Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cold Calling AJs

I discussed an interesting hand with Flyboy yesterday. Here's the situation: you're in a full ring $10NL cash game on the button with AJs. A 14/8 player in MP open raises to 3x. What's the right play here?

Calling = Negative 10 Points. Go back one grade and start over if you said call.  Cold calling a 14/8 MP raiser with AJs is not +EV in the long run. Yes, you have position, but against an 8% PFR range, your AJs is nearly a 60:40 dog. Are you hoping for an Ace on the flop? And then what? You hope the MP player doesn't have a stronger Ace? If he does, you're hosed. If he doesn't, you're not going to get paid off. If you want to move up in stakes beyond the micros, you have to learn how to use aggression. You have to learn how to put your opponent to the difficult decisions-- and avoid them yourselves. In short, you have to learn how to stop cold-calling with everything except big implied odds hands. Repeat after me: If it's good enough to call with, it's good enough to raise.

Folding = 0 Point. Folding is rarely a bad play in poker. It's exactly zero EV. If you're unsure what to do, folding should be your default. Folding AJs on the button against one, fairly well-defined opponent is pretty weak, but it ain't as terrible as calling.

Re-Raising = +10 Points. A VPIP of 14% says he's pretty tight. A PFR that's roughly half of the VPIP says he's weak. Combined, this means your opponent is weak-tight. Said another way, he's probably an ABC nittish player. These guys are relatively easy to play against. One of the secrets is to put them on the ropes. Play offense, not defense. Against this guy, I'm probably iso-raising to 8x or so. This probably gets me heads-up against a player that I can range fairly accurately. Better yet, I'm in position with my own very strong perceived range. If he 4bets PF, I can lay down my hand. If he folds, then I've taken down a decent 4.5BB pot. If he cold calls, I have position on someone who is probably going to play very straightforward.

One of the most important skills to master when moving up in poker is to stop focusing on hitting your own hand. That's the epitome of Level-1 poker, and it's a long-term losing approach to poker. Remember, there are two ways to win a poker hand: (1) show down the best hand (which is what calling is all about) or (2) get the other guy to fold (which cannot happen with calling). You want to use both weapons, not  just limit yourself to one. In the micros, breaking even via calling is marginal and best. In mid-stakes and beyond, cold calling is going to cost you a lot of money. Remember, Poker is not about your cards; it's about what you think the other guy holds AND what he thinks you hold.

I believe strongly that if you have position, you generally need to really ramp up the aggression and put the other guys at the table to the difficult decisions. Cold calling just ensures that you are the one making the hard decisions in the hand. Bet and raise, take control of the hand, and put the other guy to the difficult choices. And keep in mind stack-to-pot ratios and whether you're passing the commitment threshold. If you do get committed, why ever just cold call? Just shove and put max fold equity into the mix.

All-in for now...

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