June 20, 2010

Poker Judo at the Meadows

"We know you can fight fire with fire, but what is wrong with fighting it with water sometimes?"

—Bob Ciaffone at CardPlayer.com (hat tip to Poker Grump)

Judo is a martial art form based on the concept of using an opponent's aggression and momentum against him.  A classic example is where an attacker charges at an opponent and, rather than striking out at the attacker, the opponent steps aside and trips or throws the attacker to the ground, using the attacker's momentum to aid in the throw.

Judo can be loosely translated into English as "the way of gentleness".  Poker strategists have hammered home the exact opposite strategy—aggressive poker is winning poker.  In fact, the two profitable styles of poker—tight-aggressive (TAG) and loose-aggressive (LAG)—each directly state that aggression is a key component of the underlying strategy.  But, there can be such a thing as excessive aggression, even in poker.  Sometimes, a gentle approach is the most profitable.

Last night, I played a short session at the Meadows ATM.  After donking at 3/6 LHE for 30 minutes, I finally got a seat at one of the two 1/2 NLHE games; let's just say limit is not my best game.  In any event, I quickly discovered that there was a three-way cock-measuring battle going on at the NL game, with three aggro guys trying push people—mostly each other—around.  At least one of these guys raised nearly every hand, and most of these raises were called by at least one of the other aggros.  Check-raises, pushing with draws, floating to steal, position raises, these guys were doing it all, but doing it with pretty average stacks of $150-$250, as the rest of the table played nitty and took chunks of the aggro-stacks when they hit the rare monster hand.  These guys also made it pretty clear this was all about machismo, with lots of table chatter about why they made plays, why their plays were great, and why their opponents were idiots.  I found the whole situation amusing and potentially profitable.

In my experience, the macho LAG player might run over passive opponents, but his excessive aggression offers an opportunity for a trap play for his stack, or at least a large chunk of it.  Two big hands from my session illustrate this point.  In the first hand, I limp in middle position with 97s, a classic trapping hand.  Uber-aggro makes a standard button raise to $12, the other two aggros call, and I call to close the action.  The flop is K-9-3 rainbow.  Interestingly, it checks around.  The uber-aggro passing on a c-bet here likely means he hit the king and wants to get tricky.  The turn is a 7—Donkey Kong!  Checks to me, and I throw out a weak looking half pot bet.  I want it to look like I'm just taking a stab at the pot, in case one of the aggros wants to try to bluff me off the hand.  Sure enough, aggro on the button insta-raises to $60, folds to me, and I call, wanting to look weak and not scare off my prey.  River is a deuce.  I know aggro can't help but bet a king here, nor can he help trying to bluff if he has nada.  I normally value bet this river, but here, I check.  Uber-aggro obliges me by betting about half the pot, which is roughly a third of his remaining stack.  I raise all-in, uber-aggro calls, and proceeds to whine about how his top pair got run down (though he never showed his hand).

Aggro guy goes to the ATM, returns with $300.  He is clearly on tilt, and spews off a little over $100 in the first orbit, getting resistance to all of his plays.  In early position, I find pocket 9s and limp, looking to play for set value, or possibly a preflop squeeze play.  Aggro guy again raises in late position, gets called by the two fellow aggros and another player, so I call as well.  This is not a bad spot for a squeeze play, but even aggros get hands, my call closes the action, and the implied odds from a set are huge, so I opt for the conservative play.  The flop comes out K-K-4 with two spades.  Checks to me, and I decide this is not a bad board to bet at, so I fire out for $45 into the $60 pot.  Aggro insta-pushes for ~$200 total.  Folds back to me.

Now, this is a pretty polarizing bet.  Aggro is representing a king, which would leave me drawing to two outs at best.  But, if he has a king, why push here?  If he flat calls, he may get more action from the aggro players behind, and one of them may even make a move.  Pushing feels like he wants the field to fold, though he may also be afraid of flush draws.  But, why not make it $100 straight, with $100 to push on the turn, if he wants to fold the draws?  If he has a king, how can he expect to get called by a weaker hand?  His play really felt a lot like a nut flush draw.  I finally called, and the board ran out 3-9 (both red)—Yahtzee!  Aggro guy asks, "Miss your flush?"  I just sat there and waited for him to show.  He again asked if I had missed the flush.  Although the 20 questions routine is a pet peeve of mine, given the strength of my hand, I said, "I hit the river, but I'm pretty sure I didn't need to."  I rolled my boat, and aggro came unglued.  He started muttering about "getting two outed again", but he didn't show his cards.  Aggro continued to fume about having his trip kings run down until he left to hit the ATM again.  I'm almost positive aggro had a flush draw, not that it really matters.  Aggro managed to tilt off another two min-buys before calling it a night.

So, two hands against an uber-aggro player, two feltings.  Just a routine double-ippon for a red-belt poker judo player!

ADDENDUM (20 JUNE 2010):  Somehow in the editing and posting process, I lost a reference to Poker Grump's excellent take on taking on table bullies.  His words of wisdom (and some from Mike Caro) are worth a read.

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