Wednesday, November 30, 2005

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This aching junk update is brought to you by the fine folks at:

I realize it's perception more than anything, but it is odd how the beats and the junk-kicking seem to come in highly concentrated doses, in a coordinated, vicious flurry. Sat for two hours at a 10/20 shorthanded table in what should have been the best conditions imaginable, and all I had to show for it was a gaping hole in the bankroll and sore, sore junk. Played for a couple hours later that night, same result. Boo, poker.

Don't forget to hit up all those juicy Crypto monthly bonuses, if you're into that sort of thing. There's gold in them thar hills.

Is something happening in Vegas soon? I wouldn't know, as I'm simply sitting here, hands clapped over my ears, beating on a metal trash can with a ball peen hammer, screaming "Lalalalala I can't hear you lalalalalalalalalalalaala" at the top of my lungs.

(Someone actually showed up in my search stats a few days ago who came via Google, searching for "Lalalalalalala". Yes, indeed, search strings are always good for a chuckle, but you can usually tell what the general thrust of the search was, and what they were likely looking for. But what the hell could Mr/Ms. Lalalalalalala have been after? I mean, that's a lot of Las, more than just LaLa or something similar that could be a song, band, bar, etc. Seems like you're looking for something specific when you type in Lalalalalalala, yet also simultaneously doomed to get absolutely nothing useful back.)

Aside from the randomness of cards, I don't think my head is exactly in the best of places as far as poker goes. I'm having a hard time lately focusing and getting excited about the potential rewards for my poker labors, especially in the grander scheme of things.

It's been a bit exacerbated by recently paying myself the bulk of the profits from my business stuff on the side, as I'd just been keeping all the profits for the year in a money market account. But with the end of the year looming Mr. Accountant recommended we pay everything out, basically to zero out the books so that the corporation shows no excess income on the year and subsequently pays no corporate taxes on profits.

So, long story short, I just deposited the largest single check I've ever held in my grubby hands into our checking account. More than a year's salary at the day job. More than a couple of year's poker profits, assuming the rate I've been running recently would hold true for that time span, playing roughly the same hours.

All of which is very, very good, and I'm very, very happy and grateful for all of it. So don't get me wrong, I am in no way complaining or bemoaning my plight. It feels damn good to reap some of the rewards of my labors, as I've worked really damn hard over the last five years or so steadily building up stuff on the business side.

What's hard, though, and where I originally started with this, is that lately it makes me almost slightly resent the time at the poker tables. I feel like I need to put the time in, as extra income is always welcome, but poker can be a pretty hard way to make easy money (as other more famous poker pundits have pointed out.) I'm still not completely able to say, Oh, yeah, I dropped over $2,000 yesterday at the tables but hey, I'm a winner, baby, and I'll get it back. I mean, yeah, I can say it, and I've internalized it, but it still grinds at me, the paper loss, and affects my general mood and outlook to a degree that I don't like. And lately I seem to be questioning, more and more, if it's simply worth it, as far as the frustration and randomness, especially when I could be doing other things.

The real issue, I think, is the juggling of job/poker/business/life, and the relative weight of each of the balls. I can keep them all going, and am reasonably good at it, but they get harder to balance as the balls get heavier and/or lighter. Lately poker seems to be getting lighter, as I can't quite convince myself as successfully as I have in the past that the money I can likely make from playing 15-20 hours a week is worth it, especially when I could be doing other more stable/more profitable/more enjoyable things.

Which, in the end, is just a lot of babbling about nothing, really. I'm not really contemplating giving up on ol' poker, but I'm also not really happy with the current balance of things. Until I can heed the big flashing neon sign that says "Drop the Damn Day Job Ball Already You Idiot Monkey", I think I'm doomed to stay in the same holding pattern. Which, again, is a nice holding pattern to be in. Just a frustrating one at time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Embrace Your Inner Donkey

Note to Bill Cowher: Sweet Jebus, that was one of the absolute worst displays of play calling I've ever seen. You're hanging in there, somehow, and you decide to go for an onside kick to start the second half? After you spot the Colts an easy TD for now reason with that gem, you decide to go for it on 4th and 4, and you go with the designed quarterback draw, with a gimpy Ben Rothlisberger (who isn't the most fleet of foot even when completely healthy)? That's the best you've got?

