Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Maybe there's another way to play it...

I was at the Stratosphere last night. I witnessed a hand that left me completely baffled.

Our contestants both look to me like celebrities. Seat 5 reminds me of Captain Kangaroo, while Seat 6 looks and sounds just like William H. Macy's character, Jerry Lundegaard, in "Fargo." So I'll refer to them as Captain and Jerry.

Those two plus both blinds (including me, big blind, in Seat 9) limp in. The flop is 5-5-x. It's checked all around. Turn is a king. Captain checks. Jerry makes a pot-sized bet. We blinds fold. Captain calls. I don't remember the river card, but Captain checks, Jerry checks. Captain shows 5-5 for flopped quads. Jerry shows a king and mucks. Captain wins the special $599 flopped-quad jackpot that the poker room has going this month.

Let's consider some of the possible reasons that Captain would play his hand this way.

1. He misread his hand, didn't know what he had. Nope. Even before he revealed it he called out, "High hand bonus!"

2. He misunderstood the rules and thought that if his opponent folded before the showdown he would lose out on the jackpot. This is fairly common among inexperienced players who hit a monster hand, and suddenly realize that they don't know how the promotion works, and can't stop in the middle of the hand to ask. But that's not this guy. He's a local whom I have played with several times before. He shuffles chips expertly. He knows how things work, no doubt about it.

3. He was out of position, so was going for a check-raise. Implausible. This was an incredibly passive table generally, and Jerry was no more likely to get out of line than anybody else. Anybody who tried to play a trapping game was misreading the table unbelievably badly.

4. He was hoping that giving free cards would help somebody make a big enough hand to pay him off. This is plausible for the flop and turn plays, but not for the river. After all, you can't get your monster hand paid off if you don't bet. In fact, as soon as the hand was over Captain explained that he was hoping that Jerry would make a hand that would qualify them for the bad-beat jackpot, which was at $18,000+. Frankly, I don't remember for sure whether a straight flush was possible on the final board, but I don't think so. It was not double-paired, so quads-over-quads was impossible. Worse, by not betting he risked the pot not being big enough to qualify for the $599 bonus. The pot was only $8 before and after the flop. If nothing else, he should have bet at least $2 at some point, hoping to get a call to get the pot to the minimum $10 required for the jackpot.

In short, I can't think of any sound reason why one would not bet out on the river, even if you can imagine a justification for passive play prior to that. Suppose that a straight flush were potentially out there when the board was complete. Are you really going to assume that your opponent has the exact two cards that make that hand, and check out of fear of losing your stack to the only hand that can beat you? That is "monsters under the bed" syndrome on steroids. There will be far more losing hands (straights, flushes, and full houses) that your opponent can have with which he will call a bet or even raise you than ones that can make a straight flush, even when a straight flush is possible (which I don't think it was). Besides, even if you lose your $200 stack to a rivered straight flush, you will win many times that from the bad-beat jackpot. So why not go for some value?

As I said, going for a river check-raise seems unwise, even given Jerry's bet on the turn, because a generally passive player like him will frequently take one stab at a pot, then not bet again. There is clearly more value in leading out with a river bet and hoping for a call or raise than checking with the fairly slim hope of a check-raise.

When I posted the bare bones of the story on Twitter and expressed my puzzlement, my friend Shamus quipped: "He's setting you all up for later when he checks with nothing."

It might be the best explanation anybody can come up with.

CODA: When Captain received his $599 in chips, he asked whether he had to keep them in play. This is a point on which house rules vary quite a bit. Some places require the chips to stay on the table, some require any that will put you over the buy-in cap to be pocketed, some let the player decide. Captain wanted to immediately cash out the whole $599, and just keep playing with what he already had in front of him, which the floor told him was fine. But then an argument broke out about what he would be allowed to do if he happened to want to keep all of that money in play--would he be allowed to? Note that this was not the situation--it was purely hypothetical. Nobody was objecting to Captain pocketing the money. The only question was if he could keep the bonus chips in play if he wanted to. Yet the argument droned on for ten minutes, with players vehemently insisting on one rule or another, claiming that it's done this way or that way everywhere else, blah, blah, blah. Good Lord, it was pointless. The only thing worse than an interminable argument at the poker table over an esoteric rule question is an interminable argument at the poker table over an esoteric rule when there is no possible resolution that will affect the current situation in any way.


matt tag said...

He played it this way because he hates money.

augie said...

captain played the hand perfectly.

what is jerry's likely range on the river? Kx + bluffs.

yes, by checking you run the risk of jerry checking back with a bad king. but checking has much higher EV because he will usually bet a good K again (and sometimes bad ones too) combined with giving him the opportunity to bluff.

it's not about going for a check-raise, it's about getting jerry to put in money on the river. that's probably going to happen if he has a K but if he has a bluff it will only happen if captain checks.

nailedontheriver said...

All a bit strange, collusion always possible.

Anonymous said...

local grinders who play at lower echelon casinos are usually very passive.

Rob said...

Back when I was playing 2/4 limit, I saw this a few times. It's a locals casinos, the players all know each other, and the person with the high hand knows he's gonna get a bigger bonus than the pot is worth, so he's happy with that. But in a NL game, I don't understand that thinking, unless he still figures the high hand bonus is enough.

Anonymous said...

Monsters under the bed should not be allowed to take steriods. They are already scary enough and now somebody is going to get seriously injured.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grump

It's not related to this post, but I thought you might be surprised to find out that Hellmuth's a believer....

Keep up the good work.

Spikey Matt, London