Thursday, May 04, 2006

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Poker

It occured to me belatedly that, umm, this is kind of a bad time to completely shut down the poker engine, as I'm playing in a dang ol' WSOP LHE event in late June. So I'm still likely going to take a break from the tables a bit, but that doesn't mean I can't dig back into my stash of poker books, or review assorted donk plays that I've been making, or anything like that.

Here's a situation that's plagued me for quite awhile. Any and all feedback appreciated, even if it's of the Der, you suck, variety.

You're at a full LHE table in the BB, with A6o. It folds all the way around to the button, who open-raises. The button is a good, tricky player, very aggressive but not an idiot and more than capable of laying down hands when need be. SB folds and the action is on you.

A7 is more than enough to call in a possible steal situation, so folding isn't an option. Call or raise?

I decided to call. Yes, I have an A, yes he could be stealing here with a huge range of hands that I'm ahead of, and yes, re-raising is almost always better than calling. The problem with raising is that if I flop an ace and bet out, our good opponent is going to simply respect my show and strength and fold, if he doesn't have an ace. It's hard to get paid off when you re-raise pre-flop and flop your ace. If he has a bigger ace, you get popped back but are unfortunately tied to the hand as you can't really fold top pair when it's heads-up, and end up calling down to the river.

If the flop misses me I'm obligated to follow through with a continuation bet. This is both good and bad, and the real crux of the dilemma of whether to call or re-raise pre-flop. The flop will also miss him a lot of the time and a continuation bet will take it down. Even if it doesn't I have A high, which is sometimes good enough in heads-up tussles like these involving a possible blind steal.

But I'm also going to get popped back a good portion of the time when I make a continuation bet, by a good, aggressive opponent with position, and he doesn't even need much of a hand to do it with.

The flop comes A J 4, rainbow. Check or bet?

Well, I flopped my ace, but see above. If I bet and he doesn't have an ace, he likely just folds. He also likely folds small/mid pairs, with two overcards out there. If he has an ace, he raises, and likely has a better kicker.

The only hands I'm ahead of that he might pop me back with are hands like KJ, QJ, maybe J10. The problem, though, is that I can't really extract full value from that situation, as I'm out of position and have to slow down first, for fear that he has a bigger ace if he plays back at me.

Odds are I'm ahead, and I don't really mind giving free cards on that board. I decide to play it passively and see if he'll keep firing.

I check and button bets. Call or raise?

Sort of answered above, as far as how I'm playing this, but I tend to simply call in this spot. You're out of position and are either substantially ahead or substantially behind, and have a hand that's too good to fold to a re-raise. If the board isn't scary and a free card is unlikely to do harm, I tend to encourage him to keep firing by playing passively.

I call. Turn is 8, completing the rainbow. Check or bet?

I checked again. Yeah, I know, free cards galore, but not much is changing as far as the board or thought process. Way ahead or way behind, and a hand too good to fold to a raise if I bet. If the free cards give him a junky two pair with a crappy hand he was trying to steal with, so be it, I'll lose some pots that way. I'll also gain a lot of bets when he keeps making continuation bets in position, though, when he has the worst of it.

I check, button bets. Call or raise?

I called. But the more I ponder it, the less correct calling seems.

I think this is likely the crucial point where you can really argue for a raise. You potentially drive out middle/third pair and prevent him from overtaking you on the river and you don't hate a fold, as you've gotten him to put a few extra bets out there. If he's got a better hand, well, so be it, and you call his raise and check-call the river.

It seems schizophrenic, arguing early in the hand that you're either way ahead/way behind and don't want to face a raise or mind giving free cards, and then suddenly chunking that out the window and check-raising the turn. The difference, possibly, is that the extra BBs that have gone in by your turn decision make it imperative to take it down there, if at all possible, or at least charge him to see the river if he's behind.

But hell, I really don't know. That's why I'm posting this.

I call, river is a 3. Check or bet?

I check, as now we're in a pretty standard river situation where a bet accomplishes little, folding out worse hands and getting raised by better hands. You might argue that because I played my top pair so passively that a river bet actually has value here, as it's hard to imagine I have an ace, but I think it's pretty thin value, especially facing a good opponent.

I check, button checks behind with 97h, and my aces are good.

