Friday, October 23, 2009

The nonbeliever

Many poker players have a fatal flaw, but that flaw often protects them from more advanced plays. We've all heard "don't bluff a calling station". You can't bluff them, because they're calling with any pair/any draw. They don't care what you have or what you're representing (they're often not even thinking about what you have). The way to beat a calling station is to hit your hand and then bet hard for value. Easy enough strategy - if you can hit a hand. Not much in life is more frustrating that being card dead at a table with a calling station or two.

There's another, somewhat similar breed of player to the calling station - the nonbeliever. This player is way better than the calling station - he's thinking beyond his own hand as to what his opponent is holding. However, his conclusions are often wrong, because he thinks everyone is always bluffing. Like a calling station, you can't bluff a nonbeliever, either. If he has any hand at all, he will decide that you're bluffing and continue on with the hand.

In last night's cash game, I had a nonbeliever to my left. I raised him up from the small blind with Big Chick - ace-queen. He, of course, didn't believe I had a hand as powerful as ace-queen, so he called. That's good, right?

Board comes Ace-Two-Three. Top pair, second kicker. I check, since this non-believer is also aggressive - I think he will bet. He does, and I checkraise. He immediately goes all in.

A sticky situation. The non-believer might have pocket sevens here, and he's just refusing to believe I have that ace. Same thing with Ace-nine - he's willing to go to the wall because he simply doesn't believe I have a big ace.

There are lots of hands in his range that I beat, but I lay the hand down, showing it as I do so. He shows me Ace-Two for two pair - I was crushed on the flop, so the fold was a good one. I didn't go broke on a pair, but the hand cost me $18.

The non-believer is further insulated from danger by hitting amazing hands. Pocket pairs, gutshot straights, great stuff. A great example of his playing style - he calls a raise from the blinds vs. the tightest player in our home game. The board is all hearts, and consecutive - seven, eight, nine. Danger everywhere. The tight player bets, and the nonbeliever raises him. The tight player shoves his chips in pretty quick. This is an all-heart board-remember, against a tight, solid ABC player. Nobody who has ever played more than 20 hands with this guy thinks he's making a pure move here. He's got something.

The non-believer doesn't believe - he calls all-in, with jack of diamonds, nine of diamonds. Top pair (of nines), gutshot straight draw, on an all heart board. Ei-Ei-Ei. I will now take a cheese grater to my face.

Our tight friend throws over the pocket aces, with the ace of hearts. This is probably the weakest hand he would be in this pot with, on this board, but he's crushing the non-believer. The non-believer hits a river nine for trips and wipes the tight player out of the game. (Where's that cheese grater, again?)

On this night, the nonbeliever has achieved a perfect situation - the table is simply staying out of his way, waiting for their big hand to trap him. I do get him to pay off a small pot with a runner-runner full house, but that's the extent of the money I win from him. The overbloated, nuts vs. second nuts type of hand never hits him,
so he walks away a big winner.

Later in the night, we're playing a small pot, and I have middle pair. The river is scary - completing flush and straight draws. I check behind him, and he proudly announces another big hand - a straight. Someone wonders out loud "I wonder if you bet big there if he gets scared of the flush and goes away" I laugh out loud. "You think he would believe that I have the flush?" No way. Nope, the only way I could win that pot vs. that player would be to have the flush.

One more real pot with the non-believer - I limped with the powerhouse Kc3c (we were four handed at this point, so there was only one blind). I hit the three and two clubs. Against many players, I might bring this hand to war - a pair and a flush draw has 14 outs to beat top pair, plus fold equity, makes me a favorite vs. many players. Against this player, though, my fold equity plummets to near-zero, meaning my hand is pretty much a coin flip against his top pair. The nonbeliever bets the flop and turn hard, and I check-call my way to the river, where I miss and give up. A poor way of playing, but probably optimal against this player - I want to hit my big hand and get paid off, and I cannot get him to fold to aggression, so his style forces me to play a passive game.

Not many more opportunities to make money for me on this night. I raised up jacks and they stayed an overpair, but Tony checkraised me all-in and once again I laid them down, refusing to go broke on one pair. This could have been a semi-bluff on a 79T board (no flush though), but I took the safer course of action. He checkraised me two more times as well - both times I had good starting hands that I raised up but whiffed the flop. Looks like Tony has officially adjusted to my game.

I re-adjust. I raise up A7s and he calls from the blind. I whiff the board - he checks and this time I do as well. I hit my ace on the turn and bet it out. Tony exclaims "looks like I played this one wrong" and flips over pocket kings! I tell him, "well, after checkraising me three times, I decided to take a look a free turn card instead". Good plan.

A rough night - a nonbeliever card rack hitting over and over, and a good player laying traps for me left and right. Not a great table to make money at. I ended up down $40 all-told. But I feel as if I played well - I laid down top pair-good kicker and an overpair to aggression and was right both times, and didn't start playing too many hands trying to chase the losses.


Forrest Gump said...

'A rough night - a nonbeliever card rack hitting over and over'

Whenever i see the $ on the table funneling over to the worst player at the table, I think it's a beautiful thing and it makes me smile. It's why I love poker and it's what differentiates it from chess.


diverjoules said...

That win for Mr. NB will encourage him to not only return for more, but he will think that is just the perfect way to play. His chips are in YOUR future. :-)