Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stupid/System 010: Hand Ranges

Note: This post originally appeared in Full Tilt Poker's Poker From The Rail blog. It's reprinted in full on The_Goat_Speaks for the first time, in order to A) allow readers whose work blocks Tilt to read this very important groundbreaking work, and B) make it look like I'm posting without actually doing any work.

Anyway, go to Poker From The Rail, even though you will run into a lot of my poker writing there It's good, it's fresh, it's organic, and it is reasonably priced.

Also, check out Al and Riggs and Co. over at the Borgata Winter Poker Open. They're live blogging events like it ain't no thang. But it IS a thang. And not just any old thang, but a good thang. For real, one of the best thangs in the history of thangosity right over there.

I'll shut up now.



Imagine you find yourself in this common situation in a large-field multi-table tournament:

You are three hours into a big online tournament and just about to move into the money bubble – in fact, you are now in hand-to-hand play. The big blind has been wild in the past, but has tightened up considerably as you approach the money. The button has been bullying, contesting most unopened pots. Blinds are 500/1,000 with a 100 ante, so the pot starts at 2,400. You are in early position with a little over 17,000 in chips (you’ve been playing totally awesome, basically perfect poker) and you find KdTc.

How much do you raise?

Obviously you are playing this premium hand from any position, and the only question is how much to put in the pot. There are many valid schools of thought, each from one of the different “styles” of poker – such as Tight-Aggressive, Loose-Aggressive, Ultra-Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, Trappy-Passive, Trappy-Aggressive, Trapper Keeper, Calling Station, Badonkadonk, Playing Dead (or “Opossum Style”), Drunken Master, Player Hater, and, of course, Straight-Up Gangsta. All these points have their merits, so let’s look at a few:

Minimum Raise. Someone playing a trappy style would tend to put in a deceptively weak bet, to make the opponent think that your holding was not strong. This style would have you put in just the standard min-raise of 1,200. The problem here is one of pot odds. Remember that there are two pot odds, and the first one is called “pot commitment.” With your crafty min-raise, you are not giving yourself nearly the odds you need to commit yourself to the hand If somebody jams all-in on you, you might be tempted to fold. Remember Slim Pickins riding the nuke all the way to the ground at the end of Dr. Strangelove. That was a guy who understood the necessity of fully committing yourself to your actions.

All-In. Good thinking! I like this move for pure aggression, and also because you get to shove all those chips in there (very cool), but you may scare everybody out of the hand, and then all you’ve won are the blinds and antes.

Half Stack. Half of your chips is a good solid value bet, and you are pretty much committed to shoving in on any flop. You will probably get a few calls, and if you think about it, just two calls will double you up here, based on The Julius Postulate of Stacks (half your stack + half your stack = your whole damn stack). I think this is your best possible move here.

In fact you raise 3,000. The button, a big stack with 39,000 in chips, makes it 9,000. The button, who has about 8,500 calls immediately.

What do you do?

Great, you’re might just make that half-stack double-up anyway! Now, this sort of action can be a little unnerving for the inexperienced player, but this is actually very normal play. Notice now that you have a difficult decision ahead of you, whereas you’d have no decision at all if you had bet half-stack. Now, the second pot odd is the chances you have of winning the pot. At this point you have three people in the hand, so your chance is basically 33%. (This is before you’ve employed Positive Expectation to your thinking).

It’s tempting to just shove all-in here, but wait!

What you now need to do is employ one of the least practiced, but most important, tools in the Poker Pro arsenal; you need to use the information at hand to narrow down your opponent’s possible range of hands. In other words, what hands can you assume would explain the actions you’ve seen, based on who has made those actions, and which hands can be eliminated?

Elimination is the key here. Now, I’m pretty sure that there are 54 cards (Bonus Exercise: Count them up and then let me know). You have two of them, so that’s 52 remaining. Those 52 cards can be matched up 208 different ways (52 cards x 2 cards per hand x 2 remaining players = 208). That’s a hell of a lot of different ways, and it can hurt your head to think of them all at once, especially when you can’t even remember your high school locker combination. So we really have to narrow this sucker down a bit, or we are going to seriously need a martini pretty soon.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

What cards do you have? Check what again if you need to, but you have a King and a Ten. So you can eliminate hands with Kings and Tens, the odds are really pretty bad there. Goodbye, Ace-Ten through Ten-Deuce. Goodbye, Ace-King thorough King-Deuce. Notice we’ve removed two possible pairs from contention: Kings and Tens. Sweet.

What is your table image? Obviously, since you’ve read this far, you are using the most lucky table image (Space), but also remember that you have been playing awesome poker, so it’s likely these guys are intimidated by you. That would mean stronger hands rather than weaker ones, more likely. Maybe even something with an Ace.

Are the other players donkeys? Yes. YES. Totally.

Do you expect to win? Yes, of course. This is known as positive Expectation Value (or +EV), and it eliminates AA, which really would have you beat, and Ace-high, which would of course be technically ahead despite your numerous outs. The other pairs are not much of a concern, because your King puts you ahead of them on almost any K-high board. That’s Poker.

Do you still need a martini? Yes. Flag a waitress.

How have your opponents being playing near the bubble? Oh man, whatever. Just go all in. Basically you’ve eliminated everything except JT, so they both have JT. The big blind is probably suited, since he’s risking his tournament life.

You go all-in, and the button calls with QQ. YES! But the big blind has Aces. That’s so weak. You catch a King on the turn (there’s that +EV) to win the side pot, though, so you’re still OK.

It would probably be a good idea to turn off chat at this point. Man, courtesy is really a dying art these days.

Also, this is an online tournament, so that waitress you just flagged down is your wife. You might want to flip ahead to my Chapter on Apologizing to Your Spouse.

[© 2008 Julius Goat. Cover Image by Mookie “Big O” Pokeroom]

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