Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MATH Recap, and Semi-Bluffing on the Flop

75 runners showed up for the MATH on Monday night on full tilt, making for a nice round $1800 prize pool and payouts to the top 8 finishers. As usual given the faster 6-max format of the MATH, our first bustout happened within just a few minutes as last week's winner dwal78 was gone within just a few hands played. I actually managed to hang around a little bit for a change, taking advantage of a lucky situation when I flopped a set of 6s near the end of hour 1 at the same time as Kat flopped TPTK with her AQ. As I've said many times, TPTK can be hard to get away from with escalating blinds and antes, especially in a fast-structure blogger tournament, and double especially when the other player is playing a monster hand slow like I did in this spot. So this doubled me up to around 10k in chips and a top 10 stack heading into the first break, the highest up there I have been in the MATH all through the BBT3 so far.

The big hand with Kat also enabled me to get to experience my favorite time in the Hoy, which is from roughly 11:15 to 11:30pm ET -- basically from shortly into Hour 2 to the midway point of the second hour -- when a ton of players who barely made it through the first hour decide they've waited for AA long enough in Hour 2 and now have to start making moves or going busto. And go busto they do. For the 15-minute period from 11:15 to 11:30 on Monday night, we went from 55 players left to 35 players left, with 3 and 4 bustouts every minute it seemed as I guess the blinds just catch up to the donks, the passives and the unlucky around this time. At 11:30 after busto time I was sitting in 7th place of 35 remaining with around 9500 chips and doing well.

Then enter the card death. I didn't see another good hand the rest of my time in this tournament, and that just makes things very hard to deal with, especially when other players at your table always seem to have some kind of a hand and when you're into the antes in a 6-max nlh structured event. I had to lay down a resteal when I tried to use this move to make up for all the blinds and antes I had lost while folding hands like 63o and 74o and J5s. I blinded off for like it was goin' out of style, and before I knew it with the resteal laydown I was down to just over 5k in chips and in the bottom quartile of the 25 remaining players or so. And as I've written about here so many times, when eventually I was dealt KJs after bleeding off all those chips with nothing, those two cards looked like Aces to me. Scottmc raised preflop, and I pushed allin, knowing I would be pot-committed if I called his raise and really hoping to take it down then and there, and unfortunately Scott called. He showed TT, and I was actually in a much better position than I could have otherwise hoped. Alas I did not hit my 49% shot and IGH in 25th place of 75 runners, while Scott was off to the races for yet another MATH cash in the end.

Speaking of which, here are your cashers for this week's Mondays at the Hoy tournament on full tilt:

8. $63 jamyhawk
7. $63 scottmc
6. $99 mattazuma
5. $144 iam23skidoo
4. $198 recessrampage
3. $261 numbbono
2. $378 Pirate Wes
1. $594 corron10

So congratulations out to corron10 for taking down this week's Hoy, and more importantly for winning already his second seat in the BBT3 Tournament of Champions coming up at the end of the series. That is impressive now, with a Skills event win and a Hoy victory already, joining Lucko as the only two-time winners so far in the BBT3 events, and bringing now the maximum number of seats in the Tournament of Champions down to 53 with those two repeat winners.

And also congratulations out to this week's second place finisher Pirate Wes, better known to some of you as a104I9 on full tilt, for taking over the lead in the the updated 2008 MATH moneyboard, including this week's results:

1. Pirate Wes $959
2. columbo $928
3. astin $664
4. lucko21 $650
5. dwal78 $597
6. corron10 $594
7. Tripjax $553
8. fuel55 $512
9. surflexus $488
10. pureprophet $484
11. zeroluck001 $476
11. Jordan $476
13. TuscaloosaJohn $423
14. twoblackaces $409
15. Loretta8 $389
16. ChiipyMcStacks $316
17. Breeze81 $310
18. bayne_s $291
19. tilt_away $289
20. jmathewson_III $274
21. numbbono $261
22. Miami Don $224
23. Roberto55 $217
24. Donkey Shortz $215
25. VinNay $203
26. DaBag $202
26. Byron $202
28. recessrampage $198
29. buckhoya $150
29. Mike Maloney $150
31. iam23skidoo $144
32. BuddyDank $142
33. chitwood $127
34. cubanlinks $120
35. LJ $119
36. kevin_with_AK $106
37. mattazuma $99
38. BamBamCan $95
38. thepokergrind $95
40. ANIguy $89
40. bartonf $89
42. HotPants29 $74
43. katiemother $67
43. Hoyazo $67
45. scottmc $63
46. jamyhawk $63
47. CheckinMyAA $62
48. PirateLawyer $60
49. DonkeyPuncher74 $56
49. RaisingCayne $56
51. jeciimd $52
52. zeroluck001 $52
53. AltronIV $47

