The Ringer Cannot Look Empty

Chicago JasonIt is so tempting to write a blog post about a hand that one lost after “playing it correctly”.  This is one of those, such, hands.  Playing it correctly, is of course, in quotation marks because (a) this is a subjective measure, depending on who you ask, when you ask, and the respondent’s bias, and (b) even through my own lens, I’m often not confident about my decision making.  If nothing else, I very frequently feel differently about a hand the next morning than I do the night before.  This is not one of those times.  Even so, (a) applies, and many of you will disagree with me.  At one time I had the time and energy to invest in continuously improving my game.  I had visions of being an accomplished player, but given my other interests and commitments, I know that I will be relegated to a semi-occasional poker punter.  Had I continued to develop my game beyond where I am today, my analysis of this hand would be undoubtedly different.  Were I a more recreational player, of course, my analysis would be simpler.  The irony is those times when the effect of my analysis on my actions is the same, despite the analysis being so different.  THIS is why so many people enjoy the game of poker.

Full RingerI was at the Northside last night, and pleased with my play for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in office (no, I am not that old).  Sobchak was two to three seats to my left, depending on the table population and I had just button raised his big blind with AJo while the table was 5- or 6-handed.  Sobchak three-bet me out of position, and I decided this was one of those times he had a big hand, 88 or better, and very possibly dominated, and I folded my button.  If you’re thinking “he doesn’t have enough information to narrow a wild man like Sobchak’s range in this spot”, you don’t know how much history the two of us have, and you’re still correct.  
Sobchak does such a great job of merging his ranges, mixing up his betting lines, and also taking advantage of his great familiarity with my game.  In short, he’s a bitch to play against, but we play the same games, he’s a friend, and he forces me to play better.  
I showed my AJ in this spot, sending something of a message – I am playing tight, I’m not screwing around against you, I’m making “solid” decisions.  (See my previous expose on quotation marks).

The fact that I folded my AJ in position in this hand will make you scratch your head a bit when I tell you about the hand in question, and it’s all a part of this dance that Sobchak and I do.


I was under-the-gun in a short-handed game with AJo, and I raised the 1-2 blinds to $12, Sobchak re-raised me to $30 from the button.  Every else had folded out, and it was $18 to me to win $45.  Sobchak had about $200 behind, and I had him covered.  I decided to make the call.  Yes – I folded AJ in position and called with it while out.

Sobchak knows that there are some really big hands in my range here, but also knows that I’d commonly 4-bet here with a monster, or an AK sort of hand.  He is not afraid to get it in pre-flop, and he knows I’m not excited about playing out of position against him.  He also knows there are some suited connectors in my range, especially of the JT QJ variety.  And certainly there are plenty of mid-sized pairs.

The flop peels off Jd 7h 3s.  This is a darn good flop for me.  Certainly an AJx flop would be good. A JJx flop would be good.  All things considered, if I’m going to play this hand this way, I have to be satisfied with this flop.

I check and Sobchak makes a C-bet of $50.  A check-raise here has limited value, in my opinion.  Is Sobchak has an over pair, he’ll ship on me.  If he has nothing, or an underpair to the J, he’ll probably fold.  If I’m operating under the premise that my J is good, I need to extract additional value.  If it isn’t good, I’m going to need a great deal of evidence to that effect to find a fold against this opponent.  I call.

The turn is a 4d, making a 56 straight a possibility, and putting a four flush on the board.  I check again, letting Sobchak keep the initiative.  If he checks behind, I’m likely to ship the river.  He doesn’t check, he goes all in for $154, about a pot-sized bet.  This is a big turn bet for him, but his stack size doesn’t give him a ton of options.  His range is narrower, but not substantially, than it was earlier.  The reason – Sobchak balances pretty well, and does so against me often.  He could ship here, knowing I’ll question his line and his motivation.  And I do.  Does he have a monster (straight, set, even an overpair on this board)?  He is certainly capable of having a 56 here, despite the pre-flop 3-bet.  If he was out of position I would give that a lot less weight.  Since he can have 65, he can also have 76 or 75, for a pair and a draw.  Sobchak is not afraid to push with a semi-bluff.  Of course, I’m a better than 3:1 favorite against those hands, but he knows he can get me to fold much of the time.  While we’re at it, he could have two overcards, if he assigns a great deal of fold equity to my range.  He probably does.  I’m a 9:1 favorite against these hands, mostly because I also hold an Ace.  If he has exactly KQ, I’m a 6:1 fave.

Sometimes, he has total air – a complete bluff.  In cases where he really thinks I can fold, he might just put me to the test.

So, the turn bet told me just a little.  When Sobchak has a monster, he might bet like this, or he might make a small bet, looking to induce me to come over the top, or encouraging me to peel one more card drawing thin.  If he is on a pure bluff, he is not likely to do this too often, as he doesn’t have as much fold equity with a small bet (though not proportionally less).  And with a semi-bluff, he is least likely to make a small bet, as he might price himself in with any sort of draw.

So, these considerations give a little more weight to his bluffing and semi-bluffing hands.

In the end, the pot was laying me 2:1, and I felt I was likely to have the best hand well more than 1/3 of the time, probably better than ½ the time, in fact.  If I was wrong here, I’d look like a total buffoon, but the poker table is a bad place to worry about such things…
I made the call.  The dealer peeled the river, Qh.  Sobchak immediately tabled his KQo for top pair.  I bemoaned my bad fortune.
Right call.  Wrong result.