While I was playing a tournament on Full Tilt, a player who sometimes railbirds me (sometimes complaining about how I play, sometimes about my opponents) told me there was a web site with a video about my online play. He sent me the YouTube link, which, unfortunately, wasn’t porn. It was, however, very critical of a play I made at a Full Tilt final table six weeks ago. The guy was completely wrong, and I promised in my comment on YouTube to explain why, so here goes.
First, the links. The guy who posted the video is named Marty Smith, who I have never met or heard of. Maybe he is a poker expert with qualifications far exceeding mine. (I’m not proclaiming myself any kind of expert but (a) I play a lot of tournaments online, (b) I win, and (c) I spent a year putting together a book on tournament poker with Andy Bloch, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Ted Forrest, and several other great players, so I learned a great deal. That said, I think one of my greatest strengths in poker analysis is that I’ll quickly admit when I get something wrong or miss part of the analysis. That comes from spending a lot of time reasoning and arguing this stuff through with Andy Bloch and Chris Ferguson.) Marty runs a site called FullTiltPokerReport.com. The YouTube video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufoOn39hcz0.
If he engages me in a discussion and points out something I missed or got wrong – or one of you does so – I have no trouble crying “uncle!” I call that LEARNING and I don’t mind being wrong about this stuff at all. But I don’t think I am.
Second, the facts. This was at the final table of the Full Tilt $350,000 Guarantee on November 26, in which I finished fifth. As near as I can remember it, this was the situation:
Five players left, blinds at 25k-50k, antes at 10k. [Note the 20% ante as well as the short-handed table. They figure in my analysis, but not Marty's.]
I was fourth in chips, with about 500k. Another player had just lost a huge pot and had, I think, 42k. He would be forced all-in within a couple hands. The other three players were tightly bunched with 2.2M, 2M, and 1.9M.
Third, here’s how it went down. I was, I think, in the cut-off with A-Qs. It was folded to me. I went all in. The microstack on the button folded. The chip leader, in one of the blinds, called me with 4-4. I didn’t improve and was eliminated.
Marty Smith’s argument is that I should have folded everything but A-A and MAYBE K-K. But he says he would have thought hard before pushing in with K-K. There was a $6,500 difference between 5th and 4th place and I committed a “brain burp” by playing A-Qs.
I know there is a principle out there that says, “Sometimes it’s a good idea to pass up a good bet when you can fold your way to more money.” But what are the limits on this principle? When does it apply or not apply? Does it have anything to do with later payouts? Stack sizes? According to Smith, fold everything but A-A.
That can’t conceivably be the right way to play. I will explain the reasoning, but if you think that way, you will find it impossible to succeed in tournament poker. You might make it through some satellites, or sneak into the low money occasionally, but then it’s extremely unlikely that you can win a big prize thinking this way.
Let’s first establish what happens if I fold my A-Qs. I’m down to 9 BBs. The micro-stack is probably going to be eliminated in a hand or two. It will cost me 115k every four hands. With the other stacks having 40 BB, my blind will be under attack every hand (which is 50% of the time when we’re four handed).
If I wait just two rounds and succeed in doubling up, I’m still in about the same position I am when I made the decision to move all-in.
And what if the short stack DOESN’T bust on the next hand. Marty mentions, as a reason I should fold everything, that the short stack will get 2-3 callers. That means if the guy wins, he has 150-200k. With me folding everything but A-A until that guy’s out, I don’t think his chances of passing me if he wins that all-in hand are all that unreasonable.
In the final analysis, if I played it Marty’s way, there’s almost no way I could finish higher than 4th. I have to concede 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place money (that’s $83,000, $51,000, and $33,000, by the way) to the bigger stacks and content myself with the extra $6,500 by finishing 4th instead of 5th. The chances of me moving up, especially if the shortest stack lasts more than one hand, aren’t much greater than the chances I’ll follow his advice and STILL finish fifth.
NOW, what good and bad things happen if I do what I did, moving all-in with A-Qs?
First, what’s the chance I’m giving up $6,500 by moving all-in with A-Qs? If Marty’s analysis is correct and my opponents are thinking as smart as he is about this, everyone should fold to me unless they have A-A. After all, if I’m folding everything but A-A, what are they going to think when I move in and they have something like 4-4? Obviously, that guy who called with 4-4 didn’t think Marty’s way of thinking was correct.
Even assuming Marty is wrong, most people are going to fold. No one has a really huge stack here. Even the biggest stack, the guy who called with 4-4, was calling off more than 20% of his chips. With 3 of the 5 remaining players pretty close in chips, who wants to put in 20-40% of their chips calling someone who obviously has at least a pretty good hand?
Mike Matusow, who is an excellent tournament player, especially in the endgame, was apoplectic about that guy’s call. Think of all the hands I could reasonably have. Heck, think of the hands I could have that Marty Smith would tell me to fold: J-J? 8-8? 6-6?
