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  Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Low-Limit Preflop Quiz: Ed Miller

I haven't done a poker strategy post in a while. But Ed Miller recently put up on his blog this post which recaps an old post of his at 2+2 from 2004, with a list of preflop questions for low-limit players. Since he doesn't post answers (I presume those are coming), I thought I'd take my crack at it to see what I understand. (As far as attribution, the prologue and questions are all Miller, but 2+2 may actually hold the copyright on it, if any; I'd have to look at their Terms of Service.)

I'll bold Miller's questions, but not his prologue.

EDIT: Mere hours after I first posted this, and after going over my answers with Gil and PokerDogg online, Miller posted the answers to the questions. I'll put his answer here in italics, with anything I might have to add afterward.

Low-Limit Preflop Quiz
Posted on Mon May 14, 2007 11:43:42 AM (originally posted 03/07/04)

I think many of you guys need to rethink how you approach preflop play in real loose low-limit games with terrible opponents. Try these situations on for size:

You are playing in the $4/$8 game at Hawaiian Gardens. You have eight opponents, all of whom play terribly. They each play more than fifty percent of their hands… something like any pair, any two suited, any ace, any king, and any connector. They are not sensitive to position. They call raises with almost any hand they would play for one bet. If it is three bets to them, they will tighten up some, but they will still play hands like 33 and A2♠. They raise their better hands… but better for them often means stuff like A♠9, 55, and K8♠. As a result, most pots are five to eight ways, and 30–60 percent of pots are raised (depending on who is presently steaming).

After the flop, your opponents play just as poorly. They call relentlessly with any reasonable hand at all. They will play aggressively if they flop a decent made hand like top pair or a pretty good draw like a flush draw. They don’t do much hand-reading, and the hand-reading they do is pretty bad. They are only rarely intentionally tricky.

[The prologue to his posted answers:]

Alright. In general, I think you guys did pretty well. The general theme of this quiz was to get you to think about preflop play in terms of pot equity, and not “I’m going to flop a flush draw only 1 out of 9 times.…” Since these guys play so badly after the flop, you really need to be playing a lot of hands to take advantage of them. You should still be the tightest player at the table, by far, but you should loosen up significantly versus how you would play against a table of decent players.

Think about pot equity … how often will I win this hand against x opponents? If I have five opponents, and my hand will win 20% of the time, that is a good situation.

Another important point is that being suited becomes more important (because pots are always multiway), and being dominated is somewhat less of a concern (because they raise on many hands and because there are so many people in the pot with you).

Finally, the “don’t cold-call raises … 3-bet or fold” idea does not apply as much to these game conditions. That idea is much strong when the game is tight … when you are fighting over the blind money. Here, you make your overlay from all the stupid calls your opponents make, not from the blind money. You should often let them call.

[And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming:]

What do you do in each of the following situations? For extra credit, rank each option (fold, call, and raise) in order of goodness.

1. Two limpers to an MP [middle-position player] who raises. You are next (two off the button) with 44.

Call. I don't really expect the blinds to fold, though they might, and both of the limpers will certainly call. I may even pick up another cold-call from the cutoff or the button. If the game is as described, I'm likely to win a huge pot if I flop a set. I'm almost certainly folding on the flop unless I get a set or a possible straight draw, though. I don't like three-betting; if I'm going to play, I want people in the pot, and a reraise isn't the way to do that. So, overall, Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. There are already three in the hand, and given how loose these guys are, you will usually have two more. Pocket pairs play great against this crew because they are willing to lose so much after the flop. Folding this hand is throwing money away.

2. UTG [Under The Gun, the first player to act] raises and gets four cold-callers. You are in the SB [small blind] with KQ♠.

Reraise. I may actually have the best hand, in which case a raise is clearly correct. Most of the hands that have me dominated, even a poor player will likely four-bet preflop, so I'll have a good idea right away whether I need to worry. I don't really expect anyone to fold for another bet, but my hand plays well in a multiway pot. If I weren't suited, I'd be more likely to fold; there is some risk that I'm dominated, and unsuited cards can't hit a flush (as easily) to bail me out when that happens. What I really want to happen, is that I three-bet, everybody calls, I bet the flop, and UTG raises, blowing everyone else out of the pot. Assuming the big blind doesn't come along, that's thirteen (small) bets worth of dead money in the pot, for which I'll happily compete. Preflop, second- and third-place choices run pretty close, but they're both far inferior to a reraise. My choice: Raise > Fold > Call.
Raise. Despite your position, I think you should 3-bet. Your hand has so much pot equity against five others that I think you need to push your edge.

