Friday, May 25, 2012

Un-Level Playing Field

A reader asked me a while ago if people really play level-3 poker at the low stakes. I think the answer is yes, but rarely. More often than not it can do more harm than good; you can easily out-think yourself at poker. In other words, you should be playing just a single level above where your opponents are playing.

At the online games I frequent (i.e., $25NL to $100NL), most of the opponents I face are somewhere between L1 and L2.5, with quite a few falling somewhere around L1.5 on the poker thought scale. They're not really putting you and I on definitive hand ranges, but they are generally aware of whether we're playing tight or loose, passive or aggressive, positionally-aware, etc. More importantly, they're responding with that info and making reasonable adjustments. That said, most of these players aren't going to make long-term money at poker unless they elevate to solid L2 play. In fact, these guys are where the majority of your profit is actually going to come from at these stakes.

Okay, that said, there are some fairly solid L2 and L2.5 players at these stakes, and you have to be very wary of them. These villains are putting everyone else on specific hand ranges, they're estimating their equities and commitments accurately, and they're making good decisions based on that info. These players probably make up 20% or so of the player pool at $50NL, and to beat them you have to elevate your own game to the next level of thought. Enter Level-3 thinking.

Here's an interesting example of L3 thought from a hand I played last night. I had just sat down at this particular table six hands earlier, and by luck of the deal I'd played fully 100% of the hands I was dealt (44, KQs, AKo, 77, 99, and ATo). The last hand, which was the ATo hand, occurred with me UTG, and it was probably a mistake to play it; that is, playing ATo at $50NL 6-max UTG isn't entirely horrible, but my current image was one of a wild maniac after just five hands; my VPIP was 100% and my PFR was 100%.  I should have figured I'd get action, which I unfortunately did. I was up about $5 overall (I'd just taken down the blinds on the previous 5 hands) when I opened the ATo hand. I was 3bet to $3 by a guy with only $10 behind. For reasons I can't fully explain, I re-shoved, and he turned over a medium pair. The board bricked out, and I basically was left showing the table a) what a loose preflop range I was playing; b) what an aggro monkey I was; and c) how terribly loose I was willing to get it all in preflop. (Actually, it wasn't that terrible, given how short the villain was, but you get my point, right?) The bottom line is that my image was suddenly crap to anyone paying attention, and I was now thinking of leaving this table...

...ah, but then I was dealt the following hand in the big blind:

Merge, $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em Cash, 5 Players
CO: $24.28 (48.6 bb)
BTN: $52.28 (104.6 bb)
SB: $58.90 (117.8 bb)
Hero (BB): $50 (100 bb)
MP: $50.10 (100.2 bb)

Preflop: Hero is BB with A♠A

MP folds, CO raises to $1.50, BTN raises to $4.50, SB folds, and...

I didn't have any notes on the button, but I did have about a hundred past hands, and he was clearly a solid player with stats of 19/17 and with a relatively standard 3bet number of 6%. His Fto3b number was relatively high, and his cbet percentage was fairly low, meaning he didn't stack off pre too light, and seemed to give up relatively easily on missed boards. Based on his 3b number, I put him on a range of 99+, ATs+, AQo+, and maybe something like KQs.

My own image at $50NL in general is pretty LAggy, and at this table I looked to be playing like a super LAg/madman. I had no doubt this player pegged me for an Aggro-Fish and would be willing to get it in with me lighter than normal. In other words, he might get involved with me (especially given he had position) with the majority of his range (minus things like the ATs and KQs, of course). The range he was putting me on here could be as wide as 20% or more. His own range crushes that.

The standard play here with the rockets is to 4bet to something like $12, and then lead out on the flop. The problem with this however, is the villain would probably just go away if he missed on the flop. He could easily have AK, AQ, AJs, etc here, and I wanted to get paid off with my aces, but don't think this guy was willing to stack off on a missed flop or with middle pairs. Instead, I thought I'd get far less respect by over-shoving here than if I'd done a more standard 4bet. So I did....

Hero raises to $50 and is all-in, CO folds, and...

The button tanked for almost the full 30 seconds of his timer time before calling.

BTN calls $45.50 and showed Q♣A

With a hand like this, I think this player might have folded to a standard 4bet pre, but even if he'd called he probably wasn't going to pay me off on the board that actually came out because it started straightening and flushing with low cards.  To maximize profit in this hand, I basically figured out the range he was putting me on, and then took advantage of that fact by over-shoving.*

All-in for now...
*PS. I immediately made a note on this guy that he saw me 4bet overshoving with AA preflop. He undoubtedly took down a similar note on me (from his L2 point of view). This is actually good news, because in the future I can use this to my advantage again with perhaps a big bluff against him. That is unless he starts thinking at Level-3, in which case you know where my brain has to step up to...

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