Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cash games 101

Yesterday, a friend of mine described a situation where he considered it a bad beat and that without that hand, he woulda made more money. I'm sure what he did not expect was the critique that I immediately gave regarding the hand. And there were three of us on the email chain and I was actually shocked that they didn't see what I saw. So, I thought I would share that with you all for those that are looking to improve your cash game play. The situation is as follows:

"I played 187 during lunch, net of $22. Would of had more if for not some clown calling my $2 raise (had AK, .25/.50 table) preflop. Flop come 2-10-K. He bets like 1.50, I raise to 4. He calls. Turn is a Q. He checks, I bet (crazy?) $6, smooth calls. wft?? River is another Q. I check, bets like $6 into the pot. I call, he's got XX off. Loved it." <--- loved it was very sarcastic cuz it was a bad beat

I didn't edit this except for the villain's hand just so you could all get the actual feeling. I'm sure there are plenty of you that could totally relate to that. I mean I've heard it and I've seen it from so many people so many times. However, when I saw this email, there was no compassion. Instead, I immediately broke this hand down because it was actually a pretty poorly played hand in my opinion. Maybe some of you will agree with me, maybe some of you won't. But think about what I am saying here.

Based on his description of "he bets, I raise" the villain here limped from EP and my friend there raised to $2, 4xBB preflop.

Flop comes K-10-2. Fairly favorable flop for my friend with TPTK. However, the villain comes out firing into this pot. He bets $1.50 into a pot containing $4.50. My friend, assuming he's ahead, bumps it up to $4. Sounds good right? Well, not so fast.

Personally, I don't like that raise at all. Villain limp calls so he could have a marginal hand like QJ. K-10-2 is a safe looking board but can turn into a dangerous board in a hurry so if I were him, I'd want to take this hand down here with what I assume to be ahead. Even better would be if the villain has K-x. You're only behind to K-10 or K-2 if the villain has a king so you want to build the pot there. So, I think if he's gonna raise, he needs to put in a defining raise instead of raising it to $4 where now the villain just has to call $2.50 into a pot containing $10. 4:1 odds? Pretty unlikely to fold with those kinda odds if the hand is good enough to at least put in a probe bet. Plus a bump to $4 really isn't defining your hand. I think he shoulda raised it to like $8. Again, let him know you have a strong king and end it there.

Turn is a Q. Now the board is K-10-2-Q. If I were him, I hate that queen. Villain checks and my friend bets out. In the email, you see him ask "crazy?" My response? Yes. Q was a very sh*tty card in so many ways. If the guy had KQ, you just got beat. Now it's quite possible that the player here has a hand like QJ and just caught a pair. In which case my friend is still ahead. However, this is a spot where I would actually slow down. When I asked him why he bet out, he said he wanted to take the hand down there. The only problem now is that there's not too much value in betting here. Of course, if the guy has a hand like QJ, you might risk giving him another free card. But now, I want to control the pot. Here's the reason why. Since you initially failed to define your hand on the flop, you don't really know what the guy has. Sure he could have had a worse king in which case you are ahead (assuming he doesn't have KQ). If he had a hand like QJ, he only caught a pair and still has to draw out on you. Either way, you just don't really know where you stand. So, betting $6 really has no value here. If you can take it down with a $6 bet into a $12 pot, he didn't have anything. In other words, in that case, you want him to stick around. So, if the bet is intended to take the pot down, you had to bet more. Otherwise, checking is a good option because you control the pot size AND might induce him to bet on the river with a worse hand.

Now, let's stop here. For those of you that wondered "wait, you said you wanted to take the pot down on the flop but not on the turn. what changed?" That's a good question. But quite a few things. K-10-2 is a raggy board. Pretty safe with your TPTK. So, you want to define your hand there and if the villain is going to stick around with some sort of a hand, you want to make sure he pays for it. So, if the villain has some sort of a goofy hand, a good raise would take it down. But now that a Q has hit, the board is starting to get a little tricky. Considering you don't have too many outs at this point if you're behind, you want to be careful. Again, I stress on the part where I said if half a pot bet is good enough to take it down, then that means that the villain had a hand where you want him to stick around and possibly bluff at you on the river.

River comes another Q. Nightmare at this point. Villain bets $6 into a $22 pot and so my friend has to call. What did the villain end up having? J-9 for a guth shot straight draw into the turn. Sure, it was a crappy hand but a hand that wouldn't have been there if the flop raise was more defined. A hand that my friend could have saved some money if he checked the turn and kept the pot small.

When I mentioned this on the email, they were shocked that I suggested not betting the turn. One of the reasoning was "if the guy had a hand like A-10, he would fold there." Yeah true... but if he had a hand like A-10 on the turn, you WANT HIM in the hand. You don't want him to go away. He's drawing to 3 outs. Sure, 7% of the time, you might let him catch you but 93% of the time, you're gonna make more money by checking the turn because with the Q river, he definitely won't put you on the Q and you disguised your TPTK by checking the turn. He might figure he's 10 is good and bet out. If he checks, you can value bet and get some chips out of him there.

