Saturday, August 9, 2008

Some Thoughts on "Getting Cute" with Starting Hand Selection

We've all seen 'em. The Gus Hansen and Daniel Negreanu wannabes with a super-aggressive style who appear to be playing like complete donks, particularly as they crack your monster pairs with hands like 97s, 65o (see Hand #4 below), and other garbage that you would barely play for free in the BB. A few hands later they'll make you think your top pair is good while they rope you in with pocket Aces. They're the ones that drive you absolutely nuts as they defy all conventional starting hand requirement logic. Some of them, I'd have to think the majority, are indeed true fish, and although they'll bust your nuts every now and then, they will pay you off in the long run. There are some though, that are simply using odds and position to their advantage, and are just taking a little bit of a gamble in hopes of taking your chips and putting you on tilt.

I'd like to take a look at a few hands in which players "got cute" with their cards - some I feel that were played decently, and some that were closer to pure donking around.

HAND #1 - 1st level of the $32k Guarantee

Full Tilt Poker, NL Hold'em Tournament, 15/30 Blinds, 9 Players - Hand History Converter

CO: 2,985
Hero (BTN): 2,955
SB: 2,970
BB: 3,000
UTG: 3,000
UTG+1: 3,315
UTG+2: 3,135
MP1: 2,640
MP2: 3,000

Pre-Flop: (45) Kh As dealt to Hero (BTN)
UTG folds, UTG+1 calls 30, 2 folds, MP2 calls 30, CO folds, Hero raises to 120, 2 folds, UTG+1 calls 90, MP2 calls 90
Flop: (405) 3s Qc Ac (3 Players)
UTG+1 checks, MP2 checks, Hero bets 390, UTG+1 calls 390, MP2 calls 390
Turn: (1,575) Tc (3 Players)
UTG+1 checks, MP2 bets 420, Hero folds, UTG+1 calls 420
River: (2,415) 7s (2 Players)
UTG+1 checks, MP2 bets 1,050, UTG+1 raises to 2,385 and is All-In, MP2 calls 1,020 and is All-In

Results: 6,555 Pot
UTG+1 showed Ah Ks (a pair of Aces) and LOST (-3,000 NET)
MP2 showed 6c 7c (a flush, Ace high) and WON 6,555 (+3,555 NET)

MP2's limp here isn't bad in my opinion. There's already one limper in the pot, and early on at a passive table a lot of limpers are likely to encourage more limps and create a multi-way pot... exactly what you want with hands like 76s. However, then I pick up AK on the button and want some isolation, so I raise it up enough to maybe scare out a limper or two, but in these doublestack tournaments you'll more than likely just get called. I could raise more, but it's still early and I don't want to get into an awkward post-flop situation with unknown opponents. Note here that the UTG+1 player is being very passive in just limping and calling my raise. This gives the MP2 player solid odds for calling my raise now. If UTG+1 were to reraise, or originally come in for a raise, MP2 would most likely (assuming he's not a total donk) get out of the hand, while a reraise might also make me inclined to think that he's limp-raising with a hand like AA or KK.

On the flop I hit my TPTK, but it's far from a safe flop with potential flush and straight draws. Nonetheless it's checked to me, so there's only one thing to do and that's bet it hard. Once again, our passive UTG+1 player elects just to call rather than bet out or check-raise and act really strong, the latter option of which would have likely chased out MP2's weak flush draw rather than once again give him decent odds to call here and end the action.

The turn card is pretty much a disaster for me, and now MP2's bet just wreaks of trouble. I elect to assume I'm pretty much dead here and save my chips for a later hand - a disciplined yet fairly obvious laydown for me. Only way I'm continuing here is with the King of clubs in my hand. The UTG+1 player is suckered in though, and then plays the river as if he was slowplaying his TPTK all along, a really poor play given the board texture and the fact that his fold equity is very slim in this situation. The MP2 player was taking a chance that his opponent wasn't slowplaying a better flush, but all-in-all played the hand fine on all streets in my opinion. It was an early gamble, but he was being offered fairly good pot odds before and on the flop, and it really paid off for him in this situation. Things could have gone differently if he missed on the turn, and the UTG+1 player and I would've likely split the minor amount of chips that MP2 had invested up to that point. Do take note of how weak UTG+1 played this hand, and remember that in match-ups like this (i.e. where players have the same hand, or both have nothing), the edge goes to the aggressor.

