Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Decision Trees

Does every poker hand you ever play have a winnable solution? Is it possible that no matter what cards you're dealt, no matter in what position you act, that there is a possible set of actions that can be taken such that you can win the hand? I say "can" rather than "will" because on some occasions you can do everything correctly and still lose. But ignore that for a moment, just think about the things you can control. Even such silly hands like pushing pre-flop with garbage to win some dead money in the pot is still a solution to the situation of that particular hand. Granted, such single-incident solutions may have long term negative expected value in cases where you're wrong. I think that's where player reads come in to play. The reads are additional data that take you from an average situation to the particular situation at hand.

Here's an example hand where I really think I did everything humanly possible to put myself in a winnable situation.

I was in middle position in a 1/2NL cash game with AJo and open-raised to what is now considered a quite standard $12. One player in late position flat called and the action was on the small blind. The small blind was short-stacked and gave off the body language of "If I'm calling this raise, I might as well put the rest of my chips in the pot too while I'm at it." Those of you who are live cash game veterans probably know exactly what I mean. The small blind pushed for about $47 in total.

The big blind was next to act. He looked at his hand and hesitated. The look on his face was one of, "Hmmmm... I have a decently strong hand, but I can't interpret the action thus far, so as a weak player, I'll just smooth call right now." Those of you who are live cash game veterans probably know exactly what I mean.

The action was back on me.

I had the benefit of being the first raiser into the pot, so nobody knew yet for sure if I was just raising with a medium strength or a premium strength holding. I felt that the flat caller behind me would fold to a re-raise on my part. The question was, could I make the big blind fold. His hesitation showed weakness and I saw it, loud and clear.

I decided to re-raise another $100 on top of the $47 that both blinds had already put out there. But Blood, you're thinking, you have AJo. Not even suited. Yes, I know all that, but at this point in the hand, I felt that my reads were strong enough such that I could play the hand more strongly and setup a better chance to win. A better chance than flat calling would give me. And of course, a much better chance than folding gave me. LDO. In an online game, I'd fold immediately. My hand is weak, especially from early position. But we're live. With more data. Data that takes us away from the "average" poker hand to this unique instance of a poker hand.

The LP flat caller mucked. With the SB already all-in, it was back to the BB. And after agonizing even more, finally folded his AQo face up. My plan worked. It was really a simple isolation move on my part, made more advantageous by my reads on the other players. In fact, I was now favored to win as I was up against K9s. I had a 60% chance to win a pot in which I put in less than 33% equity.

So the question is, does EVERY hand you get dealt offer such an opportunity. The answer, very likely, is no. But sometimes, you may find yourself in a hand wherein upon first glance you're thinking about folding. However, sometimes a situation arises wherein you can dictate much of the action and find the proper path to a solution that wasn't readily apparent on first glance.

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