Saturday, September 09, 2006

Testing, Testing . . .

You’re in a limit game and are dealt 9sQc in the big blind. It folds around to the cutoff who calls. The button folds, the small blind completes, and you check your option. So there are three of you in when the flop comes 9d4dQd. The small blind checks. What do you do?

This is a situation that comes up frequently enough to warrant some consideration. You find yourself barely committed to a hand, then a flop comes that changes everything. Like you’d been laying low, trying to figure out where the buffet line begins, when all of sudden you’ve been asked to deliver a toast to the happy couple. Now you’re the center of attention. You are expected to speak. But what are you going to say?

Do you bet? For as long as I can remember this was an automatic bet for me. I know that flopping a flush is a statistical rarity. For the guy holding two suited cards, he’s flopping a flush something like 1 out of 118 times. In fact, if three diamonds come out like this, it is more likely than not neither of my two opponents holds a single diamond. Of course, if one does have a diamond, he’s probably going to be sticking around for the turn (especially if that diamond isn’t especially low).

So it’s very likely -- almost a certainty, really -- that I’m ahead. And there are big draws out there, flush and straight. So I gotta protect, right?

Like I said, in the past, I would always bet. If the fourth diamond came on the turn, I’d often weakly remain in the hand (by check-calling) in the hopes of filling up on the river (even if pot odds weren’t quite enough to warrant sticking around). In other words, I hated letting go of my flopped two pair, and so often ended up paying off my drawing opponent when they didn’t hold up.

The other day, though, I was in this very situation and decided to do something different. I checked. And when the cutoff bet and the small blind folded, I just called. I figured if anyone was on a draw, he wasn’t folding to my open bet on the flop, nor would a check-raise likely scare him away. Pessimistic, I know . . . but I’d made up my mind that I didn’t want to lose a lot on this hand. I thought I’d try to keep the pot small and see what the turn brought.

The turn was the 3s. No straight. No flush. My top two pair was still the best hand, I was sure. I checked and as I’d hoped the cutoff bet. I check-raised, and he called me. The river was the 8s. I bet, he folded, and I took the pot of $6.20 (giving up thirty cents to the rake).

I don’t know what my opponent had, but clearly he didn’t have a queen. He likely had a diamond. And he may even have let go of bottom or middle pair. Of course, if he had flopped the flush (or made a set), I was doomed. But he didn’t, and I wasn’t. As it happened, I’d probably extracted the most I possibly could have from this particular hand.

I looked back in Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth’s Small Stakes Hold ’em to see if there were any sort of justification for how I’d played the hand. It had felt right to me, and (of course) the result made me think I’d done well here.

Speaking of “Slowplaying,” the trio point out that it is never a good idea to risk large pots by slowplaying. (I hadn’t done that.) But they don’t recommend giving free cards with draws on the board, either. (I had done that.)

However, in the section about “Protecting Your Hand,” they describe situations where a post-flop raise will not protect your hand. One example involves being in the big blind and flopping two pair with straight and flush draws on the board (e.g., you have T8 and the flop comes QT8 with two hearts). “If you raise now,” they explain, your opponents “will often call anyway,” particularly when there are multiple players still involved. “The best plan is to call now, hoping for a safe card. If fourth street is a blank, plan to check-raise then.” This was precisely the plan I had followed in the hand (although I wasn’t necessarily conscious of any theoretical basis for playing it this way).

Does the math support the play? Doesn’t seem to, really. When I check-raised the turn, my opponent faced 4.5-to-1 pot odds to call; thus, he was certainly justified to call if indeed he was hoping to complete his flush (around 4-to-1 to hit). However, a bet on the flop wouldn’t have been much better, odds-wise. If I had bet, the cutoff would’ve had 4-to-1 to call (and surely would’ve, if he’s chasing that flush). If I had check-raised the flop, the cutoff would’ve had 6-to-1 to call . . . even better.

