big hand. Which is easy enough when you have AA, but the difficulty is in defining "big". Is Q9o big enough to limp-reraise with? Odds say yes, as he's truly playing a random hand, but that's taking me outside my comfort zone, as far as my ability to limp-reraise with that and play it aggressively post-flop, regardless of what comes on the flop.

6) This is more difficult than I would have thought, as far as exploiting such a transparent strategy that involves raising pre-flop with any two cards. The fact that the table is passive is the real crux of the problem, I think, as his strategy prevents normal blind stealing and only encourages real action from the other players when they have a big hand. He also seems aware that I'm aware of what he's doing, and applies pressure to me post-flop accordingly, under the correct assumption that I'm isolating him with less than stellar cards.

7) His results definitely yip and yaw all over the place, but he's picking up a lot of uncontested pots and gets paid when he has a big hand. I would think that he'd bleed too many chips from raising pre-flop with any two cards (and he very well might in the long run), but it does build decent pots that are largely heads-up, when the strength of his hand is always completely disguised. He's also good enough post-flop to dump or pump the hands he should.

So yeah. Long-winded way of soliciting thoughts on playing against Gonzo in the above conditions. Suggestions?


SeanSkill said...

Very frustrating!! I had a similar experience this week the guy was an 87/47 but he was suprisingly good postflop, he wouldnt pay me off when I hit a hand. I waited him out finally hitting aces full and losing a lot to his quads. Just could not get the timing right against this guy.

WillWonka said...

I think I vote for the get up and leave theory. I've come out good and bad against these type players; but the swings give me heartburn.

I assume Doyle's room would have other tables available at that limit.

AlCantHang said...

"You're a good, aggressive player who plays shorthanded very well..."

You lost me right there.

G-Rob said...

Seems as though this knowledge sets you up very well for position plays. Because you can't define his pre-flop hand well you should simply conern yourself with the holdings of the passive types.

Then, if I have good position on him and the table itself, I play back at him all day long with an equally wide variety of pre-flop holdings. That negates his advantage post-flop because he now has little knowledge of your holdings.

I'd say you can't afford to get too tight as compensation because you'll be devoured by the blinds...so this is a rare case where the perfect strategy for HIS aggression is aggression.

That way you can continue to hurt the passive types....and you can keep him in check.

cc said...

One of the only ways I've seen this get taken down is by the table taking a player down vs. mano a mano. I witnessed this, not shorthanded, but at a complete game at the Bellagio this weekend (15/30). Lady had built a monster stack, up around $2,000 in a couple of hours, and she was barelling through just about everyone. She couldn't be moved off of pots, often staying with bottom pair. She won half of the pots with no one contesting.

Then it slowly changed, with no communication within the table, I made a take-a-stand calling her raise out of position with 86, hitting the 6 for bottom pair with two big cards and four-betting, then check/calling turn and check/raising the river when my 8 came. That seemed to turn the tide, and folks started gaining more confidence. She donked off her entire $2,500 stack over the next two hours or so, bought back in, then got up $1,000. First time I've ever had success; normally, I can't hang with the overaggression (with my apologies to alcanthang).

PokerSweetHome said...

If he's in seat 1 and I'm in seat 4, I'm leaving. Full stop.
If he were one seat to my right I would have a better chance of exploiting his preflop mistakes. He is making some, that's a guarantee. The other players are getting out of his way and you are trying to take him down out of position. That's a recipe for everyone at the table (except Gonzo) to bleed chips.

Pokerwolf said...

Sounds like a rough time. If I started to tilt, I'd get up immediately. When you hit the word "flummoxed", it was time to go.

Otherwise, I'd answer aggression with aggression. If the table is pretty passive, see if you can get him headsup and deal with him accordingly.

Most importantly, don't let him check his blind! Don't give an LAG a free look at his cards!

kurokitty said...

I think your focus is too narrow in this case and the answer lies within the other four players. They're passive and you know in the long run they're going to get killed because of what they don't do, mainly to be aggressive enough to pick up the blinds and other free money when they can.
Their lost money is going somewhere, not in a vacuum, so it might as well be going to you instead of to the other passives and Gonzo. The flop is not going to hit them just as much as it misses you, only they're more likely to swerve off the road first in this shorthanded game, er, card version of "chicken," that we play. Gonzo is the hard target in this case. You pick up the passives' money and you can focus on taking Gonzo if you want. Of course, it's shorthanded and variance may mean you won't see a dime of the passives' money during this session. Also, why should passives keep you guessing? It should be the other way around. If they're reraising you, get rid of it.
I think against people like Gonzo, you're going to have to gamble more. Yet you can't let a lemur who is two-fisting chips into the pot throw you off your shorthanded game. It's shorthanded, but that doesn't mean it's ruleless -- it's still very much a big-card game. I'd stick to the raising/reraising hands in shorthanded charts that are out there (Mark of Surly Poker Gnome provided me with mine, I don't know the link) until you have these people figured out.
You could frustrate him by doing what the passives have been doing to you -- waking up with good hands, becoming a calling station and taking away his passing game to the river.
But the other posters are right. Sometimes, even in the presence of worse players, the sucker at the table is me. You could autoblow a few grand here but just as easily work out this problem against another maniac at $3/6.

Abulafia said...

I'm gonna take a shot at this one.

Not because I have enything learned, experienced, or intelligent to say, but because the probalem makes me want to think about it.

To put it another way, I'm sure, providing the player is not good enough re his reads, that there is money to be made.

Standard advice in a full ring seems to be, tighten up when out of position, reraise when you hit anything premium, and ignore his cards, and play entirely your own cards on their merit to the bitter end. Let his own aggression hang him in the face of your iron discipline.

6 max, premium is a different thing. If the competition is weak and passive, I'd think about reraising with less than premium hands postflop - middle pairs, weak kickers, to isolate him, and play against his largely random holdings.

If the table is passive enough, reraise with any hand you plan to play against him. If the table is not passive enough, check reraise.

If I'm playing this style, I want to hit something (not necessarily something very much)for the first three of four tussles with him. And play them exactly the same way. I'm also looking to play them heads up if they are pairs, or high cards, suited or unsuited.

Bet the same for tptk, a set, middle pair, a strong draw if I feel like pushing, or an absolute monster.

Pause for the same amount of time, or none. I'm uncertain about his patterns? Let him be uncertain about mine. If he's random preflop, and I'm not, his advantage is postflop, in letting go, in making me fear him, and in getting me to call his monsters, and folding to mine. His monsters I can do little about, but everything else I can take away. Take him out of his comfort zone.

The less information he has about what my bets mean, the less information he has to play well post flop. And if he is uncertain about me, I have less reason to fear him, and he more to fear me.

Do it with better than marginal holdings. Make him uncertain. Put the pressure back on him.

Is he an ego driven aggressive player? If he is, and you have a good hand, make the game about his ego. Is aggressive the only style he can play? Establish an image with him, and change gears next time you have a hand. Does he rely on trash talk? Tell him, tearfully, to go f*** himself when you bet your set. Does he need to be in control of the table. Make him pay for that control. 77 is a favourite against the vast majority of random hands.

Hell. Just random thoughts from a break even low limit player.