Monday, March 05, 2007

A Godot Hand; or, What Are You Waiting For?

The four-trey of BeckettsVLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.
-- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1952)

Got a hand to share with you. Am calling it a “Godot hand.” You’re gonna have to wait for the explanation. Trust me, it’s coming.

I see three “what would you do” moments in this one. I’ll narrate in the second person so as to invite you to play along . . . .

Question No. 1: We’re six-handed ($1.00/$2.00 limit) and you are dealt 3h4h in the big blind. UTG calls, the cutoff raises, and both the button and the SB call the two bets. What do you do?

The authors of Small Stakes Hold ’em don’t specifically recommend calling a raise from the big blind with 43-suited, even with four other players in the pot (as is the case here). The worst suited connector Miller/Sklansky/Malmuth recommend playing here would be 54.

In his CardPlayer columns on “Defending the Blinds” (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI), Barry Tanenbaum says his “cardinal rule” when choosing whether to defend against a preflop raiser is the “better the player who raised, the fewer hands you should play.” As is often the case online, I was up against a player with whom I’d never played prior to this session. We had played exactly 12 hands so far, and he had managed to lose $16 already -- not necessarily an indicator that he’s a bad player, but notable nonetheless. In fact, he’d only willingly put money into the pot on three of those hands. This was also the first time he’d raised preflop.

So we don’t really know enough about the preflop raiser to apply Tanenbaum’s cardinal rule here. Scanning through the six columns, I’m not seeing Tanenbaum anywhere saying anything that sounds like he recommends playing 43-suited out of the blinds against a raise. Neither does Jennifer Harman in her limit chapter in Super System 2. Indeed, in her excellent (though brief) discussion of short-handed play, she makes a point of saying how small suited connectors aren’t worth as much in the short-handed situation, generally speaking.

As you probably guessed, I called. (Else there wouldn’t be anymore questions, right?) The UTG called as well. I don’t always call in this situation, but the table was weak-passive, I was (likely) getting 9-to-1, and I knew if I did flop a draw I’d be proceeding with caution. You could say I talked myself into it, letting my own voice drown out those of the experts.

Question No. 2: Flop comes KcJh5h. The small blind checks. What do you do?

Here Harman comes in handy again: “Playing marginal flush draws is . . . difficult when you are out of position. Let’s get straight to an example: You are in the big blind with 8-9 of hearts in a raised multiway pot. The flop comes 2h3hTs. In this situation you should probably just check to the original raiser,” since (as she goes on to say) the raiser is likely to repop it here to knock out other players. “Don’t help him,” says Harman. “Help yourself by keeping them in!”

I checked, of course. The preflop raiser made a continuation bet, the button folded, and the small blind called. No question what to do here -- I called as well. UTG called, too. Four players remain, and the pot is now $14. The turn was the Jc. The small blind checked. Again, not much question about checking here, which I did. And so did everyone else.

Question No. 3: The river is the Qh. You’ve made your baby flush. The small blind checks. What do you do? Remember, no one bet the turn. One would think the player with a jack in his or her hand would have bet there to make those drawing to either a straight or flush play to see the river. Is your flush good?

What did I do? I decided to check, planning to call one bet if necessary. I feared a bigger flush. I also thought pocket queens might be lurking. UTG bet out, the preflop raiser folded, and the small blind called. I called, making the final pot $20 (before the rake).

UTG did have that jack -- and a queen, too, giving him the hand with a full house. The small blind mucked QdAd, a distant third.

None of us who made it to the showdown played our hands error-free, I think. Afterwards, my first response was to pat myself on the back for having only lost $5 on the hand. Then, once I’d thought about it, I started to see why the experts don’t advise playing 43-suited out of the blinds like this, even in a multiway pot.

My only hope, really, to combat my positional disadvantage with a hand like that is to flop trips (about 73-to-1 against), a straight (about 100-to-1 against), or a full house (over 1000-to-1 against). If I flop a flush draw, I can’t really fight for my hand adequately. Even flopping a flush is dicey thanks to my poor position. The only other good flop for me would be an open-ended straight draw -- about 15-to-1 against, there -- but even in that case I’m probably going to have to call multiple bets to get there. (These odds, by the way, were gathered from Table XXI in the original Super System.)

