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The Best and the Rightest

Holy Chowder! My corporate overlords are really pounding away at me today, but I still find a bit of time for you good people. God bless me.

I mentioned briefly in my last post about how PirateLawyer and I were chatting about a hand that went down in the Mookie. The conversations started when he asked if I would have played the hand any different from his perspective. There was some back and forth, but in the end, the answer I gave was simply, If he could explain the reasons behind his play, then it was justifiable. This simple explanation is a cornerstone to my thoughts on poker and probably a reason why hand history strategy is becoming less and less of a focus here at HoP and generally across the blogiverse.

In the early days, I thought there was a perfect path in every hand. I have since learned that this is just not true. In fact, it is SO untrue that the act of discerning the "right" play in a given situation has largely become a fool's errand to me. It's not to say that in particular situations the best play isn't clear. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in most situations, there is a "best" play. But "best" does not equal the totalitarian idea of "right" as in, "You called a raise with T8?! That's wrong!" I am okay, however, with the general statement, "You called a raise with T8? That's probably not the best play."

Sure, it seems like splitting hairs, but I think it's a very important distinction. This isn't really about the PL hand specifically, but let's use it, since it's a decent example.

The major sequence worth examining was the preflop play. PL had over 100k and was the chip leader with 6 players left. We were already in the money. Blinds were 800/1600, with an ante. Three players had shorter stacks of between 20k and 30k. One other opponent and I had stacks around 50k to 60k. PL, in the CO (I think), min-raised from 1600 to 3200. Everyone folded to me in one of the blinds (SB, I think), who raised to 14,400, for an additional 9200. PL called and we saw a flop.

That's the only sequence of events you need to know, and there are only two actions by PL to examine: (1) the preflop min-raise and (2) the call after facing a 3x re-raise (or is it considered 6x since he only min raised for 1600 more...anyone?). Let's break it down.

(1) The Prelop Min-Raise. Taken in a vacuum, if I said, "Is it good to min-raise with T8s preflop?" you may recommend a fold instead. Let's add more info. "There are 6 players left, I'm the big stack with almost 2x the chips of the second place player, and I'm in late position. Is it good to min-raise with T8s?" Suddenly, it's not as bad. Add some more facts, "I think the players are starting to tighten up to move up the pay ladder." Great, the play is even better now. And so on and so forth. But even if we are convinced that the min-raise with T8s is a decent play or even the best play in that scenario, can we ever determine if it is the "right" play. The answer is no. The answer is that the best play in that scenario is to fold sometimes and raise other times. That transcends the information we've gathered. Even knowing that you will likely win down the pot uncontested, it still doesn't mean that 100% of the time, you should min-raise there. Why? Because if you did things the same way every single time, you'd be a predictable robot and your opponents would eventually adapt and beat your ass. There must be a certain amount of variability in every situation.

Let me make it even more obvious. Is there ever a time to limp in EP with AA? Yes, if you feel confident that you will face a raise and then have an opportunity to re-raise. BUT, even under that scenario, you shouldn't always limp, right? Sometimes, you should bet out. You might be able to identify the BEST play, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is the RIGHT play and that all other plays are WRONG.

(2) Calling the Raise Preflop. At first glance, I thought that this was PL's mistake. Right? After all, what would you say to a guy who gave you this info: "I min-raised preflop, faced a significant re-raise from my opponent, and all I had was T8s. I called. Was that wrong?" I'd say, "Hell yes, dude. VERY VERY WRONG." But I'd be wrong, because there is more to poker than cookie cutter decision-making based on cards. It's about feel. And, it's about different paths. No one would blame a player for folding T8s, but if that player can set forth the reason for their play and their play actually coincides with the reason provided, then how can it be wrong. It might not be how you do it, but you don't get to dictate how other people play and as I already mentioned, with poker, there are many paths to success.

Here are legitimate individual reasons (which can, and probably should, be combined for extra justification!) for the call in this situation: (i) you are in position and will be able to act with knowledge of the flop and your opponents' reaction to the flop when you next have to act, (ii) your opponent is a loose donk and could be playing ATC, (iii) your opponent is one of the best at the table and if you can bust him, the rest of the tournament will be a cakewalk, (iv) you expect to be able to put pressure post-flop on your opponent because he's going to be extra-cautious going all-in due to the many shorties, etc., etc., and so forth.

