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Hoy Paloy

As the self-proclaimed Devil's Advocate of Poker Bloggers, I can't help but sometimes question some of the ideas of my fellow bloggers. One of the most prolific, intelligent and thoughtful bloggers around, Hoyazo, started a series of posts last week about playing top pair, middle kicker in an all suited flop out of position. His opinions are always enlightening, even if I don't agree with a particular point. Basically, as poker players, we should all be students of humanity at large. Even if Hoy and I would play the same hand in different ways, its worth it to me to learn how he or anyone else would analyze the hand. This isn't even just for later use against Hoy. Rather, its a way to open my mind up to the various ways people analyze poker.

But this is all a preamble to say that, now a week or so from first posting, I still can't get that hand out of my head. Simply put, Hoy decided to bet out once the flop came, and by the river eventually got his sole competitor (others folded earlier in the hand, post-flop) to fold. While the results were nice, I have personally seen this very situation occur a few times in live games, online and hand histories over the last week, and I just cannot agree with Hoy's decision to bet post-flop. Rather than just talk loosely, though, let's walk through the hand, so that I can explain why I think Hoy's play in this particular hand was flawed, even if it was profitable.

Let's set the scene: We are in a large field tournament on FT, with a $26 buyin. We are still in the early rounds, with blinds of 15/30 and a 1500 starting stack. We get K9h in the BB. UTG, UTG+1 and UTG+2 all limp. The SB limps, and we check.

So far, so good. I don't see a need to raise out of position, but an argument can be made that, with a pot of 150, a raise might be able to take down the pot, since all of the other players merely limped. Still, its early in the tournament, and if we hit a major hand, like a flush, straight, or two pair, we want a lot of players in the hand so someone will pay us off.

After we check preflop, the flop comes down KT6, all spades. Frankly, right here, I give up on the hand, unless I can see the rest of the cards for free. I say this because K9 of hearts on a King-high board with all spades, in a tournament, is a great hand to go broke on. You can easily face a made flush, KT two pair, a superior King like KJ, KQ, or less likely AK, or a flush draw that won't let go of their hand.

Generally, when you bet, you want to have a reason. That's logical enough. In this situation, betting can only be justified in a few ways: (a) force everyone out and win the pot immediately, (b) force most players to fold, thereby creating a HU situation that can be more manageable, (c) keep players in and build the pot, or (d) to get information to determine if you are ahead. Those are the possible reasons, but if you go through them, you'll notice that you cannot succeed in any of these goals without risking a lot for very little.

If your goal is (a) force everyone out and win the pot, you are going to have a hard time at it. First off, no flopped flushes will fold, so you run the risk of betting into a superior hand that you cannot beat without going runner runner full-house. You may be able to succeed in knocking out superior Kings, like KJ, if they fear the flush. You will probably have problems pushing out anyone with an Ace or Queen or even Jack of spades without betting a significant amount, more than pot, since there are a bunch of donkeys that like to draw to a flush in the early-goings of large field touraments. So, basically, you need to raise a high amount to push out all hands that you beat easily, all hands that have a better King, and hopefully any flush draws. But you will be called by dominating hands, and you'll likely be called by hands that can easily draw out on you. My point is, why do all this for a mere 150 pot, of which you only contributed 30.

If your goal is (b) force most players to fold, thereby creating a HU situation that can be more manageable, I commend you. This is the only time I think it is acceptable to bet out. However, I still don't think its advisable. The other guy is likely going to just call you if he has a strong flush because he wants to encourage you to keep betting into him on the turn. If he has a weaker hand like KJ (which still has you beat) and he thinks you are on a flush draw, he might call too, waiting to see what happens on the turn. If he has a flush draw with a monster card like Ace of spades, he's going to call only so he can see the turn for cheap. So, you might be HU, but you have no idea what your opponent has and you'll be acting out of position the rest of the time. If the next card is a spade and you check, the other guy can bet out no matter what he has. If it isn't a spade and you check...well, same thing. The only time you'll get info is if your opponent has two-pair, a baby flush, or a set, in which case he might raise to push out drawing hands. But at that point, you are behind, so all you learn is that your flop bet was a bad move.

If you want to (c) keep players in and build the pot, or want to (d) get information to determine if you are ahead, a small bet will work. But you fall into the same problem as (b). You'll never know what you are facing and you'll be out of position, unless your opponent re-raises, in which case you have to fold and you've lost that extra bet.

