Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's the little things that count

The little cards, that is.

Last night I was playing at Aria with my friend Poker Lawyer, who was in town for a few days. Shortly before the events described herein transpired, we were also joined by another friend, Stump.

I had 2c-4c on the button and called a raise to $15 from a middle-position player. PL was on my left in the small blind, and reraised to $45. I called, and it was just us to the flop. I don't remember what hit, except that it was completely uncoordinated and had a 4. Which, of course, was plenty of reason to call her $50 flop bet, knowing that I either already had the best hand (if she was playing A-K), or would improve to it with two pair or trips on the turn or river. Turn card was a blank. She checked. I moved all in for my last $110 or so. She folded. I showed. She said, "Every trip to Vegas I lose $100 to you when you have that hand!"

She is, apparently, learning, however. She won a big pot with 2-4 when I was away from the table on a phone call.

Not long after that 2-4 hand I had 6s-3s. The 6-3 is a hand that my friend Grange95 and his other Iowa poker-playing friends call "The Spanish Inquisition," because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. (I have written about this a few times before. See here.) I raised to $13. The guy to PL's left called. His play was a completely straightforward, conservative, ABC style. (He also bragged to us about his niece the porn star, but that's another story.) Flop: 6-3-6 with two diamonds. OK, that might be good for me.

I was surprised that Porn Star Uncle led out with a $20 bet, but I was happy that he had a hand that he liked well enough to do that with. I was guessing a medium pair, 7s or 8s or 9s. He tended to reraise pre-flop with 10s or higher. I didn't really think he had a flush draw, because he was not the type to take over the betting lead with a draw. I also didn't think he had a straight draw, because even if he had called me with a 4-5 (presumably suited), I didn't think he would lead out with it. I hoped against hope that he had 3-3 in the hole, though this seemed unlikely. I called.

Turn was 4d. This time he bet $35. He was not one to lead out betting twice without a hand that he liked a lot, so I felt confident now putting in a raise to $100. He rechecked his hole cards before calling. Aha! He probably has a big pair with a diamond, and he was playing it more cautiously pre-flop than most people would. I don't think he would call that raise with just an overpair unless it included a big diamond, hoping for a flush. I mentally joined him in hoping that he would get there.

He did. The river was the 7d. Now, this put a four-card straight flush on the board, which gave me a bit of pause. But he checked to me. If he had the 5d, I didn't think he would take a chance on missing a value bet if I got scared by that board and checked behind. I also didn't think he would have bet out on the flop with just a gutshot straight-flush draw. Furthermore, since both the 4d and 6d were on the board, he couldn't have started with suited connectors that included the 5d, and I didn't read him for being somebody who would play gappers after a pre-flop raise. And, finally, if I flop a full house and lose to runner-runner straight flush, well, them's the breaks, and I'm going to feel like I just got ridiculously unlucky, not that I played badly. However, failing to value-bet a full house when I think my opponent has just made a big flush, because of "monsters under the bed syndrome," would indeed be playing badly.

So I shoved. He called instantly and flipped over pocket queens, including, of course, the Qd. I showed the full house. Judging by his facial expression and sputtered words, I think it's safe to say that he did not expect the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise.

Frankly, I'm still puzzled by his call. He should have been worried that I had Ad-Kd or Ad-Jd when I raised the turn, or that I had an unsuited big ace with the Ad that beat him on the river. He had seen me bluffing before, but never for anywhere near this amount. Maybe he didn't notice that those had been much smaller pots.

Anyway, he had me covered just barely, and I ended up doubling up with that $680 pot. Nice work if you can get it.

PL and I told the table about our strange Iowa friends and their love of the Spanish Inquisition. The next hand I played was again a 6-3. I raised, bet the K-4-5 flop, got a caller. Turn was 2, giving me the nuts. I bet and the other guy folded, his face registering obvious suspicion. I showed again.

Within five minutes, I had S.I. a third time. This time I just called somebody else's raise. Flop again had a 4 and 5, so I called. Turn 7. He checked. I bet. He folded.

By this time, everybody knew. It was no longer true that nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. In fact, everybody was fully anticipating exactly what I had, and they were right.

