Monday, March 30, 2015

Saturday Night Live! A session recap from Baltimore Horeshoe

The Poker Meister family had a nice overnight retreat in the Baltimore area with a group of other families from Friday to Saturday night, so what better way to end family night with a poker session at the Horseshoe.  My family took 2 cars up, knowing that afterwards, my wife would put the kids to bed & I'd try to make a little extra scratch...  Turns out that from where we were, I was about 25 minutes from downtown, the location of the 'Shoe.  I arrived uneventfully, found a parking spot fairly quickly, and was seated immediately.

My initial observation was that the table was tight - I considered asking for a table change, but figured I'd give it a few orbits.  Turns out that there was an ABC player, a grinder or two, two tourists who were scared of their own shadows, and an extra / actor who played a part in season 5 of The Wire, one of my all-time favorite shows (who was not a very good player).  I was up & down most of the night, mostly up about $100 off my initial $300 buy in (1/3 blinds) and only getting involved with hands when I nutted up.

There were 2 hands of note, both involving said actor above:

Multi-way limp, scared player to my left raised to $12 into about 5 players and we all called (I'm holding JTo), seeing a 7 way flop of AdKdQd - mostly BINGO!  This is a way-ahead, way-behind situation (I don't hold a diamond).  I'm not going to wait for scared player to check through the flop, so I take the lead myself by betting $50 into the $72 - the actor dude calls quickly.  Turn is a 5c and he checks to me.  I push out a red stack of $100 which is quickly called as well.  River is the 3s and it's checked to me.  Do I bet here?  Am I missing value by checking through?  On one hand, this guy calls wide - and is generally a strange player.  He stacked off on one of his first hands, has been making questionable plays and seems frequently lost.  On the other hand, he's the type that can check / call down a weak flush, not sure of where he is.  What kinds of hands can call here?  I figure sets (which I doubt he has given the flop texture - A, K, Q.  Two pair hands: Ax, primarily, but I have my doubts whether he'd make it this far without a raise or some other aggressive action (i.e. lead turn, etc.).  After thinking it over, I opted to check through and am shown AxTd by the actor - a straight flush, second nut flush draw.

Second hand involves a button straddle to $10 ('Shoe has Mississippi straddle rules).  Actor to my right calls for $10 after the blinds fold and I look down to see AA.  I raise to $40 and get called by a somewhat competent player with a $400 stack.  I'm sitting on $500 and the actor has around $200.  The actor calls as well and we see a 3 way flop of 2 3 4 rainbow.

There's $130 in the pot and actor checks to me.  Now here's an incident where I acted on impulse rather than really think about the situation...  I have the best overpair, and this board is really scary to me.  I started to carve out $100 and then changed it to $120 prior to pushing it out - in retrospect, what am I fearing here?  There aren't too many cards that can call a PF $40 bet and have me challenged - I'm concerned about 22,33,44 and 55,66 for the straight draws.  I don't want Ax getting there on a turn 5, but that's somewhat remote.  I think I need to check this flop, or better yet, bet around $70-80.  I think bombing $120 just kills the hand for all hands that don't have me crushed, plus I'm basically committing stacks with what would likely turn out to be me drawing to 2 Aces and 4 5's.  My thinking at the time was they may have overpairs with such a low flop, and may think that they're good here.  Combine that with the fishy actor to my right, and my bet was overly optimistic.  Either way, decent player folded AK and actor folded in kind.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The power of the look... Always look to your left!

Since the onset of this blog, I've gravitated away from being solely an online player to being a bit of both online & live.  I love the fact that the players live are so much worse than the players online, and the money live is so much larger than the money online, but live has so many more dimensions added to the game - mainly the live reads, hence the title of the post.

I will tell you this: Over the past week or two, I signed on to a new poker site (affiliate link to the right) and it's like the old days of Stars & Tilt.  I'm regularly logging on and playing 6+ tables of all stakes, from .05/.1 to .5/1 (.001 x BTC).  I have Holdem Manager installed and it's great!  I'm getting readjusted to all my old stats - 3bet, PFR, VPIP, FTSTL (Fold to Steal), etc.!  Over the weekend, I put in around 7k hands - a crazy amount since Seals with Clubs started losing players.  Hopefully, this new site will hold out & I'll be able to keep playing there.  It feels good to crush although I realize the rate that I'm crushing is unsustainable (north of 50BB/100).