For these reasons, I'd check on the flop and be ready to fold. Without position, its hard to tell where your top pair is, and you run the risk of creating a situation where you are betting into a superior hand the entire way.

I have to admit that I like Hoy's move here, even if it wouldn't be my move. He opts to check-call. After checking, UTG+2 bet 90 into the 150 pot, and Hoy and UTG+1 were the only caller. This isn't a bad play, since its still cheap (90), and we might be able to make a play depending on the next card. However, we are still out of position, and we don't know if UTG+2 is betting for value or semi-bluffing or bluffing altogether, or if UTG+1 is drawing or is slowplaying.

The turn is an offsuit 7, and Hoy opts to bet 390, just under the 420 pot. His reasoning is logical. The non-suited card followed by a bet by Hoy will scare out the players drawing to a flush. The pot-sized bet also gives them terrible odds if they are foolish enough to call. But this still isn't the optimal play to me, mostly because it ignores the possibility that someone has already flopped the flush, a set, has a strong King like KQ or AK, or has two-pair (KT). In those instances, Hoy is likely to face a flat call (from the flush) or an uncallable raise from the set or two-pair. He might be able to push out any superior Kings, but that's the only hands he is behind who will fold right here.

As it were UTG+1 folded and UTG+2 called. Even though Hoy has a caller, he's essentially flying blind. If the river has a spade, should he check/fold? Probably. So, that's a bad scenario, that'll happen more than 20% of the time. Essentially, Hoy loses to any spade, regardless of his opponents' cards. His total losses, assuming he folds to a river bet if a spade hits, will be over 500, which is more than a 1/3 of his stack...on a hand like K9h...out of position. That's just too much to lose on a marginal hand and a marginal flop.

But what if the river is not a spade. That's what happened. The river was an offsuit 3. He basically puts his opponent all-in for 460, and his opponent folds. Congrats to Hoy, who may have had more info than I had when retelling it here, but that river bet was dangerous.

The size of the bet isn't going to vary much, since our opponent's stack is less than 50% of the pot. Instead, we need to consider what our opponent will do given the range of hands he may have. The range, as I've mentioned, has not narrowed a bit. He could have a flush (89s), or he could have nothing, drawing to a flush (As2c). If he has the flush, he is calling, and we are just handing him our money the entire hand as we bet our top pair into his flush. If he is behind, he is going to fold, in which case...why bet?

Instead, I'd check here. If you sincerely believe that he is behind, you'll want him to bet out, in which case you'll get the rest of his stack. If you think you are behind, check-folding is not the worst idea in the world. After all, I don't think you should've been playing this hand in the first place.

If this teaches you anything, it should teach you the importance of position. If you were in position the whole way, the analysis changes because you could see how your opponents reacted. Instead, we are acting first, and are left in the dark.

This, by the way, is not a knock on Hoy or his game. I admire Hoy's abilities and success at poker. This is only a commentary on a particular situation, with reference to Hoy's posts, which were so damn informative that I'm thinking about them a week later.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 3:27 PM,


At 5:22 PM, Blogger Mattyebs said...

My analysis here goes to one fundamental point of holdem that many people seem to ignore. Scare boards are called that not just because they scar you but because they scare almost all playrs and all hands. I play this hand in your fashion...check fold, bb sacrifice, wouldn't have called a rais preflop anyway, got to see a flop, not for me I'm done.

Howevr my newest observation in tournaments especially is although good players often lose, there are some good players who never seem to win...which begs the question why?

Paired boards of aax jjx ect, all flush board ks 4s 9s all broadway boards kh qs tc, Thes boards are scary, only hands with the nuts or nut draws will continue on and often drawing hands will see only one card against fair bets. More so, people calling (bluffs) in tournamnts are only willing to risk a portion of they're stack, they have an emergency numbr that they conserve at. I feel like especially early in tournamnts observing who plays these boards and who avoids them can show you who is giving their money away. This is a limped pot, the most likely player to have a mad small flush is prob the BB and ven if someone has 5s 6s whats to say the BB doesn't have ts 2s.

By putting aside your fear and taking advantage of other's you only need worry about a nut or near nut hand and by seeing ractions you will know quickly rarely in games of such a low level do people rebluff so either you set it up and take it down or u give it up on a tough break...This is a high risk high reward play du to the amount of limped pots that are often auctioned off...but it also leads to huge payoffs in later parts of the tourny.
I still haven't embraced the FERGUSEN play the board theory, but of the ones I've heard it seems one of the most rational and the best players use their waknesses to win...