3. UTG raises and gets four cold-callers. You are on the button with A5♠.

Fold. The risk that I'm dominated is too large, and the flush possibilities won't bail me out often enough. A reraise won't fold anybody, so I'll have the same problem but with more of my money in the pot. Fold >> Call > Raise. (Apparently Miller is using “s” to mean “suited,” not “spades.” Oh well, I guess all of the suited hands are spades today.)
Call. With this many players, your suited ace will probably win more than its share despite the chance that you are dominated. It won’t win a whole lot more than its share, though, so it is probably better to call and see the flop rather than pushing your small edge now. Raising is probably better than folding.
I see the chance I'm dominated to be greater than the chance that I flop something strong to go with my suited Ace-Rag. Miller sees the reverse. Despite the respect I have for him, I'm not sure I'm wrong here. Even if the initial raiser isn't the one who has me dominated, another player could easily have A9 or A7. That said, his advice is consistent with his book, where his charts for this type of game suggest playing any suited Ace, reraising AJs or better. And I do in fact hold his book in high regard (it's easily the most valuable book in my library).

4. You have K9♠ UTG.

Fold. If I knew I could play this for one bet, I'd call, but I'm under the gun. I don't know that. And, Miller set up that 30–60% of pots are raised (that's a rather big spread, Ed: Pick a number and go with it). A raise from me isn't likely to keep people out of the pot, but if I call I might get lucky and be able to play for one bet. Fold >> Call > Raise.
Call. This is a somewhat weak hand for UTG, but it is only one “notch” weaker than hands I play UTG at more typical tables (A9s and KTs). I think it shows a profit against this crew. You have some high card strength, so you don’t mind as much if it comes back raised. I am out of position, but I still want to play this hand six-handed for one or two bets against people who play poorly after the flop. Folding and raising are reasonably close to calling EV-wise I think.
Well, if they're all close, then I can't be all that wrong. I think getting raised is a bigger deal than Miller does, here, which shades me a lot more toward a fold. However, I'll say this: The times I advocate folding a hand that he advocates playing, he has something on me. The other players at the table are going to make a lot more postflop mistakes than I will (I hope!). I can't capitalize on those mistakes unless I'm in the pot. Folding means I'm not in the pot. When it's close, that logic should probably tilt me away from a fold.

5. Folded to you in MP (four off the button) with 33.

Call. Assuming a full table, the first three people have passed on their hands. There are still six players to act behind me. I really have no reason to expect that this will not be a multiway pot. Maybe the pot will be four- or five-handed, instead of the six- or seven-handed that it's been lately, but that's plenty enough players to try for my set. However, if I were a couple of seats closer to the button, I'd fold; a two- or three-handed pot isn't what I want with pocket threes. As the problem is set up, a raise isn't likely to steal the blind; it's more likely to leave me playing out of position with an underpair to the board. Folding is close to calling, though, for the same reason I might fold if I were a seat or two further left. Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. I included this example because it runs specifically counter to the advice given in HPFAP [Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players, by Sklansky and Malmuth]. In a tougher game (explains HPFAP), you should probably fold 33 from MP if it is folded to you. You can’t expect multiway action, and you are concerned about being isolated. If you played, you’d probably raise to take a shot at the blinds. But in this game, you can limp in now and still have a six-handed pot. Trying to steal the blinds is silly in this game. Pocket pairs are again too good to fold.

6. Four players limp, and you have Q7♠ on the button.

Fold. I'd play a slightly better hand—Q9♠, for example—because I'll have position after the flop and it's unlikely that the blinds will raise. But Q7 just isn't strong enough, even for one bet. A raise would be interesting if the other players were afraid of you—even poor players sometimes recognize who's dragging the great-big pots—but it would fundamentally be a speculative play; you would be relying on your ability to win without a showdown. With this many people in the pot, that's not terribly likely. Fold > Call >> Raise.
Call. This is almost straight out of HPFAP. These guys play terribly, and you have a chance to sneak in with a barely-worth-it hand and see the flop. Do it. Folding is close, and raising is probably bad (but not that bad).
My reasoning at the end of my response to Miller in question 4 applies here. It's close with Q7, Miller agrees with that. If it's close, playing the pot is better than not playing the pot when my opponents are going to make so many postflop mistakes. The charts in Miller's book don't suggest playing Q7s in this situation, but they do suggest playing Q8s, and this game is atypical enough to warrant stretching my opening standards a bit. I hereby change my answer to align with his.

