I was playing at the Palms last night and found myself with an extraordinarily difficult decision to make. I thought I would share it with you.
The situation is actually pretty simple on the surface. I was under the gun, looking down at Q-Q. I put in what had been my standard raise for that table to $15 (this is a $1-3 no-limit game). There was one caller in middle position. Then the small blind raised to $85. He had about $300 in chips total. I had about $400. While I was thinking about what to do, the middle-position caller looked completely bored and impatient--I was about as certain as I could be that he would fold, no matter what I did (which proved to be the case), so we can essentially leave him out of the picture, except for the fact that he has contributed some dead money to the pot.
This sort of problem obviously boils down to an assessment of what possible hands am I up against. If it's A-K, well, I'm not thrilled to flip a coin for this much money, because if I wait, some better situation than that will come up. On the other hand, I am a slight favorite (about 56%), so if comes to that, I won't object. If he has A-Q or J-J or anything worse, I'd be delighted to get as much money into the pot as possible.
The dilemma, of course, is that he could be sitting on K-K or A-A, in which case I'm about a 4:1 underdog. Those are the only two hands that have me worried.
Everything depends on what this particular player would do here with various holdings, so let me tell you about him. He's loud and obnoxious, just about my least favorite sort of person to share the table with. He's late 50s, wearing fancy designer clothes and sunglasses. He tries to tell everybody what to do. He thinks he knows the rules and procedures better than the dealers do. On about half of hands, he acts out of turn, just ignoring the player to his right--and he doesn't stop no matter how many times he is asked to wait for his turn. He absurdly flirts with the cocktail waitresses. He talks loudly with a friend at the table between hands in a language that I think is modern Hebrew--often during hands, too, no matter how many times the dealers remind him of the English-only rule. (Obviously, rules are for lesser people than him.) At one point in the evening, he opens a package that I'm guessing was a frequent-player reward from the Palms--some sort of carry bag. He literally just tosses the wrapping and stuffing paper over his shoulder onto the floor, when there was a wastebasket within six feet of his seat. He's just the sort of egocentric jerk to think, "Somebody else can pick that up for me."
As for his playing style, for the most part he's a pretty bad calling station. When he does get aggressive, sometimes it's with a rare premium holding, but at least as often it's with something mediocre that he is way overplaying--not bluffing, really, just oblivious to signs of strength from opponents, as if blasting away will resolve the situation in his favor.
He and I have had exactly one previous significant encounter, and I think it hugely influences how both he and I are thinking here, so I'll tell you about it. For the most part, I was playing perfectly straightforwardly. But of course I have to throw in a few change-ups. This was one of them. I raised to $15 from the cutoff position with a 4-5 offsuit. This guy was my only caller. The flop came what turned out to be an absolutely perfect Q-4-5, because he was sitting on A-Q. He checked, I bet just under the size of the pot. He called. Turn was a 10 and the fourth suit (so no flush draws possible). Again, check, substantial bet, call. River was another blank that I don't remember. He checked. I pushed all in for my last $109. He thought for a long time, then finally called. When he saw that I had won, and that I had raised with a lousy 4-5 offsuit before the flop, he cursed at me, and said to anybody who would listen, "Who plays crap like that?" and "How am I supposed to put him on 4-5 when he raises?" That, of course, is precisely the point of playing hands like that once in a while, but I guess that is beyond his comprehension. He said that he thought I had A-K, even though I hadn't played a missed flop like that at any time in the session. (Frankly, I don't think he pays enough attention to hands that he's not in to have any idea of what I am or am not capable of doing.)
He has had to rebuy a couple of times (including after that hand, which almost wiped him out), and both he and I know that most of the money I've made tonight has come from him. That history raises the real possibility that he is out for some revenge, and/or may be suspicious that my raise on this hand is more B.S. from me.
I'm struck particularly by the size of the reraise. Most players with A-A or K-K would not put in a nearly six-fold reraise. They would raise to $45 or $50, maybe as much as $60, but something that is easier for a weaker hand to call. $85 seems to me mostly likely to be J-J, maybe 10-10, and I would think Q-Q if not for the fact that that's what I have, making it highly unlikely that he has the other two of them. A-K is also distinctly possible, with him not wanting to have to play the whole hand against me from out of position, and thus raising enough to take it down now, or at least find out if I'm looking like I have the two hands he would be worried about, namely A-A or K-K. He could also do this with complete crap, with his enormous ego driving him to want me to fold so he could show me (and the rest of the table) a bluff.
I pretty quickly rule out calling. It's not a terrible move, but I think it's the worst of my three choices here. If I call and the flop has an ace or king and he bets at it, I can get away. But the only reason to get away in that situation is if he has A-K. If he has A-A or K-K, I want to get away from it now, not before I give him an additional $70. Worse is that he might bet at such a flop with J-J or 10-10, in which case I will give him $70, then fold way the best hand. So I rule this out, and decide that I have to choose betwen folding and moving all-in (because there is no point in a smaller raise).
Folding is a real possibility. I'm ahead for the session. I've got a comfortable read on this table and think I can continue to play profitably without a lot of risk of losing my whole stack. I've only invested $15 on this hand. But there is this huge consideration: You've heard that money you don't lose is just as valuable as money you win. That's undoubtedly true. But it's also true that money you don't win is just as lost as money that you did actually lose. In other words, it's not true that folding means merely a $15 loss. It also means the loss of almost $300 that I might have won. The opportunities to win $300 in one shot in a $1-3 game are few and far between, and I don't want to miss one, if the situation is a right.
Raising all-in is the other viable option. If he has 10-10 or J-J, I think he will probably fold, guessing that I have A-A or K-K, especially since I raised from the one-hole, and I'll have $100 in profit with no further risk--not a bad outcome at all. But, of course, I'm happy to have him call with J-J or 10-10. I can't decide whether he is more likely to call or fold with A-K, but it doesn't much matter, because I'm essentially neutral about such a call. There's a small chance that he would fold K-K, fearing that I have A-A, but it's not really very likely. The argument against the raise here is the old "you'll only get called if you're beat." That's not quite true here, because of all of the A-K combinations he could have, but still, if he calls, I'm going to dread seeing his cards.
Here's the math: According to Poker Stove, if I have Q-Q and my opponent's range is A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, and A-K, given the frequency with which he might have all of those, and the possibility of us splitting the pot, my equity here is 52.4% to his 47.6%. I didn't know that precisely at the time, of course, but it wasn't hard to guess that it was going to run just about 50/50. That's because I'm exactly as far ahead of 10-10 and J-J as I am behind K-K and A-A, against the unlikely Q-Q we're exactly even, and against A-K I'm a slight favorite. Surprisingly, even if we remove 10-10 from his range, I only drop slightly in equity, down to 47.4%, so still just about even.
So there's the situation, in as much detail as I think I can relate it. What should I do? I'll return tomorrow with the end of the story.