Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Odd Pot Odds

My book got an online review from a guy in Massachusetts who thinks that I’m a nincompoop. Oh, okay, he didn’t use that exact word; other than saying that my odds are all wrong, my playing strategies are full of it, and that anybody who’s ever taken basic high school math should know better than to put out such garbage, he thinks my book is pretty good. I did get the impression that he isn’t a fan.
Well what does he expect from a bonafide pigeon?
Okay, I confess. I expected flak from my chapter on odds from the get-go, because every casino poker game I’ve ever played in is staffed with at least one math genius whose understanding of the game is so much deeper than mortal man’s that the guy can shoot down anyone’s theory on odds in a heartbeat. As a clod among clods I thought I should stick to the close-enough-for-government-work method of quoting odds, and that knowing that one shouldn’t draw to flushes without three-way action was sufficient without carrying probabilities out to the seventeenth digit.
After you’ve been socked between the eyes with a two-by-four as often as I have you learn that when one of said math prodigies holds court, your best course of action is to keep quiet, look dumb, and show respectful awe. Don’t argue. You ain’t gonna win. So I hereby flap my wings, hop down, and peck for popcorn on the floor as I defer to the Massachusetts guy. Even though he writes that I’m dumber’n a bag of hammers, he didn’t bother to elaborate on the correct method of figuring odds, so maybe if I beg hard enough he’ll do so. Hopefully I can stay awake and pay attention while he does.
But wait a minute!!! Not only has he dissed my odds-figuring, he’s also declared as moronic my exclusion of pre-flop money when deciding, after the flop, whether pot odds tell me to draw or not to draw. Pot odds gotta include the whole pot, he says, not just the action after the flop. Now the Massachusetts guy has gone too far, by golly. Now I gotta squawk, fly back up on the table, and defend.
Look. Up front. I don’t declare my system as the be-all and end-all, and knew full well before I wrote the book that the self-imagined sharpies of the poker world would pitch a hissy fit and set my fanny on the barbecue and pile on the coals. As I’ve said over and over, my teachings are often the direct opposite of what you’ll hear else-where. So you can try my theories out or simply read my stuff for a belly laugh at how dumb the author is, but if you’re one of the many who can’t seem to win at limit Hold ‘Em you might oughtta pay attention. Who knows? You might even turn things around.
I’ve played poker for more years than a lot of sharpies have been alive, and know full well that nine out of ten court-holders will tell you that, in estimating pot odds, you gotta count what’s already in there and not just what’s bet after the flop. If you’re playing ten and twenty limit, and five people have stood a pre-flop raise, that’s a hundred bucks already on the table, and before the first post-flop ten-dollar bet comes along, the pot is already laying you ten to one, right? Even the Ol’ Poker Pigeon is smart enough to figure that one out.
But even though I can multiply five times twenty bucks (and even do the math in my head, by God), I don’t play the way that most sharpies recommend. Here’s why. In a multi-hour playing session you are going to see a number of flops, and depending on how tight or loose the game is, you are also going to call a pre-flop raise in a certain percentage of those hands where five or more players are going to tag along. If your pockets are both hearts and two more hearts appear on the flop, you have an 18 in 47 chance of making your hand either on the turn or on the river (and here the sharpies will scream indignantly that the true odds are .3504 or 35.04%—they get this, sort of, by computing the odds with two to come and the odds with one to come and then striking a median between the two—but hey, I only said I could add, subtract and multiply; long division ain’t in my wheelhouse), meaning that with three players, including you, going on to the river, the sharpies are gonna figure pot odds at 10 to 1 pre-flop money plus 3 to one post-flop plus another 3 to 1 on the betting after the turn (and these are known as implied odds, but now you’re giving the Ol’ Pigeon a headache with all the figuring), and, baby, those sharpies are gonna draw. Well, hey, so am I. I don’t count the pre-flop money, and I think implied odds are like implied invitations to sex in that a whole lotta times the babe doesn’t follow through on what you think she’s implying. But an 18 in 47 chance of making my hand is less than two to 1 against, and with two other players in the pot I’m gonna draw just like the sharpies are. We are all definitely on the same page there, okay?
Where we’re different is when after the flop you find yourself in a head-up situation. The sharps are gonna figure the 10 to 1 pre-flop money along with the 1 to 1 action after the flop, and the sharp is gonna draw. The Pigeon, figuring that 1 to 1 money is less than the 18 in 47 chance of making the hand, is gonna throw the hand away. And I’m willing to concede that the sharpies might be right here and I might be wrong—but only where you’re talking a straight or flush draw, and I believe that any successful method must be based on computing the pot odds in the same manner every single time.
My point: what about where you’re holding AK and the flop produces 8, 9, 10 with two clubs? Here the sharps are going to figure themselves for six wins (three aces and three kings) left in the deck, the pot odds just as in the preceding paragraph and are going to draw away. I’m not. For one thing, by my post-flop-only calculations the pot odds aren’t strong enough. For another, even if I catch an ace or king, that hand is most likely not going to win. In this situation someone else is almost certain to have a flush draw, thus eliminating the ace and king of clubs from my equation, plus with 8, 9, 10 on the board someone’s got a straight draw if they don’t already have a straight, and catching an ace or king will very likely make one of my opponents two pair. I draw for straights and flushes because I’m confident that if I hit my hand I’ll win (and yeah, sometimes I’ll hit my flush and someone will make a bigger flush, but that happening is so rare that I don’t worry about it until I see it). I don’t draw for any hand that I have no confidence in being the best hand at the end.
This situation gets even more bizarre where you have suited cards and only one card of your suit hits the board on the flop. Or where the flop misses you entirely and you’re holding undercards (you have 6-7, the flop is AJ9) but you figure you could win with two running sixes, two running sevens, or a six and a seven. How ‘bout then, huh? In fact, if you count pre-flop money in calculating pot odds, often those odds get so high that even good players will see the turn card no matter what their pockets happen to be in relation to the board. If them odds get high enough, baby, you’re supposed to draw.
The lamebrained Ol’ Pigeon here counts the pre-flop money as his entry fee to the post-flop play, and only computes his pot odds based on the post-flop bets, because I believe that counting the entire pot rather than just the current odds (the pot odds on this bet, and this bet alone versus the number of players that are gonna call this bet, right now) creates draws that are simply absurd. In a multi-player pot (five or more), I want either the best hand, or a one-card draw to a hand that I’m confident is going to win. And yes, two-card draws knock me out often enough to make me want to throw up on the table, but I’m not going to draw at those hands and never will. We’re playing Hold ‘Em here. Racehorse and First-One-Over-Wins players are gonna come out on the short end in the long run, and them’s my sentiments.
So there.

The Poker Pigeon is the pseudonym for the pro-level player who wrote Play Poker Like a Pigeon (And Take the Money Home), currently in bookstores. He will welcome your comments pro and con at pigeon3450@yahoo.com.

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