Lesson: A hand that nobody expects has diminishing returns as they learn to expect it. Which, of course, means that you move on to other hands that they are not expecting. In big-bet poker, a disproportionate share of your profit will come from hands that are outside of the range your opponents will think you are playing in a given situation.

One player joked to me, "I see you winning with 2-4 and 3-6, and I feel that I'm learning the wrong poker lessons here." I corrected him: "No, you are finally learning the truth about which hands are actually the strongest. The books you've read have it all wrong."

A tip o' the hat to Grange95 for cluing me in to the power of the 6-3. It's no 2-4, but clearly it will do in a pinch.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poker gems, #464

Andrew Brokos, in Card Player magazine column, November 14, 2012 (vol. 25, #23), page 40.

I'd rather have a good hand and the best position than the best hand and poor position.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I have twice recently come across the phrase "touch-bet" as a poker term, and I don't know exactly what it means.

Both times have been in Poker Player Newspaper columns by David "The Maven" Chicotsky. First, in the September 25 issue he wrote:

Remember also that even though our continuation bet of 375 is very small relative to the pot, it still represents about 25% of our opponent’s stack left behind. Quite often we’re able to use our stack leverage against our opponent by making polarized bets that are very small or big relative to the effective stack in the hand.  
This is one of those examples where I’d prefer to see us make a value- oriented-bluff touch-bet on the flop, or put our opponent all in. Just because you’re used to betting a certain size on the flop, doesn’t make it the optimal size for the given situation.
The second example is from his November 19 column (not available online yet):
We are able to bet larger or small in an attempt to mitigate risk; betting larger with a naked draw or betting smaller with absolute air (such as a touch-bet). Sometimes betting smaller gives off the impression that we have a strong hand against thinking players. It's possible to come up with a bunch of reasons to bet more or less than our normal default bet sizing. 
Obviously the context is virtually identical for these two instances. I can get a general sense that it's a small continuation bet after missing the flop. But is there something more precise about it than that--more conditions that define it or set it apart from other continuation bets? The fact that both instances of its use come from Chicotsky makes me suspect that it's a term that he and/or his pal Ari Engel came up with. But so far a Google search has been fruitless in coming up with a clearer description of what the phrase means.

Anyone? Anyone?

Addendum, November 13, 2012 

I asked Chicotsky via Twitter for an explanation of his terminology. His response:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pocket guide

A bunch of copies of this book were in the magazine rack in the poker room at Mandalay Bay when I was there yesterday. Last week I saw somebody in my Twitter feed mention having picked one up at Treasure Island, I think.

It's a guide to the poker rooms of Las Vegas. Each room has either one or two pages, with details about location, contact information, games spread, tournament schedule, and promotions.

Nothing in the book indicates who compiled or published it, or why. At first glance you'd think that it's paid for by advertising. But the only ad anywhere is the back cover, which is a splash for the Venetian poker room.

A printed book is a strange medium for this kind of information these days. The details change so fast that the book was guaranteed to be out of date the day it hit the stands. And it was. Two of the poker rooms it lists have already closed (Jokers Wild and Aliante Station). One promotion listed expires December 15, another expires at the end of November, and several more at the end of the regular NFL season, further assuring that the book will very quickly be hopelessly outdated. The entry for the Suncoast poker room mentions a promotion that was good only during August!

Even All Vegas Poker, a web site dedicated to tracking what's going on in the city's poker rooms, has difficulty keeping up with the ever-changing promotions and tournament schedules. My understanding is that they call every poker room manager every week to see what's new. My guess is that it's rare that a single day passes without at least one piece of information found in this book changing. When most people are carrying around a web-enabled smart phone, a book like this just doesn't make much sense.

And, by the way, you'd have to be Captain Kangaroo to have a pocket big enough for this "Pocket Guide," which is 5 1/2" by 8 1/2".

Whoever published it also could have used a good proofreader. The table of contents lists "The Strip" a second time instead of "Off Strip" for a section header. It calls the Eastside Cannery the "Eastside Canner." There are odd errors inside, such as a reference to free meal as a "compliment buffet." Fremont Street is misspelled as "Freemont" all three times it appears. The plural of "ace" is written as "ace's." "Please" is spelled "Pleas."

This book is just an all-around mystery. Who produced it? Why? And if you're going to bother with putting such volatile information out in a book format, why such a bad job of it?

Once again, the world baffles me.