Friday, November 07, 2008

Tools at the Table

Though I like to almost entirely ignore poker in my writing (perhaps just including the word “poker” itself as a token gesture in the first paragraph) I thought I’d break the mould and respond to a question I faced recently about an apparently massive over-bet I made that came back to bite me in the arse.

The hand in question occurred during the Virgin Poker Festival at the Loose Cannon (doing a dazzling impression of a sauna thanks to a ‘heating malfunction’). Initially I was put on the dullest of tables; stuck out the back, dripping sweat onto my cards and enjoying the exploits of a player to my left who simply couldn’t grasp the fact that saying “raise 300” when there was already 150 on the table didn’t just double the bet to A TOTAL OF 300, but added 300, creating a 450 pot. Add to this constant over-building of the pot the fact that he was a serial calling station and, well… you can imagine the ‘fun’ we were all having with him. I pride myself on being polite and non-abusive at the table, but on a board of AQ994 I bluffed out a pot-sized post-river bet with air and got called because he had a ‘4’ in his hand, I couldn’t resist asking “is there anything you WON’T call with?” as the collective table slapped their foreheads for the nth time. Anyway, enough whinging…

I held my own through the first few levels; mostly just playing ABC poker against ABC opposition (and may I just remind you that if you ever find yourself up again a more ‘enthusiast’ than ‘professional’ field, continuation bets are the absolute bread and butter of building your stack). Finally our table was broken down and I was moved to a new spot in the centre of the room. I was immediately more comfortable as this was a chattier table, featuring some juicy stacks and a few ‘characters’ (i.e. plonkers).

The first thing I like to do when I arrive at a new table is spend a few minutes making entirely unfair, unfounded and - frankly - cruel assumptions about my opponents. Anyone who asks “how much is it?” every round or waits five minutes before looking at their cards when it’s their turn to act (and a further five minutes before folding so as not to give away any ‘tells’) is immediately labelled ‘numptie’. The numptometer also swings to “11” if I see anyone carefully laying out their chips a foot from the rail in neat, sequential piles; never mixing colours or amounts in case the universe implodes. I also like to imagine that anyone fat is also stupid. Don’t hate me; it’s just the way I am.

I had a cracking time at the new table; starting with decent hands, connecting with flops, and then continuation betting or re-raising to victory without having to show any cards. To the untrained eye I appeared to be the ‘table captain’ they’d all read about somewhere in a magazine. Actually I was just a lucky fish being hit round the head by the deck (don’t tell anyone – tee hee!)

I’d grown my stack to a comfortable 11k with the blinds still at only 200/400 when ‘The Hand’ happened. One of the numpties previously designated ‘Neat Stacks’ made an early min-raise to 800. Now we all know this is meant to indicate one of two things; either a monster hand or a tricky hand that players feel they should raise with but deep down don’t really fancy (i.e. pocket tens in early position). A hairy player two to my right called, and I looked down at KK. I had a think (which we’ll come back to later) and then pushed all-in. That’s right – 11,000 into about 2,000. Bonkers eh?

‘Neat stacks’ called for his 5,000 and I knew he had aces. Bollocks. The fun wasn’t over yet however, as ‘Hairy’ had a real quick think and then also called for his total 7,000. Now the question I imagine is running through your heads is ‘just what can hairy have other than aces that warrants a call here?’ Well I can tell you that ‘Hairy’ had AK. Yes – all his chips with nothing more than ace-high and only 800 previously invested. And THAT, my friends, is why I pushed with KK in the first place. Consider this: if ‘Hairy’ is happy calling all his chips off against TWO opponents all-in with AK, imagine how wide his calling range is if I hadn’t run into aces!

If I’d chosen to re-raise pre-flop from 800 to 2,400 I think my opponents are bad enough to still just call with lesser ‘premium’ hands, and then I run the risk of being outdrawn and losing a big chunk of chips finding out if I’m still ahead with KK post-flop. By making the massive over-bet I either take down 2,000 (which is fine by me thank you) or I force a numptie to make a massive pre-flop mistake with the likes of JJ, QQ, AK and possibly even AQ if they are particularly bad. On rare occasions I have run into another KK making this move, but generally speaking there is only one of the 1,326 distinct starting hands you don’t want to run into, and that is aces (I guess I just got lucky this time!)

No one improved on the board, so I gave 5k to ‘Neat stacks’ but took 2k off ‘Hairy’ in a side pot and was more than fine with 8k considering the blinds. The push might seem like a mental play, but it’s one of those situations where – if you don’t respect the abilities of your opponents much – you can find yourself 4-1 favourite against the likes of QQ and JJ, or 70% favourite against players who simply over-value AK.

Give it a go some time. Just don’t blame me if you run into aces (it does happen occasionally). Happy hunting!