Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brunson Burner

Is there a starting hand that is so bad -- or to which you have such an aversion to playing -- that even, say, 11-to-1 odds isn’t enough for you to play it?

Had a mostly benign session of limit (6-max, $0.50/$1.00) yesterday where the following statistical anomaly took place: within the first 46 hands I was dealt the “Brunson” -- ten-deuce -- five times. In terms of percentages, one can expect to be dealt any particular combination of two non-paired cards around once every 83 hands. That means I was getting T2 about ten times more often than I should have.

Now I like Brunson, but I hate the Brunson. An autofold for me, most of the time. Problem was, four of the five times I got the hand, I was in the blinds. And this was an especially passive table -- very few preflop raises, a lot of family pots. So I kept seeing flops with my crummy T2. And then folding.

The one time I was dealt the hand in the cutoff, I folded preflop. Three times I was in the SB, and each time there were 2 or 3 limpers already in when the action came to me. So, getting either 7-to-1 or 9-to-1 on my money (barring a raise from the BB, which never happened), I completed the bet. The fifth time I was dealt T2 in the BB and faced a raise with two callers, so again I had 7-to-1 to complete. And did.

So I ended up seeing four flops with this crummy hand, connected with none, and got out (a few quarters lighter, overall). Played about thirty more hands after that and was dealt T2 again. And again in the small blind! This time the entire table had limped in, so I was looking at 11-to-1 to call. Surely if I played the hand all those times before with worse odds, I should play it here. Right?

Wrong. I folded, motivated more by emotion than reason. I was simply tired of chucking away quarters on this same lousy holding. (And no, the flop didn’t come TT2, as one might expect.) Besides, it was starting to dawn on me that I had to be making an error here. Repeatedly. And one should never let making an error once (or four times . . . or hundreds of times, as I probably have) endorse making it again.

I went looking for instruction in Small Stakes Hold ’em. Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth there make the general recommendation to “avoid marginal hands, especially off-suit ones, in early position.” And while their preflop recommendations are fairly liberal when it comes to the small blind, they never recommend playing garbage like the Brunson unless there has been no raise and only if it is suited. Not too much in the way of specific advice here, but generally speaking the trio is not advocating autocalling from the SB with any old unsuited crap.

Barry Tanenbaum (whom I lauded last post) has an old Card Player column that particularly addresses this situation in detail. With two or three callers (instructs Tanenbaum), only complete the half-bet “with pairs, any two suited, and all one- and two-gappers.” In other words, forget about trying to turn the Brunson into gold here. With four or more callers, “complete with all but your worst hands.” Again, sounds to me like Tanenbaum is telling me to stop trying to follow Texas Dolly’s path to riches by playing his hand from the SB in limit games this way.

(Of course, you do end up seeing flops in unraised pots from the BB with such hands. In another helpful article, Tanenbaum talks a bit about playing “trash hands” from the blinds post-flop.)

What constitues “your worst hands” is up to the individual player. For me, ten-deuce fits squarely into that category, and I’m going to try to be much less willing to let attractive pot odds sway me into playing such limited-potential hands from the SB in the future.

Photo: “Doyle Brunson in 2006 World Series of Poker - Rio Las Vegas,” flipchip. CC BY-SA 2.0.



Blogger Swifty said...

Although any statistical analysis would no doubt show that I would be right to be very cautious about 55 in the SB (a hand that is only rarely going to improve, especially on a full table) I had one hand last night where trash turned into pure gold.

The table was calling and there were no raises to me in the SB. I momentarily thought about raising there and then but that would only have led to tears, so I called the half bet and the BB checked.

Flop was 544. The nuts at that stage (apart, I suppose from someone with pocket 4s, but that would have been just too freaky to contemplate seriously). I check because I could scare everyone away with even the slightest indication that I had the four (no-one would put me on pocket 5s I wouldn't think). Under the gun bets half his stack and I know that I have to move now as everyone folds to me.

I re-raise all in and he flips over J4 for the baby full house. He gets neither the other four he needed nor runner runner Jack and I use the winnings to ultimately take down the pot and the tournament.

What would I have done if I'd been in early position? At best called and folded to a raise. Sometimes playing rags is great because most of the people staying in a hand are holding overcards.

Even better no-one could slag me off in the chat box for playing such a dross hand - when you're in the blinds you're immune!

12/08/2006 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shamus,
I noticed in your article that you say you completed the small blind a few times due to being given the odds to play...
BUT (and its a big but cos Im not a limit expert), is this not a major way to haemorrhage money? Is completing the small blind with complete crap hoping to hit some weirdo 'small blind special' a tad loose?
Kick me in the balls and tell me to go away, but I'd be interested in you looking at your PT stats and just confirming with yourself whether or not this is a small leak in your otherwise perfect game :-)
Good luck at those tables bro!

12/08/2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Yr prezactly correct, o cadmeister, when you identify this here habit as a potentially disastrous leak in one's game. I've started looking at my stats & hunting around for help trying to interpret my numbers -- will probably use the next post to report. Preliminary findings look okay, actually (it appears I'm doing not so bad from the blinds, from what I can tell).

Will keep investigating. (As a shamus ought.)

12/08/2006 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shamus,
this article from 2+2 may help you on your quest :-)

12/08/2006 5:12 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haha, Cadmunkey . . . I had landed on Pokey's excellent post almost immediately after I began my search. Am learning how to use filters, etc. Will post tomorrow.

Thanks bud.

12/08/2006 7:46 PM  

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