June 2, 2006

Missing bets is bad for your health

i went down to garden city on wednesday and played in an 8-16 limit hold'em game, hitting a string of cards that should have been pretty profitable for a 3-hour session. and somehow, i left just $50 winner. for you scoring at home, that's about a one-big-bet-per-hour session. which is, in reality, atrocious considering the cards i received.

as i drove home, i frustratedly thought about how i should have made a much larger score than a measly three big bets. the table was great. my cards ran good. i had good reads on a lot of the players. so how did i win just three big bets?

and therein lies the difference between limit and no-limit hold'em. in a no limit game, i certainly would have left with a mountain full of chips, playing against those players and with my cards. i would have gotten my money in 'with the best of it' (as a big favorite) multiple times and probably quadrupled up. but limit hold'em is about extracting every little bit of value out of your winning hands and losing a minimal amount on your second- or third-best hands. in addition to giving a player a free card to lose a big pot, i made many small mistakes in value extraction. here's a quick example:

an ultra-tight lady raised from under-the-gun and a loose donkey called behind her. in the cut-off seat, i looked down at two red 10's. i decided to three-bet the hand, in hopes of defining the initial raiser's hand a bit and to squeeze out the blinds. additionally, if she capped the pot (4 bets), it might also squeeze out the donkey. the blinds folded and the original raiser just called out of position, as did the original caller. 10.5 small bets ($84) in the pot.

at this point i wasn't particularly worried about the second player, but figured the original raiser (the tight player) for a pocket pair less than QQ or overcards (AK, AQ). not a bad position to be in. the flop came KJ3 rainbow and it was checked to me.

being last to act, i naturally bet to protect my hand and was check-called by the tight player. the third player folded. now what kind of a hand would the lady check-call a flop like that with? at this point i could be certain she didn't have AA or KK, as check-calling would be suicide. she could certainly check-call with QQ, TT, 99, 88, with the overcards on the board. AK or AJ also (i suppose) as she seemed to be tight and also conservative. AQ seemed out of the realm of possibility for such a tight player.

the other possibility was a flopped monster (KK, JJ, KJ), but her body language didn't seem to look it. i felt relatively good about the hand. 12.5 small bets ($100) in the pot.

when the turn came with another blank KJ3-5, she checked. i bet. she called. now at this point i should have been fairly certain that i was up against the same hand (TT), a dominated hand (99, 88, 77), or a one-pair hand that had me dominated (KQ, AJ). she was playing far too passively to have AK, i believed. the reasonable spot for her to check-raise would be here on the turn (for a big bet), so i was positive she didn't have a monster. 8.25 big bets ($132) in the pot.

with any blank on the river, this was an obvious situation to bet out one more time. if she held a dominated hand, she would probably call me down for an extra bet or fold. if she held the same hand as me, the worst i could do is a chopped pot and i could possibly get her to release the hand. and if she held AJ, i could give myself a chance to win $132 for $16. i only need to make that play work once in 9 hands for it to be profitable. really, it was an obvious bet, especially when the river came with KJ3-5-2

so, of course, being the donkey player that i am, she checked and i rolled my hand over. at the time, i justified the play by noting that she might have a J to check-call with, but this was a situation where she would call me with many second-best hands. and i had a reasonable shot at beating a J if i bet. as soon as i flipped over the cards, i felt sick as she nodded and patted the table, flipping over 99.

these are the types of subtle bets that good limit hold'em players never miss. it doesn't seem like much, but if i made 9 or 10 such mistakes over three hours, it meant turning a big win into a tiny one. limit hold'em is so much more subtle than its no limit counterpart. i'm out of practice, need to get back into it.

oh by the way, in case any of you were wondering, i think she was a complete maniac to call the hand down that far with 99. there aren't exactly a whole lot of hands i would three-bet pre-flop that would be worse than hers to that point. AQ is about it.

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