Anyway, to the title of the post - always look left - I found myself at a somewhat difficult table to start last Friday's session.  In seat 1 was a player I'd played against before (competent player, good reader, very aggressive), seat 4 had an aggressive player (reg), and, since I was in seat 8, seats 9 & 10 to my left were also regs.  This was a 1/2 game at MDL.

My day started with AK within 2 hands and I raised to $12 as first in.  I got 2 callers to comply and saw a flop of A x x (rainbow).  Cbetting small seemed to be the likely route here, as I want all A x hands coming along for the ride - I lead out for $20-25 and get a fold out of the 1 seat, but seat 4 check / raises to $80.  Now I'm at a decision for my initial buy in stack...  and I opt to shove - dry board and he's check / raising?  He insta-mucks and I pick up a healthy pot.

A quick brief of one of the more important items to reads in live poker: always look to your left.  What does that mean?  When it's your turn to act, or even prior to your turn, always look to the guy to your left and see what he's going to do if he's giving any tells.  If he has chips in his hand, or he's reaching for chips, that could be a tell that he's going to raise.  If he has the "fold hold" on his cards, he's very likely to be folding.  I extend that look left to later streets - to see what the action will be after me.

The hand starts with a multi-way limped pot with an A 7 8 board - I have 8x (can't remember the other card - likely 7 or 9, as this hand was somewhat non-memorable) in late position $7 flop bet and I call along with aggro seat 1.  FWIW, this flop lead seemed weak at the time, and I call with a backdoor and mid pair.  Normally, I'm not happy about calling into an Ace high board, but the price I'm getting to hang around is decent enough...

An A on the turn checks through to me, and I'll happily take a free card here, but as I'm looking to the next street, I see seat 1 instantly grab chips for an automatic river bet.  His decision was squarely predicated on my check through.  As expected, the river comes (not a clue what it was, but maybe it was a 2 or something) and he leads $19 - fold from the original bettor and I snap it off.  He doesn't even wait for me to show but mucks his cards.  For added insurance, I asked the dealer to muck his cards so I didn't have to show.

Easy call in a vacuum?  Probably not - this may be a fold without thought.  But since this is live poker, and we're not dealing with just online reads, we can gather a whole lot more information about current and future streets - look left!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Saturday night at Baltimore's Horseshoe

I went to Baltimore Horseshoe last Saturday to try to sweep up some loose dollars from the players busting out of the WSOP ring events they were holding.  I got there around 10:30 pm and found the place absolutely jammed.  Side note: On my way up, I was debating between Maryland Live! and the 'Shoe, but ultimately opted for the 'Shoe because of the all day tournaments that had been ongoing.  The waitlists were similar, but I figured that many people would be playing all day poker and be wanting a little retribution / blow off steam at the cash tables from their early bust outs on the multi-flight 3 day tournament.  Moreover, I like the 1/3 games over the 1/2 games - it's the same players but for 50% more money on the table.

My buddy Josh was kind enough to put my name on the list (he was playing both the morning, and due to an early bust out, the afternoon flights), as the brush desk was not accepting call ins.  When I got there, I tried to add my cell to my name on the list, but my name was no where to be found.  I'm not sure what happened, and never was able to find out, but apparently my name had never been added.  Finding the floorman that Josh originally asked to add me, he was having a tough time navigating the waitlist system, and just moved my name to the top of the list - BOOM!  I instantly got a seat after talking with him - sitting at around 11:00 in the tournament conference room.

Another side note: I was not aware, but even though they only have 25 permanent tables set up in the regular poker room, the conference room has an additional 125 table capacity.  The room can be used not only for tournament play but cash games as well.  The list was around 100 deep, and the management opened up a bunch of cash tables in the room.  Although we were stuck without comps (no machine reader) and without hand shuffle (no electricity in the floor for the temporary folding poker tables), we were at least in action.

I was seated at a brand new 1/3 table which never really seemed to stay at capacity.  We started with 6-7 players, getting to 10, but wavering around 8 players at any given time.  It was an interesting crowd: 1 very serious player who I did not want to mess with, a drunk, a decently hot girl with a banging body (complete with low cut tshirt and great boobs - it's nice to be young!), and a maniac who was raising every hand to $6 when it limped to him, potting every street and taking it down by the turn.  Everyone's suspicious eye was on the maniac, FWIW.

