Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The backraise... WTF?

In my spate of recent sessions, I've been running into a few odd backraises and I'm wondering how to interpret the actions.  First, let me start by detailing how the play went down the other night, and then I'll move into the hows and whys:

I hold JJ in late position (perhaps CO / BTN?).  It is limped to me - and a player who had been limping *EVERYTHING* (but not anything; he most likely has some semblance of a hand, be it suited connectors, small pairs, etc. on up to AJ+ and I'd assume AA - limped) all night had limped in on the hand as well.  He also had the habit of overcalling with his limped hand, regardless position, implied odds or players in the pot.  Sitting there, counting the limpers, I popped it to $15 + $3x limper = [I think] $25 (this is a Southern California 2/3 game, mind you, unlike playing at an Iphone Casino, where the action is AWESOME).  The raise served to fold out the original limpers, and, true to form, Mr. decent player / too wide of a range started carving out chips.  Good; I will be HU into the pot with a decent hand against a weakish range.  To my surprise, he opted to backraise; he limp / raised it to $120.  Quite the predicament, no?  Perhaps, but not necessarily.

In prior hands, I had seen this guy show down some really light calls based on the action for the board (and be correct), showing that he's either an uber donk (which I tended to not believe) or he knows / has some semblance of knowing what he's doing (I erred on that side of belief).  Here is an instance of a player knowing how to play, backraising - and backraising big.  Granted, I had been, to that point, a "very" active player - usually raising when I entered a pot, limping rarely.  (Reality is that my raising range is heavily slanted towards late position raises / steals, mixed in with value early position raises; my standard fare.)  Given the table texture, this was met with immediate consternation; I was the active "rebel" in a table full of rocks and loose passives (3 uber fish, 4 rocks, and the limp/raiser); they liked to see flops, and they liked to see 'em cheap.  Back to the story, though, this player knew what he was doing and had just put me to a decision for what amounts to my stack.

Here's my thought, and I'm hoping others weigh in, because this seems to be endemic to the more skilled players who are trying to "outplay" other skilled players (code for I'm in the "skilled player" grouping): The backraise is a terrible idea.  It's almost always a bluff.  It has to be.  Here's the thing: if you have AA against another skilled player, you have a made hand that doesn't need improvement; you're effectively letting your opponent bluff his hand for the entirety of the hand and/or perceive that he's "value betting" his perceived better hand.  Yes, anything can happen on the flop (72o can outflop AA a small percentage of the time), but is the intent with AA to win a small open raise, or to win stacks against an open late position raiser who is perceived to have a wide range?  Stacks are obviously preferred.  The intent of slow playing AA is to let your opponent hang himself.
By back raising, you know just as well as the other skilled player that you'll be folding out his bluffs, which severely limits your value from the best hand, AND you'll likely be folding out smaller and a few mid pocket pairs - all hands which you know full well that you're dominating.  If the opponent has a cooler hand such as KK, the money is going in regardless.  Knowing this, and your opponent knowing this, if you're slow playing AA, you're gonna slow play 'em, not backraise BIG and push people off the pot to take down a small pot.

Back to the original story; I'm facing my $120 fold / shove decision (i.e. either I feel comfortable with this hand and should just get it in PF with the better hand for $160 additional or fold believing he's got the AA/KK goods).  For those that opt to "call and see the flop," I'm not looking to reduce variance by calling and seeing if the flop holds an Ace or a King and allowing myself to be potentially bluffed off the hand.  Getting JJ in against an AK still shows JJ to be a ~53/47 favorite, FWIW.  Therefore, I shoved over for my remaining $~280.  He more-or-less [incorrectly IMO] snapped the call with TT; he's at best 50/50 against my perceived shove range of AK and maybe AQ, and he's 4-1 against my shove range of JJ+ (remember: my table image is that of a skilled player and therefore, I'm not a total LAGbot).  Is he getting calls / shoves from worse out of me?  No.
To address the "incorrectly IMO" comment and put the cherry on top, after my shove, he's calling $160 to make $425, ~3-1 pot odds - which I think is a marginal fold.  Poor call notwithstanding, his "fancy trap play" against me got him into this mess that he should have never been in in the first place!

Here's the crux with his given hand of TT:  he's either winning $25 + limps outright and getting a fold out of a hand that was 50/50 with him (good) or hands that he's an 80/20 (pocket pairs) or 70/30 (Ax hands) favorite over.  Since he's snap calling a shove, he's also allowing himself to get stacked by heavily slanted dominating hands (i.e. overpairs to his TT) where he's the 80/20 dog.  Bad bad bad poker!

It should serve to note that this hand plays *ENTIRELY* differently if my opponent is an unskilled donk who just plays his 2 cards but has a similar limping history.  If my opponent is a donk / noob, his range is now very slanted towards premium overpairs (and mostly AA at that).  It becomes more of a fold to the backraise and less of a shove at this point (whether correct or incorrect) because donks / noobs, though they love to [incorrectly] bluff, aren't considering a backraise... like... ever... without the goods.  Noobs want to win pots now and don't give a consideration to value.  They look at a win as a win despite the amount they collect for that win.

