Monday, December 17, 2012

The old razzle-dazzle

My table Saturday night at South Point had at least three players who were smart, experienced, and paying attention. When I have that kind of situation, one of my most reliable strategies is play completely straightforwardly for long enough that the attentive players think they have me pegged, then surprise them.

In particular, whether an opponent puts in a continuation bet after making a pre-flop raise is one of the most recognizable characteristics that attentive players will notice. I think the three most common patterns seen among $1-2 NLHE players are: (1) c-betting every time or nearly so; (2) c-betting every time one's hand is helped by the flop plus all the times that the flop looks like it should have helped a typical pre-flop raising range; and (3) c-betting when the flop is favorable to one's hand, checking when it is not.

I love to be facing opponents in category (3), because they are nearly playing with their cards face up. Reading them is easy. So when I want to lull opponents into thinking that they know where I am in a hand, I first set them up by actually playing style (3). How long I keep it up depends on how the cards fall. It needs to be long enough for my opponents have seen me raise, then either c-bet or not, with predictable results. That can take more or less time, depending on how many raising hands I get dealt early in the session. But I suppose that on average an hour or so is enough to establish me in their eyes as an easy read.

Then it's time to give 'em the razzle-dazzle--slow-play big hands to induce complacency and even larceny, win pots by betting aggressively even when I have whiffed the board.

That's what I did Saturday night. I played completely transparent, ABC poker for the first hour or so. My thinking opponents had plenty of opportunity to learn that if I checked the flop, I was basically giving up on the hand, and if I bet it, I had it. The stage was set.

The trickiest, most dangerous player at the table was, fortunately, on my immediate right. He also had a big stack of over $500. In the hand in question, he limped, then called the raise I put in with J-J. The flop was A-J-x. He checked. I checked behind, knowing that this would convince him that I did not have an ace and did not like seeing the ace on the flop. If he had an ace-rag kind of hand or a medium pair, he would be given reason to think he was probably ahead, and if he had missed completely, he would be emboldened to try to steal.

Sure enough, when some unhelpful rag fell on the turn, he bet $25. I called. He should now put me on either a jack with a good kicker (K or Q) or an unimproved pocket pair below aces. He would know by now that I did not put much money into pots with one-pair hands, especially when not top pair, giving him license to steal. One of his prime characteristics as a player was making serious stabs at pots to which opponents appeared less than fully committed. That is usually an admirable and winning strategy, but it can also be turned against you.

The river was a king. This completed no flush draws, and the only straight possible was Broadway with Q-10 in the hole. While this wasn't impossible for him to have, the odds were against it. The only other way he could theoretically have me beat would be to have A-A or K-K, and his pre-flop play made that almost impossible. I had 90%+ confidence that I had the best hand.

True to form, he took another swipe at the pot with $45 on the river. I had about $150 left. I moved all-in, hoping that he had hit some sort of two-pair hand that he would feel compelled to call with. No such luck this time. He chuckled, turned up his thoroughly unimproved Spanish Inquisition (6-3 offsuit), said, "I have a feeling you can beat this," and mucked. My jacks stayed securely face-down on their return trip to the dealer.

In retrospect, I'm virtually certain that if I had c-bet that flop, he would have folded in a heartbeat. By confounding his expectations--expectations that I had carefully cultivated for just such a moment as this--I got him to put in $70 that I could have won in no other way, with him thinking that it was a prime bluffing situation, when in reality it was anything but.

The icing on the cake was that after the hand was over, he made clear his conclusion that I had had K-K, and his bluff only failed because I had caught a lucky third king on the river. He convinced himself he had been foiled by a 2-outer, when actually he had no shot at succeeding from the get-go. This meant that even after conning him, he still had me pegged as Mr. Straightforward, and I'd be able to con him again! (Note that this would not be possible if I had succumbed to the temptation to boost my ego by showing off my tricky play. Keep your cards to yourselves, kids.) Sadly, another such opportunity did not arise before it was time to go, but I was licking my chops at the thought of it.

Razzle-dazzle 'em,
Show 'em the first-rate sorcerer you are.
Long as you keep 'em way off balance,
How can they spot you got no talents?
Razzle-dazzle 'em,
And they'll make you a star!


sevencard2003 said...

i find it funny that the "best" player at the table was the one i sent u the text was most likely the fish. do u know why i thought that? 2 things, he looked like a young kid in town for the rodeo, and he had a large corona in front of him, reassuring me he couldnt be a good player since he was drinking.

Anonymous said...

Nice Post Grump

Rakewell said...

I don't know why you would think that a beer in front of a player means that he can't be good. Would you conclude that about Scotty Nguyen? Layne Flack? Gavin Smith?

Anonymous said...

I know a few people who are consistent winners who drink while they play.

Michael said...

Interesting read, and enjoyed the strategy portion. I like that you tied it into whether or not to show hands and the value of it.

This type of play is one I like to make as well at a similar type table.

There are times thought that I still think exposing a hand is beneficial to play during a session, I can find no reason to expose yours here though or in instances where you are playing a strategy match, my reasons for exposing are typically related to they type of game being played.

Unknown said...

I really enjoy your strategy posts, Grump. Thanks!