Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2004) in Poker Player newspaper. This entry discusses poker strategy, but starts with information about an event that is no longer current and has been included for purely historical purposes.
On Saturday, November 6, at 10 a.m., I’ll once again be the emcee for the annual World Poker Players Conference. The brainchild of Linda Johnson, it’s the largest educational gathering of serious poker players in the world. This year it will be held at the Bellagio.
I’ll be delivering an advanced 90-minute presentation on poker tactics and tells as part of the all-day seminar. Featured speakers are: Doyle Brunson, Roy Cooke, Jan Fisher, Mark Gregorich, Jennifer Harman, Linda Johnson, Lee Jones, Daniel Negreanu, Mike Sexton, Barry Tanenbaum, and Mark Tenner.
Despite my protests, pointing out that we could charge a lot more, Linda has set the cost at just $129 for the full day of learning, when you pay at the door. And if you call 888-999-4880 to register before November 1, it’s $99. With the suddenly renewed interest in serious poker, we’re proud to be presenting this economical way for both newcomers and experienced players to learn professional strategies, tips, and secrets. I’d be honored if you’d join us.
Examination of that hand
Last time, I told you about the hand, five years ago, that got me knocked out of the only World Series of Poker main event I’d ever entered. Why was it the only one I’d ever entered? I simply don’t like tournaments, and with at least 3,000 players expected to compete in the WSOP final this year, I like them even less. That means that the best players in the world, who have about three times as good a chance to win as average players, can only expect to win once in 1,000 years. I figure if people want to know who’s really the best, they’re just going to have to take my word for it.
But, nowadays when I point out how hard it is to win a tournament, I think about Doyle Brunson and wonder whether he alone is able to defy the law of poker physics. After a career that has seen him win more tournaments than any human being should rightfully dream about – including nine WSOP bracelets and back-to-back main-event championships, last month he conquered almost 700 players in a World Poker Tour main event at the Bicycle Casino. And, as I write this, he’s sitting at the final table in a hold ’em event at the Bellagio, where’s he’s hosting the WPT championship. If any player has more than triple the typical professional’s chances of winning a major tournament (my longstanding rule of thumb for measuring maximum skill) – it has to be Doyle.
Anyway, back to the strategy under discussion. My hand. Although I didn’t quite get knocked out of my first WSOP main event with the hand I described in the last issue, I was left with only $300 in chips. It was the pivotal hand. You can argue that I played it poorly. But you can also argue that I played it correctly. The fact is, there’s no truly right answer – and that, in itself, is a powerful poker concept. The reason I like to discuss this hand is that choices were reasonable at every stage of the no-limit betting. The result didn’t go my way, but it could have. When I first wrote about this hand five years ago, I was surprised by how many readers – knowing the outcome – were convinced that I’d made the wrong bets.
Strangely, these firmly held opinions all differed. Some said the mistake was one thing; some said the opposite. But they seemed so positive there had to be a mistake somewhere. The point is that there often isn’t any mistake made when you lose an important hand. Other choices might have worked better, but you don’t know that at the time. And I know positively that this hand afforded choices that were close enough that many decisions could be justified. To know which was the right choice at the moment, you had to gauge the moods of opponents, your own image, and much more.
Summarizing the hand
Summarizing from last time…
We are three hours into the final $10,000 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker. Action is marginally loose.
I’ve built to $13,500 in chips. I have Ad-Qd two seats to the right of the button, nine handed. Blinds are $50 and $100. Everyone passes to the player on my right (6th position). He makes a routine attack raise of $300 ($400 total). He has far fewer chips than I do, probably about $7,000. Here’s my first decision.
I can fold, call, raise marginally, or raise big. You could make an argument for any of those four tactics, since nobody behind me has more chips than I do, although the button has almost as many.
