Thursday, May 03, 2018

Two Pocket Kings Hands and Modern Poker Thinking

I've played 3 cash game sessions since my last post and ran into two interesting spots with pocket kings.

The first hand was at Bay 101 at $2/$3/$5 (at most places in the bay area there is a $2 blind on the button at this level in addition to the $3 small blind and $5 big blind) with a $500 max buy in. I was off to a good start sitting on an $1,100 stack in a great game on Friday afternoon.

In the hand in question, three people called for $5, I looked down at KK and made it $30 to go in the hijack. The cutoff and button both called, the blinds and the first two callers folded and then to my surprise the 3rd caller made it $230 to go out of his $640 stack leaving him with $410 left.

Some of you might remember that I had a spot in the recent $630 tournament at Lucky Chances where I got dealt KK, someone limp re-raised me, I was pretty sure he had AA and that is what he had.

This spot may seem similar, but it is totally different. The biggest difference is that this guy was the third one in the pot. If people are going to limp re-raise they're typically the first one in. If other players have shown some interest in the pot the player with AA will almost always just come in for a raise. Secondly, in the tournament I made it 500 to go and the player with AA made it 1,200. That is begging for a call. Going from $30 to $230 is clearly trying to blow everyone else out of the pot to pick up the $115 that's already out there.

This looked like a clear case of someone calling with a hand like 88 or 99 and then getting aggressive with it in the heat of battle rather than a well thought out plan. After a short pause, I moved all in and despite the fact that I was almost positive his hand was kind of marginal, I fully expected him to call. People don't three bet 1/3 of their stack and then fold preflop no matter how bad it looks for them.

As expected he called and then he asked me if I wanted to run it twice. This is a common thing at the higher stakes (much less common at the $5 big blind level) where if both parties agree they will run out a river, or a turn and river, or in this case the whole board multiple times and half the pot will be awarded to the winner of each run out. At Bay 101 the rule is that the pot has to be more than $1,000 and all of the action has to be complete (i.e. an all in and a call) before players can discuss running it twice. The point of it is to reduce some of your variance and also it's fun!

My policy has generally been to say yes anytime someone wants to run it twice. The downside here if my opponent did have something like 99 would be that he'd have 10 shots to hit a 9 instead of 5, but the upside would be that the chances of him hitting a 9 (or otherwise making some miracle straight or flush) BOTH times would be extremely remote.

So we agreed to run it twice and my opponent turned over AK! This was a much stronger hand than I expected, but I was still a 70/30 favorite.

The first flop came out J 7 3 which was a perfectly fine flop, but an A came on the turn followed by a 2 on the river. At this point I was pissed about the first run out, but thrilled that we'd agreed to run it twice as if we'd only run it once the whole $1,300+ pot would be headed to my opponent. Now with one A gone I was a huge favorite on the second run out.

The second flop came out 9 5 2 which was also a perfectly fine flop. The turn was a 3 and I thought "Oh shit, he picked up a wheel draw. This is never easy." At that same moment my opponent stood up and said "Put a four out there! Four! Four!" The river was a 4 and I lost both run outs. This was extremely annoying.

Not annoying was the fact that I won the next pot along with plenty of others and left a $1,200 winner on the night.

In the other hand in question I was at the Matrix but still playing $2/$3/$5. An early position player with about $500 in his stack made it $20 to go and got one call. I was in the big blind with KK (one heart and one spade). I made it $90 to go and only the raiser called. The flop came down A T 5 with the AT of diamonds and the 4 of hearts.

This is not a good flop for my hand and I am out of position so I'm in a tough spot.  But this is a good example of how high level modern poker players look at things compared to how every TV show and movie would have you believe it works or even how players of the 80's and 90's might look at it.

In the movies I'd just look at him and his lip would curl or he'd be holding his breath or he'd blink too slow and I would know what he had. Of course he'd either have AA or something like 85 off suit and never ever have anything in between. Also I'd never be the one betting and deciding how much to bet, he'd just be all in and I'd use my super limp curl reading to nail his ass!

I was born in 1980 so I can't say for sure that this is how players in the 80's and 90's thought, but it seemed like they'd look at the preflop raise, and the call, put the villain on a specific hand that was most likely given the information they had and then play the hand as if their opponent had that hand. Of course they'd revise as things went along, but they'd pick one hand and target that. You'll still hear plenty of amateur players these days justifying their play by saying things like "I put him on AK" or some other exact hand.

The modern way to look at it is put your opponent on a weighted range of hands and take a course of action that is best against that range. In this case, I think this opponent after raising to $20 and just calling the $90 probably has 99, TT, JJ, QQ, AK, AQ suited, KQ suited, QJ suited, or JT suited. That's 9 different hands, but I can't just say there is a 1 in 9 chance that he has any one of them because some occur more frequently than others due to the nature of card combinations and the fact that some cards are on the board or in my hand and thus can't be in his hand. There are 6 ways to make a pair, (Club/Diamond, Club/Heart, Club/Spade, Heart/Diamond, Heart/Spade, and Diamond Spade), 4 ways to make a suited hand  (one for each suit), and 16 ways to make an off suit hand. We refer to these as combinations or combos.

I can split this into hands I'm worried about and hands I'm not.

Worried about:
AK - 6 combos (We start with 16, but with an ace on the board and two K's in my hand only 6 remain)
AQs - 4 combos
TT - 3 combos
KQ or QJ of diamonds - 2 combos

Not Worried about:
QQ - 6 combos
JJ - 6 combos
99- 6 combos
JTs - 3 combos
KQs or QJs NOT diamonds - 6 combos

That leaves me with about 15 combos I'm worried about and 27 I'm not. So what do I do? Well, the worrying combos are never folding no matter how much I bet and the not worrying ones are probably all folding to any bet. So the answer is to bet relatively small so you lose the least against the bad hands and you don't just give up and let your opponent bet and win with whatever they have.

How do I know that he only has the above combos and not something else? Experience! I'm not looking at his limp curling or his goosebumps, but I know what types of hands people show up with in this spot in general and have observed that there is no reason to believe that this specific opponent would deviate from what is standard for players at this level. There are players where their range here could be any pair, AT+, any suited ace, or suited connectors, but not this dude.

Could he have something else? Sure! There is always a random spaz factor but other than AA or maybe AJ suited I've accounted for everything that's not folding and I can heavily discount those hands. Everything he might have is folding to a bet.

Did I think all this through at the table? Hell no! One of the reasons for writing this post is to rethink it though in great detail, but in the moment I thought "He probably has as many combos of pairs as Ax so I have to bet and I should use small sizing because all the pairs are folding no matter what I make it."  Did I figure this stuff out on my own? Hell no! I've piggy backed on the analysis of people way smarter than me.

Back to the hand! $200 in the pot, board of AT5, I settled on betting $80 on the flop and he called. At this point I was ready to give him credit for an ace and just give up. But then a miracle happened! The turn was a the K of clubs! I figured if I checked here it would look like I had QQ or JJ and was giving up so I checked.

In the span of less than 2 seconds I checked, my opponent moved all in for $330, I called and he rolled over QJ of hearts! ACK! He turned a straight! The table said "OHHHHHHH!" Then I turned over my hand and they said "OHHHHHHH!" Then the river paired the 5 making me a full house! "OHHHHHHHHHH!" NOICE!

I really like doing this kind of analysis of the combinations after the fact because it helps me in the moment to have an intuitive sense of how things balance out. Also on occasion if I'm facing a huge decision I can crank through an approximation of this in a minute or two at the table, but my lip curls while I do it.

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