Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What’s the Plan, Man?

'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (1959)I continue to play a lot of pot-limit Omaha. Such a fun game. Sometimes referred to as a “post-flop” game, because so much of what matters indeed happens after the flop. Good game for those who enjoy making plans.

These days, I am almost entirely on PokerStars when I play, where I am still not too far off the pace to reach Gold Star status this month. I’d become ambivalent about doing so a week or so ago, but discover today that I’ve put in enough hands for it to be not too difficult for me to get there by month’s end.

The main benefit, as far as I can tell, will be getting 2 FPPs (Frequent Player Points) for every VPP (VIP Player Point) I earn while my Gold Star status lasts (i.e., through the end of September). I would also gets Gold Star-level access to purchase certain items in the VIP store with FPPs, which would be more meaningful for me if I had more FPPs in my account currently (I’m only sitting on around 4,200 right now). I could perhaps play a bunch next month, accumulate more FPPs, then see what I could buy, although I couldn’t even come close to the 25,000 by the end of next month I’d need to buy a $300 VIP Reward Bonus.

Otherwise, Gold Star appears pretty similar to Silver Star as far as the daily and weekly freerolls go. I would get a free entry into the $100,000 guaranteed monthly freeroll in September, something that as a Silver Star would require winning my seat via a 130 FPP satellite. As a Gold Star, I could also buy my way into some of the larger tourneys (i.e., $320 and up) with FPPs, but I’m more likely to go for cash bonuses than to do that.

I might just go ahead and try to make the Gold Star this month, grab up some extra FPPs during September, then perhaps think about going for Gold Star again in October, as that would let me try to win a seat (via an FPP satellite) in the big Quarterly VIP tourney in November, a $1 million guaranteed tourney.

As you can see, I didn’t necessarily think ahead too well with this here Gold Star plan, although one nice side benefit has been I’ve been doing okay at the tables. Putting in the extra hands has kind of jump-started the year for me, and gotten me thinking a lot more about my game and ways to improve.

Speaking of planning ahead, I had a PLO hand last week that reminded me of how it is sometimes important in certain hands to think about betting on future streets when making that first bet after the flop. This is something that good no-limit hold’em players are always thinking about, but for a guy like me who generally plays a lot of fixed limit betting games, the concept isn’t always foremost in my mind.

I’ve found myself most often playing the “20-50 BB” version of the $0.10/$0.25 PLO games (six-handed), meaning the maximum buy-ins are $12.50. Of course, even 50 big blinds isn’t a lot. Let’s say I’ve just bought in and play a hand in which there’s a raise and two players call. The pot will then be about $2.50, and I’ll be down to $11.65 -- about 4.5 times the pot. I’m already down to a point where I only have a couple of pot-sized bets left!

'Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Vol. I' (2009) by Jeff HwangBy the way, Jeff Hwang spells all of this out nicely in his Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I: Small-Ball and Short-Handed Play (2009) where he applies that “Stack-to-Pot Ratio” idea (SPR) that Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller talk about in Professional No-Limit Hold’em (2007) to PLO. Hwang points out that SPR is probably even more useful to be aware of in PLO where pot-limit restrictions on betting apply.

There Hwang explains how having an SPR of 4 essentially means you are down to two pot-sized bets (with the second one being about three times the first one). Not a lot of room, really, for planning ahead, but there do come situations where it is good to put a little thought into how the second bet will go when make that first one.

I’m going to simplify the hand somewhat -- modifying the stack sizes just a touch -- to try and make the ’splainin’ easier. Let’s just say I bought in for $12.50 and after an orbit or so I’ve slipped to exactly $10.00. And we’ll give everyone else around the table at least $10.00, too, so the effective stacks (as far as I’m concerned) are all ten bucks.

In this hand I was under the gun and was dealt Tc9d8c7s. I wanted to see a flop cheaply, if possible, so I limped in for a quarter. It folded to the button who raised pot to $1.10. The small blind folded, the big blind called, and I called as well. That made the pot $3.40 going to the flop. I had just $8.90 left -- an SPR of a little over 2.6. The flop then came 9s6h5s, giving me a straight.

Hwang has a table called “SPR Considerations: All-in Considerations on the Flop” in which he offers some suggestions about whether or not one should be willing to get the whole stack in or not on various flops, as indicated by one’s SPR.

Flopping the bare nut straight with no redraw is a sketchy situation when the stacks are deep -- indeed, Hwang says if your SPR is more than 13 (i.e., more than three pot-sized bets heads-up), then “No Way” should you be wanting to get your whole stack in here. But if your SPR is less than 4 -- like mine is here -- then Hwang’s answer to the question of whether or not to commit on the flop is “OK.”

Actually, I do have a redraw here -- I can improve from a nine-high straight to a ten-high straight -- so I’m pretty ready to go for it. If I bet and get raised, I’ll shove and hope my hand holds. Obviously it’s bad for me if he has a straight plus a flush draw and is freerolling, but so it goes.

So here’s what happened: I bet the pot ($3.40), and only the button called. Pot now $10.20. The turn was the 2d, I bet my last $5.50, and the button quickly called, showing AsKs4h3c (not a hand I’d be too excited about even from late position in PLO). I suppose he might’ve thought the deuce gave him more straight outs, though those were no good. The river brought the 5h, and my hand had held up.

Afterwards, I considered how vulnerable I’d left myself following that pot-sized flop bet. My Stack-to-Pot Ratio was down to just 0.5 at that point. Even worse, I was out of position, meaning I wasn’t in a good spot to know if a spade or pairing card helped my opponent or not.

If a third spade had come on the turn, I might have been able to check-fold, and subsequently would’ve felt a little bummed about dumping half my stack. And if the board had paired, I might have gone ahead and bet my $5.50, hoping he was on the flush draw and hadn’t improved. In any event, I’ve left myself so little behind I’ve made life a little awkward going forward.

What if, I thought, I had only bet, say, $2.00 on that flop (about 60%) of the pot? Am pretty sure the button still would’ve just called, and the big blind probably still would’ve folded. That would’ve made the pot $7.40, and I would’ve had $6.90 left -- almost a pot-sized bet. Then comes the safe turn card and my all-in shove, and if my opponent was indeed drawing to ten outs or less (as I assumed he was) he’d be making a worse river call, odds-wise. I guess I’d also feel less committed should a scary turn card come, and more easily able to get away from the hand.

In those spots in which my opponent on the button is going to raise my flop bet there, it doesn’t matter if I bet $2.00 or $3.40 -- I can reraise with the rest of my stack, either way. But if he’s just going to call as he did, I think the less-than-pot-sized bet is probably preferable.

Fail to Plan, Plan to FailLike I say, I think the good no-limit hold’em players have all long ago absorbed this here bet-sizing thing and instinctively know what amounts work best when it comes to setting up later-street betting.

And the best NLHE tourney players -- often even more mindful of stack sizes than are cash game players -- are especially good at this sort of planning ahead, able to set up opponents to commit entire stacks in unfavorable situations time and again.

Yet another area in poker in which could stand to study more and try to improve.

Yeah, I say that. One can always plan.

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