Thursday, February 23, 2017

Karmic EV

Early last year, I played in a top heavy $80 buy-in tournament at my local riverboat casino. This tourney is a weekly ritual that commences every Friday at midnight. It has the dual benefit of being +EV and keeping me out of trouble. The obvious drawback is the late start, meaning that I'm often pretty drained and unfocused upon arrival, especially following a forty minute drive.

I'll spare the details and fast forward to the final table. Even though it's now approaching 3:30 AM, the atmosphere among the nine remaining is jovial- everyone has been getting along, chatting it up, joking, and having an overall good time. Of course, every man there wants to win, but no one is really rooting against the guy next to him, either. With each player that drops, there's a round-table discussion about cutting a deal, yet each time the subject comes up, there's always at least one player sitting on a stack large enough that he politely decline the offer with little thought.

Fast forward another hour and it's now 4:30 AM. There are five of us remaining and I've just knocked out the sixth. I'm now leading with a stack of just over 300k with blinds of 15k/30k and an ante of 3,000. I (humbly, mind you) admit to having a large skill advantage over my obviously recreational opponents, even in this late stage of the tournament. Despite being effectively short stacked at this point with limited maneuverability, I'm in my zone as a short stack specialist. I'm getting a bit tired, but I'm comfortable in this situation and more than happy to keep playing.

As has become a ritual at this point, the guy to my right immediately calls for a deal. Here at the Horseshoe Indiana, deals involving multiple players in small buy-in events are traditionally not settled by chip equity. Serious players of the game are advised to stop reading here and move on to the next article, as the following text is likely to make you physically ill.

Given the friendly atmosphere and recreational culture of this tourney, a deal is an even split of the remaining prize pool, regardless of stack size. Even though I'm leading by a fairly significant margin with regards to chip EV, should I agree to a deal and request a bigger cut, in their eyes I would be, for lack of a better word, a complete dick.

Everyone present is more or less aware of this technical unfairness, so the question isn't whether or not one or more players have an advantage, chip-wise. It's whether or not it's anyone's game at this point, or more importantly, if the deal proposer is insulting anyone's intelligence by asking for a chop when he is practically busto.

In this particular instance, the deal advocate was a guy who had a consistent stack for the last several blind levels and had been sitting next to me at two of the last three tables. He was friendly, funny, and was rooting for me in every all in pot that he wasn't involved in. At this juncture he had the smallest stack, but was still sitting on about 100k or so and still had a reasonable shot to win it.

Everyone else has been more or less amenable to a chop until this point. However, up until now, there was always a dominating stack that vetoed the deal. Shorthanded with an M of about 9, with blinds scheduled to rise in about 5 minutes, I broke two Cardinal rules of professional poker:

  1. Admitting to myself that the money at stake was important to me, and finishing last would be a hit to my presently pathetic liferoll.
  2. Giving up a proportionally sizable amount of chip EV, especially when the request came from the shortest stack.

I had already passed on a chop during an earlier blind level myself when the seventh player busted and no one objected. This time, however, the situation was very different. With higher blinds, the average stack was considerably smaller, and the remaining players were all happy to end it. They all looked over to me expectantly with the implicit understanding that I had the undisputed power to kill the deal.

I didn't feel any pressure to buckle, but it was really late and everyone was tired and eager to pack it in for the night, including myself. In the act of dreading the long drive home, my professional instincts quickly seized my remaining higher cognitive functions and started calculating what I would be giving up if I accepted the deal, but then a new and unfamiliar feeling started to flow through me: magnanimity.

It was perfectly within my rights to bring in the tournament director to divvy up the prize pool according to classic chip EV. However, the prize distribution was really top heavy and an even chop meant that we would all leave with just under second place money. That's not too shabby. I could have been the aforementioned dick and argued for an extra hundred bucks or so, but that rather insignificant amount of money might cost me in terms of goodwill amongst my new acquaintances.

I know it makes me sound soft, but everyone was enjoying each other's company and I liked everyone who was present. I was faced with a choice: waiting around while the prize pool is appropriately cut up and take the extra money for short term gain, or essentially swap out my additional share in exchange for four new friends. Four new friends who could leave on equal terms with each other and go home to their wives or girlfriends and proudly tell them they won the tournament. With this thought in mind and before I could think about it long enough to second guess the decision, I approved the deal and we ended the tournament.

