Archive Jan 2007: Getting Even

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How not to play A4o by Phillip J. Hellmuth, Jr.

Anyone who has played NL cash games knows (or will soon find out) that playing baby aces out of position is a sure way to demolish your bankroll. Whether you limp or call pre-flop, when an ace hits, you often have NO IDEA where you are in the hand. And unless you flop two pair or trips (about 50 to 1 and 70 to 1 shots, see our odds of flopping), you'll never be comfortable in the hand. Best to fold those preflop and wait for a better spot.

A recent episode of High Stakes Poker highlights the downside of playing small aces out of position. Let's look at the following Hellmuthian train wreck at the hand of Daniel Negreanu.

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Now let's recap this bloodbath in slow motion.

Mistake #1: With the blinds at $500/$1000, Hellmuth raises $3,500 from early position with A 4 making the pot $5,200. Kaplan, one of my favorite announcers, calls it an "ambititious" which is player parlance for "boneheaded." Negreanu, behind him with A T, re-raises $3,500 ("A little teaser", he says) more, making the pot $12,200. Jennifer Harman and Barry Greenstein both fold.

Mistake #2: Hellmuth compounds the mistake by calling. At best, he's up against KQ or some trash hand. At worst, he's up against a bigger A (and he's an overwhelming dog) or a pair. Note that even a loose, aggressive player like Negreanu would be unlikely to re-raise with deuces or treys, and Hellmuth is at least a 70/30 dog to middle pairs or better. Despite favorable calling odds ($3,500 into a $12,200 pot), I think this is an easy fold. Hellmuth, though, chooses to continue, announcing "You might have jacks, so I just call." and puts in the $3,500.

Negreanu feigns surprise at the jacks comment and Hellmuth says "I check, I check" before the flop is dealt. Negreanu, in turn, says "I bet ten thousand." before the flop even hits--a fortuitous bet as the flop brought...A 6 T Negreanu, top two pair. In response to Negreanu's flop bet, Hellmuth says, "Wow!" in mock horror, rechecks his cards and calls the 10 grand.

Even though he's a 97 to 1 dog here (that's -$9700 of negative EV for those of you scoring at home), I wouldn't mind this call if he's in position. Negreanu could have 88-KK here and be betting the flop hoping Hellmuth doesn't have an ace. The problem is, of course, is that Hellmuth is NOT in position and will have to act first on two more rounds with more and more money in the pot and he has no idea where he stands. Given that he's in the hand (again, this is a fold pre-flop), the better play, I think, would be to re-raise here to see if his A is any good. If Negreanu calls or re-raises, Hellmuth can conclude he's in trouble and get away from the hand on a later street. As it is, he just calls the bet and they go to the turn with no better info on where he stands. The pot stands at $35,700.

Hellmuth checks in the dark setting the stage for mistakes #3 and #4. The turn is the 2 and Negreanu calmly bets $25,000. Hellmuth is noticably disturbed and calls, announcing "I think you have queens." The pot is now $85,700.

Mistake #3, I think, is just calling this bet. If Hellmuth genuinely believes Negreanu has QQ, he should raise here. Otherwise, this is a clear fold. Instead Hellmuth calls $25,000 dead (another -$25,000 of negative EV).

Mistake #4 is Hellmuth's announcement "I think you have queens." in effect telling Negreanu that he had an ace but he wasn't very happy with it. Kaplan comments that Negreanu now has a pretty good sense of where Hellmuth stands and Hellmuth has no idea where Negreanu really is. That's a problem when there's almost a hundred grand in the pot.

The river brought the 7. Hellmuth checks and Negreanu bets an additional 40 grand to give Hellmuth the opportunity to commit mistake #5.

Mistake #5: Hellmuth reluctantly makes the call. Horrible. Unless Negreanu is brain-dead and oblivious to the angst Hellmuth has telegraphed throughout the hand, there's exactly one hand (A3o) that Hellmuth can beat here. Now if Negreanu had bet 100 grand, I could see Hellmuth making the case that Negreanu was bluffing and pressing Hellmuth to fold, but 40 grand into an $85,000 pot? That's a bet that screams "Call me!". Put yourself in Negreanu's seat, Hellmuth has been check/calling throughout the hand. Would he really think that Hellmuth would fold an ace here getting 3 to 1 odds on his call? Of course not. Hence his "please call me" bet and the subsequent stream of bleeped expletives by Hellmuth.

In conclusion, whether you're a regular in the $1/$2 capped buy-in game at the Commerce or a 10-time bracelet winner, playing a nationally televised cash game, stay away from the baby aces out-of-position!

Still digging,


The new tournament room at the Hustler

Played the new tournament room at the Hustler for the first time last night. About two months ago, the Hustler renovated the room behind the old tournament area and added 18 new tables with yellow felt (!) and automatic shufflers. There are new chairs, more room and flat screen TVs on the walls but other than that no other added amenities. I liked the intimacy of the old, smaller room, but larger tournaments often spilled out into the main floor. In contrast, the new room is spacious and well-lit with plenty of room to move around and accomodate larger turnouts.

