The first month of 2012 is in the books, and I wanted to share a few of my poker-related thoughts for the upcoming year.
The birth of online poker 2.0
I think 2012 is going to be an excellent year for poker. With the recent DOJ statement that online casinos aren’t prohibited by the 1961 Wire Act and Nevada leading the way with legal online poker coming (hopefully very) soon I expect full-blown legal online poker in the United States by the end of the year. Now I don’t expect every state to get involved, and it’ll probably be a few years until the Feds, the states, and any other interested parties all take sides and online poker 2.0 becomes truly mature in this country.
But as a player, writer, and coach, I don’t need mature poker. I’m sure I will like online poker 2.0 in its nascent form. I’m thinking the very first day the pay games run, the action will be better than anything you’ve seen on the major sites for the past few years. And as the sites come online and compete for casual players through major ad budgets, I think we’ll get an influx of soft money like we haven’t seen since 2005. There’s an opportunity coming, and I plan to take full advantage since opportunities never last long enough. In the coming months I’m planning writings and maybe a few videos aimed at helping you get ready so you can take the fullest advantage of online poker 2.0 when it arrives.
Aussie Millions Envy
This month also marks the conclusion of the Aussie Millions Poker Championship at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. I have to admit, this is one tournament I’ve always wanted to play. I’m not much for playing tournaments. My primary purpose for playing poker is to generate steady income, and in my opinion cash games are just plain better for that than tournaments are. Tournaments also require a major time investment, and one reason I always liked poker is the flexibility the game offers. I don’t like being told I have to play at this table, in this seat, from noon until 2am, whether I like it or not.
But I also get the upsides of tournaments. They’re fun, without a doubt. And the promise of a huge payday is nice. One year I’m going to make an exception and play the Aussie Millions. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, and heading down under in January definitely seems like a good plan (even if I’m sitting in a casino half the time). A www.onlinecasino.com.au and a guide to Melbourne. If you’ve been to the Aussie Millions and have any feedback for me, let me know.
Calling 3-Bets Out Of Position
Oh boy. Someone pointed me to a thread in the microstakes forum at 2+2. In the thread, the poster has KQs in the small blind in a 25NL 6-max game. It’s folded to him preflop, and he 3x raises. The big blind 3x 3-bets. Blind versus blind. The poster 4-bets small and gets called. The flop is J-T-7 two-tone (no backdoor draw for our hero), and the poster check-shoves the flop and gets snap-called by KJ.
The poster’s comments about the opponent was that this guy 3-bets light a lot and he’s a suspicious player.
The poster’s commentary is that flat-calling the 3-bet is “****ing awful”, and he cites my book Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em as his source for why this is such a terrible play.
Let me start out by saying that if there ever were a place where it is a-ok to flat-call a 3-bet from OOP, this is it. (In fact in modern no-limit games there are plenty of places where flat-calling 3-bets both in and out of position is fine.) I would tend to call in this situation more than anything else.
It is true that in SSNLHE we warn against flat-calling 3-bets from out of position. The biggest problem with doing this is that, too often, when players do it, they make two major postflop errors. First, they mentally give their opponents credit for holding a legitimate 3-betting range rather than the wide range that light 3-betters have. Thus, they tend not to give their own hands enough credit, and they underplay. Second, they tend to play a fit-or-fold strategy postflop. If they fit, they want to shovel all the money into the pot. If they don’t “fit” according to their definition, they’re looking for the first opportunity to fold. The problem with this is that most people’s definition of “fitting” a flop is too narrow, and they end up putting big bucks in preflop and then giving up too often. Basically, they’re calling the 3-bet, but then just folding WAY too often on the flop or turn. Furthermore, they’re calling the 3-bets with too many small card hands that will be begging to fold once the flop comes.
Here’s the thing. In a blind versus blind battle against a notoriously light 3-bettor, KQs is a legitimate monster hand. There’s no question it’s worth playing against a light 3-betting range from the blinds. Now when I’m deciding whether to flat-call or to 4-bet preflop, I’m going to think about how my opponent is likely to make mistakes responding to my action. I tend to find that most players at the 25NL level will make more and more significant mistakes playing the 3-bet pot (even when they have position) than they will in responding to the 4-bet with a hand like this one, so I’m more inclined to just call the 3-bet.
If there’s a hand that makes something on more flops than KQs, I’m not sure what it is. Something is as little as overcards and a backdoor flush draw. When your opponent is aggressive and has wide ranges, flopping something with KQs gives you license to continue in the hand. Again, how you continue depends on the sort of mistakes your opponent is likely to make. If your opponent is going to make too many folding mistakes after the flop in the 3-bet pot, then I would consider lines that involved semi-bluffing the flop or turn. (E.g., donk betting the flop, check-shoving, betting the turn if the flop gets checked through, etc.)
If my opponent is suspicious, however, and unlikely to fold incorrectly, then I’m often going to try to extend hands through to the river. Getting to the river will allow my hand value advantage to play out because it maximizes the chance of seeing a showdown. Getting to the river also helps me because my opponents tend not to read hands well once the board gets crowded. I’m going to make a lot of money against a suspicious opponent when I catch a king or queen and get paid two postflop streets of value… sometimes even getting stacks in by the river. I’ll also be able to find spots where my opponent’s turn play turns his hand face-up and I can bluff profitably. (Even suspicious players don’t look you up when they have air.)
Basically, against a light 3-bettor who is also suspicious and doesn’t like to fold early in the hand, I’m going to rely on the preflop hand strength of KQs to justify early bets preflop and on the flop. Then on the turn and river I’m going to rely on my (hopefully) superior hand-reading to find value and bluffs where appropriate. This is, of course, aided by the fact that my starting hand is quite good.
Bottom line, when people 3-bet you really light in position, you have to have an out of position calling range. Suited big card hands are probably the perfect hands for this range, since they hit so many flops and they flop top pair often allowing your opponents to value-own themselves. Even on a rag flop with a backdoor flush draw you might take the 3-to-1 odds and float out of position looking for something positive to develop on the turn or river. (Either good cards or your opponent taking a line that betrays weakness.)
When your opponents are aggressive and bloat pots with light 3-bets and auto-flop c-bets, you have to get sticky with them. You can’t just fold all day long. You have to gamble. As long as your hand compares well to your opponent’s actual range (rather than the range you’re scared of), you’ll be fine. Yes, there’s variance. And yes, you’ll have runs where your opponents outflop you a bunch of times and you lose X buyins real fast. That’s modern no-limit.
But as long as you’re willing to hang in there and not just call preflop and check-fold flop, calling 3-bets out of position can be just fine.
Tags: 3-betting, aussie millions, australia, blind versus blind, calling 3-bets, doj, light 3-betting, nevada, ngc, online poker 2.0, poker, wire act