Friday, August 07, 2009

To Pot or Not to Pot, a PLO Predicament

'Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I' by Jeff Hwang (2009)A couple of weeks ago I moved back over to pot-limit Omaha (from limit hold’em) and have been once again enjoying the game I focused on primarily for the latter half of ’07 and all of ’08. Part of what got me back over onto the PLO tables was reading Jeff Hwang’s new one, Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play -- one of the best written, most helpful strategy texts I’ve read in some time.

I’m a big fan of Hwang’s first book, titled Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy, the first half of which focuses on PLO (the rest concentrates on limit Omaha/8 and PLO8). That first book does a terrific job explaining how to think about PLO, and is particularly valuable (I think) in its discussion of starting hand constructions and what Hwang calls “straight draw physics.” For newcomers, it is essential to understand that while there isn’t that huge of a difference between a lot of starting hands preflop, certain hands have a much, much better chance of connecting with the flop than others, and thus there really is a lot to think about when it comes to selecting which hands to play.

The second book neatly follows the first with discussions of various “advanced” plays and concepts. One need not have read the first book to pick up the new one, but it would help to have had some experience with PLO and a basic understanding of why, say, Ad9h9c2d is a better starter than QcQh7c3d. Or other basic concepts such as the supreme importance of position or knowing that having a couple of aces in your hand ain’t the cat’s pajamas the way it is in hold’em.

I’m not going to delve into a full-fledged review here, but I will say I like Hwang’s new one very much and recommend it highly. Rather, I just wanted to pose a quick question regarding PLO strategy that comes up in Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I with which I’ve struggled occasionally.

Early on, Hwang discusses how in PLO the pot-sized bet is frequently chosen -- especially preflop, on the flop, and even on the turn -- when a player is opening the betting. “Generally speaking,” writes Hwang, “unless the board is paired or a possible flush is present, the standard bet on the flop and turn is a full-sized bet. That said, more often than not, a bet in the neighborhood of half- or three-quarters of the pot in these spots is a sign of weakness, amounting to little more than a weak attempt to pick up the pot.”

In many of Hwang’s hand examples whenever an opponent makes a less-than-pot-sized bet it is often described as a “weak stab” -- even if the bet is 75% of the pot or more. These bets then become invitations to play back by “floating” or check-raising or otherwise doing something to take the initiative away from the opponent and (hopefully) claim the pot.

Now, I’m kind of generalizing here -- I don’t mean to suggest Hwang is always regarding less-than-pot-sized bets as “weak” -- but I wanted to present one of his hand examples and ask you what you think about the situation.

Hwang's handIn this hand, Hwang is playing from the big blind, but there’s a “Mississippi Straddle” (on the button), meaning preflop action starts with the small blind. The blinds are $5/$10, and the straddle is $25. Hwang is dealt 7s6c4s4c. The small blind folds, Hwang completes, then a player in EP raises to $75. Two players call, including the button, and Hwang calls as well.

Never mind the straddle business -- this is a situation that comes up fairly frequently. You’re in the blinds and get a neat-looking, double-suited hand with some straight potential and a small pair in it, and you want to play it, even though you’re out of position. So you end up in a hand like this where a pot has already been built up a bit and there are four of you seeing a flop -- and you’re there in the worst position, having to act first on every street from this point forward.

Hwang is self-deprecating about his decision to play the hand -- indeed, one of the things I like most about Hwang’s books is his willingness to admit having made errors or less-than-ideal plays here and there (and the humor he uses when pointing out such mistakes). “I am about to get what I deserved,” says Hwang as he readies for the flop, “ -- a marginal situation.”

The flop comes Js9d4h, giving Hwang a bottom set of fours. He says he doesn’t want to bet out and be forced to fold if raised, so he checks. The others check to the button who bets $250 into the $305 pot. Hwang characterizes this less-than-pot-sized bet as a “weak stab.”

One little side issue, here: If the button had bet just $55 more (the pot), is it that much different? Is it no longer a “weak” bet? I wonder about this sometimes, as I notice in my PLO25 games sometimes if I bet even a nickel less than the pot it seems like I am much more likely to get called (or raised) than if I bet the entire pot. (Which is what I desire, sometimes.)

Note, the button wasn’t the preflop raiser, so this isn’t technically a c-bet. But given the not-so-coordinated board (no flush draw, a possible straight draw) and the apparent invitation to claim the pot when the other three checked, Hwang doesn’t really think much of the button’s bet. He notes the stack sizes (most in the $2,000 range), then decides to check-raise the pot to $1,055. All fold.

So here’s my question. I’ve been in this same situation frequently, and sometimes I’ve played it exactly the same way. (Of course, you can divide the total amounts in Hwang’s example by 50 or so, lol.) I understand why calling is awful here -- you can’t give the straight draws odds and you don’t want to let the pot get bigger and bigger while playing from out of position.

