Saturday, April 04, 2009

Going Deep in an Online PLO8 Tournament, Part 1 – Early Stage Play

Originally published in 2p2 magazine, all rights go to the author.

Overall strategy for early levels

Situations to Seek:

Getting it all-in preflop with a 60% or better hand. Ideally, if I can get it all-in preflop against one or two opponents with some AAWx (Ace-Ace-Wheel plus any fourth card) combo, I will not hesitate.

Getting involved multiway with A23x, A24x, A25x, preferably with some flush draws. I would prefer not to get it all-in preflop, but I can mostly call a raise up to maybe 20% of my stack preflop for a multiway pot.

Getting maximum value out of secure hands. I would ideally like a lock on the high side with multiple players chasing the low. Other strong selections include having a nut low with redraw and a strong high side draw, or even flopping strong draws in both directions, such as the often heartbreaking favorite nut-flush-draw/nut-low-draw. (NFD/NLD)

Playing Marginal Hands only with position and large fields. By marginal hands, I mean hands that do not contain AAxy or A2xy. This includes all kinds of ‘Yahtzee!’ and ‘Bingo’ hands that can scoop a pot with an appropriate board. Four high cards with a suited Ace, any three wheel cards, suited ace hands are all candidate hands.

Situations to avoid:

One way chases on a two way board, especially awful in a heads up situation when the opponent is betting heavy. It’s usually not a good situation in multi-way pots either.

Clichéd nut lows in deep pots. If I make a low using A2, it’s much more likely that I am not the only such low than if I make it with 35 or 25. If I have nut low using A2, but I have no real high draws, and no counterfeit protection, it will occasionally be correct to fold it on the flop in the face of heavy multi-way action.

Going deep with Naked Aces. AAxy is typically a pre-flop favorite, but in the early levels, all kinds of hands are getting the correct odds to call a pre-flop raise. If the pot is going deep, and I have a pair of aces and no redraws, this is frequently not a good situation.

Hand Play

Level 1 - Starting 3,000 in chips, 10/20 blinds.

Hand 7 – 2[diamond]3[spade]4[heart]8[spade] Big Blind (10/20) Chips 2,845 (check)

I check this middling but not hopeless hand after two limpers and a small blind completion. I am mostly looking for an ace on the flop. If my opponents hold zero aces, there is a 30% chance to flop one or more aces. If they hold one ace, that drops to 24%. With two aces out, it’s 16%. I’m not getting fantastic implied odds, but there are plenty of chips behind if I hit a bingo.

Flop 3[club]5[club]J[diamond] (pot = 80; check-call 40)

Three checks and late position bets 40. I call with my open-ended straight draw, since the price is still low and I have no reason to assume my 24 low is beaten yet. The other two players call as well.

Turn A[spade]. (pot = 240; bet 180)

Bingo! I now have the nut low, and am only behind right now to anyone else with 24 and a club draw. SB checks, I bet 180, or ¾ of the pot, to prevent any weak draws from staying for free. Three callers, but I have no idea what they could hold, since it is early in the tournament, and these may be unskilled players. Any 24 with the club draw should have raised here, as should any 246x which is free-rolling for a better straight. Thus, I am very likely ahead at this point. I have 2,625 behind.

River Q[diamond] (pot = 960; bet 960)

I am now behind KTxy for the high (unlikely), tied with 24xx for the low, but still very likely ahead of all three callers. Because it is early in the tournament, I would like to get as much from the weaker players as possible, so I bet the pot when the SB checks, and AJ77 in late position (the lead bettor on the flop) is kind enough to pay off, and the other two fold.

Hand 8 –3[diamond]6[heart]9[club]7[spade] Small Blind (10/20) 4,535 chips (fold)

Despite being offered 7 to 1 odds to see a flop, I fold. With a hand like this, it is nearly impossible to make a hand that can scoop and also get paid. (The chances of somehow making quads and getting paid by AAxy are microscopically smaller than 7 to 1, especially since nobody raised pre-flop.)

Level 2 – Blinds are 15/30. No change in strategy.

Hand 23 – A[club]2[diamond]3[heart]9[diamond] Big Blind (15/30) 4,370 chips (raise to 120)

There are 3 limpers, two of whom have previously shown non-standard (dubious) preflop hand selections, so my low draw is probably miles ahead right now. I would like to build up a pot early to give the other players motivation to chase, so I raise to a non-threatening 4bb (120), and 2 of the players come along. The pot is 390, the two other players have 2,900 and 4,000, and the dream is to see them competing for the high side when I have a made low.

