Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Thoughts on the Pure Bluff

Prelude: update on poker life, skip next 4 paragraphs if you don’t give a crap how I have been running. Also, fun new donkey hand at the way bottom apropos of nothing.

It's been a while since I posted, in part I must admit because June started out pretty poorly. First, I had a rough night at that off-the-hook club that I will continue to avoid directly naming although others have taken a less reserved approach.

Not much to say about that night except top set all-in on flop going down to overcards with a nut flush draw (can't really blame him for calling me) and flush under flush plus other various flesh wounds did not balance out doubling up once with bullets over Hilton Sisters. One more bad day online, and I started June in a big hole.

I started to feel a bad streak coming on after a three month solid streak, not crushing the game but steadily profitable, had pulled me out of a massive February funk. I was determined however that if I was going to have another downswing, it was going to be variance alone that did it--I was not going to fuel the fire with bad luck inducing bad play as I have upon occasion in the past.

So I have borne down, focusing on steady winners like 100NL, continuing to dabble in Razz and Triple Draw, and, perhaps remembering my shot at blogger glory, dusting off the old stud high game. I am happy to say that last night taking 3rd in the Hoy put the last daub on my June comeback and am back in the black for the month.


This started out as an aside, but has morphed into its own post. Credit in thinking through this not particularly original formulation goes especially to Bob Ciaffone and Aaron Brown.

Pure bluffs, hands that you really only expect to win with by inducing folds, have their place, and the advantage of these hands are that they maximize leverage, that is the amount that your bet implies versus what you are really risking.

For example 6 handed, blinds at 400-800-100 with each player having around 6000.

You are first to act and open with the hammer for 2400.

You are implying a range of hands that are probably pot committed if someone comes over the top. They most likely need a pair, and a good one at that, or a big ace, to play on (say 77-AA, AK-AJ), and if they do they'll almost certainly be pushing (I realize some people will fold hands like 77-99 and AJ, but others may play hands like 55-66, AT and KQs, especially in the blinds so I think this is roughly accurate). In those cases, with the hammer (or a similar garbage hand), you will getting leverage of 6000 while risking 2400. In a random pool of 5 hands, how often will you face one of those hands?

My handy spreadsheet says 36.1% to be exact. Thus you’ll lose 2400 36.1% of the time and win 1800 the rest of the time. That’s plus 280 EV.

Conversely, with a "better" hand, such as 9T off or, even 27s (here is why this is really not the hammer), you start to edge in on pot commitment where you will have to call a re-raise, in which case your move starts to become pretty minus EV with marginal hands. Note: this will not work if you are playing too many middle hands as good opponents will increase the range of hands they’ll play back at you.

If you are already a tight player, consider this general strategy of incorporating bluffs into your play: remove a few of the worst “best” hands you’d legitimately play for an open raise in this situation and replace them with a few total garbage hands that you know you can lay down. For example, say you’ll open raise in the situation above with AA-55, AK-A8s, AK-A9o, KQ-KTs, KQ-KJo, QJs-QTs and JTs. This is tight—about 15% of your starting hands; if you substitute the bottom 2% of those hands with foldable rags, I think you will actually increase your EV. This is because when you do get raised, you are less likely to be pot committed with a dominated hand. Plus, this is in fact the free advertising Ciaffone speaks of that comes from correct play (zero extra money on advertising Bob advises, just play correctly and it will be a happy byproduct) as people will remember the garbage you played and increase the range of hands they will play back at you, which should gain you more on the 13% than it will lose you on the 2% garbage.

Here’s the kicker: even if people know you are playing this strategy, it is not correct for them to widen their play back range (though they may still do so).

(Warning: this does not apply if you overdo it and increase the total number of hands you are playing.)

And no, this is not an excuse for why you may have seen me flip over 23 offsuit late in the Hoy last night (OK, maybe it is).

Here’s one more fun donkey hand for the hell of it.

I'll call this one Christmas in June.