FWIW, this story harks back to a Charles Town story where I called a similar (but lesser skilled) player's backraise with my holdings of KQo: a smaller backraise where instead of me 4bet shoving PF, I opt to call in position with a lesser hand (but better hand than my opponent), with a similar result.  I got lucky on that particular hand, flopping trip Queens, but it still involved a backraise against a semi-skilled opponent holding a less-than-stellar hand where I nearly get effective stacks in by allowing my opponent to value bluff his way into nearly stacking himself.
In summary, I believe backraising has a time and a place (two players that have a ton of history between them, for example, could opt for this play).  However, a standard 1/2, 2/3 or 2/5 game at a local casino against random players should steer clear of this kind of play.  Slow play AA if you will, or fast play 'em and come running & gunning outta the gate, but don't Tricky Dicky limp / raise, repping AA - it just doesn't make sense...

Addendum: After writing this, it's funny, I've been thinking about my own move of 4bet shoving over PF.  I'm giving the same grief to my opponent by criticizing his play of folding out worse hands and only getting called by better... yada yada yada.  However, I neglect to address the fact that I'm doing the same thing for his remaining $160.  By shipping the last $160, I'm folding out the bluffs and "only getting called by better" or coin flip hands.  I partially address that in the statements above about the not wanting to "call and see what happens" A or K on the flop scenario, but I also believe that my opponent has shown overtures to being committed with his hand, and I have a strong read that his hand is either weaker than mine or at worst chopping with mine.  Therefore, I opt to shove over for those reasons.  That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it :-).


  1. I think in this instance TT guy thinks he is trapping you with the best hand. I assume you raised in position every time It would be helpful to know what other hands you showed down As far as the snap call I would imagine he thought you were just trying to bully him I have run into this a lot. Players saying to me after getting it in bad against me that "I could not have it every time". I think he got married to his hand and put you on a range he was dominating or at worst flipping and was going to teach you a lesson

  2. id think AK and JJ might be in his raise here

    1. I think you kinda missed the point of the post. In addition to having troubles with his 3bet sizing, $25 -> $120, nearly 5x, what is the hope or plan of accomplishment by the limp raise? A slow play will SLOW PLAY. A standard play will standard raise. But a limp / raise bluff? Or a value limp / raise? It just doesn't seem to have a point. If you're bluffing and get shoved over, then you trapped yourself. If you're value betting and the trapped folds, then you've let him off really easy. In my mind, he's effectively turned his "value" hand into a semi-bluff PF by making this move. He's taken a hand that plays decent HU post flop and bluffed it.

  3. Agreed about what you say above, Thunder. Perhaps I'm giving him too much credit for being a good player. However, there's if he's expanding my range into thinking (or hoping) that I'm just trying to be a bully, he has to assume a lot of that shove range is overcards to his TT, at best, where he's slightly ahead. If he throws in all overcard combos to his hand + 99 & JJ+, then it's a solid call. My point is that he hasn't seen me get it all in with air ever; he hasn't seen me show down weak hands (other than when it was limped).

    Maybe he's basing it on the one or two showdowns against the table ATM / Fish where I knew exactly where I was (i.e. c/r'ing a limped pot on the flop to the BB bet who I *KNEW* was drawing and never lets any pairs go - I got a c/r flop and a value bet turn out of him before finally checking through the river; good value for K9 on a K 8 5 2 ?? board where he showed down A5o), or when I was able to show down Q6 against the same player's inside straight draw. Point is, though, as a decent player, I have to believe that he respects my ability and knows that I'm not going to go up against another "skilled" player light...

    I wrote this post as more of a response to the frequency in which I'm seeing the limp / raise. It's like when you buy a new car and all you see is your kind of car on the road... the limp / raise is such a rare move, but I've been seeing it a ton. I'm pretty convinced that it's a garbage move.

  4. Interesting read. I've seen the limp-raise twice recently at Dover. Both times, older, ABC, players. Both times I had big hands and raised several limpers from late position. Both times, I folded to the limp-raise. Both times, the old-timer got a call. Both times, he showed AA. I think it definately turns, as you point out, on whether or not the limp-raiser is a skilled player. Seems like bad, or ABC players, think the limp-raise is a tricky play when they have the PF nutz. Either that, or they'd rather see if they can get a few limpers, or maybe a small raise, and take the pot preflop rather than "havng their aces cracked." Perhaps it's the same folks you hear saying, "I f*cken HATE aces . . ." Um. You do?

  5. By the way - since you bought your car - I see about 500 of them daily...

  6. I think you maybe had a poor read on Villain as a skilled player. Limp back raising is a terrible play. Fish use it. Limp back raising TT for value is indicative of a very poor player IMO who is ostensibly clicking buttons. Kudos for reading him well and getting it in 80/20. This hand becomes much more interesting if you are 250BB+ deep. Sadly most 2/5 and below is 100bb capped and real poker isn't played at 100bb (or even 200bb really)

  7. Looks like other people are seeing a lot of the backraise... Check out Andrew Brokos' blog post:


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