My junk is still sore this morning from all the kicking last night at the poker tables. I'd love to do the hip cool thing and say "I got stuck (insert a very large amount of money) but them got it all back, plus some, and then I took a dump and ruby-encrusted diamonds fell out of my ass", but sadly, that didn't happen. The horrible truth is everyone gets stuck at times, and there's not always a happy, silver-lined conclusion in the real world most of live in. Some nights you just turn off the computer and go to bed, junk aching, stuck. Such is life.

I did get accused twice of being a donkey, which is always fun. Once it was completely justified, as I was fairly pissed and called with next to nothing and no odds, and hit a runner runner flush. But the other time I was calling one more bet from the BB to close the action preflop with 59s, with six others in the hand. Flopped two pair and rivered a boat to take down an unimproved AA, who didn't think very highly of my pre-flop call, and spent the next fifteen minutes, umm, discussing it.

The interesting part isn't so much that hand, but the general idea that, assuming you're a smart monkey and playing well, you should likely be accused of being a donkey by average opponents on a fairly regular basis. It should likely happen most often regarding your play from the blinds, as that's probably the area where there's the most common opportunity to make the correct play, but one that looks donkeyish to the casual observer.

In the aforementioned hand (closing the action from the BB, calling just one more bet, with six others in the hand), I'd probably call there with literally any two cards. If you're disciplined enough to lay down the vast majority of hands after the flop (even when you flop top pair) and skilled enough to extract full value when the flop really hits you, you can and should call with some pretty junky hands from the BB, if you've got enough friends in the hand, and are closing the action.

You also should be regularly accused of donkey behavior on a fairly regular basis when you play overcards fast, get played back at by a bigger made hand, and decide to take one more card off, and get lucky and hit. Yeah, that's not optimal, as much of the value of playing overcards fast is in simply running over everyone and getting the field to fold, but what makes the play +EV in the long run is that you do, indeed, have overcards, and sometimes they hit and take out what was top pair.

Ditto for limping with small/mid pairs, when there's a raise from late position, with multiple callers, and it's one more bet to you, which you call, hoping to hit your set on the flop. Even if the flop misses you, you'll sometimes have odds to take one more card off, even if you're drawing to your two-outer, as long as it's just one more bet to call on the flop. Yes, it'll piss of Mr. AA to no end, especially if the flop is something like 8 10 Q, and you hang around for one more bet with 55, and hit a 5 on the turn. Yeah, it sucks, but if you're getting odds to call, you're getting odds to call. You may also pick up straight/flush outs after the turn, which in turn might justify a river call, giving you another shot at playing the "donkey".

Another good chance to play the donkey is in MTTS or SnGs, when you have a decent stack and are facing shoves by short stacks, whether pre-flop or during the hand. This especially happens late in MTTs, when antes and blinds are kicking in, as you'll often be faced with situations where calling with your mighty 73o is absolutely correct, as long as the pot is large enough and the amount to call is relatively small. Frustrating, especially if you're the short stack who finally gets a big hand, only to see it taken down by junk, but still the correct play.

So don't fear your inner donkey. Wear your occasional donkey accusations with pride. Remember, deep down inside, a donkey lurks within everyone. Pet him. Hug him. Feed him carrots and call him George.

Monday, November 28, 2005

And the Turkey and the Stuffing and the Football and the Poker

So yeah, good Thanksgiving vacation, all the way around. We were at the in-laws for most of it, which was pretty nice, as I was basically trapped with a laptop and nothing else to do but play poker and work on assorted projects, while watching much football.

Still running pretty well at the tables, but I've been playing with fire, playing 20/40 6 max. The swings are a little outside my comfort zone, plus I also, umm, sort of suck at short handed play, so I'm probably going to just cut and run while I'm ahead.

I have to admit that I was pretty surprised by the news than Nick Denton had decided to shut down Oddjack. I was obviously a fan (to the point of drawing heavy inspiration from the general thurst of it at oddsnark) so I'm not the most unbiased of observers, but it seems odd to just pull the plug like that.

I'm not even going to pretend to be anywhere near Denton's league, as either a blogger or businessman, but I think it's an interesting business example of attempting to monetize blogs.

People do indeed make money blogging. 'Tis a fact. But if you look at many of the profitable blogs and bloggers out there, the majority got there by doing something they enjoyed, first and foremeost, which resonated with other people, to the point that traffic grew large enough for the blogger to begin to profit via affiliate links and ad sales.