I think the chances everyone folds are 80-90%. They need AT LEAST a top 10-20% hand to call me here, and it needs to be at the high end of that range because of the combination that they would respect that I must have a strong hand and they would either be a tiny favorite or a big dog.
If there’s just a 20% chance I’m going to get called, then 80% of the time I’m going to pick up 125,000 chips. An 80% chance of picking up 125,000 chips is HUGE. That gives me close to 650k, which increases the penalty to one of the bigger stacks (who all have the same amount of chips) of picking on me and being wrong. It also gives me enough chips to make a meaningful reraise, or conceivably make a raise and fold, or make a loose call when the micro-stack moves in to see five cards with the other players.
But I actually WANTED to get called. 3d paid $7k more than 4th. 2nd, another additional $18k. 1st added another $32k. If I get called and win, my 1.3 million in chips puts me right in the thick of things, and my equity in a four handed game where no one has over 2 million has to be far, far greater than the $6,500 if I fold my way to elimination.
A-Qs has a 49% chance against 4-4. If everyone folds 80% of the time, these are the results and their likelihood:
80% – they all fold, I have 650k. My chances of finishing better than 4th improve at least marginally.
10% – 4-4 calls and I win, giving me 1.3M. With the luck factor in a short-handed game (by the way, my understanding of short-handed play is one of the strengths of my game, mostly by virtue of most players having little experience or understanding of how the game changes – I was schooled by Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, and Andy Beal), my chances of winning aren’t worse than 20% and could be as high as 40%. I don’t know what value you put on that, but it’s got to be greater than $6,500 – four players with huge blinds and antes, fairly close in chips, splitting $192,000?
10% – 4-4 calls and I lose, eliminating me. I lose the $6,500 I’d make if I held out until the smallest stack busted.
This didn’t seem to be a close case. In fact, if I thought the players at that final table thought anything like Marty Smith, I’d have made the move with any two cards.
Final note: How good is A-Qs? If, instead of dealing out cards, you dealt out numbers between 1 and 100 and the goal was to have the highest number (A-A would be 100 and hands like 3-2o and 7-2o would be 1 or 2), how high is A-Qs?
A-Qs, to open a pot, would be about 97. Andy Bloch and Chris Ferguson have analyzed this carefully. Andy has shared his numbers with me (and they’ll be in THE FULL TILT POKER STRATEGY GUIDE – TOURNAMENT EDITION, coming out in June) and I understand that Chris’s aren’t too different. These rankings come from a simulation that, though unlike a lot of situations in poker, is very relevant to a short-handed all-in-or-fold game. In the simulation, the only hands better than A-Qs for open-raising are A-A, K-K, A-Ks, A-Ko, and Q-Q. Out of the 1,326 two-card combinations you can get, only 34 (about 3%) are better than A-Qs. And it’s not even 34 – it’s 24 because without the ace and queen of diamonds, there are only 3 A-A combos and 3 Q-Q combos. Instead of 16 A-K combos, there are just 12.
Let’s also note how unlikely I was to run into a small pocket pair as a caller. Put yourself in the position of the guy with 4-4. What’s he think I’m moving all-in with? Liberally, he might think I’ll move in with A-K, A-Q, A-J, or any pocket pair. That works out to 120 hands, about 10% of all my possible hands. For half of those hands (pocket pairs 5-5 and above), he is just 20% to win. For 10% of those hands, I moved with 3-3 or 2-2 and he is 80% to win. For the other 40% (A-K, A-Q, A-J), he is just slightly better than a coin flip, depending on whether I am suited.
If you add it up, I think 4-4 is 38% to win against all those hands. Is that worth calling off more than 20% of your chips? If you take Andy Bloch’s hand rankings and assume I raised with the best THIRD of my hands – which includes pocket pairs but also hands like 8-6s, K-5s, A-2o, K-5s – 4-4 is only 49.5% to win.
The rational aspect of my decision to move all-in with A-Qs is that it was one of the very best hands I could expect to get during the endgame and the overwhelming likelihood was that no one would call and I’d pick up the blinds and antes, which were substantial.
The emotional aspect was that I WANTED to get called – in fact, if I had known that player had 4-4, I would have pushed in anyway. A 50% shot at the bigger prize money, like $33k for 3rd, $51k for 2nd, and $83k for first was worth it for me. Between the luck factor and my relatively advanced understanding of the endgame, a coinflip to get myself to par for the last three spots was easily worth it.
I welcome Marty Smith’s explanation, and anyone else who wants to take a position. Like I said, I’m certainly capable of making mistakes in analysis or missing ideas or concepts that could tip the balance considerably. But I know there’s more to it than “fold because someone else might bust.” There’s gotta be.