Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Master of the Obvious

Click the ship to see other Mighty Optical IllusionsDoesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize when it comes to poker, we’re living in a Hold ’em world at the moment. So I know not everyone reading this here blog will be all that enthralled by discussions of pot limit Omaha hands. Take a ride with me, though, on this here brief voyage of discovery . . . .

At least two factors in PLO make reading hands after the flop relatively less difficult than in hold ’em (especially no limit). For me, anyway. One is the number of hands in play -- at a nine-handed table, I’m essentially looking at 54 different two-card combinations that can be matched with those three flopped community cards. That means, of course, that when assessing the board, just about any possible hand I can think of is probably going to be out there -- particularly when there’s several players seeing the flop. So if I ain’t holding the best possible hand, someone else probably is. (Something one really shouldn’t assume so readily in hold ’em.)

The other factor that makes hand-reading a simpler matter is the fact that the game is pot limit. In this game I never face the ambiguity of an all-in raise wildly disproportionate to the size of the pot. That is not say there is no guesswork at all here -- but with certain flops, a pot-sized bet is usually a pretty strong indicator of what a player is holding. And the relative purity of your own outs is usually easier to calculate as well.

Let’s say it’s a $0.10/$0.25 PLO game and I’m in late postion. Seven players have limped in. The flop comes 569-rainbow and a player in early position bets pot. It is reasonable to assume here that two of his cards are probably 7 and 8 (or perhaps he has a set). And anyone who calls and/or raises before the action gets to me probably has a set (or perhaps a 7 and an 8). So if I don’t also hold the nut straight -- or at the very least a set of nines -- I’m basically ignoring the evidence before me if I don’t let it go. (I’m talking lower limits here, of course -- $25 or $50 max. buy-in -- and so can’t really speak to the sort of meta-games happenin’ over at the $100/$200 PLO tables on Full Tilt.)

So, in a sense, what I’m saying here is that doing well at PLO requires -- among other things -- at least being able to master the obvious. Here are three hands where I’ve determined being in possession of this here much-underrated skill to have been a factor.

Hand No. 1

I limp in early position with As8dQhQc. Six of us see a flop of TsJc9h (pot $1.50). I’ve flopped the second-best straight, but I’m also holding two of the queens, which makes someone else holding KQ just a bit less likely than it would have been otherwise. The big blind bets a quarter. (I’ve seen a lot of people try this nuisance-minimum bet either with very little or to disguise a monster.) I go ahead and bet pot -- $1.75 -- to see what’s what. Folds around to a player in late position who fires out $7.00 (again, a pot-sized bet). And the big blind calls. What once seemed unlikely now seems undeniable. I fold. Sure enough, both players hold KQ.

Hand No. 2

I’m on the button with KdQcQs5c and again I just limp, as do three others (pot $1.00). Flop comes 4d8sTc. Early position player opens with a probe bet of $0.50 and the other two players call. I don’t have much, but call as well with my overpair. Pot is $3.00. Turn comes Jc. Again, EP bets half-pot -- $1.50 -- and again both of the other players call. I’ve got the up-and-down draw (plus the Q-high flush draw) and 5-to-1 to call, so I do. Pot is $9.00. The river is a 7d and all three players rapidly check to me. I’ve missed my draw. There are several straight possibilities out there, but it is pretty damn clear no one has the Q9. If EP had it, he’d have bet here. And if anyone else had it, they’d have raised the turn. Rarely do I outright bluff in PLO. I’ll semi-bluff or open bet big draws, but almost never do I stone cold bluff. At this particular table, I’d cultivated the tight image, only showing down winners. I take the plunge and plunk down $7.00 -- a little over 3/4 the pot. Thinking I obviously have the nut straight, all fold. (I would have, too.)

Hand No. 3

So as not to give the impression I don’t screw up from time to time, here’s a blunder-filled mess of a hand for you that also demonstrates the principle. On this one I make a dubious call from the button with Jc8c3c9s. Six are in, so the pot is $1.50. The flop comes Ts8h7c. I’ve flopped the nut straight with my sketchy holding. A player in early position bets half-pot, and I hastily make a pot-sized raise -- telling the table, essentially, I’ve got J9. He quickly calls. Pot is $9.00. The turn is the 9c and my opponent checks. What might he have? Immediately I assumed QJ -- not because I am a pessimist, but because I am a realist. But I bet $5.00 anyway. (Really.) Like a shot he raises to $10. Now it’s obvious. He has the better straight. But I look at my once-proud straight, my two pair, my baby flush draw, my chance to counterfeit if a queen comes . . . and I talk myself into calling. Terrible. Pot is $29.00. The river is a Js. Three pair no good. EP bets his last $11.00. Everyone at the table knows he’s got the nuts, including me. But somehow I decide that with 4-to-1 to call, the bluff might be possible (yeah, right), and pay the man off. I drop $25.00 on the hand, $21.00 of which I could have easily saved if only I had mastered the obvious.

As that last hand illustrates, I do occasionally run into trouble when flopping the nuts then stubbornly hangin’ on after a ruinous turn card. Sometimes you just don’t want to believe what you’re seeing. (Like that boat up there -- that’s a static image, I promise you. Read more here.) In fact, I’m starting to figure out that it’s much better to turn the nuts -- that’s where one really gets paid (as my opponent did in Hand No. 3).

For the most part, though, I think I’m doing fairly well believing what I’m seeing. One encounters a lot of subtleties playing pot limit Omaha. But one also encounters a lot that’s obvious, too.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a PLO player, this still reminds me to consider all possibilities in my games. I still suck at this. Great post.

4/10/2007 10:45 PM  

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