Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chasing the Tortoise

Yesterday I’m once again riding along in the slow lane of a nice, quiet game of $1.00/$2.00 limit hold ’em (full table). Let’s face it . . . I’m a low limit hack. I used to alternate between NL and limit on a regular basis. Then about six months ago I realize I’m going back to the limit tables more and more often. Now I’m always there. Kind of like the alky who finds himself leaning up against yet another brass rail, raising yet another shot, not really sure of having consciously decided to be there . . . .

I suppose I’m getting older. Limit is obviously less volatile, more predictable. More a fuel-efficient, two-seater Honda than the “Cadillac of poker” (as Texas Dolly describes NL Hold ’em). So there’s one appeal for your risk-averting, humble servant. I’m also a numbers guy, really, and so tend to find interesting humdrum things like the fact that in Hold ’em you always have a 1 in 17 shot at being dealt a pocket pair. Or you’ll complete your flush by the river about 6.5% of the time when dealt two suited cards. You know what I’m talking about. Poindexter stuff.

Anyhow, there I am. After three orbits or so I’m sitting in the SB with my stack exactly two bits larger than it was when I started when I’m dealt Ah 2h. It folds to a dude in middle position who calls, then the rest of the table folds back around to me. I complete the bet, the BB checks, and the three of us see a flop of 4d As 8d. I go ahead and bet to try to get an idea here, the BB folds, and the limper -- let’s call him Tortuga -- puts in the raise. Now I figure Tortuga for a number of possible hands here, including a better ace, a hand with an eight in it, or a flush draw. I call and the turn comes 4c. Feeling a little randy, I bet to represent trips and Tortuga waits a bit before raising. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have the four. No, I’m thinking there’s about a 70% chance he has a better ace. But there’s some chance he doesn’t, as well as the possibility of a split pot, so I stubbornly call. The river is the Js and I check-call only to be treated to the sight of Tortuga’s pocket rockets. With his aces full he takes down a pot of 9+ BB ($18.25, to be exact), $9 of which I contributed. Salt in the wound comes when a couple of others offer their “nhs” to Tortuga by way of approval, who responds by quickly exiting the premises.

Perhaps at the higher limits one sees this sort of thing more frequently -- limping w/AA with an eye toward reraising when someone in late position tries to steal. Doesn’t happen so much down here in the land of the blue chips, however. In fact, at these low limits, I can’t really think of a single situation where one shouldn’t preraise w/aces. Perhaps when it's blind-vs.-blind and you’re worried that a raise might end the hand preflop, although even then I dislike not raising since raises from the blinds can be interpreted in so many ways other than representing a premium hand.

Before he left I was able to make a quick note on Tortuga (“no preraise w/AA, mid. pos.”), not to warn myself that he may have aces when he limps preflop, but as an alert that this here dilly will make an unorthodox play. Such folderol stands out like a sore thumb at the low limits, where most players play a similar, conventional style. When I checked Poker Tracker later I saw that Tortuga in fact did not raise preflop a single time in the thirty hands I played with him. He also ended up exactly $1 ahead for the session. A small sample, but it seems preraising probably ain’t a big part of Tortuga’s arsenal. Also seems he was satisfied to have recovered from me some of what he’d previously lost before deciding to make tracks.

I always feel profoundly ambivalent after losing a hand this way, a great big “whatever” hanging over my seat like a dreary cloud. So I fell into the trap. But in order for it to have worked in this particular hand, Tortuga really needed to flop the case ace (or perhaps a flush draw for me). Even if I weren’t a numbers guy, I’d know that flopping a single card like that is not very likely. (Since I am, I figure it out by adding the chances of spiking the ace for each of the three flopped cards: 1 in 50 [2%] + 1 in 49 [2.04%] + 1 in 48 [2.08%] = 6.12% or about 1 in 16.) Of course, if I’m holding any Broadway card and pair it on the flop, he’s likely gonna cash here as well, although again, the chances are against that happening.

As I’ve written about before, AA can be a problem hand. But it seems to me one way to make it less of a problem (in low limit Hold ’em, anyway) is to play it straight preflop and raise it like the sensible Honda driver you are. As the young'ns like to say, that’s how I roll.

(For a similar argument more eloquently put, see Matt Lessinger’s recent CardPlayer article, “Back to Basics -- Raising Preflop With Big Pocket Pairs.”)

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