Sunday, July 10, 2005


How To Play When You Don't Have Magic Powers

Interesting hand I just played in an online tournament. 400-800 blinds, I have about 7K. One limper (who has about 4500 after the limp), I'm in the big blind with 97 and I check.

Flop comes down T7x. Frankly I would have a nibble at this even if I had nothing at all. With second pair I bet 800 into the 1600 pot, he calls me. Turn is a J, putting 2 hearts on board. I punt again for 900 and now he goes all in for about 2700 more. By this time there is 7700 in the pot.

Now, for those of you with magic powers you can send them into the ether to "put him on a hand", decide what he has and act accordingly. The problem is that I lack this ability, and I have to deal with possibilities. And what strikes me is that even if he has an overpair or AJ I still have 10 outs. If I this is how it stands when I make the call, my EV is about -400, calculated as (10/44)*(7700+2700) - 2700. However, if he has a draw, an underpair, AK, AQ or something like that I am a substantial favourite and the EV of a call is more like +5000. There is a very slim possibility that I'm looking at 2 pair or a set, but even then I have 4 outs, so I won't worry about that too much.

If you ask me what's most likely, I think I'm most likely behind. However, to fold I have to believe I am behind 90% of the time. And I just don't. So I call. He has KQ and 13 outs. He rivers an Ace. Doh.

You see this all the time. There are a couple of prime examples in WSOP interviews here and there (I won't name and shame :-)). "I put him on XYZ so I ..." How do people do that ? Magic ? You know what ? I secretly think they can't do it at all. I secretly think they "put" their opponent on the hand they want to put him on, and notice that's not always a hand they can beat - the weak-tight player will often put his opponent on a hand he can't beat, so he or she can fold and congratulate themselves on their survival.

You can see this on Gutshot if you like, in the "Kings pre-flop" thread. Most of the respondents mean well, but they're making no attempt to assign a range of hands to their opponent. They're just picking the most likely one. And yes Aces are most likely if I had to pick one, but that's not how it works in real life. Don't kid yourself that you can pull your opponent's exact hand out of the air. If, like in my tournament situation, you're a small dog against the most likely hands but a big favourite against the less likely ones, this can point to a clear call.

Incidentally if I did make a mistake on this hand, the bet on the turn was too small. But the real point is the thought process behind the final call.

Limit is all about putting people on ranges of hands, ascribing likelihoods to each of them, and then acting properly. Some people have an instinctive knack for this and wonder what all the fuss is about. Other people take a more rigid analytical approach.

In this particular situation, as you say, there needs to be a 90% of greater chance that the guy is not semi "at it" for you to be wrong to call. And, once again as you say, it's hard to see how it is 90%, particularly with the way the betting has gone. He might have a draw (as he did) or he might have an underpair, or he might be beating you, but even then you have outs.

Many many players at limit seems to take the "most likely scenario" and ask themselves if they are getting to value to call against that, rather than allocating probabilities to various scenarios.

The opposite side of this coin is that some wise fools in Christendom say that since "you only need to be right one time in 10" for value calls, it is always right to make them, without any empirical evidence to back this up. I'm actually trying to accumulate some stats on whether the "crying call" at the end wins or loses (and various other types of call), but it's a matter of finding the time.

In this particular instance I would have played the hand differently from you, but this is purely a matter of style. Because I am OOP I probably wouldn't take a bite at this pot on the flop. It's probably right to do it, given the flop and the pre-flop limp, but I don't like being OOP in this kind of situation.


I often make the initial bet out of position as a one-off move - if I take down the pot more often than one time in three with my half-pot bet, it's profitable even if I always check-fold later streets.

That's providing I don't lose EV getting myself into trouble on later streets, but I still back myself against the typical internet opponent.

9 outs!
Four 8s, Three 9s ... Two 7s !

Thank you. I really should brush up on my basic counting skills before launching into EV calculations ...

Most of the respondents [in the Gutshot thread] mean well, but they're making no attempt to assign a range of hands to their opponent.

Which is odd, because the one thing I recall above everything else from the first Harrington book is the hand where he goes over whether to call the all-in on a nine-high flop when you have AA (the one where he actually has a set of nines), by doing exactly what you should do, i.e. working out all the possible hands, not just quickly assuming he has a set or not.

Unless, of course, most people who are proclaiming that the Harrington book(s) are the best thing since sliced bread haven't actually read the thing. Which wouldn't be a bad thing anyway :-)
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