Monday, October 20, 2008

Hand of the Day

Hand of the DayWhen I started this blog I had a few half-formed, mostly vague purposes in mind, one of which was simply a desire to talk poker. Like most folks who primarily play online, I’m somewhat isolated when it comes to poker, not having a home game or regular circle of fellow players with whom to talk strategy, share triumphs and/or miseries, or break down hands. So I started writing about such things here, participated in a few forums, and somewhat fulfilled that desire here.

There’s one person, however, with whom I’ll regularly share certain highlights from online sessions, the lovely Vera Valmore. Vera doesn’t play poker, but has watched enough with me on the tube -- and in Vegas this past summer -- to know more about it than yr average audience. She also has a lot of patience with my sometimes obsessive-sounding recountings of “hand of the day.” It’s certainly fun -- and more than a little helpful -- to try to explain to Vera what the hell I think I’m doing at the tables.

It’s “hand of the day” because after a while we kind of mutually agreed that while she wants to be accommodating, it becomes difficult to remain supportive if I’m going to go on and on about multiple hands. So I pick one, usually a hand that seems somehow representative of the session as a whole, and swiftly break it down.

Of course, we all know that while describing a hand in isolation might be interesting and somewhat revealing, doing so hardly tells the whole story. There are a host of contextualizing factors that are usually needed to explain every hand, and as a means to handle this truth I’ve gotten into the habit with Vera of providing a quick summary of those factors as a customary lead-in to “hand of the day.” In my effort to achieve a kind of functional brevity, I (somewhat generally) describe just three of those factors so the subsequent hand “makes sense”: how I am playing, how my opponents are playing, and how the cards are going.

As I type that, I’m remembering writing a post a long time ago about limit hold’em in which I described something similar as “A-B-C,” suggesting then that the three main factors affecting a given session were the player’s overall Ability, how many Bad players are at the table, and the Cards one gets dealt.

Here I am sort of saying something the same thing (referring mainly to pot-limit Omaha), although being a little less mechanical about it. By “how I am playing” I refer to how effectively I’m reading other players’ tendencies and hands as well as the quality of my own decision-making. Since I’m not a robot, such things vary, including being regularly affected by the other two factors. By “how my opponents are playing,” I refer to what I can tell regarding the quality of their decision-making (their bet sizes, hands they’ve chosen to play, their awareness of position, etc.). And by “how the cards are going” I refer what I’m getting dealt, what others are getting, and how those hands are working (or not) with the community cards.

In any event, having gone over those three factors time and again with Vera, I’ve started to recognize more and more how they relate to one another, and also how the right combination among them tends to produce a winning session (and the wrong combination a losing one).

One sure-fire combination for producing a winning session is to have all three of those factors working for me -- i.e., I’m playing well, my opponents aren’t, and I’m catching cards. Hard not to win under those circumstances. Had a quick-hit session on Saturday in which that was the case. Built up a ridiculous stack in a very short space (tripling the buy-in in just 50 hands), then left to go take care of other, non-pokery business, including going for a walk with Vera.

During that walk came the “hand of the day.” I told Vera how I was reading the six-handed PLO table well, how others weren’t really demonstrating a lot of care in their decision-making, and how I’d been catching some nice cards. I didn’t choose one of the bigger pots as the hand I’d tell about, but rather a small one near the end of the session as somehow more representative of how things went.

I cheated a little and summarized an earlier hand before getting to the real “hand of the day.” The way I told it to Vera, I simply said I’d been caught trying to make a smallish bluff. Since yr a poker player, though, I’ll go ahead and give you the unabridged version.

I had been dealt TcAdJs2d in the big blind. One player limped, the small blind completed, and I checked my option. We all checked the 4hKc9h flop. The turn was the 8s. The SB bet pot (75 cents), I made a loose call with my straight draw, and the other player folded. The river was the 9s, pairing the board. The SB checked, and I waited a moment before betting $1.25 (a little over half the pot). The SB thought for several seconds, then called me with 8c7cQdKd. His kings plus the nines on board won him the small pot.

I liked seeing him call me so light there. I’d been winning way more than my deserved share of pots at this table, and knew that while my opponents were largely passive they were also starting to get fed up and wouldn’t continue to let me steal pots the way I had been doing. Just two hands later, a hand came up which seemed to demonstrate how my busted bluff – a mere $1.25 investment -- appeared to have paid larger dividends. The “hand of the day.”

In this hand I open-limped in from the button with 2cTdQhKc and was up against just the two blinds. I might have raised, of course, but as I had been open-raising a lot from the cutoff/button I decided not to this time with my drawing hand. The flop came AsJc9d, giving me a very nice wrap draw -- a great flop with which to get aggressive, especially from late position. The big blind made a meek minimum bet of a quarter, and I raised to $1.00. The SB folded and the BB called.

The turn was the Th, giving me my straight (and also making flushies impossible). The BB checked, I bet $2.50 (nearly the size of the pot), and he very quickly called. The river was the 5s, changing nothing. He checked again, and this time I value bet $3. He again called right away, turning over Qc7sAdQs -- just a pair of aces. I’d dragged the $13.10 pot.

I’m reasonably certain he isn’t calling me there with such a weak hand if it weren’t for my earlier bluff. Thus does the story of that “hand of the day” make more sense -- to me and to an audience -- after having gone through the contextualizing stuff first. I’m playing well there, and my opponents aren’t. And I’ve caught cards, although I’m getting paid more than I should on that one thanks to them other two factors.

Thanks for yr patience, Vera. And everyone.

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