by: Lou Krieger©
One of the recurring themes discussed on the Internet newsgroup, Rec.Gämbling.Pöker, deals with the concept and consequences of dominated hands. If I’m in a hand holding A-10, and you have A-K, my hand is dominated.
Miraculous straights and flushes that might accrue to A-10 notwithstanding, I have three outs and three outs only to win this pot. Sure, there are a few more hands that will enable me to split the pot, but, that’s beside the point since your objective is to win, not play a lesser hand in hopes of getting your money back, and then only if you get very lucky.
A dominated hand, by definition, has three outs. Except for miraculous straights and flushes and a few oddball split pots, there are only three cards that will enable the dominated hand to win the pot; the dominator has the rest of the deck! I’m not telling you anything new, anything you don’t already know. No pöker player wants his opponent’s foot on his throat, with only three cards enabling escape. Sometimes it’s even worse that that. If the dominating hand is fortunate enough to make two pair, then you’re drawing dead for all intents and purposes. Imagine that. You pair your kicker on the turn or river and bët, thinking yours is the best hand. But your hand is still dominated; and what’s worse is that your two pair might even cost you more money.
Dominated hands are trouble. That’s right, trouble ¾ right here in River City, and in Flop City and Turn City too. And when you’ve got trouble it’s time to ask yourself, “What can I do about it?” and “How can I avoid getting in situations like this in the first place?”
Most pöker authors who write about Texas
hold’em have gone to some lengths to discuss what they euphemistically call “…trouble hands.” After all, lots of hands fall into this category. In early position, hands like A-J, A-10, K-J, K-10 and Q-J are classic trouble hands. “Call with hands like these in early position,” you’re invariably admonished, “and you are in big trouble if an opponent raises.” After all, conventional wisdom holds that most opponents raise most of the time with bëtter hands than those. Whoever is raising is much more likely to have a hand like A-A, K-K, A-K, A-Q, and K-Q than a trouble hand
While that’s true as far as it goes, the fact remains that many of your opponents have never read the book
, and they don’t play by it, either. Some players have raising requirements far less stringent than others. I’ve seen players who will raise with any suited ace in any position, as well as raise with hands like K-J, K-10, Q-J, J-10, and any pair of sixes or higher. When you are facing an opponent who raises with a wide spectrum of hands, you are not necessarily dominated if you hold a hand like A-J. In fact, the raiser might be the one who is dominated, and while he thinks otherwise, it just might be your foot that’s firmly planted on his throat.
Nevertheless, when you’re holding a trouble hand, you’re seldom sure whether you’re in the lead or not. Because you have to consider that your hand might be dominated, you’re apt to play passively by checking and calling instead of bëtting and raising. Even when you win these confrontations, caution minimizes your wins, while your opponent ¾ who seized the initiative with aggressive play ¾ will maximize his or her wins.
File that thought away and don’t lose touch with it. It’s another example of why selective and aggressive play is a major factor underlying winning pöker. It’s also an example of the “It depends,” line of reasoning: You know the mantra; strategy depends on the situation ¾ and a hand that’s playable against John might not by playable against Mary. When you’re in early position, you won’t know which of your opponents might come out firing. It could be Mary, the gal who never raises unless she holds a premium hand. But it might also be John, the maniac who is always on tilt and just as likely to come after you with 7-6 or K-2 as any other holding.
One way to deal with the unenviable consequence of finding your hand dominated by an opponent who also has the advantage of acting last is to avoid getting into this kettle of fish in the first place. You can avoid that kettle by severely constraining the hands you play from early position. While face cards are pretty, they’re not equally desirable, and a hand like Q-J in early position ¾ or even in middle position in an aggressive game ¾ flings the door to domination wide open.
If you don’t play hands that can get you in trouble, you won’t find yourself staring up at three-outers
and improbable odds. Remember, the first decision in a pöker hand is usually the decision that’s most important, because all subsequent options are driven by that initial choice. Although you cannot avoid holding a dominated hand with 100 percent certainty ¾ unless you refrain from playing all hands save a pair of aces ¾ it’s your first decision that matters most. If you are nimble enough to avoid getting yourself in this kind of trap in the first place, and deft enough to extricate yourself from its clutches at the earliest hint of trouble, you’ll find yourself doing just about all you can to minimize the adverse impact of finding yourself dominated when holding a troublesome hand.
by: Lou Krieger©
Are you one who avoids shorthanded games like the plague? It seems that a lot of folks are uncomfortable with short-handed play. After all, most of us play at a full table, or mostly full table, the vast majority of the time, and the kinds of things that are frequent occurrences in shorthanded play just don’t happen when eight, nine, or ten opponents are in the game.
I can still recall the first time I played in a shorthanded game. Things were different, to be sure, and anyone, even the neophyte that I was back then, could have told you that. I was confused, not at all certain what I was wrestling with, nor knowledgeable enough to deal with it. Eventually I learned that the differences bëtween shorthanded play and a playing in a full game are not all that complex, although they can be somewhat frightening when the experience is new or unfamiliar.
