Sunday, July 31, 2011

D..D...D...Decide (and I..I...Implement)

While the first two steps (Read and Estimate) of RED-I are focused on gathering game state information and processing it, the last two steps (Decide and Implement) are all about using this processed information to select the best course of action that makes us the most possible money in a hand (or loses the least). Said another way, D and I are all about selecting and executing a specific course of action that maximizes Expected Value, or EV.

So,what are we deciding on in the D-step? Answer: the best Line to take.

So, what the heck is a "line"? Some poker experts erroneously say that betting or checking or calling or check-raising is the "line" you take in a hand. This is incorrect. Betting, checking, calling, or raising are simply the actions you take to implement a chosen line. The line itself is what you're trying to achieve with your given hand and situation.

I believe there are six primary lines that you can take in a poker hand: value, showdown value, draw, bluff, fold, and isolate. Like most things in poker, however, there are lots of "in betweens" and combinations of these six basic lines (e.g., semi-bluffing). In any case, let's look at each of the six major lines:
  • Value. A Value line is exactly what it sounds like-- a line chosen that is intended to build the maximum value as you possibly can; the goal of a value line is to build the pot. This is the old "big hand=big pot" adage. In micro- and small-stakes poker, 90% of the hands you play for Value should be done so in a straightforward manner. If you have aces preflop, for example, you should almost always bet and raise. Slow-playing, FPS, limping, etc all usually result in a smaller pot than if you'd bet out in the first place. Similarly, far too many beginning players tend to slow down and try to trap with hands like flopped sets. This is generally a poor way to build a pot; a pot is created by betting and raising. Most of your profit at poker will come from Value hands, and the way to maximize that profit is to quickly build a big pot. Now, of course, there are times when slowing down does make some sense, such as when you flop a super monster on a very scary wet board against a timid player. Betting will almost certainly scare him off, so you might be better off slowing down and letting his hand catch up. As a general rule, however, betting, raising, and sometimes check-raising is the how this line is usually Implemented. (See the example, below)
  • Showdown Value (SDV). An SDV hand is one in which your hand is not strong enough to bet for value, but is strong enough to see a showdown. For instance, let's imagine that you river a set on a highly coordinated board in a multiway pot. Your set may be good, but it may not be, too. If you bet here, only stronger hands than yours will likely call, while worse hands will fold. SDV hands, therefore are generally executed in a check-check or check-call fashion. Here's an example: you've got J-J on the button, which you raise preflop and get one caller in the blinds. The flop is Q-2-3. He checks, you bet, he calls. Turn is a K, which two-flushes the board. He checks, you bet, he calls. The river is a suited Q, which brings in the back door flush, a straight, and the third over card to your Jacks. He checks again, and you realize your JJ may be good or they may not. You've gone from a Value line preflop to SDV as the hand progressed. Only a better hand will call a bet of yours here, so you need to check behind. Said another way, SDV is usually accompanied by Pot Control.
  • Draw. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but the implementation means can vary widely, with semi-bluffs, SDV-draws, value-draws, and the like. L1 poker draws are usually implemented with check-calls, while L2+ poker usually means you're semi-bluffing and taking advantage of fold equity against weaker players with well-timed raises.
  • Bluff. Bluffing is basically the line you take when you think you can get a better hand to fold if you put pressure on the opponent. Bluff lines can take many forms. Stealing, for instance, is technically a bluff line. So is c-betting when you miss the flop, but you think your opponent has too or is weak. Bluffing, by its very nature, can only be achieved by betting or raising. The trick here is to determine how much to bet; you normally want to bet the minimum amount necessary to get your opponent to fold, and not a penny more. Why? Because if your opponent does call, you've minimized your losses.
  • Fold. This one seems obvious, but it's worth talking about here a little anyway. Folding is usually something that is not done enough by beginning players and is done too much by intermediates. Generally speaking, however, it's better to err on the side of folding too much than too little. When in doubt of your hand strength and fold equity, it's time to give up. Unless the pot is offering you an incredible price to continue, folding is a default line. Note, however, that once you fold, you're not done Implementing the fold; if there are other players still in the hand, this is the perfect time to Pay Attention and work on your Reads.
  • Isolate. An Isolation line is one in which you want to encourage one or more players to fold, specifically for the purpose of getting heads-up with a specific opponent already in the hand. For example, if an opponent raises and you suspect he is holding a weak, but playable hand, an isolation raise can pressure other opponents left to act to fold. Isolation lines are most common against overly-aggressive players ("maniacs") who frequently play inferior hands, or with weak-tight players who are likely to fold to cbet pressure post-flop if they miss. Isolating is encouraged when holding a hand that fares better heads up than in a multiway pot. It can also be done when you're first into a pot. For instance, when you have a small pocket pair you might want to isolate open raise in EP simply to knock out other players. If you win the pot, great. If you don't, you want to get heads-up against one one other opponent because a small pocket pair is about 50–60% likely to win an all-in pot in a heads up situation, but less likely when facing multiple opponents.
And speaking of value lines. I played this one last night. I had been crushing the table with tons of little $1 and $2 pots for the thirty minutes I'd been playing so far. I'd gotten aces, queens, AKs, AQo, and jacks thus far, but couldn't get paid off more than a couple bucks on each one. My image was fairly LAGgy and I'd shown down a two-barrel bluff a few hands earlier.