What's the practical value of four new friends? To put it in terms that poker pros understand and perhaps even feel comfortable with, it's quite simple: a feeling of indebtedness that can pay off in the future in unexpected ways...with my odds of unexpected payoff multiplied by four. That's not nearly as cynical as it sounds. A grateful new friend is now the guy who might give you a few bucks for the vending machine when all you have are chips and no cash, the guy that might give you a lift home if your car breaks down, even though he's in a rush to get somewhere, the guy who might fold his small blind to you with a borderline hand when you have just a few big blinds on the bubble, and of course, the guy who will cut you a break and give you a chop when you find yourself as the smallest stack in the same scenario. 

Taking my fair share of the prize pool certainly isn't a bad thing and says nothing about my character. Likewise, sharing my tournament equity is also morally neutral and says nothing about whether or not I am a decent human being, particularly in light of the fact that I did it for vague strategic reasons that are admittedly unlikely to pay off. Yet it doesn't change the fact that option one sends a negative vibe as per the rules of the local culture, which almost always supersede concepts of fair play as understood by online poker professionals who have yet to gain a solid grasp on the social (human) elements of the game. Option two, crudely put, allows for everyone to leave happy on my dime. I'll take option two every time!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Getting Acquainted With the Megaraise

Dice on a short stack of poker chips.

The following article was originally published on Part Time Poker

The following bit of advice will probably come as quite shocking to some people, as it contains no theoretical backing. In other words, you cannot measure the EV of this kind of play in a simulator such as CardrunnersEV. It is highly situational and only profits more than conventional plays by means of gross human error. In other words, you can pull it off against someone wearing a Full Tilt jersey at your local cardroom, but Libratus just ain’t buying it. Should you choose to widen your arsenal by applying the concepts below, prepare to be amazed at just how little your opponents really understand pot odds and implied odds when they call over-sized raises, only to fold on the flop or make unbelievable calls with little or no equity.

I am not asking you to take my word on its are going to have to take a leap of faith and try it on your own. Just be advised: when it fails, you will look (and probably feel) like a moron. However, even when it works and you squeeze out additional chips, you will still appear as if you had grossly overplayed your hand, thus still looking like a moron. The upside of this is that few people will be able to figure out what you are doing, making them less likely to copy your successful new tactics and increasing the overall longevity of their profitability.

WTF is a Megaraise?!

It will vary from situation to situation, but normally has the following criteria:

You are in the blinds and therefore act first after the flop.
You make a raise or 3-bet that is ~1/3 of the effective stack, with a goal of setting up a postflop SPR of ~1, which maximizes your postflop fold equity.
The effective stack is usually somewhere in the range of 20-30BB.
The raise appears inappropriately large compared to conventional bet-sizing.
You are 100% committed and intend to shove or re-shove the flop regardless of texture or opponent action.
I don't claim to have invented the concept, but I did coin the term "megaraise", which you have probably only heard if you happen to travel in close-knit communities of short stack tradesmen who play in 20BB CAP or Hyper SNG's. While best used against fish who can't find the fold button preflop, it can even be used against seasoned pros, typically if there is at least one other fishy caught in the middle. More on that in future articles, as we first need to build upon the basics.

When You Should Use It

You should generally be using this play with non-paired holecards when you are at a postflop positional disadvantage in a situation where you are likely to misplay your hand or lose potential value. The ideal scenario is when a fishy player open limps or overlimps and the quality of your hand doesn't justify the risk/reward ratio of shoving, yet you are unlikely to be able to get a read on him postflop or push him with a standard c-bet. Complicating things further is that when playing with a stack this size, your postflop SPR is such that it becomes difficult to fire multiple barrels against an unknown holding if you whiff the flop completely.

What I describe is a situation where player who is a habitual calling station that pays off is not currently working to your benefit. He limps constantly, floats randomly, and accidentally balances his poor play by mixing in random slowplays. The megaraise punishes all of his poor tendencies while also preventing you from making a single error. It's the ultimate win/win scenario!

I will start with the assumption that you are wary of the concept and understandably don't want to look foolish while embarking on what amounts to anecdotal advice.

That's OK.