My point is simply this: There are no hard, fast rules of poker. If you have a plan in place and the plan is legitimate and your actions fit within your plan and advance it, then you made a justifiable play. It may not be the best play, but I can't call it the wrong play just because I had a different plan in place.

In the end, this doesn't really negate the importance of hand analysis. It just puts things in a different light. Even when you don't agree with a play, it doesn't mean that it was a bad one. It was just different than what you would have done. And you aren't wrong necessarily either, as long as you can justify your logic. Let's go back to the AA example.

One guy can say, "Never limp preflop with AA, because you run too high of a chance of having too many players in the pot. Even if the other players are likely to raise preflop, you can't guarantee that, and at a table like that, you are likely to get a caller or two anyway with a preflop raise, so it's not like you are losing all value in the hand." That strategy is a sound one. The main goal is to get money into the pot but avoid a situation with too many opponents. By raising preflop, his actions fit and advance his goals.

The other guy says, "You are throwing free money away by raising and you just might end up with a bunch of callers anyway! Just limp. At this table, someone will raise, likely after some limpers, and you may get calls on that raise too, and then you can re-raise big and take down the sizeable pot right away or narrow the field to maybe one other player." That's not a bad strategy too. It has more risk of ending up in a multiway pot if you don't get an opportunity to re-raise preflop, but some players don't mind that risk. And, it's actually a small risk, since little money is put in the pot from your chip stack in that scenario. This player's goal is clearly to win the pot preflop or narrow the field while pumping the pot. His play matches his goal and advances it, and therefore is legitimate.

Maybe this wasn't the most elegant explanation, but the key is that there are more than one justifiable play in most situations, even when there are the same conditions. It's all about the individual goal and style of the person making the decision.

In poker, there are often no Right Answers. Are there Best Answers? Sure, most of the time. But sometimes that Best Answer is to raise 90% of the time and limp 10% of the time, and really, how many of us are willing to answer a simple question of "Did I play this right?" by suggesting the percentages of how to play it.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 5:15 PM,


At 8:59 PM, Blogger Schaubs said...

It depends.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Something might not be right or wrong but there is optimal vs sub. Calling a 3 bet with T8s when there are better spots to be picked is pretty retarded IMO. And of course, everyone has a reason for it. That doesn't make it right.

"I murdered 8 people because I was beaten as a child."

Oh look, he has a reason, he must be right. At the very least, it's not wrong. Um, yeah.

Back to context of poker. One can have a reason but it could be so misguided that it's wrong. Like PL calling with T8s. I'm sure he had his reasons or whatever and I'm sure it's spelled out somewhere. It's still a poor reasoning I'm sure. I mean you're 3 betting. How often are you not gonna cbet any flop? Pretty much never. So, let's see, not only are you risking close to 15% of your stack with a shitty hand, you are actually risking close to 25% of your stack because there will be a cbet to follow. I don't like playing hands like that where even if you hit top pair, you still hate your spot... and yet, on a 8 high board (assuming that's what comes down), you have to call a shove... otherwise, what are you doing with that hand anyways?

oh my god... wtf am I commenting on a PL hand.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger lightning36 said...

I lurve it when someone who can not understand why you do something berates you for doing it. One man's "fifth level" thinking is another man's donkey play. And vice versa.

I'm glad to see that you mentioned the opportunity to take out a good player as legitimate justification. I have done so before in tournaments by playing a speculative hand that is probably -EV ... but did the trick.

The players never did understand why I played what I did. One never will.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Let's hope they never learn it, Lightning.

Recess, a poker hand is not murder, but I see what you are suggesting. I think you are correct that you need more than a reason for a play. It has to make sense in context. However, by that same token, a lot of bad plays that appear bad may not actually be bad in context. As long as one can set forth a justifiable reason for a play and that reason is legitimate, then the play cannot be called wrong, outright.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger . said...

I think RecessRampage is certifiabl(e)-Y...


In other news, good stuff guys.


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