Sunday, August 20, 2017

No Antes? No Bueno

One evening back in June I decided to do something I haven't done in quite awhile—play in a small, low buy-in tournament. 

For the past few years, I've almost exclusively played tournaments that have $100+ buy-ins, figure to have at least 90 or so runners and have 30-minute levels or more.  Once I started playing those, the smaller buy-in tourneys didn't much appeal to me.  I was "spoiled" by the Aria and the Binion's tournaments I would play regularly whenever I was in Vegas.  I branched out to play even bigger (buy-in wise) tournaments that were part of a big series.  And I pretty much left the small tournaments behind.

The larger prize pools were a big factor, but honestly, the biggest reason was the length of the levels.  Also, the bigger tournaments tended to have larger starting stacks.  In other words, there was a lot more play in them than the smaller tournaments, as you would expect.  And I got used to that.  The downside was that you could play in those bigger tournaments for a long, long time and bust out after hours and hours and have nothing—or very little—to show for it.  At least with the smaller tournaments, well, they were over fast and if you didn't cash you hadn't lost a whole day or evening (or both) for nothing.

So generally, when thinking of playing a tournament, I don't even look at anything that cost less than $100.  And if I see a tournament with levels less than 30-minutes, I also am inclined to give it a pass.

But on this particular evening, after working all day, I really felt like playing a tourney.  And when I considered my options, I decided to give a smaller tournament a shot.  This time of year, with all the big series running, there were actually a number of options for bigger tournaments that started in the evening.  But the best options were ones that would likely run until 4-5 AM—and I had to work the next day too. 

So I looked at all my options to try to figure out the best value.  Fortunately I had just written a column about tournaments around town for Ante Up.  There were actually some tournaments that had buy-ins at $100 or more that didn't figure to last more than 3-4 hours.  Right amount of time, but why would I pay over a hundred bucks for tournament when I was sure I could find one that had a lower buy-in with relative similar structures (and therefore length).

To make a long story short (yes, that's a joke), I ended up at the Mirage for their $65 tournament at 7pm.  It had a 10K starting stack with 20-minute levels and the structure seemed ok.  I noticed that there were never any antes in the structure, so I figured that would make the tournament play a little longer.  Seemed like the best deal available at that hour.

I thought I would like the fact that there were no antes.  When I first started playing tournaments, I wasn't thrilled with antes.  I wasn't used to them, since you never see antes in the low-limit cash games I played.  They were a nuisance and I saw that they helped bleed your stack when it was getting short.  One of the things I really liked about the Binion's Saturday tournament when I first started playing it was that the antes didn't kick in until the 8th level (since changed).

But I got used to the antes and I understood the concept that they induced action.  Still I figured that fact that the Mirage tourney I was playing didn't have them would be a good thing, especially for a low buy-in tournament designed to last just a few hours.

Well, I was wrong.  The tournament convinced me that antes are necessary.  What happened was that I was really card dead and so I got short stacked.  And thus I was at the point where I was in shove or fold mode.  But the trouble was, I realized that shoving and winning without a call wasn't worth very much.

By the time I get to that point (if I do) in one of the usual tournaments I play, it's good to steal the pots that way because the antes on top of the blinds make it worth it.  But without antes, all you get is a blind and a half. It doesn't have much an impact on your stack.

Yes, I know, without antes your stack bleeds slower, and that should make up for the lack of return when you steal....but your stack gets short anyway and then you can't make up for it with steals.  It doesn't seem to balance out.  That steal attempt is no longer worth the risk when it usually only get you 1-1/2 blinds.  Whereas it would be if you were also pulling in the antes.

As such, I quickly realized that I had to adjust my thinking for when it was time to shove.  I mean I did it once or twice when I thought I should have but then I realized I wasn't accomplishing much.  So I actually changed my strategy.  I started just raising in spots where I really had too few chips to do that, where I should have shoved.  The idea was that I was committed but I was hoping for a re-raise so I could shove (which is what I wanted to do) so there'd be more chips when I did it.  Of course that was riskier because I had less fold equity and might get called by a hand that was better than mine but would have folded to a shove).  I just felt because of the lack of antes I had to take more risk to get chips.  Maybe I was looking at it the wrong way, but I was kind of making this up on the fly and that's what I came up with.

So for example, in the 6th level, I was down to about $12K and had about 7 big blinds (the big blind was $1,600). That's ordinarily just a shove or a fold for me.  But with pocket 9's I instead raised to $5,000 instead of shoving.  Well that time I didn't get a call so it didn't make a difference.