Choosing the right starting hands when the game is shorthanded is very different than selecting playable hands for a full game. Hand values change dramatically as the game becomes progressively more shorthanded. Some hands that are playable in full games shouldn’t be played at all in shorthanded games, while others ¾ hands that you’d cast away without a moment’s hesitation in a full game ¾ are raising hands when the game is short.
To some extent, playing Texas hold’em shorthanded is similar to a full game when you are in late position and everyone else has passed. When that happens, you’d much rather have a hand like A-9 offsuit than 10-9 suited. After all, when you’re up against the blinds, that lone ace might be big enough to win. A hand like 10-9 suited plays bëtter against a full complement of opponents. It’s the kind of holding to build a straight or a flush with, but it won’t win many pots without improvement.
Big cards are much more valuable in shorthanded games simply because they can win without improvement. Flush and straight draws, particularly if they do not include high cards, just can’t attract the number of opponents in a shorthanded game to make them profitable in the long run. You’ll still complete the draws you play with the same regularity, but the payoff won’t justify the odds against hitting your hand.
There is, however, one significant difference bëtween shorthanded play and a playing at a full table after most of your opponents have passed. When most of your opponents pass at a full table, you can assume they were not holding big cards. Because most of your opponents probably had small to middling cards, the deck figures to be rich in bigger cards, and if you are holding an ace or a couple of face cards you probably stand a bëtter chance of catching part of the flop.
But if you’re in a five-handed game and the two players immediately to the left of the blind muck their hands, you’re really can’t be sure what’s left in the deck. Although it’s safe to assume that the folders had trash hands, not enough hands were folded to be certain that the deck is now bunched in favor of high cards flopping.
Blinds come around much more frequently in a short game, and most players become more aggressive. Since drawing hands, like mid-range suited connectors, won’t attract a sufficient number of callers to make playing them worthwhile, “…pump it or dump it” becomes the tactic of choice. Your opponents will no longer require A-K or A-Q before they raise; in a shorthanded game, any ace is a potential raising hand. Moreover, if you call a raiser, you won’t necessarily know what your opponent is holding. When he comes out bëtting into a flop that doesn’t necessarily figure to have helped him ¾ and in a shorthanded game he most assuredly will come out bëtting, regardless of what the flop looks like ¾ you might have to call all the way to the river even if you’re not holding anything stronger than a naked ace.
With aggression the rule rather than the exception, and blinds that come around twice as often as they do in full games, position becomes more important because you will probably have to gamble a bit more. After all, you can be quite selective when the blinds come around only twice in every nine or ten hands. It’s not a luxury you can afford when you are in the blind 40 percent of the time.
Since big cards increase in valuable when the game is shorthanded, it stands to reason that the value of a pair increases even more. After all, your middling pair of sixes is probably a favorite against the blinds, particularly if your raise will cause at least one of them to fold
One of the tough things to determine in a shorthanded game is whether to keep playing if you are called after you’ve raised with a mid range pair and the flop contains an overcard or two. Determining whether your opponent was helped by the flop, or is merely bluffing
can be difficult. An ability to read your opponents is certainly important; it always is. And it’s even more important when playing shorthanded ¾ since larceny is more prevalent than it is in full games ¾ where the best hand generally has to be shown down to take the money.
This is another case of, “…it depends,” and as usual, it depends on your position, how well your opponents play, the composition of the board, the relative aggressiveness or passivity of your opponents, and whether you can read them with any degree of accuracy. If you can’t get a read on your opponents, you’ll simply have to play your hand for its intrinsic value. This smacks of gämbling
. But in shorthanded games where the blinds are a major consideration because they come around so rapidly, it’s is just too costly to surrender them along with mucking every hand that is not helped by the flop ¾ particularly when that flop does not appear to have helped your opponents.
In full games it is fairly easy to release hands like second pair or even a pair of aces with a poor kicker. But in shorthanded games these are playable hands. Moreover, whenever you make a big hand, consider checkraising. It’s the perfect tactic to use against overly aggressive opponents.
If aggressiveness and the higher variance that’s a predictable consequence of more risk-taking are the potential bugaboos of shorthanded play, there’s plenty of opportunity too. When the game is shorthanded you’ll be able to take advantage of weak players more frequently. By the same token, if you are facing opponents whose skills are superior to yours, the best tactical maneuver at your disposal is to pick up your chips and find a different game.
Shorthanded games are difficult for many players simply because they do everything at their disposal to avoid them. It’s neither bëtter nor worse game than full-handed pöker. It’s different; that’s all.
