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Equity Denial After The Flop In Short Deck Hold’em

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Jun 05, 2019

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Everyone who plays Short Deck is more than likely aware that equities run closer than in hold’em. In fact, this series of articles itself has probably mentioned that fact dozens of times. However, from my observations it appears as if, for the most part, players are really only taking that into account in hands they choose to play before the flop.

Once the flop comes down, since it’s so much more likely that a player will hit the board, many believe one must be very cautious in betting hands after the flop. Comparisons to pot-limit Omaha (PLO) have also been drawn which suggests that one needs quite a strong hand, perhaps requiring at least top two pair to bet into multiple players.

This way of thinking is completely unfounded for a few reasons.

In PLO, everyone is dealt four cards which in essence are six different hold’em hands. Straight draws with up to 20 outs are possible and of course in PLO flush draws are much more prevalent.

While it is true that people will hit the board much more often in Short Deck as opposed to Full Deck, the situation is not even close to being comparable with PLO. Most of the time this improvement is in the form of top pairs with weak kickers, middle and bottom pairs, or gutshot straight draws. However, in Short Deck players seem to be much quicker in releasing these medium strength to weaker hands than they are in Full Deck because they fear bigger hands and the open-ended straight draws are out.

Denying your opponent’s equity is very important in all forms of poker but in Short Deck it is paramount because equities run a lot closer. When you bet a marginal hand that is currently best and make your opponent fold out 20-30 percent equity, that is a solid victory especially if he was planning on putting another chip in the pot only if he improved. Big bets are not even required, many times a third of the pot will do the trick to clean up equity and when it doesn’t it’s obviously okay when you do have the best hand.

Let’s look at some examples from the 2018 Poker Masters $10,000 Short Deck final table:

Hand No. 3 of Final Table

Ryan Tosoc (132 antes) limps from early position, Issac Haxton (83 antes) calls, and Andrew Robl (160 antes) checks his option with JClub Suit JDiamond Suit. It appeared as if Robl thought about raising but jacks can be difficult to play after the flop. After he checks behind there is 270,000 in the pot.

The flop comes down 9Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit QHeart Suit and both Tosoc and Haxton check. Since Robl did not show strength preflop their checks are more indicative of weakness then would be the case had Robl raised preflop. Of course, Robl can’t be sure he has the best hand but he bets 100,000 and that looks like a great bet and size choice. Let’s look at some of the equities of hands in Tosoc’s and Haxton’s possible check-folding range.

ASpade Suit KClub Suit (38%)
ASpade Suit 10Club Suit (27%)
AClub Suit 9Club Suit (33%)
AClub Suit 8Club Suit (44%) – Gut shot wheel draw, various backdoor straights, ace over card
9Diamond Suit 8Diamond Suit (34%)
10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit (27%)
8Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit (23%)

All of these hands are possibilities including A-K for Tosoc since he appeared to be employing a limp only strategy preflop. Haxton probably would have raised A-K preflop and bet some of these hands on the flop but possibly not since they are all quite marginal. Anyhow if Robl checked the flop many cards may come to be too scary to bet in the future and all of these equities will either be realized or he may get bluffed off the best hand. Thus, his small bet in position is very effective and accomplishes several goals.

It turned out that Haxton had Q-9, check-called the flop, and then the hand got checked down as the board got relatively scary. However, Robl did have 20 percent equity on the flop which is quite surprisingly high and his bet allowed him to realize it fully as the turn got checked through. Tosoc had the ASpade Suit 10Club Suit.

I’m not sure why Haxton chose to check the flop; however, the announcers seemed to indicate that it was a very dangerous and wet board for Short Deck. That fear is unfounded, thus it’s more likely Haxton checked to induce and disguise his hand.

Hand No. 10

In this hand we have a multi-way limped pot:

Ryan Tosoc (122 antes) – AClub Suit KDiamond Suit
Maurice Hawkins (77 antes) – QClub Suit JClub Suit
Cary Katz (26 antes) – 9Spade Suit 8Diamond Suit
Isaac Haxton (93 antes) – 10Club Suit 9Diamond Suit
Dominic Nitsche (50 antes) – KSpade Suit JSpade Suit

Tosoc has been employing a limp-only strategy and as guessed A-K is in his range. Nitsche could have easily elected to just jam all in with his holding. As discussed in the last issue, 50 antes is equivalent to roughly a 16-big blind stack and there is a lot of money in the pot, but he elected to check his option.

Board: KHeart Suit 8Spade Suit QHeart Suit

Ryan Tosoc (122 antes) – AClub Suit KDiamond Suit (34% equity)
Maurice Hawkins (77 antes) – QClub Suit JClub Suit (15% equity)
Cary Katz (26 antes) – 9Spade Suit 8Diamond Suit (20% equity)
Isaac Haxton (93 antes) – 10Club Suit 9Diamond Suit (19% equity)
Dominic Nitsche (50 antes) – KSpade Suit JSpade Suit (5% equity)

Being first to act in a five-way pot Tosoc decides to check. Is his holding really not strong enough to bet? Given that we can see all of the hands it’s hard to be truly objective here but had he bet even a small fraction of the pot would anyone but possibly Nitsche call him?

Is this somewhat of an anomaly that virtually everyone has hands that are hard pressed to call? There are not that many combinations of hands that have an equity advantage over Tosoc’s hands:

Combinations Tosoc’s Equity
A-A 3 13%
K-K 1 5%
Q-Q 3 8%
8-8 3 9%
K-Q 4 23%
JHeart Suit 10Heart Suit 1 42%
15

Fifteen combinations is not much and from the above list we can even highly discount A-A, K-K, and possibly even Q-Q as they probably would have raised or just jammed all in preflop.

Now how many total combinations are out there that either have an OESD straight draw or a flush draw? There are 15 combinations of J-10 left and around 10 combinations of playable heart draws; however, Tosoc is an equity favorite over all of these hands. Granted it may be difficult to play out of position, however, it’s relatively unlikely Tosoc would have been raised with any of these hands and overall there is a very good chance he would have realized his equity one way or another.

Estimating the amount of combinations that produce top pairs with weak kickers, middle or bottom pairs, or marginal straight draws is more difficult but there is quite a large amount of them. For example, there are 11 to 15 combinations each of the following holdings that simply have a marginal made hand or weak draw: Q-J, 10-9, 9-8, A-10, A-J, Q-10, K-10, 10-8, Q-9, J-9, and weaker ace high hands. Then there are other hands with fewer combinations such as A-Q, K-J, J-J, 10-10, 9-9 but these add to the total as well. A rough estimate indicates there are at least around 200 combinations of playable starting hands that are unable to call, however collectively they erode much of Tosoc’s equity.

What happened in the actual hand was that the 8Heart Suit rolled off on the turn and Tosoc then led into the field for 125,000. However, by that time, he had allowed Katz to outdraw him and Katz won the pot.

Again, it’s tough to be results oriented, but he would have been best served to make that bet on the flop, especially if he was planning on checking and calling a similar sized bet, which I imagine he would have.

Taking a mindset that you need almost as strong of a hand as you need in PLO in order to bet will often result in allowing your opponents to realize their equity. And in the case of multi-way pots this collective equity is quite sizeable. ♠

Kevin Haney is a former actuary of MetLife but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. He is co-owner of Elite Fitness Club in Oceanport, NJ and is a certified personal trainer. With regards to poker he got his start way back in 2003 and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. His new mixed-games website Counting Outs is a great starting resource for a plethora of games ranging from the traditional to the exotic. He can be reached at haneyk612@gmail.com.