Monday, June 13, 2011

Call or fold? Conclusion

If you haven't read Part 1 of this post, you should do so first, before proceeding further. In it I describe in detail a difficult decision I had to make and invite you to ponder how you would handle the situation. I'm about to reveal the end of the story, so if you don't want it spoiled, stop reading here and click that link to Part 1.

It's only once or twice a year that I take more than about 60 seconds to make up my mind. This was one of them. I didn't watch the clock, but I'm sure it was more than two minutes, and might have been three. I thought it was a very, very close decision.

The pot was about $281 before his push, and I had to call $136 more, giving me pot odds of 2.0:1. Shifting the numbers around, that means that if I had the winner 48% of the time, I'd break even on a call. (Obviously I'm never going to break even on a call for any one hand. What I mean is that if I face this same decision 100 times and I have the best hand 48 of those times, I will break even over the long run.)

Frankly, I thought that him having one of the two higher straights was more than 50% when just considering the cards and his shove, because, frankly, a shove with anything other than the nuts is terribly dangerous there, given the plausibility that I had the nuts. My first impulse was to fold. But the more I thought about the entire situation--the rapidity of his move, his frustration in the game generally, his desire to beat me specifically, his lack of a bet when given a chance on the flop--the more I discounted the two hands better than mine, and the more I found plausible his sets, two-pair hands, and bluffs.

After shuffling the number around inside my head for as long as I thought my tablemates would tolerate without calling the clock on me, I settled on it being right around 50/50--i.e., 50% he had a higher straight, 50% my third-nuts was good. I knew that the pot odds were right around 2:1, which meant that no matter what I decided, I was not making a large error. I could literally flip a coin and abide by its outcome and I'd be OK in mathematical terms.

It's dangerous to talk oneself into a call, because we all want to win, and folding means automatically not winning. One of the most common mental errors in poker is to overestimate the probability of an opponent having a hand we want him to have--i.e., one that we can beat--and underestimate the opposite. I have certainly made bad calls due to that bias, so I try to guard against it.

But in the end, I felt the balance was tipped by the smaller, subtler considerations of his state of mind and his timing tell. On that basis, I made the crying call.

He said, "Two pair," and flipped over 9-10 suited.

I showed the winner.

There's a coda to the story. As the dealer was pushing me the pot, the guy said, with obvious disgust, "It took you long enough to call." He then stood up and stormed off.

Well, tough beans, buster. Even if you can't understand why, that was very far from an easy call to make. It will probably rank as one of the ten most difficult decisions I'm faced with this year. I offer no apology for taking the time to consider in detail every scrap of information I had and every one of his possible hands, along with the arguments for and against them, just as I've laid out in this retelling. He might think he got slow-rolled, or just think that I'm an idiot who didn't know that a straight should be the best hand there. If so, he's wrong--period.


Anonymous said...


Eddie said...

Sorry Grump, but 2:1 means that you only have to break even 33% of the time, not 48%. Your losses cost you $136, but your wins gain you $281. You only need to win once for every 2 times you lose to be marginally profitable in this spot.

Anonymous said...

Math fail. Pot odds are (281+136):136 ~3.1:1 and you need to be good 25% of the time. You need 48% if he shoves for 12 times the pot...

matt tag said...

2:1 odds mean you have to be right 33%, not 50%. No?

Rakewell said...

You'd think that after five years I'd have learned not to do posts involving math late at night just before going to bed. I always mess it up.

Yes, the correct percentage to break even on a call is 33, not 48. When I have the best hand at showdown, I win $281. When I don't, I lose $136. If p is the probability of having the best hand (some number between 0 and 1), then my winnings are 281p, and my losses are 136 x (1-p). The point at which these two quantities are equal--the break-even point--is represented by the equation

281p = 136(1-p)


281p = 136 - 136p

417p = 136

p = 136/417

p = 0.33

geezer said...

Great call as u know i opted for fold no wonder I suck at no limit a limit grinder for me

The Neophyte said...

Well played Mr Grump sir. Thanks for providing some insight into that hand, I enjoyed it.

ManInBlack said...

Very Classy Slowroll. Like you have shown in your previous bloggings you have no morals. Getting 3:1 on a call and u slowrolled.

Grange95 said...

@ManInBlack: Pot odds don't matter if you're beat. If Grump felt strongly he was beat, even getting 10:1 on a call would be a bad call. I fail to see how thinking through the hand qualifies as a "slow roll".

geezer said...

in Grump's defense a taking time to make a decision is not a slow roll. slow rolling is after the showdown

Anonymous said...

Maybe he figured you had 3rd nuts (or better) and had 2:1 odds, which is why he thought you slow-rolled him?

Andy W said...

I was at the table when this hand occurred. I can say with all certainty that Grump did not slowroll. As soon as V turned his hand over, so did Grump. I think V was kind of a D-bag anyway. He was trying to sit in a 2/5 game but when it didn't go he seemed unsatisfied with sitting in our 1/2 game.
I think the take away for me is that I need to take more time with my decisions. I flubbed it a couple of times this past weekend by not doing so :/