Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Plays Poker

I have been watching Sherlock on Netflix, so naturally I am feeling super smart and noticing things I didn't before. Last night I used my new found superpowers while playing poker by doing everything exactly the same as always while at the table. I'm convinced that Sherlock would be very good at the game since it is a game of skill, but it does also occaisionally lend itself to luck. Sherlock would lose out on winning some pots that would be big if he could hold back on showing off which he is prone to do. If he applied himself to the game, he could also goad people into calling when they are at a disadvantage. It would be near impossible to bluff him as well. You would have to be an open book on misdirection. He would be a player that I would avoid butting heads with on a cash table, but I doubt he would have any reservations about doing the same.

Let's talk about some basic poker strategy. I'm going to be playing in a charity tournament tonight, and I like to think about my strategy going in. I'm going to assume that if you're reading this then you are a poker player and know the progression of hands. I'm going to assume that you know how to figure out how many 'outs' you have. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments or hit me up on facebook, twitter, etc..

One of the most important things to know when playing poker is where you are at in your tournament life. The chips in front of you are your life. In tournament play the blinds are always going up, so tracking how your chip stack looks in comparison to the size of the big blind is important. If you have over 500 big blinds then there isn't much to worry about and you can usually play however you like. A mistake that I see people make all the time is to only compare the size of your stack to the big blind. You have to evaluate it against the size of the bet that is made as well. Do you really want to risk a quarter of your stack to chase that gut shot straight draw with a flush draw out there too? Every hand you play in and every time the blinds go up, it's time to reevaluate where you are in the tournament. Things you need to know and keep track of include your chip stack size, the amount of big blinds you have left, and how your chip stack compares to the others at the table.

When you are in the hand you also need to keep track of the pot size. This will help you determine your pot odds. There are so many people who misuse the term "pot odds". I'm convinced that half of the people I come across who use that term have no clue what it means. Pot odds is a comparison of bet size, pot size, and your percentage chance of winning the hand. For example, You have Ace King of diamonds with a flop that has two diamons on an unpaired board. The bet is 150 into a pot of 500. Let's say you have a good read on the player who bet, and are certain that they have top pair, which happens to be one of your diamonds, and he has an ace or king kicker. You can't be sure your ace or king hitting would be good, so you only count your flush outs which would give you 9. Using the quick and dirty rule of 2 and 4, if you see both cards then you have around a 36% chance to hit your flush(not exact), and if you see one more card you have around 18% chance (again not exact). If you think the next bet is going to be big then you want to use the smaller number, and if you think they may check it or bet small then you can use the bigger number.

It costs you 150 to see the next card with the 150 bet and 500 that you could possibly win, so you're getting a little bit better than 4 to 1 on your money. If you're going to see both cards then you have a bit better than 1 in 3 chance to win. I like to break these down into fractions because it makes it easier to figure out. You take the 4 to 1 money comparison and make it 4/1 which is just 4. Then you take the 1 in 3 chance to win and make that 1/3. Then you multipy them together which gives you 4/3. If that is greater than 1 then that is a money making bet, and if it is less than 1 then it is a money losing bet. That is a money making bet. Using the smaller chance, you get a bit worse than 1 in 5 chance of hitting the next card. With the same bet you're still getting 4 to 1 on your money. 4/5 is a money losing bet. If you do the math using a normal distribution then you will find that these quick and dirty calculations aren't exact, but they are very useful for finding out if you should call or not. You're just trying to determine if it's a money making or money losing bet. If you keep track of the pot size it becomes much easier and quicker to do this. After a while it becomes second nature.

Knowing where you are in the tournament will let you know if you want to take that risk. If your pot odds comparison is 4/3 like in the previous example then you need to evaluate your risk vs. the reward. What if you are short stacked in the tournament, and that bet size that gives you the 4/3 pot odds is for 1/3 of your entire chipstack. You are committing yourself to the pot when you have less than a 50/50 shot at winning. It makes more sense to raise and go all in than it does to call here. Maybe someone will folt and increase your chances of winning. It makes more sense to fold and wait for a better opportunity also. You have to evaluate your risk vs. reward. That's why a lot of times I won't look at my cards in the small blind unless there is a raise. If there are 2 callers and it doesn't look like the big blind is going to raise then you are getting 7 to 1 on your money. Most of the time your chances of winning with any 2 random cards against 3 players is going to be better than 15%. I have a really hard time folding when I'm getting 8 to 1 or better on my money in a pot. I've done it before but hated folding in that situation.

I could go on and on talking about position, bluffing, checking dark, etc.. etc.. In the future I may go into depth on each of those subjects. I do plan on continuing with bringing fictional characters to the poker table. Maybe next time I can play a few hands with Groot.

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