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Difficult SETuation

I have to admit something that may be a hole in my poker game. I'm just not an *exact numbers* kind of guy. This may seem odd considering I work in the financial services industry (high finance baby) and consistently have to be spot on with my calculations. As for my poker game, however, I'm always crunching the numbers when playing (pot odds, # of outs, etc.), but am more likely to "ballpark" it than try and be spot on.

AS the game of poker is played out, we are constantly up against incomplete information. That said, during a given hand, I believe you have to consider the basic odds of a particular situation occurring, and your read on the player(s), then let your gut tell you the direction to go. This sometimes creates spot on decisions, but other times makes you look ridonkulous.

AFTER the game of poker is played out, we are able to take most scenarios and crunch the numbers more precisely. This is where we can benefit the most from the mathematics of the game. In comparing what the math says we should have done vs. what our gut told us to do, then seeing if our read was spot on or way off. Of course there are times when we don't get full disclosure - for example if a player folds without showing their cards - but in general we are more likely to pin point our good decisions and our mistakes once the cards have hit the board, all bets are complete, and we have only the cold hard facts.

All the above was sort of a set up for the following.

I know I've read this in books numerous times, but I just want to throw it out here in the brog in hopes of sparking some discussion. I also want to get a refresher course on crunching the numbers to make sure, when I'm entering a pot, it makes sense. What the hell am I writing about you ask?

For NL Hold'em tournament play, I'm wondering about entering pots with small pairs in hopes of spiking a set on the flop. If my memory serves, over the long haul, you should expect to spike your cash card 1 out of every 7 times. I know there are so many different scenarios that must be considered (call or raise, size of the other players stacks, etc.) however I want to focus on one specific situation right now...The percentage of an expected outcome vs. the percentage of your stack at risk.

Assuming you believe you can limp into a pot or raise a pot up and not be re-raised, based on your stack size vs. the amount to raise or call, when does it NOT make sense to enter pots with a small pair? I'll offer a few examples for discussion.

Relatively early in an MTT, you have 1250 in chips with 5 5 in late position. One player in early position has called the BB of 50 and, based on the play so far, you are confident you will not be raised if you call. You make the call and see a flop. The basic numbers tell you that you'll flop a set 14% of the time in this situation. You've just put in 4% of your stack. Over the long run, this is a good situation to be in correct? Even if it is raised to 3 times the BB after you call, you are putting in 12% of your stack vs. a 14% expectation. Your thoughts?

Midway through an MTT you've built your starting stack up to 14500 from your original 1500 chips. With blinds at 200-400, you have 6 6 and are able to get into a pot for the minimum. Thus, you've risked 2.5 % of your stack on a 14% expectation. This one is a little easier to figure that it is a decent situation to be in. Even if you are raised to 1200, you are still risking less than 10% of your stack.

So what stack sizes and percentages put YOU, dear reader, in a position that you feel it does not make sense to get into the pot? I know there's plenty of "it depends" in this situation, but for the most part, as part of your MTT strategy, what is your typical thought process on the subject. This is a pretty basic concept to be discussing, but it is also one that comes up often and is tough to play. I think it is worth it to discuss and see how others think on the subject. The primary things I want to keep in this discussion are the stack size, the current size of the bet, and the % chance of hitting your hand. What makes sense to you?

posted by TripJax @ 11:17 AM,


At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heya Man,

I don't know if you've checked out these two posts on Hoy's site, but they're really good in regards to your subject.


The 2nd one is post flop so I'm not so sure if I've read that one, I mean seems pretty obvious to me how to play them after flop. I mean you can get a little slick but soon as someone plays back at ya you'll have to drop them, I'd recken.

As far as the way this reader plays them? I do try to get into an pot with them. I figure the 14% of my stack figure you've mentioned could be a figure that would make sense. But honestly I'd probably go up to 20-25% of my stack simply due to the implied odds I'd be getting if I hit the flop. I really am not that numbers cruncher guy either, I try to ballpark the pot odds and outs like you say, but I try to consider everything at the table when playing them. I rarely raise with small pp unless it is later on in the tourney and I'm big or short stacking it. Depending on how short, I will just fold them. Depending upon blinds in relations to my stack, I'll just fold them. They are scary cards to play and 86% of the time they'll lose if you got yer numbers right.

And learn to ditch that doo doo just as soon as someone min bets the flop, turn or river. You will lose if you don't hit!

Anyways I don't want to give too much of the exciting new form of poker away, I really just wanted to point you to Hoy's posts as they are excellent reads. As always where he's concerned.

Take care!


At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur with T2T - I learned a lot from Hoy's posts on playing PP's.

My personal take is this: the odds of being dealt a PP is ~6% on any given hand. This means that chances are good that mine is the only PP that has been dealt. As we all know, there are times when two or more players have PP in the hole, pretty common actually, but it's fairly likely that I'm ahead PF. Using Hoy's strategy, I'll standard raise PF with just about any PP (except maybe 22-55 or from EP, where I might try to limp into a cheap flop and pray for my set). This narrows the range I can put callers on, and significantly helps me out in how to play my hand post-flop if I don't spike (which is likely), depending on board composition.

I'll typically not play low-mid PP if I'm facing PF agression - in that case, I don't want to take the chance that I'm a 4:1 dog against a higher PP. Even if my stack is healthy enough to let go if I miss my set, I like to be the one controlling action in these circumstances. If someone else wants to 'run the hand', I fold and move on to the next hand.

Any time I'm super short or huge, I'll go to war with any PP at any time.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

I don't deal with math usually when I'm playing except for a few exceptions (like M, for example). My main concern is what kind of player I'm dealing with and what position he's in. Bet size, obviously, is a factor, but if I know the guy is raising with any Ace and I have a decent sized stack, I'll take a shot every once in awhile to see if I can catch.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think with small pocket pairs, if you are facing a raise, or you don't plan on raising yourself, you can't risk 14% of your stack to try and hit your set. By doing this you then have to make sure you atleast double up, everytime you hit a set or this will be a losing play. You have to look at the times when your opponent folds, or you are forced to fold also.
If your the preflop agressor, it adds a little bit of value to your hand, especially if your in posistion, because you get the added equity of being able to take down the pot a fair amount of time even if you miss.

At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard of the rule of 10? Both you and your opponent MUST have 10x the amount of the bet/raise that you are calling with preflop to make playing for the set correct. Early in a tournament this is usually not a problem, but in the middle/late stages middle/small pairs are difficult to play for the set. It becomes a push or fold situation at that point where you are no longer playing for the set, but just playing the value of the pair.

I look for 10x minimum but usually want it to be bigger. The problem with just concidering the pot odds is that there will be some flops where you hit your set, but can't continue agressively, or your opponent will not pay you off. People also often forget to look at the opponents stack as well. If he does not have enough to pay you off, then its not worth playing for the set.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Bazz said...

Personally I hate to raise PP's below 9 except in LP. There are a lot of chips to be won stacking overpairs/TPTK, and raising in EP/MP just invites a big re-raise from a big pair or big broadway hand which forces you to lay down your PP.

Early on with deep stacks I am always limping in and calling a raise to see if I can hit a set. You are about 7.5-1 to make a set, but there will be times when you still lose to a straight/flush/bigger set, and you opponent will not always stack off when you do hit. So when the blinds start rising I use 8 or 9 to 1 as a rule of thumb - that is I will call a raise if I think the current size of the pot + opponents stack is 8 tiems the bet I have to call. Of course sometimes you can still take down the pot with a low flop when you miss your set if you have a medium PP.


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