Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Again with the 3-betting?

Here are some links that offer fantastic strategy discussion for NL cash games:

Deuce Plays Episode 11: BalugaWhale (Part 2): BalugaWhale talks about the merits of 3-betting vs. flatting preflop. He expands on Samoleus' claims that poker players 3-bet too frequently, which I had critiqued.

A Bad Habit of 3-betting and Range Choice
: This 2+2 thread offers insight into play from the blinds, with critical comments from BalugaWhale and BobboFitos.

Duel: RiverBoatKing (#3) - 25/50 HUNL: Continuation bet more on dry boards; float less on wet boards.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My range is better than your range

Here's a simple guideline that came to mind after listening, watching and reading too much about poker:

The last raise on any street represents the strongest range.

By keeping this rule of thumb in mind, it's easier to deduce which player is representing the strongest range and evaluate how your actual holding compares.

If your perceived range is significantly better than your opponent's, then running aggressive bluffs can create plenty of folds. Likewise, if your perceived range is weaker than your opponent's, you can induce bluffs or get extra value on later streets.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fog of War

Tommy Angelo calls it the Fog: the lack of clarity that infringes on good decision-making in the heat of battle.

The way to break through the Fog is through practice and repetition. If you know how to make the right move and anticipate your opponents' actions well, pretty soon it won't be any different to play your best in real time.

The Fog is most difficult to fight through when the pressure is on: when stacks are on the line, you're running bad, you're playing higher stakes, you're out of position, you're playing a marginal hand, the clock is ticking, or you're going with a sick read.

The best play is the play you would make if you had all the time in the world to review the hand, if you could post on forums, if you could calculate the equities and figure out how best to manipulate your opponent's range. By doing this kind of work away from the table, it's more likely the correct move will be made when it counts.

DogIsHead writes that you only really have control of three key decisions when you decide to play: game selection, state of mind and length of session. He says that your gametime strategic moves don't really constitute decisions because you should already know how you'll react before you even sit down:

It’s important to realize that at any moment you’re playing, the set of all strategies that you’d use in response to a any situation is already embedded in your brain – in a way, you don’t have control over that. That is, you can’t suddenly “decide” to use a strategy that you don’t know is a good strategy, or “decide” to not make a mistake in a spot where you’re already predisposed to make a mistake. So, for example, if you tend to call too many 3-bets with weak hands, in that moment you have no control over this leak of yours; it’s a part of your average EV in that moment. Over time you can change these predispositions and make your game slowly stronger as you gain more and more good habits and break bad ones, and your EV per hand will slowly increase over time. But in any moment, the factors over which you exert genuine control as a poker player are actually surprisingly small.
Perhaps the Fog falls under "state of mind," but it's not something DogIsHead mentions in his extensive post.

Remember to make the best decision possible. Be aware of the Fog and clear it. Anticipate possible outcomes and execute a plan just as it was constructed ahead of time.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

HU25: Found a leak

Conventional wisdom says that top pair is usually the nuts in heads-up games. That kind of thinking isn't always constructive.

Here's a hand that helped me realize when I should consider laying down top pair or simply folding preflop:

Full Tilt Poker $2/$4 No Limit Hold'em - 2 players
The Official DeucesCracked.com Hand History Converter

BB: $425.50
Hero (BTN/SB): $400.00

Pre Flop: ($6.00) Hero is BTN/SB with QQ of hearts 99 of clubs

Hero raises to $12, BB raises to $42, Hero calls $30

Flop: ($84.00) 77 of hearts 22 of clubs QQ of clubs (2 players)

BB bets $48, Hero calls $48

Turn: ($180.00) 33 of spades (2 players)

BB bets $110, Hero raises to $310 all in, BB calls $200

River: ($800.00) TT of clubs (2 players - 1 is all in)

Final Pot: $800.00
BB shows AA of clubs QQ of diamonds (a pair of Queens)
Hero shows QQ of hearts 99 of clubs (a pair of Queens)
BB wins $799.50
(Rake: $0.50)

My opponent in this hand was 3-betting me frequently (about 18 percent), so I thought I could justify a call in position with Q9o. When I hit top pair on the flop, I was willing to put it all in on most turn cards.

Using stoxev, I later learned that this isn't the best line against many opponents. Here are my conclusions:

_ Q9o is a pretty awful hand to call a 3-bet with, even in position heads-up. My simulation shows that Q9o doesn't become profitable in this hand example unless I'm against an aggressive opponent who's 3-betting around 30 percent of the time or more.

_ If I were to see a flop with Q9o against a more typical opponent (someone 3-betting around 18 percent of the time), the least -EV approach is to call two streets and fold the river. While there are times where this line is appropriate, I generally avoid the call-call-fold approach because it's too easy to get bluffed off the best hand.

_ Calling the flop and shoving the turn makes more money than simply raising the flop and getting it in, but not by much.

_ If my Q9 were suited or I had QJo or better, calling preflop and shoving the turn starts to show a profit.

_ Despite the two clubs on this board, this is still a pretty dry flop. Q9o with top pair performs better when there are a few more draws out there.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Loss Leaders

I haven't been playing much poker the last couple of weeks, mostly because a friend is visiting. While away from the tables, I've been asking myself a question:

Is it ever a good idea to make a -EV play?

My general answer is "no." I've always subscribed to the philosophy that I should be willing to gamble on a coin flip so that I don't look like a nit, but I won't take the worst of it like a sucker.

However, there may be times when making a play as a "loss leader" could be acceptable for metagame reasons. Here are a few possibilities:

1) Playing low pocket pairs from early position in a full ring game for deception. I accept that low pocket pairs from utg and utg+1 are probably break-even at best, but it's possible that they pay off in less obvious ways. For example, they raise your EP VP$IP, which makes it slightly more likely you'll get paid off with other premium hands from the same position. Also, I would think low pockets are more effective in lower-stakes games where opponents are more likely to stack off with overpairs. Folding these hands makes more sense in games with a lot of 3-betting.

2) Shoving all-in on the flop with a high flush draw early in a heads-up match. I don't like making this move, but it's been effective for my opponents because they tilt me easily when the flush card hits. The result of pushing a flush draw early in a match is that an opponent will read it as a fishy, overagressive play. If that kind of move is done within a broader gameplan, it could pay off later on.

3) Defending the big blind liberally. It's difficult to play out of position, but playing back at aggressive players from the blinds makes it more likely that observant stealers will make mistakes in the future. For example, they may stop stealing so much, or they may 4-bet too lightly.

I don't like making -EV plays, and I usually win by making the best decisions possible. But I wouldn't be surprised if some of these kinds of maniacal tendencies pay off by misleading opponents in their future actions.