Friday, January 20, 2012

Poker Quiz Question #45

Q#45: You're in a \$5/\$10 NL 6-max cash game. Everyone has \$1000 stacks. You're UTG w/ 7c-7d. What should you do?
1. Raise
2. Fold
3. Call

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A#45: Because this situation takes place at a 6max table, and we assume that everyone is playing relatively straightforward poker, the answer should be pretty obvious to even beginning players: open raise.

Okay, fine. I’m interested, however, in exploring the question of why do we raise here? Said another way, all the starting hand charts, books, and forum experts say to open raise in this situation with middle pairs, but they seem to never say why. We are supposed open with a raise, but for what reason? What are we trying to accomplish with a raise?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat something that's been on this Bug's soapbox a lot lately: Betting For A Valid Reason. There are really only two primary reasons why one should bet (or raise) in poker: 1) for Value; or 2) as a Bluff (or as a combination of the two). Said another way, the reason we’re open raising with 77 should fit neatly into one (or both) of these categories. If it doesn’t, then we really have to question why we're opening this hand.

In this particular situation, we’re first to act at a 6max table. This means that there are five other random hands that will act after us PF. Per pokerstove, against five random hands, our pair of sevens has just 22% equity against everyone elses’ 15.5%. Our hand is therefore stronger on average than these other hands, but not decidedly so. In fact, there is significant probability that someone left to act after us holds a hand that is at least equal to ours, if not better. On the other hand, if we calculate our hot-and-cold EV here against five callers, betting sevens here is plus EV. Not super plus EV, but definitely plus EV.... ah, but nobody plays hot-and-cold poker, so we might be fooling ourselves to get too hung up on EV preflop with such a marginal hand.... So are we really raising for Value here? Uh, kind of—but it's not a slam dunk.

So are we raising as a Bluff, instead? A Bluff, by definition, is a bet whose purpose is to get better hands to fold. So what types of better hands are going to fold here? We’re actually slightly ahead of hands like AQs, so technically if these hands fold we’re not really bluffing. And more often than not at 6max, these guys aren’t going away to just one PF bet. Hands like 22-66 are worse hands than ours, so we’re not bluffing if they fold (and actually we don’t want them to fold, as we’re crushing them preflop). Medium-big hands like TT and JJ are likely to cold call here, so at best we’re going to have to double barrel if our goal is to Bluff, and at worst we’re way behind. Hands like QQ-AA are basically unbluffable preflop in this situation, so we can rule them out. And so on. Going through all the various hands we could be facing, there really is only a handful of better hands that we have a prayer of folding out (e.g., 88 and 99), and even these aren’t likely to laydown super easily. In other words, we’re not actually accomplishing much Bluffing here with a raise. So are we Bluffing? Uh, not really.

So then why are we raising? Good question. I think the answer is that we open raise for some Value, but it's not very high quality Value. So should we be playing this hand at all in this situation? Hmmmm…..

….So, for fun, I pulled up my last 50,000 hands of poker in HEM. I filtered for just 7-7 hands, and then sorted by position. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me much, as I was only dealt the hand 240 times during that period, and I actually made more money with it in the blinds than on the button. In other words, I think the data sample size is too small to glean anything absolutely meaningful. Further, I made only a marginal overall profit UTG with 7-7 in 6max games. In other words, I made a few bucks open raising this UTG, but just barely. Hmmmmm…….

…. So what does this actually say? I’m not entirely sure, but I think what it means is that raising 7-7 here UTG strictly for Value is not particularly effective. This means that folding is probably nearly as good an answer as raising. Hmmmmm…..

...So why then do the experts say this is a hand you should play UTG in 6max? Hmmmmm….

…After puzzling over this for a while, I think that there might be a valid secondary reason to bet that comes into play: deception*. If you decide to fold all of your small and middle pairs UTG at a 6max table, and only play your big pairs and big unpaired cards, you’re making yourself easier and easier to read as the game goes on and the villains start taking data and reads on you. If your opponents are paying any attention at all, they’ll quickly start to see that your range is fairly narrow UTG—and therefore highly exploitable. At the lower stakes tables, this isn’t a very important concept, but at \$25NL and above, it starts to become important, and at \$100NL+ it’s almost imperative. Old timers call this “mixing up your hand selection,” while the younger set calls it “balancing your range.” It can be done with small/middle pairs, as well as certain suited connectors, such as T-9s and the like. Hands like 7-7 fall squarely into this category.

So, to answer the quiz question, at \$1000NL (live, which is equivalent to \$100NL online (in terms of skill levels)), it looks like raising is the correct answer. And the reason why we raise is as a combination weak Value and to balance our range. But just barely. Hmmmmm......