I had gotten into a hand with maniac early on, when I uncharacteristically open limped A9o, called a $6 raise PF with a host of callers, saw an A high flop, calling a $25 flop bet but folding to a $75 turn bet (what is it they say about insanity - expecting different results while doing the same thing over & over?).  I can't tell you why I called the flop bet or the PF raise in the first place if I wasn't prepared to call off the turn and expected river shove, but I did it.  Stupid me.  I learn from my mistake.

Finally, the hand in question: I have KQo in late position with no limpers.  I raise to $12 as first in.  SB calls and so does Mr. Maniac in the BB.  Flop comes 2c 7c Q.  I have the Kc, FYI.  I bet $25 into $36 pot and the SB folds.  Mr. Maniac check / raises to $75 and I think for a bit - shove, fold or just call.  He's been crazy, but hasn't check / raised yet, although we've been playing ~30 minutes.  He can easily be c/ring the club draw, but I think he has a far wider range that he could do this.  I don't want to let him off the hook by shoving only to have him fold.  Moreover, I think no matter the next card, given the time I've taken to make my decision, he's auto-shoving.  I'm prepared to call off stacks (which is about $130 or so behind), and if a club turns, unless he had me at the get-go (AcQ which I would have thought he would PF 3bet), I have to be good  and I have the backdoor club draw.

The turn comes 9c (puke) and he, as expected, shoves his remaining $130 or so.  I think for a bit, sickened by the club, but begrudgingly call.  He nods his head that I'm good, but for finer measure, a club drops the river and hit my K high flush to his Q8hh.  I've never seen a guy make an exit for the door so fast as this guy...

I started thinking about how he played, and whether it would be profitable in a more selective way.  He raises to $6 which gets everyone & their mothers calling.  The pot is decently large by the flop with these little $6 raises, and potting every street can make some decent money given scared money from the other players.  I think the problem with that strategy is twofold, though: once you showdown a weak hand / bluff, you're never getting credit again, and once you slow down because you think your opponent isn't going away, your opponent should bet you off the hand and you've now opened yourself up for constantly being bluffed off hands.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A live hand history including a live read - what would you do?

I was having a decent session at Maryland Live last Friday - I was up approximately $200 from various incremental wins; no hands of particular note - make the nuts, get paid kinds of hands.  The table had 3 huge fish at my right, a current or retired (not sure) police officer who will be at the center of this post, and 2 other very splashy players.  The police officer and I have been amicable - he's a tourist and is looking to have a good time, as evident from his play.  He's talkative, sharing stories, and the whole table is involved with the ongoing conversations.

The police office (PO henceforth) had built up a sizable stack by continually raising / betting - purely aggressive.  I also had  lost a decent chunk to him in an earlier hand - perhaps $100 or so - on a set over set situation where he limp / called a raise blind (he wound up with JJ vs. my 99), while I overall broke even on the hand when the original opener shoved his AA on the Q J 9 flop.  PO had built his stack up to $400 but was probably in for about $200 of that stack.  Emboldened by his success of bullying the table, he started raising all in on many rivers, making massively oversized bets which were rarely called.  On occasion, he'd take to calling PF raises dark, only looking at his cards when the betting on the flop & turn became significant.  I was watching this unfold until I finally found a hand from UTG+1:

I'm dealt KK with a $400 stack at a 1/2 game from UTG+1, facing an UTG limper.  I opt to raise to $15.  It folds around to PO in the SB, who instantly 3bets to $45.  It should be noted that I hadn't seen him 3bet any prior hands - if nothing else, this was out of character.  UTG folded the action to me, where I began carefully considering my options: I could raise to $75-100, but am I prepared to fold to a 5bet shove for $400?  If I'm playing a 100BB stack, this is simplified - I feel comfortable getting 100BB in PF with KK; if I'm dominated by AA, so be it, but it's a lot less costly than 2 buy ins, and a lot less of a mistake (moreso a cooler than anything else).  200BB becomes less of a cooler and more of a bad play IMO.  My other consideration is if I 4bet to $75-100, he's most likely folding his worse hands and raising AA, QQ.  Perhaps I'm giving him too much credit; he may also be 3betting / raising AK, QQ, JJ and flatting all of his pocket pairs.  But the main thought I had is I don't want him folding his bluffs and I want him to continue with the hand with all weaker cards.  He's been aggro and winning a disproportionate amount of pots due to aggression - I don't want to shut him down before he can get more money in the middle.  Therefore, I opt to flat call his raise to $45.  After calling, he tells me he checks in the dark (WTF???).  The only conclusion I can draw by his check in the dark is that in his simple mind, he's repping AA and doesn't care what the flop is?  I digress.

