Tuesday, October 28, 2008

HU18: Hand Reading

Because the number of playable hands can be insanely wide in heads-up play, MasterLJ recommends narrowing down an opponent's holdings based on "hand reading" rather than the traditional "hand ranges."

He describes this method in "Heads Up: Zero to Sixty in 15,5650 Seconds, Part 3 of 6."

Instead of starting with an assumption of what your opponent could have, MasterLJ suggests using deductive reasoning to determine your opponent's hand type. You ask yourself, "would my opponent play a draw like that? Would he play top pair like that? Would he bluff this kind of flop?"

It's difficult to evaluate hands HU based mostly on hand ranges, which is what most full ring and six-max players are used to. Thinking about other ways to deduce my opponents' holdings will help my game, although it'll take a lot of practice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

HU17: War of Preflop Aggression

Scribbling down a few notes based on a few heads-up matches:

_ It's suicidal to try to 3-bet a minraiser too much. The only thing it accomplishes is building a pot out of position, which isn't profitable. Against a frequent 3-bettor, minraising from the button is a perfectly viable strategy, which Krantz uses at times in DeucesCracked videos. Calling those minraises should be the default play.

_ I love it when heads-up matches turn into battles of escalating preflop aggression. To counter 3-bets you can 4-bet, and to counter 4-bets you can 5-bet all-in preflop. Because the 5-bet is the last bet to go in, the 4-bettor has to be careful to properly balance his range to avoid folding too much once the pot has already grown large.

There's also a neat downward trickling effect, where a loose 5-bettor will start to see more 4-bets for value than as bluffs and a tight 5-bettor will see more 4-bets as bluffs. If someone is 4-betting too much, some opponents may be less likely to 3-bet unless they intend to call or reraise all-in in response. These adjustments go up and down the ladder, and there are many matches where it's not too hard to find a 3-bet, 4-bet or 5-bet range that your opponent isn't properly responding to.

_ I tried an experiment where I never cold-called out of position, choosing always to either fold or 3-bet. It worked pretty well in this limited trial, although I'm not sure how well it would do as a broad strategy because I'm putting more money in out of position with some marginal hands. Playing this way avoids the annoying dilemma of 3-betting strong hands and weak hands but cold-calling with a well-defined range of hands like K9o and QTo that will check-fold when they miss the flop. I wouldn't recommend 3-betting so much against passive opponents or calling stations.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Formula for Success

The Formula for Success is: Amount risked/ (Current Pot + Amount Risked)

Like many poker concepts, the Formula for Success is really just common sense given a name. But the naming of it helps solidify the idea, making it easier to understand much like "semibluffing," "stack to pot ratio" and a thousand other terms.

One of the most practical uses of the Formula for Success is to determine the percentage of the time a bluff needs to work to show a profit, as discussed in CardRunners' "Heads Up: Zero to Sixty in 15,5650 Seconds, Part 1 of 6."

For example, you can figure how often a continuation bet needs to get a fold to be successful, assuming you have 0 equity otherwise.

A pot-sized continuation bet needs to work: 50 percent of the time
3/4 pot c-bet: 42.86 percent
2/3 pot c-bet: 40 percent
1/2 pot c-bet: 33.33 percent

The formula works equally well when figuring how often a 4-bet needs to work, as discussed in DeucesCracked's Spaceman in a Cowboy Suit: Ep. 6.

In the DC example, a $93 raise/4-bet needs to get a fold about 64 percent of the time if there's $53 already in the pot.

Another way to use the formula is to figure out whether how often a call in an all-in pot needs to be profitable, which I referenced in my last post.

In that usage, calculating the amount of a call relative to the total pot size will determine how often you need to win the pot when you call. From there, you can do additional math to account for hand ranges, outs or other factors.

Warning: I make math mistakes sometimes. Please point out any errors if you see them.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Beating on shorty

Edits to correct. See comments for details. Apologies for errors. Thanks spritpot.

Short stackers are annoying, but they don't have to be unprofitable.

You can beat them if you fold and call their 20 BB 3-bet all-ins accurately. You can pin down their range using the 3-bet percentage statistic in either Holdem Manager or PokerTracker3.

1) Against a shortstacker who 3-bets all-in 13 percent of the time, for a range of 55+,A8+,KQ, and I raise to 3 BB preflop and my shortstacking villain 3-bets all-in for 20 BB:

I have to call 17 BB to win 24.5 BB (including the blinds). That means I need to win the hand 41 percent of the time when I call [bet/(bet + pot)=17/(17+24.5)=.41].

So using PokerStove to find hands that wins more than 41 percent of the time, I would call with only:

44+, A9s+, ATo+, KQs

*Checking my work: (.41)(24.5) + (.59)(-17)=~0

2) Against a shortstacker who 3-bets all in 10 percent of the time, for a range of 99+,A9+,KQ:

I should call with 22+, ATs+,AJo+

3) Against a shortstacker who 3-bets all in only 8 percent of the time, for a range of 88+,AJ+,KQ:

I should call with 88+, AJs+, AQo+.

In general, the cutoff for calling is around AT and mid-pocket pairs.

Please read the comments and follow-up spritpot post on this topic.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shortstack Fail

I believe that while a strong shortstacker can achieve consistent winrates playing a tight, mostly formulaic style, a skilled deeper-stacked player can make even more money.

