Sunday, 21 July 2013

Is it ever right to fold quads? Maybe, ponders Jeff Kimber.

Facing an all-in on the river is one of the purest decisions in poker: if we think we’ve got the best hand, we call; if we think we haven’t, we fold. If we’ve got the nuts, that decision couldn’t be easier – snap-call, thank you very much. But anything less than the nuts means this “simple” decision can be pretty complex and take some thinking through.

We need to run through our checklist. What hand can he have? What’s he representing? Can he be bluffing? How does he usually play? Are there any physical tells? Any bet-sizing or timing tells? Has he been tilting or playing differently to his usual style?

There are other considerations too, such as thinking through your own image and how that might have been interpreted by your opponent. What does my hand look like the way I’ve played it? Have I under-repped my holding and could he be value betting worse? Do I look like I’m weak or bluffing? Could he be putting me on the wrong hand?

No matter how weak your hand is, it may be better than the one the all-in player is holding and, no matter how strong it is, as long as it isn’t the nuts, you could be behind.

Either way, it’s important to piece together the hand and ask yourself all the questions above – and more – in order to come to the correct decision. Unfortunately, no matter how experienced you are, sometimes you forget to go through that process, as I found to my cost at the recent GPS Sheffield.

I’d just moved tables and sat down beside John Bousfield, an old friend who I’ve played with plenty of times in UK events. As I watched the first few orbits and caught up with John, it became evident this was going to be a fun table. Sheffield Wednesday centre back Anthony Gardner was at the table with a huge stack, looking like he’d played as many poker tournaments as games for England (one, by the way). Actually he didn’t play badly, he just played every single hand, so I was looking forward to tangling with him.

I already had a pretty healthy stack, around 45k at 200-400, when the following hand came up, the first hand I’d played at the new table. Gardner was on the big blind, so I didn’t need much of a hand to raise with as I was pretty determined to get involved with him, but as it happens, I looked down at pocket fours in mid-position.

Next to speak was John, who flat-called my raise, and everyone else passed, even the footballer, which was a bit disappointing. I didn’t stay disappointed for long, however, as a beautiful K?5?4? flop hit the table, giving me a set of fours.

As I mentioned, I’ve played plenty of times with John and, while we’re mates, we like nothing better than getting one over on each other. John knows I don’t need too much of a hand to open with 100bb deep, especially with a big-stacked whale in the big blind, so it seemed pretty obvious that the best way to get value out of my big hand was to build the pot.
I bet 1,400 and John called. The turn paired the five, giving me a full-house. John’s likeliest hand at this stage was a strong king – a K-Q type holding – and he’s quite within his rights to think this hand is winning. So I bet again, 2,400.

I was a bit surprised when, after a brief think, John made it 5,600, and I took a moment to register that K-Q type hands were unlikely to raise here. How has the five improved him? He could be playing 5-6 or A-5 suited. I don’t think he would flat kings pre-flop this deep against me – it’s too dangerous, unless there was a likely squeeze behind, and the only thing he was likely to get was a footballer with a watch the size of the dealer button coming along with any two cards.

He could have 4-5 suited too, which would be a disaster, although it’s pretty unlikely, given that three of the fours are accounted for. K-5 also had me beat, but John wouldn’t play that hand in mid-position to a raise. Air is always a possibility, but this opponent is not exactly an internet wizard looking to create 200bb pots at this stage of a tournament, although it did make up a small part of his range. The fact that air and 4-5 were in his range made me conclude that calling and seeing a river was the correct play, keeping in the hands I beat and maintaining a little pot control, just in case he had fives full. I still felt I was almost definitely winning and that I could donk the river pretty safely whether the flush came or not.

The river was a beautiful four, quadding me up. Now I had to have a think, how can I get paid? Is donking still the best play? What do I think he has? What if he has nothing? Will he raise his value hands? I considered check-raising and hoping to get a call from the 5-6 or A-5 type hands that have now made fives full and probably think they’re chopping. However, with a double-paired board, would he just check behind K-Q type hands that I could get value from? With air, will he just fold, having made a play on the turn, and now shut down, or can I lead weak and tempt him to bluff raise?
I opted to bet 7,500 into 15k, about half pot. As I prayed for a call, John had a dwell up before announcing he was all-in.

I thought for about three seconds (at the most) and said call. I didn’t high-five the dealer and scream, “Call, look I got quads! Come to daddy”, because during those three seconds my thought process was, “I don’t have the nuts. I do have quads. Stop slowrolling him. Call.”

I turned my cards over at the same time as John, and slowly tapped the table as he revealed the bad news. Quad fives beat quad fours.

I stuck the scratch in next hand and headed straight to Sheffield Station and was on the first train back to London, my mind a whirl with what had just happened. I think I’ve only made quads a handful of times in my eight years of playing live poker, and I’ve never seen quads over quads, let alone been involved in it. In some casinos I’d have cracked a bad beat jackpot. In Sheffield I’d not even got my train fare home (£70 for cattle class, since you ask. Bargain!).

It was a horrible and pretty amazing way to go out, but one thing bothered me. I’d not gone through the checklist before calling. I’d not even asked for a count, let alone pieced the hand together or tried to get a read.

I’d just thought, “I’ve got a monster, I’m never folding… call,” but that’s no way to play poker. Without the nuts, I should have thought about the hand longer, perhaps even saying, “I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling but let me have a think,” which might have helped get a read.

Thinking about it now, and without being results-orientated, quad fives was definitely John’s likeliest holding. Look at the list of questions I said I should be asking myself at the start of this piece. He’d not been tilting, he doesn’t usually play super-aggro, especially without a hand, and he was representing extreme strength.

The call on the flop didn’t tell me much, but John, a pretty solid player, had raised the turn and then raised all-in in the face of more aggression from me on the river. I don’t need to have much to c-bet a flop or double barrel, but once I call the raise on the turn, then lead the river, I’m showing a lot of strength. I could have kings-full, I could have fives-full, I could even have quads! Yet he wanted to put his whole stack, which was a 23k raise to my 7,500 river bet, over the line.

On that long, boring, £70 train journey home, I was pretty disappointed. I felt disappointed that I’d been knocked out, disappointed that I’d been coolered, but most of all I was disappointed that I hadn’t stopped to think before committing my chips.
I’m not saying I should have folded, and in all likelihood I would have sat and thought it through for a minute and still called, but at least I would have thought about it before committing 90% of my stack.

Every now and then you get reminded that poker is a game in which you never stop learning. I just got my eight-year reminder.

Tags: Strategy, Jeff Kimber, footballers, Athony Gardner