HAND #2 - 3rd level in the $32k Guarantee

Full Tilt Poker, NL Hold'em Tournament, 25/50 Blinds, 9 Players - Hand History Converter

BTN: 2,670
Hero (SB): 2,065
BB: 5,665
UTG: 3,100
UTG+1: 4,739
UTG+2: 3,015
MP1: 3,750
MP2: 1,561
CO: 3,615

Pre-Flop: (75) Ks 8h dealt to Hero (SB)
4 folds, MP2 raises to 150, CO folds, BTN calls 150, 2 folds
Flop: (375) 2s 4h 6h (2 Players)
MP2 bets 300, BTN raises to 1,275, MP2 raises to 1,411 and is All-In, BTN calls 136
Turn: (3,197) Tc (2 Players - 1 is All-In)
River: (3,197) 3c (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: 3,197 Pot
BTN showed 7c 2c (a pair of Twos) and WON 3,197 (+1,636 NET)
MP2 showed Ah 9s (Ace Ten high) and LOST (-1,561 NET)

This is the type of hand where it really looks like someone was trying to get cute. The old "7-2 is the worst starting hand, so I'm going to be silly and play it and try to bust someone, lol!!!!" kind of micro-stakes play. Although the BTN player had a positional advantage here, his call goes against everything we know about the Gap Concept (only calling a raise with a hand that is as good as or better than what your opponent would raise with), as it's very unlikely that MP2 is raising 3xBB here with 62, 52, 42, or 32. Other factors that make this preflop call seemingly -EV to me are that it's still early in the tournament so it's unlikely that the BTN has a great read on MP2, he's giving better odds to me and the BB to come along, while we could also wake up with a hand and reraise, and also the MP2 player is getting short-stacked and probably looking to make a major move. Basically the BTN is just taking a major gamble in hitting a miracle flop and getting the rest of MP2's chips... but a very unnecessary gamble in my opinion.

On the flop the situation just continues to gross me out, as MP2 makes a standard continuation bet, and the BTN essentially puts him all-in with bottom pair. Although the BTN may have put MP2 on a hand like AT+ or two unpaired paint cards, and his mind be making a great play, he's essentially risking over half his stack assuming that MP2 is making this bet with 33 or any higher pair, or two overs and a heart draw. That's a wide range of hands that the BTN would be in serious trouble against. Of course the MP2 player makes an equally bad "I'm giving up on life" call with Ace-high, fails to hit his outs, and the BTN's sloppy play gets rewarded and probably leaves him feeling like a genius as he makes a nice addition to his stack.

I would definitely file this hand under "D" for "Don't try this at home, kids... or anyone."

HAND #3 - 4th level of a 90-seater

Full Tilt Poker, $5 + $0.50 NL Hold'em Sit n' Go, 30/60 Blinds, 8 Players - Hand History Converter

MP2: 7,165
CO: 3,180
BTN: 4,035
SB: 4,225
BB: 6,610
UTG: 2,680
UTG+1: 3,480
Hero (MP1): 2,800

Pre-Flop: (90) Kc 6h dealt to Hero (MP1)
3 folds, MP2 raises to 180, CO calls 180, BTN calls 180, 2 folds
Flop: (630) 3c 9s 9h (3 Players)
MP2 checks, CO checks, BTN checks
Turn: (630) 8h (3 Players)
MP2 checks, CO bets 360, BTN calls 360, MP2 folds
River: (1,350) Ac (2 Players)
CO bets 660, BTN raises to 3,330, CO calls 1,980 and is All-In

Results: 6,630 Pot
CO mucked Qs Qc (two pair, Queens and Nines) and LOST (-3,180 NET)
BTN showed 9c 8c (a full house, Nines full of Eights) and WON 6,630 (+3,450 NET)

This hand is very similar to Hand #1 in my opinion, as we have someone getting cute with suited connectors again, but really just using odds and position to their advantage in taking their chances at a monster flop, while we also have someone really misplaying a monster starting hand. Pocket Queens are the 3rd strongest starting hand, and barring any near-psychic reads on the MP2 player, the CO should put in a solid raise here (I'd pop it to 450-600 or so) to isolate MP2, buy the button, and push out other hands, mainly weak Aces and Kings. Simply calling here gives the BTN very favorable conditions for calling with 98s and allowing him to flop a monster and turn the nuts, which he slowplayed beautifully. At the same time the CO player never had a clue, playing preflop and the flop and turn incredibly passively and then making a call on the river when he should have been able to get away. Even if the flop would have been different, say 3-9-J, checking through could have allowed the BTN to hit another 9 or an 8. This hand is a perfect example of how getting cute with hands like suited connectors can be very +EV when your opponents will give you all the time in the world to hit the jackpot.

