Playing When Weakly Committed

No Limit Texas Holdem

December 15, 2008

Last time I went to some length to define three different types of pot commitment.  This wasn’t just a ploy to fill space – you should care about the distinction for a very simple reason: correct play is different depending on how committed you are.  Put another way, all situations at the same level of commitment will share major similarities.

So let’s get started with weak commitment.  If you’ll recall, it is defined as the situation where if confronted with the Genie’s Dilemma, you would move all-in but both subsequent bets by your opponents and subsequent cards could change your mind.  If you’re unfamiliar the Genie’s Dilemma, go back and read up on that before proceeding.

Now, let’s get down to the fundamentals of playing when weakly committed:

When playing a hand where you are weakly committed (and it is your turn to act), you must make a fundamental judgment: is future action likely to favor me or hurt me.  If the prospects for future action appear favorable, you should play as if you were not committed.  If the prospects for future action look bleak, you should move in.

That’s seemingly a very simply statement, but there’s a lot hiding under the hood because you have to decide if future action is likely to be favorable.

Let’s take a second to talk about what constitutes favorable action.  We’ve talked about good and bad bets before here and here.  So one simple way to think about possible future action is to ask if it will allow you to make good bets.  But remember that your new baseline is not a lack of action as is assumed in those articles, but rather moving in.  This means that folding out a worse hand, which is sometimes to your advantage during normal play, is no longer an improvement since presumably all weak hands would also fold to your all-in move.  Similarly, bluffing out a stronger hand is unlikely since it’s unlikely that a hand which is stronger than the one you committed with would fold to conventional pot sized bets.

What this means is that in practice there is only one good type of future action that can happen when you hold a weakly committed hand: betting/raising or calling for value against a weaker hand.

When deciding whether to move all-in or play out a weakly committed hand, the primary deciding factor is whether you believe you will be able to value bet successfully as the hand goes on.  If you believe so, you should strongly consider playing the hand out.  If not, you should strongly consider moving in.

Now, we need to go back and look at one other part of the definition of weak commitment: it’s possible that future action could change your mind.  This of course means you don’t hold the nuts, and if someone else bet their hand strongly enough that you were reasonably convinced they held a better hand, you would no longer be committed.   This once again comes back to the question of favorable vs. unfavorable future action.  If you will be able to tell when you’re beat, and subsequently fold, with a high degree of accuracy, that’s favorable action.  If it’s going to be difficult or impossible to deduce if you’re beat, that’s unfavorable.

Other factors come into play as well:

  • Favorable
    • You’ll be able to bet/raise or call for value
    • You’ll be able to deduce when you’re beat and fold
    • You have position
    • You don’t have the betting lead, and your opponent is a bluffer
    • You have the betting lead and your bet will look like a continuation bet (especially if your opponents like to float)
    • The nature of your hand is concealed from your opponents
  • Unfavorable
    • You don’t think you’ll get action unless you’re beat
    • It will be difficult to deduce if you’re beat or you expect to be put to a tough decision
    • You are out of position
    • Any bets you make will appear very strong
    • The nature of your hand is obvious to your opponents

All of this, taken together, should allow you to make a decision about how to proceed.  I would eventually like to offer a number of examples of play while weakly committed, because I think it’s a trouble spot for a lot of players.  But for today I’ll offer up just one hand:

You are in the big blind with AdKs.  Your stack is 90BB deep before the hand began.  Action folds to the big blind, who is very loose and aggressive.  He raises to 6BB and has you covered.  The small blind folds.  Action is on you.

First off, it’s not obvious that you’re weakly committed here.  Let’s check and see.  The pot is 7.5BB.  The only hands against which you are worse than a coin flip are AA and KK.  There are 3 versions of each outstanding, for a total of 6.  There are 1225 hands your lone opponent could hold given that you know he doesn’t hold your cards.  Figure he would raise in this position with maybe half of them, or just over 600 hands.  This means that he holds a hand that has you at worse than a flip about 1% of the time.  If the Genie came along and flipped your cards, you would have to move in.  99% of the time you’ll end up taking down the 7.5BB pot or flipping a coin for it.  The other 1% you’ll lose 89BB (it’s actually not that bad, your AK wins sometimes, especially against KK).  The math isn’t even close – you should push if given the dilemma. That means you’re at least weakly committed.  It should follow pretty easily that you are only weakly committed, because future action could change your mind.  If you re-raised, and your opponent re-raised all it, you would have to take seriously the idea that he held AA, KK, QQ, or AK.  Against that range you are a huge dog and are clearly not committed.  So a very strong move on his part would change your mind about commitment.  Clearly you are only weakly committed.

Now, how do you proceed?

Good question.  Going back to our strategy for playing weakly committed hands, we need to decide if future action is likely to be favorable. There are basically two lines we could adopt short of moving in: raise, or just call.  If we raise, we can expect our opponent to fold some weak hands.  That’s not favorable – they’d fold to the all-in too.  Most of the rest that he calls with will be slight dogs to our AK, with flip against a pair.  And a lot of aspects of the future action will favor our opponent regardless of what he holds: he will have position on all future rounds.  He will have much more knowledge about our hand than we have about his.  In situations where we miss the flop, he will often be able to put us to a difficult decision.  All of that works against a raise short of all in.

However, there is at least one huge argument in favor of a reasonable re-raise – if there’s any chance villain will call with a weaker ace or king, we’re in a real position to bust him.  He won’t have much room to maneuver and realize he’s beat since the pot is already double raised and our stack is fairly short.  However, this all depends on our villain calling the re-raise with weak aces and kings.  You’ll see a lot of fishy players do that, but most better players will take the counterintuitive approach of calling with their medium pair and lower suited connectors, and folding weak high card hands.  So the trap you’re setting will rarely trap a good player.

Calling is also an option –  it disguises your hand, sets the same trap for your opponent that re-raising would, but keeps all the hands you want to trap in the pot. And if you miss entirely and have to fold, it keeps the cost down.  However, this option still depends on fishy tendencies in your opponent – if he won’t go broke with top pair and bad kicker, you won’t be able to overcome the positional disadvantage.  The downside of the call is that since the pot will be smaller, it will be harder to value bet if you both hit.  Villain might get away from a weak top pair.

So how should you proceed?  There’s a lot to weigh here, but remember the primary deciding factor: will you be able to value bet?  In this particular case, that seems to depend on how fishy your opponent is.

My recommendation: against a tough opponent, move in.  Against a weak one, calling or raising a normal amount is fine.  I slightly prefer the call most of the time.

Note that many players would automatically raise a reasonable amount here, and never move in or just call.  I believe they’re making a serious mistake.  Also note that in the preflop strategy articles, I said that sometimes the best play is to move in with AK preflop.  That was referring to exactly the situation described in this example where you are weakly committed preflop.

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