I’ve dubbed this a “Godot Hand” because the preflop call essentially puts me in the same position as Vladimir and Estragon -- waiting for something that ain’t likely to come. Same would go for any hand where one calls preflop in the hopes of flopping trips or pairing both your hole cards (the latter being a 50-to-1 long shot). The hand also reminds me of the famous last lines of the play (quoted above). When the flush draw flops (the most likely good flop for me with 43-suited, really -- about 8-to-1), I’m encouraged to “go” with the hand. But I cannot act.

The lesson, then? Avoid playing Godot hands. Unless, of course, absurdist nightmares are your thing.



Blogger BigStack said...

Another great post. You should walk away from every poker game having learned something new. Your blog is similiarly fulfilling. Keep it up.

3/05/2007 12:17 PM  
Blogger Swifty said...

You may (but probably won't!) recall a post I made a long time ago on my blog where I called an unraised pot with 45 suited and flopped the flush. My decision was to push there and then (it was in a sit and go).

I was called by someone who also had flopped the flush (inevitably higher) and went out.

That was a long time ago, and I was gently chastised for the move. Quite correctly of course.

With that hand the only thing I'd be looking for, for variety only, is the low straight which subjectively seems to present itself more often than one would imagine.

3/05/2007 3:52 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thx, Karridy. Cell, at least w/54 you've got one more straight possibility than w/43.

3/05/2007 6:39 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I don't think playing this hand from the BB when getting 9-to-1 is such a bad thing. Sure, you need help but so do your opponents.

Having decided to play out of position if I see a flop like this and decide to draw to my flush I go for a check-raise most of the time, for a few reasons:

1. The pot is large, Miller and Slansky will tell you need to increase your chances to win it.

2. Drive out any weak draws behind you, the UTG player may fold his jack for 2 bets but is getting great odds to play for 1 even if he puts the preflop raiser on a king.

3. Make the raiser and caller re-think their hand. If the preflop raiser is continuing with a hand like 99 or similar he may well consider folding. If he has AK he may re-raise, possibly driving out the SB who is likely drawing.

Depending on the reaction to my raise I may continue my semi-bluff on the turn or I may check (if I didn't succeed in knocking anyone out I'm almost certainly checking the "scary" jack).

Needless to say, my line through this hand is quite a bit more risky than yours. It's likely against these loose players I'd have lost an extra bet or two on this hand. Unlike calling though, check-raising opens up a variety of new ways to win the hand which is always my main aim when deciding how to continue.

I guess then the summary of my (hopefully constructive) criticism is that you seem a little bit passive throughout this hand and a bit aprehensive, overly worried about bigger flushes. Perhaps the lesson to learn from this hand is that if you won't be able to play your draws with a hand like 43s confidently when out of position then don't play hands like 43s out of position period. If you do play them though, don't put them in the category of "Godot hands" - all except the most premium hands are "Godot hands" out of position against four opponents.

3/05/2007 11:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome, I'm a fan of Beckett and his plays, so I really dug the reference and connection here. In general that's the most enjoyable part about this blog, your connections of poker to literature.

In terms of the hand, I agree with simon. He makes a good argument.

But it's interesting to read both your posts, since I'm not experienced at limit hold em

3/06/2007 1:04 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Richard! And good points, Simon. I really like how yr summing up the lesson here.

Simon's right about my being passive here. I'll flop check-raise in this spot on occasion, though here (as you can tell) I was a little at sea. It was early in the session, which I might've cited as an excuse if I hadn't just read the following in Chen/Ankenman's The Mathematics of Poker: "One tendency among players is to delay characterizing and adjusting to a player's play until gaining a little more information, by observing some hands or the like. But this view is overly passive in our view; maximizing EV means taking advantage of all the information we have at our disposal and not necessarily waiting for confirmation that the information is reliable before trying to take advantage of it."

3/06/2007 8:18 AM  

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