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Change of Pace

by David Downing |  Published: Sep 23, 2008


I thought for a change of pace, we would actually talk about poker; not all the stuff that is important, that meta-game, thinking guff that I ramble on about every issue, but actual, real, playing-of-hands poker; that which involves money and gambling. And yes, I do actually play the game now and again and not just write about engaging similes, metaphors, or "Grumpy Old Man" diatribes.

I recently started playing pot-limit Omaha (PLO) again. This is mostly because my road game, the high-low split version, while profitable, is mostly boring. Omaha eight-or-better is an exercise in trapping fish for few to no outs, something anyone with patience and a high tolerance of boredom can achieve; I mostly do it basically asleep. PLO is more of a high-wire act; you have to get out there and play.

That isn't to say that nits cannot prosper in PLO. Of course they can. But I am finding it interesting to experiment with a style that is quite loose and aggressive with a lot of reraising. What is challenging for me is that basically this style did not exist in the live games I played in the '90s. A reraise back then was almost certainly aces. However, with the action on the Net mostly six-handed, bigger stacked, and much more aggressive, three-betting in the right spots can be very effective, and probably not only bigger than the scope of this column, but deserving of several chapters of a decent PLO book. There is a lot of complexity, both mathematical and feel-based, in knowing when, whom, and how much to three-bet. One very telling factor here is that if you are four-bet, what does this mean? What does it mean about the player you are up against?

Depending on how deep stack sizes are, four-betting without A-A becomes very problematic. Up to at least 150 or so big blinds, if the villain re-reraises without A-A but I do have them, I can raise again, and we can effectively put in over half of our stacks each, and he has made a colossal error, obviously magnified as the stack sizes decrease. No non-A-A hand is a favourite over an A-A preflop, and many are badly crushed. You simply cannot pick up enough equity post-flop to make up for this error preflop with so much of your stack invested.

So when you get four-bet, and you have a hand you want to play that isn't A-A, this decision by your foe nicely splits the universe of his playing in two. Scientists call this bifurcation - OK, I couldn't do just poker for the whole column! Bifurcation is when the sample space or area you are examining splits into two separate strands. When you get four-bet, and the stacks are 150 big blinds or less, your view of the villain splits into two nice worlds:

(a) He has A-A.
(b) He doesn't know what he is doing, or is just gambling.

Now, if you assume (a), which is mostly the case, and you find out it is (b), you have learnt something very powerful about your foe. Here's a real-life example:

I reraised a loose-aggressive player in a six-handed game with K-K-J-10 double-suited and got four-bet. Effective stacks were 150 big blinds. So straight away, I've met the criteria we described above, and I elected to call.

The flop came K-J-9, all of one suit that I did not have, although, clearly, K-K-K was a super holding. My loose-aggressive villain bet about half the pot, leaving one full-size bet behind. What should you do?

Well, a common mistake here is that many people will go all in. They reason that against such a loose foe, they will see the river anyway, so going all in on the flop is best. This is a pretty serious error. If he has any flush, he will feel compelled to call, especially as the most likely flush he has is the nut flush. But - and this is key - a significant percentage of the time he will be bluffing the bare ace. If you raise here, he will simply pass. However, if you just call, he may feel compelled to make a big bluff again on the turn, and you can trap him with effectively almost no outs.

Well, our villain bet the blank turn, setting us both all in, and the river blanked off.

He won with 10-5-4-3 double-suited, one of which was counterfeited by mine. Clearly, this was a type (b) case.

Now, we should not get hung up on results-oriented thinking here. Our villain badly mangled his hand, and we learnt some valuable information about how he plays and what he is prepared to do. Anyone who is prepared to go all in preflop with 10-5-4-3 in PLO is always welcome in my game. I guess sometimes a change of pace can be painful.

David has played poker all over the UK for the better part of a decade. Originally a tournament player, now focused on cash play and almost entirely on the Internet for the last three years, he makes a healthy second income playing a wide range of games.