Photo by Brian Bentley @ 2009 WSOP Main Event

Monday, March 12, 2012

Learning to Trust A-K When Calling an All-In

The other day, late in a $50 for 5k in chips with rebuys tourney, I folded A-Ko twice preflop when a player shoved and I had the option to call off my entire stack and look them up. I have no reasonable explanation for this behavior. To some it would be inexcusable. My only defense is it had been a six-hour grind with a lot of skill invested in trying to cash – the only reason a person should put money into play.

A 53-entry tourney and we were down to the final two tables. I had watched aggro players donk off chips or get impatient and make loose calls. These players, who don’t shift their games to tighten up after the rebuy period ends, usually depart early. Their volatile stacks go up and down like a freight elevator and then they are gone. My stack usually put-puts along like an old VW with a tune-up – workman-like, never ostentatious. I’m very tight, but I often outlast 75% of the fields I’m in. If I can get somewhere in the vicinity of the final table and pick the correct spots to double up twice, I can walk out with a nice cash.

At the time of the A-K incidents, the blinds had accelerated to 2k and 4k, and were about to go to 3 and 6. I had 24k in chips and so did the shoving stacks in each case, but I suffered a fatigue-related brain freeze and didn’t do the stack-size math to realize I had to commit to my A-K. We were three players from the cash bubble and I had worked very hard to methodically survive with two big, loose stacks to my right and left. I figured I could look for a better spot to coin flip. Wrong!

I have long had issues with poker and the fact that so much of it is luck. I would prefer it if the game was 100% skill. Maybe it would not be as much fun, but I don’t have much “fun” with the luck part. I hate it because I am always convinced I am going to lose. Someone is going to runner-runner a flush, straight or some other crud and my pair of aces will burn in eternity. When I first started playing poker, I would go all-in the moment I picked up a big pair or better. Then I learned to slow down and get value – let the deck breathe. Give someone a chance to connect with second best.

But I never liked A-K the way I was supposed to. Factoring in fold equity, A-K was a shoving hand, not a calling hand to an all-in. I didn’t trust an unmade hand. And I certainly could never fathom how A-K unsuited was supposed to be almost 50% against a pair. I still don’t believe the math. The player with the pair doesn’t have to do anything. You have 6 outs. We won’t bring up the obvious – of where you’re at if they have K-K or A-A. But 10-10 to Q-Q doesn’t make me too happy either, as my straight draw is extremely tainted. To me, A-K up against a pair, is nearly a 2-1 dog. Period.

Back to the tourney the other night. The first shover showed Q-2s when I folded my A-K. Call there and hold ‘em and I double up to 48k and can coast to the final table cash, which would have been my fourth final table in the last six tournaments. I won’t ask what this player was thinking, shipping it with Q-2, except, “Nice work, if you can get it.” Maybe, before folding, I should have sized him up. I could have asked all those penetrating Daniel Negreanu-type questions, where you call out his hand range for everybody. Most importantly, “Do you have a pair and am I chasing?” But I have found that thinking out loud too long at the table makes me self-conscious and clouds my mind. Trying to put a single shover on a hand pre-flop is a waste of time. If he’s got the same stack as you do, take out a quarter and toss it up and see where it lands. Or make your calling decision by “the book.”

“The book,” however, is better suited for cash game players. Gut instinct and survival tactics are what win poker tournaments. It’s not easy to switch gears at the end of tourneys and allow luck to be the deciding factor. Every time someone says, “Let the cards play themselves,” I ask, “Then why are we here?” But just for the record, next time, I will call anyone, anytime who shoves into my A-K. Go ahead and make me sweat. I’m used to it.

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