Flop Q[diamond]5[heart]8[spade] (pot = 390; check)

I have no high draw, and although I may be giving away my hand with this check, the option of lead betting and getting raised is not at all appealing. All three of us check

Turn 5[diamond] (pot = 390; check)

Betting is now plausible with a weak diamond draw and a good low draw, but given the check-calling passivity I have seen at this the table, I’d rather make a hand before putting more chips in. The action checks around.

River J[diamond] (pot = 390; call 180)

I have a weak flush, and the SB leads out for half the pot. There are three likely meanings here:
1) SB has nothing, but assumes that the other players were chasing lows and cannot call a bet.
2) SB has a diamonds flush, just as likely better than mine.
3) SB has a full house, which seems unlikely, since anyone with a 5 should have bet the turn to shut down any low draws.

After a moment of consideration, I decided that the 180 does not represent enough of my stack to preclude a curiosity call. I expect to lose, but I also wish to advertise that I cannot be easily bluffed.

I call, third player folds, and the bettor shows JJ37 for an unlikely riverboat. I filed this information on the SB on my right for later use.

Level 3 – Blinds 25/50, my stack is 4,100. Game plan largely unchanged.

Hand 32 – Q[spade]4[spade]8[diamond]5[club] SB (25/50) 4000 chips (call)

This is a very weak hand, and a fold is better play, but since only the button has limped, I take the pot odds of 5 to 1 on a trash hand. BB checks.

Flop A[club]2[spade]K[spade] (pot = 150; bet 100)

I have 3rd nut low draw, and 2nd nut flush draw. Since the button did not show strength pre-flop, I lead out for 2/3 of the pot, the BB calls and the button folds.

Turn J[diamond] (pot = 350; check)

I check and the BB checks. I am likely behind in one of the two directions, but not necessarily both, so I want to get to the river cheaply without a made hand

River 9[diamond] (pot = 350; check)

The low-draw/flush-draw combo has missed both ways, as it will around 40% of the time. I will not bluff without a pair, and BB is happy to check behind with K[diamond]2[diamond]3[club]3[spade], an unimproved two pair. Calling the flop with two pair and no low draw is potentially a negative EV play. I could have won a very big pot if a low hit on the turn and allowed me to safely build up the pot in case I hit a spade on the river. However, since the turn and river are bricks, BB wins a small pot.

I have a reasonable amount of information on the players to my immediate right and left, and have seen them make small mistakes that went unpunished, as often happens in PLO8 tournaments. Let’s hope the table doesn’t break up anytime soon!

Hand 33 –4[spade]7[spade]2[diamond]5[heart] on the button, (25/50) 3,900 chips (call)

While this is a marginal hand, three wheel cards occasionally gives big draws, so I call after one early limper. Given what I know of the limper, I am likely ahead for the low draw. The Small Blind folds and the Big Blind checks.

Flop 5[club]5[diamond]9[heart]. (pot = 175; bet 100)

Two checks and I lead out for half the pot and the SB calls.

Turn A[diamond] (pot = 375; call 100)

Small blind leads out for 100. I do not have the diamond draw, but I am not folding trips with a reasonable low draw, but I am not excited enough about my kicker to raise.

River 8[spade]. (pot = 575; call 150)

BB leads for 150, and I have a reasonable made low (but not nut), and trip fives with a poor side card. Raising is an option here, although there are some big blind hands that have us beat.
· 235 with any card higher than 7
· 245 with any card higher than 7.
· 2388, 2488, 2399, 2499

Otherwise I am likely ahead here, and may want to raise. However, will any hands weaker than mine pay me off?

23xx – These hands will pay me off, but I will not gain anything. They may even put me to the test with a reraise.
5 plus a card higher than 7. These hands are also chopping the pot with me. Ideally, I would like to see any combination of 5Txx, 5Jxx, 5Qxx, 5Kxx to fold to my reraise, but if the other two cards make any plausible low, it is unlikely that villain will fold to a repot.
24xx with no fives– I would get ¾ of the pot, so I want to build a pot as much as possible.