I'll admit I played this hand pretty aggressively (some might say donkishly), but there are a few points that might explain my play. TheKidd2006 had sat down 20 hands before and proceeded to play 65% of his hands, 35% for a pre-flop raise (as if the name wasn’t enough to raise red flags). He was similarly aggressive post flop. Putting him on very little, I slow played TPMK. In case he was on a draw (not too incredible given the two flush draws out there), I put my money where my read was. I have to admit I was making a pretty sad crying call for the last 20 with a pretty sure feeling I was beat, but as you can see, holding on to 20 with a 174 already in the pot is a pretty –EV move on these tables.

Interestingly, after this hand, I got a few more hundred hands on him at this and other tables--he was not nearly that nutso thereafter, dropping down to 22-12-3.5. Perhaps was paying into his advertising budget. He should read Mr. Ciaffone.


At Tue Jun 13, 12:27:00 PM 2006, Blogger F-Train said...

I know you and I already discussed the "top set" hand where you got flushed, but I thought I would point out that you got it all-in on the flop again.

Deep stack poker allows for more intelligent play than that. Stop pushing the flop with a >150BB stack and your variance should become more manageable.

At Tue Jun 13, 12:56:00 PM 2006, Blogger SoxLover said...

Alright, I wasn't gonna write that hand up but this time I have no qualms at all about the play (at least post flop, my pre-flop call arguably marginal).

History: short stack with 57 pushed 4 hands in a row previously, stating he "wanted to go out with a double up or nothing". Late position, 88, I called (question if I should have pushed here).

Medium stack, who only had 180 behind (133 afterwards), smooth called me.

I was not happy with that call as I put him on an over pair and figured I had just lit 57 on fire.

Flop was 8 high, two hearts.

I pushed, that is, I put the 3rd player all in by putting in 66.5 BB into a pot that already had 80 BB in it. I hoped my read was right and would not be able to lay down his hand. On the off chance he had something like a flush draw, I also wanted to make overpay to play the hand.

In fact, he had AK hearts. He turned a flush (for the record, I don't disagree with his call given his holding--he was ahead if I had 99-QQ and not that far behind if I had KK). Even with his flush, I still had 10 outs but didn't get there.

I would do this again and again and again. Then one more time. I have leaks in my game but this is not one of them.

Just to open up your point since I guess it was not based on the numbers above but on a situation with deeper stacks, let's assume this was not the hand I just described, but one of the >150BB variety.

Would I have pushed anyway? Perhaps, perhaps not, but if I knew I was going to get called for the whole thing, most definitely YES (my only reason for not pushing in that case is that he might fold something like TT-QQ). I may bitch about the beat, but I just don't see how not getting your money in called dollar for dollar with by far the best of it (3:1!) is "intelligent play". Sorry, don't see it.

Variance is managable by being properly bankrolled for one's stakes and in the last year, I've made quantifying and managing just that a number 1 priority. No fears here.

At Tue Jun 13, 03:12:00 PM 2006, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Sox, I agree with your analysis of the top set vs. flush hand entirely. Not sure where F-Train is coming from on his point, but who wouldn't want to set the flush drawer all in on the flop with your top set? Yes if you wait until the turn card for these situations, you can save yourself some bets when he does in fact flush on the turn. But then you're giving up the fold equity that you have by giving him as poor of odds as possible to draw at that flush on the flop and attempting to induce a fold.

Maybe my theory is more suited to my MTTs than to cash games, but in general I question anyone who is not willing to push their stack into the middle on the flop when they know they are ahead and have good reason to believe their opponent is on a one-card flush draw. I thought the whole point was to push on the flop in that situation, to give the worst possible odds to the drawers and to get in the most money when you know you're ahead.

Very nice play last night in the Hoy man. Can't believe you didn't win it. Those Resucks were working like crazy last night on stars (what else is new).

At Tue Jun 13, 03:37:00 PM 2006, Blogger F-Train said...

By pushing on the flop you give him somewhere on the order of, let's say, 1.75:1 on a 3:1 proposition. It's -EV for him, but not TOO terrible.

