Sunday, November 07, 2010

Your decision?

It's time once again to play "You decide." Once in a while I'm faced with a difficult decision for a lot of chips, and I try to present the situation to my loyal readers and ask how they'd handle it. These are the decisions on which my poker success largely rides. I'd like to think I get them right more often that my average opponent does, but who knows? I have certainly posted my share of examples of blowing the big ones in spectacular fashion.

I was at Mandalay Bay this afternoon. I had been playing for maybe 45 minutes, and had increased my $300 buy-in to $392. I found 3c-3s in second position and called a raise to $10 from the under-the-gun player. Player in the small blind reraised to $30. As in most $1-2 NLHE games in town, light three-bets are not common, so this definitely got my attention. UTG folded, and it was back to me.

I'll tell you what little I can about my opponent. First of all, he's a toothpick chewer, which sets a two-digit upper limit on his IQ. He's obviously a tourist, paying more attention to the football games than the poker game. He has commented about how he's losing every sports bet he made. (I try to pay attention to such small self-revelations, because they can influence one's judgment of an opponent's mental/emotional state.) Perhaps most importantly, I've seen him overplay top-pair hands. He is no maniac or bully, but neither is he a calling station. My impression was that he basically plays his own hand pretty straightforwardly, and has little feel for where he is with respect to an opponent's holdings. He's not at all afraid of putting chips in the middle. He isn't exactly reckless, but he also doesn't really have the degree of caution that one should with medium-strength hands. He's also very friendly, doesn't get upset when he loses, doesn't gloat when he wins. It seems that he's one to whom the money really doesn't matter a lot--or perhaps he's deeply stuck between poker and the sports book (he was at the table before me, so I didn't know his history) and past the threshold of pain, beyond which further losses don't hurt much anymore. His stack had gone up and down some, but I had not seen him rebuy. I couldn't remember whether I had seen him put in any pre-flop 3-bets before. (My bad there.)

He had me covered by $50 or so, which meant that I felt I could justify set-mining in hope of a double-up. Still, $30 is a lot to pay to see a flop, when the great majority of the time I'll have to give it up thereafter. His most likely hands at this point were, obviously, any of the big pairs. A minority of players at this level will play medium pairs this way; they want to claim the pot now and not have to agonize about the inevitable overcards on the flop. Some--especially those who play more tournaments than cash games--will play A-K like this, even out of position. (I think that's a big mistake, but what do I know?)

I decided to call, but even as I did, I was wondering what sort of flop I'd like to see. I wanted a 3, of course, but what else? With any A, K, Q, or J I would have a serious worry about being trapped in a set-over-set scenario. Obviously, this can happen even after a single raise, but usually the reraise--especially from out of position--sufficiently narrows a player's range that high cards on the flop are scarier in terms of representing a big set. In other words, when I call one raise, I'm delighted to see something like A-K-3, because it is much more likely that the raiser made a big pair that he's happy with--or even two pair--than that he made a set. After a pre-flop reraise, though, I'm going to be much more leery that one of those big ones was his gin card.*

So there I was, $30 into the pot and unsure of what to do even if I were to see on the flop one of the two cards that I was praying for.

I did: Ah-3h-Jc. Good news and bad news: Loved my set, hated the fear that he had a bigger monster than mine, and I was about to get gobbled up, like T-Rex mangling the velociraptors at the end of "Jurassic Park."

He bet $60 and went back to watching the football game. Seemed pretty comfortable, but I couldn't claim to have any sort of solid feel for how strong he was. I thought about raising. A shove would be too much, but maybe a 2.5 or 3x raise. If he had, say, K-K or Q-Q, that might well end the matter. If he just called, though, I still have a dilemma: is he trapping me, or does he have A-K and I have prematurely put him on alert, thus limiting my potential win? And what if he were to come back over the top with an all-in? Could I really be sufficiently persuaded by that that I'm deep in doo-doo and must fold? My head was swimming.

I took the coward's way out and just called. I suppose I could claim that it was in the interest of pot control, but after I had embarked on the pre-flop call with the justification of stacking him, the idea of "pot control" seems pretty silly. I might also be tempted to claim that I was floating him, with the intention of seeing what he did on the turn before committing myself. There's something to that, but the real truth is that I was feeling just like the weak calling station I recently described this way:

[He]is caught between fear and hope. Fear makes him reject the raise, and hope makes him reject the fold. Calling is what's left.
I'm not proud of myself for being indecisive, but that's how it is sometimes (though hopefully not too often). I called.

The turn was the 6s. My opponent bet again, a $100 stack this time, with little hesitation and no evidence of fear in his face or hands. Was this justifiable confidence in the strength of his cards? Foolish overconfidence? Bluffing bravado? Complete nonchalance and detachment from the outcome? I couldn't tell.

