Sigh… unfortunately I’m falling behind on my goal of 1 blog post per week (on average). In order to get up-to-speed I’ll need to write 2 / week for the next 5 weeks. Luckily I’ll be back home on Monday after many weeks of traveling, which will help.
Anyway, back to it… as promised in a previous post, I thought I’d share some insight from a couple of key hands I played during the poker tournament that I won in Vegas a few weeks ago.
I laid down QQ on a Jack-high board. There was some thought and stuff that went into it. And stuff.
Not-Long-Enough; Tell Me More Version
This post is about what turned out to be the single most important decision I made all tournament. Somewhere around the middle stages (1/2 to 3/4 of the way before making the money) of the tournament, I found myself with a 2x average stack, sitting at a table with a few other big stacks, one of whom had been playing very aggressively and winning lots of pots without showdown… just the kind of opponent I don’t want to have to deal with… just for fun, let’s call him StupidFace.
In this particular hand, someone in early position limped, StupidFace, on his left, raised about 4x the big blind, then the short stack on my right moved all-in for a little more than twice the pot size. Fully expecting to throw my hand away, I looked down at two Queens… yikes. This was a tough spot.
Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up any useful tells pre-flop from anyone that would warrant any kind of instinctual action on my part. Usually I try my best to “not let my brain get in the way,” in an effort to let my instincts (subconsciously honed from experience) take over, which works well for very “standard” poker situations AND for the non-standard situations where I feel I have some kind of read on my opponents. This situation, however, hit all the wrong checkmarks… non-standard situation? ✓… lack of physical tells? ✓…
I decided it was worth “giving up some information,” by taking longer than usual to act, in order to assess the situation and consider my options. I filtered out all the “noise” running through my head, and landed on the following key pieces of info:
- The limper is probably folding. He had been limping a lot, trying to see flops for cheap with weak cards, and he
didn’t seem like the kind of player to trap pre-flop with Aces or Kings by limping in early position.
- StupidFace could have a big hand or a medium-strength hand. I suspected he had been opening lots of pots with weak hands, but I don’t think he was raising limpers with the same range. That said, he had definitely been doing his share of raising of limpers and even some pre-flop re-raising, so I couldn’t just put him on a big hand, without any doubts.
- The short-stack has anything from a medium pair to a big Ace (AQ, AK, maybe even AJ). This is a pretty standard analysis, based on standard short-stack play, from a seemingly-decent player.
- I’m “in the zone” right now, making good reads, consistently winning small-to-medium-sized pots, and chipping up slowly.
- StupidFace has a little more chips than me, which means the pot could potentially reach 4x the average stack.
It was the last two thoughts that froze me and made this decision so important (and scary).
Now it was time to go over my options:
- Fold - out of the question. Nothing has indicated to me that any of my opponents have AA or KK, the only two hands that have me crushed.
- Call - The big problem with calling is that StupidFace would be priced-in no matter what his cards are… this means any flop is scary for me since he might flop a well-disguised set, plus I really don’t want to see an Ace or King on the flop. The advantage to calling is that I can keep the pot as small as possible, and re-assess after picking up more information (physical tells included) from the action on the flop, since I have better position. Also, if the limper was getting tricky with Aces or Kings, I can find out cheaply.
- Raise - The problem with raising is that, in order to price StupidFace out, I will need to commit a lot of chips… almost half of my (already large) stack. If he comes over the top at that point (which he might do with AK), I will be in a terrible spot and would probably have to fold. But wait! Oh no! I just realize I’ve trapped myself, in a sense. By taking so much time to think through my options, I’ve certainly telegraphed that I have some kind of hand. Is it possible that StupidFace is right there with me, in terms of my thought-process, and if I raise, he will know that it is a “test-the-waters” raise? Yes, it is possible. Does he have the fortitude to go with that read and move-in with something weaker than AK? Yes, I think he is capable of that play. Damn…
I was already leaning towards calling, but realizing that I had “trapped myself” out of raising made it an easier decision, so I called.
The limper folded, and StupidFace unsurprisingly called.
The flop came JcTh4c. I knew I had the Qc. Suddenly StupidFace moved all-in. AcKc immediately flashed through my mind as his most likely hand. Most of the time I would snap-call when I get a “vision” like that, because my instincts are pretty good in these types of situations… you’d be amazed how many times I’m exactly right, or off by a single rank on one card. However, this time I was “in the zone” and I knew to tread carefully, as this was a HUGE pot. I wasn’t just thinking hand vs. hand, like I so often do… instead, I was thinking about the tournament as a whole. Forcing myself to ignore my instincts, I walked through some potential hands:
- AJ - Top pair. Not likely that he would move-in like he did, much more likely that he would bet smaller or go for a check-raise. If I thought he had this, I should call every time.
- JJ, TT, or 44 - A set. Much more likely. He would move-in to push me off of AK, or to get me to call with QQ. If I thought he had this, I should fold every time.
- AQ offsuit - Straight draw with one over. A definite call here.
- AK offsuit - Straight draw with two overs. My hand is ahead. But should I call?
- AcKc - Straight and flush draw. My first instinct. Same question - should I call though?
- AcXc or KcXc - Flush draw. Another definite possibility. Sheesh. Well ahead… but should I call?
As you can see, I ended up having more questions than answers!
From a physical tells perspective, I had been studying my opponent the whole time, and I really, really got the vibe that he had a flush draw. I was even starting to loosen up on my original feelings that he had overcards as well.
So…are you ready for the real epiphany that most tournament players never see or even consider? (drum roll please…)
The ultimate question is… is it worth trying to fade a flush AND/OR straight draw, with two cards to come, in order to have 4x the average stack at that point in the tournament, or be out? The answer: No. It’s just not. That, combined with the chance that I was already beat by a set, made this decision simple.
I was doing well enough picking up smaller pots without putting my tournament life at risk. Having “merely” 2x the average stack already allowed me that luxury. Don’t get me wrong, you have to risk your entire stack at certain points in a poker tournament in order to win. In fact, even in this case, if I could’ve come up with an estimate that I was an 80% favorite to win, or even a sure-fire 70%, I would’ve made the call. This just wasn’t one of those times though. A >30% chance of going broke was just too much risk and not enough reward. I folded face-up.
What do you think? What would you have done?
As usual, the results don’t matter, only the decision-making process does, but I’ll include the results in my next post anway. :)