Now for today's poker topic I wanted to discuss semi-bluffing on the flop. Semi-bluffing, or the practice of betting with a hand that is not likely to be the best right now, but which if called has a reasonable chance of becoming the best hand later in the hand, has its time and its place in every serious poker player's arsenal. I know against most of the competition I am playing against, say, once the big mtt's get deep into the money will easily adjust and outplay me if I never ever bet without a made hand, and always bet only when my hand is not on the come. So sometimes I know I have to be willing to bet on the come, to bet with a draw, on the flop if I want to get fully paid off when I do hit those hands.

But semi-bluffing can be a nasty business. Especially as the blinds / antes get big and the Ms get small, I can really hurt my overall results if I semi-bluff too much. I remember two distinct occasions where my careful hand analysis after every one of my sessions saw me finding an over-inclination to semi-bluffery that was costing me cold hard cash. Specifically back during my cash game nlh days in 2007, I remember at one point realizing with a sort of a shock that I had actually been betting with almost every single draw I had without regard for any other circumstances of the hands in question. This strategy works great when you're hitting your draws, don't get me wrong. Nobody can consistently put you on a drawing hand if you bet on the come on the flop and then your draw fills on the turn, especially when like me you have good instincts about slowing down just enough with the action on the turn. But when you are missing your draws, or even when you're only hitting them your mathematically expected 1/5 of the time or so on the turn or river on the primary draws, habitual semi-bluffery will drain your bankroll. Once I corrected for this error, my cash game results improved dramatically.

So what do I use when deciding whether or not to semi-bluff with, say, a primary draw? There are basically three criteria I focus most on with this decision, one related to my opponent(s), one related to the size of the pot and one relating to the cards on the flop. And here it is important to note once again that I do not handle this same question in this same exact way in every situation. Any pattern, any consistent repetition, will be sniffed out by the stronger players, so I basically never play something the same way every time. But the other players, the chips in the pot and the cards on the board play the major roles in determining my decisions these days as to whether or not to semi-bluff the flop.

First, my opponents. Sklansky has a number of great discussions of this in all his various books, but I think the place I remember it most vividly is his No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice book which I have read a few times over the past year, year and a half or so. There, Sklansky discusses the semi-bluff at length, and the key point I take from his discussion there that I agree with 100% is that you only semi-bluff when you think there is a reasonable chance of making your opponents fold with the flop bet and taking down the pot right then and there. So, in other words, if I think it is highly likely that my opponent is going to call my bet, I generally try not to semi-bluff in the first place. I want my opponents to all fold when I am on a draw that is expected to fill only 18, 19% of the time on the next card. But if I know I am playing against a passive player, a calling station or what I have come to think of generally as pairmonkeys, then I generally try to avoid the semi-bluff in this spot. He is going to call my bet anyways, so why not try to draw to my long-odds hand as cheaply as possible, right? So against calling stations generally, I tend to slow down with the semi-bluffing. Whereas, against players whom I know to be tight post-flop and more likely than average to fold to my bets, I am more likely to semi-bluff there to try to get a fold and end the hand right there.

Seconly, there is the size of the pot. Generally speaking, when the pot is small relative to the stack sizes, I tend to be slightly more liberal with my semi-bluffing. This is purely an absolute dollars and cents thing, but in general, say I am the small blind, say very early in the Hoy with 3000 starting chips, and both myself and the big blind limp in to a pot with 60 chips in the middle to see a heads-up flop. Then I flop an oesd or a flush draw with the flop cards, and it will only cost me 40 or 50 chips out of a stack of 3000 chips to put the semi-bluff out there, I am generally speaking more apt to do so. In a way this is counter to my first point since the small number of chips tends to make that flop semi-bluff more easily callable by my opponent, and therefore perhaps I should rethink my position somewhat here, but at the end of the day when it is a very small portion of my total stack I tend to be a bit more liberal with the semi-bluffs, because I can afford to be, and because of my ability to win a large pot if I do hit my draw, having bet the flop before that draw ever filled. But, conversely, if I have 2000 chips say 90 minutes in to the Hoy with blinds of 250-500 and 50-chip antes, and I limp in to see a flop from the big blind, then in this spot with such a low, low M I will often try to avoid the semi-bluff if at all possible so as to hold on to my precious few chips in a spot where I have no made hand at the time.