Anyway, as scripted (why do KK's always get an A on the flop!??!?!), the flop comes A T 8 - 2 clubs.  Outside of that stupid Ace, not a bad flop for a 3bet PF with KK - no Q, J.  If I was crushed before the hand with AA, now it doesn't even matter, but I'm not too happy about the board - I'm trying for pot control.  I decide to check through the flop.

Here's where the hand deviates from the standard:  Going into the turn, PO tells me he hasn't looked at his cards - that he 3bet the PF dark. The turn is dealt - a non-club 2 I think.  He picks up his cards to look at them, and then leads out for $60 into the $90 pot.  I think for a moment, then call given his check in the dark, his talkativeness, etc.  If he looked at his cards, he has to have AK, AA perhaps AQ?  If not, the chances of him holding 2 random cards where one is an Ace is not all that likely given the Ace on the flop.

The river is a beauty - a non-club Ace.  To me, this is an awesome card, because there are now only 2 Aces in the deck - making his story far less credible.  He verbalizes all in - $300 - a quick instant bet.  Now I'm caught, because logic dictates he doesn't have an Ace, but his bet is certainly trying to represent that he has the Ace.  There are two tangential arguments here: If he did look at his cards, he's saying he has quad Aces or AK.  If he didn't look at his cards, he has 2 random cards, and the likelihood of either being an Ace... or either being a flopped set is somewhat outside the realm - particularly given the 2 Aces on the board.  Moreover, this move falls in line with his prior moves; he's been shoving / over shoving a lot of rivers like this, making the other players very uncomfortable with calling those large bets - in fact, no one had called the bets to this point.  I took a while in deciding, and was probably 60/40 in favor of calling, but 60/40 for a 150BB call is not great...

I told the table that I was sorry for taking so long - then I flipped over my hand to show the table why I had such a hard time deciding on my action.  FWIW, I'm pretty sure the fish at the table looked at me like a fish, and the better players understood my predicament.  I told the table I didn't want them thinking I was showboating - but what I was really trying to get was a read on the PO.  I got it - his reaction was almost instant: he first made the real face of horror / shock but quickly turned it around to the sympathetic look of confidence, nodding his head in acknowledgement that my decision was a tough one.  It was all the additional information I needed.  Standing up, I made the call and waited - he flipped 76o for a complete bluff / busted gutshot draw and I scooped.  I think he had $5 in remaining chips which he threw to me as well, saying it was a great call on my part, patting me on the back, etc.  He made an unceremonious exit after that, and I found myself up $600+ for the day :-).  FWIW, I flipped the dealer a red bird of my own and his remaining chips.

Monday, March 2, 2015

In criticism of the straddle rule

TBC, who many of you may be familiar with, was asking about my opinions on the live straddle in the comment section from a prior post.  As I was writing my response, I realized that I've always disliked the straddle rule, but never truly laid out my thoughts as to why I dislike the rule.  Therefore, I figured I capture my thoughts in a post.

There are 2 types of straddles that I'm familiar with: the UTG straddle and the Mississippi straddle.  It serves that I should explain the differences between the two, and how, in fact, a straddle in poker terms, is defined.
  • A straddle is an optional blind bet, where the player, acting as a an additional blind (next to the small blind & big blind), places a bet double or greater than the big blind amount.  It is in effect a blind raise, but action begins with the player immediately to the left of the straddler and closes with the straddler who may check (facing limps around the board), raise, or fold (given a prior raise).
  • The standard straddle rule allows fro the straddler to place a straddle from the UTG position, forcing UTG+1 to act first.  Action will close with the UTG position - the small & big blinds can call the straddle bet or fold prior to action closing with the straddler.
  • The Mississippi straddle allows the straddler to place a straddle from any position, save for the small & big blinds.  Therefore, one could straddle from the UTG position as above, or straddle from the BTN which forces the first action on the small blind.

All things being equal, there is no inherent advantage to a straddle since all positions / players have the same equal opportunity based on the straddle rules - i.e. straddle is open to all players who opt to do it.  The inherent purpose of a straddle is to add action to the game; i.e. it forces any callers to call for >=2x BB, adding money to the pot, in turn making the pot worth more to fight over.

