10/06/2009

Jerusalem Syndrome

Alex Rousso

Perhaps it’s the high altitude. Maybe it’s the religious fanatics on every street corner trying to convert you to a higher cause. Or maybe there really is something in the air: this, after all, is the city where three major world religions converge. The legend is that if you stay in Jerusalem long enough, a form of madness comes over you. They call it Jerusalem Syndrome.

I lived in Jerusalem for a few months last year and I must confess, at one point I did go a bit dulally. Believe it or not, I actually questioned whether it is possible to fold a set on the flop in Hold ‘em. Dan Harrington, author of the finest books out there on tournament play, has this to say on the subject:

When your set gets outflopped, you’re supposed to lose a lot of money. When I hear someone telling a story about how he shrewdly laid down middle set after some intricate chain of reasoning convinced him he was beaten, my quick (but silent) reaction is “Idiot.”

The situation was fairly clear cut. It was a $75 buy in tournament and we were at the 40/80 blind level – early, but time to get a move on soon. I had a stack of 3900 chips. A player raised from under the gun to 280. The player to my immediate right flat called. With a pair of fives, I also flat called from the cut off seat. Both blinds folded so there was 960 in the pot.

The flop was J-6-5 rainbow. Both players checked to me. Consistent with my play in such a situation I bet 400, or just under half the pot. The preflop raiser folded, and then the player to my left came alive, reraising to 1260. I must say, even on the information so far, I thought he had a set. He seemed like a pretty solid player and I can’t see him calling preflop with J-6 or J-5. Let’s narrow his hand down to either 6-6, J-J, A-J suited, 8-7 suited or 6-5 suited.

So far, I agree with Harrington’s sentiment. Folding bottom set here is definitely too timid. So what, call? The hands you are ahead of are the A-J, the 8-7 and the 6-5. I’m not sure a solid player would play any of those hands this way, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s possible. In this case you might want to call to get those worse hands to keep betting into you, the point being that if he has you beat, you’re calling off your stack in any case. If the guy has 6-5 or A-J, I’d say that’s what you’d want to do, but if he has 8-7 a free card might be costly (I was about 3:1 favourite over 8-7 suited on the flop).

However, I didn’t flat call, I reraised minimum, and therein lies the story. My opponent immediately went all in, leaving me with a call of 1500 chips into a pot of 6700, and absolutely no doubt in my mind that he had a set. If he does have a set, it’s beating mine, and what’s more I only have about a 4% chance of outdrawing him. To save you the bother with the maths, on the assumption that he either has 8-7 suited or a set (A-J is now out of the question for a solid player, and the chances that he had 6-5 suited are so slim, for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump it with 8-7 suited), I need to be about 80% certain that he has a set to fold.

To be honest, I think I can be. There really is very, very little else that can be going on here. Granted, it’s an incredibly tight fold and it would be a horrendous mistake if I were wrong, but I have to say 80% certainty that he has a set seems low to me. Nevertheless, I made the call and my opponent’s J-J held up to win the pot. I mean, it’s what you do, isn’t it? You’re meant to go broke with a set, aren’t you?
I have actually folded a set on the flop once. It was on one of the cheap tables at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Most players had between $100 and $200 in front of them. I had flat called from the small blind with 4-4 and the flop had come 5-4-2. I checked and the big blind bet $6 into an $8 pot. The guy who had called under the gun minimum raised to $12 (he had about $80 left). The only other caller in the pot, a brash college kid who was talking large but playing pretty well as far as I could see, made it $80 to go. The action came round to me, and I had $200 in front of me. I folded. The under the gun guy shoved and the College Kid called, showing A-3. His opponent had 6-5 and a 3 did not hit, nor would I have filled up (the big blind folded 7-5 by the way).

Agreed, the College Kid could have been making a move, but I don’t buy that. The whole point of his style of play is to make it look like he’s wild and aggressive, yet only to put his money in when he has the values. He’s drinking vodka/Red Bull and talking himself up to goad the poor fish at the table; in other words, he’s not making that bet to get the other guy to fold. Second, there’s always the chance that one of the players behind me has made a straight too. Worse still, this much interest in the pot means that there is almost certainly some duplication, which could take my theoretical 35% chance of winning the pot a lot lower.

For the record, my real chances of winning the pot given all the information that we had at the end was 27%, and my pot equity for the call was about 40%. In other words, I’d have to be about two-thirds sure that I was making a good fold. Don’t forget, I’m in considerably worse shape if 2-2 or, God forbid, 5-5 was also out there. I made the right decision, but according to Harrington, I’m an idiot. Just put it down to another temporary bout of madness.