Monday, March 21, 2011

Rethinking Lines for Creative Short Stack Heads Up Play

In the ever elusive quest for original material, I have been away for awhile plotting my next move.  While shooting a video for my Short Stack Revolution strategy video series, I discovered some very interesting lines that can be used to combat aggressive heads up min-raisers.  The short stack tourist reader might find the idea of creative short stack play to be shocking, but the advanced player should immediately recognize the need for taking tricky lines against such opponents because they know that even frequent 3-betting or playing fit-or-fold after the flop is the perfect recipe for getting robbed blind with minimal villain effort.

The first hand isn't truly interesting when viewed outside the realm of traditional short stack strategy.  When dealt A9s heads up and facing a min-raise, the knee jerk reaction is to shove, but that will just allow him to get away unscathed far too often for my taste.  The caveat here is that this particular villain is open-raising 90%.  However, once I make this call, I am probably never folding but I will have to let the flop texture and his betting line determine my overall strategy.  In this case, the flop makes it very easy to see how to proceed.

To the naked eye, it should appear obvious that this flop is hitting few players' ranges, but just to be clear, let's see what Flopzilla, another great program by the maker of Cardrunners EV, has to say:

After accounting for card removal, we can see that villain's range has only connected 16.3% of the time.  Even more telling is precisely how villain's range has hit.  The fact that he has bet on all streets on this board texture means that his range has become more polarized with every single bet.  Essentially, there are only 6 real categories of hands that can conceivably bet both the flop and turn:

1. Flushdraws
2. PP below TP
3. Overpairs
4. 3 of a kind
5. Full houses
6. Quads

Given the tendencies to check full houses and quads, we can discount those from the range, leaving probable villain hits now at 14.24%.  Of course, since we can estimate that he will be checking a Q as well some lower PP's and overpairs on either the flop or the turn, we know that this actual range of hits is considerably less in reality.  Given the overall board texture and the bet sizing, a call down is clearly in order.  Taking this line has more benefits than just winning the pot.  It also lets your opponents know that you are patient and fearless.  Though by habit he will most likely continue to open 90%, he will be forced to give up much more frequently after the flop, which in turn will allow us to call even lighter pre-flop and swipe away more hands with pure bluffs.

You don't need to be the Rain Man to figure this out in real time, but it certainly helps if you take a little time out of your day when you aren't playing to learn exactly how to handle some various situations.

If the first hand was largely unconvincing, this next hand is sure to raise some eyebrows.  Once again, villain is opening approximately 90%.

Though this hand is more difficult to solve with Flopzilla, I can say this with some certainty: his line looks stronger than the previous villain's.  By checking the flop and betting both the turn and the river, he is representing a hand that was either very strong on the flop or one that somehow improved on the turn but yet was willing to check call the flop, and to a far lesser degree, 2nd pair or QQ that was going for pot committing thin value on the river.  So which categories of hands were most appropriate for this play and how often are they hitting the flop?

1. Top pair:  11.9%
2. Overpair:  0.63%
3. Two Pair: 2.83%
4. Set: 0.94%

Just as important as his tendencies to miss the flop entirely are the relevancy of the turn and river cards.  Even when opening 90%, there is still no guarantee that 82, 83, and 32 are in his range.  So this leaves us with a much higher probability of bluffs than strong hands.

The fate of this hand was decided ahead of time.  As soon as I flopped a straight draw, I decided that I was never folding, simply because I was aware that this flop is rarely hitting my opponent strongly and I can combine that fact with my overall equity.  The question then becomes how to maximize my overall expectation given possible outcomes.

Notice that in no point of this hand do I want to risk getting check raised.  If I had no equity or a vulnerable hand I would surely bet, but by checking along I now have increased my overall winning percentage in addition to the ability to snap off bluffs. I would like to also note that if at any point I catch a T or Q I am calling down.

I showed this hand to one of my students who was amazed that I would try to bluff any opponent who puts in half of the effective stack on the river.  In actuality, this is precisely the point.  He is only committed to the hand if he has what he is representing, which is basically Kx+.  He also probably assumes that I know he isn't willing to fold after putting in this much money and believes that this lends credibility to his bluff.  Being that I wasn't particularly familiar with this opponent, I don't necessarily know how willing he would be to bet a weak king on the river, but it is quite likely that he is looking to check call any pairs J or worse.  In this light it now is beginning to look suspiciously like a polarized range.  Given his incredibly high opening raise percentage, I am just not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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