But the initial genesis of many successful (in a strictly financial sense) blogs is pretty simple: people blogging about something that interested them, which they could write about well, which they were willing to devote many hours to, for no reason other than they enjoyed it, with no eye whatsoever to ever profiting from it. Do that for a few years, do it well, and lo, you suddenly have lots of traffic, and behold, you find ways to monetize that traffic.

It's interesting, then, to see attempts to replicate that, as far as creating sites like Oddjack. I won't pretend to know the real motivation, but on the surface it seems pretty straight-forward: jump-start the profitable blog evolution process by hiring good writers in a hot niche, who will create loads of quality content that many people are interested in, that will profitably sell tons of advertising and/or sponsored links.

The only thing missing in the above recipe, that you see in other profitable blogs, is the time factor. Most successful blogs have been around for years and years. Or, according to Denton: "The moral of the story: it's easy to launch sites; much harder to make them popular."

Pardon my French, but, umm, no shit. Especially when you give them narrow, unrealistic windows of opportunity to be "made" popular. And when you define "popular" as "produces (insert very large number) of dollars of profit each month."

I guess I just find it a bit surprising that uber successful blog barons would operate in such short-sighted ways, especially after a lot of heavy lifting and foundation work has been poured. I'll be the first to admit that a difference of opinion there is likely the reason that I'm decades way from being financially independent and working a crappy day job I hate, but part of me can't help but think that's a jacked up way of approaching the Web, and content, and ways to profit from that content.

Just because something doesn't immediately make you $126,192,187 in profit doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, or invest time and money in it. That's ignoring part of the beauty of the business model of the Web in general. I still make money, each and every month, from sites I built back in 2000 and haven't updated in three years. Very tiny sums of money, true, but reasonably decent sums when you add them all up.

Aside from dollars and cents, it's just sort of generally disappointing that entertaining sites like Oddjack (which provided income for entertaining writers) can come and go so quickly in this day and age. On the one hand, it's cool that blogs have evolved to the point that sites like that could even be created in the first place, but on the other, it's sort of disappointing to see them created with such a narrow, pecuniary benchmark for success.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

Things I am thankful for:

1) Awesome wives that put up with my degenerate activities.
2) Degenerate activities that allow me to click buttons and make money.
3) Poker blogs that instruct/entertain me at work/home.
4) Lemurs
5) More lemurs

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Badugi Rules

HyperMegaGlobalCorp is going to get shortchanged on their pound of my flesh today, as somehow I think production is going to be very, very low. I realize it's a slippery slope but days before major holidays always seem a bit ridiculous at the workplace, as 1/3 of the monkeys are actually here, and only 1/8 of that 1/3 even attempts to get anything done.

I've been playing a ton of Badugi the last few days and really enjoying it. As far as I know, the Tribeca network (Doyle's Room is the best bet for a site on that network) is the only online site that spreads it. Badugi is a four card lowball game, aces low, but the catch is that your suits are also important. The absolute best hand is (no ranking for the suits themselves, so any A 2 3 4 of four different suits is the mortal nuts).

It's just like any other lowball game, as far as beating . Any hand of all four suits (which is known as a Badugi in general) beats any hand that has either a pair or two of the same suits. If you have a pair or two of the same suit, you essentially get to play only three cards, as you have to throw out the second matching card that makes the pair or is of the same suit.

So beats , since you have to throw out the in the second hand because it's the same suit as the 3, giving you just a three card hand that always loses to any four card hand.

beats , as you throw out the pairs and matching suits and are left with two three card hands, with the first one the better lowball hand.

As far as the action, every player is dealt four cards to begin with, followed by a betting round. Remaining players then choose to draw, up to four cards. There's a second betting round, followed by a second drawing round. Third betting round, third drawing round. Then the final betting round and showdown.

One interesting thing is that Badugi is spread at Doyle's Room as a Limit, Pot Limit, and Half Pot Limit game. It's the Half Pot Limit one that's interesting, especially in combination with the drawing nature of Badugi, as you get some pretty large pots going on a regular basis, with people still drawing on the final drawing round. The half pot structure keeps people in the hand, as in many cases everyone is still drawing, so the pots can get ginormous quickly, even at lower limits.

