A Comedy of Errors At 30/60

Limit Texas Holdem

June 10, 2008

I played quite a few games during my most recent Vegas trip, but by far the most interesting was the 30/60 holdem last Sunday morning at the Bellagio. They had a lot of action on account of the WSOP – two tables at 10:00 in the morning, both full, neither of them must move. What made it interesting was that my opponents were worse than I’ve ever seen at a game that big. Out of 9 opponents, only 1 was playing decent poker. The rest made a number of mistakes that really stood out. This is the kind of game that I wish I could bottle up and bring home with me. Alas, they’re still in Vegas and I’m not. Oh well.

It’s worth discussing what these noticeable errors were. Players considering tacking mid-limit holdem would be wise to consider this list and purge these errors from their game. Because while these opponents were making errors at a rate higher than normal, the errors they were making were all the classics.

Error 1: opening too loose from early position

Opening with easily dominated hands in early position is very problematic. Consider a hand like AJo. It’s dominated by AA(3 copies), KK(6), QQ(6), JJ(3), AK(12), AQ(12). That means that a total of 42 out of 1225 hands a villain could hold, or about 3.4%. That may not seem like much, but when there are 9 opponents left to act it means it’s only about 3:1 against you being dominated. And where you’re not dominated, it’s very unlikely you’re dominating. In other words, 3 times in 4 you’re in about a break-even situation. I time in 4 you’re a huge dog. That’s not a winning formula.

Correct play opens nothing less than AQ suited under the gun in a full ring game.

Error 2: failing to account for limpers

Opening relatively loose in late position is a good thing if you can attack the blinds. But when 3 people have already limped, you can be 100% sure that they won’t all fold for one more bet. At that point, you need a real hand to play despite your good position. And it needs to be a hand that plays well multi-way. That could be a pair, a suited connector, AK, or a suited ace with a decent side card. The stronger hands out of that range (big pairs, AK, AQ suited) deserve a raise for value. The rest you can just call with. But raising an A7 offsuit, like you were attacking the blinds, is simply dumb. You’re not attacking the blinds, and that hand plays horribly multi-way.

Error 3: making poor decisions behind an opening raise

Playing behind an opening raise requires a lot of sound judgment. You have two decisions:

  1. play or don’t play
  2. reraise for value and to isolate, or don’t.

Whether or not you play should be dependent on the perceived strength of your opponents hand, and the strength of your hand. You need a hand quite a bit stronger than your opponent’s minimum raising hand to play. Determining your opponent’s minimum raising hand is an imprecise process, but generally speaking the position the raise came from and how frequently your opponent open raises are your main indicators. Tight opponents out of early position usually have monsters. There are very few hands that can play against the opening range I discussed in “Error 1” above. Even JJ is a big dog against that range. You can call looser opponents, and opponents in later positions, with weaker hands.

When an open raise has already been called in several spots, you can consider calling with hands that are likely not best, but that like volume (medium pairs, suited connectors, etc.). However, this should usually be reserved for situations where you believe your opponent opened a fairly weak hand because you’re usually not getting the right odds to draw against a big pair with one of those hands.

Once you decide you’re going to play, you have to decide whether or not to call or reraise. If you believe your hand is strong against the raiser’s range, and you’re first to enter the pot after him, you must re-raise. On the other hand, if you’re entering after other callers with a hand that likes volume, it’s usually best to just call. When in doubt, if you’re going to play, reraise.

Error 4: bluffing into too big a crowd

Bluffs on the flop into 4 opponents rarely work, even if they’ve all checked to you. In fact, the number of opponents you face is the #1 factor that determines how likely a bluff is to be successful, followed by opponent tendencies and the liklyhood they hold a strong hand. Bluffing a crowd is just giving your money away.

Error 5: paying for the privilege of thinking some more

Interesting hand:

Player 1, UTG, raises. He raises way too many hands and everyone knows it. Player 2 in middle position re-raises. Probably an isolation raise given player 1’s tendencies. Small blind 4-bets. 1 & 2 call. The flop comes A95 rainbow. Small blind leads out. Player 1 raises. Player 2 folds. From the particularly pained look on his face, it’s obvious SB had kings or queens. Probably kings based on the way he looks – sick. Now, player 1 has been raising a lot of air postflop, so SB has a difficult decision. Call down, or don’t. It’ll cost him $150 for a shot at winning either $540 or $600 depending on whether or not player 1 would fire a 3rd barrel. Given how often Player 1 had been bluff-raising postflop, I would call down. Those are pretty good odds. The argument for folding is OK too.

What the small blind did, however, was worse that calling down or folding. He called the flop and then check-folded the turn. Stupid. It gave him exactly no additional chance of winning the hand since player 1 would bet the turn whether on the bluff or not. I think the small blind just felt he couldn’t give up his kings that easily. So instead he shipped player 1 an extra $30, and then gave them up. His two outs, if behind, didn’t begin to cover the cost of the bet.

Don’t ever do that. When you reach the decision point (as SB did when he got raised on the flop), make your decision and follow through unless the board changes radically. Calling down or folding is OK. Handing out a free $30 and then folding is just plain dumb.

Error 6: failing to credit a big field with strong hands

Fact is that the more people saw the flop, the stronger a hand you need on average to win the pot. A middle pair may well be good against one person who could easily be bluffing. It’s all but useless against 5 opponents. Much like error 4 above, the success of a calldown with a mediocre hand depends heavily on how many people your mediocre hand has to beat.

My Mistakes

It wouldn’t be right to talk about what everyone else did wrong without acknowledging that I didn’t play perfectly either. I made one definite mistake, and have one hand I’m still not sure about even after thinking about it on the plane the whole way home. The certain mistake didn’t cost me any money due to dumb luck, but the other one ended up costing me a lot. The good news is that I netted out a tidy 1 buyin profit even with that hand going bad.

I’ll write about both of them soon.

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