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Learning During the Pandemic: Part 1

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Aug 12, 2020

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Over the years, I have written many columns about learning poker. These columns frequently includes lists of books, magazines, and websites with which I am familiar. Then comes a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each.

I am going to start a series of columns that focuses on a specific hand or idea from a specific site, and then elaborate about my thinking process when analyzing this specific hand. I hope that these columns give you some not only some sources of good content, but also insight into how you can think about or analyze a hand. I am going to restrict myself to free content, but I would recommend that if you find a source is useful, please consider showing support and buying some of their products.

I am going to start with some recent free content from Upswing Poker. You can find it at https://upswingpoker.com/doug-bluff-vs-antonius/ or an older version of this hand can be found on YouTube with analysis by Doug Polk at www.cardplayer.com/link/DougPolkUpswing.

The game has blinds of $1,000-$2,000 with a $200 ante. Everyone folds up to Doug in the small blind. Both Doug and Patrik Antonius in the big blind have huge stacks, around $470,000 or 235 big blinds. Doug has 7Spade Suit 4Heart Suit.

What should he do with 7-4 offsuit, getting 5:1 whenever Patrick limps behind? My immediate thought is that he should fold most, if not all, of the time. If calling $1,000 would end the action, calling would be clearly correct, because 7-4 offsuit will win 38.5 percent of the time against a random hand. Since the pot would be $6,000, an all-in call would net about $1,310 (.385×6000-1000.)

This situation is just the opposite of a call ending the action, as both players are very deep. If Doug decided to not fold, he should raise to something like $7,000 as a bluff. If Patrick three-bets, you can easily fold 7-4 offsuit without giving up much equity.

The best way to think of the future equity of a hand is in terms of implied odds. When the implied odds favor your opponent, they are referred to as negative implied odds.

This is a hand that probably has large negative implied odds. They are somewhat negative when the Big Blind doesn’t raise. If he does raise, you can either fold, losing the extra thousand of your call, or call, putting more money in the pot in a situation where you have negative equity. I mentioned that I would consider an occasional bluff raise to $7,000. If I did raise, my intention would be to fold to a three-bet. In summary, playing a very weak hand with deep stacks, out of position, against a very tough opponent is a recipe for disaster.

In the YouTube video, Doug states that he was experimenting with a strategy of never raising from the small blind. He continues by checking all flops, and then calling with all hands with which he plans to continue.

This strategy is almost certainly suboptimal. While I love experiments, a cash game for nosebleed stakes doesn’t seem like the right spot for it. The recent write-up mentions using a GTO chart for a situation where you have 100 big blinds. This chart appears to show the 7-4 offsuit is a bottom of your calling range. I am surprised not to see some sort of mixed strategy-some mix of calls, raises and folds.

I want to discuss one of the the traps of using computer generated GTO strategies. First, the strategy is based on your being able to play perfect GTO strategy for the entirety of the hand. This is far beyond human capacity. So, I would have to feel that going forward in the hand, I would make a lot fewer mistakes than my opponent. From what Doug said in his earlier video, check-calling all playable flops would be worse than GTO strategy.

The chart also suggests that you always call with A-A, obviously. Assuming that it is always right to call with both A-A and 7-4 offsuit, it is a huge trap to think the equities of these two calls are close. In the 100 big blinds situation, calling with A-A might be worth over five big blinds. Calling with 7-4 offsuit might be worth less than one-tenth of a big blind.

Let me restate this. Folding A-A would be a huge, colossal blunder. Folding 7-4 offsuit would be an infinitesimal mistake, if it even is a mistake at all. I admit that knowing the result of some hands makes it hard to judge the correctness on each individual play. Color me old-fashioned or tight-aggressive, but I think for a real player in a real situation to call with 7-4 offsuit is a mistake, regardless of what the chart says
There are two take-aways from this column. The important thing is to learn how much analysis can go into studying any poker decision. Yes, poker is a beautiful, complicated game, in which even great players make mistakes. Upswing Poker is a good source of hands, material, and analysis, just don’t fall into the trap of not analyzing whatever poker material you are reading or viewing. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years and has two WSOP bracelets. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City – The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.