Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.
Aunt Sophie advances lowball
“So, tsatskeleh,” began Aunt Sophie, “a few advanced plays in lowball you promised to tell.”
We were dining in the Anaheim Club’s upscale formal dining room, one many of whose patrons didn’t even realize was located on the premises of a large cardroom, located as it was at some remove from the gaming area. The restaurant had been favorably reviewed recently in LA Magazine, among others, and now attracted an eclectic clientele. We were taking advantage of a comp that had been proffered as an acknowledgment of our frequent play.
“Well,” I temporized, “most of those are more dependent on specific situations than plays for which I can give you hard-and-fast rules.”
“Dollink,” she riposted, “so pedantical always you are. This I know. Some of these situations maybe you’ll be so kind to tell me.”
A tuxedoed sommelier arrived with the wine list, wherefrom I chose a bottle of Clos du Bois merlot to complement our two meals. Sara was spending the evening with her young son, Cecil, in California on a rare visit from Japan. She had picked him up at the Consulate, and the two were seeing Antz after dinner at the Golden Arches.
“Okay,” I commenced. “Let me describe a scenario that includes an advanced play, and suggest a counter to that play. The situation is rare, and may never come up for you, but you can be prepared if it does. You must know your opponent very well to take advantage of this. The player in question, known as Speeder, perhaps as much for his play as for the racing shop he owns, is fast, loose, and aggressive. In the 15/30 game, countless times you have seen Speeder come in for a raise as he always does, get raised, and reraise. If the second player goes another bet before the draw, sometimes Speeder goes one more. When it comes time to draw, Speeder stands pat. The raiser thinks a moment, throws a nine face up into the muck, and draws a card. Speeder checks after the draw. The player who had broken the nine, depending on his temperament, swears, throws his draw card, or quietly mutters something about catching a pair or a paint, and Speeder triumphantly shows down a rough nine, sometimes even a 10. Now the raiser is silently cursing himself for having broken the better hand. Of course, Speeder also plays any eight or better the same, so he is a dangerous player. Okay, so this tells you what kind of player Speeder is. (Now, parenthetically, sometimes the raiser makes his draw and bets, and Speeder usually calls.) Anyway, now for the situation that involves the clever play. No one opens till Speeder, in the middle blind, who comes in for a raise. (Speeder never limps, so doing so now would be very suspicious.) The big blind, a fairly straightforward player, raises. Speeder calls. Time for cards, and Speeder raps pat. You, being an observant player, put Speeder on a rough 10 that he’s hoping will stand up against a one-card draw. Maybe Speeder even has a pat jack; you’ve seen him play those a few times. The big blind pulls a king out of his hand, showing that he had raised on a good one-card draw. Speeder bets after the draw. Huh? you wonder. What hand could Speeder have that he can bet after the draw with which he didn’t reraise initially? The hapless fellow on the big blind squeezes his cards, and then disgustedly throws a king on the table. ‘I just threw a king! I never make those when it counts.’ As the dealer pushes the pot, Speeder turns over some random garbage, two big pair plus a face card, maybe, and you understand. Speeder didn’t put in another bet before the draw because he didn’t want to lose two more bets on a complete snow, because doing so might look suspicious, and because he didn’t want to make his opponent more committed to calling the bet after the draw. But he bet because he had to, since he couldn’t win on a showdown, making his somewhat unsophisticated opponent think Speeder was betting only because the other drew a card. His opponent was planning on calling with any nine or eight, and raising with anything better, but felt he couldn’t call a pat hand with a king. If Speeder really had had a 10 or jack, of course, he would have checked after the draw, hoping his opponent would just show down if he missed his draw, which many would, thinking that Speeder called too often in such situations for the opponent to try a bluff. So Speeder’s play is that advanced play I mentioned.”
“And that’s the play,” she queried, “I should use?”
“If,” I responded, “you’re playing supertight, which I don’t recommend, you might get away with it, but, no, that’s not it. I said I would provide a counter to that play. The most important thing is to try to get a seat to Speeder’s left. If he’s on your left, he will burn up a lot of your money, because he raises or reraises almost every pot he plays, and you’ll end up putting in extra bets on draws or vulnerable pat hands. This will greatly increase your variance. Anyway, if you’re directly to his left, and when you have the big blind, Speeder opens under the gun, and you have a good one-card draw, naturally you raise. If he now just calls your bet and stands pat, you draw a card. Now he bets, raising your suspicions as before. If you make a 10, nine, or eight, call that bet. He will likely pitch his cards into the muck before you even have a chance to show your cards. That’s fine. He may also show his cards before dumping them, just to show off. But let’s say you pair or catch a jack or worse. Raise. If he has what you think, that is, a snow, he will dump it. Even if he actually has a 10 or jack, he likely won’t call a raise with it. When he throws his hand away, do not make the mistake of gloatingly showing yours. Just quietly muck your cards, take the pot, and toke the dealer.”
“That easy?” she marveled.
“As with anything in life,” I replied, “there are no guarantees. There is a small possibility that he might play a legitimate hand that way to try to trap you, but it’s not very likely. He would not be able to resist the temptation of getting extra money in before the draw. Remember how aggressively he plays nines plus anything better. He also would not play a good hand like that because he would have no way of predicting that you would raise after missing your draw. Nonetheless, there is a very small possibility that your play will backfire. Maybe he will play a 10 or jack that way, betting it after the draw, and then call your raise, thinking that you’re trying to run him off what he has indicated is a weak hand. If it does backfire, you have to smile sheepishly as if you just got caught bluffing, which of course you did, and don’t try it again with anything less than a legitimate raising hand. You don’t have to worry too much about that, though, because he likely won’t try that exact same kind of bluff against you.”
Our appetizers arrived, for me cold asparagus soup topped with a cream swirl that looked like a capital A and escargots for Aunt Sophie. As our first glasses were decanted, we anticipated an evening of gustatory delights.
Author’s note: The preceding remarks can be modified to apply to “Northern California-style” single limit lowball (as opposed to Southern California’s double limit games) by substituting for coming into the pot before the draw with a raise with just an opening bet. For example, in Southern California in a 15/30 game, most players open with a raise, that is, come in for $30. In a $30 game in Northern California, players open for $30, but it is not a raise. At that point, in the Southland, further bets go in increments of $15, while in the North, they go in increments of $30.