Friday, January 20, 2012

"You shouldn't have bet that"

Aria tonight. I raised to $12 from early position with K-Q offsuit, got four callers. Flop came 9-10-J rainbow. How perfect is that?

I bet $25. Sadly, all three opponents folded in turn. I showed my hand while effecting an obviously fake pout about not having been called. (I think it's truly disgusting when people genuinely whine and complain that the pot they just won was too small, so I wanted it to be clear that my little tantrum was purely in jest.)

Three players simultaneously said variations on the title to this post: I should have slow-played it. I should have given them a free card so that one of them could catch up. I should have let them do the betting for me.

I didn't respond. I almost never discuss at the table how a hand was played; I think it's a terrible idea nearly all the time. I have no interest in giving other players new and different (and maybe better) ideas about how to play. Why would I?

I understand the impulse to play possum and pretend like you missed the flop when you actually have the nuts. And there are times when it's clearly the right thing to do. But I think that should not be the default play in that spot. Let's see how many reasons I can list for why a lead-out bet is defensible, and arguably even the best play.

1. I have a big hand, so I want a big pot. The most reliable way to build a big pot is to put money into it at every opportunity, hoping that somebody with a second-best hand will do the same.

2. If it checks around and fourth street is a queen or an 8, it vastly increases the chance that I will have to split the pot with somebody else, and/or that it will kill any shot at being called by somebody who flopped top pair or even two pair, because the straight will be both more obvious and more likely for somebody to be holding.

3. Waiting for the turn to bet means that I'll now have a flush draw on the board about 3/4 of the time. My decisions will then become increasingly complicated.

4. In just a short session, this was already the third time I had raised pre-flop and followed it up with a continuation bet, because I had gotten lucky and hit top pair or better each time. This meant that any players paying attention might think, "He can't have it every time," and decide to draw a line in the sand, calling or even raising with something like top pair, thinking that I most likely whiffed.

5. I know perfectly well that most recreational $1-3 NLHE players can't resist slow-playing monsters like this. Players tend to assume that others think and play the same way they do, which means that the nuts is pretty much the last hand they will think I have when I lead out looking so strong. They will put me on top pair, an overpair, a straight draw, or a pure bluff. Put another way, this is a situation in which I'm being tricky by being straightforward. If I'm lucky enough that one of them flopped two pair or a set, we play for stacks with the odds greatly in my favor, because they will not believe that I have them crushed.

6. Metagame considerations: The typical player in these games will tend to check both his complete misses and his strongest hands, which means that he's leading out betting with a fairly narrow range--mostly one-pair hands. I want to give the impression to anybody paying attention that they cannot reliably put me on a range of hands based on whether or not I c-bet, i.e., that I don't follow the pattern they have come to expect from other players. This is also the primary reason that I showed it after winning the pot (which I only rarely do). Showing a lead-out bet with the nuts means that a continuation bet with air later in the session is more likely to succeed, because opponents will remember that they can't exclude the strongest hands from my range based on the fact that I'm betting.

7. Because several of them will believe that slow-playing is clearly the superior play, they may conclude that this was a beginner's mistake and that I'm less experienced than I actually am. They may decide that I'm straightforward and not tricky, that I bet when I have a good hand and check when I don't. I hope to exploit, dash, and confound all of those expectations later in the session.

8. If I give a free card that pairs the board or puts a flush draw out there that comes in on the river, and I end up losing a big pot to some awful runner-runner combo, I'm going to kick myself down the nearest staircase for misplaying it, and I can't afford the resulting hospital bill.

9. One of Mike Caro's most frequent admonitions is to do the obvious thing. For example, here's a bit from Caro's Most Profitable Hold'em Advice, pages 119-120:
The simplest choice of strategy is usually the best. Exceptions are exceptions for a reason....

The reason I'm telling you this is, once you become skilled at hold'em, it's easy to justify doing the unusual. But the most obvious decision is usually correct. You should make occasional exceptions to keep observant opponents off-guard and to earn extra profit.

But, if you stray too often from what are the simplest and most obvious decisions, you're sure to sacrifice profit.
Of course, as this particular hand played out, it's likely that I could have made more money by checking. Had I known their exact cards--say, that I was up against a pair of deuces, a pair of threes, and a pair of fours--then I might have come to a different conclusion. Letting one of them catch a set on the turn would be about the only way to swell the pot under such circumstances.

