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On the Townsend

Lately, I feel like I have so much to write about, but when I open the Blogger screen, it all just goes blank. It's probably the lack of live poker, and the irregular smattering of online poker I've been playing. In the meanwhile, I am sloooooooooowly reading (or actually, have gone back to reading) "The Psychology of Poker" by Alan Schoonmaker. Its an interesting take on the poker book, and I'm simultaneously having fun and scaring myself by reading the chapter on Loose Aggressive players, the group with which I most readily identify. I've been tabbing pages like mad, but I'm not ready to discuss it here yet.

In the meanwhile, I continue to read a slew of poker blogs. One of the newest ones on my roster is written by none other than Brian Townsend, the online poker pro who went from penny stakes to the live Big Game within a few years. One poker player once said that the common thread amongst all pros is that at the beginning of their careers, they were disproportionately lucky. Its that easy instant win or success that can lure some players into a life that they expect to be all roses. But reality sets in and often, the life isn't quite what the would-be pro expected.

In Townsend's case, he went from quarter games to quarter-million swings in a few years. I first heard about him in detail from listening to the PokerWire podcasts. His success blew my mind, particularly because he was rumored to be slaughtering the Big Game during the WSOP. I'm not quite sure how that ended up, but within the last month, his blog has read like a trainwreck, as he suffers though a period of losses that all experienced players experience at one point in their careers. Still, when I read Brian's recent post and checked out the hand history that so baffled him, I saw a player that was clearly lost (in that one particular hand and in his inability to understand what went wrong ONLY).

You can see the hand HERE, but I will also provide a narrative:

Brian ("BT") is playing $50/100 HU NLHE with LarsLuzak ("LL"). Both players have stacks of about $11,000. BT has 37h in the SB. He'll be acting first preflop, but last for the rest of the hand. He starts off by raising to $300. LL calls.

The flop is J66, with two hearts, giving BT a baby flush draw. LL checks, BT bets $500 (just under a pot-sized bet), and LT calls.

The turn is a 2h, giving BT a flush. LL checks, BT bets $1400 (just under a pot-sized bet), and LL raises to $4444 (about $3k on top). BT raises all-in for another $6k or so more. LL calls and shows 22 for a turned full house. The river is moot, because BT is drawing dead.

According to BT in his recent post, "Also today I got action at 50/100 for the first time from LarsLuzak. He dropped down to play me and beat me for 11K. This loss really bothered me as he has really been holding it over me of late. Usually when I analyze my play after a session I can come to a conclusion the hands I played. This was not the case today as I still don't know how I feel about this hand and its really begining to bother me. I think I will look at it tomorrow and run through some more calculations."

In my estimation, BT's problem was that he was tilting, plain and simple. You may be thinking, but Jordan, it was a Cooler! He turned a flush and it just happened to be the perfect card to also fill the full house! He lost to a two-freakin'-outter. And you may be right, but that's not what the hand and BT's comment tells me. Let's go through the hand together, and look at BT's comments to shed some light on the subject.

First off, according to BT, he only lost $11k to LL, so this is the hand where it all went down. Presumably, before this they were relatively even. However, as BT explains it "This loss really bothered me as he has really been holding it over me of late." So, immediately we know that, even though they were about even at the beginning of the hand, BT feels that LL has been beating him lately, so they have history. We also know that BT gets bothered by such losses. Its common enough. When we are used to succeeding and then we are hit by unexpected losses, it can affect one's psychology. Let's assume, then, that BT was playing, psychologically, from a position of wanting to beat LL in order to change the fact that LL was beating him lately.

We can also assume (although it is a more tenuous assumption) that LL knows he's been beating BT. After all, he was willing to drop in stakes to play BT, and BT admits that LL has his number.

So, we've set the psychological framework of both players. BT is trying to prove something and LL is on a roll.

Now let's look at the action. A preflop raise with low gap connectors may look suspect to some of you, but I have no problem with it. We don't know how loose or tight the action was, so I'm giving BT a pass on this raise. In fact, given his position, I kinda like it.

The flop looks nice. He has a flush draw that's likely pretty hidden. LL checks, so BT might as well bet the draw. LL will probably fold, after all, and BT can take down the $600 without even hitting his draw. Still, LL calls, so BT has to be aware that LL has something, even if it is as little as Ace-high. The one exception is if LL has been floating a lot and raising big on the turn, but we have no information as to his floating proclivity, so let's ignore that for the time being.

On the turn, BT has to be happy. He made his flush, and since he bet the flop, it isn't obvious that he was on that draw. So, his bet of $1400 is actually pretty good. Separately, I'd like to write about the psychology of sizing bets just below pot, but that's a broader subject for later this week.

But after his bet, LL raises $3k on top. At this point, it is crucial for BT to slow down and analyze the hand. I don't know if he did or not, but if he did, these are the things he has to consider: (1) LL just called the flush draw flop which may indicate that he was drawing to a better flush, (2) the board is paired so LL may have a full house and was waiting for the flush or four-card flush draw to hit before trying to get paid off big, (3) the board has three hearts, so LL may be on a four-card flush draw that would beat BT if it hits, (4) LL may have three-of-a-kind 6s, paired his Jack, or has a pocket-pair ONLY.