The math is a bit counterintutive if you're used to playing Razz and other lowball games, as it's actually reasonably difficult to draw to a Badugi. If you start with , you're pretty psyched, and are obviously going to pitch the K and keep the A 2 3, likely staying in the hand (and even playing it pretty fast) until after the last drawing round. The problem, though, is that you're actually only 49% to make a Badugi at all by the end, and even then it may be a poor one, with Q high, K high, etc. That's not to say you slow down with the above hand, just that it's more difficult than it first appears to hit your Badugi, which I think leads to inflated pots and lemurs throwing around chips more haphazradly than they normally would.

Like any lowball drawing variant, the real difficulty is knowing when to break a Badugi. If it's short-handed, your starting hand of might hold up, with any Badugi winning, no matter how high, so you can stand pat with that and raise it up. If someone draws one, though, and suddenly wakes up, playing back at you, you more than likely need to break the Badugi, discard the K, and try to draw to a better hand.

A 7 or 8 high Badugi is pretty damn good and will win a majority of the time, so you don't have to be going to showdown with the absolute nuts to win. Remember, the difficulty of getting four cards of low, different suits slightly inflates what you need at showdown to win, so it's a good bit different than Razz, despite other obvious similarities.

I may quickly change my tune, as I've only been playing for a few days, but so far I have to say that there's more dead, dumb money in Badugi than in any other variant I've played online. Yeah, you definitely get some dumbos at Razz and Triple Draw and Omaha that barely understand the rules, but nowhere near what I've seen at the Badugi tables at Doyle's Room. It can be hard finding a game at off-peak hours, but there's generally a decent number of tables running, especially at lower limits.

If anyone has more experience with Badugi and any strategy or tips, I'd be all ears, as I'm definitely still a newbie and there's not a whole lot of information out there written about it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Case of the Mondays...And the Tuesdays...And the Wednesdays...

March better get here soon. I'm not sure what the O/U would be right now, as far as making it until we get our annual bonus checks. What's grinding me down the most isn't the attendent corporate silliness that goes on at HyperMegaGlobalCorp, as I honestly find that more amusing than anything these days. What's grinding me is the fact that my day-to-day work is so mind-numbingly monotonous and unchanging, and has absolutely no consequence to anyone, either internal or external.

Although the little things do still make me laugh. We're on a big "Innovation" kick lately, but in the capital I sense. Which basically means that everyone is required to insert the word "innovation" approximately 17 times in any communication, and to roll out assorted programs to encourage "Innovation" but to never, at any point, do anything practical like actually consider adding new product features or examining any internal/external business processes.

As part of the Innovation Initiative, they're holding Blue Sky lunches, in which people are randomly invited to "brainstorm" and "build mind share leadership". I just got invited. Which is cool, as I need to do more stuff like that for my LDP (Leadership Development Process), to boost my L ratings. The invitation for the Blue Sjy lunch is very snazzy, professionally printed, and all that jazz. And the best part is that it comes with a decoder circle, as the text is written in code, so you have to align the decoder wheel to a certain key and then translate the letters.

Except the whole damn thing is written in code, and has two typos. It literally took me half an hour to decode it, and in the end it says something like "Join us for a brainstorming session in which we'll innovate and build mind share around a variety of topics that include a variety of business initiatives and opportunities to lead by winning and excel through the use of innovative, non-linear solutions."

The wonderful irony of that is the text that was encoded is, in essence, already disguised in corporate speak to the point of being well-nigh indecipherable.

In other news, you damn Vegas-attending bloggers really know how to rub it in, with cool announcement after cool announcment. All I have to say is that some poker site needs to step up and sponsor all of us non-attendees, who, you know, must spend the holidays with family and loved ones. Think of all the good will and positive press you'd generate by kicking a turkey our way, or some stocking stuffers, or even a damn Yule log.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Whinge and Moan and Ye Shall Receive

Well, kiss my grits...

Congratulations, you finished 2nd in the $20 + $1 NL MTT Speed Tournament. $967.85 has been awarded to your account.

I've also spent the last hour playing Badugi at BetOnSports Poker. It's on the Tribeca network, and the site with the best signup bonus open to US players is at Doyle's Room, if you you're looking to get a Badugi fix. It's like Razz on steroids. Or crack. Or steroid crack.

