Sunday, October 04, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 13

Okay, time to get back in the saddle and analyze another one of the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by Sklansky and Miller.

Concept No. 13: If you're thinking about raising, but you wouldn't know how to respond to an all-in reraise, usually you should either move in yourself or raise a smaller amount (that would allow you to fold easily to a reraise).

Here in Concept 13, Sklansky and Miller advise that we should try to avoid situations where we would not know how to respond to a reraise. This is essentially the same as saying that we should avoid a situation if it forces us into a difficult decision. As I said at the end of my analysis of Concept 7, "I think conventional Sklansky-wisdom is overly concerned with playing hands in a way that avoids difficult decisions." I've often heard the advice on TV, in writing, and from other players that it's good to put the other player "to the test" by betting in such a way that you expect they have a difficult situation. I consider this advice to be pretty dubious (players will often pass this test!), and I think that Sklansky is applying a corollary: if it's good to force your opponent into a difficult decision, it must be bad to force yourself into one.

As poker players, our primary job is to make decisions that maximize our Expected Value at every point. Thus, we can define a "difficult decision" as one where we have two or more options (eg calling or folding) that have approximately equal EV, thus making it hard to choose which is best. Since folding always has EV=0, any difficult decision that includes folding as a candidate will have EV of approximately 0. We cannot make money in situations where we have EV=0, and I suppose this is why Sklansky advises to avoid them. However, I disagree with the notion that these situations should be avoided. We have to make our decisions with incomplete information, and when we initially bet, we do not know that we are going to be raised. When the raise comes, we must re-assess the situation, accounting for the fact that our opponent's range is now stronger than it was a moment ago, before we knew he would raise. Sure, it's unfortunate your opponent has a stronger hand than you realized, but that does not invalidate the decision to bet (except in hindsight).

To take an example from limit poker, if you bet and are raised and aren't sure how to respond, this implies that your hand fell solidly into your range of "betting hands." You should certainly not be checking with such hands just to avoid a difficult situation.

The situation described here in Concept 13 is a bit different. It may even be technically true. Sklansky and Miller use the term "usually," so it's hard to disprove unless I can show that it is never correct. In fact, S+M contrive a situation in the book in which the advice does indeed hold; my question is whether their example is representative of the "usual" situation. This involves making arguments about how our opponents are most likely to respond to different sized raises with particular hands, and so, really, it's just a matter of opinion. It is probably possible to find the game-theory answer (where we assume our opponent plays optimally). Even this will not give a definitive answer as to what is the best play against actual human opponents, but I might come back to this later if I feel like doing some more hard-core game theory.

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