Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thinking Caps

"Poker is not about what you have. It's about what you think the other guy has."
-Bart Hansen

Along with a dozen other tasks, projects, and things I'm behind on at home and at work, I'm also currently trying to get caught up on a bunch of Bart Hansen podcasts that my phone has downloaded but I've not yet had time to listen to. On yesterday's lunch-time walk, I hit Play on a good one called "Capped Ranges". It was excellent. [As usual, these podcasts are chock full of really sound info and strategy advice. If you've got a spare $10/month, I highly recommend subscribing to Hansen's weekly 1-hour podcast to help improve your game.  It's mostly NL cash, but he also sprinkles in tournament play, Omaha, and other general poker concepts. Great, great stuff contained therein. There's also a pretty good forum he runs, plus he has live game videos. Here's a link if you're interested: Seat Open Poker.]

Anyway, one of the capped range hand examples from today's podcast tickled my fancy, so I figured I'd make a quick post to share the love. (I've modified the example a little to simplify for blog use...):

You're on the button in a $10/$20 NL full ring cash game. Full 100BB stacks. There's been a straddle UTG, so effectively there are three blinds ($10/$20/$40). You have 95o. Lots of money already in the pot from the straddle, so you decide to raise on a pure steal attempt when the action folds around to you.

The SB foils your steal attempt, however, and calls. The BB and UTG straddler fold. Flop is A-J-5, two tone. The SB player checks to you and you c-bet with your bottom pair. The small blind is a standard ABC player. He calls your continuation bet.

Now, stop and think. What is villain's range? Or, more importantly, is his range "capped" at a certain strength level? Said another way, what strong hands doesn't he have?

Hansen said (and after a lot of thought, I now agree) that villain's non-flush range is capped at AT and below. (He could also obviously have things like a flush draw).

Why AT? With AK and AQ, he would have probably RR'd preflop to drive the big blind and the straddler out of the pot. Probably the same with JJ. With QQ+, he'd probably be RR'ing for value preflop to build the pot. With the flush draw possibility out there on the flop, he's also probably check-raising or donking with AJ to "protect" his hand against the draw. He *might* have a set of fives, but with you holding one of the fives in the deck it's combinatorically unlikely.

Said another way, we've "capped" villain's range at moderately strong one pair type hands and below. He probably has you beat at this moment, but knowing his range (and of course having position) gives you a huge advantage in this hand.

Now, let's imagine that the turn is a 9 that brings in a second, backdoor flush draw (i.e., there are now two flush draws on the board). Again he checks. Given our read, we now believe we have the beset hand, so we fire with our turned two pair. Again, villain just calls.

Let's stop and think again: His range remains capped at a weak AT-type ace and flush draws, right? Nothing has changed.

Next, let's imagine that the river is a 3 that completes the front door flush. Villain checks.

Stop and think again: If he had the flush, most ABC players are betting out here, afraid of you shutting it down and checking behind. They want to get paid off, so they (erroneously) lead out. They're not thinking about your hand strength because they made their hand. In other words, we've removed the flush from his range, so the cap of AT remains.

So, when he checks to you, what should you do? You almost certainly have the best hand., so you want value. But how much to bet?

Again, stop and think: You know he's got something, or else he wouldn't have check-called this far into the hand. You also know he's not super strong, or he would have let us know this on an earlier street. He probably wants a cheap showdown. He will also probably fold to a big bet. Therefore something like 1/3 of the pot is probably cheap enough for him to make a crying call. Maybe you can bet a little bigger, but anything over half pot probably won't get a call.

We bet 30% of pot, and villain calls and turns over A-8.

How did we know he had a hand like this? We stopped and thinked, that's how.

All-in for now...

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