Obvious down side to Tribeca sites is that there's no support for either PokerTracker or PokerAce HUD. Obvious upside is that, sweet Jebus, are there ever some fishy players on that network, as almost all of the poker rooms (except for Doyle's Room)are dependent on casino/sportsbook offerings to bring in poker players. They also run some decent guaranteed tourneys during the day which often have a bit of an overlay.

Plus, you know, Badugi. Badugi badugi badugi...

Hey Look, a Post that isn't 123,172 Words Long

Pretty nice weekend, in ways both degenerate and non-degenerate. I managed to finally motivate and get the damn garage cleaned out, so I could buy some tools and assorted supplies to try to bang out (literally) some copper stuff as Christmas gifts for assorted family members and what-not. Rounded up most of the tools and supplies, except for, umm, the copper, which I should hopefully run get today.

Things are rolling pretty well in the poker world. I've been splitting time between 15/30 and 20/40, and running pretty well. I discovered that one of the sportsbooks I have a ridiculous amount of money in (waiting to clear the WR on a sportsbook bonus) has a poker room, too, which is automatically linked to your other accounts with them. It's on the Tribeca network, which has decent traffic, but most of the mid/high limits are short-handed. So I spent a few hours playing 20/40 shorthanded last night, which is just about the worst idea in the world, given the fact that I stink up the joint short-handed, but I was lucky enough to get slapped silly by the deck, plus for a good stretch of that time I had two monstrously aggressive guys/gals from Turkey sitting at the table, which often adds velocity to upward/downward swings.

Still coming up empty in MTTs. I feel like I'm playing decently but just not finishing up with anything to show for it. I need to be more aggressive with complete and utter steals in position late in tournaments. I know this, for a fact, yet can't make myself pull the trigger, waiting for a hand that falls more into the semi-bluff range than a complete steal. I'm probably going to resort to somewhat artificial measures, as far as attempting to steal whenever I look down and see that the clock on my computer monitor has a 7 in the minutes field, or something similar.

ScurvyWife and I saw the new Harry Potter movie on Friday (quit your giggling) which was pretty good, all in all. I'm not the hugest Potter-head in general, but it was entertaining enough, despite being a little long. Apparently many hardcore fans are upset by numerous things in the book being left out, but hey, it's a movie, not a book.

One of the unfortunate side effects of hitting up assorted sportsbook bonuses lately is that some are bad about selling email addresses, so suddenly I'm getting all sorts of quasi-spam from sportsbetting services that sell subscriptions to their picks. And I mostly ignore these, but I do find them humorous, as apparently all of these guys are consistently 8-1, 7-2, 9-0 on their picks, week after week after week, yet they somehow need to hawk their picks via spam for $29.95 every week? Seems to my feeble monkey brain that you'd be absolutely rolling in dough, stubbing your toe on diamonds and platinum bars scattered about your floor, if you could even successfully pick 60% of the games you wagered on. Apparently not.

FFL team got walloped by Donkeypuncher this weekend. I still refuse to believe the Bears are that good, but it's getting harder every week. They smack each other in the head with 5 pound weights at the FBI's firing range and still come out and thump Carolina, arguably the hottest team in the NFC. Wackiness.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Protecting Hands in Limit HE

Fair warning, this may be long (and that's coming from someone who has a tendency to be long-winded), as the basic idea I want to ramble about is pretty tightly coupled with a few other concepts.

One of the problems posed by any limit game is that you often find yourself in a spot where you likely currently have the best hand, but one that's vulnerable. Unlike a continuation bet (where you represent strength preflop and follow through when the flop misses you) situation, you're in a slightly tougher spot, as you usually don't have the luxury of simply folding when someone else wakes up and bets into you.

So, in short, what the hell do you do when you're playing limit HE and likely have the best hand, but one that's vulnerable? One thing to note that while the title of this is "Protecting Hands in Limit HE" it could also easily by "Playing Top Pair, Weak Kicker", as that's the situation that most often arises when you have a good but vulnerable hand.

These situations basically break down into two main categories:

1) You have a big pair/medium pair/pair/overcards and, after the flop, have an overpair or top pair, top kicker. The flop, however, is scary coordinated, usually two to a flush, or with multiple cards in the playing zone.
2) You have top pair on the flop, but have a very weak kicker.