There's no doubt that shortstacks can win in no limit cash games. As long as they accurately evaluate how their ranges fare against their opponents' range for calling 3bets and folding to 3bets, they'll profit. This evaluation is pretty easy to do using programs like PokerStove.

The most profitable situations for shortstackers come when they can collect pots from players who make an initial raise but can't call a 20 BB shove. They also make money if they can target a player who calls or folds to their preflop shoves too frequently.

These situations create advantages for the shortstacker that a deeper-stacked player doesn't have. In heads-up situations, however, a deeper-stacked player can adjust his raising and calling range to mostly negate the shorty's stack advantage.

The problem for shortstackers is that they must play a tighter range than their deeper-stacked opponents. If a shorty plays too loose, he'll bleed equity that's essential to his profitability.

The deeper-stacked player gains from many situations that the shorty misses out on. Deep stacks can play a much wider range of hands, creating more stealing opportunities. They get more play postflop, which provides more chances to get larger amounts of money in with a bigger equity advantage. In essence, deeper stacks are in a better position to take advantage of other, less-skilled deep-stacked players.

In a world of shortstacks, the deep-stacked player loses because he's forced to play their game. But in tables with several deep stacks, you want to maximize your earnings when you have an edge against the other deep stacks.

I'm biased against shortstacks because they prevent me from playing the style of poker I want to play. I'll concede that their brand of poker is valid, but it's far from ideal.

Plus, it must suck to sit around and play a tight, push-or-fold strategy all day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What are pot odds?

At a spread-limit hold'em table in Biloxi in 2004, a player got check-raised on the river in a large pot. I don't remember the hand at all, but I remember what the player said.

"The pot odds say I've got to call," he said.

He put in the bet, and sure enough the opponent who check-raised showed the nuts and raked the pot.

Then a snooty dealer felt the need to open his mouth.

"Those aren't pot odds. Pot odds are something else entirely," the dealer muttered with a sigh, as if he was finally fed up with listening to people speak like they knew what they were talking about.

I had only been studying poker for a few months at the time, so I didn't speak up.

More than four years later, I'm still convinced the dealer was wrong.

There are two primary uses of the term "pot odds," and both are valid:

1) "The amount in the pot weighed against the amount invested to continue playing," according to the PuntingAce poker glossary. Similar definitions can be found here.

In this sense of the term, pot odds are used to determine whether you should call a bet based on the chances of your hand improving before the river. For example, if you have a flush draw with one card to come and you only have to call a bet that's less than one-fifth of the pot size, it could be said that you have "pot odds" to continue.

2) "Pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of a contemplated call," according to Wikipedia.

This broader definition can be used to make a decision on the river. When you have to call $10 into a $40 pot, your pot odds are 4:1. If you believe you're good more than one in five times, you should call the small bet.

The second meaning is the one the Biloxi dealer objected to, but I can't see how his more limited interpretation of "pot odds" can possibly be the only correct one. Pot odds apply both when you're likely behind with a hand that could improve, and on the river when there's no further chance to hit.

I should have realized that dealers don't always know what they're talking about.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Protecting your hand

I almost always 3-bet with TT+ and AQ+ regardless of position because these hands figure to be the best hand preflop.

My reraise is for value, yes. But it also defines and protects my hand, which is sometimes a difficult concept for me to understand because it isn't strictly a value bet or a bluff.

What I mean to say is that if JJ figures to be best against a cutoff raiser and I'm on the button, why not cold call preflop and extract value on later streets?

One reason is that I want to get worse hands to call, like drawing hands or high cards.

Another reason is that I want to know when I'm beat. JJ is the nuts preflop until I have reason to believe it's not. There's value in 3-betting preflop until a 4-bet tells me there isn't. Many players won't 4-bet with less than the very best hands, and against those types of players I should fold my JJ preflop.

The same goes for check-raising with hands like K9o on a K86 rainbow board. I most likely have the best hand, and many times I'll want to go ahead and take control, win the hand right then or get draws to call at a bad price.

There's also merit in check-calling a continuation bet and playing the turn from there. But calling instead of raising simply because I believe I have the best hand on average isn't necessarily the best play.

Monday, October 06, 2008

HU16: Understanding Swings

Without a doubt, the swings in heads-up poker are bigger. You play more and more hands as there are fewer and fewer players, which increases hand ranges and volatility.

Realizing the swings are more dramatic, I tried to embrace them by pushing hands too hard and fast, bluffing too much, having a tough time making laydowns and expecting my time to come just around the corner.

Even heads-up, you can go hours or days without making big hands. Just because heads-up poker has larger swings, that doesn't mean those swings will happen this hand, next hand or the hand after that. Cards have no memory, and they don't care how long it's been since something went your way.

It's easy for me to think that I should overplay any random open-ended straight draw or flush draw on the flop because those draws can be powerful hands, especially HU where your opponent is less likely to have a hand himself.

But I still have to play poker, regardless of perceptions of a hand's inherent strength. I have to read hands, interpret bet sizes, weigh pot odds and play well. Thoughtlessly shoving it in is never a good play.

Video watched: Spaceman in a Cowboy Hat, Ep. 5