Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Man Who Folds Aces, and other stories from the MGM

Yesterday was another in the roughly twice-yearly series of tournaments sponsored by This time it was at the MGM Grand, so I headed over there in the afternoon to get registered early and play some cash games before the tournament. There were several things worth reporting.

Oh, Those Kids!

On my way to the poker room, I stopped in a restroom. Access to the only two urinals was impeded by a couple of guys in yellow one-piece outfits, rolled down to their waists, clearly trying to figure out how to accomplish something, though what, exactly, I could not say at first. They kindly yielded to let me take care of business.

While I was washing my hands, they finally got into position for their stunt. I turned around and saw this:

While two friends videorecorded the feat, one of these guys was supporting the other urinating while doing a handstand.

Why? Well, there was some sort of team name written on the rear of their odd outfits, and I overheard them talking about what a difficult "task" this one was. From that, I surmise that they are one of several teams attempting to accomplish a list of fun/crazy stunts first (or best), in order to win some prize. But I didn't stop to ask the details. I just took my Weird Photo of the Day and went my way.

Their mothers must be so proud.

The AVP Tournament

This thing was huge. They ended up with something like 330 participants, which I think is triple what they've ever had before. I have no idea how it suddenly exploded in popularity, but it was pretty overwhelming, given what I had come to expect. These used to be fairly small, cozy affairs where I would know a hefty percentage of the players from the AVP forum, but yesterday I had no idea who anybody at my table was, nor they me.

It was all set up in an area away from the main poker room, next to the lion's den. It appears that MGM has decided to start taking the poker tournament market seriously. In addition to sacrificing a sizable area of what had been slot-machine casino floor space, they invested in a bunch of new tables with very attractive felt:

They have also acquired lovely new tournament chips:

I especially like that they are color-keyed to match what we already expect from cash chips--green for 25, black for 100, etc. Nice touch. My only complaint is that the 1000s and 5000s look too much alike from a distance.

A few minutes into the second level of play, I had A-A and reraised the table's most aggressive player, who called. The flop was bone-dry, 2-5-9 rainbow. He bet at it, I shoved all-in. He looked unhappy, asked for a count, then, shaking his head, said, "I've gotta call you." He had K-K. Which was perfectly fine with me, until another king hit the turn, and just that fast I was out.

Well, at least I didn't invest eight hours in the thing, only to have the same result on the bubble.

Laser Read

OK, I'll admit it up front: I'm telling this story only as a brag about how sick-accurate a read I had on one player in the cash game. There were several limpers--including me one off the button with 3-3--before he popped it to $18 from the small blind. As I've said many time, whenever I see a raise that large, I assume the player has J-J until proven otherwise. Two others called, so I did also, pure set-mining.

The flop was A-J-J. Normally my inclination would be to cancel the suspicion that the raiser had J-J. The probability of hitting four of a kind is just too remote to entertain. But I watched his reaction, and he was clearly confused, trying to figure out whether to bet or check. I had not seen anything like this facial expression on him in the hour or so that we had been playing together. He finally settled on a check, but his look and hesitation sealed the deal for me: He had flopped the joint.

Mind you, this was not just a passing thought on my part. I can't prove this to anybody, but I was so convinced of my read that I told myself, "Even if I get a free card and hit a set on the turn, I'm not putting another dime into this pot." Everybody checked.

I don't remember what came on the turn; it didn't matter to me. Our raiser bet and got one caller, who I thought was being foolish not to have noticed what was going on. I folded.

River came. I don't know what it was. I was too focused on watching the players. Our raiser bet again, got another bet out of his caller, then rolled over his J-J flopped quads.

This was a really strange experience that is hard to describe. There have been a few occasions where, with three of a kind on the board, a betting pattern only made sense if a player had the fourth of that rank, and I have on that basis been reasonably confident in making such a read. But I have never before been even remotely this confident that I was up against a pocket pair having made quads on the flop the moment it happened. This time, somehow, I just knew.