I'm actually not going to spend much time on #1, as correct play with these hands is pretty easy. Basically you just go nuts and stay aggressive, until the board or other players give you reason to pause.

If you have and the flop comes , you can't slow down and start worrying about straights or the spade flush getting there. Your hand is almost always good here and you have to punish people aggressively playing draws here, trying to buy free cards on later streets. Yes, sometimes you're going to look like an idiot, when someone rolls over QJ at showdown, but them's the breaks.

That said, you still have to exercise common sense. If you're showing all kinds of strength and someone keeps playing back at you, slow down at a certain point and respect the fact they might, indeed, be able to beat your TPTK or overpair or even your set. All I'm really getting at here is that your decision in the above scenario isn't whether or not to press the accelerator in an attempt to protect what you think is the best hand, but how hard to mash the accelerator. Knowing to hard to mash is beyond the scope of this and so situation specific that it's crazy to try to address it.

The second situation (top pair on the flop, but a weak kicker) is more interesting and complicated, and the one I think gets misplayed most often.

You're in the BB with in a typically aggressive 15/30 game at Party. UTG raises, MP cold-calls, MP+2 cold calls, button cold-calls, SB calls, and you call. (You're getting odds to call with almost any two cards here, closing the action, and Q8s is more than enough to call with.)

Flop is

SB checks. What do you do?

Check, and fold to any bet. Yes, you have top pair, but that's about it. You're facing a huge field. Not only are you likely dominated by any other Q, but there's also no way to clarify your hand, as people will aggressively raise with draws here, both flush and straight draws. You also have almost no hope of improving, as you're still dodging the flush plus another 8 for two pair gives anyone with a J the straight.

Betting out here, with the intention of folding to a raise is just setting 1 SB on fire, for no reason. Checking with the intention of calling if it's just 1 more SB to call is just setting 1 SB on fire, for no reason, despite the pot size. Just abort the mission. The flop is horrible for you, in a field that size, despite the fact that you have top pair.

One thing to pay attention to in situations like this is whether pairing your kicker significantly improves your hand. Don't just assume that those are clean outs, as they can also put four to a straight/three to a flush on the board for your opponents, as well.

Let's use exactly the same situation as above (you're in the BB with ) but thin the herd. This time, only MP raises pre-flop, and only SB calls. You also call. (This call is slightly more debatable here but still correct.)

Flop is

SB checks. What do you do?

This is much more difficult. You only have two opponents, the flop is scary, pot is decent sized, and you have top pair, weak kicker. MP raised pre-flop and has position on you.

This is a good example of when you really need to sit on your hands a bit, take your time, and think a few levels deep here.

The first scenario you want to run through your head is whether or not this is a hand you want to take to showdown if the board doesn't get any scarier, as far as putting the flush out there, or a K or an A (potentially giving an opponent a higher pair). You also want to consider the possibility that your opponents might already have an overpair (in this case KK or AA), two pair, or a set, and the possibility that you're outkicked already by QJ, QK, and QA.

With two opponents (and one in the SB, who on average needs less to be in this hand) and a decent sized pot, the likely conclusion is that you want to take this hand to showdown, barring the board getting scarier. Against typically aggressive opponents, it's just too weak to meekly fold to one more bet on each street here. If it gets heads up, you likely want to continue even if the board puts the three flush out there, as the odds are high that just one opponent doesn't have the flush.

The question, then, is do you check or bet, after SB checks. If you check, though, you have to do so with the decision already made as to whether you want to check-raise in this spot. Enter another level of thinking and a detour, which is check-raising to protect vulnerable hands.

Check-raising in situations like this is a valid option because it both clarifies the hand and protects your hand when you do have the current best hand. While many people have the check raise in their toolbox for situations when they have monster hands, they sometimes overlook the value of the check-raise in protecting good but vulnerable hands.

What you have to be careful about, though, is remembering that your goal with a check-raise in this situation is to drive opponents out, not to build pots. And the crucial thing to evaluate is your position, before you even contemplate the check-raise.

In the above example, going for the check raise is likely a mistake. Remember, the SB checked to you. If you check, odds are MP will bet. If SB calls, what exactly is your check-raise going to accomplish? In typical online games, only the tightest of tight opponents will fold to one more bet in that situation, so it's 99% likely that both MP and SB will call. Not only did you not knock anyone out, but you actually built a larger pot to give people more incentive to chase draws. If SB instead folds to MP's bet, then a check-raise isn't bad, but it's also probably not optimal. More on this in later detour.

