Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go With Your Read

You've heard this over and over: "go with your read." As I've taken a hard look at my play, one of the things I've noticed is how often I rationalize a decision I would never make if I took my read seriously. I am now trying consciously to both formulate a read (usually a hand range, but sometimes either more or less specific) AND to both refine and respect it as the hand proceeds.

Here are two cases from last night's Crime Scene Game.

#1: I am in middle position with a relatively short stack. There is a limp in early position, I limp in with 10 J suited, it folds to small blind who calls, and the big blind checks his option. The flop is J 7 5 rainbow. The small blind and big blind check, I make a half-pot bet with top pair. The small blind calls, the big blind folds.

The small blind is one of the people who runs the CSG. He is a canny player, and he knows my betting patterns better than I'd like. The check-call tells me that something about that flop appeals to him, but I don't think he's floating my bet with air or with bottom pair. It's possible he has a straight draw, but I think the most likely scenario here is that he's got a 7, he wants to see whether something will develop for his hand, and he's also keeping an eye on me to make sure that I wasn't just making a position bet with air myself.

The turn is a 10. Now I have two pair. Small blind checks. I check behind, purely as a trapping play. I'm pretty sure I'm good here, and there are very few cards that I fear on the river. I am hoping that my opponent will see my check behind as weakness. With most other players in this game I would have bet the turn, but I feel I'll be able to extract most value this way.

Except that the river is a 7. I am now not a happy camper; this is the worst possible card for me. After some hemming and hawing, the small blind goes all in (he has me covered). Is there any hand he could possibly do this with that doesn't have me beat? Even more to the point: am I persuaded that my original read was right?

I sit there for awhile, but honestly most of that time is occupied with me making my peace with the fact that I'm beat. I am totally persuaded he has a 7. I am toast: I fold. [My opponent later told me that he thought I had a straight with 89, that he shoved because he had a 7s full of 10s on the river, thought that the overbet would look weak to me and that I would call. I am inclined to believe him.]

#2: I am in the small blind. Four limpers enter the pot ahead of me. I look at my hand and find KK (red). I make a 1.5xPot bet. I get one caller, from early position. The rest fold. The caller is an action player, who plays any two, but is especially fond of and almost always chases flush draws (he's pretty keen on straight draws too, even if they're gutshots). I've also seen him shove on a flush draw if he has the Ace or the King. The flop comes 9 5 2, two spades.

I do not want him to draw to the flush. I make a pot-sized bet, which is about a quarter of his stack. Without missing a beat he shoves it all into the middle. (I have him covered.) Now what?

Well, I'm getting 4:1 on a call, I think it's likely he's on a flush draw, maybe he's got a pair as well. But there's no way I'm laying down Kings in this spot to this player. I call. He shows a set of deuces. Amazingly, I catch one of my two outs on the turn and go set over set for the win when the river blanks.

I was wrong about his holdings, that time. But now I have been reminded that he'll limp-call a big raise with a tiny pair in the hole (In fact, this behavior is endemic to the CSG and I ran into a flopped set of 3s last night too, again when I had a big hand; on that occasion I laid down my AK top pair top kicker to an all-in reraise. Me, I'm folding those small pairs to a big raise pre-flop). But I don't regret going with my read, since I think a large percentage of the time it would have been right. I am, however, unabashedly grateful for the re-suck King.

So I still believe going with my read is a good practice, especially if I am re-evaluating and testing it on every street. There's little point in HAVING a read, after all, if you don't act upon it. Unless you are prepared to act on it, a "read" is just idle speculation, a sort of self-indulgent daydreaming. An accurate read that you base decisions upon? That, right there, is one big fundamental step towards having an edge.

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Blogger dbcooper said...

I like you in most cases will fold those small pairs to a big raise before the flop. The amount of times you get trips doesn't pay to call the big raise. I find that some players get married to those small pairs and will call any raise........ I just try and remember who those players are.

5/4/09 3:30 PM  
Blogger Crash said...

I can't count the chips I have lost because I didn't follow even simple reads. Thanks for bringing this toward the front of my thick skull!

5/4/09 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is one of your best strategy posts yet. I always thought this was the weakest part of your game. To win at NL holdem you not only have to play your cards but also your opponents'. Whenever I read about your hands they always seemed to be on the level of "I had top pair so I bet half the pot." Maybe you don't agree but we are entitled to our opinions.

I think many people mistake getting a read as "he twitched his nose so he must be bluffing." You correctly start with getting a read as putting someone on a hand range. The next part is focusing on how they play their hands and playing your hand accordingly. It's a very analytical process, at least to me. Vice versa if your astute opponent can recognize your betting patterns you are playing an unbalanced exploitable game.

If you keep up with this type of thinking though, you will be crushing games soon enough.

I would re-evaluate the thinking about small pairs. What are the stack sizes? Your bet probably signals big pair. Maybe he has you as the type that would go broke on an over pair. If he is getting better than 10:1 (hitting a set is ~8:1 plus a little extra to account for the resuck) on preflop-bet:stack size this could be a profitable call against someone who would put all there money in.

5/4/09 5:19 PM  
Blogger Cardgrrl said...

@Anonymous: Calling a large raise holding a small pair when you suspect an overpair, getting just 10:1, is a dubious proposition (and that's IF effective stacks are deep enough for those implied odds, which they most often are not in the games I play).

Even assuming you make your set, there are many other factors that might keep your opponent from putting his or her whole stack in the middle: e.g., a paired board, a monotone board, straightening cards, overcards, and so on. What's more, for better or worse, not everyone is as willing to play for stacks as I am, even when they're convinced they have the best of it.

Harrington, in his Cash Games book, recommends 20:1 implied odds, if I recall correctly. You have to be playing pretty darn deep for that, and it may be too conservative a ratio for most. Usually I'm gonna be looking for around 13-15:1, depending on the player and the circumstances.

All of the above does NOT apply to tournament play, where tournament stage, blind levels, and other factors may dictate a very different approach.

5/4/09 7:56 PM  
Blogger matt tag said...

your rule of thumb matches the "5-10" rule for small pairs pretty closely. If the raise you have to call is 5% of your stack or less (20-1), always call. If it is 10% of your stack or more (10:1), always fold. If between 5 and 10%, use other factors to make your decision (opponent, your image, etc).

Your read on the flush master is good - now mark him down as a setminer too (especially if his call breaks the 5/10 rule above).

5/4/09 8:48 PM  

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