So it seems like waiting until the turn indeed maximized my profit, although it also maximized my potential loss had my opponent made his draw. Still, I’m over 80% to win after that turn card -- a good place to be with one card to come, no matter how you look at it.

Did I stumble my way into a viable strategy for this kind of situation? What do you say? Here . . . take this microphone . . . I’m gonna go see if there are any of those little shrimp thingys left . . . .

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Anonymous Simon said...

I think it depends entirely on your opponents. At least one of them has to be aggressive enough to bet the flop on a draw and then fire again on the turn otherwise you're potentially giving a free card to two players.

I do like waiting for the safe turn card, though now that you're heads up I think it's worth a bet here unless it's almost certain that your opponent will bet (as in your example) otherwise you're giving a potential flush draw the chance to see the turn and river for just the price of a small bet on the flop.

Can't argue with results though and on this table against this opponent you've extracted the maximum and any move that lets you do that is well worth keeping in the arsenal!

9/09/2006 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Cell 1919 said...

A very interesting question and everyone will have a different view I'm sure.

I speak as a novice, so forgive me if what I'm about to say is naive in some way. I try to look at pot odds etc but my technical level simply isn't up there with good poker players.

Once upon a time I would have put in a standard bet of 3BB. However as I play more and more I realise that this doesn't really scare people off, especially with the potential draws out there. If anything it encourages people to take you on because once they've bet on the flop they're more likely to stay with you all the way, increasing their chances of hitting something.

If you check then you aren't really finding out where you are in the hand because it's unlikely (though possible) that anyone will bet heavily on a flush draw. They may limp in, check or put in a solid bet themselves. You haven't asked them any questions so when it gets back to you you don't have any answers.

It's something that I've learnt (don't laugh) from the Poker Night Live presenters - Sky 843 after 9pm - a number of whom are big on the 'charge them a hefty price for looking at the turn' school.

I think Hilger terms this 'protecting your hand' but excuse me if I'm wrong, because it's painfully slow going for me. You make mention that you'd normally bet. Would you bet big or a standard bet or a little higher? What impression are you giving to the players that follow? What would you do if you were on a draw with those probabilities if someone comes in 6 or more times the BB? I'd lay it down and fight another day.

If the intention is to extract maximum return from the pot this isn't going to work. Hoewever slow playing an average two pair hand like Q4 isn't soemthing I'd like to do. I'd try and take it down there and then.

If you have calling stations out there, or a maverick, then you have to judge it as you feel it.

If someone calls you then you've still got the full house outs. And if the turn is safe then you could try and take the pot down. I have to say, though, that the end play here is dependant on so many factors that I'm not experienced enough to comment. My play would be an attempt to take the pot there and then. If called then it's a draw, more than likely, that you're up against, but if it's a raise then although you've lost a good bet if you decide to lay down you at least made the winner answer a few questions.

Of course I could be talking total rubbish *ahem*.

9/11/2006 9:04 AM  
Anonymous Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Good point, Simon. The cutoff showing interest w/that flop bet definitely mattered greatly to how I proceeded with this particular hand.

Cell 1919 . . . you're right about makin' 'em pay to see that turn in a NL game. This was limit, though, so I could only bet 1 BB on the flop.

If this were a NL game, I imagine I'd bet at least the pot so as to make my opponent make the wrong decision by calling -- if he were chasing a draw, that is.

Since this was limit (which I've been playing almost exclusively), I realized I needed to come up with some other strategy in this situation since I'm probably not able to bet people out of the pot right away. I'm still not sure if this is necessarily how I want to play this type hand every time, but I like having discovered an alternate play here . . . .

9/11/2006 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Cell 1919 said...


As you were ;)



9/12/2006 9:19 AM  
Blogger derbywhite said...

I always like to lead out and bet, but it pays to mix things us as we all know.

I think on a scary board like that a bet is usually the best option.

Good luck at the tables.

9/14/2006 10:12 AM  

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