I had played PLO quite a bit prior to this year, but never exclusively (as has been the case for lengthy stretches over the last few months). Which has meant I’ve tried to spend a lot more time this year thinking seriously about how to play the game well. Tried back in July to collect a few fairly basic ideas here in a post called “Plotting a PLO Strategy.” Nothing too deep. Just a few, mostly obvious reminders to self (e.g., try to avoid calling preflop raises from out of position, don’t play hands with “danglers,” etc.). Kind of stuff that ought to be second nature to anyone taking a shot at PLO, I’d imagine.
One of the tips listed there was to be wary when flopping middle or bottom sets. Hold ’em players (rightly) delight in flopping sets, since doing so often gives one a virtual lock on the hand. But PLO players know how vulnerable sets can be –- especially with two cards to come -- and thus usually proceed with caution.
The problem came up in an interesting hand from Event No. 50 of the 2007 WSOP -- the $10K buy-in PLO event –- which I wrote about here as well. In that hand, Phil Laak was holding two jacks (and a couple of baby rags), was looking at a board of K-J-5-4, and had to decide whether or not to call an all-in bet against two other players. Complicating matters further, the board showed two spades and two diamonds. (Laak did have two spades in his hand.) In other words, while Laak very likely held the best hand at the moment (unless someone had two kings), he probably would have to fade most of the deck if he made the call. (See the post to find out what happened.)
So flopping sets –- even top sets –- ain’t necessarily the bees’ knees in PLO. Fine. But what about flopping TWO sets? That’s got to better, yes?
There are many situations in PLO where flops appear terrific at first blush, but are anything but. This one –- where one is holding two pair and happens to flop sets with both –- is probably one of the more deceiving-looking flops I can think of in PLO. Gawd it looks pretty. And Gawd is it trouble.
Two pair ain’t a bad starting hand for PLO (especially suited or double-suited), though you’d like medium-to-high pairs. In Super/System 2, the mostly-conservative Lyle Berman actually goes so far as to recommend occasionally raising preflop with a hand like J-J-5-5, since if you do flop a set your opponents won’t necessarily suspect it (thinking you’re raising with aces or kings). Berman talks about the “25 percent rule” which states “you will flop a set one out of four times when you start with two pocket pair.” And indeed, now and then, that flop might even hit both of your pairs.
At first glance, it may appear that by flopping two sets you must have a stone-cold lock on the hand. How can anyone else have anything? Well, think about it. If indeed no one else has anything, yr probably not going to make very much on this hand. And if they do . . . well . . . yr probably cooked.
Had a hand not that long ago where I started with A-A-K-K double-suited – just about the best starting hand in PLO. (I think A-A-J-10 double-suited might beat it by a hair.) Flop came with both an ace and a king (though no flush draw for me). But there was a queen as well. An early position player made a pot-sized bet, pretty clearly signalling he’d flopped Broadway. What do I do?
Actually, in this hand, my opponent was short-stacked and so I ended up playing it out (and losing). But I damn well knew when I put my chips in I was essentially drawing dead. That’s because, as Bob Ciaffone talks about in Omaha Poker, this is one of those situations where I had myself “stopped” –- in other words, I had in my hand cards I needed to hit to improve. In fact, on the turn I only had five outs to win (the case ace, the case king, or the other three queens). Not so good for calling a pot-sized bet. I picked up three more outs on the turn, of course. But still, a pretty desperate scenario.
I had to screw this particular situation up a few times before I realized how bad it is in PLO to flop two sets. I’ve also witnessed others paying off big time when put in this situation. It’s hard not to be dazzled by flopping two sets, but it is probably more correct to regard this sort of flop as only average (or less than average), or even worse.
Maybe that’s a bit obscure, as far as how frequently that particular situation comes up is concerned. But anyone thinking of giving PLO a try definitely needs to spend a bit of effort thinking about similarly deceptive-looking starting hands and/or flops.
Yr opponents are tough enough. No need to keep setting yourself up.
Labels: *shots in the dark