It took me several months to work up the courage to try it myself after first witnessing a pro cash game short stacker pull off what looked both brilliant and stupid at the same time, and was really only lent credibility from based on his verifiable excellent results. For this reason, I will start with the example of megaraising OOP from the blind against a single button limper with AK, with an effective stack of 25BB.

The scenarios below are taken from a tournament with blinds of 50/100, with stacks of 2500. You are often going to find yourself doing some quick mental math to figure out what 1/3 of the effective stack is, so I specifically chose to round up to 900 for these megaraises. You will have to improvise frequently, so it doesn't need to be exact. Just try and get the amount as close as possible, so as to leave roughly one pot-sized bet for the flop.

Note: The actions you will see villain making below look positively stupid and beyond belief, and that's exactly why I chose them. I have personally seen much worse, as will you once you start experimenting with it.

When You Miss Completely or Flop a Vulnerable Hand

Believe it or not, this is actually the default scenario, as your odds of pairing up or better with AK on the flop are 2.1:1 against, and you should never forget that fact. I intentionally chose the worst possible flop here, as you can only really see its profit potential when the deck misses you completely. Sure, he called with J5, but that's only because he was "lucky" enough to have flopped the ass end of straight draw. But what if he had J4? That's kind of a sticky hypothetical, as they sometimes will call with just such a hand, and every so often you will see two random cards that seemingly have zero equity. However, it's the J4-type hands that you can expect to blast out on these nasty flops where you will probably assume from the outset that no hand that would call such a large preflop raise could possibly fold. Just try and imagining navigating this flop using a standard iso-raise against a calling station and you will quickly see why you need to add the megaraise to your arsenal.

You are going to continue using the default close-your-eyes-shove line when flopping vulnerable made hands as well, such as a board of KcTc8h. Giving free cards when the pot is this large is a huge error if you are not an overwhelming equity favorite. Even though I might seemingly contradict myself in the next two video examples, you can't just expect villain to try and snag the pot from you if you check or play back at you against small bets. Once you go down this road, you will have to accept that you cannot predict their behavior once the flop comes down. You can only take the most appropriate action for the situation that you find yourself in, and what you see is based upon my own experience and that of others who have experimented with this play and reported back on their findings. Don't forget-- if they were playing anywhere near correctly, they would have never called the preflop raise!

When You Flop Strong

By "strong", I mean a flop that you would have committed to had you made a conventional iso-raise. There is no sense in blowing them off the hand with a shove if you have no reasonable fear of giving cheap cards. If you start with the assumption gleaned from the previous example that they are likely to call it off with anything that remotely catches a piece, then you cannot worry about giving them cheap shots to make two pair or fill a set of deuces that may have folded to a shove. Maybe it would be helpful to think of making a tiny bet as the greatest form of limit hold'em that never existed that allows a guy to dump his entire stack with nothing. The odds you are appearing to give him are only an illusion, as you can fire in the rest on the turn if it becomes necessary, but don't be afraid to check if you pick up a great card, such a king or an ace. The smaller the remaining the stack, the more likely he is to take the "fuck it" route and toss in the rest, as the pot in the middle now seems to justify hopeless bluffs where he is concerned.

When You Nut It

I check 100% of the time in the example, as the board is crippled. Again, you can't predict how he will react, but a crippled board facing a small bet now reeks of suspicion. He might play poorly, but don't assume complete stupidity. He isn't likely to play back with his 74o against a small bet, as anyone can recognize that if you call any raise, he can't possibly hope to improve. Checking, however, not only might give him hope, but also gives him the chance to pair up with a 7 or 4, giving you the chance to stack him on future streets. Should he check back, keep checking all the way through the river before going for a check-raise. Don't let any runner-runner flush draws deter you, as they will have put so much of their stack in play at this point that you can expect them to call for the rest if they have any hope of winning at all.

Similarly, should you find yourself in a way ahead/way behind scenario, such as a flop of K22 or ATT, I would recommend just check calling it down. You aren't afraid of losing, but there is nothing that they can likely call any bets with, so let them bluff it off or just chalk it up to bad luck if they do wind up having it.

Future build-offs of this concept will be more situational based and juggle some potentially complex variables, yet for the most part, can't really be grasped unless you start by jumping in feet first and experimenting right away. For those of you who are brave enough or bored enough to buck convention and try it out, make sure to share your most ludicrous hand histories or Boom Player replays in the comments section on the Part Time Poker Facebook page!