So much rambl...I must be in class

At 5:47 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Matty, I have no idea where you stand on this situation, but I liked reading what you wrote anyway.

At 3:49 AM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...

On the felt, I agree with your analysis of this hand. Early in a tournament, there really is no reason for me to risk my stack hoping I can get someone to fold or pray that another spade doesn't come to fill a four-flush. For me, that risk just isn't worth it. It doesn't mean I've never done it, and won't ever do it again--but I try to steer clear from these fancy plays if I can.

Where I give props to Hoy is that he is the aggressor in this hand, as he is in most of the hands he plays. He is obviously risking a large chunk of his stack in this particular hand, but he isn't risking his money blindly, and he also isn't the one facing the difficult decisions. If UTG+1 raises substantially on the flop or the turn, I'd wager Hoy is out of the hand with either 120 or 500 invested. Nobody likes to lose a third of their stack right away, but we've all come back from that deficit before. He'd still have 30BB or so?

As threatening as this board is, I think Hoy could be right to assume he is in the lead after the flop. If he bets at the flop, someone could easily scare him away, but a small bet to call doesn't scream MADE FLUSH from anyone.

((I'm not sure what hand his opponent was willing to call a pot sized bet on the turn with, and not call the all-in on the river when a rag hits--but that just attests to Hoy's amazing fishing ability :)))

In the right situation, this can be a great play--but over the long run I have no idea how much money this play wins or loses. I understand why you think the risk isn't worth the reward, and I understand why Hoy might play this hand the way he did. Therefore, to me this hand falls into the very large gray area that hovers over poker like the smog in L.A. I'll stick it in my bag of tricks to use later, but it won't be a staple for me in the Friday night Donkament :)

At 8:07 AM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

MHG is right about one thing - Hoy is aggressive. But there is a difference between aggression and blind aggression. He bet out 2/3 of his starting stack and could have been drawing dead all along. This is a sure fire way to bust out early of a tournament. Especially on FTP where flushes are rewarded and seem to be the norm. I don't like the turn bet or the river bet either. I would especially like to check it down on the river instead of committing another 1/3 of my stack if I am beat.
Hoy is truly a great poker thinker and player and I have learned a great deal from reading his uber-posts, but I think that sometimes he gets too caught up in his own justification of the way he plays and is too results oriented to see that he may have been wrong.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I like this post Jordan, and I'm the first to admit that the river bet was easily the worst play I made in the hand. The thing is, the amounts of money left in our stacks were so small at that point that I figured I basically have to call with my top pair 9 kicker for the last 460 chips anyways, so even a 10% chance that he might fold a busted flush draw is worth being the one doing the betting instead of the calling there on the end. Rest assured if we were playing with very deep stacks there is more or less no way I bet there on the end, except maybe if I thought a smallish blocking bet might be advisable to preclude a large bluff raise from my opponent that I could not call.

One other point though is that top pair Kings and a 9 kicker is generally ahead on most flops, probably the vast majority of them. So I think playing the hand from the assumption I was ahead from the flop on is actually the odds-on correct assumption to make. And this guy simply didn't play the hand like he had a made flush at all, so I was more or less positive he was not on that when the hand actually happened.

Also to respond briefly to Kaja's comment above, I think not betting out on the turn in this hand would be completely indefensible. There is a blatant draw on the board, the guy has played so far like he's trying to draw to it, now that the turn card is out and only one card it left to come I can very easily price him out of drawing at that hand, and I am most likely ahead right now. Not betting in that spot would be completely against everything I stand for at the poker table, and is just begging to lose to a guy who sucks out a low flush or a second pair or something similar on the river. I had to bet the turn there if I'm going to play this hand at all.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Hoy, not to beat a dead horse, but...

If you would have been forced to call the all-in on the river, you are better off check-calling the all-in for the reasons I explained in the post. You might get a busted flush to bluff, in which case you make more money against such players than if you bet out and they are forced to fold. You may also get a better hand like 2-pair or a set to check, thereby saving you money, whereas if you bet out, they'll likely call at this point. Betting the river is plainly -EV.