Okay, that’s a summary of what I said last time. Let’s see how we could justify four different choices. Well, it’s easy to fold. Ace-queen – even though it’s suited – is not a mandatory playing hand here. Remember, it’s a tournament, and there’s more value in surviving to win part of the prize pool than in taking advantage of small everyday edges. So, I could have quietly folded. I could have just called the $400. That’s what I would usually choose to do – and what I chose this time — because then I can wait to see what develops on the flop. The call has the disadvantage of letting blinds in cheaply, but it’s a risk I often take. A marginal raise – say $800 more – is a move preferred by many professionals. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I sometimes do that. But not this time. And, you often see pros move all-in here, reasoning that it will be hard for anyone to call and they’re likely to pick up some money without a fight. And, if they are called, they’re usually still going to have a reasonable chance at winning. All choices make sense here – and that’s the point I want you to think about. In no-limit poker, you can sometimes have those four reasonable choices!
Examining the flop
Returning to the summary of the hand… I call. Button also calls. Time for the flop.
It’s Kd-Kc-6d giving me an ace-high flush draw with my Ad-Qd. Sixth seat bets $1,400.
Now, I can fold, call, raise moderately, or move all-in. Only the first two choices make sense to me, although some professionals might chose one of the raises. It’s possible to bluff someone out here –and, if you do get called, you’ll still have draw-out opportunities. You’ll see this type of raise more frequently than seems advisable to me. And, personally, I’m not likely to make such a raise, so now it’s between calling and folding.
Folding is a strong choice, because there’s a reasonable chance an opponent will end up with a full house, even if I make my nut flush. But the off-card is a six. That makes it much less likely that I’m against kings-full, because that would mean a player must have called with K-6. I’d be more concerned about a full house if the flop were K-K-Q. Of course, 6-6 could combine to make a full house for the bettor, and it’s possible he holds that hand – because he was first into the pot with a small raise from a late position. I’m not as worried about the player behind me having a pair of sixes, because in no-limit poker, that hand is often folded behind a raise and a call. But often it isn’t – so there’s still a vague danger, but not a likely one.
Again, returning to the summary from last time… I debate. Pot is now $4,100 and it costs me $1,400 to call. I decide to call, but I think I would have folded a good percent of the time in similar situations. Button also calls.
Turn card is 7d. I make my nut flush. Check to me. There is danger here, but I need to weigh the chances of an opponent holding K-K, 6-6, K-6, or K-7 (not likely to be 7-7) to beat me against the chances of an opponent holding K-anything else — or even, less likely, two diamonds or another pair to lose to me. If I bet big, K-J, K-10, K-9 or K-smaller (except K-7 or K-6) may fold. If those hands call, I’m not as happy (because of the danger of them making a full house on the river), but I have the best of it.
Choosing to move all-in
There are valid arguments for checking along, making a small bet, or making a large bet. I move all-in.
OK, that brings us up-to-date from last time. You can make very strong arguments for checking here. But, if you do, you’re partially trying to trap the player behind you – prompting him into taking a shot at the pot if he holds a weak hand, a marginal hand, or even three kings. Checking doesn’t really afford you a great chance to escape if the player behind you has a full house and bets, because it could be your check that has given him the courage to bet a medium-strong hand. If you check, it’s sometimes harder to subsequently fold than if you bet something. So, perhaps a moderate bet is right. That way, you can consider folding against an all-in raise. To be sure, I would very often have made a medium bet here to test the waters. But sometimes I’d move all-in. If I do that, maybe someone will call with a medium hand, hoping I’m bluffing; someone might call with a smaller flush; someone might call with three kings (with or without a flush draw) and fail to fill up; better still, that same player might fold three kings when he would have filled up. There are lots of good reasons to make an all-in bet here (although it wouldn’t usually be my first choice).
Alas, the player on the button calls instantly with 6-6 (a full house).
I hope that what you’ve learned from this is that – particularly in no-limit games – there’s seldom an obvious right way to play a strong hand. The trick is to avoid terrible mistakes and stick to reasonable choices. Often, there are more of those reasonable choices that you assume – and you need to choose one that seems right at the moment. The better your judgment is, the more often what “seems right” is right. And that’s precisely the ability that builds no-limit winners. — MC