February 21, 2006

Play the player

i've played a lot of hands in poker in the past several years, but i'll never forget one hand in particular. i was playing $2-$5 no limit hold'em at the mirage last november, generally building up a good stack. i had run my $200 buy-in up to about $1100. a wild maniac player had been playing at our table for hours (in fact funding much of my $1100). he had just recently bought back in for another rack of reds (read: $500), had doubled up once on a ridiculous runner-runner flush with 64 offsuit, and had picked up several other pots by moving in on guys for $1000 into $40 pots. obviously everyone at the table was itching to be the one to take his money, including me. by then i had a great read on him as he pumped it up to $20 from under-the-gun. not being able to give him credit for much, two players called. i looked down at 33 on the button and called. with his deep stacks (he had me covered), i saw the implied odds of potentially getting ALL of it if i flopped a set (about 1 in 8 shot). those implied odds made the call reasonable. the flop came 9h6h3h. the maniac immediately pushed in a $200 bet (into the $80 pot). a massive over-bet that just reeked of a steal. i knew it immediately: he had the ace of hearts and probably nothing else. i did the math quickly to myself as the other two players folded reluctantly. - he had 9 outs to the flush of the unseen cards, one of which will hit around 36% of the time (2-4 rule) - if he hit his flush, he could still lose the hand to me if the board paired i estimated the odds at around 70-30 for me. cardplayer agrees: poker odds calculator i made the fateful decision of moving in and giving him pot odds of around 14 to 9 on his money to make the call, which would be a mathematical mistake if he had just the Ah. it was the mathematical play. it was the wrong play. i pushed in for 1100 and he called instantly, standing up and screaming for a heart as he flipped over Ah2c. i think everyone knows what happened next. i've thought about that hand a lot since november, trying to determine if i made a mistake or if i was destined to lose $1100 on the hand. i finally came to the conclusion that i should've called the $200 on the flop. when he hit his nut flush on the turn, he probably would not have bet huge, trying try to draw some action. he might've even checked hoping to check-raise for all my chips. i could've hoped for the board to pair on the river and mucked when it didn't, maybe even showing him how lucky he got. probably a $200-400 loss. this weekend i went back and read chip reese's section on seven-card stud in the original super system. he starts the section off with a story not unlike mine, in which he details a hand in an old texas cardroom back in his younger days. he was playing in a stud game against, among others, a drunk. he found himself in a position where he knew that he was a sligh 11 to 10 favorite. in his zeal to win the man's money, he and the drunk re-raised each other 56 times, getting all of reese's money into the pot. you can imagine what happened. his conclusion years later? he should have waited for a situation in which he had a much larger advantage, perhaps 4-to-1, to get his money in because, against a drunk, those situations will arise. i smiled when i read the short story as it made me feel good. not that i played the hand right mathematically, but that even chip reese had a lesson like mine.

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