Sunday, December 20, 2009

Part 3

Going Deep in an Online PLO8 Tournament, Part 3 – Catastrophe Play, Shorthanded Play, and Why Play plo8 at all?

By Dan “FNJ” Wolcott

For part 3, I had originally planned to take you hand for hand through a series of short-handed and low M battles. However, I realized as soon as I put together a draft, that this made the article almost as exciting as the 1040 short form for tax filing.

So instead, I’ll switch things up. I’ll talk about PLO8 MTTs in general, look at a catastrophe hand, offer some general principles for low M play at a full table, and then walk through some Low M decisions.

Why PLO8 MTTs?

As grown up with a mortgage and a day job, I do not have as many opportunities to play MTTs as the average 20 year-old, but I certainly enjoy dedicating an evening to duking it out with the good players, the naked aggression players, and the blessed fools who make these PLO8 MTTs profitable. I have a strong feeling that 10% of the field is actually drunk and playing completely for entertainment purposes in any given tournament, and that 40% of the field makes very poor post-flop decisions.

At the risk of eliminating the suspense, I will confess that I ultimately win this tournament. But winning a single PLO8 MTT is meaningless. I have seen any number of holy fools take down tournaments through naked aggression in combination with being rewarded for making awful decisions. I assert that of all the current popular variants of poker, PLO8 is the one that provides more opportunities for the unskilled to ‘luckbox’ their way out of tight situations, and find scoops when 90% of the possible outcomes lead them to a chop or a loss.

So why bother with this variant at all, since it is clearly a field full of land mines and a guaranteed tilt factory? Precisely because these MTTs are currently populated with a tremendous amount of players who make awful decisions. If you are able to get all your chips in the middle with a favorable chance of scooping against these unskilled players, you can work your chipstack into something that will take you to the final table. Granted, the holy fools have you outnumbered in most tournaments, but you only need to put your money in good a handful of times to amass a stack that could take you to the final table. Better still, if you survive to the final table, your skill advantage will give you a much better chance to cash out higher than those who habitually push QQT4 rainbow from under the gun at a full table.

For the Hold’em tournament players, let me contrast this with your game of choice. In an NLHE tournament, you will occasionally get your chips in the middle with your opponent drawing dead, but more often you will get your chips in the middle in situations where you are the 70/30 favorite, but if your opponent hits, you will lose the contents of the pot, conceivably your entire chipstack. In a PLO8 tournament, you can often get your chips in the middle when you have a lock on ½ of the pot, and you have a decent number of scoop or ¾ outs for a freeroll. When playing against the unskilled, wouldn’t you prefer to lock down half the pot?

Meanwhile, back at the Tournament

We are back from the 2nd break, and we are still waiting for the bubble. As you will see from the hand play to come, this will be a good time to discuss play in Harrington’s ‘Red-Zone’, and how the split-pot aspect of this game affects the zone concepts. I do not have statistical or mathematical proof of my assertions on zone play, and I hope that this starting point generates some productive debate on the two plus two discussion forum.

Hand Play

Level 9 – Hand 120 – Blinds go up to 150/300. There are 29 players remaining, and payouts begin with 12th place.

Level 10 (Hand 130) Blinds go to 200/400, and I was quiet for the whole 9th level, except for an abortive steal attempt that I abandoned at the flop. My M is less than 8. I should steal when I can, and not be too afraid of coin-flips.

Hand 130 – I steal from the button w/J♣4♠5♣6♦ and the SB and BB fold.

In a tournament, you should always be on the lookout for good stealing opportunities. In a split pot game, you should always be happy to walk away with the blinds, even when you have a very strong hand, because even the mighty A23K double-suited is only a 60/40 favorite against the top 70% hand range.

In this particular case, I had a read that SB and BB would have a tight defending range and that fold equity would make this a profitable play. If either of them play back at me, this is a reasonably coordinated hand with some strength in each direction.
• If there is a defense with AWhh, this hand is a 58/43 dog, but J456 is actually the favorite to make a low if villain only has two low cards, thanks to counterfeiting.
• If either villain has an AAxx hand, it is a virtual coin flip, unless the X is a 5 or better. AA3h is only a 61/39 favorite here.
• If either of the villains is inclined to defend too lightly, this hand is virtually a coin flip (53/47) against the top 70-80% of O8 hands and it is a favorite for the low.

Hand 142 – 4♦ A♦ Q♥ A♠ Small Blind (200/400) Chips 4768 (raise to 1200)

No limpers, and an obvious steal hand. Big Blind has 3,879 after posting, and calls the 800.
lop A♣ K♦ Q♣ (pot = 2400; bet 2400 and call a reraise for 679 more)

This is a good news/bad news flop. I am extremely likely to be ahead, since villain has a 7.5% chance of having a JT combination in any random hand, and if villain does turn over JT, I still have redraws to a full house. I cannot give a free card to any drawing hand, such as combinations of flush, straight and backdoor low draws, so I must take my chances that villain does not have JT.

Villain turns over Q♦ J♥ T♣ 4♠ and I am now a big underdog.

Turn/River 6♥7♠ and I now have less than one big blind left, 489 chips.

It is worth commenting on villain’s play here. Villain paid an additional 800 to see a flop, with implied odds of 3079 chips behind. As you can see, this gamble worked out very well for the villain. If either of us had less chips in play, this would not be a great move on villain’s part.

Now that I am in the Red Zone, this is a good time to talk about the concept of zones as discussed in the Harrington/Robertie NLHE tournament books.
Yellow Zone Guidelines

Arbitrarily, let us call 2M to 5M the yellow zone. The split pot element makes the distinction between green and yellow very fuzzy. In fact, I would go as far as to assert that the concept of zones barely even applies to the PLO8 game, except perhaps for the red zone, which is somewhere below 2M.

