Review of poker lessons learned: Quiz 2

Quiz No. 2: Test Yourself On What We’ve Discussed In This Column

♦ Index:”Review of poker lessons learned” quizzes

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

We’re moving back in time. It’s 1999, 1998, 1996, 1992 … still going back. There. Stop. It’s almost 12 years ago in 1988 and that’s us, you and me. Even back then we were discussing things in this column that were important to winning at poker. But sometimes we were discussing things just because they were interesting. We’ll examine concepts from 1988 today. Just like last time, there are only three questions.

Caro Column Quiz No. 2: Questions

Question No. 1 (based on a concept from my column in the Dec. 2, 1988, issue of Card Player). Years ago in old Gardena, the city government decreed that no bets could exceed $20. To get around this limitation, the card clubs spread “raise-blind” lowball games. All bets – before and after the draw – were, indeed, only $20, but there was a full $20 blind and a $40 blind consisting of a call and a raise. After that, all of the action was by increments of $20. You could call the $40 raise, fold, or raise again to $60. After the draw, remember, you could bet only $20.

When that kind of structure proved to be inadequate to satisfy players’ thirsts for loose action, they tried “raise-blind, reraise-blind” with blinds of $20, $40, and $60. If you wanted to raise here, it was $80 – a simple $20 raise on top of the $60 you needed to call the biggest blind. Well, it didn’t stop there. The most bizarre game along these lines that I participated in had a $20 blind on the button, then proceeded clockwise with $40, $60, $80, and $100 blinds. The player in seat No. 5 was faced with a decision to fold, call $100, or raise to $120. Again, after the draw, you could bet only $20. Weird.

Anyway, I’ve strayed slightly from my question. Sometimes players who were accustomed to the single raise-blind version of the game ($20 and $40 blinds and no antes) decided to play heads up. The $20 blind was the dealer and the nondealer put in the $40 raise blind, leaving the dealer to act first. My question is …

Which statement most accurately applies to that structure?

(A) The structure is illogical, because the dealer has to act first on the initial round of betting, but will act last after the draw.
(B) With only two players, the cost of the blinds is so burdensome that even an excellent player will have little or no advantage over a weak player.
(C) If you played with a $20 ante per player and a single $20 blind by the nondealer, it would be exactly the same thing.
(D) The value of drawing to powerful hands is maximized.

Question No. 2 (based on a concept from my column in the Jan. 13, 1989, issue of Card Player). You’re playing $75-$150 hold ’em. You have raised before the flop from first position with Q-Q and have gotten four calls from mostly loose and aggressive opponents. The flop is Q-6-4 of three different suits, giving you three queens. I’ll specify that you should mix up your tactics, but what should you do most of the time in this situation?

(A) Check and then raise if bet into.
(B) Check and then call if bet into.
(C) Bet.

Question No. 3 (based on the same column as question No. 2). Why do experienced poker players make such bad conclusions about how well they’ve done playing a hand a certain way?

(A) They deliberately lie to themselves as a motivational tactic.
(B) They forget to count the antes and blinds when measuring profit.
(C) They don’t measure the result against the alternative tactic.

Caro Column Quiz No. 2: Answers

Answer No. 1. If you said (A), that’s not a good answer. The structure is not illogical because the dealer has to act first. Whether the dealer or the nondealer takes the big blind has more to do with custom than logic. In either case, you need to adapt. However, if a logical argument can be made, it should be for doing things just the way it was structured. That way, the dealer acts first on the initial betting round, and the nondealer acts first on the next round. Putting the big blind away from the dealer position tends to equalize the power and results in more action. So, (A) is not the answer I’m seeking.

And (B) is silly. A superior player can do just fine in a heads-up “raise-blind” confrontation. I’ve made a whole lot of money in these challenge games.

A one-card draw to a powerful hand actually goes down in value, because you can bet only $20 after the draw (rather than the usual double bet), and therefore can’t punish a pat hand as severely when you connect. So, (D) isn’t right.

Believe it or not, the right answer is (C). If you played with a $20 ante per player and a single $20 blind by the nondealer, it would be exactly the same thing. Yep, that’s what a $20 raise-blind game is heads up – a $20 ante and a single $20 blind. There is no difference whatsoever between that and raise-blind. It’s just another way of describing it. Think about it. But if you ask people to play in a heads-up game in which you each ante the same amount as a single blind, they are likely to refuse, saying the ante is “too big.” Strange, huh? Answer: (C).

Answer No. 2. OK, there’s plenty of room for dissenting opinion here, and I would sometimes play this differently, depending on my image and the exact moods and habits of my opponents. But there’s no question about how I would usually play this hand.

I usually wouldn’t check and raise, (A), because I believe it’s too early in the hand to get maximum value from that tactic.

I usually wouldn’t bet out, (C), because with four loose and aggressive players waiting to act, there’s too much of a chance that they’ll do my betting for me. Even if they don’t, I’ll still be all right. I’ve got a huge advantage, and this is one case in which I often can afford to give a free card and let players “catch up” slightly.

What I would usually do is (B), check and then call if bet into. This is much better than betting and being called, because then my hand is no longer as much of a mystery to my opponents. Notice that this flop leaves little room for many reasonable hands to have been helped. There’s a small chance that someone holds the remaining queen, but we can’t count on that. Mostly, we’re hoping that someone takes a shot at the pot with an ace or holds a small or medium pair. A pair of eights, for instance, would be very likely to bet. A-J would too, quite often, with this crew of opponents. And outright bluffs come often with this flop.

So, if I check and someone bets, why won’t I raise? It’s because most likely, the bet was either motivated by a weak hand or is a bluff. I simply don’t want to chase players out now or even signal that I hold true strength. That can wait for the next betting round when the limits double. If I were going to check-raise, I’d tend to do it if the first person to act after me bet and others called. That way, I could raise with the expectation that most opponents would call for “just one more bet.” I would not tend to raise if I checked and the last person bet, because then I’d likely be chasing away the other three opponents between me and the bettor by making them face a double bet.

So, yes, I would sometimes check and decide whether to raise depending on which position bet. But mostly, I would check and call. Answer: (B).

Answer No. 3. Although players may lie to themselves and it sometimes might be motivational, answer (A) doesn’t quite fit here; neither does (B), even though players certainly do forget to consider the value of antes and blinds sometimes.

What I wanted you to say was (C) – Experienced players make bad conclusions about how well they’ve done playing a hand a certain way because they don’t measure the result against the alternative tactic. Players who have spent their hold ’em lifetimes raising with aces think they’re doing the right thing. Of course, aces make money when you raise. Players who have spent their hold ’em lifetimes just calling with aces think they’re doing the right thing. Of course, aces make money when you call.

The point is, you can easily think that your strategy is correct because it seems to make money, but there may be better alternatives. How players remember their bluff attempts provides a great example of reaching a false conclusion. I’ve known players to write down the results of every bluff they attempt. They show a profit by bluffing. But wait!

When you do this, sometimes you’re giving yourself credit for a pot that the bluff didn’t win! Suppose that you have a garbage hand and your opponent does, too. You bluff. He folds. Should your bluff get credit for that pot? Maybe. Maybe not. You might have checked; he might have checked; and your garbage hand might have beat his garbage hand in a showdown. But all you’ll remember is that you got away with a bluff.

You didn’t. The problem is, you measured success based on the outcome but didn’t consider how the alternative would have fared. This is why “experience” is not usually the “best teacher” in poker. This is why sophisticated analysis really is important, and why most “intuitive” players can no longer compete favorably in this new era of poker science.

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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