Monday, August 20, 2007

Bloggers in the FTOPS ME, and Betting Patterns in Multi-Way Pots

Well would you look at that? It's Monday, and thus tonight is another Mondays at the Hoy tournament on full tilt:

Btw I read I think on Mook's blog that Duggles had created a cool new MATH banner. I was not online this weekend but will have to check that out this week. I would love to look at it right now but of course my dickwork can't let me view whatever service Dugs uses to host his pics. As an aside, you think that's bad? Another blog I can suddenly no longer view the pictures on is AlCantHang himself, thanks to the recent change to flickr for Al's image repository. And no offense to Duggles, but missing out on the pictures in Al's blog hits me a little more where it hurts than missing Duggles does. If you know what I mean. Anyways, I'm looking forward to seeing the new banner and hopefully moving into the weekly rotation next week. And come out tonight if you're around at 10:00pm ET to the "Private" tab in the Tournaments section and play in the weekly MATH tournament. The password for my tournaments is "hammer" as always, and anyone is welcome. If you read here on Tuesdays then you know about how much begninner's luck our first-timers and early-timers have been at the Hoy. Maybe tonight is your night?

So while I was out with Hammerwife at a pretty awesome wedding on Sunday evening, several of our blogging brethren were playing in the $535 buyin Main Event of FTOPS V. This was a $2 million guaranteed tournament, I believe the largest full tilt has ever run, and first prize was something like $365,000 and change. It was also the largest-attended FTOPSME that I can recall, at something like 4500+ entrants. Last time around I ran through 4100 or something on my way to a 100th place finish, and I am proud to say that another awesome tournament blogger has bettered that here in FTOPS V. CMitch ended the night busting in 84th place out of that huge field, nabbing $2632 and change for his performance, which included at least two huge comebacks from very low chip stacks in relative terms. Let's put it this way: the average stack shortly after cmitch busted was 289,000 chips. The average stack. That's how far Mitch took this thing on Sunday evening. So go stop by and congratulate cmitch on an awesome job, and while you're at it, also head over to Lucko to congratulate him on his finish in the 300s. Anytime you run through 4000 donkeys in the largest event in full tilt's history, I would say you are pretty much kicking ass. That is awesome. I am sorry I missed the ME this quarter, but there's always another one, and my wife and I spent the evening at the wedding of our longtime Saturday babysitter, which I have to say was a really awesome time. A great wedding is pretty cool I have to say. It's the sucky ones that more than make up for the goodness of the great ones that are the problem.

OK so back to poker. This weekend, when I played not more than 15 minutes of poker total throughout, I was thinking a lot about reading hands in online play, and I've been contemplating for a while a post that describes some of the tactics I use in this arena. Of course, at the same time I've been grappling with the fact that much that I could say on this topic would be purely -EV for me in the general sense that a good magician never reveals his tricks, and in a specific sense since I play many of you fonkeys on a regular basis several times each week in the blonkaments. So I have to do at least some balancing of those two interests, and frankly that has been keeping me from posting much about online hand reading although I have a few posts partially written on this very topic. I saw a recent post from Wes about the timing of certain actions that can be readable in online play, and it struck a chord with me (for those of you who don't know, Wes really knows his shizz about poker), and I thought I would write a little about that topic now.

Wes's main point in the post I am referring to is that if people call a bet quickly, then tend to have a weaker range on average than if they take some time before calling a bet. As a general statement, I definitely agree with this concept. Not paying attention to how people bet online in addition to just how much they bet means you are missing out on a lot of valuable information about the strength of their hand. In this case, if you were the guy with pocket Aces on a board of, say, A94 rainbow, and your heads-up opponent in the big blind checks to you on the flop after he called your preflop raise, are you going to come out betting huge at that point right away, or are you going to try not to act too strong at all there, so as not to lose him? Think about it. So generally speaking, I agree with Wes that even at the limits that I play (approximately 1800 times lower than Wes) -- in both cash and tournaments alike -- when someone makes a quick bet or a quick raise, generally speaking I tend to put them on a weaker range of hands.

