Friday, January 13, 2012

The Null Flop, pt. II

In my last article concerning the null flop, I ended with the beginning process of reading a donk bettor's hand on a K99 rainbow flop by first understanding his common flat range. If you have not yet done so, please read the previous article, lest you become hopelessly lost and confused as we move forward.

As it stands, the red-outlined ranked hands below are the only ones we will concern ourselves with, being that your typical villain has little to no desire to draw to a backdoor flush when out of position. Notice how I include all gutshots as hits, as they not only give villain some small chance to improve, they also allow him the ability to bluff even when he misses if some inconsistency in your betting pattern is detected.

Facing off against the widest possible villain flat range (most ranges won't include the weakest suited kings, etc.), we can see that he connects at least weakly with this flop just under 50% of the time. From here, we need to divide the two basic actions of betting and checking and determine which hand ranges are appropriate for each one. Check-raising is excluded from this specific flop because any villain worth his salt will quickly realize that this aggressive action can't possibly be supported by his range when contrasted with our own, i.e. all check-raises look like they are begging for a fold as few hands within our own range can bet/all in.

When villain checks:

Again, if we assume that he is only giving up in those rare instances when he flops a weak ace high, he is likely going into check/call mode with the very top of his range (due to the deck being crippled), as well as AA (occasionally donked, yet rare), some 9x, as well as all Kx hands, which are effectively now all bluff-catchers due to domination concerns.

The presence of the gutshot here might present something of an oddity to experienced players. Notice how I listed the appropriate response as a check/call. Since clearly he does not have the odds to draw to the gutshot, why is this appropriate? It's simple: by check/calling, he gets to realize the full equity of his hand because he can sometimes improve to a pair and win if hero just bets once with his air and then gives up on the turn and river. If you combine that with his ability to bluff if his draw bricks out after hero checks the turn, he now has a very profitable play on his hands.

When villain leads out:

Now we are down to business. Since villain's top pair range is severely weakened by domination concerns, we can scratch this possibility from the list. Though he might also choose to lead with AA, this most radical scenario that fails to include card removal from our own open raise range and a 0% 3-bet frequency on his end makes this a complete non-factor at just over 2%. We can effectively exclude this from his donking range entirely.

Adding all this up means that his donking range is severely polarized between air (50.4%) and trip 9's (12.9%). If we give him full credit for having trip 9's as well as all air when he donks, that means he is almost 4 times as likely to have nothing as he is to have a 9!

So we should raise every donk bet, right? Right?!


Check back in for The Null Flop, pt. III as I walk through every step from the flop to the river!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Donk Bettor's Delight: The Null Flop, pt. I

Null Flop: a flop that typically has all of these specific characteristics

1) It contains a pair.
2) It contains zero flush draws.
3) There is at least a 3 gap between the pair and the remaining card.

Drier than the Sahara Desert, the null flop, by it's very definition, is extremely difficult to hit in any meaningful way, despite how tight or loose the players involved in the hand are. When I say "meaningful", I mean hit in such a way that it can support 3 streets of legitimate betting action vs. a thinking player and creates this massive black hole of null ranges for both opponents in a heads up pot. Here are three examples:

  • Tc Td 4h
  • As 5h 5d
  • Kh 9s 9c
Many open-raisers are of the opinion that you can bet all your air with immunity on these types of flops, believing that they either tend to hit your opponent very hard or not at all.

And they would be right unless, of course, that particular villain is thinking precisely the same way you are and decides to take the lead in the betting with a donk bet, which is typically 2bb in a 20bb CAP setting. Perhaps it would be helpful to stop thinking in terms of the derogatory term "donk bet" and begin thinking of it more as a "reversed c-bet".

Before analyzing any of these specific flops, you must first begin thinking in terms of ranges. If you grew up in or around Russia, where apparently the only type of poker that they have been exposed to is played (coincidentally?) with exactly 20 big blinds at all times, your BB flat range vs. a standard button open of 33.3% will look something like this:

The specifics of the range are not nearly as important as noticing what this range almost never consists of: strong aces and small-middle pairs. There is a premium placed on suitedness and connectedness, but very rarely will villain sneak up on you with complete trash, although they will show up with the occasional KK or AA. Essentially, you are looking at a range of hands that can flop or draw well but tend to be undervalued in 3-bet situations even if they do still show a profit when shoved, like Q9s or KJo.

Now, let's look at how this flat range connects with Kh 9s 9c by means of Flopzilla, assuming that all hands will be distributed in equal proportions (they won't, of course):

And now villain leads into you...what does this mean?? Check back early next week to find out on the The Null Flop, pt. II!

Introduction to Donk Bet Counter-Strategies

Donk bet: the act of defending vs. a raise when out of position after limping or calling from the blinds and then leading into the raiser with a bet.

