Monday, March 13, 2006

Bluff Equity and Made-Hand Equity --- A Bounty-Tournament Example

Today's entry focuses on a recent hand I played in a recent "Expert Series" tournament on Royal Vegas Poker. Sometimes one has to play the cards; sometimes one plays the situation. This is the latter, of course, and your comments are welcome.

We'd just cracked the bubble into the land of [small] pay, but don't think we were talking untold riches here --- this is a promotional tourney with a $20+2 entry fee and $10 re-buy and add-on options. It's a publicity tool for the site and the pro players involved, and this tourney also includes bounties: Knock out a pro, collect an extra $50, a t-shirt and maybe an autographed book, too, if the pro you knock out is an author.

As it was, the final 20 made the cash, and spots 11-20 were all scheduled to receive the same --- $50. (First place was $1,500, so there was significant reward for reaching the final table.) We were down to 19 players, and I was rather short-stacked, in 17th position with about 7,400 chips. The blinds were 500/1000, almost ready for another jump, and I was in the small blind. Site host and poker author Lou Krieger was one of two pros at my table; he was a couple of seats to my right. To my immediate left was Matt Lessinger, author of The Book of Bluffs, in the big blind, and he was in 18th place, even a bit more short-stacked, with about 7,100 chips. I'd played with Matt extensively in the previous week's tourney, so he had some basic feel for my style --- no major advantage for me there.


Despite the fact that Matt and I are the short stacks, it's folded all the way around to me in the small blind. I have J-9 of diamonds. I have four options, near as I can tell: (1) dump the hand; (2) limp in and hope Matt lets me play (not veddy damn likely, wot?); (3) come in for 2,000-3,000 and hope Matt has bricks... and tosses them; (4) move all in. What would you do here?

Well, anyone with half a brain would guess that I tried Door #4 --- if I hadn't, I wouldn't have anything to write about, would I? And Matt called me with his A-4 off, neither of us improved, and I was down to nearly zero and eliminated two hands later. So be it.

But here's the interesting part: Even though my hand was mediocre and I had four ways of playing it, in reality this was my only good option, due to the tournament situation. The final-table bubble looked like it would pop at between 20,000 and 25,000 chips, meaning that even with a double-through, either Matt or I would still have an uphill battle to the table, but at least have a reasonable chance of succeeding in that battle with a doubled stack of chips. I went out in 19th place, but spots 18th through 11th paid nothing extra. In addition, I had Matt slightly outchipped, so if he did look me up and lose to me, I'd be guaranteed $100 plus swag, rather than just the 19th-place $50 payout.

So in an important way I was getting better than 2-to-1, but on the hand payoff, not the hand itself. Toss in whatever "bluff equity" (one of Lou's pet terms, I've discovered) I had, and I suggest that this play goes into the category of an almost-automatic all-in. Not with any two, but with any two reasonable to have a chance, which I did. And I did it knowing that my bluff equity was smaller than normal, too: I put the odds of Matt's folding here at 10% or less. Without attempting to speak for someone who's a helluva lot better player than I am, I'll simply note that Matt knew that I wouldn't be afraid to make a play, rightly or wrongly on my part.

I expected Matt to look me up, and I expected to be behind once he did, but the situational rewards were simply too great to pass up. I made the play. The expected outcome occurred: I was out of the tourney. And I have no regrets. Nonetheless, the fact that I was able to make this secondary analysis on the fly suggests that I'm making some basic strides as a poker player.

As I mentioned above, Lou Krieger chatted with us at the table about how the pros have little or no "bluff equity" in a bounty-style tournament. He even wrote an article about it a few months back in Card Player. His hypothesis, briefly paraphrased, is that the pros in a bounty tournament are at a relative disadvantage because it's seldom possible for them to pull off a great bluff; the bounties on their heads mean that other players will look them up with any reasonable holding. Lou's article then posits that it ultimately means that the pros will be, sooner or later, knocked out of the proceedings.

I agree largely, but not totally. While it's undeniable that the pros' ability to bluff is greatly diminished in a bounty tournament, I pointed out to Lou that the opposite is true as well: When the pro in a bounty tournament does possess a made hand or a solid pre-flop holding, he is likely to receive a greater-than-normal reward for his hand. I quipped it to Lou as "made-hand equity," and it does exist --- one need look no further than the situation with my final hand against Matt above to see how it benefitted Matt there, though it's more often noticeable post-flop, when bounty hunters chase with holdings not worth the chasing. Think about it: While I might make the same play above against someone else, I'd be far less likely to do so without the bounty in place and at hand. The counterbalance to the loss of "bluff equity" is there, but whether it's an equal counterbalance is something better left to the experts. As always, it's a learning experience for me.

Agree? Disagree? Don't be afraid to drop me a line --- that e-mail address is around here somewhere!

--- Haley :-)

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