They should fire Norman Chad and hire me to do the Jack Links Beef Jerky wild card hands for the WSOP broadcasts.

Pardon Me, But Your Tell is Showing

I mentioned recently (here and here) Jean-Robert Bellande masterfully using a common tell in a reverse fashion, to perfect effect. Yesterday was one of the occasions when its more usual, straightforward reading came into play.

I had 4s-5s in the big blind and called a middle-position raise. The flop was 10-2-2 rainbow, with one spade. I checked, he bet, and I called. I thought that he most likely had two big unpaired cards and whiffed this flop. My plan was this: If he bet strongly on the turn, such that I believed him to have a big pocket pair, I would fold. If he bet weakly, confirming my impression of big unpaired cards, I would check-raise. If he checked behind, I would lead out on the river if it appeared to be a card that would have missed him (i.e., not a Broadway card).

Fourth street brought the 3s. Now I had an open-ended straight flush draw. My plan stayed the same, except that now I would call any reasonable-sized bet he might make, even if he looked overpair-strong, because hitting either my straight or flush on the river would be marvelously disguised, and I would have a good chance of claiming his entire stack.

He checked behind.

Fifth street was the 3c. Dang. Not only did I miss, but bluffing him just became harder, because he might call holding any ace, on the grounds that I might be betting with a weaker ace, and two pair on the board would result in a chopped pot. I was suddenly unsure whether the chances of my planned bluff succeeding were high enough to warrant risking it.

My dilemma was neatly solved, however, when I saw him grab a stack of chips and hold it off the felt in front of his cards, staring right at me, in one of the most flagrant "I'm gonna call you, sucker, so WATCH OUT!" moves I've ever seen.

I had figured out on my own the implication of this gesture before I got around to reading Caro's Book of Poker Tells, but since it's a classic work and Mike Caro is the master, let's let him explain it (pages 212-214 in the 2003 Cardozo reprint, and photo 89):
Among beginning and intermediate players, this is a common method of trying to prevent a bet. The reason players want to stop you from betting is because they hold weak hands with some possibility of winning. In other words, they'd like to see both hands shown down on the table. Then maybe they can salvage the pot. Reaching for chips is intended to show strength and appear threatening. As you now know, players staring at you are less of a threat than those staring away. So here we have a classic example of a woman combining two tells that point in the same direction (looking at the bettor and reaching for her chips). She is probably holding a marginally weak hand. This gives you opportunities to bet hands you would have otherwise checked.
Caro rates this tell as 97% reliable among weak players, 91% reliable among average players, 73% reliable among strong players.

His over-the-top attempt to stop me from betting had precisely the opposite effect: It let me know that it was safe to proceed. I bet about two-thirds the pot, and he flung his cards away in disgust. I suspect he had A-K, and had no idea how far ahead of me he was. (In fact, I literally had the worst possible hand. Anything he held would beat me.) If he hadn't gone for the intimidation move, I well might have decided a bluff would work too infrequently to be profitable and given up.

The Man Who Folds Aces

Shortly before I left for the tournament, this hand went down. I was in the small blind, Seat 1. Seat 3 was under the gun. He was a classic elderly rock. I had been playing with him for nearly two hours, and he had never, never, put in a pre-flop raise. He was so conservative that he wouldn't even bet a nut straight if a possible backdoor flush had come in. I had seen him be aggressive in only two spots, and he had shown the nuts both times.

So when this guy, first to act, fumbled around with his chips trying to decide on an opening raise amount, you can bet that it caught my attention. He settled on just $7. He's got aces or kings, with very little doubt about it. Apparently other players don't pay attention to the same things that I do, because he picked up several callers. Then the guy in Seat 9, on the button, reraised to $27. I had some small suited connectors and had thought about calling; with so many others in the pot and only $5 more to me, and my call likely to close out the action (assuming the big blind didn't raise), it would probably be worthwhile to try to flop a sneaky monster. But the reraise foiled that plan, not only because the price just went up, but because of the heavy likelihood that our Grumpy Old Man (him, not me) would decide he didn't want to be playing from out of position against such a large field, and put in a prohibitive four-bet. I folded.