It is worth noting that with this hand at this level against an unknown opponent, hand reading is too tricky. I have not shown strength, and villain has also not shown strength, but we both have both shown an unwillingness to fold for small bets. I can likely rule out villain holding a true monster, such as 23 with a full house, but there are few other combinations that I can rule out with this betting sequence, especially when I am at a stage when many unskilled players still possess chips.

In the end, I go with caution and call. The BB turns over A[spade]T[spade]T[club]9[club], meaning that he was leading out with an overpair and no low draw. While failing to raise on the river was an error, it was probably a low-cost error, since BB should have folded to a repot. Still, it’s tough to win tournaments by leaving potential chips un-won.

Hand 34 – 2[diamond]3[spade]5[diamond]7[diamond] Cutoff position (25/50) 3,500 chips (call)

Given the playing habits of my tablemates so far, after two limpers I choose to see a flop cheaply with a very marginal hand that will often end up second best. It does not help to have three cards of one suit, since I am damaging my chances at a flush draw. If an ace does not fall on the flop, I am done with the hand, but if it does, I am optimally looking for a hand where two other players are competing for the high side, and I have a lock low. Any nut low I make here is a ‘non-cliché’ low, of course. This limp represents less than 2% of my stack. If it were much more than that, this hand is a clear fold.

Flop 3[heart]5[heart]7[heart]. (pot = 300; fold)

The UTG limper leads out for a pot-sized bet, and I fold. Even without the flush on the board, it is usually wise to fold with three low pairs, since I cannot make a meaningful low, and building a pot chasing the full house against a made low with any high draw (or a made high) is not good policy.

Incidentally, a hand like A[heart]2[club]xy without a flush should generally bet this flop in the hopes of getting weak flushes to fold. Any A2xy hand without the ace of hearts or a flush should generally not escalate the hand early, since there is a reasonable chance that an A2xx with hearts is in the mix.

Hand 35 – A[diamond]A[heart]2[heart]6[heart] mid-position (25/50) 4,300 chips. (raise 225)

After one limper UTG, I raise the maximum to 225 and the player on my immediate left (from hand 33) and the UTG limper both call. My opponents have 5,300 (left) and 1,800 (UTG).

Flop 6[diamond]6[club]8[club]. (pot = 750; bet 300)

I would love to build up a huge pot against any A2xy hand, or against any 6xyz hand without an 8. I lead out with a sucker continuation bet of 300, slightly less than half the pot. I also want to charge overpairs such as QQxy or JJxy to stay, lest they get a boat for free on the turn. I’d also like to see the small bet interpreted as weakness and be raised. The player on my immediate left calls, and we are heads-up.

Turn 9[diamond]. (pot = 1,350; bet 300 call a raise to 850)

I made an underbet of 300 (I believe I misclicked, but this is an awful bet size!) and villain raises to 850. After a moment, I flat call. I do not have a made low, and cannot rule out a garbage hand such as 88xx or 99xx for the villain, so there is no need to further inflate the pot right now.

River J[club] (pot = 3050; check)

I check, and villain checks behind with K[heart]K[spade]Q[club]9[club], and his clubs are good.

Playing this hand more aggressively from the flop might have won a small pot quickly, or it might have knocked me out of the tourney if villain had committed early with his overpair and a flush draw.

It is worth noting that nemesis called the two (undersized) bets with an overpair, a non-nut flush draw and no low draw, after calling a preflop raise with a marginal hand. One of the commonly accepted tenets of PLO8 is ‘never chase for half the pot’ which is exactly what nemesis did. It is even worse to chase a non-nut hand. In all fairness, my underbets did not show strength, and a big bet on the flop would have likely taken down the pot.

Level 4 – Blinds are now 50/100 and I have 2,900 in chips, or 20M. This is a playable stack and I am far from desperate.

Hand 53 – 2[diamond]3[club]5[club]6[club] UTG (50/100) 2,700 chips (call)

I limp with another marginal three-wheel hand. This is a limp out of boredom, since I haven’t seen a flop for 18 hands. This table has not been very aggressive, so I take a chance that I will not be raised by any hands weaker than AAxy, especially since it would be easy to interpret my UTG limp as a very strong hand, even though it actually is not. All players fold down to the BB, who has a stack larger than ours, and the BB checks. Much like hand 34, I am looking for an ace on the flop. However, since I am only against the BB, I have to assume that any low I make with 23 is very likely to hold up.

