When people start picking on me at the poker table I want to stick a fork in their eye, pull it out of their socket, and play pinball with it. I don’t severe the various rectus muscles in the hope that the ping-ping of the flippers makes them puke with dizziness.
I suffer from little man syndrome. Like some terminal disease I thought it was going to be a part of me until the lights went out on my rectus muscles, but I never dreamed it would follow me into poker. It did, and you should be glad that it did, because you get to learn from my ineptitude.
Little man syndrome isn’t the only subterranean flaw that I have when it comes to poker. In fact, I believe the way I learned to play the game was fundamentally flawed. Like oral sex, it’s difficult to transition to the side-to-side swish, if you have been lapping it up like a cat on milk for the past 20-years.
I am learning. This year I entered six tournaments, made Day 2 on three occasions, and cashed twice. I think that falls nicely under the decent showing banner, but I am eager to do better. I have been swallowing some bitter pills, and it’s time to take one that makes me want to run around like Billy Whizz.
One aspect of poker that intrigues me is how to choose your spots. I learned to open certain hand ranges dependent on my position at the table. This slowly evolved into caring about the other people sat at my table. Then it went a stage further when I started to learn about the importance of stack sizes. But I am still a sucker for the old must open this hand from this position because my hand chart said I should.
I want to learn more about spots. I need to learn more about spots. And I’m not talking about the type that live in the crack of your ass and hurt when you sit down to eat macaroni and cheese.
I invaded the Rio apartment of Sam Razavi to ask him several questions on the theory of spots. It was a great little conversation. For the record, I never showed him the crack of my ass.
What is your definition of a spot?
“Here is an example of a good spot. There is a player at the table that is opening constantly. He opens and there are three callers. Now you know people are waiting to pick up a decent hand to three bet him. There is the chance that there is a little leveling here, and someone might be trying to induce a move, but you have studied your table and don’t deem this to be the case. You look down at AT. You have 18-20bb. This is the perfect spot to pile it in.”
Let’s focus on the same player. We are playing full ring in a tournament with over 2,000 players. He opens in late position and you defend with KJ. The flop is dry and you have hit top pair. You know he is going to barrel. Is this a good spot?
“If you are the type of player to call two streets, and then fold to a jam, then this isn’t a good spot. He won’t be expecting you to defend with such a strong hand. Imagine the flop comes J92 and they bet, the turn is a 7 and they bet big, and the river is a 3 and they jam. You have to bite the bullet and call. If they have it, they have it.”
Isn’t this a high variance spot, and one you want to avoid if getting through a 2k field is your priority? Why not fold the KJ and wait to play pots in position against weaker players?
“It’s not a situation you should avoid, and at the same time I don’t think it’s something you should go looking for either. If you’ve been sat at the table for five minutes and he has gone bam-bam, then you don’t know what that means. But if you’ve seen him being relentless, then KJ on a jack high flop is like trip aces to me. If he has it, he has it. Players who like to barrel like that are always jamming big on the river, and it just doesn’t make sense. Those hands define a tournament for you.”
The conversation flows from the KJ spot, to a spot I was facing in the Draftkings 50/50 contest. We had just made the money, and this means for the past level hardly anybody, other than the large stacks, has played a hand. I have been grinding the 5-10bb stack when it folds around to the small blind. He has around 15bb when he moves all-in. I look down and see K4o.
My instinct is to fold. I have been patient for the past two levels, waiting for a spot to arise, and so this should be a fold. It seems insane to waste all of that patience and then go out with the good old K4. But then I think back to my online tournaments, and how light people are shoving the small blind. I start to think that this is probably the best spot I am going to get in the next few orbits, and I call.
Talking to Sam about this hand, I realize that there is a huge flaw in my game. I believe I am patient, because I can grind a short stack for a long period of time. But there comes a point where that patience snaps. This is a case in point. It’s made me understand that I am not really patient at all.
“Whilst it’s possible you are winning, this is a fold for me. Had you seen the guy play a hand? What was he like?”
I had not seen him playing a single hand. He was an Asian guy.
“How old was he?”
“It’s a snap fold. The Chinese like to gamble, but the older guys will have a stronger range. He rarely shows up with less than A9 here.”
It seemed like the best spot for me to double up.
“It’s not the best spot to double up. There was a time when I thought 20bb was short, then 15bb, then 10bb. Then I realized that you are not really into the danger zone until you are 6-7bb. That hit home when I played the LAPT Panama. We were 200 off the money and I grinded between 5-10bb for two hours, before going on to make the final table.
