Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Little Balance Very Quickly

Susan: My psychiatrist thinks we should break up.
Philip: What? I didn't know you were going to a psychiatrist.
Susan: Well I'm not actually going to one. I've been dating one for four months.
Philip: This is so sudden!
Susan: I didn't want to tell you this over the phone, I really wanted to fax you.
"Mixed Nuts"

Poker is a crazy game. It is amazing what it can put you through sometimes, when you add in the elements of a few just as crazy humans. The swings are something that you just have to get used to.

I have made no secret of the fact that this year I consider myself on a down swing. I have seen more than my fair share of bad luck while still being able to break even or slightly better at times, while other times I was loosing money like it was a talent.

I thought a session online over the long weekend showcased this perfectly. In 58 minutes of play, I had won 1 pot and that was taking the blinds with a pre-flop raise. I had really only played two other hands, where I had JJ vs QQ (though I made a nice check on the river when I was beat) and another hand I don't remember but lost at showdown when my hand just wasn't good enough. No bad beats, just bad cards and no chances. So I am down to my last $10 when I get 99, and decide screw it – this is it, I am playing this hand no matter what happens. There is a pre-flop raise from a bigger stack, and I put in half my stack. Basically I'm saying the rest is going in eventually. He is the only one that calls and what happens? The flop comes 499. Yeppers, great flop for me but might have been handy if I had more than $5 to put in! I guess I could have reloaded at any time but I like I seldom do that for whatever reason, unless I am felted. Very next hand I had QQ and got no action, so I decided to call it a night.

Fortunately, everything else non-poker in my life is quite ok at the moment, so I didn't think about the losses too much and next time I had a chance to play some poker, the bad thoughts were nowhere to be found. And things started to go right. There is a bit of a hand history here, but then there is some poker theory at the end so hang in there!

Pocket Kings on the big blind, only the button plays and makes a small pot sized raise. SB folds, so we are already heads up and I decided to just call here and see what comes. Flop is QhKh6d, not too shabby for me. I check, button bets $4 so I make it $8. I like to do this with a strong hand, as slow playing is far too common and can be really obvious at times. If he has something he will call, if he has nothing then I probably won't be getting anything out of him anyway. He just calls, and now we see the turn. I probably put him on a heart draw, and if he isn't then he will probably put me on one too.

The turn is another queen, so now I am praying for that third heart to come out on the river. I just check it, letting him draw to it if that is what he wants, and if he bets any amount then I will call. He just checks, and the river is the most beautiful two of hearts. I hope he hit his hearts, so I bet out $10 and he comes back over the top all-in for another $30 or so. Easy call for me, and I take the pot as his Ace high flush is no good.

Ok, so the hand turned out perfectly for me on every street. The fact that he had more than a maximum buy-in and I had him covered was just icing on the cake. But the moment I want to talk about is the turn card where I made my hand.

I had put my opponent on a heart draw, and had the thought that AK was an outside chance. Lets assume the heart draw is true (which is was in this case, but that is not important). I have made my hand on the turn and really no river card will stop me getting all my chips into the middle. I believe I have a lock on the hand so our attention turns to maximises the value of the pot.

The amount of chips my opponent is willing to commit here becomes just as important as what the river card is. As in the hand above, if the heart comes for the flush then it is all beer and skittles for me. But what happens if that heart doesn't come on the river? It is unlikely my opponent would have called any bet, no matter how small, on the river if the 2 of clubs fell for example. Perhaps he could call out of curiosity, but certainly he isn't going to call any substantial bet. If the flush doesn't come, my best chance is hoping he wants to bluff or thinks I am bluffing – but I rate both as an outside chance and more than likely he would be in check/fold mode on the river rag. So the value point of the hand becomes the turn card – making him pay for his draw.

Usually most new players associate this with trying to discourage a player from seeing the river card – scare the player off calling for his draw. The difference here is he would be willing to pay for a draw, and won't pay for the miss. It is difficult to figure out what amount he is willing to pay for his flush – in this case with about a $20 pot (25c/50c blinds) I would guess he might even pay up to a pot sized bet on the Ace high flush. A pot sized bet though is nearly half his stack on a draw, I don't think it is a sure thing for him to call. $7-9 is far more likely, just keeping it below double figures. That is a decent sized bet considering the blinds and pot size. If the flush misses, at least I make a little more profit for him paying for a draw that missed. If the draw hits, it doesn't matter what happened on the turn necessarily, because at this level players don't expect you to bet out with such a strong hand and when they hit theirs the blinkers go up.

