Friday, October 9, 2009

"This live table is rigged!"

Anyone sitting at our short-handed live .50/$1 table last night would have seen new evidence that PokerStars, Full Tilt and Bodog do not employ "rigged" decks to encourage suckouts, because crazy, improbable things can happen just as often in live play, too.

My favorite hand of the night - Wiley got himself short-stacked and decided to play short instead of topping up. He raised to $3.50 on the button, and Crane, a fairly tight player, puts him all in for like $10 more. Wiley says, "ok, good enough, let's go" and shows KJs. Crane shows the powerhouse pocket threes - two strangely weak hands considering it's a 30 BB pot, but these two have logged thousands of live hands together and there was probably some type of metagame of which I was unaware.

The board is an odd and somewhat eerie five-five-five. Crane has flopped a full house and pulls ahead. The turn doesn't change things - Wiley will need a king or jack to overboat him, or, one other interesting river card - the fourth five! With four fives on the board, Crane's boat is counterfeited and Wiley's king wins an improbable kicker battle.

I crushed Pietzak early. A limped pot came to me in the big blind. I checked my cards and found the bullets - pocket aces. It was the second orbit of the night or thereabouts - I decided to get cute and check, but also vowed I would not overplay them on a scary board. I felt much better with a draw-free Ace-Queen-Four rainbow flop, and was able to check top set. The turn brought a seven with a backdoor flush draw, and I had to lead out and protect against the flush and 5-6. Folds all around except for Mr. Pietzak, the man most likely in our game to have 5-6. The river paired the four, giving me top full house. Now I was hoping he had a four in his hand and couldn't get away from trips, so I threw a bet of decent size out there, hoping for a call. What I got was even better - a raise! Pietzak indeed had the trip fours, and his remaining stack wasn't too large, so I put him all in. As he counted up the chips and ran them into the center, he queried "what, did you slowplay aces or queens again"? I proved him right by flipping over the rockets, he just shook his head and said "that is sooo sick" as he showed 4-7. Bottom pair on the flop, two pair on the turn, and a full house on the river. A hand that improves all the way to the end, but loses to a hidden monster. He was right - that is sick.

The cards continued to be sick enough and improbable enough that the game actually changed. People were limping into pots with all kinds of crap, hoping for a big, implied odds payday. It was like the bad-beat jackpot was suddenly present, like in a casino. People were also paying to see turn and river cards when they would normally not do so, coming along with bottom pair or weak draws. I myself made a small call in a multiway pot with a gutshot draw and nothing else!

I was trying to counter this action by making it expensive to come along when I had a made hand. I raised up ace-queen one time and hit my queen as top pair, top kicker - and did something I rarely do, I bet the full pot to chase away the suckout demons. Come along now, ladies - no free cards for you!

Tony and I traded paint late in the evening, following along with the improbable suckouts theme. I limped in with a suited Ace-Seven. The board missed me completely and I was content to fold, but I got a free turn card where my ace came. I protected with a solid bet but Tony came along for the ride - he didn't believe I had the ace - that I was just betting the ace. The river paired the second-best-card, a jack. I bet again, out of position, and Tony raised. He most obviously could have the jack in his had, but he could also have a weak ace as well and we are chopping on the double-jacked board. They say you shouldn't call a bet hoping for a chop, but Tony knows this as well - all the more reason to raise it up. The price was good enough to take a peek, so I called the raise, and lo-and-behold, Tony had hit the 5 outer with jack-rag (from the big blind) and overtook my top pair.

At around 12:30 pm, I had announced that my next deal would be my last, and the cards were handed to me for dealing. I am wary of playing the last hand just because it's the last hand, so I usually caution myself to avoid potentially costly situations with marginal cards. I apparently threw that admonishment out the window, though, by limping along with King-Nine offsuit, on the button. We got a cheap, raggedy flop that missed me, but everyone checked to me and I took a shot at taking the orphaned chips with a solid bet. Tony, from the big blind, came along for the ride. There were no draws to chase - so I put him on a pocket pair (that might have setted up), or a second-pair type hand. I didn't consider a queen unless it was a queen with an awful kicker - say queen-three.

The turn gave me a pair as well - a nine. Tony checked and I continued my aggression with another solid bet - this time with an actual hand. Tony called again, which had me officially worried. The nine fit in with a couple of straight draws, but there was no way he could have called a flop bet with any of those hands (JT). Maybe his weak queen-kicker was a nine and he had two pair now, or he had two pair from the start on this limped board.

The river improved me even further with a king - I now had my own two pair on an uncoordinated board, and I figured to be best unless Tony had been slowplaying a set or had king-queen. I continued right along with my aggressive play and tossed three red chips into the middle - $15. Tony dropped his head - "tell me you don't have pocket kings." Uh, no - that would have been a sweet last hand of the night, but that's not what I've got. When players name out a hand they don't want you to have, they're usually telling you in a roundabout way what hand they have, but this information flummoxed me a bit. Did he have QQ and a set of queens, played slow? I don't think so. AQ, maybe?

He calls but doesn't look too happy about it. I say "two pair" and flash over my king-nine. His shocked face tells me I have won the hand, but I can't figure out what he could have been check-calling me with on all three streets - until he flips it over.

Pocket aces.

The sneak! He was trying to trap me at my own game. I got cute with the aces last week and stacked him (and Pietzak earlier tonight, although Tony wasn't at the table for that hand). The runner-runner gods sitting around us last night weren't in the mood to have me trapped, I guess - I wriggled out of a 97-3% deficit on the flop to win a nice-sized hand. (though I would have been gone-gone-gone with any flop bet, or a raise on the turn, so there was no way Tony stacks me in this case).

I'm officially running hot, I guess. I doubled my buy-in, and didn't play particularly tricky or tough. I did fire a bluff with ace high into a river, but got called quickly and picked off by Crane who was holding some small pair and had absolutely zero fear of my bet or the two jacks on the board. That was odd - I should probably spend some time figuring out how he picked me off so easily there. I had pocket aces a second time and flopped top set again - this time I won a decent pot by checking the flop, and having my turn bet raised by someone who thought I had checked the flop because I had zero aces instead of two. He ran away quickly when I put him all-in, though. Most of the rest of the night was ABC stuff, which kept me out of trouble.

One thing I need to be wary of in my own play is "fancy play syndrome". I have won two pots with pockets aces in recent weeks by playing them slower. I have spent much time away from the table studying and writing about the light 3-bet - basically "fast-playing" cards like suited connectors or medium aces. What I need to avoid is playing all my hands "backwards'. Playing your cards in a non-standard way is know as "non-standard" for a reason - these plays are not the optimal way of making money. With pocket aces, for example, you want to raise to isolate and get heads-up, if possible - big pocket pairs lose much more often in multiway pots where people are chasing and hitting draws. Hands like nine-ten suited play much better in multiway pots (and
in position), where the payday can be big if your own draws come in.

Some of my recent play has been opposite to the norm. In a regular cash game against the same players, I think these plays are good in the long run - my opponents need to keep guessing. "Did he slowplay aces like that one time?". "Is he three-betting me with connectors again, or does he have the nuts this time?".

I just need to make sure my non-standard plays stay just that way - non-standard.

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