But given the range of hands that people usually play against a raiser, and the fact that I had three opponents, there was an excellent chance that that flop hit one of them hard enough that he or she could justify a call or raise. The fact that it wasn't true this time does not dissuade me from the view that a continuation bet was the best move, all things considered.


sevencard2003 said...

i totally agree there are hands u do not slowplay, u bet, and u pray someone else has a hand to raise u with. ive seen more people lose value when 2 people flop monsters, and they BOTH slowplay it til the end and win the bare minimum.

and what do u think of tonites hand histories? notice yesterdays results too. or what about vooks hand where i had 66

Goondingy said...

Very nice breakdown! Here is a question...If you knew that there was a LAG in the hand would you have checked at that point for a check raise? I agreed with everything, as your EV in the short and long run is to bet in that spot into three others and hope that they make a mistake. Though some of us say poker is not gambling, it is, but we want to be the house and get our money in with the best expected return. Back to my question, I don't know if you were in long enough to know but let's just say if you knew, do you play it differently?

Anonymous said...

Mistake was showing the cards in the first place - just muck and move on.

lightning36 said...

Whenever I forget that slow playing the nuts is generally a bad move, I am reminded of it when I allow someone to get a card that kills me -- as I did in a tournament a few days ago.

Having said that ... I had a monster night once at Harrah's Southern Indiana when I had an uber-aggresive guy at the table. Checked my big hands, then check raised his aggro moves. He learned after three of four rebuys. Fortunately, he never hit any lucky cards to crush me.

Grange95 said...

@ Goondingy: I agree with Grump betting out here even if he knows a LAG behind will bet a high percentage of the time. A small feeler bet will almost certainly get called, and there is a good probability of a raise by the LAG which further builds the pot and gives Grump more options for getting it all-in later (raise, check-call and hope to induce bluff bet).

Wine Guy said...

Thanks Grump. I'm one of those former "hidden monster" players. In playing more now, I see the benefits in betting with the current nuts (with, as Mr Caro puts it, some exceptions), but overall it can and does make your pots normally bigger.

Play what you get and hope someone has a piece..Well done, again!

Goondingy said...

@Grange 95...agreed, just wanted to get another point of view especially around a LAG in the hand. As I have had to think, should I bet into him/her and hope that they raise or check now and hope they bet so I can come over the top. I also like the feeler bet concept, bet it small, look weak maybe get raised because of it and repop it after that. Thanks.

Memphis MOJO said...

I was wondering why anon thought showing was a mistake?

Anonymous said...

Re. Why Anon thinks it's not a good idea to show: This is the part I find strange in the metagame analysis ...

"Showing a lead-out bet with the nuts means that a continuation bet with air later in the session is more likely to succeed, because opponents will remember that they can't exclude the strongest hands from my range based on the fact that I'm betting."

Consider an opponent facing a c-bet later in the game - realistically, what would this knowledge make him/her fold? Top pair top kicker? If it's a decision with top pair at 1/2 NL, almost everyone calls c-bet with top pair, any kicker. If it's middle pair/underpair, this information won't change anything since the question is does someone c-bet bet with top pair, not the nuts (since ranges are much more likely to include top pair, rather than the stone cold nuts). If it's air/bottom pair, it really depends on your bluff/real holding ratio. From what I know about the grump, I'd say, he generally wants calls from bottom pairs/worse on c-bets.

If you're double barreling bluffs then this may help fold out a weak top pair later in the game - again, I don't know if you double barrel much, especially from early position with air/a weak holding on the turn.

The downside of showing here is it makes the two folders sure they did the right thing. When people are uncertain if they did the right thing, they tend to play a bit worse than when they're certain they did the right thing.

The other thing this does is it may increase likelihood of calls (especially by better, more observant players who noticed the KQ open in early position) of your early position raises. Maybe you want this because your normal opening range is super premium. I generally would much rather take a pot down with an early position raise than play OOP.

I think aside from inducing tilt by very occasionally showing bluffs, instamuck is dominant strategy at 1/2.

Anonymous said...

How does an 8 increase the odds of a split pot? Am I missing something? A Queen (or King) I understand but an 8?

Anonymous said...

Never mind - a re-read shows that only the Q is for the split and the 8/Q is for the obvious straight.


ASG said...

In my games, the information I would glean off of your show is not that you bet with the nuts (although I think half pot might have been too much to bet) but that you raise light. Especially with what you say about most people calling if they hit anything, why are you raising with that K-Qo pre-flop?