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Poker Strategy For The Rest Of Us -- Eric Baldwin

Baldwin Explains When To Forego ABC Poker Against Amateurs

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Eric BaldwinIt’s great to see pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth battling it out on poker’s biggest stages for millions of dollars, but the truth is that most of us will never get the same opportunity, nor will we really learn anything from their play that directly applies to our own games. The truth is that while we all aspire to be the next Phil Ivey, many of us will do so from the comfort of our friendly neighborhood home game or the low-stakes tables at a nearby cardroom.

In an effort to provide valuable tools and tips that are relevant to even the smallest games, Card Player is pleased to present Poker Strategy For The Rest Of Us, which will focus on everyday situations that occur against the poker world’s most casual players.

Pro – Eric Baldwin

Concept – Flop Textures and Bluffing in Tournaments

Eric Baldwin has become a stalwart on the live tournament circuit. Over the last several years, he has accumulated over $3.8 million in live tournament earnings. Even though he is one of the most successful tournament poker players alive, he is still affectionately referred to by his online screen name, “Basebaldy.”

Before making his mark on the brick and mortar scene and winning a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2009, he was making his mark on the virtual felt by racking up almost $1.5 million in online tournament winnings. The former standout baseball player at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater won the 2009 Card Player Player of the Year Award.

In a post Black Friday world, Baldwin lives in Las Vegas and has been focusing on live tournaments. He sat down with us to discuss a hand that one of our readers played in the WPT Montreal main event.

The Hand

With the blinds at 1,000-2,000 and a 300 ante, the action folded around to our hero in late position (starts the hand with 96,000) and raised to 4,200 with 8Heart Suit 7Club Suit and was called by a player in the big blind (started the hand with 152,000). The flop was QHeart Suit 4Club Suit 4Diamond Suit and the big blind checked. Our hero bets 3,300 and the player in the big blind check raised to 6,700. Our hero makes it 11,200 and the player in the big blind folded.

The Interview

Steve Schult: So when the action folds around to our hero in late position, is this too loose of an open with 8-7 without taking into consideration of any table dynamics?

Eric Baldwin: It’s reasonable if you have a soft table and you don’t have a bunch of re-steal stacks behind you that are willing to stick it in light.

SS: Now we end up getting heads-up with a player in the big blind and the flop is Q-4-4. The player in the big blind checked. First off, do you think betting 3,300 is alright since it is less than our preflop raise? And secondly, since this board is so dry, is it an automatic continuation bet?

EB: It’s definitely a flop you are going to continuation bet on. His sizing is OK, but something a little bit bigger might be more likely to take the pot down against a random opponent right on the flop. If you bet smaller, you give him an opportunity to check-raise bluff or call and build a bigger pot to take away later in the hand. So you can really take either route with the sizing, but I would definitely be continuation betting this flop.

SS: What kind of boards wouldn’t you be continuation betting?

EB: With this hand, not very many. If it is a flop with a bunch of middling cards it is going to hit your hand somewhat and you will have some equity in the hand. If there are a bunch of high cards, you are going to be able to easily represent them. If I had a high card hand like A-K or A-Q and the flop was 10-8-7 with a suit that I didn’t have, I might just check back and see what happens.

SS: When the player in the big blind makes the check-raise, since there are no real draws he can have, what kind of a range are we going to put him on?

EB: It’s hard for him to have a 4 unless it’s like A-4 suited or 5-4 suited, but even if he did a lot of players are inclined to just call here and not go for the check raise. In my experience, when somebody check raises small in a spot where I don’t expect a check-raise it’s like they are trying to see where they are at. I would expect to see him with a weak queen, like a queen worse than A-Q, and small pairs a lot. Maybe even some random ace high type hands like A-10.

SS: Our hero decided to put in another raise and made it 11,200. Do you like that play since you think that the big blind is just trying to see where he is at?

EB: Yeah, I actually do. Unless my read on the big blind is that he is incredibly stubborn and he thinks that I am just some punk kid that he is just going to look up every time, it looks incredibly strong and you are still deep enough that he is going to be able to call this three-bet and another big barrel on another street. We don’t think his hand is that strong so I don’t think he would want to put in that many chips with a weak hand when we are representing a ton of strength. Even if he doesn’t fold here, I’m probably not done with the hand. A lot of people may think ‘Well, I have a queen here, I got to call.’ Then they will give you credit on the turn and let it go.

SS: According to our hero, the player in the big blind was ‘shaking and looked uncomfortable’ as he made the check-raise. What would you make of that specific tell and how much stock do you put in live tells as a whole?

EB: Typically in a vacuum somebody having real shaky hands can mean that he has a big hand, but in this case it doesn’t really make too much sense. I would probably just attribute it to too many cups of coffee or something. Live reads are a very touchy subject. They are such a grey area. There have been a lot of times where I made a very unorthodox play based on a live read and was wrong. I just think to myself ‘Did I really just do that?’ My baseline is to use the hand history and the betting patterns first and to only factor in live reads if I have a really close decision and that is the next best thing to go to or if I have a really strong feeling about that read. You obviously have to be in the moment to be able to tell how strong you feel about that read. You can get into a lot of trouble if you start to overvalue live reads.

SS: So let’s say the big blind called the three-bet and a brick turn card fell, there would be about 30,000 in the pot, how much would you be betting on the turn?

EB: If the turn card brought a flush draw, I might bet about 17,000 or 18,000 just because I think people would expect me to bet a little bit more with a draw out there and if it stayed rainbow I would bet a little bit less than half pot.

SS: According to our hero, the only real good player at the table was Tom Marchese and that the player in the big blind was a passive, older player. How would your line change against Tom Marchese as opposed to a fish?

EB: This is definitely a line you are only going to take against a random. When I see somebody take a line like this against a random, you are always kind of secretly rooting for the random player to look him up because you know he can’t have anything. Against a good player in the big blind, it’s still just too good of a flop not to continuation bet and if we get any resistance, probably just give up. A good player will still have to get pretty creative to take the pot away from us. A check-raise doesn’t represent much on this board so he would have to take that line or check-call and then lead at us later in the hand. This is a flop that even a good player would probably just give up on if they don’t connect.

SS: So you would play straightforward against a good player and get a little bit more creative against a bad player. Doesn’t that go against traditional thinking where you want to beat fish playing ABC poker?

EB: Yeah, be careful with that. Most of the time you want to go deeper in thought against good players and play straightforward against bad ones. I guess this situation is just a rare one where the fancier play should be made against the random.