Monday, August 11, 2008

Absolutely Relative or Relatively Absolute

Made a trip up to the Great White North, well Charlotte actually, this past Saturday for adventures in home gaming, Falstaff edition.

There was an interesting mis-play on my part that furthered some discussion on the matter of stakes and quality of play. For the record, here's the mis-play. I was in position and called a raise from Special-K with 45o. The flop was J-high, rainbow, with a 5. Special-K fired out nearly a pot size bet of $8 as a continuation bet. I called, turned another 5, and doubled through against his pocket Aces. I got lucky, no question. But here's the real point of this post.

Why did I call his continuation bet with only bottom pair?

In NL hold 'em, there are a few things to consider. Pot size, bet size and stack size. With those three values, you can construct a decent mathematical model on what the proper play is based on the action. That's really why I'm calling my play a mis-play, because with roughly $10 in the pot and an $8 continuation bet, my $50 stack size at the time really warrants a fold.

Let's for a minute pretend we're in a $2/$5 game and make the relative actions exactly the same. There's a raise to $25 from the blinds and 4 callers. The continuation bet is now $100 and I'm sitting there with between $500 and $600 in my stack. The reality is that my hand is now an obvious fold. But why?

Here's my opinion. Every poker player has a "main game" wherein the stakes are just about perfect for them to play optimally. If you're playing over your head in stakes that really pose a threat to your bankroll, then the absolute values of bet size begin to take on meaning. Even though they shouldn't.

If you're playing below the stake level of your main game, then so too do the bets take on absolute values rather than relative values.

In the hand above from Saturday night, my brain said, "Hey, it's only an $8 bet." And that's wrong, it's not good poker. Granted, you can make a meta-game argument that by calling that bet, I've set forth an image to the other players that I can take advantage of later, but that's really a secondary effect.

Now having taken full responsibility as a donkey in the above hand, I will add the following. It's also your job as a player to recognize your opponents comfort level. If you know your opponent is playing at levels uncomfortable to them, then you need to put pressure on them such that they fold when they shouldn't. But if your opponent is playing stakes lower than they're accustomed to, then you need to beware when they take chances they shouldn't in an attempt to get lucky.

And that's what happened to me. I got lucky.

Lee Jones once wrote an interesting article for CardPlayer wherein he recommended playing in a home game where you didn't know what the buy-in was. The chips in play had relative value to the blinds, and a buy-in got you $500 in chips, but you didn't know how much that buy-in cost. It could have been $20, $200, or $2000. Now how do you play each hand, when the absolute value of the chips is effectively unknown? For me, the unfortunate answer is most probably "differently."


Unknown said...

I definitely understand where you're coming from, and I would agree with about 95 percent of it. But you said "he a continuation bet." If you do think your opponent is making a continuation bet, I think you should call regardless and take the pot away from him on the turn. It turns out you were wrong and got lucky. That's poker. Nice to see it happen to someone who deserves it.

The value you'll get from calling a bet like that far outweighs any money you might get from that specific pot.

Special K said...

Hey now. It happend TO me! I didn't deserve it. I've not beat my wife or kicked my dog this month. :) (or any other month)

Anonymous said...

so the one thing I see missing from your evaluation is the opponent.. never in your experience with Special K (and rarely in my experience with him) does he make a play at a pot where calling that pot-sized bet with bottom pair is a smart play..

you said it all... "you got lucky"

TheTrooper97 said...

I've always been a believer that when playikng poker, the money must mean at least a little something to you. It should sting when you lose. Therefore, if you're playing too low for your roll, it isn't exactly the same game, and therefore, shouldn't necessarily be played the same way.

Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Interesting take on that flop with the five. When I have a hand like that and someone comes out with a raise and I call from the BB...I tend to think a rag flop probably missed their AK-AQ, KQ, and premium hands. I probably would have called here with Implied Odds...Pablo taught me that play. In any case, when you look at implied odds and that the flop probably missed them you are o.k. Another bullet if you missed then you might have to think over pair.

KenP said...

Interesting commentary. I don't see what the blinds were and typical raises so it is hard to get it right. (I'll go for any excuses I can find)

There might be a bit of slow play involved early. The betting may have failed to define a strong hand.

The mention of implied odds is right on. You're always a donkey with an implied odds hand.

The attraction may be invalid with such a renown player -- but you are looking for a guy who'll overplay TPTK and such that has a nice stack looking for felt. If he misplays likely unimproved strength, so much the better.

OK, I am done. I think I probably offended all side here. But for the Sklansky crowd, I won't leave them called with 5 stinkin out you marrun...