Thursday, March 22, 2012

X-Ray Poker

A preflop question you face on every new deal in Hold'em is whether you continue in the hand or not. Then you have to answer this same question on the flop, the turn, and the river. So how do we decide whether we should continue or fold on each of these betting streets? Is there a systematic means of evaluating your situation and determining whether—and how—to play your hand?

The answer of course is Yes.  To understand how this process might work, let’s pretend for a minute that you have a poker superpower: X-ray vision. You can see what cards your opponent holds hidden in his or her hand. Imagine how easy poker would be with this ability!

For example, let’s pretend that you are dealt a pair of Kings in middle-late position. People start folding in EP, so you are preparing to open-raise when the action gets to you. Ah, but a fairly inexperienced player immediately to your right open-raises instead. When you peer at his hand with your X-ray vision, you see that he has been dealt two Aces. You then look to your left and see that your opponents all have bad cards and are going to fold.

Your Kings are dominated by the Aces, so you consider folding and moving on to the next hand. But you decide a better strategy might be to just call the villain’s bet, with the hope of you hitting a third King on the flop. There is approximately a one in eight chance of hitting a King (actually 7.5 to 1, or one out of every 8.5 times). This is obviously not a very big chance, but your opponent has a giant stack of chips in front of him, is inexperienced, and he likely will pay you off with most or all of them if you do hit a King.

Many beginning players fall in love with their big pairs like Aces, and if your set of Kings is disguised, he will probably think he still has the best hand after the flop, and will be willing to commit all of his chips. If you don’t hit your King on the flop, however, you can easily fold and move on. You will invest a relatively small amount of money before the flop with the hope of hitting your hand; if you don’t hit, you can fold. If you do hit, you can win a large amount.

Said another way, you know exactly where you stand in the hand relative to your opponent’s cards, and then you can make the perfect postflop decisions and actions based on this information.

Whether you realize it or not, what you’ve done in this hand can be broken down into four distinct steps, which are Read, Estimate, Decide, and Implement. In this specific hand, the first thing you did was “Read” your opponents’ hands (via your X-ray vision). You put the villain on your right on a pair of Aces, which he undoubtedly liked very much, and you put the other players left to act on weak hands that they were likely going to fold.

Second, you “Estimated” how strong your Kings were compared to the villain’s Aces (answer: not very strong preflop), how much money you have to invest in the hand to hit a King (answer: the amount that he raised, which is a modestly small amount compared to the stack sizes), how likely it is you’ll hit one of the two remaining Kings on the flop (answer: one out of every 8.5 times), and how much money you could win if you do (answer: the villain’s entire stack).

Third, you “Decided” on a speculative course of action that could potentially pay off big; i.e., you decided to  draw, or set mine in and effort to hit one of the two remaining Kings in the deck. You also decided to fold if you didn’t hit your set.

Fourth and finally, you “Implemented” this draw in a way that minimized your loss (if you didn’t hit a King) and maximized your potential profit (if you did hit your King). You also implemented it in a way that disguised your hand (the majority of people reraise with Kings). You did this by just calling your opponent’s raise preflop.

In other words, you Read, Estimated, Decided, and Implemented. These four steps—Read, Estimate, Decide, Implement—is how professional poker players are able to make such sound decisions at a poker table; they use techniques and thought processes like REDi to logically work through the best course of action for their current situation. This in turn maximizes their profit and minimizes losses.

All-in for now...
PS. Obviously, this was an extreme (actually absurd) example. We don’t have X-ray vision, so making perfect reads is essentially impossible. We can, however, make educated assumptions and approximate reads on our opponent to narrow down their range of possible holdings, and this is usually sufficient as a "Read."  For instance, instead of Kings, we might have been dealt a hand like Eights. Further, we wouldn't have been able to put our opponent exactly on Aces, but we might have put him on a range like TT-AA, AQs, and AKo+. We would have then been able to carry out the other three steps (EDi) in essentially the same manner, and probably arrived at the same exact Implementation. REDi is how this is done.

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