If you were instead the SB, and you check, BB checks, and MP bets, then by all means, consider the check-raise. Remember, if your goal is to knock opponents out with a check-raise to protect vulnerable hands, you have to be in position to force opponents to face two more bets, not one more bet. If you have position on some of your opponents, consider a check-raise to protect vulnerable hands.

Looping back to our main thread, let's recap the situation. MP raised pre-flop, SB called, and you called in the BB with ), the flop is . SB checked on the flop and the action is on you. You've ruled out folding unless the board gets scarier and don't have position to try for a check-raise. Your decision is to either check/call or to bet out.

Betting out is a much more attractive option than check-calling. But before you bet out, you have to use that big juicy poker brain, and already know what your response will be to different results.

The most obvious thing to consider is that MP will raise if you bet. Does this bother you, enough to the point that you'd rather check?

It shouldn't, because betting out is actually the best way to protect your hand in this situation. Remember, you've decided your hand is currently too good to fold, but it's vulnerable. Hands like that thrive on the least number of opponents, so you want to do everything possible to thin the field, especially when it's a decent sized pot, which makes it worth the effort. You've already determined that a check-raise won't knock anyone out, due to your poor position. The only other way, then, to face any opponents with two bets to continue is by betting out yourself, offering the pre-flop raiser the chance to raise again.

It took my slow monkey brain a long time to absorb the above concept, so you might read that again. It's pretty counter-intuitive at first, but the concept applies to nearly every poker variant, especially Stud. There are many situations that even if you slip on X-ray glasses and KNOW that the pre-flop raiser currently has a better hand, you still want to lead into them if there's a great likelihood that they'll raise, as the EV you gain from getting it heads up is larger than the money you lose when you don't improve.

If you're a devotee of Sklansky/Malmuth, you've likely read about this in regards to situations where you have middle pair, top kicker, but it also applies to good but vulnerable hands, too.

So you bet out, with no fear of a raise, which you'll call. If everyone just calls, so be it, you've already decided to take the hand to showdown. Getting raised also makes the decision to go into check-call mode for the rest of the hand a much easier one, too. That's what I mean by "clarifying" the hand, as it gives you additional information to lean one direction or another in your decision making.

But there's another option. What if you bet, MP calls or raises, and SB check-raises?

Even with just two opponents and a decent pot, I fold here if SB wakes up and check-raises. Some may call weak bullshit on that, but your real problem now isn't top pair, weak kicker but that you're caught between the player showing strength pre-flop and the player waking up and coming over the top. Even if they're both aggressively playing draws and your hand is best (which is a real possibility), you're never going to be closing the action and faced with the unenviable proposition of getting strung along calling if they go to war on later, more expensive streets.

Don't be afraid to abort and save your bullets for a better spot. Remember, your pre-flop call was thin to begin with, a flop bet is slightly thin, and there's no shame in avoiding spots in which you have a thin edge, at best, especially when out of position.

So we'll follow the most likely scenario. You bet, MP raises, SB folds, and you call. (The aggros might suggest a re-raise here but I think calling is superior, for reasons below.)

The turn is , putting on the board. You're in the BB with facing one opponent, MP, who raised pre-flop and on the flop.

Action is on you. Check or bet?

Now we have to shift gears. Our goal in protecting our hand was to get it heads up if possible. Mission accomplished. The turn also looks like a blank, so the odds that are hand is good increased. We still may have to dodge river cards, but all signs point towards our odds of winning this hand improving.

We're going to showdown now, come hell or high water. We're willing at this point to check-call on the turn, and check-call on the river. (While the Ah or Kh on the river might make it a really, really difficult decision to call, the pot's too big at this point to fold to just one more bet.) Since our hand is good but weak, we don't hate it if it goes check-check, check-check. We still don't know if MP has a bigger hand currently or is drawing and there's no good way to find out now. But do we still need to protect our hand by betting out here (despite the fact that we've been raised twice by MP) if our opponent is still on a draw, either the flush or straight draw or AK?

And that, my friends, is a really difficult question. I imagine if you polled the electorate it'd be a pretty split vote, as far as whether or not to bet out on the turn in our above situation to prevent someone aggressively playing a draw from seeing a free card by checking behind us.