But here are some guidelines for suggested ‘book’ play in the speculative yellow zone.

• Continue generally tight from early position.
• Be ready to open raise from late position with any hand that is capable of making a low, or any hand with significant high-card strength.
• Get involved in multi-way raised pots with A2Wx
• Defend your Big Blind with a wider range when facing a raiser for heads-up, especially late position raisers.
• Do not defend your Big Blind with junk when there is a raise with one or more callers.
• If you have a read that SB and BB are tight, open-steal with any garbage hand that is not hopeless in either direction. (See hand 130 above.)

You should (sensibly) gamble more in the yellow zone than you do in the green zone. If nothing else, it will make your tablemates hesitant to steal your big blind.

Red Zone Guidelines

Arbitrarily, let us call anything below 2M the Red Zone.

Just as cockroaches can be tough to kill, short stacks can be tough to eliminate. Here are some ‘roaching’ tips.

• If there is an early position raise and you think the blinds are likely to fold, often call with random junk that can make a low, especially with two wheel cards and a third ‘emergency low’ card. With 2M or less, chopping the blinds with an aggressive player pushing AAxx, A2xx or worse is a very good proposition.
• Open raise from early or middle position with WWLX or better
• Open-raise from late position with a very wide range of hands that can make a low
• Virtually never fold your Big Blind pre-flop in a heads-up situation, even when you cannot make a low
• Push any random junk from the Small Blind to open.

Probability states that we will get a hand that contains either AAxx or AWxx about 20% of the time. This means that there is a 75% chance that we will find an AWxx combination to push, if we have six hands before the blinds. If we find nothing playable in those six hands, we are mostly obligated to play a ‘flippament’ in the big blind and begin the selection process over again if we are lucky enough to survive.

Low M Play in Practice

My stack is 489, and blinds are 200/400. It may seem as if I am the walking dead here, but I try not despair, but pick my spots and give myself the best chance to recover. On the bright side here, I have eight hands to choose from before I must put in my chips involuntarily. Also, the tournament is pre-bubble, so the table may be more cautious in general.

Hand 143 – Fold 5♠ 6♥ T♣ 8♠ on the button after a raise and a caller. This is a hand I would be willing to put in heads-up against AAxx or A2xx with the hope of chopping the blinds, but with two players in, my chances at the low are presumably negligible, and my high possibilities with this hand are also negligible.

Blinds have gone up to 300/600, which means I am now below 1M.

Hand 144 – Open call 9♠ 6♦ 7♠ T♦ from the cutoff. This hand has a plausible but poor low, but it is very coordinated for the high, despite the lack of broadway cards.
There are three callers, the final board is 4♣ 3♣ 8♦ 3♦ 2♦ and the weak backdoor flush is good for half of the four way pot. My chipstack is now 978, or 1.5M

Hand 145 - fold T♣ 7♣ K♣ 6♠ after an early raiser with four players yet to act behind me. While this hand has some play heads-up, it will be a huge underdog if any of the four remaining players get involved.

Hands 146-149
Open-fold 6♦ 5♦ 8♣ 9♠ with five players to act.
Open-fold 8♦ 2♦ T♦ 5♦ - with six players to act.
Open-fold 8♣ A♦ T♠ 9♣ - with six players to act.
Open fold 2♣ 9♥ K♥ 4♥ - with seven players to act.

Note that any of these hands would have been playable for a heads up confrontation, but from early position they become folds for the same reason as hands 143 and 145.

Hand 150 – Call a raise for heads-up from BB with 5♠ J♠ 7♥ A♦. I am very fortunate to find an ace-wheel combination. Of course, with 978 chips, the only hands I could have folded here involve trips. I make a broadway straight for a double up against 6♣ 9♦ 6♦ A♠.

My chipstack is now 2256, or 2M. This gives me enough to be picky for at least the next six hands, and in some circumstances, I may even choose to fold my next big blind.

Hand 151 – Open raise from the Small Blind with 9♣ A♥ A♠ 9♦

A no-brainer push results in a chop with T♦ 4♥ 9♠ 3♠. No change to stack (2256).

Hands 152-154
Fold J♣ 6♣ 3♥ T♣ after one limper
Open-fold T♥ 8♦ 6♥ 7♠

This hand has a similar shape to hand 144, but since I have more than 2M, I am playing ‘yellow zone’ which makes this a fold.

Fold 8♠ 2♦ K♠ 9♦ after one raise.
Open-fold K♠6♣6♦3♦

Hand 155 – Open Push A♦9♠2♣5♥ with seven players behind, and there is one caller. This hand is acceptable for heads up or multi-way play from any position with a very low M, since it has a reasonable chance of making top pair heads up, and it has a very decent chance to make the best low in a multi-way pot.

Happily, my one caller holds 2♣3♣4♣6♥ and my Ace-high is good enough for a scoop when neither of us make a pair or a low. I more than double up to 5412, or 4.5M.

Another player is eliminated to spare me the agony of surrendering a big blind, so I get to fold my small blind for 400, and fold hands 156 and 157.

Hand 158 I double up again with A♦A♥6♣9♠ and my stack is now 11,224, a little more than 9M and I am arguably in the green zone.


The moral of the story is that even with a walking-dead chipstack, you always have some chance of coming back in a split-pot game. If you pick your spots wisely and get a little cooperation from the deck, you may just find a double-up or two and work your way back into the hunt.