If you look at these possibilities, you realize that a great number of them result in BT being 100% screwed. This includes losing to the higher flush or the full house. There are also a couple of possibilities where he is ahead, but could be drawn out on. For the most part, the chance of being drawn out on is relatively low (15% if LL has an 8h or higher, about 9% if he has a Jack or pocket pair, and about 22% if he has a 6).

Still, when you weigh the possibilities and the action, I would assume that LL is more likely to make this play when he has the fullhouse or higher flush than to raise like this if he has one of the dominated hands discussed. Of course, LL may have been floating a lot or may have been uber aggressive throughout the game, so for the sake of kindness, let's assume that its a 50/50 chance that LL has BT beat or that LL is behind.

What does BT do? He re-raises all-in! This is the wrong move. Why? The pot is now $7,444 when BT decides to reraise $6000 on top. This may be called by one of those drawing hands, but it will DEFINITELY be called by the flush or full house. Assuming BT knew that he was behind, this would obviously be a terrible raise. But is it a good raise if BT was ahead? I think not.

When BT is ahead, he has at least a 78% chance of taking down the pot. I would argue that the better move would be to call here, and wait for the river card before making your ultimate determination. There is not enough information to discern whether LL is making a move or has the goods, and LL's play can be read either way (although I still think the timing and size of the check-raise indicates clear strength). By calling and seeing the river, BT will find out if one of the scare cards comes out (Jack, 6, or a heart, fourteen cards total), and he will see how LL reacts. LL might have three of a kind and slow down at the sight of another heart, or a Jack or Six may come down and LL slow downs again because his 22 fullhouse looks no good. In either instance, BT might be able to bluff off LL (depending on his holdings, which we now realize is 22, and therefore unlikely), or BT can just check behind LL in these situations and effectively save $6k.

In other situations, that fourth Heart or 6 will fall and it will scare off BT. Even so, BT was behind anyway (as we now know) so the fourth heart or 6 would HELP him by forcing BT's fold.
In actuality, the river was an offsuit 9, and most likely LL would've pushed and BT would've called. The results would have been effectively the same, but the possible results are very different.

If there is anything to learn about this situation, it is that not all things are as cooler-ish as they look, and that there is always opportunity to analyze a hand to look at different possibilities, regardless of outcome, to determine what the best play was. It also shows something about mentality at the table. BT admitted that he felt that he was getting schooled by LL in general, and in this hand, BT wanted to prove himself through aggression. There is no reason to re-raise the turn, but BT did it anyway, probably by overestimated the likelihood that LL would do this with crap cards. In fact, this is a common problem that I write about a lot. Its very easy to get frustrated with an uber-aggressive or uber-lucky opponent, but that does not excuse you from addressing each hand individually to look for signs that LL actually has a hand. To me, it looked like BT thought, "I have this sweet hidden flush, so I raise...wait, he raises me back? But I have the FLUSH! I raise all-in!"

Some of you might know more about BT through his blog, other news sources or his appearances on High Stakes Poker on GSN. Maybe you can offer some insight into his play in general. This is not a critique of BT or his play. This is one individual hand and my analysis, given the words of BT.

Would you view this hand differently? Do I make sense? I would love some feedback, because I do think that the hand shows the benefits of checking with a made hand in certain situations and the need to consider the wide range of your opponents' possible holdings AND the probable outcomes of each of those holdings.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 10:47 AM,


At 4:39 PM, Blogger ckbluffer said...

From what I've seen on HSP, BT is an extremely aggressive player. This can create great wins for a player and give him the illusion of being a solid player, but if you don't know when to put on the brakes, aggression will lose you more money in the long run. IMHO, I think BT played the hand like crap and fell into the trap of thinking that betting big will make the problem go away.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Your analysis is good but I think these guys play a different game.. I think Brian's opponent could EASILY have been bluffing the scare card on the turn.. I think this is what Brian thought probably and why he was willing to commit.. and fuck, it is only one buyin.. HU.. and you made a flush.. and your playing a game that if people see you are weak they will pounce all over you.. so in the context of his game and the stakes he is playing I think his move make more sense.

In reality neither one of us really can say what that game is like at all since neither of us has played past 1/2 or maybe 2/4 NL..

It is kind of like giving Doyle lessons on how to play the big game.. you just do not have the context to comment.. not that it should stop you from trying..

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

I think it is definitely true that 50/100 NL plays differently than 1/2 NL, but I don't think the difference in skill level between those two stakes makes my analysis any different. LL could have been bluffing, and I account for that. As a result, I came up with a SAFE solution, calling the turn and using the river for more info (in this case, the river would've encouraged an all-in anyway). As much as the play might be different, the game, the probabilities, and the rules are the same, so I think this analysis plays out in any situation (and I account for the greater HU and higher-stakes aggression).

