Dan O’Callaghan looks at the latest trends from poker’s catwalk and argues that you can take fashion too far
Every time I visit London, I realise how much better I could dress. It’s not that I’m a complete fashion faux pas or anything (though I’m 90% sure I would be if I didn’t have a super stylish fiancée), it’s just that London is the fashion capital of England. Home to pioneers such as Mulberry, Radley and… well… whatever, you get the point. Flair and expression are not only encouraged in London, they’re celebrated, and this means trends change more often than Donald Trump’s manifesto.
Leaning against a manky pole in a cramped corner of a packed tube train, I can see an array of different styles and trends. The look of tomorrow. Even with my risqué Steve Madden shoes on I feel boring.
Believe it or not, fashion plays an important part in poker too. Of course, if we blindly classify fashion as the Rolex and Ray-Bans we see at the tables then I think most would argue that its significance in the poker world is minimal, if it exists at all (after all, you can play naked online if you really want to). But if we broaden our minds a little, we realise that fashion is essentially just a cycle of trends, and trends are everywhere in poker. Forget about shoes and handbags, poker fashion centres around things such as bet sizing, folding technique and aggression type. Just as this season’s pashmina fetish might have changed, many poker conventions move in waves and what was cool yesterday may be as fresh as two-day old petrol station flowers a month later. Take the current raise-sizing trends for example; years ago a 4x was more the norm, now it’s just, like, sooooo 2006.
‘But Dan, there’s sound mathematical logic for the min-raising bet-sizing shift,’ I hear you cry. Well yeah, relax, I agree, but I also think it would be naïve to assume that most players are fully aware of this, and since almost everyone is min-raising these days I can only attribute this to the same sheep-factor attitude that fuels the fashion industry. Min-raising is sooo fetch.
Another hot line in poker fashion right now is the none-nut slow-play. Wider
blind defence ranges have led to weaker flop ranges, and this means that the strength of hands such as top and overpairs has skyrocketed. As a consequence, more and more players are checking back these kinds of non-nutted hands in spots where they could easily bet for value.
I’m a fan of it too. I think it can be a really effective way to under-represent your hand, induce bluffs, and add a little more strength to your overall checking-back range too.
Unfortunately though, just like wearing 8-inch heels to a nightclub, fashionableness can hinder practicality, and I think this is leading to a slight overuse.
Consider Hero’s flop check from a hand history discussion I saw on Facebook. After a raise and a call, Hero picks up Queens and three-bets to 12,120. The original raiser folds and the second player comes along for the ride. The flop is 8♣-9♥-8♠, Villain checks and Hero then checks behind.
As I learned from the thread, Hero checks back here with the goal of under-representing his hand. By definition, betting is stronger than checking, which means that intuitively checking back should represent more weakness. If we consider the context here though, I’d argue that betting is a better way to go for a number of reasons.
Checking looks stronger
On a texture this dry, it is highly likely we would bluff a decent amount of the time, especially in a three-bet pot. If we couple that with the fact that we are more likely to get to showdown when we check, I think our check clearly represents some showdown value. Of course, this might be as weak as King or Ace-high, but that’s showdown value nonetheless. It’s hard to bluff by checking, especially since it makes raising later down the line look way stronger.
If we bet we represent a way more polarised range, meaning our opponent may try to either attack or bluff catch us more liberally. Accordingly, since we have more bluffs in our range when betting, we should be able to get more value when our opponent has the second best hand. This is great for us in this spot because our opponent will have lots of pocket pair combos in his range, and it’s hard to fold those on a texture this dry, especially when we were in a great squeeze spot preflop.
In this spot I’d argue that the context, the increased number of bluffs we have when we bet, and the dry board texture, make betting the best way of under-representing our hand. I’d say that by checking we are simply missing value from hands that will both struggle to fold and may slow down on a lot of runouts. He didn’t believe us preflop, let’s give him a good reason not to believe us now.
Remember, poker is all about maximising value and we make 133% more chips when we have a half pot bet called over three streets as opposed to two. I’m all for under-representing wider value ranges in spots – it’s cool and it definitely has its place in 2016 poker. However, it’s also possible to under-rep your hand with a bet sometimes, so be sure to consider the spot, board texture, and context before you wave the phony white flag.
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