“It also contradicts your style of play. If you are comfortable grinding 5-6 bb and BAM, in you go with the K4, that doesn’t make sense. It’s a close one. King high is pretty strong heads-up, but there is so much value in these tournaments that you can easy pass around, jam and pick up some blinds with hardly any work. He flips over the A2 and you are out because you called it off with K4.
“I had a similar spot in the APT Vietnam Main Event. There was a Chinese player who was a bit crazy. It folds around to him in the small blind, and it’s the first time he shoves blind on blind. I had 15bb and K9 and I was so close to calling. I thought I was probably good, but I hadn’t seen him do that before. I asked him if he would show if I folded, and he said yes. I knew I was good in that moment, but I wanted more information. I fold, and he slams over the Q7. The next time this dynamic arises he does it again. I looked down seen one ace and called instantly. It turned out I had A2.
“It’s not a bad call, but without any information it’s not great either. I also prefer a better kicker than the four. He turns over the K7 and you are out. There are so many better situations to get it in. You can get it in with AT and get called by A7. I have cashed in a lot of tournaments that I shouldn’t of, because I have waited and waited, and been so patient. Holding on for that one spot that gives you a tiny edge. Once you double you can work wonders with that 20bb stack.”
I move on to my exit hand in the Draftkings event. It’s another hand that I feel needs exploring when it comes to choosing a spot. I double through the Chinese guy when he shows Q6, and I now have 20bb. It feels like a huge stack after grinding for so long.
The blinds are 250/500 a50 and I open [Kc] [Kh] for 1,100 UTG, the button flats off 30bb, and the big blind also flats with 15bb. The flop is [Qc] [Th] [9c], I check, the button moves all-in, the big blinds takes 30-seconds before also moving all-in, and I call.
“I think you have to fold. You are hoping that one of them has QJ. To me the 30bb shove looks like the QT, Q9 or the nut flush draw. He could also have a set. This is where you have to start asking why he would over shove the pot?”
After considering the hand at length I think it’s a fold. What I want to ask you is given the fact that I am a better pre flop player than I am post flop, and I am comfortable playing the 5bb – 20bb stack. Does this mean it’s a spot to fold and wait for a better spot irrespective of all the math and logic?
“If you think the kings are good then go with it. There are two reasons that you can call, and they are the same reasons why you could fold. You have blockers to the straight, and you got the blockers to KQ. AK is not in there because they would have re-raised pre, so you have to start thinking has someone got the J8…probably not? Think, what are they shoving that you can beat? They could have the flush draw. It’s a tough one to fold, but I think it’s a fold.”
Sam then asks me what hand they both had? I tell him that the button had a set of nines, and the big blind had QT.
“My instinct was the button had QT, but a pair of nines makes sense. It’s a great hand when it comes QT2. Now its come QT9 it’s a different play. I wouldn’t have jammed. You could have easily folded and he would have wasted a hard-earned opportunity to make chips.”
How quickly does the range thought process go through your head at the table?
“You see it so many times. When they jam I recognize the move instantly. I wouldn’t personally go crazy in this spot. In cash games, players will sit for two hours playing small pots. Then they hit a set of sixes after flopping J62 (two clubs), someone bets $5 and they are all in because they didn’t want to see another club. They haven’t made anything on the hand. I would try to get more value from the hand in this spot. His jam is either the nut flush draw, QT or the set of nines. He’s thinking: ‘I have flopped a set but I want to take it down right now’. He’s not trying psychology here. People wait forever to make a hand like this, and then murder it.”
I knew I was behind, and was hoping they had draws. I called because a triple up would have given me 60bb, and I was so fed up of playing the 5bb-20bb for so long, that when I saw kings I demanded that I win the pot. Is it amateurish to just fold without going through the poker logic? Instead just recognize it’s a bad spot that you can be eliminated from the tournament, and there would be better opportunities around the corner.
“It’s only amateurish if you are folding because you are thinking I may lose this hand. If these two players are crazy, then my money is in like lightning. I have the over pair, I can improve. In this particular spot you have to really make the lay down. It’s the same thing if you go back to the KJ scenario. You need to be able to call off everything with KJ, and fold the KK. You just have to suck it in and make the right play. This is what makes a great poker player.”
It was at that point that I got my fork out and stuck it in Sam’s eye. There wasn’t a pinball table in sight. So I kicked it into the Rio hotel corridor, so he has to watch the clip from The Shining over and over again.
There again, I could be bluffing?