Now, CK's comment is VERY interesting. CK is an aggro player (as am I, mostly), and she is essentially reiterating (more clearly and more eloquently) my point. Its ok to be uber aggressive, especially HU and in NLHE, but you have to know when to slow down. BT was literally throwing money at the problem, hoping it would go away. I think on some level, he knew he was likely behind.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Miami Don said...

I don't know about everyone else but I'm going broke every single time with a flush HU whether or not the board is paired and even if my flush is 3 high.

No need to overanalyze this hand, get your chips in the middle with a flush as quickly as possible.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger DP said...

Jordan, you think he misplayed that hand? Take a look at this one...

At 8:27 AM, Blogger BadBlood said...

I am certainly no HU expert, but I think there is so much more going on in BT's thought process that he's going to play that hand exactly like that every time.

I believe it has a lot to do with player tendencies on various streets with various boards and opponent's actions. It's a big complicated mess that very few folks do really well.

But BT is one of them. On the surface I think your analysis is sensible, but I think it doesn't take into consideration things that these monster HU players do all the time.

HU is not about making hands, but when you do, you really do have to go with them.

With all that being said, I still liked your post.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Yeah Ima have to agree with the last few commenters here. I think BT played this hand great. I could do without the preflop raise with utter garbage, but it is HU so if he wants to raise or fold every time then I can live with that.

Other than preflop though, I just don't see how you do anything other than push in BT's spot on the turn. The pair on the board is much more likely great news for BT -- given that he has a flush that beats any trips -- than it is bad news, and he just made a totally hidden flush thanks to his preflop raise and flop bet as well. He knows LL cannot possibly put him on the flush here, and as Don points out he is heads up and just turned a totally hidden flush. If you're not getting it allin in that spot, at least for the relatively little more money (compared to the pot size) as in this hand, then I guess I just don't see where you are willing to put the money in.

Sometimes, coolers are just coolers, and this is one of those times IMO.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Fuel55 said...

Nice writeup J. This should get some interesting chat.

For once I think waffles showed some genius here. Bluffing scare cards in a critical move in higher limit HU play. It would be wrong for BT not to raise in case LL is bluffing the turn with a high heart.

I'd err on the side of jamming in this spot and take my coolers like a whiny little biatch.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

There are definitely some interesting responses, and I'd like to address the general idea that this was a cooler. I'd agree that it is a cooler, but BT was trying to figure out if there was any way to better play the hand (i.e., where did he go wrong). I took into account the heightened aggression and nuances of HU play, and ultimately I still think the better play is to call the raise on the turn instead of re-raising all-in. Its definitely a Monday morning quarterback situation, so I'm not trying to suggest that I know better than BT in that spot or that I wouldn't have played it the same way as him (just ask Dawn about how I kept calling her down or raising her when I was in bad spots last night). But the question still remains, Wouldn't it be a smarter play to just call the turn raise? YES, its a cooler. BUT wasn't there a way to play the hand better?

I, too, would err on the side of jamming if I didn't have 2 days to analyze the hand. Of course the "hidden" flush is a great hand. But considering what I laid out, including an explanation as to why it would be better to call even if he was ahead, do we all think that raising all-in was the smart move? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...

Nice analysis, J. I agree with your analysis of this hand, and I think CK's comment is also dead-on.

LL KNOWS BT is an uber-aggressive player. The $4,444 raise is pretty much begging for a call here in my opinion. LL knows that BT is probably thinking, "Hey, if I were in his situation, I might test that 2nd barrel raise right now."

To me, this is a classic example of how to use the aggro's mentality against him. It doesn't really matter how LL has been playing, as long as he knows that BT will think his raise looks suspicious.

It is a cooler, don't get me wrong, this hand would be hard to get away from at a full ring game, let alone heads up. But I agree with J that there is some tilt going on, and that this is a hand we can learn from instead of just saying, "stick it in the middle, flushes are GOLD heads up!"

PS: Finals chess game is still going on, I'll let you know when Matty and I finish up.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Wes said...

Lars could be valueraising with a worse hand here, mainly 6x. And from the way i read of other's opinion's of how Lars plays, he is sort of stationy and floats a lot. So, with that BT shouldn't be going anywhere in the hand.

So the options that remain are calling or shoving here.If he calls with turn, there are a lot of cards that will kill his action from worse hands + a lot of river cards that will force him to fold a better hand (double pairing the board, another heart), so shoving seems good.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

ummm... during the WSOP BT took almost $3M+ in the cash games, especially playing HU Omaha with Farha. So an 11K hand is nothing to him and I agree that he has to jam his flush no matter what LL is holding. I go broke here too. I think calling the check-raise and then figuring out what to do on the river is a little weak.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger jbeach711 said...

what additional info is he really going to find on the river if he just calls?

on the turn if he calls he has 6k behind into a ~10k pot. when the river doesn't pair the board or give another heart he's still going to think he's good. is he just calling to try and scare himself out of the pot on the river? the optimal play has to be pushing the turn.


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