Friday, June 26, 2009

Whaddya gonna do about it?

Typical Thursday night cash game start. An Ace-Jack loses a medium pot, a few raise/whiff/c-bet/showdown losses, and I'm down $15. Mr. Pietzak is the table captain - raising up any ace, any two broadway cards, connectors, pairs. Raising a lot. He makes the old Johnny Chan check/call flop - lead turn play to take a pot from me. I admonish him - "I know what monkey business you're pulling over there". His joking reply "Yeah? What are you going to do about it?".

A fair question. He knows about some of my recent hands that I've played less-than-strong postflop. He will often defend his blind against me, putting me on a narrow range of hands and then playing my tendencies and fears.

In other words, he's a better poker player than I am.

Clearly, I need to mix things up a bit more. Most of the players at this game are at least as good as I am, and many are better. I can continue to TAG it up, win some money from the less-skilled players, and get dealt the occasional big hand for a big pot from the good ones. That's called "breaking even". Or, I can start pushing the envelope a bit more and try to squeeze a bit more blood from this Thursday night stone.

A limp, from under then gun, with AT. Not exactly a great starting hand, or a great start to the "new me", but you gotta start somewhere. My limp makes it through to the big without a raise, and I hit my Ace on the flop. There's also a king, and a low rag. The big blind, Chris S., leads out for $4. Chris can be tricky with his postflop betting - he will bet complete air all the way to the river trying to get you to fold. When you take a stand on him, he seems to come up with the two pair or the gutshot straight to send you packing.

Those possibilities aren't really present here. Chris would have probably raised any better Ace than my Ace-Ten preflop. I think I'm ahead here. I check my stack - about $20 left due to my early losses. Any raise commits my stack, and I'm pretty sure I'm ahead.

What are you going to do about it? Pietzak's question flits through my mind.

I shove my stack in.

Chris doesn't think very long before replying "I've got to call you". This statement would scare the crap out of me from some other players, but to Chris it just means he's got some piece of this board and he's willing to gamble to hit a bigger piece. He flips over a king and a rag- fortunately a different rag than the one on the board. I've got 5 outs to dodge, and I manage to do so, bringing me back to even on the night.

This win gives me some confidence. I started with a marginal ace, but was able to read the situation correctly and get my money in ahead. I also managed to avoid getting unlucky - something that shouldn't affect your self-analysis but we all know it does.

Next orbit or so, a rare fold-around to me on the button, and I've got 46. I raise it up on a pure blind steal, and Tony defends his blind. Tony hasn't won a hand tonight and might be on closing in on tilt city, if not already there. I keep this important fact in mind, knowing I might not be able to budge him off of a marginal hand in the likely event of me whiffing this flop.

No whiff this time- two fours and a ten, and I've got perfectly disguised little monster. Tony's strength is his aggression and his ability to put people on hands, I should be able to win some money here. We both check the flop - the textbook "way ahead, way behind" scenario. No reason for either of us to bet.

I expect Tony to come out firing on the turn, and I plan on raising big. If he's got an overpair (more likely based on the recent way he has been playing them), I don't think he'll fold. If he's got unpaired broadway cards, I'll probably blow him off the hand. Once again my plans go wonky, though, when the turn is dealt a six, giving me a full house. Tony does in fact fire out - a pot size bet. He's either trying to get value for something, or trying to take the pot away from my likely whiffed AK/AQ-ish hand. There's also a flush draw out there. My play is to think for a few minutes, act like I'm counting up the pot to see if I have odds for the flush, and to call. If the flush doesn't come, I should expect another bet. If it does, I probably won't get much out of him - we'll blow up that bridge when we get to it.

No flush on the river - no broadway either - a black eight. Tony leads out for $8. I think he has something now. There's no straight and no flush, so there's not much for him to be afraid of if I raise. But I don't want to overbet in case he has Jacks or Ace-Ten and can easily find a fold. I finally played rags and hit the board hard, and you need maximum value from those situations. I settle on a $10 raise. Tony shakes his head and throws the extra 2 red chips in. I never see his cards after I show down my boat. If he was close to tilting before, I've just got him a bit closer.

Later in the evening - a 2.5x raise from Bill - a tight, solid opponent whom I've never seen make a big mistake. The raise is a little small, though. Bullets? Kings? I defend the small blind with JQ, looking for a big hand. Not going broke with top pair here. The big blind defends as well.

No big flop for me, but there are two spades - a king and an eight. Possibilities for sure. I check with nothing. The small leads out for $5, and Bill immediately minraises to $10. Yup, smells like Aces or Ace-King. Pockets kings definitely smooth-calls top set. I suppose KQ might do this as well, to see where he's at.

Well, I have a naked flush draw with the A still out there. No overcards. Nine outs to beat top pair/overpair. The big blind is still available to reraise behind me. The right move is to fold, but both of my opponents are decent, thinking players who are playing attention. Anything out of the ordinary will raise their radar. What's the most out of the ordinary thing I could do here? What are you going to do about it?

I smooth call the $10.

Probably a dumb play. Certainly dumb from the math standpoint, but I'm trying to think up a bit higher now. What does the smooth call of reraise look like to a thinking opponent? My guess is that it screams "SET! SET!" to the table. That's what it looks like to me, anyway. The big blind calls as well. I'm looking for the right turn card to take this pot away, or to just get lucky and hit the flush.

I get the right card. Not a spade, but a red Ten, which gives me an open-ended straight draw to go with my flush draw. The timing of this is important - I can't think too long here about my actions if I've got a set, like I'm supposed to. I declare all-in as quickly as I can. $40 more.

The big blind folds, and now I've just got to see if Mr. Aces/Ace-King can do the same. Then I hear the scariest thing I've heard all night. As I'm moving my $40 worth of chips to the middle, Bill says "I've only got $9 left".

Ohhhhhh, crap. He's not folding Aces or Ace/King for $9. I had lost track of his chip stack, and now it was going to cost me (unless I hit one of my 15 outs). Bill thinks and thinks. Then he slowly flips over his cards to gauge my reaction. Two aces. I smile - genuiniely - based on my read of the situation, but irritated inside knowing I'll probably be paying off this blunder.

Strangely, unexpectedly, gloriously, Bill folds his bullets. I scoop a big pot.

Getting late - my cards are cold the last hour. I'm ahead. I follow a limper with AKo and Mr. Pietzak in the big blind. I'm hoping he raises it up. He does, and I 3-bet, knowing he'll call and try and outplay me postflop. Once again, I am correct. Can I just one friggin time flop two pair here and beat the table captain?

No such luck - QJx rainbow. I'll need a ten to win this one with my cards, and maybe my ace or king would be good also. Pietzak checks. I fire out my cbet and he calls instantly. He doesn't believe me, and he is correct. As usual.

A garbage turn card. I'm still behind. I figure
Pietzak is going to lead into me now - he knows what I have, that I've whiffed - he's going to pull the Johnny Chan play on me, as he's already done once tonight. Strangely, though, he checks.

I go over the hands he has in my mind. If I assume he has enough of a something to call my flop bet, he's got a small pair, a jack, or a queen with a meh kicker. Queen with a good kicker might have reraised my limp/reraise. Two draws out there - 9T and KT. Possible, not likely. He could have a big hand and is walking the dog - QJ for two pair, maybe AA/KK (without 4 betting preflop for deception). There is always the possibility that he has nothing and plans on taking the pot away on the river.

When I run through all the hands he can have, I think there are way more possibilities of check/call type hands and garbage than there are monsters or strong draws. The most likely possibility, to me, is that he's got one pair and would love to see a showdown with it.

They say that in poker, if you can figure out what your opponent wants, you are supposed to dissapoint him by doing the opposite. At this point, I think I know what my opponents wants - a showdown with one pair.

What are you going to do about it?

I shove all-in. About $45. With ace high.

Pietzak goes into the tank. He has an obvious difficult decision, meaning that I've correctly done my job. He says something to the effect of "my head says fold, or my heart says call". I might have those reversed. He's got something alright, but not something enough to wager $45 on.

After what seems like 25 minutes, he offers up "nice bet, Matthew" and folds. For future reasons, I whip over my Ace-King. I wanted Pietzak to know, this one time, what I did about it.

Pietzak nods his head - I'm sure the possibility of an ace-high bluff appeared in his head, but it's hard to put a nit like me on that liklihood. He turns over one card - a queen for top pair. My guess is that his kicker was garbage or he would have called much more readily.

The dealer flips over the river - a king. Had he made the correct call, I would have sucked out on him anyway.

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