Saturday, March 10, 2012

Every tool at my disposal

A monster cash game last night nets me 294 big blinds. Good fortune was involved, as it always is on a winning night, but I also used a few new tricks, and some old ones, to keep chips coming my way.

One hand stands out in particular. 2 limpers to me with ace-jack offsuit. I play "punish the limpers" for 5 bigs. Everyone folds except for one player, I'll call him Sonny. We're heads up to the flop.

I've played with Sonny 2 or 3 times before. He's pretty good postflop. He thinks about his opponents' actions and looks for spots to take pots away. I played a hand with him last year where I bet a flush draw down to the river and ended up rivering third pair. I made a river bluff, just continuing my action, and he woke up and raised me. I couldn't really see what he was representing, but couldn't really call with third pair either, so I folded. He showed second pair - so he was bluffing me with also, but happened to be holding the best hand.

"I had you on the flush draw", he said as he gathered the pot. Nice read for sure, but I didn't like his raise much. What does it accomplish? If he thinks I'm bluffing the river, just snap me off with second pair, call the bet, and take the pot down. Raising isn't getting many folds from better hands, as I recall.

So now fast-forward to last night. We're heads up to the flop, with me in position and as the aggressor. I hit my top pair on an ace-eight-deuce board. No flush draws. A nice dry board for me. He checks to the raiser, and I follow through with an $8 bet. Sonny thinks for a second and then checkraises me to $22.

My default play here is to fold my top pair/meh kicker. Sonny looks like he wants to play for a big pot, and I don't have a very big hand. Wading into big pots with medium strength hands is a pretty good way to lose a bunch of money. But this time, I take a bit of extra time to try and decipher the meaning of the bet and what this decent opponent is trying to do to me.

Sonny limped preflop. I'm not worried about ace-king or ace-queen, these are raising hands, and this player would have definitely opened them for a raise. (Sonny limps into too many pots, but he raises with somewhere around the top 15-20% of hands). So I don't think I'm losing the kicker battle if he has a pair of aces. Did he flop a set? If so, he held pocket aces, eights, or twos preflop. Aces or eights are raising hands, for sure - I can't put him on either of these. Pocket deuces could go either way - I think it's more likely that Sonny would limp with deuces preflop than raise them, so 22 is a definitely possible holding.

Left in the list of hands that beat me are two-pair hands. The garbage hand Eight-Deuce is eliminated, Sonny's a bit loose preflop, but not that loose. Ace-rag hands are always distinct possibilities, though, so I can't rule out A2 or A8.

So that's it. 22, A2, or A8 beat me. I can rule out all other logical hands that beat ace-jack right now.

Is Sonny capable of bluffing? My story from the hand last year is proof that he can obviously bluff me. It also shows that he's capable of turning a showdown-value hand into a bluff. Look what happens to Sonny's possible hands once we know that he has this move in his arsenal. All other ace-x hands from Ace-2 to Ace-Ten must get added to his range. I'm beating more of those than I'm losing to. We also have to add Eight-x hands to his range, like 78 and 89, perhaps even some gappers like 86, 8T, or 8J. He might even have a bottom pair like king-deuce suited that he's turning into a bluff.

Suddenly his range looks pretty lopsided - way more bluffs than value hands. I am beating way more than I'm losing to.

Finally, I take one extra second to look over at my opponent. I am consciously, deliberately working on the science of poker tells right now, and this sure seems like a great time to make the effort to look over there and see if I can pick up anything. I'm admittedly a babe in the woods at this part of my game - a hopeless amateur - but it seems to me like Sonny is not all that comfortable right now. His lips seemed pursed - something I definitely read about earlier this week. He glances over and me and then looks away very fast - he doesn't want to meet my eyes. His posture seems stiff.

My decision seems clear - even if it's well out of my comfort zone - I am ahead right now, and the best way to maximize EV on this hand is to call him down. I make the call, with one mental provision - if the turn bet looks like he wants to play for our entire 150 big blind effective stack, then I will not continue.

The turn bricks low, a three or four. One more raggy ace beats me, all the other weak-hand bluffs stay behind. This time, I'm watching him intently as he considers his action. "Same bet, twenty two" he says, sliding four red and two white chips across the betting line.

I can stop looking for tells now. I have used the phrase "same bet" myself, and I know what it means. "Same bet" means he knows he has to keep his foot on the gas and make some bet, and he knows he can't bet less than he did on the last street, but he also doesn't want to bluff off his entire stack to someone who seems to like that ace on the board. I call the turn bet, much more confident that I'm ahead. All I have to do is avoid him hitting his two pair or trips. Since I won't know what card that is (any Ace-x is in play, cards near the eight are scary, and any eight or deuce), I will have to watch that river bet size again.

I honestly don't remember the river card. Sonny looked at it for a few seconds, frozen stiff. He didn't look any more comfortable than he did on the flop. Wordlessly, he tapped the table, all but surrendering the pot to me. The pot was plenty big enough for my medium strength hand ace already, and I didn't think he could call a bet with most of his holdings. There was no point in betting the river, even though I was pretty sure I was ahead. "Ace-Jack", I said, flipping over my cards.

"The jack plays", said Sonny, hinting that he had a worse ace (but also not showing his cards). "Nice Hand", he offered, as his cards hit the muck.


Memphis MOJO said...

Nicely played, sir, and good write-up, too.

Play Poker said...

Awesome blog

I read your blog.Nice written you have.Thanks for sharing your experience.

Zach Elwood said...

Nice. What you should try to do now is study him when he's got a strong hand and notice the differences. You may have noticed a reliable tell; you may not have. Because you've really just started studying him, it's possible he always acts this way and you just haven't noticed.

So you should write a follow-up blog about studying him a few times when he's strong and a few more times when he's weak. If he did have an Ace it's entirely possible he felt he was ahead, so it's kind of hard to say if this was really his bluffing behavior or common "middle-strength" behavior.