But what troubles me here is the idea of betting $1,055 to win $505.

Readers of Harrington on Hold’em instinctively recall his advice about c-betting half the pot and how the move only has to work once every three times for you to break even. I realize we’re looking at an entirely different situation (and game) here, but in this case Hwang is betting twice the size of the pot -- and really, really doesn’t want callers, preferring to take it down right here. So it seems like the move has to work almost all of the time to be profitable. Because when it doesn’t -- say, when the button (or one of the other players) comes back over the top with a bigger set -- you’re likely playing for the rest of your stack, and also likely in sad shape when putting the rest of your money in the middle.

I say I recognize the situation and have experienced it before -- what I mean is I’ve played hands where I’ve made a bold pot-sized raise after the flop, won the hand, then, when looking at my stack afterwards, thought to myself “is that all?” Because I’ve put a lot of chips at risk to win what amounts to a relatively small pot.

Anyhow, I guess the real advice here is to avoid these “marginal” situations if you can. As Hwang himself states at the start of the “Advanced Concepts” section of his new book, “The true mark of an expert player is not the ability to maneuver in tight spots, but rather the ability to avoid putting himself into tight spots to begin with.”

If anyone has thoughts about this situation, I’d love to hear ’em. Like I say, for those of you thinking about moving over to PLO, I greatly recommend both of Hwang’s books.

Have a great weekend, all.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Klopzi said...

Funny - I just read the 7644 hand this morning on the bus.

I think the problem with reviewing hand histories or, in the case of poker training videos, watching/listening to an instructor comment on a previously played hand is that it's difficult to get an unbiased analysis.

If, for example, Hwang had c/r is bottom set and the button had moved in on him to show top set, would this hand have been placed in this section of the book as an example of the best times to check-raise? Not likely.

I also find that a poker player's reasoning after the hand has played out is much different than what may or may not be going through his or her head at the time of the hand. Are high-stakes players always aware of the math of the situation? Do they always put their opponents on ranges? Or are they like the rest of us, choosing to play with a little less reason and math while sometimes relying too heavily on feel and "heart"?

Hwang's book is pretty incredible so far and I'm really looking forward to jumping back into PLO. That being said, I'm pretty sure that many of Hwang's examples wouldn't work at the low to micro stakes games. The average quality of opponent is so incredibly random at times and laser reads are hard to come by given the typically limited histories on players who tend to come and go at breakneck pace.

One other point: I know for a fact that DeucesCracked's PLO videos constantly push for making less than pot-sized bets on all streets. Nothing like c/r with bottom set only to be floated and then stacked by top set by a button player making "weak stabs" with the nuts.

8/07/2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger bellatrix78 said...

I don't play PLO, so take my comments with a grain of salt...
But if you always bet pot on the flop, don't you remove a huge weapon/asset from your arsenal, i.e. bet sizing?

Vanessa Selbst goes into it deeply in her 4x6 vids into describing opponents that ALWAYS cbet and ALWAYS pot and how to attack them (as the reader before noted also that DC vids push on making less than pot-sized bets).

If somebody just pots/-repots, then you are effectively playing a very narrow limited game, which might as well be called Pot-limited-Omaha :)

8/07/2009 7:50 PM  
Blogger Greylocks said...

The decision to raise on the flop in this particular scenario should have been predicated on the strength of Hwang's belief that he had the best hand, and without much regard to the size of button's bet. If you start trying to read something into the difference between 305 and 250 in these situations, you're focusing on the wrong info. What really matters here is the button straddled and didn't reraise preflop to protect his equity if he had a big hand in a multiway pot, so it's unlikely he has much of this flop. Not impossible, but unlikely.

Furthermore, you just shouldn't read diddly poop into marginal underbets in live PLO games, as for various reasons, these are quite common. If the button had bet 100 or 150 or even 200, I might read something into it, but not 250. Marginal underbets are more significant in online games where it's actually a bit of work to NOT push the slider all the way over.

8/07/2009 10:48 PM  
Blogger BigTPoker said...

I would agree with Greylocks that Hwang thought he had the best hand. At that point he simply couldn't allow another card to be shown in fear of a drawing hand.

Aside from a drawing hand a call would also not likely be an option since the guy would likely bet again. Thus forcing yet another decision.

8/10/2009 4:50 AM  
Blogger Drizztdj said...

I'd like to know what Hwang does if the villian plays back at him. Fold with over half your stack in the middle?

Call and pray the guy is overplaying AAXX? Or get shown some kind of wrap draw that only make him a slight favorite?

Mashing a pot button doesn't do much in the PLO50 and under tables, the PLO100 and PLO200 you'll start to see people folding to 3-bets and 4-bets to save part of their stacks.

8/11/2009 2:23 PM  

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