But later I had Ace-10 and a big stack limped in.  I made it $7K and the big stack called.  The flop was 10-9-7 and he had checked dark.  I shoved, which I was planning to do with most any flop.  He folded.

Then I had Ace-10 again.  A short stack shoved for $2,500. I thought about shoving but I was still trying to figure out the best play with no antes.  So I just called.  There was a guy behind me who had a similar stack to mine.  He took forever but finally called. The flop was Ace-high, 1 club.  I shoved.  Again, he went into the tank.  But again, he called and turned over Ace-7 of clubs.  I was ahead. All I had to fade was a 7 and running clubs.  So of course he caught runner-runner clubs.  To add insult to injury, the river card was the 10 of clubs, giving me a losing two pair.

I had less than a blind left so I went all-in on the next hand with King-8 and lost.

My assessment was that tournaments without antes are bad.  I won't play them again.  But good for Mirage and other rooms for offering them.  Obviously some people like them, and it's great that they have that option.

But then, I still don't like playing low buy-in, quick tournaments with 20-minute levels.  I just got spoiled a long time ago with the 30-minute levels at the Aria where you get much more play, at the "cost" of playing a much longer time if you run well.  I honestly wonder why people like those quicker tournaments.  I mean obviously the shorter length has an appeal, as it did for me on this night.  But they turn into shove-fests after just a level or two.  I don't enjoy that.  Others must, because except for a few of the biggest rooms, you find just about every room in town offering them. 

They're just not for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Was This a Good Play?

This is a hand from a session that otherwise wasn't very interesting.  Oh, I left with a small profit, and I did win with pocket Kings (raise, 2 callers, c-bet takes it).  But no hand I was in was really worth talking about.

However, there was an interesting hand that I observed, and then got a little more information about.  I think it's worth a blog post, but you can tell me if I'm wrong.

There were these two guys in town from Minnesota, there to have a good time, and they were both fairly aggro.  Bigger than standard raises preflop, fairly aggressive post-flop. Not afraid to three-bet preflop either.  This hand involved one of these two guys, the one on my immediate left.

The other player in this drama was a regular I've referred to in the past as Dean.  You might want to look back at the post where I first mentioned him (here)  because the hand I discussed nearly three-years ago has some relevance now.  You can scroll down near the bottom of the post to find it.  The key point was that Dean was surprised that I had raised "so small" with pocket Aces and I therefore fooled him with my hand strength.  As I pointed out in that post, I raised what I would have raised with any hand I would raise, and Dean was anticipating that I'd raise based on how good my hand was.

As we start this hand, the guy from Minnesota was sitting behind nearly $500 and Dean had around $340.  Dean opened the pot for something in the area of $10-$12—a perfectly normal raise. The guy from Minnesota re-raised to something like $30-$35 (it might have been as much as $40, but no more).  When it folded back to Dean, he instantly announced "all-in."

Huh?  Seemed like a bit of an overbet no?

It folded back to the guy from Minnesota and he went into the tank forever. He was talking too.  Dean said nothing but the Minnesota guy was saying things like, "I can't fold this...I know you've got Aces but I can't fold this....Oh man, oh man."  And so on.

I couldn't figure out what Dean had that made any sense.  I wasn't thinking Aces.  I mean why shove with Aces?  You're not getting value for them.  You're almost always going to get a fold.  If you raise 3X the three-bet, you might get a call.  Of course, if the other player has Kings, it could work out, but...

Now as I said, this guy was fairly aggressive, so it's not like he's only three-betting with Aces or Kings.  He could be doing that with a lot of hands that he might call a three-bet with but wouldn't call a shove with.  If Dean's opponent is a total nit who would only three-bet with AA or KK, then yeah, if he had Aces it would make sense to shove there with them.  But then, if he's that nitty, you might scare him off Kings too.

So Dean must have something other than Aces.  Kings? Is he trying to get Ace-King to fold so he doesn't worry about an Ace hitting?  Seems extreme. 

What about Queens or Jacks?  You know Jacks—three ways to play them and they're all wrong. So get him to fold preflop.  But you can probably accomplish the same thing with a big four-bet that's a lot less than a shove and doesn't risk your whole stack.

Would he do that with Ace-King?  You know, if you get called, guaranteed to see all five cards and you have the two biggest ones.  You're still a slight underdog against QQ or JJ tho and you're getting crushed by AA or KK.

Well, eventually the guy from Minnesota listened to himself say "I can't fold this," enough times that he called.  He flipped over two Kings and Dean showed two Aces.  And the board was nothing but blanks and Dean had a real nice double up.  There was kind of sick look on the guy's face but his buddy tried to cheer him up.  "You couldn't fold that."