However, if you pot and he calls, he's making a bigger mistake (2:1 odds on a 4.5:1 draw) and you allow yourself to get away when he flushes the turn and you don't fill up on the river.

When he DOESN'T flush on the turn, not only has he made a huge mistake, but now he has the potential to make another, even bigger mistake when you put him in. In fact, your fold equity has actually increased over what it was on the flop.

I question anyone who is not willing to push their stack into the middle on the flop when they know they are ahead and have good reason to believe their opponent is on a one-card flush draw. I thought the whole point was to push on the flop in that situation, to give the worst possible odds to the drawers and to get in the most money when you know you're ahead.

If you have anything less than a set, you are, AT BEST, a 2:1 favorite. By pushing the flop, you are giving him, AT WORST, 1.5:1 on his money (on average) AND you have eliminated the fear of outplaying him later in the hand - he can play the hand on autopilot by getting two cards and a showdown for the price of one bet, at a not terrible underlay. Your fold equity, for the hand as a whole, is actually less when you make this play then when you pot and re-evaluate after the turn. You really don't see why this is less than optimal play?

At Tue Jun 13, 03:55:00 PM 2006, Blogger SoxLover said...

I said with deeper stacks, I might push, I might not.

Your whole analysis assumes that the player will always call the turn if he misses, which is often but not always true--the deicision is clearly based on that point. I agree that if you think he'll call the turn if he misses, pushing is clearly not +EV (I wrote a comment on Raveen's site about just that a few weeks ago--http://livinglife1dayatatime.blogspot.com/2006/05/call-or-all-with-nuts_14.html).

As for the hand in specific, are you still claiming it was a mistake to push?

At Tue Jun 13, 04:14:00 PM 2006, Blogger F-Train said...

Actually, I'm NOT assuming he calls the turn if he misses. I specifically said your fold equity is higher on the turn when he misses. I'm not talking about EV here, I'm talking about minimizing variance ("stop pushing the flop and your variance should become more manageable"). I hate to see people bitching about beats when it is within their own power to minimize the variance these beats cause, and there's also the fact that I hate letting opponents make one decision and get two streets and a showdown out of it.

Hand in question, opponent only had 90 BBs to begin with and 66 afterwards. Hard to do anything else, so I guess your line was fine - my comment was premised on the assumption of deep stacks, and your proclivity to push the flop those deep stacks notwithstanding.

Now stop being such a fucking lawyer.

At Tue Jun 13, 04:15:00 PM 2006, Blogger F-Train said...

P.S. In case it's not clear, the reason why I hate one bet for two streets and a showdown is that it removes a large portion of the skill advantage.

At Wed Jun 14, 01:03:00 AM 2006, Blogger Dawn Summers said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jun 14, 01:09:00 AM 2006, Blogger Dawn Summers said...

Math makes the baby Jesus cry.

I would have played the hand as SoxLover did, but I don't know how to play poker yet.

At Wed Jun 14, 04:24:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should have checked and then folded...the next card was a heart...sheesh.


At Mon Jun 19, 03:50:00 PM 2006, Blogger Kid Dynamite said...

this is a great discussion... but i don't see the point in a discussion on minimizing variance - that's not the object of the game, even for a fish like Soxlover. He's in it for the EV.

F-train's point falls somewhere along this philosophical argument i think:

The worst action we could take in this situation with our set would be to check the flop, and bet the remainder of our chips on the turn when a heart came.

On the contrary, the BEST possible outcome for us would be to bet all but ONE of our chips on the flop, and bet our remaining chip on the turn, inducing our opponent to fold.

Yeah, I know this is ridiculous - but it's the pareto-superior variance minimizing / EV maximizing solution.

So there must be a good solution in between.

back to the real issue: the reason it's a CLEAR push in THIS hand, with THESE stacks is that we do NOT have perfect information.. Our opponent may have an overpair, or two pair. In this case, it would be a disaster for us to fold if a heart came, and furthermore, the heart may kill our action. IF we knew that our opponent would still call off all his chips on the turn, of course we'd rather bet them on the turn - but we don't know this, and we don't know he has a flush draw.

