A few years ago I was showing a family friend how to play online poker. My friend dabbles occasionally at poker, but he doesn’t believe that the online games are beatable. It’s rigged, he says. It’s filled with ‘bots. And any kind of poker–live or online–is all about hot streaks and lucky runs, anyway. You can’t beat a random chance game in the long-term. So why study and read about the game? Worse, why write a damn blog about it?
My friend is so sure of himself, that he basically calls me a liar whenever I point out that I make a decent hourly wage at this online “hobby,” and thereby fund the occasional large discretionary purchase in my personal life through my winnings at the tables. Well, he doesn’t actually use the word “liar,” instead choosing the less inflammatory, “You’re so full of sh!t” term of endearment.
Anyway, in my long-running effort to convince him that he’s the one who is full of sh!t, I opened a couple of micro-stakes fast-fold “Zone” poker games when he had stopped by to visit with his wife. Here’s what happened:
Twenty minutes into the session, we were chipping up pretty consistently and almost doubled our starting stack through basic value betting, blind stealing, and the occasional well-timed continuation bet. We weren’t really taking crazy chances, nor were we getting out of line at all. Just plain-Jane value-centric ABC poker, which is the key to crushing these micro games.
Then we picked up pocket eights under the gun.
When You Have The Best–But Vulnerable–Hand: Bet!
I opened for 3x the big blind with my two snowmen. The UTG+1 Villain cold-called and the big blind Villain also called.
As some wag occasionally says, the board was “rather favorable”: We flopped top-set on a two-tone, very coordinated and wet board of 8s-7s-6d. The big blind checked, and the action was on us. There are tons of dangerous draws on this board, and it connects very strongly with both villain ranges, so the right play here is to fire out a healthy bet for value–and to price out draws. There are a bunch of worse hands in both Villains’ ranges that can and will call here, and we absolutely don’t want to let a free card come on the turn so they can improve. It’s a sin to give a free card in poker.
So I c-bet 80% of the pot. Neither villain folded, which is a good thing. If they were on draws, they took the worst of it by calling. Only T-9, 5-4, and the improbable 9-5 straights had us currently beat. There were lots of other hands that both villains could have on the flop that we were ahead of, including straights and flush draws, lesser sets, two pair hands, and some strongish one-pair hands.
An Ugly Turn Card
Unfortunately, the turn was an ugly 9s, completing lots of straight draws and, of course, quite a few flushes. Even an over-set now was possible. Hell, straight flushes were not crazy to think about. If we were up against a single villain, another bet might have been warranted, but multi-way OOP, it was probably time to shut it down and go into a pot-control mode. The goal was now to get to a showdown cheaply. There were suddenly far too many ways we could be beaten here. I was going to check and hope if the first Villain checked to us.
…ah, but the first Villain donked into us on this super wet board. The good news–kind of– was he did so with one of those bizarre tiny little bets that are so worthless. He was offering us something like 6:1 pot odds to call. That said, calling was actually a hard choice here, because we were in a sandwich situation, with another player left to act after us (who could raise). In the end we did call, knowing we were likely beaten, but also figuring we had maybe 10 outs for the board to pair if we didn’t get re-raised. If UTG+1 did re-raise us, however, we’d sigh, fold and move on.
The good news is the villain behind us also called and we went to the river. The bad news is the Jh river card did not pair anything, and in fact made an already horrifically wet board even worse. The Villain in the big blind tanked for a bit, and then led out relatively big. I thought for a moment, and then quietly mucked my hand (but also hit the “sit out next hand” button so we could watch the hand get played out and I could do a screen capture for later post-mortem analysis).
My friend was angry. No, make that: my friend was apoplectic that I folded. He basically yelled at me, “Are you nuts! You have a set! You know how rare three of a kind is? He could be bluffing! There’s a ton of money in the pot! You can’t just give up on all that money you put in there! Are you crazy? You have to make this call!”
Uh, no. First of all, 95% of players at the micro-stakes don’t know how to bluff on the river. Second, people are even less inclined to bluff into multiway pots. Third, there were tons of hands in both players’ ranges that had us crushed, and, actually, there were very few hands that I was still beating.
Folding is always zero-EV while calling in this spot was almost certainly negative-EV.
Oh, and however much money I already put into the pot was irrelevant; sunk costs are sunk costs, and should have zero influence on the current decision moving forward.
Expected Results, Both On- and Off- the Tables
As it turns out, Villain #2 re-jammed over the top, the first Villain called, and the cards were turned up. The Villain in the big blind turned over T-9 for a flopped straight, and the UTG+1 player had some junky flush that got there on the Turn to take the pot. Our own flopped top set would have been the third best hand on the river–by a mile.
And it absolutely didn’t surprise me.
My friend, however, remained unconvinced. He mumbled and grumbled and then said something under his breath about how I play scared poker. “You let them bully you!” he said.
I responded with, yes, in fact, I do play scared.
Because it works.
There are a number of reasons why I make consistent, long-term money playing poker– and why my friend doesn’t. Chief among these reasons is Discipline: Discipline to be patient. Discipline to pay attention. Discipline to make reads. And the discipline to believe and trust in those reads– even if that means folding what looks like a strong hand.
Alas, my friend still doesn’t get it, and probably never will. He’s not afraid to call in these kinds of spots. But I am. And our win rates will forever reflect the difference.
Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.