I lean slightly towards the check camp, though, for a couple of reasons. The first thing you have to ask yourself is if you bet and get raised again, can you simply fold and lay down the hand? Because a lot of the value in betting in that spot isn't just in preventing a free card, but in potentially saving yourself 1BB by betting the turn and folding to a re-raise. (You save the 1BB because you're not check-calling on both the turn and river for a total investment of 2BB.)

If you can comfortably lay down your hand to a raise, then betting out is the best option. If you can't lay down top pair, weak kicker in that spot to a raise, 100% of the time, betting out is likely slightly more wrong than checking.

Here's the real crux of the situation. In a lot of cases situations where you want to protect hands morph into situations where you make more money by inducing your opponent(s) to continue to bet, even if they miss their draw. Especially if they miss their draw. You shift from trying to make them pay to draw to trying to induce them to bet, as your hand improved with the turn blank. As the hand progresses and they keep missing, you gain less value by punishing draws. It's similar to a way ahead/way behind situation where your hand is too good to fold, but not good enough to play it really aggressively. You can't comfortably bet or raise for value but you welcome the chance to call.

(Read that again, and take it in the context of aggressive, online games that most of us play in. Yes, mathematically speaking, what I just said above doesn't hold water. Because the pot's pretty big, the fact that they only have a 30% chance to hit their draw is still significant, as the 3 times out of 10 they do hit, they rake in a big pot. If a bet causes a significant number of opponents to fold, then betting is overwhelmingly the right choice, as you want to take down the sizable pot at all costs. If betting out causes 1 in 10 opponents to fold, then betting out is overwhelmingly the right choice, in a theoretical poker world in which 1 in 10 opponents fold to a bet in that situation.

The problem with that, though, is the reality of typical game conditions online. If you're playing in an aggressive online game where your opponent is raising you, on a draw, they're almost never going to fold to a single bet on the turn. Never. Even if they have junk. If anything, they're much more likely to re-raise than to fold to one bet, even with junk. If you can't eliminate an opponent by betting out and have a vulnerable hand, check-calling is a better option, in the practical world we play in. If you're in a real-world situation where you know that an opponent will never fold, incorporate that into your thinking, and throw out theoretical knowledge.)

So back again to our main situation, if you check to MP on the turn, he'll almost always fire again, even if he's still on a draw. The tendency and proclivity to bet when checked to here actually prevents him from taking off a free card. So, ironically, one way to prevent an opponent from taking a free card is by inducing them to bet.

Another advantage to checking with the hope of inducing a bet is that, assuming the river is a blank, your odds of successfully inducing a bet on the river increase dramatically, as lots of opponents will fire one last round on the river with absolutely nothing if you've checked on both the turn/river.

An additional advantage is a really obvious one, but you also could already be way behind in this hand, and check-calling limits the amount of money you're going to lose, especially if you have a hard time folding to a raise if you bet out.

The danger of checking is that they'll check behind you, take a free card, and hit their money card on the river. And there's no way around it, it is a real danger. Unfortunately we simply can't have our cake and eat it, too. If you add up all the factors (the possibility of currently being behind and not actually ahead, the likelihood of an opponent folding to a bet, the possibility of getting outdrawn on the river, the possibility of being ahead and inducing bets), I think a check is correct on the turn.

River is another blank, the . This one is easier, as we're almost home. Check here and call if MP bets. Even though the turn/river blanked you don't have enough for a value bet here, as getting raised causes you to throw up a little in your mouth and puts you in a really bad spot. Even if MP checks behind you still might lose to a junky two pair, or KQ, so you don't hate it if he checks behind you here, given you still just have top pair, weak kicker.

And that, finally, is likely more than you ever wanted to here me ramble on about concerning protecting hands/playing top pair, weak kicker. And remember that the standard caveat applies, as I'm by far not the best poker player in the world. A lot of words, I know, and a lot of individual decisions that might be bantered about and questioned, but I think there are some nuggets to be gleaned from the general ideas that underpin a lot of the thinking.

If nothing else, just take time to think through your decisions in difficult hands. Just because it's limit doesn't mean you shouldn't take your time, as there's no difference between thinking things through here and taking your time when faced with a decision for all your chips in a NL game.