Pro or Schmo?

Pro or Schmo?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Jeff Kimber on adjusting to amateur players.

You’ll often hear it said by professional players that they’d rather play against fellow pros than novices, but how can that ever make sense?

We’re playing for money here; why would you rather take on someone who has proven themselves to be good at the game, compared to someone who hasn’t?

Who would you rather play tennis for money against? Roger Federer, or Roger the fella from accounts, who still has the same wooden racquet he used at school?

Fancy facing Garry Kasparov in a game of chess for money, or Gary Smith, who isn’t really sure of the rules and mixes up chess with draughts?!

Putting flippancy aside (something with which I struggle), there is of course some sense to those that say playing against pros is easier. But in reality, the secret is to recognise the experience of your opponent and adjust your play accordingly.

If you’re running a big bluff and repping a very narrow range, then make sure your opponent is intelligent and experienced enough to recognise this. Conversely, if you’re up against someone who will call you with top pair whatever happens, your efforts will be in vain.

Similarly, really good players are hard to extract chips from. Whether you’re value-betting a big hand, or trying to construct a bluff, they will have seen it all before, and as such are difficult to outplay.

In general, it’s easier to get chips from amateur players – but make sure you know what kind of player they are.

At the recent GPS in Sheffield, I had this perfectly illustrated to me over a series of hands.

It was Day One, and my table was pretty tough, with recent Sky Poker Tour winner Alex Spencer, as well as vastly experienced online grinder Jack Ellwood both there (although thankfully both sitting on my right).
The rest of the table was more to my liking, though, made up of mainly unknown amateurs.

I played a complex hand with Jack that just illustrates why it’s not always good to play against great players.

I’d noticed the guy to Jack’s right, who had plenty of chips, was playing lots of hands and didn’t enjoy folding much. Jack seemed to have spotted this too, as he’d raised his blind from under the gun at least three orbits in a row. Twice he’d had to showdown some less than premium holdings, including K-4 suited and J-6 suited.

I fancied this might be a good spot for me to resteal if he continued to do so, and sure enough, Jack again raised under the gun.

Alex passed in between us, and I thought to myself that I’d three-bet most hands here. The ‘problem’ was my hand was too big – pocket Aces!

I knew Jack probably didn’t have much, and would fold all of the rubbish he’d been raising so far with. This is because he’s a good player who wouldn’t want to play out of position against another experienced pro when there were so many easier spots on the table. As well as this, he probably thought that I was quite tight, and likely anticipated that I would have a narrow range.

There were one or two short stacks behind, so I decided just flatting my Aces was a better way to get value out of them; this had the potential of trapping Jack if he did have a decent hand and one of the shorties decided to push.

I called, the guy to my left called, and both blinds peeled… far from ideal.

The flop came Qd-8d-2d all diamonds, not bad for my two red Aces. The blinds checked to Jack, and he continued for 1,800 into the 2,800 pot.
I decided just to call. Against a bad player, I could get my stack in good here, maybe with him crushed, say against pocket Jacks or A-Q.

I had an overpair and the nut flush draw, but I know Jack is too good to stack off light.

If I was to get his stack in on this flop, there was little doubt in my mind that it will be a flip at best for me.

Calling has the added benefit that it continues the disguised strength of my holding, and allows a squeeze behind from an inferior hand encouraged in by the dead money.

The guy to my left dwelled forever, telling us after the hand he passed A-Q – just the kind of hand I’d love to have got it in against – and both blinds passed too.

The turn was the As, improving my hand further. Now I had top set and the nut flush draw, though with three diamonds on the board, I was a still a long way from having the nuts.

I knew Jack must have something, having bet into four opponents. However, as I had the Ad, any flush draw wasn’t a monster. It's also possible that he could have two pair, but it was pretty unlikely.
He thought for a while and checked. I figured it was going to be hard to get two streets of value from his hand, whatever it may be, so I could check here and represent a busted flush draw, maybe getting paid light on the river should the board brick.

I checked behind and we saw a non-diamond brick. I was pretty sure I had the best hand, and just hoped Jack had enough to call a value bet.
However, he now put together a big bet, somewhere around 5,500 into 6,500.

What could he have here? I definitely wasn’t folding, but what would he pay off a raise with? I’d seen him raise with suited junk just about every hand that had gone to showdown, and I thought it was more than likely he had nothing... but there was still the slight worry that he may have flopped a flush.

I felt horribly nitty but after 30 seconds thought I said, “I should be raising here but I call,” and Jack flipped up three Eights!

Even a hand this big probably wouldn’t pay off a river raise, since though it was unlikely he’d know my hand, he’d probably feel he was beat. Still, it felt a bit sick that if I’d played my hand any other way – re-raising pre-flop or on the flop – I would have got the lot!