Once again, without being able to provide you a satisfactory justification for why, I neither folded nor pulled the trigger on a shove; I called, leaving myself $202 behind and, to be honest, having no idea what I would do with any river card except for the case 3.

The river was the 2h. I was not very worried about him having been on a flush draw, nor about him having a straight with the extremely unlikely 4-5. The deuce, like the 6 before it, appeared to have basically changed nothing. I was still either way ahead or way behind, with no way to be sure.

My opponent thought a few seconds, then checked. How should I interpret this? Maybe he had missed the flop and turn with K-K or Q-Q and was now giving up, convinced that I had an ace. But conversely, it might just mean that he did, in fact, have a bigger set with A-A or J-J, and was worried that I had rivered him with a flush (or, less likely, a straight), in which case my goose was still cooked.

So, dear readers, here's your big moment of decision. I'll give you three options.

(A) Check behind, cross your fingers, and hope that you're good. (B) Make, say, a $100 bet, in the hope of folding to save yourself one stack if he check-raises all in. After all, if he has something like A-K, he might well call another $100, but be scared off by a shove. (C) Make the hero shove. He might call with A-K, thinking that you're representing the flush when you really have K-K or Q-Q. It's possible, though less likely, that he has A-J and won't be able to get away from top two pair. Heck, maybe he is disciplined enough, or sufficient afraid of the flush, that he'd even fold J-J or A-A.

Think about it. Use the comments to submit your decision, if you like. I'll wait 24 hours, then post what I did and what happened.

*I spent some time playing with Grange95 this weekend--about which I expect to write more soon--and we were talking about the phenomenon of getting the worst possible card, the one that cinches the hand for your opponent, but makes you love your second-best hand enough to lose everything on it. E.g., the card that makes your nut flush and his straight flush. I suggested that this be called the gin card--not for the usual reason you hear that term, but because it makes you turn to a bottle of gin for solace.


Shrike said...

C>B>A. I'm certainly not checking back a set in these circumstances, and I'd bet-call in case b), but since that's not a valid option, I go with c) and hope this straightforward player will call with all his 2-pair hands and maybe even TPTK sometimes.


Bob@ThreeRiversPoker said...

It feels to me like he has A-K, so I'd go ahead and shove, hoping I was right and hoping that he thinks I'm falsely representing a made flush and calls. (And, like you said, Grump, if you're wrong and he has a better set here, there's a chance he could fold it.)

The second best option is to check.

I don't like option (B) at all. Getting check-raised -- though it seems highly unlikely -- would be a disaster. And, being that this guy is a casual player more concerned with the football game, I'm not sure he calls a $100 bet with A-K but folds to a $200 one. You could easily end up leaving money on the table.

That's my two cents. Look forward to reading the outcome. I've certainly been known to be wrong before.

Anonymous said...

He checked b/c he was worried you made your flush. I shove and represent the flush and put him to a tough decision. I put him on top pair big kicker or two pair. Set over set is rare and even if he's got you in that rare position he still might fold to a shove when faced with a possible flush.

sigszilla said...

He's got AK, I believe. I'd go ahead and shove like ever so many a hero and hope he hero-calls with big slick or AJ (even better).

phrankguy1 said...

I think you're far ahead here and in a value bet situation, bet $100 and hope for the call. He raises, you have no choice but to call, you'd be pot committed with your remaining hundred bucks. I don't think shoving is bad play either, but less likely to get a call when you have the best of it.

matt tag said...

firstly, fold preflop. You don't have the 15:1 implied odds to play for your set.

Once you flop your set, because you didn't have the implied odds to start with, that also means that the stacks were deep enough to ever worry about folding. You don't fold. If he has AA or KK, then the proper play is to ship all of your chips to your opponent. So we really don't care if it's set over set.

Bob has it correct - you stick the rest of your stack in. He doesn't fold AK, and he might make hero calls with AQ/AJ if he can deduce that your line doesn't feel like a made flush.

I don't like the smaller value bet here - I think we need to maximize vs. AK - which is a very likely hand for him to be holding.

Anonymous said...

Grump is only calling $20 more pre flop - he does have the implied odds.

Shove, you're giving up too much value not to.

Memphis MOJO said...

I stink at cash games. Having said that, I'd stick my chips out there. I think it's 75% (or more) you have him beat and the odds are pretty good he'll call.

CrabblerK3 said...

I think you pull out the bread and make yourself a jamwich. This looks an awful lot like AK.

My thoughts:
- In my experience, the majority of players at this level will attempt to trap with AA when they hit a set. I don't think he leads out of position with a flopped top set, even with the flush/straight draw on board.
- I don't see the player you have described 3 betting PF with AJ.
- Pot on the flop and you stuck around. Got gun shy and 1/2 potted on the turn. Scared of the made flush on the river so he checked it to you. He's confused by your 4 calls, never showing any aggression when 2 others have.