7. UTG+1 [the player on UTG's left] raises, one player cold-calls, and you have AQ♣ in MP (three off the button).

Fold. Ordinarily, I'd base my action here on what I know about the raiser. If I didn't respect his raises, I'd be likely to three-bet here. Three-betting would likely fold most of the field behind me, and get the pot down to three of us, one of whom (the cold-caller) likely doesn't have much at all. But against a typical small-stakes player I have a significant risk of being dominated, and I'm unsuited. Above all, this is a raise-or-fold situation. Fold > Raise >>> Call.
Raise. The AQ Test from Feeney’s book [?] applies to a typical game and a tight UTG raiser. Here, the raiser is not tight, and the game anything but typical. You should 3-bet to get more money in the pot and to improve your position. You are probably better off playing this hand four ways for three bets, acting second-to-last than six or seven ways for two bets, acting in the middle. Calling is better than folding.
I had to defend my response here against both Gil and PokerDogg, but I knew that Miller doesn't like playing against a raise with an unsuited hand. However, in the charts in his book, he does indeed suggest raising AQo (but not AJo) in this situation. Now, all of this said, in actual "combat," I'd be very likely to three-bet as he suggests. I'd have it in my head that the initial raiser was likely to be raising light (again, see the range suggested in Miller's setup), and I wouldn't worry about the cold-caller at all. So I'd three-bet to isolate.
Gil said something interesting here, that's emblematic of a discussion we've had intermittently for some time. Gil said he'd reraise, but he'd just call if he was on short money. One or the other of us is often on short money, so it's a real question. By my lights, if a particular play has the best EV, you make that play. He says preserving bankroll is more important. There's something to what he says, but here you're talking about a one-bet investment to improve the EV in the hand significantly. That's not preserving bankroll, that's risk-aversion, which is far more sinister. Make the play.

8. Two players limp, and you are on the button with K6♠.

Fold. The pot is unraised, and I have the button, but I don't have the volume I need to try to play a suited King. Even if I could be sure that the small blind comes along, and that neither blind will raise, it would be close. Since I'm not sure, this is a clear fold. Fold >> Call >> Raise. [After I wrote that, I went to use the bathroom, and Miller's book is sitting on the side table in there. He says this is a call. Specifically: "From the button, you can limp with most of these hands if two or three weak and loose players have limped in front of you." (p.71)]
Call. See Q7♠ [Question 6]. You have position and a reasonable hand. See a flop against these clowns.
As expected.

9. Five players limp, the SB completes, and you have 99 in the BB [big blind].

Raise. Nines are borderline: A raise with tens would be clear. Nines will occasionally win unimproved against six opponents, but not often. More, I'm taking control of the pot, and building it up for the times I will flop a set. Since I'll flop that set about one time in eight, the raise is for value when I consider implied odds. Folding (for $0!) is an obvious and ridiculous error. Checking, and taking the flop, isn't horrible, but a raise is better. Raise > Check >>> Fold.
Raise. You have six opponents and a much better than 1/7 chance to win this hand. Your position is terrible, but your edge is too big to miss out.

10. Three players limp. You have A♣Q in the SB.

Raise. I almost certainly have the best hand. At the least, I'll win far more than my share against (probably) four opponents. Calling and folding are both major errors. Raise >>> Call > Fold.
Raise. Same with the 99 hand. You win this hand way more often than your share. Despite terrible position, you have to put the money in.

11. UTG raises and gets five cold-callers. You have 73♠ in the BB.

Call. This is fundamentally a speculative play. I want to flop two pair or better or a good flush draw, neither of which will happen that often. But the pot cannot be raised again behind me, and I'm being offered 13:1. If I can play well when I flop second or third pair, those odds are just too good to pass up. Call > Fold >> Raise.
Call. Your hand is not terrific, but it is good enough to take a flop getting 13-to-1 preflop and playing against poor players. I’d probably call with any two suited in this spot.
I should hope so—if you'll call with 73♠, what wouldn't you call with?

12. Two players limp, an MP raises, and an LP [late-position player] 3-bets. You have JJ on the button.

Reraise. "Hang on to your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." It's reasonably likely I'm behind, and I'm almost certainly going to be dodging a couple of overcards. I estimate that about 25% of the time, I'll get a flop I like and hold the best hand. Add in the number of times I hold the best hand on flops I don't like and the raise becomes clear. However, unless the board comes extremely hairy (say, AAKK double-suited) I'm probably committing myself to a showdown. The pot will just be too large to fold. But on the whole, pocket Jacks play too favorably against my opponents' range of hands to give it up. My four-bet will almost certainly fold the blinds, and will probably fold some of the limpers, which may make an overcard or two safe for me. (For example, if someone limped with K8, and folds for three more bets, that might save me the pot if a King comes.) I'm assuming here that four bets are a cap, as they are in most of the rooms around here. If Hawaiian Gardens has a cap of five bets, then all three options, Reraise, Call, or Fold, run pretty close for me, but I still lean toward reraising. I still want to fold the blinds and limpers, and I'll learn something if someone puts in the fifth bet. Assuming a four-bet cap, Reraise > Fold > Call.
Raise. This runs counter to the “if it’s three bets cold to you, fold JJ” statement in HPFAP … but again, that applies to decent players with reasonable raising standards. I’m not going to fold … my pot equity is too high (coupled with how much extra money you make after the flop when you spike a set). The question is whether to raise or call. I think that’s a reasonably close decision (not one to sit up all night thinking about). I think raising might be marginally better because you probably do have an edge before the flop.

13. Two players limp, and you have A8♠ in the cut-off [the seat to the right of the button].

Call. I might have the best hand, but Ace-Eight is fundamentally a speculative hand. If I like the flop, I might show some aggression then, but until then, my hand is only one with possibilities. Call > Raise >> Fold.
Raise. You have a good hand, position, and you will win way more than your share against your two opponents with almost-random hands.
Well, it's at least three opponents (add in the big blind), not two, but he's probably right. My hand will win more than its share.

14. Three players limp, and the button raises. You have K♠7♣ in the BB.

Fold. This is fundamentally the same question as 11, except that now I have an offsuit hand. The position of the raiser has changed, as well; my call does not close the betting. A reraise behind me is unlikely, but possible. Both of these make a fold pretty clear to me. A raise might be interesting, depending on my table image, but only if I could be pretty sure I'd fold the limpers. Fold >> Call > Raise.
Fold. Bugs Bunny [A respondent on his site, I assume] mentioned that he thought this was in here so I could say to fold one of these hands. He was right. I think you should probably fold here. Calling is really not that bad, though, IMO. In fact, calling may be correct for exceptional postflop players. The fold would be clearer if your hand had less high card value… say K2o.

15. Four players limp, and the cutoff raises. You have AT♠ on the button.

Reraise. It's reasonably likely that I have the best hand, given the range of hands my opponent might raise with. Three-betting is likely to fold a limper or two. Any who come along are likely to check to the raisers on the flop, and if both the cutoff and I like the flop, the limpers will be forced to call two bets cold. My hand is suited, which might bail me out if it turns out that the initial raiser has me dominated. The dead money that will be in the pot, plus the strong possibility that I have the best hand, make this a pretty clear reraise. This is another raise-or-fold situation, though. Raise > Fold >> Call.
Raise. I’d 3-bet for value. You have the button and a great hand. You might be dominated, but since your opponent will raise so many hands, it isn’t all that likely. I think you will win this hand well more than your share (1/6) of the time.

16. Three players limp, and you have AT in the cutoff.

Raise. I probably have the best hand. In any case, I'll win far more than my fair share against three to five opponents. If my raise folds the blinds, so much the better. My offsuit Ace-Ten isn't as strong as the suited Ace-Ten in the last hand, though, so I'll need to play very well after the flop. Raise >> Call > Fold.
Call. I think calling and raising are close here, but calling is probably slightly better. You probably do have an edge preflop, so by calling you are giving up some money. But I think your edge is modest … and the advantage of having someone bet into you if you flop a ten is very significant. I think you should clearly raise AJo, and clearly not raise A9o … ATo is on the border. If you wanted to argue for a raise, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight. I would if you wanted to fold, though …