Along those same lines, here is a simple tool that I use quite often to create a very basic -- and necessarily very changeable -- assumption about the strengths of my opponents' hands as early as the flop, based on the betting pattern among the players in a multi-way pot. Say I'm in the big blind with K8 soooted and I check my option to see a 3-handed flop, and the flop comes 9♣8♣4. Right there I figure I could easily have the best hand with second pair King kicker, and with the possible straight and flush draws out there, I bet out the size of the pot. My first opponent, in middle position, flat calls my pot-sized bet. Immediately, my first assumption about his hand is some kind of middling Nine. I made a big bet, and he smooth called it. This smooth call could be a medium pocket pair, middle pair decent kicker, any pair on the board, really. It could also be a draw of some kind. But to me, the first smooth caller of a good-sized flop bet tends to have top pair or some other "made" hand a significant portion of the time. And remember, this is just my starting point of my read. I'm going to change it as seems sensible as I learn more from that opponent's actions. But generally speaking, when I do not hold top pair and such a holding fits a player's preflop actions, I tend to put the first caller of a good-sized flop bet on some kind of top pair hand, often not the strongest of hands or sometimes there these players will smooth call as well, only in that case for deception purposes.

Now let's suppose in the hand example above that the third player in the hand, sitting in the cutoff, also then elects to smooth call my pot-sized pot on the 984 two-suited flop. That guy, more often than not, I tend to start off with the assumption that he is on some kind of a draw. Again, we are clearly only talking in generalities here, and this post only deals with my initial assumption of what a player might be holding given a preflop limp into a multiway pot, but as a starting point, I tend to put a caller of an already-called good-sized bet on the flop on a drawing hand. A lot of the reason for this may be math-based in that, thanks to the early position caller, the third player is now getting enhanced pot odds to chase some draws that would not necessarily be present if the pot were just heads-up at that point. But on a draw-heavy board such as the one I am describing here, it is often a very useful tool for me -- and you would be surprised how often it proves to be correct in the end -- to start off with the assumption that the first guy has a good pair, probably ahead of my middle pair 8s and King kicker, and the second guy is chasing some kind of straight or flush draw, bottom pair and a flush draw, inside straight draw with overs, or something like that. I mean, if he is a good player and he holds something like 95 for top pair shit kicker, wouldn't he want to raise it up right now to try to find out if he's ahead? Or at least fold and cut his losses if he believes another player already holds a better pair/kicker combination? The smooth call with a crappy Nine doesn't really make sense to me there, nor would a smooth call with just 2nd or 3rd pair. In most cases, this is either a dramatic -- and probably ill-advised -- slow-play with the smooth call of a bettor and a caller on a pot-sized flop bet, or it is some kind of a drawing hand.

This general tool can come in very handy when, say, no draw fills on the turn, you check and the EP guy checks as well, and then the cutoff puts in a turn bet of substantial size. If you are feeling good about your read that he was on a draw, one that now has not filled on the turn, you are likely to win this entire (now large) pot outright with a large enough raise. Yes it's a risky move and yes it is more or less a pure bluff, but #1 you do have some outs (at least the other two eights and possibly the three Kings as well) if you prove to be behind, and #2 if you are used to relying on your reads, this kind of move can become commonplace in certain situations. For example, this is exactly the kind of play that I have used time and time again in late-game mtt play to help add 50% to my stack at a time when the blinds and antes are threatening to destroy everyone's shot at the big money and basically forcing everyone to play maniacally at times. You identify a guy through your reads who bets the flop as if he is on a draw, and then bets the turn when the draw misses after two checks in front of him, and you raise both him and the guy with the top pair crappy kicker 95-type of hand out of what is now a big pot. This kind of play is very useful in 6-max nlh and other aggressive formats of holdem as well. Basically, the more metagame that is involved in a particular table I am playing it, the more I find little tools like this to be useful in reading opponents' hands.

One last thing, of course you have to be wary that a tool like this one can and will be used against you by a competent, tricky player. They'll get you time and time again if you religiously apply these assumptions to flop callers and overcallers, and especially if you do not consistently show a willingness to amend your guess about your opponent's hand range based on information you later receive from such a player. So, for example, imagine the situation above, you bet out with K8 into a 3-handed flop of 984 with two suits, the first player calls so you put him on a Nine, and the second player calls as well so you put him on some kind of a draw. Now the turn brings another Nine. Having represented a Nine and now thinking that the second Nine on the turn makes it that much less likely that either limped-in opponent holds a Nine themselves, I bet out again on this turn card. Now the first guy, whom I had originally put on a Nine himself, folds his hand. The cutoff, however, whom I had on some kind of drawing hand, surprised me by raising me allin. In this spot, I need to reconsider what I had been thinking. Now the cutoff's actions overall through the hand seem more like he is the one actually holding a Nine. I highly doubt the EP player would have folded trip Nines in that spot on the turn, and since neither he nor I actually hold a Nine, and this guy is risking his tournament life with two Nines on the board, it's a fairly safe bet that he's got the goods in this spot after all, and that my initial application of the tool I describe in this pot produced inaccurate results. So it's time to abandon ship.

