Here’s a decision I made in the $10-10-20 no-limit hold’em game at Lucky Chances in the spring, when the minimum buy-in was $2,000. The lineup — what we lovingly call The Breakfast Club — was playing tight and tough, as it so often does. Inevitably, the cards slice deep cuts into some of the stacks, which causes blood to flow, and that gets the chips moving, sometimes, depending on whose nuts get cracked.
When this hand came up, the game was two hours old, and there had been no major wounds. The two biggest pots of the day had been in the $1000-2000 range, and neither of them went to showdown. On this hand, I was under the gun. I opened for $80 and only the button called. The pot was $190. On the flop, I bet $200 and he called. On the turn, I bet $500 and he called. At this point the pot was about $1600. On the river, I checked, and he went all-in for $1600. (I had him covered.)
At this point, his hand was polarized. I knew he either had me beat, or he didn’t. If I called, I would be getting 2-1 on my money which meant that if he had me beat twice as often as he didn’t, then it didn’t matter what I did. And as best as I could figure it, within the image of reality that exists only in my mind, which happens to be the only version of reality I have access to, that was how it was: the EV of calling was the same as the EV of folding.
So, what to do?
That’s an easy one: move to an outer shell of parameters and weigh the decision from there.
My opponent was a player who often plays snug for long stretches, and then, after he plays a big all-in pot, he gets reckless for a while. And it doesn’t matter if he wins the big pot or loses it. He tends to get spunky either way. And when the spunkiness comes over him, his spunk can cause a few others to spunk it up, and now we’ve got a game. And let’s just say for the sake of parameter thinning that I thought I could rely on myself to be equally steady, win or lose. So now we have determined that after looking at the meta-game, the decision was simple. Call and maybe rev up the game, or fold and keep it the same.
I asked myself: Do I feel like playing? And what kind of game do I feel like playing in? My choices and possible outcomes were:
Fold, and continue playing in a tough-tight game. (I like tough-tight games during those times when I like that kind of game. It just depends.)
Fold, and quit a tough-tight game. (Never a bad idea.)
Call, and play in a loose-ish game ahead $2400. (Sometimes I keep playing because I’m ahead, and independent of that, sometimes I keep playing because the game got looser.)
Call, and quit a loose-ish game stuck $2400. (Sometimes I quit because I’m stuck, and independent of that, sometimes I quit because the game got looser.)
This was a difficult decision for me at the time, and I took way longer than usual on it. Then a big grin crept over me inside when I realized that the reason I couldn’t attach to one of the options was because I was unattached to all of them. So I pulled out my most trusted scale tipper, my protector, my net. Remember when I said I thought I could count on myself to stay steady if I called this hand, win or lose? Well, that’s not actually true. Usually I can. But sometimes I can’t. And I never really know for sure which way it’s going to be. And even when I am perfectly unflustered by a big pot, it nonetheless increases the probability that the next big pot might knock me off balance.
I decided to let the first blood spill on someone else’s hand. I decided to wait for a +EV spot to play an all-in pot. And I realized I liked this tough-tight game right now, just the way it is. So I folded and posted my blind.