Apparently, the new room is a nice draw. The Wed night $150 buy-in/$25 fee freezeout tournament used to draw about 120 entrants. Last night, there were 150+ entrants including Jerry Buss and a number of tawdry hotties that seemed to be hanging with him. For anyone that hasn't played this tournament, it's well-run and always has a pretty good mix of players. It usually has a prize pool of $15,000+ and runs about 5-6 hours; the blinds start at 25/25 and the level times are 25 minutes. The tournament starts at 7p, but late entries are allowed until the end of level 1. As it was, traffic was a bummer and I got there a little late so my starting stack had been whittled down to about 1900 when I finally took my seat.

On my second or third hand (blinds at 25/50), I'm in the big blind with J J . There was an early raiser to 200 by the big stack at the table (an attractive friend of Jerry's with a lap dog...gotta love the Hustler!) with one other limper behind her. Without any reads and not wild about committing a 1/3 of my stack out of position, I decide to call and re-evaluate post-flop. Flop came Kxx...gross...I check, two checks behind. Ok, I figure maybe I'm good and I'll bet a blank turn. Ace on the turn...ugh...check, check, check. Uh, what are you guys playing? The river was a blank, I checked again, with the intention of calling a reasonable bet. Check, check...JJ is good. Ok, that was pitiful, but I'll take the 600 chips.

Four or five hands later, I'm in middle position with Q Q . EP raiser had made it 200, and I bumped it to 600. One of the blinds pushed for another 275, and the original raiser called for 875. I called the additional 275, and the flop came Axx two spades. EP pushes for another 1000 or so. I figure I'm cooked and fold. EP turns over 85s (nh, sir!) and the re-raiser from the blinds shows KK. Turn was a spade and 85s took the pot and sent KK packing. I'm back down to 1800 or so.

Card dead through the 100/200 level and blinded down to about 1200, I pushed from late position with A T . BB (shorter than me) called with TT. I don't improve and I'm 75 chips from the felt. Two hands later, I'm in with A 9 and called by BB with T2o. 9 on the flop, but T-bagged on the river and off to the cash games!

Note on service in the new room. The tableside service was noticably worse than usual. The cocktail waitress serving the room made only occasional trips to the room and I had to twice remind her of my order. The food was also sketchy at best; I order chicken teriyaki which was two grilled chicken breasts (dry), some white rice and a side of coagulated, salty brown sauce more like bad maple syrup than teriyaki sauce. It was kind of disgusting (although I did eat it!) and a sharp contrast to the Bike and Commerce, which, I've found, serve pretty good food. Despite the service shortcomings, I'd still give the new room good marks. It and the Wednesday tournament are worth checking out.

Ok, time to win back my buy-in in the ring games. When I got to the NL ring section, they were just calling players for a new $2/5 $100 min/$300 max NL game. Note on other NL action: at 9p, I counted at least five $1/2 $50 NL tables, four other $2/5 tables and a $5/10 table.

At the new table, the other players included a couple of guys who seemed like good players and the balance limp/call/call any draw types. I didn't recognize anyone and figured I'd just play my typical TAG style and people watch. As it was, I only mixed it up in a few hands.

Hand #1. In late position, with A Q , middle position pushed for $88 behind two EP limpers. When I asked "How much is that?", the pusher looked like he wanted to vomit so I figured I was probably up against a middle pair, maybe even something like AJ or KQ. I called, table folded behind me. Flop, turn, river all blanks. I show the AQ, and the MP pusher mucked. Ship it! I'm usually not one to make a 15 BB call with AQ, but the pusher had been aggressive with hands like QJo and A5s so I figured his range here is pretty wide. Admittedly, there may have been a little post-tournament frustration leaking out but whatever. AQ...winner, winner, skip the chicken dinner!

Hand #2. In EP with AA, I raised to $20. A $150 stack behind me (younger, tech type that seemed ok although he'd chased several draws) insta-raised to $60. Table folded around and I re-raised $200 more. The second I did I regretted it since given my tight image (I'd played 2-3 hands at that point) I might just as well have announced "I have aces.", but he surprised me and said "Ok, let's gamble." and showed JJ. Uh, dude, no gambling here. Ship it! In retrospect, I was thinking when the table folded to his $60 re-raise, I could've just called and tried to coax the rest of his stack in on the flop. Not unhappy with the result, obviously, but sometimes I think I could be a little less thuggish with AA preflop. In any event, now at $500+.

Hand #3. A J in EP, not a hand I like to play OOP, but I made it $15 to go with 4 callers behind. Flop was TT8 two spades. Checked to me, and I considered betting but figured with five players my continuation bet is called for sure and any spade or straight draw calls me so I checked. Check, check. Turn is an A. Again, checked to me. I usually bet for value here, but for some reason I figured I'd check and call a bet. Nope. Check, check. River is another 8. Check, check. Ok, now I bet $20 and am called by a guy with pocket fours. "I have a pocket pair.", he says. I show the ace thinking, "Uh, have the board." and stack my chips. $570+, up $270 on the session. Not my best tournament and ring play, but I'll take it.

Final note: the Hustler recently bumped its rake to help offset the California minimum wage increases. In the $2/5 game I played, they now pull $1 pre-flop, $5 on the flop and $1 for the jackpot. At 35 hands/hour, that's about $225/hour coming out of player bankrolls. Of the nine players at the table, only two of us were sitting with $300+, so figure about $2000 or less was on the table. Kind of crazy to think that 10-15% of that was being pulled each hour for rake, and I'm not sure anyone but me even noticed or cared!

For reference, if anyone wants to check out other info I collected on Hustler ring games, you can check it out here.

Comparison of LA poker rooms


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