HAND #4 - 3rd level of a 90-seater

Full Tilt Poker, $5 + $0.50 NL Hold'em Sit n' Go, 25/50 Blinds, 8 Players - Hand History Converter

SB: 9,360
BB: 2,670
UTG: 3,840
UTG+1: 2,460
MP1: 8,390
MP2: 2,740
Hero (CO): 2,903
BTN: 3,187

Pre-Flop: (75) Ac Ah dealt to Hero (CO)
UTG calls 50, UTG+1 folds, MP1 calls 50, MP2 calls 50, Hero raises to 300, 4 folds, MP1 calls 250, MP2 folds
Flop: (775) 5c 4s 7d (2 Players)
MP1 bets 775, Hero raises to 2,603 and is All-In, MP1 calls 1,828
Turn: (5,981) 9c (2 Players - 1 is All-In)
River: (5,981) 6h (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: 5,981 Pot
MP1 showed 5h 6s (two pair, Sixes and Fives) and WON 5,981 (+3,078 NET)
Hero showed Ac Ah (a pair of Aces) and LOST (-2,903 NET)

Obviously I'm going to be a little biased on this one, seeing as how I got my Aces cracked and busted out. It's a great example though of those tournament situations where you see big stack players taking big preflop rolls of the dice in hopes of hitting the perfect flops. I felt I raised enough here to thin the field, but you really want action with hands like this... just not a multi-way pot... and with some big stacks in the mix I had a feeling I'd at least get one caller... the ideal situation. When MP1 bet the pot on the flop I knew he had to have connected in a big way with a small hand, and indeed he had a scary number of outs that made calling my raise perfectly acceptable... and unfortunately for me he hit one on the river. The preflop call still irked me, as I'm not the kind of big stack player that will open up my range like this, but the action post-flop was nothing outlandish. Just be aware that if you do decide to play a super-aggressive big stack and take these sorts of risks, you can expect your stack size to fluctuate much more rapidly as you leak chips on all the flops that don't actually hit like this one did for my opponent.

HAND #5 - 1st level of a 9-seater

Full Tilt Poker, $10 + $1 NL Hold'em Sit n' Go, 15/30 Blinds, 8 Players - Hand History Converter

UTG+1: 2,970
Hero (MP1): 1,560
MP2: 1,440
CO: 1,425
BTN: 1,545
SB: 1,515
BB: 1,545
UTG: 1,500

Pre-Flop: (45) 8s 7s dealt to Hero (MP1)
5 folds, BTN raises to 60, SB raises to 120, BB folds, BTN calls 60
Flop: (270) Qs Jh Kd (2 Players)
SB bets 270, BTN calls 270
Turn: (810) Ac (2 Players)
SB checks, BTN bets 570, SB raises to 1,125 and is All-In, BTN calls 555
River: (3,060) 9h (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: 3,060 Pot
BTN showed Th 5h (a straight, Ace high) and WON 3,060 (+1,545 NET)
SB showed Ks Qd (two pair, Kings and Queens) and LOST (-1,515 NET)
First of all, notice the type of player I am. I've got a pretty suited connector hand, but with no limpers in front of me, in iffy position, and against unknown opponents, I just go ahead and toss it. Now our BTN player on the other hand, goes ahead and does something just plain strange to me. An open min-raise on the button with T5s? Personally I just fold this and save my chips. Instead he creates a situation in which he's likely to end up playing a pot against one or two opponents (BB is especially getting good odds to call here), being much less likely to just steal the blinds. At the same time he's potentially putting himself in a bad position later on where he may need to steal blinds, and showing down the T5s min-raise here is going to inhibit his ability to do so by making it known that he's a professional caliber idiot.

