Bear with me. This is indeed a post about poker, but first I want you to “look at this image (below). Imagine this is you. Imagine that the unthinkable has happened and random asocial violence has found you. What would you do? Really think about it. What’s your first move?”
The image above and the statement about imagining your first move came from a book I recently picked up at the local library. The author is Tim Larkin and his tome is titled When Violence is the Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Stake. It’s a fascinating look at danger in society. It argues how those of us unaccustomed to violence in our daily lives often react poorly when faced with actual life-or-death situations. We end up as victims because, well, we let ourselves be. We simply have the wrong mindset when confronted with violence. Let me explain how this relates to poker…
You are in a $5/$10 no-limit cash game that is 7-handed. You are loose, passive, and you generally play badly. You and the tight player in the BB both have $3000 stacks. It is folded to you on the button, where you hold As-6s. You make a standard $40 raise and the BB calls. The flop is Ac-6d-Jh. The BB leads out for $80. You call. The turn is the 7s. The BB bets $200 and you raise to $400. The BB re-raises to $800. You call. The river is the 2s. The BB moves all-in for his last $1900. What should you do?
Focusing on EV [Expected Value] is the single most important difference between an advantage gambler and a recreational gambler; and is even more important than experience or mastery of specific poker skills.” –Collin Moshman & Douglas Zare The Math of Holdem
Limping is not an option for me… Limping is not an option for me… Limping is not an option for me. When I’m first in the pot, I always raise, no exceptions. If I’m going to be the first to commit chips to the pot, I am going to raise or fold. End of story.” –Phil Gordon, Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No-Limit Texas Hold’em
“If you suspect your opponent is bluffing more than one-third of the time [on the river], you should call every time. If you think your opponent is bluffing less than one-third of the time, you should fold every time.” —Ed Miller, The Course
This breakeven percentage value of one-third that Miller cites for villain bluffing frequency derives from an assumption that the villain has made a full pot-size bet into you on the river. For example, let’s say you flopped a set, but now the board has four-flushed on the river. Unfortunately, you don’t have the flush, so you’re either way ahead or way behind (WAWB). The villain’s bet is representative of a strong made flush–or he’s bluffing. You’ve seen the villain play mostly straightforwardly for the past few hours at the table, but you’ve also seen him make a few bluffs, too. So, should you call?
Well, like most things in poker, it depends. In this case, it depends on how likely you think it is your opponent is bluffing in this situation. If it’s greater than a third of the time, you should call. If it’s less, you should fold.
So this means you should almost always fold. Let me explain…
I remember a hand from a $25NL online game I played a few years ago. I was on the button and was dealt a pair of fives. A villain in the UTG+1 seat opened for a standard raise, and the cut-off cold called. Stacks were quite deep (over 150bb) and both players were bad, so I called with good implied odds as a set-mining play. Both blinds folded and we were three-way to a flop. What happened next can only be described as terrible play on my part…
You’re in a $5/$10 NL full-ring 9-handed cash game. Everyone has about $1000 stacks. You raise UTG with Js-Jh. It is folded to an expert player in the SB, who calls. The BB folds, and you see a flop heads up, which is: 2s-2c-Td. The SB leads for $80. You raise to $250, and the SB re-raises you to $650. Your image is tight-aggressive, very tight in EP, and you rarely bluff. What should you do?
- Raise all-in
- Call and fold the turn if he bets again
- Call and get all-in on the turn if no overcard hits
- Call and get all-in on the turn regardless of the turn card
A common leak among beginning poker players is incorrect bet sizing, especially when their bets are too small. You’re not one of these people, right? Right?!
I always shake my head when I see villains making tiny little bets ranging from 25-50% of the pot, and sometimes even smaller. I sat in a juicy online game a while ago where two of the players at the table treated the game like some kind of ersatz limit game, making min-bets that were never larger than the size of the big blind. What exactly were these guys trying to achieve with these itty-bitty bets? I believe they themselves don’t know. Do you? Let’s look a little more closely at this notion…
Here are two hands in which I was dealt an identical pair of ducks in the span of 10 minutes: 2♥-2♦. Both hands took place in a tough full-ring, $100NLHE online cash game. Would you play these two hands the same way I did?
- Hand #1: I have a pair of deuces in the small blind and get open-raised 3xbb by a tricky and aggressive player in late position. He is purposely playing a short-stack of 30bb. He opens for 3x the big blind. The action folds to me. I muck.
- Hand #2: I have a pair of deuces in the CO seat facing a 3xbb raise by a TAg UTG player with a full 100bb stack. I call.
What? Deuces are deuces, right? And the first villain in middle position has a much wider (read: worse) hand range than the second villain in EP, right? Don’t I have the actions in these two hands backward? Nope. Let me explain…
The acid test for any starting hand is the Miracle Flop Test. Take any [hand] and imagine what the best possible flop would be for that hand: If you wish you’d much rather have something else, then your hand is probably trash.” –Jeff Hwang, Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy