29/05/2008

Defending the Big Blind in Tough Short Handed Limit Games

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I have often argued that limit hold’em is in many ways a more demanding form of poker than no limit which hasn’t always gone down too well with the no limit clan. But speaking as someone who has played both limit and no limit in equal measures, I think that I am in a very good position to be able to judge.

Playing post flop is where the really complex decisions are made in poker and in limit hold’em, you will be playing flops constantly unlike in no limit. But each form has its own peculiar nuances and quirks that may not be readily apparent to someone who has only ever played one or the other.

Anyway, that is not the point of this article as I want to talk about defending from the blind in tough short handed limit games. We will take a look at a $30-$60 game where it has been folded around to a very aggressive button who raises and you are in the big blind with an ace rage like A-2 for instance.

Rather than just saying “well it’s an automatic call based on my hand and the pot odds”, lets take a closer look at the situation. The hand is certainly not an easy hand to play and especially out of position and it does suffer from many defects including the fact that the hand suffers from reverse implied odds from the flop onwards and this certainly has to be factored into the equation.

You can easily be in pay off land when you flop an ace and are out kicked but you will also find it difficult to lay down a deuce as well and you will be frequently either outdrawn when ahead or drawing to five outs.

But despite those drawbacks, a combination of your opponents position, their style of play and the pot odds means that you have good pre-flop equity with a hand like A-2 against an aggressive steal raisers range in a game like $30-$60 and while you are not way ahead of their range, your pre-flop equity indicates that a call is the preferred play. In fact against a typical aggressive steal raiser, your hand has between 40 and 50% equity based on their average range.

But the key to playing a hand like ace rag in this situation is in really selecting a good line based on what actually flops. If you continually select the wrong line of play or try to become aggressive at the wrong times then those post flop reverse implied odds that I was talking about earlier will likely kill you.

Firstly, we need to take a look at the average dynamics and player line ups of your everyday $30-$60 game. There will be many players who are aggressive and not only that, will expect aggression in return simply because they see it on an everyday basis. Plus an ace rag may have some showdown quality even when you don’t pair but its one hell of a hairy ride to the river with an ace deuce only to then get shown a bigger ace and your opponent takes the pot with ace high but better kicker. But you need to be able to identify situations that you can walk away from post flop if you want to be able to play an A-2 well in situations like this. For instance, let’s say that the flop comes 8c-6d-3s. Before you think about your line of play and whether you want to fire out or go for a check raise on the flop or maybe check call and then lead out or check raise the turn then you need to think about a few things before you select your line.

For instance, what is the history of your opponent? We know that they are aggressive pre-flop but what are they like post flop? It is still likely that an aggressive pre-flop player will still be aggressive post flop and especially when heads up with position. But you need to collate information on how they play certain hands on certain types of boards, do they have identifiable patterns of play and do they show respect or lack of respect to a certain line?

You will not be able to find correct answers to all these questions but even getting answers to just one or two will greatly impact your decision making process and poker is all about making as many correct decisions as we possibly can is it not?

So if in a previous hand in a similar situation, a certain line of play had not worked then I would be reticent to try it again against the same player so soon. But there are vast numbers of factors that contribute to affecting how you play a hand in a certain situation and even though you can replicate hands and flops then you cannot replicate the subtleties of a situation like players acting on impulse, tilting, altering their play because they are winning or losing, deviating their play based on the history of the game or the history between themselves and a certain player…..the list could go on and on.

If you aspire to take your poker game to a whole new level then you really need to begin thinking situational poker and seeing each individual little incident as a totally unique event and not something that is replicated time and time again.

About the Author