Friday, August 05, 2005

Poker is gambling

It is funny when I hear a "good" poker player saying "Poker isn't gambling". The speaker is implying that since there is skill involved in poker, then it is not gambling.

I would certainly agree that there are skills that people can use to significantly improve their results to maximize their wins and minimize their loses. However, the outcome of any given hand has a great deal of uncertainty that is substantially impacted by factors that are out of control of the players (e.g. the distribution of cards, the suit and rank of the next card to come off the deck, etc).


I'll post a couple of hands that I played today in a live $20/$40 limit hold'em game. I know I was gambling in these hands. In the first hand I gambled to win a bigger pot, and in the second hand I gambled to maximize my chance of winning the pot. My decisions in these hands are debatable at best and perhaps quite poor. I want to write about them to generate some thoughts about them.

Hand #1 was my 2nd hand at this table, and Hand #2 was less than 30 minutes later. It is a 9 seated $20/$40 limit hold'em game.

hand #1
MP+1 is an unknown, but looks like a loose gambling player from his presentation. BB is a semi-loose semi-aggressive player who just folded a gutshot draw on the turn of the previous hand which hit on the river (His pot odds had been ~4.5:1 on the turn, and the draw was a draw to the nuts.) He had agonized for 15 seconds before folding and was a tad steamed when the card hit.
- preflop: folded to MP+1 who raises, folded to me in the SB, I look down and find AhAd, and I call only, BB calls. (3 players, 6 small bets)
- flop: QdThTs, blinds check. MP+1 bets, I check raise, BB smooth calls, MP+1 calls (3 players, 12 small bets)
- turn: QdThTs4d, I check, BB bets, MP+1 calls, I insta fold (2 players, 8 big bets)
- river: QdThTs4d6c, BB bets, MP+1 calls, BB shows QsTc, MP+1 folds. (final pot: 10 big bets)

In hand #1, I was right in the borderline position where it is debatable for me whether or not to 3 bet preflop. If I was heads up in the big blind I will almost always call only. If I was on the button or earlier I would always reraise. Definitely the safe play is to reraise. If the BB folds preflop, then I will likely win 4.5 big bets in the hand vs. losing 2 big bets. If the BB calls the reraise, I will likely lose 5 big bets.
Based on my later chats with BB and observing his play, I believe he folds QTo about 70% of the time to a reraise, but this folding % might be less than 25% if he was on tilt from missing out on the river suckout on his immediately preceeding hand.
I was very worried when I saw the flop, and specifically check raised to test both players for a T. To be fair, despite the unlucky flop, I was actually very lucky that it was so apparent that I was outflopped. If the flop had come 2cQdTh, I would likely have lost 4.5-5.5 big bets.

hand #2
UTG is a semi-loose semi-aggressive player, MP and MP+1 are passive, CO is semi-loose aggressive, Button and SB are loose aggressive,
- UTG calls, fold, MP calls, MP+1 calls, fold, CO calls, button calls, SB completes, I find KhKd in the BB and I check (7 players, 7 small bets)
- flop: 3c7h9h, checked around to the button who bets, SB folds, I call, UTG folds, MP calls, MP+1 calls, CO folds (4 players, 11 small bets)
- turn: 3c7h9hQs, checked around to the button who bets, I check raise, MP says I have 39 and folds, MP+1 folds, button flashes a 7 and folds. (final pot: 8.5 big bets)

In hand #2, I'm 99% sure I should have raised preflop to get those extra small bets from my 3-5 opponents who will likely completely miss the flop. The only 2 advantages I can see from me checking preflop is 1) to keep the pot small and 2) make the minimum investment if an A flops
For 1) it appears that the flop at least partially hit 3 of my opponents, and all 3 (or perhaps more) opponents would likely have seen the river with me if I had raised preflop (probably unless I was to again check/call the flop and check/raise the turn, but this is much, much less likely to happen if I had raised preflop) My guess is that my pot equity is 65-75% on the turn. Based on the situation, I'm certain that neither opponent had an A high flush draw (I don't mention the K because I have it). One thing I wonder is what percentage of opponents would fold a T high or lower flush draw on the turn getting 4.1:1? What percentage would fold a T high or lower flush draw and a pair?
For 2) If an A flops and there is a bet and call, can I continue in the hand? Typically in a very multiway hand, I will fold KK to a bet on an A high flop especially if there are multiple draws on the board. I might call one bet if I have a back door nut flush draw since 11 cards would improve my hand)
My flop play is somewhat debatable, but I would almost always make the same play again. I think that a flop check raise does not protect my hand on the flop and gives me no protection on the turn.

Part of what influenced me to maximize my chance to win hand #2 (instead of trying to win a big pot) that over the preceeding 2 session hours of $20/$40 play I had won very few pots, perhaps 3, plus the loss of hand #1 (although ironically in one hand raising preflop increases my chance of winning the pot while in the other hand raising preflop decreases my chances.). I should never let the immediate history affect my play like this.
If I had to do it over again, I would play hand #2 for a big pot, and see if my hand can hold up. Poker IS gambling.

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