10.14.2005

Just Don't Call Me Late For Dinner

The calling reflex is a powerful one. Curiosity is hazardous to more than just the cat; a calling station may easily pick off bluffs but will eventually fall prey to Death By A Thousand Value Bets. I am sometimes weak on the turn - I like to save myself the tough call on the river when I can just by folding early and often - but in an online limit game, once I get to the river, if you have me crushed, you are going to get paid. I am a river calling station. You can punch me like a time clock. Or the card. I guess I'd be the time card in that little simile. There are obvious laydowns, sure - a missed draw, or a hand that was clearly no good but picked up a low pair on the turn after the flop was checked through, or a previously-best hand that's faced with heavy multiway action - but heads-up, with a hand or even ace high, there's almost no such thing as a good laydown on the river in an online limit game. Part of this is the nature of the beast: Hoyle's Rules Of Online Poker require positional bluffs with no hand, which suggests that picking off such bluffs is +EV. Part of this is just plain ol' pot odds - once your lemur self has built a reasonably-sized pot calling flop and turn bets with AK high, you've got little choice but to pay off one bet on the river. And you're good a surprising amount of the time - usually if you've lost it's to a medium pocket pair or someone who spiked a three-outer with their weaker ace. Maybe somebody with more data than I have can prove this, but against opponents with a high enough PFR% (I'm guessing 8-9% or higher) and predictable aggression factors, check-calling all the way with AK high heads-up might be +EV. I know calling the river bet is but I haven't dug that deeply into the numbers. Also I'm not smart enough to figure it out. But I digress. The truth is, I call those bets for a couple of other reasons. One is curiousity: this is a game of imperfect information, so I want as much as I can get, and yes, I'm willing to pay for it. Playing in multiway pots is easy - you just play your cards and raise for value or a free card when you can get away with it, try to drive out the draws when you've got a strong hand, maybe stab once in a while if everyone slows down at the ultimate scare card. But heads-up online you've got almost nothing but the numbers and betting patterns to go on, and for the betting patterns to make sense you've got to see their cards once in a while. Which means sometimes I'll throw in that last bet with king high. (This has had ancillary benefits: there are certain people against whom I can now comfortably bet AK-high for value, because I know they'll call me with AK-high or worse, and raise me with anything better.) I also sit and call to set up resteal opportunities and value-maximizing situations. Once your tighter opponents figure out you can't be bluffed off a marginal hand, they'll start checking the turn and giving you a chance to steal on your next action. Also, a lot of the time I want that fish tag - I want people to think I'm a moron. There's a fine line between pretending to be a broken clock and actually being that broken clock, it's true, and I'm sure my table image is often that of a donkey with an unusually tight preflop selection algorithm. But that's fine with me. I know who the good players at the table are, and I don't tangle with them unless I know I can take them down. If they don't know the same thing about me, who's ahead?

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