Saturday, January 16, 2010

Folding a set

I've never written up a list of, say, the top ten feelings in poker--successfully bluffing, picking off a bluff, hitting a one-outer, etc. But surely on the list is flopping a set. There's just that wonderful instantaneous "Ahhhhhhh" feeling of anticipation that the pot will be coming your way.

It's not very often I'll fold a flopped set. Of course, once in a while by the river it's clear that an opponent has made a straight or a flush, and you have to do it. But folding a set on the flop is a true rarity. I'm usually willing to risk going broke on the flop with a set, because it's highly unlikely that I can be so convinced that my opponent has me beat that folding seems right. As a general rule, I would have to have a pinpoint read on an opponent and/or be more than 100 big blinds deep before folding becomes a serious consideration.

There are some exceptions to that general rule. In December I played a bizarre hand at the Venetian with my friends Grange95 (see his brand-new blog here) and C.K., in which I flopped a set and both of them flopped flushes. They both went all-in ahead of me. I was sure by that point that one or both of them had a flush, so I would have been willing to fold--but the pot was so big that it was mathematically justified to call in the hopes of making a full house. (It didn't work out. See C.K.'s write-up of the hand here. That's probably the most I've ever lost with a flopped set--it was a $1071 pot, as I recall.)

The point, though, is that it takes some very unusual combination of circumstances in order for folding a set on the flop to make sense. Today I had one such confluence of factors, but I didn't recognize it in time.

I got to Caesars Palace at about 10:30 a.m. and took one of the seats in a $1/$3 NLHE game that was just starting. Yeah, starting a session at that time of day is pretty unusual for me, but there was a method to the madness. This is the "MBA Poker Championship" weekend. Today's tournament started at Caesars at noon, and I wanted to be well entrenched in a game by the time the first losers started busting out of the tournament and looking to play cash. I usually play fairly short sessions, but today I had no other plans or obligations, and I envisioned putting in a long day--8 to 12 hours. I was not going to leave to lock up a profit, but instead stay and let my stack grow and grow. I saw in my mind's eye what the result would be: "Stacks and towers of checks I can't even see over."

It didn't quite work out that way.

About 90 minutes in, I found the red deuces in the big blind. There were two middle-position limpers, then the button raised to $15, a pretty standard amount for this table. I called, as did both limpers. I started the hand with about $275 left of my original $300 buy-in.

The flop was Jh-6h-2s. (Hey, look--the photo above has it just right! What a coincidence!) The pot was about $60. Sometimes I will lead out in this kind of situation, other times check-call, other times check-raise. As they say, it all depends. This was a table that fairly frequently had no aggression and checked around on two or three streets, even with four or five players in, so I couldn't count on a bet. For that reason, I decided to take the lead. I pushed out $45. The donk bet had the added advantage of not risking giving a flush draw a free card, and possibly tempting the original raiser to shove if he had an overpair.

The next guy took a long time to act, but it was obvious in the first few seconds that he was going to raise. He just took a while to settle on an amount. He added another $95 on top. His playing style is crucial here. He was, as far as I had been able to determine, both tight and absolutely uncreative, a purely ABC/textbook player, never out of line. He bet or raised when he had the goods, checked and folded when he didn't. Furthermore, this is obviously a horrible situation in which to try to run a bluff: four players in, first one leading out, two more yet to act behind, including the pre-flop raiser. So there was no question about it--he had something that he liked very much. He also had more chips than anybody else in the hand.

Next guy folded. The button almost instantly pushed all in. I was actually a lot less worried about him than I was about Mr. Conservative. I was about as sure as I could be that the button had a big pair. There was a chance he had started with pocket jacks and had flopped the nuts, but (1) that was statistically much less likely than him having queens, kings, or aces, and (2) I thought that if that were the case he would be more likely to just call, hoping to keep me in the pot, too. I don't think he could reasonably put either of his opponents on a naked flush draw in this situation. At least, if I were in his spot with top set I'd think a flush draw was unlikely, and would be willing to keep the invitation open to the big blind to stay in.

My internal dialogue was short. It was basically, "Button has overpair and is drawing almost dead. I don't think Mr. Conservative limp-called with jacks. He might have sixes, but it's at least as likely that he has two pair or a pair and a flush draw combination. I'm not folding." Shove.

Mr. Conservative can't call fast enough. I show the deuces. Button shows Ah-Ac. Mr. Conservative rolls over the two black jacks. I'll spare you counting my outs: One--the case deuce for quads. Even runner-runner hearts wouldn't save me, since the button had the ace.

No, my one-outer did not hit. I have been saved from a set-under-set situation by quads one time in my poker career (two years ago almost to the day, in fact; see here), and that's probably my lifetime allotment of that particular miracle.

In reflecting on the situation later, I came to realize what a mistake I had made by not thinking it through more carefully. What had run through my mind was essentially the same script that I would have for most flopped-set situations in which either moving all-in or calling all-in is under consideration. There are nearly always enough plausible hands my opponent could have that I have beat to make folding unreasonable: An overpair, a smaller set, some two-pair combination, a pair/flush draw combination, or some monster draw, like a combined straight and flush draw. The move is virtually automatic.

