Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Moderation of Aggression

Getting dealt one of the three best starting hands used to give me an instant adrenaline rush.  A cash game, a tournament, it didn’t matter; give me AA, KK, or QQ and my eyes lit up.

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’m still having trouble with overvaluing AA.  But I’ve recently made some progress with playing the other two big pairs and in doing so, I’ve come to a conclusion of sorts that may help me with the biggest pair of them all.

KK and QQ are inherently vulnerable.  On their own, there exist other starting hands that dominate them.  But not only that, any Ax against KK or Kx against QQ is only a 2:1 dog.  Because of that vulnerability, I’ve been able to exercise caution playing those hands.  In fact, whenever I get dealt KK or QQ, my first thoughts are “don’t go broke.”

But until recently, AA hasn’t given me that first thought instinct.  I think for me, it’s primarily due to the fact that you know, with 100% certainty, that you have the best hand pre-flop.  So before the flop, that starting hand is not dominated by any other hand.  That over-confidence has led me to ruin recently as I’ve failed to recognize flops that diminish the strength of AA.

A quick hand example, but with QQ.

It’s 6-handed and I’m on the button with QQ.  Folded to me, I raise 3.5x and the big blind calls.  The flop is 89J rainbow.  This flop is certainly coordinated; any ten has a big draw albeit with two fewer outs.  The big blind checks, and here’s were my cautiousness comes into play.  I check too.

The turn comes and I hit my set.  But also, it gives the big blind a straight if he was drawing to one.  He checks.  I’m prepared for a check-raise here, but I’m going to give my opponent a chance to make a mistake.  I bet 2/3rds the size of the pot.  Like I predicted, my opponent does check-raise.  But it’s a min check-raise.  I call knowing I’ve got 10 outs to a better hand if in fact the big blind has hit his straight.  Min-check raises at the $200NL game are still many times just weak bluffs.

The river pairs the 9 and I know I’m good.  If my opponent has his straight, he’ll go broke.  He bets out just over half the pot and I raise him all-in.  He folds.  The turn min check-raise was indeed a bad bluff, followed up with another weak bluff on the river.

I played it cautiously for sure.  From my perspective, the check on the flop made this hand more playable than it would have been otherwise.  The pot was kept smaller, it let my opponent bluff at it easier, and had I not hit my full house, I would have an easier chance of letting go of the hand.  I was willing to fold the set there given appropriate pressure.  That is of course opponent dependent.

Aggression is certainly a key factor to NLHE success, but I maintain that moderation of aggression, depending on flop texture is an imperative consideration as well.  Depending on the situation, you can win more money and at the same time give yourself a chance to lose less.

As always, comments are welcome.  I’m interested in opposing viewpoints on this hand, especially from the perspective of me playing it weakly.

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