It is important to remember that in the hand above the pocket Kings are not the nuts at this stage, nor are they a lock on the hand. But really if he has Quads, or is drawing to Quads, Aces-full or a straight flush then chances are I am just going to pay him off if it hits, and there isn't much I can do about that.

And that is what I have been thinking about more – slow playing a monster by not slow playing it. Not that I do that all the time, but it can be an extra string to the bow from time to time.

That was how my online poker went for the past week, putting some decent profit into my bankroll there. It was funny how live poker proved to be very similar in function.

The home game was treating me terribly. My had bought in four times, and had a little of my third one back by 5am, a good 8 or 9 hours into the game. My night was going badly from the beginning, when I had KK beaten twice in four hands when all the money went in pre-flop. It was beaten by 67s (hit a 7 on the flop and river) and 78o (gut shot straight hit on the river). I had a flopped flush drawn out on another all-in by a king-high flush draw. I had Aces-up beaten by a better aces-up. I was feeling abused and looking in trouble. I have had to make a few very important withdrawals from the poker bankroll to buy important things like beds and pay bills over the past few months. In total, I have had to take out about 75% of the bankroll over the past 4 months or so for these various needs (I don't regret that, in the end that is what my poker bankroll is ultimately for, so ease financial pressure when needed). This accompanied with a bad year, meant the bank roll was rather dry. It will be a month or two at least before I can top it back up. After loosing three buy ins and having my fourth on the table, it was looking like I might be broke and not able to play home games for a month or so as I have a general rule of the old saying "neither a borrower nor a lender be".

And then I am dealt KQ in the small blind. UTG makes a raise, and there are a number of callers as is common in home games. The flop comes KQT rainbow, which I think is perfect for me. I just check, me and my sneaky slow playing, and BB also checks to the original raiser who makes a bet – nothing too large, nothing too small. I like it, and decide that perhaps he has a jack, or maybe there is a jack sitting in the BB and in that case, in this home game, I don't think I can push either player off their draw and will instead make them pay for it if it doesn't come on the turn. Besides, I might be able to coax the BB to call also and get more money into the pot. The turn is a King, and I have hit my hand beautifully, and now want to give both players a chance to hang themselves here. If he has the jack, I'll let him draw for his straight. If he has big slick, well I am in a very solid position.

I check, and the BB goes all-in for about $25. UTG thinks quickly, and then just calls. I know these players, and the "call" there doesn't mean a straight draw. It could mean a straight, but now I am fairly confident he has something like AK and would be willing to call any bet here. I have $34 left on top of the $25 call, and decide to push it all in here. By the time I finish counting out my chips, he makes a quick call.

I was a little shocked, because both players are fairly tight when it comes to an all-in bet, but I say "Guys, I've got the nuts." And then everything becomes clear as they roll over their cards. The big blind had AJ. He had the nuts on the flop and was just slow playing it until the turn, but now my Kings full has him drawing dead. I can understand why he committed the last of his chips there. Then UTG rolls over QQ – he hit his set on the flop and improved to Queens-full on the turn, but thanks to the queen in my hand he is now also drawing dead to the river. Both players had very strong hands, and both players had me beat on the flop that I thought was all mine. In effect I had two outs and one came on the turn – and now they are drawing dead for a $239 pot – which in this game equates to just under 5 buy ins.

Even I was in shock. I had not picked their hands on the flop – though it wasn't as if I couldn't get away from two pair if I had not hit the nuts on the turn, and when I did hit the turn it didn't matter what hand I put them on except for value sake. An absolutely perfect hand like that comes along very rarely indeed – as does being able to be paid off two ways on the hand. I went from being into the game for $200 to being in profit of $39 in one hand. In the next hour, I had a run of cards you could only dream of and at one point was north of $200 in profit – and it was only that small because I started to feel bad about taking so many pots and started making really large best when I had the nuts so I would not get called. It could have easily been another $100 or so, but when the shorter stacks went all-in, again I had them drawing dead. In one hour everything was erased from the previous 9. I gave a little back before nights end – and lost a little with silly side bets which were keeping everyone entertained all night (my favourite bet was that the winning hand would be better than kings-up.). I ended up $186 in front, which is my second best result for the year. With all the wild fluctuations on the night, most people ended up about even with a few early leavers making their donations before leaving.

Year to date, I am now actually ahead of last year and have recorded winning session in my last 5 outings. After a rough start to the year, things are looking a lot better as the good luck and the bad luck are starting to even out just a little.

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