My image at the poker table, so I’m told, is that of an old tight-ass. Maybe because of hands like this:
Playing no-limit holdem, I had AK in the big blind. Everyone folded to the button who opened to 4x. The small blind folded. I called in the big blind, which is my standard play with AK in this spot. I used to 3-bet in this situation during my first 10 years grinding no-limit. Then I stopped 10 years ago because I think I make more money and have more fun with a passive approach.
The flop was A-x-x. I had already decided I was going to check-call fast no matter what the flop was. When the flop hit, I checked and the button bet and my chips tied his into the pot. The turn landed, another ace. I checked. My opponent took a moment, then checked. The river was whatever. I thought he was more likely to bluff than to call with worse, so I checked, he checked, I rolled, he mucked, I tipped, and on we went.
An hour later, I had 22 in the big blind. Same scenario. All folded to the button and he opened to 4x. I called and it was headsup.
On the deuceless flop the betting went snap, snap, snap: check, bet, call.
On the turn, I checked, and my opponent was frozen by the vastness of my range. Based on what he’d seen, it was correct for him to check behind if he had nothing, which is what he had, so he checked.
On the river, we both checked.
I rolled my unimproved pocket pair. He mucked slow and I tipped fast and on we went.
Rivers are the final barrier between potential equity and realized equity. The first obstacle is the flop, then the turn. If by then one’s hand is still live, it must cross the river before it can reach the soothing fields of pure equity in the enchanted land we call…
S ♥ H ♥ O ♥ W ♥ D ♥ O ♥ W ♥ N
It’s hard to cross a river when you’re out of position with a weak but possibly best hand. You check, and the waters become windy and wavy when your opponent bets, and you have to figure out if he is bluffing or not. Sometimes, alas, your hand will not cross the river to the sunny shores of Showdown. So sad. Such potential. And you had made it so far.
But what if the river was frozen? What if it was a sheet of ice? Then I can skate right across it, hand in hand with my opponent, in two little skips…
check – check
Safely ashore, I reveal my cards without a care in the world as to who actually wins the pot. I’ve won the hand. I’ve won the game. I have reached my full potential.
A freeze play is when my opponent is happy to check behind on the turn and/or river when I have a hand that has showdown value, but that I would fold if he bets. If my opponent feels like they’re dodging a trap by not bluffing or by not making a thin value bet, that’s what I mean by frozen.
I freeze the river by playing POOP, which stands for Passively Out Of Position. By doing so, I increase the likelihood of cashing in on the equity of my carefully curated out-of-position starting hands.
How I Got This Way
I learned how to play POOP at no-limit holdem the same way I learned most of my winning ways, by emulating the players who were beating me.
In 1997, I had been making a living at limit hold’em for 7 years. Limit hold’em is a feverish game that favors frenzied raising before the flop and on the flop. Calling on those streets is, for the most part, a tragic choice, both mathematically and stylistically.
I moved to California in 1997 with $40,000 in my pocket. The land of milk and money featured legal, public, no-limit holdem games running every night. My first year on the left coast, I broke even. I won $30,000 playing limit and lost $30,000 at no-limit.
The no-limit players I lost the most money to were not the aggressive raisers. It was the tight callers. This was dumbfounding.
There were about ten of them. They’d check the flop, and I’d bet, and they’d call, and I’d think, “Okay, they didn’t bet out, and they didn’t check-raise, so my top pair is most likely the best hand.” At limit holdem, that simple deduction would be correct almost always. Those expectations were wired into my game.
Then the turn card would come, and they’d check again. I’d make a pot-sized bet, and right when I was sure they were going to fold, they’d call. What the heck?
On the river, I expected them to check, like they did on the other streets, and I would gladly shrug and check behind. But no. They’d bet into me on the river. Half the pot. And I’d call without even thinking about it, with my top pair or overpair, because the whole thing stunk, and cuz of reflex − I’d correctly made this river call in this pattern about a billion times at limit hold’em.
And they’d turn over a flopped set.
And I’d think, “Man, these people play bad. All this checky-cally crap. Pansy poker is what it is. I am going to own these wimps.”
Somewhere during my second year of unconscious incompetence, I came around. I saw who was walking out with the money day after day and why. My no-limit apprenticeship had begun. I would emulate the winners. It was some months later before I figured out how to not lose to the POOPers. And ten years before I learned how to do unto others as they had done unto me.
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