Sure enough, GOM made it $49 to go. Now the surprising move: Seat 4 five-bet all-in. This was the same guy who had hit the quad jacks earlier--a 30-ish Asian guy. This folded the field back to GOM, who had way more chips than Seat 4. I anticipated an instant call. Instead, he asked the dealer for a count. It was something like $120 more. He grimaced, sighed, thought a few seconds, then said, "OK, I call."

Based on that, I mentally downgraded him from aces to kings. But even with kings it was kind of a strange hesitation. He could not reasonably think that Seat 4 held aces--practically nobody would play aces that way. It should still have been an instacall. Remember, nobody else was left in the hand, so there was no role for feigning weakness in order to lure more money into the pot. I concluded that I would most likely see K-K for GOM, and a medium pocket pair--maybe 8s or 9s--for Seat 4.

I was pretty close on the latter; he flipped over 10-10. But I was astonished when GOM turned up his pocket aces. I mean, sure, that's what I had initially suspected was his most likely hand, but his reluctance to call when faced with an all-in made no sense.

After the board had played out without an upset, Seat 4 was walking away, and GOM was stacking chips, I asked him, "What was all that about asking for a count of his stack and thinking about whether you'd call?"

His face darkened with resentment and defensiveness. "I wanted to know how much it was--is that all right with you?"

"Sure, but is there some amount it could have been that you would not have called?"

"Yes, there is."

I didn't believe this for a second. "Oh really? How much would have been too much for you?"

"A number bigger than he had."

"Really? You'd fold aces if his stack was bigger?"

"Yes. I've done it many times before."

I dropped the matter there. He was either lying but too stubborn to back down, or he was serious and actually plays that way, and I wouldn't want to dissuade him from such stupidity.

There exist rare but valid circumstances in which it can be correct to fold aces before the flop in a tournament. But there are no circumstances in which it is mathematically correct to fold aces before the flop in a cash game.* Pocket aces are at worst about a 3:1 favorite over any hand that your opponent might have. If you're unwilling to wager all the chips you have on the table as a 3:1 or better favorite, you're doin' it wrong. If you're afraid of losing your entire stack because you can't afford to be without it, you shouldn't be playing.

I still can't decide whether (A) this guy is so unbelievably tight in his play that was actually considering a fold there, (B) he lost track of the situation, thought there was still somebody else in the hand that he was trying to reel in, and was unwilling to admit that mistake after the fact, or (C) was putting on a show for no reason, and bizarrely lying to me about it in self-defense afterwards.

I've gotta say that I'm leaning towards A. Maybe he was leveling me, but my read was that he was being straight, and didn't appreciate having his, um, shall we say, unorthodox, methods challenged.

*I say "mathematically" there because Tommy Angelo has famously written about the amazing psychological results he achieved by folding aces before the flop--just to prove to himself that he could do it, and just to see what it felt like. See here.


geezer said...

I'm not defending it as an old nit but Doyle Brunson in "Tales of the Felt" (I think)wrote something to the effect that if (in 7Stud)why risk your whole stack when you may have the best of it later

Rakewell said...

It is rare to find opportunities to get one's entire stack in as a 3:1 or 4:1 favorite. Even rarer is finding spots to get your entire stack in where you know absolutely for certain that you are, in fact, a 3:1 or better favorite. It is foolish to pass up any such opportunities.

Anonymous said...

excellent post <3

"His face darkened with resentment and defensiveness. "I wanted to know how much it was--is that all right with you?"

"Sure, but is there some amount it could have been that you would not have called?"

"Yes, there is.""

made me lol irl

Sebastian X said...

I presume this is the first time you have photographed a young man who is naked from the waist down in a urinal and then published it on the internet. What would your mother say?