17. UTG raises, and you are next (UTG+1) with AT♠.

Fold. This is the same hand as in question 15, and it's still a raise-or-fold situation. This time, though, the position of the raiser has changed. Now, if I three-bet, it's unlikely that other players will come along: There won't be dead money in the pot. I'll create a headsup pot against a hand that may dominate mine. On the other hand, at this table, people's raising ranges are pretty large, and my hand compares favorably against most of it. If I have the better hand, playing headsup is exactly what I want. On balance, though, I think Fold > Raise >>> Call.
Call. This is too much hand to fold at this table. The situation is about as unpleasant as it could be (well, at least it’s not three bets), but I’d still call. AT♠ is a real big hand when your opponents play so loosely. Call, and hope everything goes according to plan (four more people cold-call behind you). I don’t like raising, because it does exactly what you don’t want to do … force your opponents to tighten up. Fighting over the blind money is useless (hell, most of it is going to get dropped anyway) … and, though I like my hand, I don’t think it is worth much in a heads-up battle against the UTG raiser.
I think it's telling that Miller has to hold his nose in order to call here. It really sounds like he wants to agree with me, but that he can't force himself to give up a pretty nice suited Ace. If everything does go according to plan, I like my hand, and I especially like my position relative to the preflop raiser: I can force the field to call two cold postflop. And, truly, about 2/3 of the time I will get four more cold-callers. I see Miller's point, and if he wants to call here, I'll let him, but I'm sticking with my answer.

18. UTG raises, four people call, and you have 8♣6 in the BB.

Fold. This is the same situation as question 11, but this time I have an offsuit hand. It's connected, but my hand isn't quite enough to call despite 11:1 pot odds. Raising is obviously horrible. Fold > Call >> Raise.
Call. Similar to the 73♠ hand. Another important consideration when making these calls is where the raise comes from. In this hand (and the 73♠ hand), the raise comes from UTG … that is, from your left. With hands like this, you will often flop a weak draw—bottom pair, a gutshot, a backdoor flush or straight draw, etc. With these hands, you would really like to be able to see the turn for one bet. When the preflop raiser (and likely flop bettor) is on your left, you check, the bettor bets, and then the whole table acts before you do. If everyone calls or folds, then you can call, closing the action. This is very advantageous relative position when you have marginal hands like 73♠ and 8♣6. In fact, if the SB had raised each of these hands, rather than UTG, I probably would have folded both of them.
I won't argue. I don't really disagree. But I'd still probably fold.

19. UTG raises. UTG+1 cold-calls, and you are next (five off the button) with KJ♠.

Fold. Another raise-or-fold situation. King-Jack is a pretty good hand, but the threat of domination is horribly menacing here. If I reraise, I'm in a world of pain if it goes to four bets. I'm suited, which will bail me out sometimes, but on the whole I have to dump this. Fold >> Raise >> Call.
Call. Similar argument to hand 17. This is too much hand to fold at this table. Yes, you might be dominated, but your winning chances are just too good when you aren’t.
Similar hand to #17, indeed, and I responded there.

20. You raise UTG with QQ. Four people cold-call, and the BB 3-bets.

Reraise. It's still reasonably likely that I have the best hand, and there's a lot of dead money in this pot. I'll almost certainly be seeing the showdown, and if UTG has Aces or Kings, well, more power to him. I'm probably dodging the Aces and Kings in any case; I have to believe that of my five opponents, at least one has an Ace, and at least one has a King. UTG may have one of each. Folding is clearly wrong, and calling is way too wimpy for this table. Raise >> Call >> Fold.
Raise. I think you need to put in the final bet against these guys … your edge is too big. Against a tougher table that just happened to feature four cold-callers this hand, you should probably just call … using your position relative to the raiser to force the field to call two cold on the flop (or the turn) when he bets. Your preflop edge against a tougher field is smaller (because their hands are better), and the chance to raise after the flop gains value. But when your opponents play awful hands before the flop, and terribly after it, I think you give up too much when you miss bets like this.
We finally find out that the cap at the casino in question is four bets. I think it was the JJ hand where that was important to my reasoning, but, hey, we have an answer, now.

And in Conclusion

I'm writing this bit after I added in Miller's answers. Where we disagree, Miller is playing hands I'm not playing, figuring that being in pots is better than not being in pots when one's opponents play so badly, especially postflop. And here I was, thinking that part of my problem, especially in live games, is that I play a few too many speculative hands.

I have good reasons for all of my folds above, though. And I don't think they're invalid reasons. Then again, I don't remember the last time I was really in a game as Miller sets it up. Probably the best game I find recently has four decent players and six players with varying degrees of cluelessness. And it really does matter who raises, when I consider folding AT or AQ. And with other decent players in the pot, hands like 73s or especially 86o lose a lot of value.

I'm going to post a response on Miller's blog with a link to this post. Perhaps he will deign to tilt me in the right direction.

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