Like any trick or tool to hand reading in poker, strict adherence and unwillingness to keep an open mind will kill ya, every single time. Especially with a game like no-limit holdem, with all of its complexities and myriad options on how to play a given situation, if you don't keep an open mind and ever cease to be willing to rethink and reconsider what you think your opponent holds based on every single new piece of information you receive from the way or the amount he bets, you will eventually get busted by someone who figures out how to beat you at your own game. Anybody can slow play when they flop a set, and anyone can turn a boat and wait for you to commit yourself. Those superstrong hands often tend to play themselves for your opponents to a large extent. But despite all of this, learning to recognize certain betting patterns, among multiple players or even among individual players across repeated hands, and what each of those situations tends to mean as far as each player's holdings, is a crucial skill that I believe almost all truly great poker players possess, and constantly strive to improve.

I may write some more about betting patterns, bet sizing and hand reading in the future, simce as I mentioned I have a number of these posts kinda half-written and just waiting to be fine-tuned and posted. I'm particularly interested in betting patterns, and how most people tend to play certain hands the same way, and what recognizing and reacting to those patterns can do for your nlh game, both in tournaments and in cash situations. But until then hopefully this post will whet some appetites, stir up the usual donkish retorts, and most of all get some of you thinking about reading hands in a way that you did not previously do. And in the meantime, get your asses out for Mondays at the Hoy tonight at 10pm ET on full tilt, where I will be sure to use some of this multi-level thinking on you to get you allin with less than a 5% chance to beat me, and then lose to your bullshit at the river to bust me just short of the final table. Lookin forward to it!

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Blogger ciro said...

Hi, I just found your blog today; nice article. I think you made a typo in the 9♣8♣4♥ flop as there isn't a Jack there :)

10:02 PM  
Blogger cmitch said...

Nice post.

TY for the props.

I want to play the MATH tonight, but I don't think I'll be able to stay awake. I'll def. sign up next week.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beware of the overcaller especially if he's a good player.

One thing I use to decoy bets is to always wait for the buzzer that starts the timer before making a play. That way there is always a delay but it's always the same amount of delay leaving opponents with zero reads.

12:05 AM  
Blogger FishyMcDonk said...

I've been thinking about this myself, but in the context of the limit stud games. For instance, checking in razz screams weakness. So generally I've found if there is a delay in betting out then people assume weakness there too. So if you do happen to have a very good hand, pausing a bit then betting out is a great way to invite a re-raise, which you can then 3-bet.

Personally I try not to read too much into delays, there are many reasons like internet connections, multitabling, and tricky play as to why someone is slow to bet out.

12:44 AM  
Blogger pokerpeaker said...

Sklansky makes a good point about this, and then I'll make one.

He says if there's a multi-way pot (4 or more in this case), and the first or second player bets out, you should probably fold even TPTK, unless your read is really good.

The guy has no worries about raising or being involved in a pot where others could draw out against him, meaning he has you beat unless you also hold a significant hand.

2) I usually put that second calling guy on a really solid hand OR a drawing hand, depending on the bet. If the bet is pot-sized, and one player calls and then the second player just calls, well, at least one of them has my top pair beat. This is almost always true. That second player or sometimes first player always seems to have a set.

2:47 AM  
Blogger RaisingCayne said...

See you at the MATH... I enjoy it every week, and am looking forward to it tonight.

3:32 AM  
Blogger emptyman said...

Very much agreed about timing of betting. And, although while FishyMcDonk makes a good point about inducing bets, I find the pauses in Razz to be over 95% reliable. Most people insta-bet, whether or not the 2 they just got paired them, so a hesitation is almost ALWAYS a pair. That calls for a tester raise, post haste.

The other obvious extremes are when a player takes a really long time, then acts. That action is almost always kosher -- trying to buy a free card by "thinking" or trying to hoover a call with a delayed bet.

I think this is why my game drops off so quickly for each additional table -- even 2 tables at once and these details start to get lost, and every smidge of information has large value when playing online.

3:45 AM  
Blogger manik79 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:56 AM  
Blogger manik79 said...

Hoy; I will be back at the MATH tonight... I got a new screen name, KaptanKaos.

Chat banned for 2 more weeks.

4:24 AM  

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