Flop K[diamond]9[spade]2[spade]. (pot =250; check)

The BB checks. I have bottom pair and a backdoor low draw, but would have to fold to a check-raise. Seeing the turn for free is better than inadvertently betting into two pair or a flush draw.

Turn 2[club], (pot=250; bet 250)

BB checks, and there is no reason to assume I can make more money by waiting till the river to bet, so I bet the pot, and BB goes away. Not a fantastic hand, but after 18 consecutive folds, it’s encouraging to see a flop and take down a small pot.

Hand 54 – A[spade]2[heart]8[club] 9[spade] BB (50/100) 2,800 chips (check).

There is one EP limper, and the SB completes.

Arguments for checking this hand include:
· backup low (8) is the worst possible emergency low.
· side card (9) has no high strength
· Because the blinds have increased in proportion to my stack, betting the pot could present a very difficult decision on the turn for all my chips with a weak holding
· There are less limpers than in the prior hand
· fold equity is minimal
· If my raise is called, I am out of position for the rest of the hand
· A check keeps the hand completely secret. Because my opponents are unlikely to give me credit for A2xy, I have a better chance of ending up in a big 3 way pot with nut low, and one of the opponents putting in chips on the assumption that his 2nd nut low hand will be good.

Arguments for raising with this hand include:
· There is only one early position limper, whose low is probably worse than A2
· It has an ‘emergency low’ to help with counterfeit protection heads-up
· It has a suited ace
· It has 89, which gives us some chance at a straight
· The Small Blind probably completed with a junk hand and would fold to a raise.
· Given that I have folded every hand for two rotations around, my table image is presumed tight.
· I could win 200 chips without a fight.
· I will be out of position for the remainder of the hand if I do not end it now.

I choose to check because I am looking for a big score at this time. I can either risk an extra 10% of my stack now for a likely 7% increase, or I can risk zero additional chips for a potentially bigger payoff.

Flop J[club]7[spade]2[diamond] (pot = 300; check)

I have bottom pair, backdoor flush draw, gutshot straight, and a very weak low draw. I check and it is checked around. I could make a half-pot bet, but if either villain raises me here, I would have to fold my draws. A3 and A4 are certainly not folding if I take a stab here.

Turn T[club] (pot=300; bet 300)

I have the temporary nuts. There are no possible river cards that preserve the nut hand status, so I would like to take the pot down right now. A pot-sized bet, and nemesis (hands #33 and #35) calls.

River J[heart] (pot =900; bet=700)

This is probably one of the least harmful cards in the deck. Given the action so far, it is very doubtful that villain holds a jack, since top pair plus a low draw, or two pair on the flop would have merited a bet, and the call on the turn strongly indicates a drawing hand. I bet 700, and nemesis folds.

Hand 56 – 2[heart]3[club]6[diamond]8[diamond] Button (50/100) 3,400 chips (call)

There are two limpers, and I elect to limp in with this speculative hand from the button. The SB completes and BB checks. This is a much more sensible limp than hand 53, although choosing to fold this preflop is also sensible.

Flop Q[heart]7[spade]8[spade] (pot=500; fold)

The 3rd player to act bets 300. I am mostly looking for an ace on the flop, and I didn’t get one. I fold 3rd nut low draw and middle pair.

Hand 56 concludes level 4.


Stack is 3,200 at the conclusion of four levels. The bad news is that I failed to increase the chip stack while the weaker players are still splashing their chips like drunken sailors. The good news is that I have outlasted half of the field, as there are 36 players remaining out of a field of 72. The payouts begin at 12th place, so I will need to increase the stack to get to the prizes.

In terms of hand distribution so far, I have seen two A2xx hands, and one AA2x hand out of 56 hands, and not a lot of playable aces in general. Without going into the statistics, I’m quite certain that my starting hands have been below average expectation. This led to a lot of folding, and eventually took me to playing marginal hands out of position, which is an easy way to get into big trouble.

In the early stages of a PLO8 tournament, the player skill level is often low enough that hands cannot be read with any degree of certainty. I have to choose between risking my stack against an enigmatic holding and taking smaller risks for smaller rewards. My choices so far in this tournament have kept me alive, but not built up a big stack.