Also, another contradictory statement made by my friend was that this was a no fold'em table. Familiar? Of course. We've all been there right? Well, if it's so "no fold'em" then make them pay for their draws. Put a stronger raise on the flop. Define your hand and make them define theirs. Putting in a weak bet does nothing but sweeten the pot. Once you define your hand and he calls, then you can assume he's got something too. Then, control the pot size. Unless you have a monster, don't go crazy and don't think you're gonna take it down, even if you've seen a guy who calls the flop and then folds on the turn. Especially with such a dangerous turn card. You have to see the texture of the flop and the turn and what the opponent could hold. Then you have to decide whether you want him in the hand or out of the hand. The only holding you might want to protect yourself from a draw after the turn card is if the villain has QJ because now he's open ended and has a pair (though J won't be an out since it'll give my friend a straight).

Varying the speed with which you play even in the same hand is very important. You can be aggressive on one street, slow down on the next, only to speed it back up is perfectly fine and it will keep your opponents off balance. All in all, is this hand so poorly played? Aside from the flop, probably not. But remember, in a cash game, it's maximizing your winnings and minimizing your losses. And to do that, you want to be in control of manipulating the pot size. Learning to think that way has improved my cash game results.


SirFWALGMan said...

Nice post. Checking on the river gives his opponent the license to bluff him off the hand if he has something or not.. I think the J9 guy HAS to make more on the river there too.. he caught a gutshot so now he needs the implied odds to pay off.. he could have gotta paid more.. I bet your friend calls a 18$ bet and cries about that too..

Mike Maloney said...

Excellent post. Really liked the analysis.

Fuel55 said...

Nice situational shift on the turn. Like i said - TIME TO MOVE UP.

1/2 of this game is pot control. Make it big when you are good and make it small when you might not be.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Great post.

I actually like the way he played this hand though. I wonder if you did not know this turned into a bad beat first, if you would have had the same criticisms that you did on how he played it.

Raising to $2 for a 4x raise preflop with AKo is IMO the right move. When the guy bets out $1.50 on the flop, I actually like the raise with TPTK to try to find out if he's ahead. I think checking and thereby getting no information about what his opponent is betting is really not the right way to go, as you will surely face another bet on the turn and won't have a clue if this guy could have KT, 22, QJ or something else.

You commented that the raise was not enough here. I don't see it that way. Don't get me wrong, I think a larger raise would have been fine too, but raising the flop bet by nearly 3 times the size of the bet is in my view not something that can be called too small. That's like a guy betting out in those 2-4 games we like so much with a $12 bet into an $11 pot on the flop, and then raising his bet to $30. To me that actually seems like a fairly standard raise size. We could debate whether a little more would have been better, but I just don't see how that raise size is the wrong move.

The Queen on the turn is not a great card, but I don't see how it's nearly as terrible as you seem to think. Much rather have it be a 4 or something, don't get me wrong, but AK on a KQT2 board is not a bad situation in my mind, especially when his opponent checked that turn to him. I think not betting would be defensible there, but then you're allowing him to draw for free at a probable inside or open-ended straight draw. I do not agree with checking in that spot. The better question is what to do if your opponent leads out again, in which case I think TPTK is starting to look pretty crappy. But I actually like the bet after his opponent checked on the turn -- I would be thinking my opponent probably has a pair and a straight draw of some kind, and I would want to either try to chase him out or at least get him to call a bet at poor odds to try to run me down.

I certainly agree with calling for $6 into the $22 pot at the end, although the $6 bet when the second Queen comes does not inspire much optimism in my mind about my winning chances. Actually I think that was the worst part of the whole hand -- the too-small amount that his opponent bet there with the miracle inside straight draw.

In the end, the opponent IMO played this hand atrociously on almost every street, not your friend. He called a 4x preflop raise with J9o, clearly a hugely -EV move over time. He bet out with just an inside straight draw against a preflop raiser on a flop with two high cards, an almost suicidally dumbo move in my view, and then complemented that by calling a 2.7x raise as well with just that same inside straight draw (with no overcards, btw). So far that is beyond atrocious poker in my view. The turn then completes the miracle inside straight that this guy has been betting to preflop and on the flop, and what does he do after showing all this strength in the hand? Now he checks. To me this is terrible, terrible poker after your friend had raised preflop and raised again on the flop, indicating a strong hand that likely connected in a nice way with this high-card board. Then his opponent only smooth calls your friend's bet on the turn, which I think is fine but I could also see raising here to try to chase out any higher straight draw of boat draw, and certainly to try to figure out if your friend might have AJ for a higher straight already made. Then the opponent finishes up by betting only $6 into a $22 pot, in a situation where clearly your friend likes his hand, has something strong, and has indicated on every street a willingness to put money into the pot.

As I said I'm not saying your friend played it perfectly necessarily, but I really think the opponent's play was atrocious. Beyond atrocious, actually. I would venture to say that that guy has not got a clue about how to play nlh in general.

Really enjoying your posts lately Alan. Your blog is quickly becoming one of my favorite reads, for posts just like this one.

Matt said...

"One of the reasoning was "if the guy had a hand like A-10, he would fold there." Yeah true... but if he had a hand like A-10 on the turn, you WANT HIM in the hand."

Key advice right there. IMO, this often gets overlooked in the face of bad beats and short-term goals. Being afraid of the suckout results in overbetting the pot results in leaving money on the table or getting priced in against a dominating hand. It took me some time to realize this (which I do forget from time to time) and it's made me a better player. Hopefully it does the same for your friend.

Good post, as always.