One thing I should note, as a slight bit of explanation, is that I wouldn't play the hand as passively if the board were more scary, as far as a potential straight/flush. I'd usually check-raise the flop if that were the case, despite the possibility of button having a better hand. What I'm really trying to get at here is how people hand situations like this, playing for small pots in heads-up/blind steal situations against a good opponent, when you have hand that's too good to fold to a raise but obviously a vulnerable one.

Many thanks in advance for any thoughts.

With all the poker talk out of the way:

Where's my damn peanut? I smell peanuts. PEANUT!


Shelly said...


kurokitty said...

Yay! The peanuts are on their way, courtesy of the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

J said...

As you stated, this is a classic "way ahead or way behind" situation. out of position, against an aggressive player, I like your check/call line.

On the river however, if you plan on calling a bet, then you should bet yourself.

Even if he has an ace, he is unlikely to raise you, unless he spiked two pair, so the cost is the same if you are beat by a bigger ace.

However, the bet has value because he is very likely to call with any pocket pair, or a non-ace pair with the board, as the pot is laying him over 6 to 1 on the odds that you are desperation betting some busted draw or lesser pair.

Nice post. Despite the mudane nature, these types of hands are the bread and butter of profitable LHE play.

StB said...

I would have bet out on the turn or raise on the flop. Put it out for info to see where you are in the hand.

ScurvyDog said...


Does the fact that you have one opponent, the button, who could very well be attempting to steal here make you less inclined to bet out to gain information? Or, if it doesn't matter, do you fold to a raise when you put a feeler bet out there to see where you stand?

I have a hard time betting/raising for information in situations like this, as I don't feel comfortable folding if I'm popped back. If I feel my hand is too good to fold to a raise, I tend to not try to bet to buy information, as where I stand seems a little irrelevant if I've decided to call down.

If it was UTG who open-raised (and UTG tended towards rockish and/or passive play), and I had the same hand and the same flop, I'd be much more inclined to put out a bet to see where I was at, as I think I could fold to a re-raise in that spot.

But it's next to impossible for me to fold it in a heads-up/possible steal battle, so I tend to play it more passively instead of trying to buy info, if that info can't help me find a fold.

Poor Tom said...

I don't know if there's a wrong answer as such, you could make a case for betting that hand more aggressively or playing the way you did.

i think the real question though is what were you trying to achieve by playing like that, and how it relates to the situation - it's a reasonable play, but it does potentially create a bit of a tight-weak image. That's fine if you can use that to trap in the future (though that's more profitable in NL), but the problem is what happens on the next steal attempt when you miss the flop or hit middle pair? The button's now seen you won't play back with marginal hands, and might well target your blinds even more.. so even though you won the hand it could potentially make life more difficult.

A bet on the flop would tell him you'll bet your hands, and a check-raise there (or a pre-flop re-raise) would do an even better job of sending a warning not to get cute.. against a solid ABC player who's not stealing a lot that might not be necessary, but if as you said this guy is playing a bit tricky and you can put him with some certainty on a steal, it seems to me that this would be a good spot to back him off - even if he calls or reraises a flop check-raise you would be justified calling him to the river to see if he really has it and you're outkicked, especially as there's still the chace of hitting two pair.

Anyway keep up the good work, I've been reading your blog for a while and enjoy it a lot. Good luck preparing for the WSOP too.

Mark said...

I second J's comment. I like line of check-call, check-call, bet. The only downside is that you have to be able to fold to a river raise.

Rene said...

if you're going WA/WB vs this guy then you have to bet the river.

It doesnt look like you think he'll see too many showdowns, so the only upside to checkraising the turn would be to incduce a loose calldown from him later on when you have a stronger holding.

This kind of move may cost too much though, since he'll very likely release most of his non-A hands.

I'll checkraise this flop and lead the later streets vs loose guys. This guy inst a loose guy though.

J said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J said...

All this "bet for info", "sending warnings", "creating image" thinking is meta game stuff that people love to engage in on poker discussion groups.

It is way overthinking in this situation without knowing more about the game and all the opponents, and is usually wasted effort anyway in most online poker games.

Keep it simple.

I'll stick with my feeling that with the add of a bet on the river here, your line is perfect.

Nice hand.

cc said...

I like raising pre-flop then betting out on the flop. He folds and you take down the pot. I like check raising probably more the flop rather than the turn if you just call here. I actually would rarely if ever call/check/call this, probably throwing A6 away pre-flop more often than not. But listening to me on strategy is probably -EV as I don't know if I do anything consistently nor have much of a plan ever.