And it being virtually automatic was precisely my downfall today. I've gone through that quick reasoning so many times that the mental road is well worn--maybe even rutted--and it always comes out in the same place. I couldn't (or at least didn't) stop to see if I should, for once, take the road less traveled.

Mr. Conservative would not have limp-called with any overpair to the board. There's no way that he was raising me with a naked flush draw, especially with two players behind him. His raise was much more consistent with defending against a flush draw than trying to hit one. The only straight draw was a gutshot, and again he's never going to raise with that, with two to act behind him and a possible flush coming. Besides, he wouldn't have played something like 3-4 for a raise before the flop. What two-pair combination could he have? None. I should have recognized that it was inconceivable that he called a raise from out of position with J-6, J-2, or 6-2, even suited. Not his style; he wouldn't even limp with such trash to begin with, let alone call a raise. How about a pair and flush draw? Well, the only way he could have that would be if he had the deuce of hearts as one of his cards (e.g., Ah-2h, which would be at least plausible for him to have limp-called with). But I had the deuce of hearts in my hand! I have to confess that this particular rather important insight escaped me in the heat of the moment, because I didn't stop to consider.

In short, if I had thought carefully through the list of all the hands that made sense for Mr. Conservative to have played this way, I would have been left with the unshakable conviction that he held 6-6 or J-J, with the former being more likely than the latter. There was simply nothing else in his range for which his play was plausible. Consequently, I should have concluded that I was reduced to drawing to one out or, maybe, a runner-runner flush, but even the latter possibility was threatened by the button holding any heart.

So this is one of the very rare instances in which the confluence of an opponent's well-proven style, the texture of the flop, and his unusual out-of-position raise of my lead-out bet added up to an inference that I should have seen. I should have made the fold and saved about $200. I was beaten, and the clues to that conclusion were all there. They weren't even all that hard to read and put together; I just didn't do it.

I missed the correct conclusion because I took a shortcut through the deductive reasoning process, applying the general case (there's almost always enough inferior hands in the opponent's range to justify getting it all in) rather than working through a list of the specific hands that this guy could have in this situation. And I paid the price for not thinking it through.

Painful lesson learned, I hope.


I asked my friend Cardgrrl for her thoughts on this hand. She asked me about the possibility of Mr. Conservative having A-J. I should have included a discussion of that above.

It's certainly true that A-J is consistent with his pre-flop play. But if it crossed my mind as a possibility when I was faced with the decision, it was only fleetingly. Perhaps I should have given it more weight. But I almost certainly would not raise with A-J there, and I'm definitely a more aggressive player generally than he is. I would not want to put in $140, then get raised off the hand by the button holding an overpair, or have to call a shove for not too much more as a big underdog. I'd rather exercise some pot control and see what the other players do before going out on that limb. TPTK out of position multi-way is just too dicey to get that committed on the flop. It's not completely out of the running as a possibility, but overall I think it was correct to pretty much discount it, along with overpairs and two-pair combinations.


Grange95 said...

What a gross cooler. Perhaps you could have saved $200, but it is very hard to lay down a set on the flop unless it is more coordinated than this one. Don't beat yourself up too much.

Still, in the calm reflection of hindsight, this is a rare situation where you could justify a fold.

genomeboy said...

Interesting post, thanks for writing it up. Something to think about...I don't get to play as much as you, and I've considered that I'm fairly statistically due for a set over set situation.

I think my best laydown ever was in the early stages of a live tournament at the Borgata (the daily $100+20). I had KK in EP, raised PF got one caller, I lead out on an uncoordinated flop, get raised and fold face up to the flopped set...yay me lol. Not nearly as difficult as folding a bottom set.

Big-O said...

I decided to take the lead. I pushed out $45. The donk bet had the added advantage of not risking giving a flush draw.... you refer to this as a donk bet because that's the bet a beginner would make?
(Just trying to understand your expression or choice of words...)

Rakewell said...

A donk bet is one made by a player in earlier position than the pre-flop raiser. It arose as a mildly derogatory term because it's often a dumb choice, as opposed to letting the raiser put in a continuation bet and check-raising. But it has its place as a good move.

Foucault said...

Interesting spot and nice write-up. I definitely stack off in the heat of the moment, but your analysis is pretty convincing. Thanks for sharing!

mbessette said...

its always really hard to lay down a set when you are only 100 BB deep but there are always times when it is just screaming FOLD!!!! and honestly after you went thru the hand with the button pushing you had the right price but then again after the button pushes did you stop and think what the limper was going to do??? call right... pretty much you knew he was calling the shove... So now i ask what could you beat??? Over pair, flush draw (didnt think he had that) or A,J (but there was no way he reraised you with A,J.. so there really wasnt much you can beat there... I know how 1-2 or 1-3 nlhe play and sometimes you just never know what the hell they could have... so i dont know if i would have been able to fold that hand either but certainly after talking your way thru the hand it was a fold...

Rakewell said...

One of the things that ongoingly perplexes me about blogging is this phenomenon: No matter how clearly and emphatically I admit that I made a mistake, some commenter is sure to come along and add, "Y'know, you kinda screwed up there." No matter how hard or how many times I give myself a verbal kick in the pants for blowing a crucial decision, there will always be somebody who thinks I haven't quite had enough, and delivers one more kick of his own.

People are strange that way.