Not long after, the seat on Dean's immediate left opened up and I moved to it—just because I could see the cards better from there.  Dean and I have played many hours of poker together and so when I settled in and we were both out of the hand I couldn't resist asking him about the hand.  I assumed he would be willing to talk to me about it.  I was right.

"I was really surprised you shoved there with your Aces.  I can't figure out why you would do that."

"Well, I knew he was strong and I thought he would call.  And when I shove there, it looks weak, it looks like I don't want a call."

Hmmm...I guess that makes sense. Especially after I saw it work to perfection. But do you think that's a good strategy?  Should you always four-bet shove with Aces?  Even when you start the hand with over 150 big blinds?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another Dreaded Post

Saturday I was back in Ventura playing some 1/2 ($100 max buy-in).  It only took me three hands to say hello to my old friends, the dreaded pocket Kings in the big blind.  After a few limpers, a guy made it $10.  I added $30 to my big blind. A short stack who had initially limped shoved for his last $8.  Everyone else folded.  He showed Ace-2 of spades.  Of course there were two spades on the flop.  But the third spade didn't come.  Neither did an Ace and my Kings actually held.

With King-Queen off in early position I made it $6 and had one caller.  On a flop of 9-9-4 I made a c-bet and took it.

I called $6 on the button with Ace-7 off and it was four-ways.  The board totally missed me but no one bet.  A 7 hit the turn and it checked to me.  I bet $6 and didn't get a call.

In the big blind I had 8-7 of hearts and no one raised; there were a bunch of limpers.  The flop was Ace-8-7.  I bet $6.  Another guy made it $15.  Now, on the previous hand, this guy, who was fairly new to the table and I think was waiting for a bigger game, had shoved a pretty good amount on the flop with just  a gut shot.  Of course he hit his straight on the turn and won the pot.  But shoving with a gut shot (in response to a bet) made an impression on me.  So I made it $40.  I only had $10 behind.  He tanked and shoved and of course I called.  The last two cards were bricks and when I showed my two pair he just mucked his cards.

I raised to $8 with Ace-Jack off and it was three-ways.  The flop was low, I made a $15 c-bet, and a lady shoved.  Easy fold.  The other player folded too.  She kindly showed us pocket Jacks.  Well, good thing a Jack didn't hit the flop!  But it was interesting she didn't three-bet with the Jacks.  Earlier I had noticed she three-bet with pocket 10's.

I had pocket Queens and there were many limpers. I made it $12.  Only one call.  The flop was low and the other guy donked out $20.  I made it $50 which looked like about what he had left.  It turned out to be a few bucks more than he had.  He called and showed pocket Jacks.  The ladies held.

Now, there was this kid at the table who wasn't really familiar with the game.  And I do mean "kid"—he really looked like he was barely old enough to be in the casino.  I'm sure he was carded.  He didn't really seem to grasp all the rules of the game.  One of the first questions he asked the dealer was, "What's the most I can bet?"  When it was explained that it was between $2 and as much as he had in front of him, he said, "Oh, I'm used to it being a fixed amount and then you can double it."  He was told that he was talking about limit poker and this was no-limit. 

Of course the newbie had some serious beginner's luck and soon had more than doubled up his original $100 buy-in.  And he was making some odd plays.  He three-bet a surprising amount of the time, and one time I noticed he had three-bet with Queen-7 off.

Anyway, on this particular hand he was under-the-gun plus one and made it $4.  However, I realized that he hadn't actually meant to raise there.  He had seen a couple of bets close together and thought he was calling a $4 straddle.  There was a call to his bet and I found myself looking down at pocket Kings again.

I made it $16.  It folded to a "mature" woman who was probably the tightest player at the table.  She shoved—but she only had $27.  It folded back to me and of course I snapped. But she flipped over pocket Queens and once again my Kings held.

Sometime later, the kid disappeared from the table for awhile and when he came back, we noticed that two racks of his chips were gone.  The dealer asked what happened to his chips (he still had about $30-$40 left).  He said he cashed them in.  Of course, the dealer told him he couldn't do that, he had to keep that money at the table as long as he was still playing.  So he thought for a while and took the rest of his chips to the cage and cashed those in too.

Winning twice in a session with pocket Kings—unimproved Kings at that—was a nice day for me.  I booked a small win and headed home. 

How does the pic below tie into the post?  Well, Ventura is right on the Pacific Ocean.  And this is an example of the type of native creatures you might find on the beach.