"One other point though is that top pair Kings and a 9 kicker is generally ahead on most flops, probably the vast majority of them." I don't know how you came up with that statistic, considering that you are playing against 4 other players to the flop. How is K9s better than 4 limpable hands in early position. Even if those hands are utterly random, I doubt that K9 "on most flops" will be ahead. This justification is pretty thin.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...


Hoy's statement about top pair kings with a 9 kicker being ahead on most flops is a bit tricky.

Is he ahead of As Qd? How about Ad Qs? Ah Js? or what about As 2h? According to my hand simulator, the only hand he is ahead of there is the As 2h hand. All the others he is pretty much a coin flip with on the flop.

But I agree with Hoy. If you can have top pair of Kings with a 9 kicker, the scariest possible board is probably the one we're seeing in the hand we're discussing. Ks Qs Js or something along those lines might be more scary, but obviously the flush board is scarier than a Ks 3c 2d board.

Even with four limpers in the Ks Ts 6s hand, the limping hands we are ahead of vastly outnumber the limping hands that have us beat. I'll estimate on the conservative side for the holdings we are behind, even if barely worse than a coin flip: AA, KK, TT, 66, XsYs, AK, AsQx, AxQs, AsJx, AxJs, KQ, KJ, KT, K6?, QsJx, Qs6x

Those hands are vastly outnumbered by the amount of hands people limp with, plain and simple. Suited connectors and one or two-gappers in any suit besides spades we crush on the flop outside of KT. On this hand, we're ahead of all pocket pairs besides AA,KK,TT,66--even if one of their cards is a spade.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...

1000 apologies for calling you Justin, Jordan.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Mean, you may be ahead heads-up, but against 4 other players, the chance of one of those players limping with one of those "behind" hands goes up 400% (4x, since its four limpers). And its not enough to be ahead on the flop. You need to be ahead and able to control the situation to your advantage, or else you face the very real risk of being behind by the river to any spade.

Unless you can take down the pot right away while you are ahead, the fact that you are possibly ahead of 4 other players doesn't mean jack squat.

And if you say that its the scariest board for top pair Kings with a 9-kicker, why would you think that's a good situation. You'll have to act cautiously from then on out and its a mere 150 pot.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...

I admit that I didn't take into full consideration the number of players in the hand, but I'm still not sure Hoy isn't ahead of the wide range of limping hands. For instance, say we take a shot in the dark and claim that out of all possible limping hands we are ahead on the flop 75% of the time. Again, a very rough guesstimate, and it doesn't factor in how far ahead we are. Also, by saying we are ahead on the flop 75% of the time, this means that by the time the river is dealt, we will be ahead of 75% of said limping hands.

So against one opponent, using our hypothetic example, we win 75% of the time.

If I'm doing the math right .75*.75=.56, so against two limpers we have a 56% chance of winning.

Against 3 limpers .75*.75*.75= 42%

Against 4 limpers we have a 31% chance of still being ahead by the river.

This begs the question, does this then mean that you should play this hand aggressively against 2 limpers, but not 3? And when we are up against 4 limpers, our chance of being ahead against a wide range of limping hands is only 31% (again, with that fictional number of 75% to begin with). But isn't 31% against four limpers pretty good odds?

Here's an example of a 32% hand:

All-in preflop with pocket aces against: AKs, JTc, 87d, 54h.

You'd take that 32% hand every time though, right?

Of course, this is all just mathematical mumbo-jumbo. Even if someone can prove Hoy is mathematically ahead on the flop against four limpers, when he is behind on the flop, he is pretty much screwed. Even when he is ahead on the flop, but then a spade comes on the turn or river, his hand is shot. Which is why I agree with you, and in play I would probably give up on this hand.

But where I admire Hoy's play is that Hoy knows he could have been betting into a made flush or a set, but it was his educated gamble to take. He feels confident enough in his post-flop play to know when he's playing against the nuts, and when he's got room to wiggle--and in this case he guessed correctly that he had room to wiggle.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

I think 75% is a huge overestimate. If you run the numbers on a poker odds calculator and choose any random low cards for the other players that aren't all ridiculously coordinated, K9 still only has a 25% chance of winning the hand by the river.

But I have no problem with limping preflop. I have a problem with the post-flop play. Forget about the range of possible flops. It's a red herring.

After the flop came down, you have top pair, middle kicker on a all spade board, with little invested in the hand and little to gain in the pot, early in a tournament, out of position. I still say check-fold.


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