Playing When Moderately Committed

No Limit Texas Holdem

December 29, 2008

We’ve been talking about commitment for a couple of articles – most recently playing when weakly committed.  I now want to discuss the next step up the commitment ladder – playing when moderately committed.

As previously mentioned, moderate commitment is defined as follows:

  • It’s your turn to act
  • If given the genie’s dilemma, you would push all-in
  • No action your opponents could possibly take on this street of play would change your mind about the genie’s dilemma
  • Future cards and action COULD change your mind  about the dilemma

Now this is a pretty academic definition.  I want to start out with an example of a situation where you would be moderately committed:

You are playing NL holdem with 100 big blind deep stacks all around.  It’s folded to you on the button, and you see TdTc.  You raise to 3x the big blind.  The small blind folds, and the big blind calls.  The flop is JsTs6h.  The big blind checks.

Let’s check the list.  It’s your turn to act.  If given the genie’s dilemma, you would definitely push – there’s only one hand that beats you, and I would say the odds are perhaps 100:1 against your opponent holding JJ given the action up to this point.  With 6 big blinds in the pot and only 97 big blinds behind to lose and those odds, you are clearly going to move in if given the dilemma.  You are definitely committed.  Now, for the more complicated questions: could your opponent do anything on this street of play to change your mind?  The answer is pretty clearly no – no matter how strongly he plays his hand, you won’t be able to rule out the possibility that he holds JT or 66.  Since there are more copies of those two outstanding than there are of JJ, nothing you opponent can possibly do will convince you that you’re beat.

However, you are not strongly committed here.  Consider the following scenario: You bet out 5 big blinds.  Your opponent calls.  The turn is Qs.  Your opponent checks.  Are you still committed?  The answer, sadly, is probably not.  Qs was by far the worst card in the deck for you, as it improves any two spades and any AK past you.  Those are very feasible hands for your opponent to hold given the action thus far.  AK would be a slightly loose call on the flop with only 3 nut outs (unless it was AsKs which would be a monster hand), but you WILL see AK show up in this situation frequently.  With only 16 big blinds in the pot and 92 big blinds left behind, I would say if given the genie’s dilemma you should now fold.  Of course, the genie’s dilemma is not really in effect, so your best course of action when not committed is to implement the payoff rule.  You charged a draw that was between 4:1 and 5:1 against hitting 5 big blinds, so the target amount of money you want to have go into the pot afterwards is between 20 and 25 big blinds.  That means you’ll be checking behind on the turn almost certainly.

Anyways, that was a bit of a digression into how to play big hands when bad cards fall.  The point, however, what that if a bad card falls you are no longer committed in this example.  Hence this is a case of only moderate commitment.

Now that we have some practice recognizing moderate commitment situations, let’s talk about how to handle them.  The first key observation is that you have potential worries, but they’re in the future.  For now, you’re golden.  The second observation is that if enough money went in the pot so that the payoff rule said you could put your whole stack in even if the draw hit, you would be strongly committed.  That would be much better than being moderately committed, because you would never face a tough decision on a later street.  Here’s the index card sized strategy for playing when moderately committed:

  1. What you would like to do is adopt a betting line on this street that gets enough money in the pot to leave you strongly committed instead of moderately committed while getting as much of your opponent’s money in as possible.
  2. If you can’t find such a betting line, how you proceed depends on how many remaining cards in the deck are bad for you, and how bad they are:
    • If there are a large number of very bad cards, you should generally plan on moving in this street.  This could potentially be via a check-raise if you are first to act and believe strongly  that your opponent will bet.
    • If there are very few bad cards, you should generally play this street as if you were strongly committed, and then suffer the consequences of being de-committed if one of the bad cards falls.

This idea of getting “enough” money in for 1. is important.  If we return to the example on the flop, we can see how it works:

To recap, play is on the flop.  We have a set, the board is hugely draw heavy, and our lone opponent has checked to us.  We can figure if we’re facing a draw, it’s a 8-13 out draw with odds somewhere in the range of 3:1 to 5:1 of hitting.  Per the payoff rule, we’d be willing to pay off our entire stack if we charged our opponent on the order of 1/5th of the stacks to draw.  With 100 big blind stacks, you’d really like to have roughly 20 big blinds each go in this round.  Sadly, since our opponent has already checked, we can’t count on him to help.  And 20 big blinds is 3 times the size of the pot – just betting it ourselves is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. and get a hand that we beat to fold.

Basically, we’ve got 3 options:

  1. Overbet the pot to the tune of 20 big blind
  2. Move in
  3. Make a reasonable bet – perhaps slightly oversized – at the cope with the consequences if a bad card falls.

None of these options are super-attractive. Betting 20 big blinds and moving in look a lot alike – they’re both massive overbets.  Neither one is going to do a good job of getting money in the pot from hands we beat right now.  But making only a reasonable or slightly oversized bet (say 5-8 big blinds) leaves us in a situation where we could no longer be committed if a bad card falls.  And unfortunately there are a lot of bad cards.

Personally I would probably go with option 3. – bet say 8 big blinds, and then see what happens.  If a bad card folds, I’ll have an easy time implementing pot control since I’m in position and have the betting lead.  If a good card falls, I’ll be in a place to get myself strongly committed on the turn by making a bet in the neighborhood of 20 big blinds.  That seems like the best all-around choice.  If I didn’t make a normal bet, I would go with option 1. rather than moving all-in since it could keep a hand like JT around that might fold to a push.

There are some loose ends here – I mostly discussed the situation where you are moderately committed due to a made hand.  It’s also possible to be moderately commited due to a draw, and I owe you an explanation and an example.  At one point I suggested you adopt the “strongly committed” strategy and I haven’t told you what that is yet.  I’ll clear up both these issues in the next two articles.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
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