For these next several articles, I am going to explore the psychology and methods of donking that you will encounter. Rather than giving the solution (which I have), I first want to lay out the criteria for understanding why players are flocking to this increasingly important move in the 20bb CAP player's arsenal, as I feel that only if players understand the "why" first will they then be able to understand the "how" of defending against it.

I plan on doing this by introducing two special kinds of flops and their variants: the null flop and the "as yet to be cleverly named" other flop :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Interview With Max "Chisness" Chiswick, Prospective Isle of Man Representative

As you readers are probably acutely aware, the recent rake calculations from Poker Stars have caused quite a stir amid the poker population as they have shifted from the dealt method of rake calculation to weighted contributed, which is now the industry standard. In response to the uproar in the Two Plus Two community and the subsequent strike, Stars has confronted the issue and offered to alleviate it by selecting 4 respected members of the poker community to travel to the Isle of Man and work directly with Stars management to settle the matter. One of the volunteers is short stack legend, Max "Chisness" Chiswick. I knew him intimately from our confrontations on the felt, but thought it was best to delve further into his plans and intentions before offering my personal support to his cause.

Lorin: 20bb CAP was created as a solution to the short stacker problem in larger stack buy in games. Do you think it has solved this problem effectively?

Chisness: I think it's solved the problem of the anti-shortstackers having legitimate arguments (e.g. there shouldn't be overlap in stakes, not fair to have such a large gap in buy in sizes) against us, but feel like 20-50bb (or 20-40bb on FTP) was a fair compromise and overall better.

It involved the risk/reward of having to stick around with deeper stacks to attack a deeper recreational player. It had much more revolving of players at each table (many ss'ers leave after doubling), which led to shorter waitlists. Since full stackers had the option of deeper only tables, the 20-50bb solution should have been acceptable.

Lorin: I have heard reports that many of those strongly opposed to short stacking only gave their public support to 20bb CAP because they (falsely) believed that no one would want to play it. Now that many recreational players have flocked to this game, these very same players are once again in an uproar. Legitimate arguments aside, do you feel that their frustration is in any way justified?

Chisness: No, I think this proves that recreational players clearly like playing with shorter stacks as they've stuck with them throughout all the changes. I understand their frustration, but they're the ones who defeated the 20-100 games in the first place. If they want to be able to play with short recreational players (I remember always loving seeing the 20-40 buyin guys at the full tables) then they should accept these 20-100 games back rather than trying to attack the CAP games.

Lorin: That has been my observation as well. Before playing full time at FTP before finally ending up at Stars, I was a strong supporter of the Cake network. They were one of the very first networks to strike back against short stacking back in April of 2010, even though it never reached any "critical" level there. However, once the buy in was raised to 30bb, I noticed a massive dropoff in traffic, particularly that of the recreational player. I could only conclude that the rec players actually desired to play with small stacks. That being said, do you feel that there is room for short stack poker, mid stack poker and deep stack poker to exist side-by-side without cannibalizing each other?

Chisness: I think there will automatically be some harm done to the alternatives when multiple options are given (Wal-Mart being put in next to Target will always make things worse). Deep [100bb minimum] seems to be a fairly niche offering that isn't super popular so isn't too relevant. It makes sense for there to be a separation between short (CAP) and mid (regular) because of the uproar previously discussed so I think having 2 main levels is the best overall alternative to keep the majority happy. The only potential change that would make sense is switching back from CAP to 20-50, but that seems unlikely to happen and isn't really part of my goals in this meeting.

So I don't think they're killing each other, they're just making each offering more difficult than if there were only one.

Lorin: Ok, now that we have those things addressed, let's move to the original purpose of this discussion. Once the "natural advantage" of short stacking was essentially handicapped by the introduction of 20bb CAP, many of the players who stuck around began noticing a new problem, which is that of the rake. I noticed that your PTR graph has seemed stagnant over the past several months. Do you attribute that to the rake or is it something else?

Chisness: Well I think a lot of it was due to autopiloting and not keeping up properly with the games by studying. Also, other factors like the games generally getting tougher, fewer rec players, Black Friday, etc.

However, I do think rake is a big problem. As a percentage of rake my winrate (and everyone else's) has been getting smaller and smaller. I mentioned on 2+2 that when virtually no one can make a decent profit at a game, that the rake should be fixed (at what point that happens is unclear, but tons of graphs have flatlined lately). The rake has been essentially the same since Stars launched (I think), but it's important to put rake in the context of winrates. 8 years ago rake of 4bb/100 may have been half of a solid player's winrate, but now it's generally 2-4x or even much more.

Others have said in the forums that the structure of poker rake in general is pretty crazy and that it's got to be by far one of the most expensive games in the world (especially when compared to many games that offer monthly flat fees or hourly fees). This is unfortunately out of scope for my arguments, but seems very open for discussion now that the rake has crushed so many winrates.