Lastly, and to be honest probably most important in my decision of whether or not to semi-bluff is the cards on the flop, and more specifically, the "texture" of those cards. I have written about this before in the context of continuation betting, a similar exercise in some ways to the semi-bluffing decision, but generally speaking, I am more apt to semi-bluff on a ragged board, with no likely draws on it. This is because, harkening back to my first point, such flops increase the likelihood that my opponent will fold to my bet. Additionally it also becomes easier for me to put my opponent on some kind of a decent-at-least hand if they do call my semi-bluff flop bet on such a raggy flop. So if the button open-limps and I limp behind from the big blind with 54s and then the flop comes 239 rainbow, I am more inclined to semi-bluff there with my oesd, all other things being equal, because the flop is so ragged I feel that there is a high likelihood that my opponent will fold to my bet on the flop. But, alternatively, when the hijack open-limps, the button overlimps and then I limp in from the big blind with a hand like 98s, and the flop comes down KJT with two of a suit that is not mine, that is a board I do not like the semi-bluff on. Why not? Because with a limper out of the hijack and the button, the odds are that a three-high-card flop like this has clearly hit someone, hard enough at least to make them want to call my bet here. And if I am just 18% to fill my draw on the turn -- assuming it will be ahead as it is even if it does fill -- then I do not want to put more money into this pot in this spot as a significant underdog. So more than any other single factor, the texture of the flop tends to have the most impact on my decision of whether or not to semi-bluff with my drawing hands on the flop in nlh tournaments.

In all, the question of when (or if) to semi-bluff is one that may seem trivial to a lot of players out there, but careful analysis of these situations is a crucial piece of any properly introspective approach to one's poker game. As I mentioned above, I can specifically recall two separate occasions where I realized from studying my own hand histories that I was playing too liberally with my draws, and frankly there have probably been times as well where I was failing to ever bet them enough. As with any consistent poker situation, the proper handling of such decisions cannot be based on the exact same factors leading to the exact same results every single time or I know I will be playing identifiable, and therefore exploitable, poker. But having guidelines like the ones I follow above in this post has still helped me dramatically in facing what can otherwise feel sometimes like a very eenie-meenie-miney-mo decision for many players out there.

Now don't forget to come out to the latest Skills Series event tonight at 9:30pm ET on full tilt and to use these fresh semi-bluff decisionmaking skills (password as always is "skillz"). And tonight is gonna be a doozy too -- $12 limit Razz. Ahhhh I just threw up in my mouth just thinking about that. What fun. But you gotta come out and play the most frustrating of all the poker games, because tonight by around 1am we will have awarded yet another seat in the BBT3 ToC coming up in early June. And also don't forget to check out the BlowDonkey tonight at 9pm ET if that's how you roll, hosted by Smokkee who recently won over 6k in the 40k guaranteed nlh tournament on full tilt last week. I won't be on Blowdog but I will definitely be in there for Skillz razz at 9:30pm ET tonight, trying in vain still to pick up my very first elimination bounty of the entire year in any of the Skills games. Hopefully that bounty will come against you tonight on full tilt!

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Blogger Blinders said...

What about position? That is a huge factor. Out of position you don't semibluff into a large field, because it is less likely they will fold, and more likely you will get reraised. You also will be out of position on the turn which is not good if you miss.

In position you pretty much auto-semibluff a good draw when checked to, even against a big field. Against a small field, there is a great chance they will fold. Against a big field, you can price yourself into the draw through bet sizing, and you can also get a free card on the turn, as even a big field will tend to check to the flop better. Semibluff reraising is also a nice positional move, that can get you a free card.

Semibluffing when done correctly is +EV all by itself. The fact that you other made hands get paid better is just a bonus.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Mattazuma said...

Hey Hoy, my blog is www.mattazuma.com


6:27 AM  
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3:41 PM  

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