At the same time, our SB here isn't doing much better. If he's reading the BTN as weak and thinks his hand is ahead here, he should raise somewhere in the range of 180 to 240 in primary hopes of getting a fold from the BTN and not having to play the hand out of position. Instead what he's doing is only sweetening the pot and giving the BTN more incentive to call. The only benefit of his raise is that he pushed the BB out of the pot. Overall though, we have a very ambiguous situation in which neither player has really defined his hand, nor has either one of them really taken a firm control of the hand.

The flop is very nice for the SB, and he bets accordingly. Unfortunately the BTN has position in this situation, thus having a certain edge against what may very well be a marginal holding betting in to him. Even if he doesn't hit his open-ended straight draw, he might have an opportunity to push the SB off his hand if the pot bet on the flop was indeed just a continuation bet facade. The turn card of course virtually seals the deal, also making it tough for the SB to get away against an opponent that still hasn't defined his hand (some players may call here with hands like K9, Q9, AJ, etc.). The only two options seem to be to bet and cross his fingers, or to check-fold his way out of the hand. And although he still could have gotten away from his hand after betting the turn, he chose to take his chances rather than be substantially crippled and in need of a double-up or two.

This is another example of a situation in which neither player played particularly well, and where the one that ended up winning should have arguably never been in the pot to begin with.

HAND #6 - 2nd level of a 9-seater

Full Tilt Poker, $10 + $1 NL Hold'em Sit n' Go, 20/40 Blinds, 8 - Hand History Converter

CO: 1,355
BTN: 1,800
SB: 660
BB: 1,485
Hero (UTG): 1,455
UTG+1: 3,105
MP1: 1,785
MP2: 1,855

Pre-Flop: (60) Ad Ac dealt to Hero (UTG)
Hero calls 40, UTG+1 raises to 160, 6 folds, Hero calls 120
Flop: (380) Qh 9h 6c (2 Players)
Hero checks, UTG+1 bets 425, Hero raises to 1,295 and is All-In, UTG+1 calls 870
Turn: (2,970) 9c (2 Players - 1 is All-In)
River: (2,970) 4d (2 Players - 1 is All-In)

Results: 2,970 Pot
Hero showed Ad Ac (two pair, Aces and Nines) and WON 2,970 (+1,515 NET)
UTG+1 showed Ah Kh (a pair of Nines) and LOST (-1,455 NET)

Mixing it up now a little bit, as I'd also consider slowplaying monster pairs to fit under the "getting cute" section of starting hands requirements. Just to set the background real quick... we're at what has been a fairly aggressive table so far, with a good amount of preflop action, making the conditions perfect for an unassuming early position limp with Aces. UTG+1 doubled up early with KK and hasn't played a hand since... I'm assuming he's a tight-aggressive type and is raising here in early position with a premium starting hand. There are no callers when it comes back to me, so rather than raising now to isolate, I simply call in hopes to continue disguising my hand and set up a sneaky check-raise trap. Nothing too scary on the flop, unless UTG+1 has QQ, but when he bets over the size of the pot I'm fairly sure that he couldn't have top set... he wouldn't want to scare me away quite yet. At the same time his bet could very well be a hand like KK or AQs, and makes me feel as if he's committed to calling a raise... so I go ahead and drop the hammer here. Turns out he had what he thought was a solid hand - the nut flush draw with 2 overs, though he can really only make the flush to win after I show him my Aces. Luckily I avoid another heart and take over as table captain. Note that this hand really could have gone to the felt in a variety of ways. He might have called an all-in preflop, or pushed me in if I reraised small when it got back around to me. I could have raised UTG and he might have reraised, then called my push when it got back to me. In a way I was lucky that he hit the flush draw on the flop, otherwise I might not have gotten the full double-up I wanted on a flop that completely missed him. As with playing crap hands like 65o for a hefty raise before the flop, you are taking a lot of risks in slowplaying Aces, and sometimes are just better off getting it in preflop (sometimes it's seems that's the last thing players are doing with AA these days). Luckily for me it worked out here, though in this particular SNG I ended up bubbling when I lost two consecutive 60/40 type hands with AJ.

On that note though, I did manage to cash in another 2 out of the 3 I played the other day... one 3rd and one win against two super-nits that I was able to peck away at over 30 minutes or so. Feels good to know that I still have it.

That's all for now. Don't forget to join in on the Sloppy Deuce action tomorrow (info still above next to the Angry Baby). Best of luck for now. - B.

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