I recently had a panel of local players on the Michigan Poker Monster to discuss the merits of playing a tournament hand where the chip leader and second-in-chips had already limped into the pot, and I looked down at aces. I obviously was not folding, but in that instant when the action is on you, and you have to make it look natural and consistent so you don’t give away the strength of your hand, it’s hard to calculate anything like “is it better to shove or just raise 5bb here”?
Some more information might be useful for everyone to follow along. The chip leader limped with about 25BB, second-in-chips limped with 20BB, and I had 18BB. Blinds were 1K/2K, and the rest of the field had 20 BB or less. Shortest stack behind me to act had 12 BB. Both blinds had about 15 BB. Some meta game stuff: the chip leader has folded two prior limps to me when I shoved 20 BB deep earlier at another table. He even commented that I only seemed to have one move. But really, I was picking up the dead money with AJ and pocket 9s.
Interestingly, our panel was split. Some agreed with a shove because you could get a call behind you and you wanted to be as close to heads up as possible at showdown. Others thought that aces was a special case since you don’t get them that often in this kind of situation, and you should try to win the most as possible (double up?). I started thinking later about how best to decide, and I thought, is this something I could do mathematically?
First of all, since it is a tournament and we have less than 18 big blinds left, no raise gets more folds in this situation than an all-in. So if we want to just win the minimum and pick up the blinds plus the two calls (7K in chips) our best bet is to push all-in. If we are not satisfied winning only 7K (3.5BB), then we have to hope for a call or lower our fold equity by betting less than an all-in. We don’t mind inducing an all-in raise behind us (especially if they have a pocket pair). We don’t want to get out-flopped and then have to be committed for all our chips with a hand that’s already beat and possibly drawing almost dead. Also, having some fold equity on the flop would also be good so we can win the hand with more than a showdown.
So mathematically what’s our risk if we say raise to the standard 5bb (with two limpers). That’s the issue isn’t it? How are you supposed to make such calculations in that instant when you’re supposed to be so calm and collected so you don’t give anything away? Unless you’re Rain Man, you’re probably not trying to make this calculation. Some people might say, that’s why you need to always have a plan. But isn’t this the moment where you would formulate such a plan? I’m talking about when you first look at your cards in this hand, and you have seen the action in front of you, and you glance to your left to catch any tells from players waiting to act. This is where the plan is hatched and yet we only have a few seconds to decide or our plan will have to change to accommodate the fact that everyone now knows that we took some time thinking about our move.
So whether you’re a math wizard or a player that goes by feel, do your homework off the felt and discuss hands with your poker friends to figure out the situations you might find yourself in before you are under the gun. Or just listen to the Michigan Poker Monster Strategy Panel.