But if you’re a winning player in a full game, you can easily learn to play well when it’s shorthanded. But to do that, you have to play. So the next time the table gets short, try holding it together. Ask the floorperson to reduce the collection or rake, and tell your opponents that it probably won’t be too long until the game is full again, and keep on playing. After a while, I kinda think you’re gonna like it.
by: Lou Krieger©
One of the mistakes made by beginning players lies in their quest for a strategy applicable in some formulaic fashion during a pöker game. In their search for rules, for a methodology, for a strategic model to apply in all situations, many new players ignore one of pöker’s core characteristics that’s missing in so many other gämbling games: while strategic lines of reasoning seldom change, tactical methods are subject to situational adjustments.
I realize this sounds terribly abstract, so here are a few concrete examples. Bëtting when one has the best of it is a strategic line of reasoning that the vast majority of good players believe in and adhere to. And every credible authority will tell you that selective and aggressive play is a key to winning pöker. It’s when you get down to deciding when, and under what circumstances to be selective and aggressive that tactical admonitions can collide.
At it’s core, selective play suggests that one ought to have a set of standards governing which hands are playable and which ought to be thrown away. But beginning players ¾ as well as more experienced players who, for one reason or another, begin to take the game seriously ¾ all too frequently look for an immutable set of standards to guide them in deciding which hands to play and which ought to be released. While rules can be applied and the boundary lines bëtween playable and unplayable hands can sometimes be crystal clear, they are often gray and fuzzy. After all, anyone ¾ even if he or she is playing for the first time ¾ can quickly learn to always play aces but never to play seven-deuce. That’s not an issue. But whether to play a hand like K-10, A-9, or Q-J, or whether to raise, call, or even fold with a pair of sevens, are often questions without clear answers, even to the best of players.
Although each of my two books on hold’em contains a chart depicting playable hands from early, middle, and late position, and despite the fact that most pöker theorists, practitioners, and writers have all offered advice on this topic, tactics often have to be adjusted for a variety of reasons. These reasons include position, how many players have already entered the pot when it’s your turn to act, whether the game is passive and characterized by lots of calling but little raising or whether it’s aggressive, with frequent raises by players whose hands don’t really justify that kind of action. The size of one’s bankroll, and willingness to assume a much high variance in return for a relatively small increase in winnings, all enter into this equation, as do such factors as your current image at the table, and the relative difference in your playing skill compared to the skill level of your opponents. Remember, we’re just talking cash game limit pöker here, and relatively full ones at that. If the game is short-handed, or you’re in a tournament, or playing big-bët pöker ¾ half-pot, pot-limit, or no-limit ¾ there are a raft of other factors that should be considered too.
That’s why the answer to so many questions is “…it depends.” The choice of tactic can vary dramatically from one player to another, even as the overall strategic objectives remain unchanged. I know at least one outstanding pöker player and theorist who eschews starting standards as unnecessary baggage that beginners tend to tote around with them. He’s not advising indiscriminate play, mind you, he’s suggesting that players learn to analyze situations and make decisions based on facts and circumstances rather than by recalling rote responses to given situations.
Nevertheless, our objective is probably the same. Where we disagree lies not so much in what ought to be learned, but in how best to learn it. I believe that starting standards ¾ to be used as guides rather than fixed and immutable rules ¾ makes it easier to learn how to deal with the majority of situations. Starting standards can be a useful tool while one learns to recognize those situations in which an alternative to the book play is correct.
I believe there is a sufficiency of technique that needs to be learned in pöker before a player can comfortably and confidently deviate from the book play. Just as a painter must master brush technique and a musician needs to practice scales before improvisation and creativity allows them to bend the rules they have been taught, so does a grounding in generally accepted pöker theory make it easier for a newcomer to quickly come up to speed. Only when familiar patterns begin to repeat themselves can one comfortably make adjustments for skewed and anomalous situations. That’s the art of pöker, and the reason so much of strategy ¾ or to be more precise, tactical decisions ¾ comes down to an “…it depends” kind of answer.
The vast array of influencing factors make it impossible to construct a set of charts dealing with every possible contingency ¾ never mind the difficulties in dealing with each possible contingency in combination with every other possible influence ¾ and come up with a tactical solution representing the “best play” for each possible situation one might encounter in a pöker game.
Where that leaves you, dear reader, is right here ¾ with a map and a compass that are at best a bit murky and unclear ¾ and a reliance on what you may have gleaned from study and experience, along with a willingness to assess your actions accurately, with neither ego nor rose colored glasses to skew your view. There are guidelines available for you too. You can adhere to them slavishly, though in the long run you’ll be bëtter off learning to interpolate and deviate from book play whenever a particular set of circumstances presents that kind of opportunity to you.
That’s all you’ll receive at the starting line. The rest is up to you. Although experts are frequently at odds regarding the correct play in given situations, that’s no reason to shun their suggestions. Listen instead, and synthesize all the different views you can find. Decide which hold water and look for common threads running through those. Once you have a handle on commonality ¾ after all, most experts differ only on a tactical, not a strategic level ¾ you can integrate these ideas into your play and deviate from what heretofore was probably a tactical skill set based on rote or whimsy. Once you cross that Rubicon, you’re on your way to playing quite well indeed.