Friday, December 02, 2011


Protect Your Stack, Not Your Hand

I'm finding watching Late Night Poker a little easier to watch if I fast forward through all the dwell-ups. Quicker too. Especially the ones when we know you're going to fold. Seriously. It's better for your image to insta-fold anyway when you're caught bluffing, but I suppose then you don't get so much camera time.

Anyhoo, a moderately interesting hand came up in the last heat. I can't remember stacks exactly, but it doesn't matter for the point I want to make. James Bord opens K9o in the cut-off (fine) and Ram Vaswani flat calls Jacks (probably from around 25bb) in the small blind. I like this play a lot, you can induce a squeeze behind you (it didn't in this case but never mind) or check-raise a whole bunch of flops to leave your opponent with a nasty guess to make. Shoving all in pre lets an aggressive player off the hook here IMO, although 3-betting small to call a 4-bet has its merits. You might argue about balance but I feel balance is an over-rated concept in tournaments at the best of times, let alone in a one-off hundred hand TV single table. And anyway, there is a way I balance it, but I'm not telling you :).

So the flop comes King high, oh well, nothing comes for free and every play has its downside. Ram check-calls James' c-bet which is all standard. Then the turn comes a Queen, so its KxxQ with no flush draw that I remember, if there is it's back door. James now shoves something that looks like about 1.5x the pot [1]. This is a play that I really don't like. A lot of people will say "he's probably got the best hand" and so he can "protect his hand" with the allin bet. Yes, but...

Probably having the best hand is not in itself a reason to bet. If Ram is behind, he has one possible hand with 7 outs (AJ) and a few with 5 outs (AQ, second or third pair) - and he could easily fold some of those on the flop. The rest are 3 outs (worse King) or 2 (underpair like he has). Let's be generous and say 5 on average. James is shoving 1.5x the pot to "protect" the 5/44 of the pot that Ram has equity for if he's behind. Meanwhile if Ram is actually ahead, now James has 5 outs, or 3, or none for the whole lot.

The main reasons to bet are to make a better hand fold or a worse hand call. Now OK, you'd have to be pretty good to call with KT and fold K8 in Ram's seat, but that's not really the issue. If you were to either call both of those hands or fold both of them, then that would be pretty much a wash. With any significantly better or worse hands, Ram is not going to make the wrong decision. It's not the only time I've seen this in the episodes I've watched (so I don't mean to single James out) and I can't blame James and Vicky on commentary for not really explaining this (level one is best for the majority of viewers).

What really rang a bell for me though is that I'm re-reading Gus Hansen's book on Kindle and he does almost exactly the same thing by over-shoving I think QT on a Q high turn. His own justification is the line I use above, that you'd have to be a great player to call QJ and fold Q9, but that (as I suspect Gus knows very well) is not the point. I haven't even mentioned the other possible benefits of checking, viz. that your opponent (Ram in this case) might bluff the river. You are, I should say, usually calling the river after pot controlling in this kind of spot. If the villain bluffs the river then you make more money when you're good as well as not losing the lot when you're behind! And finally (unlikely but still a freeroll) you might be behind and improve to win on the river.

My own summary of this is that any time I catch myself thinking about betting to "protect my hand" in a tournament, I try to think a bit harder. Protect your STACK. That's what's important. Trying to win every pot is going to hurt you if it means that the pots you do lose are much bigger.

[1] I stand corrected if Ram has less than a pot bet left and so effective stacks aren't that high, but that's not how it looks.

What's the flop in the Gus hand? As I think it's different when the TURN brings you top pair than when the flop does.

Assuming you cbet the 247 flop with QT, I definitely like pot all in on the turn.
Thanks for the question. It's Hand 143 in the book, Gus opens HJ with QTcc, button and BB call.

Flop Q53 one club, Gus bets BTN calls. Turn 3h, Gus shoves 315k effective to win 256k pot.

I had forgotten it was a three-way flop, which means I like Gus' play even less!

Gus says "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes facing a 315k bet with QJ or Q9". No, but I'd sure as hell like to be with a set! It's not the only hand in the book where he makes this kind of bet. He gets away with it a lot because no villain finds a hand, and of course there's a massive selection bias in play because Gus recorded a bunch of tournaments and _this is the one he won_.

Enough for a comment, that was almost a new post :)

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