I say ship it and expect to get called by AK 60% of the time. What I actually would do is check it, because I'm a donkey.

The Poker Meister said...

With $400 effective stacks, it's a marginal call PF. However, that's not what we're discussing here. Grump has made his hand- the second best hand he can hope for given any pocket pair (with the best hand being quads). I just can't see a player such as described bombing two streets and then checking the river if he has a set. What is he hoping for? You to turn your hand into a bluff and push the river? If he has a higher set, the only thing I can see him doing on the river is pushing $~200 remaining into what should be a $~400 pot already. Remember: he's not one to evaluate the strength of his opponent's hand, he's one to evaluate the strength of his own hand. He knows he no longer holds the nuts, but he also knows that he holds a very strong second-best hand.

I push and watch him show up with AK. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong for $200 on my greediness, not $400 - because I'm absolutely calling a $200 bet on the river from him if he pushes the remainder of his stack, and could have seen the showdown for $200 less than actual.

Anonymous said...

Preflop: We are playing 1-2 and have 392 behind, approx 200BB, and villain has us covered so we are playing deep. With the UTG raise to 10, our call, and the 3bet to 30 (I'm assuming that UTG folded to the 3bet) there is 50 in the pot and a 20 bet to us. We now have 382 behind, meaning our implied odds to set mine are 18.1 to 1, not counting the 2.5 bets already in the pot. This is plenty good to set mine heads-up, plus we have position which matters for the purpose of getting it in if we hit.

Flop: Bingo, we hit our set. Now while villain could have a set, he is far more likely to be holding a combination of AK, AQ, or even AJ. Might also be holding KK, QQ.

For the record, I can count on one hand the number of times I have folded a set on the flop, and those time have usually involved heavy action on a board far more coordinated than this one. If Villain has a over set here, so be it, and based on our reads, I don't think we can fold to his aggressive betting, I think we should be thinking about how to get all the chips in the middle.

Calling the 60 bet on the flop is fine.

Turn: Now villain bet 100. The pot is now 285 (minus 5 for rake?). If we call the 100, the pot will now be 385, leaving us with 202 behind. Calling puts us beyond the commitment threshold. The stack to pot ration will be approx 1 to 2. It's time to commit. Calling here is a serious mistake. By not raising all in we risk losing equity from a scary river that would cause villain not to call with AK, AQ, a large majority of hands which he may be holding.

I can not fold a set here, not based on your reads. If you said that this guy was the nit of nits, and only 3 bet with big pocket pairs and double barreled with sets, ok maybe, maybe we fold. But in this spot, we need to get it all in.

River: The question to me here is how to value bet. All-in or shove. I probably go with the 100 bet because it is more likely to be called by AK, AQ. Very few villains at this level fold top two pair to a shove with AJ, so that hand leads me to opt towards going all in, although I don't think you have much folding equity if he does have a set, the person you described does not seem capable of folding a set to a shove on the river.

Michael said...

Personally, I don't think he has a set. Why? He 3 bet pre flop but led out on the flop and on the turn. if he's a casual player more interested in the games he's going to slow play a big set like AA or JJ. He's going to feign weakness to get you to bet for him.

since he led out on the flop, we can figure he doesn't have a middle pair that he was just trying to end the betting with pre flop. That leaves a big ace or top two.

You called 20 pre with a pair of 3s to hit your set. you did. even better, you caught your set with an A on the flop against a pre flop 3 better so you have to put him on at least top pair.

you then called the turn for what? you called because you thought your set was good. if it was good on the flop, it's good on the turn. He checked the river because he was afraid you caught your flush and he knows he can't beat a flush. he's not trapping, he's protecting his pair of Aces or Aces up and just is hoping it's good.

I'd bet that if you put 100 out there he's just as likely to call or fold as if you put 200 out there. if you bet half and he shoves, you shouldn't fold anyway because you're committed. for an extra hundo, you better call just to make sure you're correct.

I just shove because you stand to make more money from him with his bad hand than you're likely to lose to a hand that beats you. yes, you should only get called by a better hand in this situation but given this player as you described, I don't think you're beaten unless he played suited broadway and had a straight draw and a flush draw that hit.

shove and hope for the best.

as far as calling pre, you had to call 20 to win his whole stack which is what you're positioned for. so, it's not a bad call. the problem is you made your hand and got stuck. what flop did you want that was better than bottom set with one or more broadway cards to give him a big pair or top two?

Bob@ThreeRiversPoker said...

Yeah, that last anonymous poster makes a good point about not raising the turn. If the way this hand played out is you shoved on the river and villain folded AK, that third heart (and your own tentative play) cost you serious money.

Me? I'd have probably just raised on the flop. Eight times out of ten villain thinks you're pushing back with an ace or flush draw while hoping he doesn't have AK. And if he does have AK, he either calls or reraises. Which is music to your ears, considering your set.