--- Opinion ---

Generally, I believe that the standard straddle is a waste - you're buying closing action for 2xBB (or more, which is a greater waste) for the PF round.  Thereafter, you're going to have to work from presumably terrible position as the UTG - save for the exception of if all positions fold and the blinds are the only callers.  That said, since the pots are double where they would normally be sized, I think the person employing the straddle should be raising with increased regularity (greater range) over the non-straddled hands - and in my myopic data points, the straddlers usually do.  There are a few thoughts that I have with regard to increasing the raising frequency from the straddle's position:
  • The raise should be sized much larger than a normal raise; after all the pots are double as larger, perhaps a double-sized raise is in order.  For example, in a 1/2 game with a $4 straddle, if there are 4 limpers, the pot is ~$16-20, where it would normally be $8-10 without the straddle.  Therefore, a straddler's raise should be in the range of $25-30, whereby the non-straddle's raise sizing should be in the range of $12-15.  That's a healthy difference, as most players know that set mining becomes less and less profitable the more north of 10% full stacks they go (i.e. given a full $200 stack, $25-30 is about 15% effective stacks).
  • Again, given my myopic data points, I've seen a ton of raising out of the straddle positions, and given a large enough raise, the straddler usually folds out the action and scoops a decent pot.  In other words, players at low stakes live poker tend to overestimate the value of limping a straddle pot, and tend to fold to the "unexpected" resistance / raise.  A 2BB mistake for each player adds up to a lot of money for the straddler to use to his advantage when he scoops.
  • Following on the point above, if a known straddler regularly raises, then the non-straddling players should consider limping their big hands with the expectation to limp / raise.  They could do this with bluffs as well, since the straddler is unlikely to be strong given his past history.
That said, I believe standard straddles have their time & place to wield as a tool to your advantage. For example, if you find yourself at a table full of tight / passive players, a straddle could serve to open up the game.  Players get frustrated throwing in a straddle limp only to get raised off their limped hands.  Frustration generally leads to poor play.

Personally, I tend to approach straddle hands with a sharper eye.  I tighten my range, realizing that the limping range should be smaller and be able to withstand a healthy raise.  I should have a purpose for calling with the expectation that not only the straddler may raise, but also any other position may raise.  Therefore, I tend to drop the "dominated hands" out of my range (KT, QT, etc.) for fear of the pending raise.

FWIW, only once have I tried the limp / re-raise move - it did indeed work - but it definitely got my heart rate up (I had KQ if I recall correctly, and I'm not sure whether it wound up with me shoving a blank flop as a bluff).  It's definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I would try it again when an opportunity presents itself, i.e. a habitual straddler always raising on the closing action.

Another point about straddles, it doubles the stakes of the table. Essentially, it makes the BB 2x or more. Therefore, if there's a straddle, each player must "limp" the new BB size (or raise in increments of the new BB size) - reducing full stacks (originally 100 BB) to 50 BB. Realizing that fact, you're not playing nearly as deep as you were prior to the straddle - and it makes the table a lot more costly to play. I believe a professional's advantage lies the deeper the stacks are - the straddle shifts the advantage more in favor of the worse players. Look, it comes down to this: I sit down at a 1/2 or 1/3 table and want to play those stakes. If it's going up to a 1 / 3 / 6 table, then I may as well switch over to 2/5.

Most of the above applies to the standard straddle, but can be applied to the Mississippi straddle.  However, it should be pointed out that for the Mississippi straddle, the clear advantage is straddling the BTN and other late positions.  As a smart player, you need to do the same to even the advantage out.  In other words, a BTN straddle takes away the PF advantage of blinds acting last, forcing them to put dead money in the pot and act immediately to complete the dead money or fold with terrible position from that point forward.  If you're losing your BB ability to act last, then you need to gain that ability back by straddling the BTN yourself.

FWIW, when the Mississippi straddle is allowed where I'm playing, unless others are opting for it, I generally try to avoid the topic altogether.  I feel like if I start doing it (something I'd like to do - straddle the BTN & CO), then I'm encouraging others to do it.  All of a sudden, the price of poker just went up and I'm playing a 1 / 3 / 6 or 1 / 2 / 4 game with 50BB stacks when I should just play 2/5.  I don't think I've ever standard straddled - I don't think I've ever played in a game that tight where I feel it warranted - and if I were in that kind of game, I'd get up & change tables!

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