It is possible to conceive betting patterns here with deeper stacks where you can get your opponent to make a "bigger" mistake on the turn, but the problem is, if he DOESN'T make that mistake, you've won the pot (cut down your variance) at the expense of a SMALLER POT (lost EV).

Soxlover himself said it best when he said that bankroll management is the key to reducing variance in NL cash games - if you aren't willing to embrace solidly positive EV situations, you're playing too big.


At Tue Jun 20, 07:40:00 AM 2006, Blogger DP said...

Although there's nothing that could have been done in the particular hand that SoxLover had a set of 8s, in general I fully appreciate what F-Train says, because as you get more experienced in poker, you can "sniff" out better hands (and give your opponents a chance to make bigger mistakes) by not just pushing all in when you have a monster, but rather peeling off a card to make sure a horrible player doesn't get a ~33% chance at your stack with just a flush draw.

I say this because you can often entice people to call with a draw on the turn.

I'm not saying that getting all of your money with the best hand is ever a bad play, but there are sometimes better lines. It's about inducing your opponents make huge mistakes; the bigger the mistake they make, the more money you make; although the mentioned play serves mostly to increase your edge (and reduce variance), but against the right player your EV should stay the same if I understand correctly.

At Tue Jun 20, 07:45:00 AM 2006, Blogger DP said...

Of course your EV is reduced, as KD mentioned, if they don't call on the turn in a particular hand, but they're also making a bigger mistake when they do call on the turn, so the possibility that they make a bigger mistake, the amount of money you save when a flush card comes off on the turn, and the reduced variance collectively make a more conservative (on the flop) line more attractive in many ways, I think.

At Tue Jun 20, 04:37:00 PM 2006, Blogger Kid Dynamite said...

don't forget to account for the times you lay down your hand incorrectly on the turn when the flush draw gets there... the biggest mistake of them all...

and the times when the flush card kills the action you would have gotten from an overpair...

I agree you can take a better linea against a KNOWN hand, but in reality, we NEVER know - we know hand ranges... That's one of the hardest things about the game I play in - the players are so wild that it's almost impossible to put someone on a hand, which means you MUST embrace the variance in order to capture the EV.

At Tue Jun 20, 08:48:00 PM 2006, Blogger Kid Dynamite said...

Incredible important concept: we've been talking about the idea of "making your opponent make a mistake" - again, remember, the goal in poker is to win the most money, which does NOT coincide with making your opponent make the biggest mistake.

I actually made a little spreadsheet, that shows the EV of getting your money in on the flop in Sox's hand (say 75% EV), or getting it in on the turn if a flush card doesn't come (say 85% EV, both sets of numbers from the Twodimes Analyzer).

now, If we get our money in on the TURN, or opponent is making a bigger mistake - that much is clear, but the FALLACY in the logic is this: roughly 19-20% of the time we will NOT capture this EV because the flush card will come, and we will muck. So, WE REALLY ARE giving up EV at the expense of variance, EVEN THOUGH WE ARE FORCING OUR OPPONENT TO MAKE A BIGGER MISTAKE.

With deeper stacks, this becomes even more clear. Moral: oppoent making a bigger mistake does not translate into higher NET EV for us. In other words, our % EV is higher when we get the money in on the turn, but the NET EV of (getting the money in on the flop) vs (getting it in on the turn if the flush card doesn't come) is higher.

I have yet to figure out if there is a better solution - betting SOMETHING on the flop, and Something more on the turn, but this extreme example leads me to believe that there is not a better NET $$$ EV solution than getting your money in on the flop...


At Wed Jun 21, 07:30:00 PM 2006, Blogger Kid Dynamite said...

of course, another possibility is that I fucked up the math and I'm wrong, as E-dub pointed out to me... anyway, thanks for the exercise and for motivating me to spend two full days on this crap Sox...

At Wed Jun 21, 07:55:00 PM 2006, Blogger SoxLover said...

Thanks for the input KD.

I plan on taking full advantage: I've already taken a large short position in a certain foreign bank...


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