Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Indian" Jay

Perhaps the biggest donator in the Bike's $500 NL game is "Indian" Jay. According to Jay, he is actually Pakistani (which is probably true, but he also claims he gets his money from being a pimp, which I suspect is untrue). In any case, he's in his early 50's and gets his kicks by asserting verbal dominance over the table by insulting everyone, making vulgar jokes, and making ridiculous overbets to give people difficult decisions.

Many players like to sit to Jay's left, following the conventional wisdom that you should sit to the left of weak, loose players, because you will get to act after them on every street in every hand, giving you the best chance to win their chips. While this is probably true in moderate cases, especially if the weak player is passive, I think this logic is far too simplistic in extreme cases such as Jay, who is aggressive. With some types of loose players, especially in full-ring no-limit games, I think it is much better to sit to the player's right.

Let me explain what I mean. The logic behind the conventional wisdom goes like this: sitting to the left of a player allows you to see what he does before you have to make a decision, and this will give you an idea of what he might be holding. If that player is playing every hand, you maximize the number of times you can use this advantage. This logic breaks down, however, if the player is crazy or doesn't know what he's doing, because his actions are nearly random and will actually give you very little information about his cards. If this player often raises instead of merely calling, you are in even more trouble because you are now at a disadvantage against everyone else at the table; you have to respond to the maniac's raise before you get to see what everyone else does. By sitting to the maniac's right, you can observe how everyone responds to his raises before you decide what to do. This can save you a lot of money, and sometimes suck in a few extra bets when you have a big hand. In the Bike's $500NL game, the advantage of sitting to the right of a maniac is increased even further because you are allowed to straddle from any position. Maniacs tend to take "advantage" of this, so sitting to his right means you act after everyone else before every flop.

Jay fits this definition of a maniac far better than anyone else in this game. He goes through long stretches where he straddles and raises 90% of his hands, sometimes without even looking at his cards. Then he makes terrible decisions after the flop. For example, I once saw him in a three-way hand with one player all-in. The flop came 567, and the pot was about $500. Jay checked, and the other player still in thought for a few second. Jay showed the 2c. The other player went all-in for $500, and Jay called. What could the other card be? A 7 or an 8 maybe? Nope, he had a J2.

Needless to say, I like to sit to Jay's right and just let him do the betting for me. Admittedly, betting into him will also work just fine most of the time, but why bother when he will bet it himself and I can watch how the rest of the players react? When he is in one of these moods (which is at least half the time), I will limp with a wide range of hands and fold the rest. I simply will not raise before the flop. Let me give you four examples from Thursday and Friday (incidentally, I lost all four). To be fair, I want to point out that these are picked from several hours of play, but Jay had plenty of other similar hands that I was not involved in.

Hand 1: Jay straddles for $20 in late position. I am to his right and limp with AKs after several limpers. Jay raises to about $100 and gets two callers. I raise to $500. Jay raises all-in to about $600. Everyone folds. I call. Jay shows 76o.

Hand 2: Jay straddles. A few limpers. I limp with A5s. The player to my left limps. Jay recklessly tosses in about $100 of yellow $5 chips. All fold. I raise all-in to about $600. The player to my left folds. Jay calls and shows T3o.

Hand 3: Jay straddles, I limp with A4s after a couple of limpers, Jay raises to $200. All fold to me, I raise all-in to $800. Jay calls and shows ATo. (Whoops!)

Hand 4: Jay straddles. A couple of limpers. I limp with ATo. Jay raises, all fold to me, I go all-in for about $500. Jay calls with AQo. (Oops again!)

Hmmm, looking at that progression it seems like Jay may have set me up a bit for those last two hands, but I still don't think I should play those hands any differently.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Raising as a Bluff

I'm going back to work tomorrow. Since I haven't thought about poker for six weeks, I thought I'd get my mind back in shape by describing a play I made a few months ago. In this hand, I was playing against another prop: a good player who is very observant and has a very clear idea of how I play. He looks for opportunities to exploit my tendencies whenever possible. Knowing this, I make sure to stay on my toes against this player, and sometimes I'm able to catch him bluffing me. I think he is a winning player, but he sometimes succumbs to "Fancy Play Syndrome" (FPS). I don't think he'd ever seen me make a play like the one I made on the river in the following hand, wherein I raise the river as a bluff after my opponent had shown strength. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever made such a play before this.

I'm starting to worry that people at the casino may have discovered my blog, or will soon, so I am going to refrain from naming the other prop. Let's just call him "X".

This hand is from mid-November. I made some notes after the hand, and I'm going to try to reconstruct my thought process. I don't remember how many players there were, but my opponent was in the big blind, and I was two to his left.

I limp in with AhJd and $1260 behind. One other player and the small blind limp. X checks (he has me covered.

Flop ($35): Ac 5s 3s. X checks, and I value-bet $25. Everyone folds to X, who check-raises to $75. I call. X knows I continuation-bet a lot, but this is not a c-betting situation because I didn't raise preflop, and I had a player behind me. Still, X knows I will bet and fold with plenty of hands here, so he could have just about anything. I can't fold because even though I am now on the defensive, the chances are just too good that X is bluffing or semi-bluffing.

Turn ($185): Jh. X bets $150. I call. The Jack puts me ahead of any flopped two-pair, which are unlikely but plausible holdings. I like my call here (as opposed to a raise) for a few reasons:
1. If X has nothing, this play is best because he might try to bluff again on the river.
2. If I have X beat, he will probably fold to my raise, but I will be able to get another bet from him on the river if the river card isn't too scary.
3. It's becoming more likely that X has a real hand or a strong draw. If X has a draw or a strong hand, he might re-raise. If I then fold (which I might), I will have lost my raise plus the chance to see the river card (on which I could make a full house). I could call, but that might be even worse.
4. If the spade flush hits, I can probably win the hand with a raise on the river. My line to this point looks to X like I have either a moderate made hand (which I do) or a nut draw. Unless he has the nut draw himself, he will probably have to fold to such a raise.

River ($485): Qs. X bets $225. I raise all-in for $1025 total. X folds. As you can see, #4 above came into play, but it still took some nerve to pull it off, if I do say so myself. I would've felt better if I had the As rather than Ah, because then I could be sure I wasn't up against the nut flush. Also, I could have just called to catch X's bluffs, but this is a marginal play at best. In retrospect, I still this raise-bluff was the best play. I think X would even fold a straight or a baby flush in this situation, because he felt he had such a good read on me. That is, he felt he knew I had a nut flush or a made hand, and he has to figure I would never try to bluff with a made hand. After all, consider Concept No. 47: "If it's clear your opponent has a hand at least worth a call, but he raises instead, it's almost never a bluff." This may have been the thought that went through his head after I raised. However, my hand was right at the bottom edge of my calling range on the river here, which means it is close to the optimal type of hand to raise-bluff with.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hiatus Update

As expected, I have played no poker during my break so far. On my list of projects is: "study poker/game theory," but it's in the middle of a list of similarly ambitious projects. Indeed, I've barely given a moment's thought to poker since Calvin was born, and I also have to do my taxes. (I'm joint-filing this year, but I don't think I can claim Calvin as a dependent until next year!) However, since I don't want to be completely rusty when I go back to work March 23, I'll try to write an analysis-type post before then.