The problem with playing such a good player is that he plays so many hands that it’s unlikely he has anything, so will fold a lot to my aggression. Even when he has something, he’s good enough to fold it when he needs to. Just about anyone else would have done their stack there!

Moments later, Alex raised seat nine’s blind. The flop fell all clubs and the big blind donked. Alex put in a small raise and the big blind instantly shipped all-in for a massive overbet. Alex snapped him off with Ac-3c, the nuts, and seat nine couldn’t believe it.

“Ah you’ve got the Ace flush, I’ve got the King. Nice hand.”

I waited to see the cooler nuts against second nuts, but the big blind flipped up K-Q off suit for the king-high flush draw – drawing dead!

As Alex stacked his massive pot (which he won in about 30 seconds flat), I wondered if playing against professionals, as I had moments earlier in a 10-minute hand where I’d won the minimum, is all it’s cracked up to be!
Alex had played his hand fast and got the maximum reward, but sometimes you have to give your opponent a little rope if they’re trying hard to hang themselves. Keep it simple.

What you don’t want to do is try and run some complex multi-street bluff against an opponent not poker savvy enough to spot it. This works fine against good players, aka those who understand what you’re repping and your range, but not at all against those who don’t.

Of course, I got reminded of this in the most painful way to bust the tournament – on a bluff.

I was down to 20 bigs when a local guy with a lot of chips limped under the gun. He’d limped a few times, and the last time he’d done it he had dwell-called a 12BB shove with 7-8 suited. As a result, I felt I pretty much had to raise the button when it was passed to me.

My hand (Jh-Th) was perfect for doing this – it flops well, and I’d much rather play it as the aggressor rather than letting the blinds in on the cheap.

I made it 3BB and the big blind, a good experienced pro, cold called. This wasn’t in the plan, and I was pretty sure he would have a better hand than me given he was cold calling out of position, but nevertheless, the under the gun raiser came along and I felt I could still win a nice pot.

The flop came K-6-3 with two spades, which couldn’t have missed me any further if it tried! Still, with position and the betting lead, not to mention no showdown value, I obviously C-bet when it was checked to me.

The big blind again cold called, underlining that he had me beat, and the limp-caller also check-called. As third into the pot, I was trying to put him on a hand. I felt something like 5-6 suited made sense, as he would feel he’d be getting enough value to come along and try and hit.

I can’t imagine a worse turn card than the 6s. This completed the flush draw and paired the second card, meaning that the kind of hands I was putting my opponents on had just improved.

They both checked to me, and I checked behind. I’d part given up on this hand, but was also mindful that I was playing exactly as I would with a hand like A-K or K-Q, controlling the pot on the turn when I could have done behind, and seeing a river for free.

The turn paired the King, a great card for me to bluff at if I was given the chance!

I can’t think of any hand I’d play this way more than a flopped top pair – one that may have gone behind on the turn, but had rivered a house. So when they checked to me again, I decided to play it like I had Kings full.
I had just under a pot-sized bet left, but was mindful that a shove might look bluffy, and if I did have Kings full I’d want to get value. I decided to bet about half my stack.

The big blind had a small think and folded (he later said he had pocket Nines, which made perfect sense).

The pre-flop limper called me pretty quick.

“You got it,” I sighed.

He flipped over his A-9 triumphantly.

A-9! I had to look again! He didn’t even have a backdoor flushdraw on the flop, yet had over-called after I bet and the big blind called!

There was absolutely no way he could be winning on the flop: even if he was beating me, he wasn’t beating us both. And if he was, he was going to have to avoid a load of danger cards (which he didn’t) and put a lot of chips in with not much of a hand (which he did, happily). All this after not feeling his hand was worthy of even putting a min-raise in pre!

The big blind quietly told me his hand and how sure he was I had a house, but from down the table my vanquisher was happily telling his neighbours, “I knew he had nothing when he checked the turn.”

I mean, I played my hand exactly like I had a King. Even if I did have nothing (which I did), if the big blind checks again, it’s pretty obvious that he has more showdown value than A-9 – so checking it and hoping I bluff out the best hand was his only hope.

I was caught in a perfect storm, and was almost happy the same guy got my scratch in a race a couple of hands later so I could get to the bar!
In defence of the other guy, he was a recreational player enjoying the game and not thinking too hard about what went on, and good luck to him. I certainly don’t want him to change the way he plays, I want me to change instead.

Poker isn’t just a game of playing your own hand, it’s a battle of wills and minds against a succession of opponents of varying experience and skill.

Tailoring your play to each opponent in order is key to maximising returns, just as a football manager changes tactics each game to give his team the best chance of victory.

You have to be able to beat players from all walks of life to win a tournament, just as the football manager has to beat teams from every division.

Each poses a different problem, and the minnows can be tricky or get lucky… but you’d rather play Macclesfield not Manchester City every day of the week!

Tags: Strategy, Jeff Kimber