The Hand "You Can't Get Away From"

Alex Rousso

Pub quiz question: who was the first act to perform the title track from the album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at a live gig? Before you think I’m getting all reverse-reverse psychology on you, yes, it was written by the Beatles. The answer is Jimi Hendrix. The album was released on a Friday and Jimi covered it at his concert on the Sunday (with Harrison and McCartney in the audience) before the Beatles even had an opportunity to perform it themselves!

I’m certainly no Jimi Hendrix, but I’d like to introduce to you a concept that I read about in Jeff Hwang’s new book, even before it has hit the shelves. I got an advanced copy of it by turning up to the Excalibur in Vegas where Jeff has been hosting a PLO game on the PokerTek tables there for the past few months.

The concept is SPR, or “stack to pot ratio”. It’s especially important for pot limit games such as Omaha High. Very simply, it’s the ratio of your stack size to the pot. This is a useful way of conceptualising just how many bets there are left, specifically in terms of pot-sized bets, raises and reraises. If you have an SPR of 1, you have only one pot-sized bet to call or bet before you are all in. An SPR of 4 means that you can call or bet the size of the pot on both the current street and the next one, or alternatively have enough to bet or call a pot reraise all in on one street.

Hwang’s SPR concept has allowed me to add a little something to my analysis of a hand that otherwise might have been an “ah well, all the money has to go in – nowt you can do” job. It’s those extra little somethings that build up to make a better player.

I was playing with a $505 stack at one of the action-packed $2/$5 PLO games at the Venetian when I found QJT9 double suited in the small blind. It is limped around to me and I make a pot-sized raise to $35 total. Five others call the raise (not unusual for this particular game!) The flop comes J-9-7 rainbow and with my top two pair and nut straight draw I’m first to act.

Of course, with five players left to act, there is a decent chance that the T-8 is out there for the straight, but given my draws there’s very little I can do about that. I have top two pair and a straight draw, plus a back door flush draw – against the made straight with no redraws I’m about even money. Against some funky combination like the QT8X or T998 I’m in more trouble (take a guess how much trouble: would you believe, only about 37% dog?), but most “nightmare” opponent holdings such as T877 and T987 double suited are really not far ahead. Given that there is $210 in the pot and I only have $470 left behind, there’s not too much room for manoeuvre.

By virtue of the fact that I raised preflop and some of the opponents can be loose and fishy in this game, there are a number of hands that could come with me here that I have great odds against – hands, for example, which put me on Aces and think they are ahead, such as 9876 or some J-7 combination. The bottom line is that with $470 left to put into a final pot of $1150 (assuming one caller who has T-8) I have about 41% pot equity and between 8-12 outs against all of the holdings to which I am behind, so I have to stick the money in.

I bet out for $160 and it gets folded around to the button who duly repots it, and I call my remaining $305 all in. He turns over QT82 – one of the worst holdings I could be up against. After a brief comedy where I ask to get it run twice but the dealer doesn’t hear me and exposes the turn card, I brick out and my opponent scoops the pot. (Note, if you want to deal it twice or do anything else different, be sure that the dealer knows you wish to do this before any action proceeds.)

So what, just one of those hands? Just deal and move on? Well, not quite. I think Hwang’s SPR can help a bit here. On the flop, I have an SPR of around 2. Given the hand I have, and the action so far, it is really impossible for me to do anything but stick all my money in. If I’m up against a combination which makes it a bad push equity-wise, I can simply count myself unlucky. There just isn’t enough play left in the hand to find out. The action “check-call flop and check-fold turn” (assuming a brick) is not correct, and all other options are either wrong or simply involve sticking my money in. So what else can be said?

If there was nothing wrong post-flop, let’s have a look at pre-flop. I raised to $35 knowing that I was likely to get a few callers. With a good hand, that’s fine, but given that I had only 100 BBs behind, SPR considerations on the flop should already be taken into account pre-flop. For example, imagine I make it only $20 to go and get the same five callers. Now there is only $120 in the pot on the flop, so my SPR is 4 and bet-fold is a possibility (although not wise since you are better than 2:1 against many holdings which would get aggressive there; I would prefer check-call flop, check-(depending on my opponent)fold to a brick on the turn).

Not only does SPR enlighten pre-flop considerations for this particular hand, but it informs players about the importance of stack sizes for certain games and certain holdings. PLO is a game where “finding out where you are” can be an expensive process. SPR is a useful concept in approaching such calculations.