No-Limit Hold'em, $0.25 BB (5 handed) - Hold'em Manager Converter Tool from
BB ($6.75)
UTG ($27.03)
MP ($28.33)
Hero (Button) ($45.68)
SB ($39.47)
Preflop: Hero is Button with 4, 4
2 folds, Hero bets $0.70, SB raises $2.50, 1 fold, Hero calls $1.90

{Read: this guy is fairly tight, but aggressive. He knows I'm laggy, so his range is a little wider than normal. Call it 99+ AQo+, and maybe even KQs. Estimate: this is normally a fold for me if we were only 100bb deep, as I wouldn't have been getting enough implied odds to call the 3bet. In this case, however, the effective stack size was about $40 and we were pretty deep. Decide: Draw. Implement: Call.}

Flop: ($5.45) 6, 4, 4 (2 players)
SB bets $2.72, Hero raises $5.44, SB calls $2.72

{I'm obviously way ahead here, but let's slow down and reapply RED-I: Reads. Nothing has changed. When he leads out with a cbet, I can't narrow his range, as he was the preflop aggressor with the initiative. Estimate: My hand is the nuts. Decide: my Draw line has changed to pure, unadulterated Value. Implement: I want to get all the money into the middle by the river, so I have to start building a pot now. A min raise usually looks very suspicious (i.e., strong) to a reg, but I got the impression this guy thought I was full of sh!t. That said, he wasn't going to continue with air here. When he called my minraise, I dropped out most of the overcards from his range (except As-Ks) and just kept the 99+}

Turn: ($16.33) 2 (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $9.28, SB calls $9.28

{Read: When he checks, I figure he's either going to give up, is going to check-raise me with AKs, or is into SDV-mode and trying to see a cheap 4th and 5th street. Estimate: I still have the nuts. Decide: I'm still on Value. Implement: I want to keep building a pot (but not chase him away). I also want to try to get his stack by the river. Slightly more than half pot here will set up a nice 2/3's pot size shove on the river that should price him in with an overpair.}

River: ($34.89) 10 (2 players)
SB bets $22.15 (All-In), Hero calls $22.15

{Wow. The opp leads out with an all-in shove. I snap call.}

Total pot: $79.19
Hero had 4, 4 (four of a kind, fours).
SB had 10, 10 (full house, tens over fours).
Outcome: Hero won $77.19

{I probably would have gotten paid off even if he hadn't hit his set, but him spiking the boat on the river sealed the deal. Lesson: when on a Value line: BET, BET, and the BET some more. If the opp folds out, he wasn't going to pay you off anyway. If he's going to stick around, charge him for the pleasure.}

All-in for now...

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