Lorin: I was initially appalled by the announcement of the rakeback changes at Stars. However, after I had time to absorb the information and the public response from Stars, I came to the conclusion that they are making a genuine effort to restore balance to their overall gaming structure and thinking of what is best for their longterm goals, which are, in fact, in alignment with the goals of the players as well. Yet, even with the best of intentions, they can easily overlook flawed rake structures in existing games and potentially damage them further. I am thinking specifically of NL50-100 at 20bb CAP.

I understand that you are a midstakes player, but creating a healthy feeder system through the lower limits impacts you directly as well. Do you have any specific plans to address the rake problem at the small limit games if you are chosen to represent us at the Isle of Man?

Chisness: Firstly addressing CAP, before going I'd like to do some research into comparing CAP rake rates at same stakes with regular NLHE rake rates.

As for the stakes like NL50-100 (CAP and non), that problem is one of the biggest I've seen and seems like one of the most important to address. I wrote in my bio that Stars right now has increased VPP multipliers for the smallest limits (like NL5), but switching these to rake reductions instead and expanding the rake reductions to more stakes is crucial for, as you put it, a healthy feeder system that lets winners keep more *cash* in the system to move up through the stakes.

There's a fair chance that these sorts of indirect (to midstakes CAP) changes will be the core of what we're able to do in these meetings, so I'm going to be sure to do some rake analyses of these stakes as well in order to paint a picture of how it changes throughout the stakes. As potentially the only NLHE guy going, it's crucial for me to look at the lower stakes as well.

Lorin: I get lots of coaching requests from people who have literally never played online cash games before. Rather, they are looking to make a "soft" transition from their daily grind of SNGs or MTTs into the world of NL cash games while limiting their overall risk exposure. Looking at it from this perspective, I suppose it could be interpreted that CAP games are actually doing a service to the overall community of NLHE cash game players by, once again, creating a solid feeder system. However, I worry that if I direct them to the small limits which are, it appears, difficult to beat based on structure alone, they might become discouraged and return to the games they are familiar with. Do you think that emphasizing this idea to Stars management might sway them to apply more focus in this area?

Chisness: I think focusing on the general idea that "predatory" rake that makes games close to unbeatable (I can mention this is especially true of newer players who enter at these lower stakes) is certainly terrible for players and the health of the ecosystem, but may also be bad for PokerStars when so many players are discouraged from playing, not telling their friends about it, and generally just not enjoying the game.

Lorin: I would say that you are somewhat of a cultish figure in poker right now, well known among short stackers and 20bb CAP players, but perhaps not a recognizable name to the community at large (though I admit that I may be wrong about this). Even though you are an expert at navigating the Poker Stars rewards system, do you feel that having recently spent your career focused on short stack strategies can create too large of a stigma for you to garner support from the wider poker community? Basically, what I am asking is: why should non-CAP players support you?

Chisness: Well, there is a stigma with non-short players respecting anyone who does CAP/short which I can't do much about, but I have been playing seriously since around 2007 and spent from around 2006 to 2009 playing non-short poker, so hopefully that doesn't get completely overlooked.

More importantly, I am at the moment the main 6max NLHE representative option and pledge to do my best to support all 6max NLHE games, not just those that I play. I'm very willing to listen to advice from players at any game type or stake within 6max NLHE to consider their viewpoints.

Finally, many changes that affect my own games will also affect the wider poker community and non-CAP games, so my general analytical skills and poker experience are important to look at.

Lorin: Do you have any specific sources of information that you have planned to turn to in regards to how the WC change will affect other games? Essentially, do you have knowledgeable contacts who play other games besides 20bb CAP with whom you speak with on a regular basis?

Chisness: Unfortunately, since Black Friday and because I'm American, most of my friends aren't playing anymore. I think it's very important to get some data to compare dealt vs. WC and each indivdually across the stakes at CAP and regular NLHE 6max. If selected, I'd first make a spreadsheet listing the exact data I need to acquire. I'd then either request the data from Poker Stars directly (to be given either in advance or at their HQ) or go to 2+2 to get the data manually from [the players].

Lorin: Lastly, if no changes or improvements are made to the rake structure, do you think that Poker Stars is still the best place to play moving forward into 2012 and beyond?

Chisness: Poker Stars generally has better rake than other sites (and many other sites use WC as well), has a better rewards system, better game selection options, better software, and seems much safer (see recent botting scandals on other top networks). They've also shown much good faith in canceling the changes they made and letting this meeting convene to address them (and generally communicating well with players).

If I didn't play many tables, I might look into another top network, but would only move to that if I thought my hourly would be noticeably higher.

If you would like to lend your support to Chisness, you can cast your vote here:

Thanks to you Max, and best of luck in the polls!!