General Concepts, part II

Sep 26th, 1999

Browsing 2+2 Forum I stumbled upon a notion that loosest games might not be beatable at all. As I do not post much to this elite forum of big names, smart talk and intellectual superiority (maybe because of feelings of inferiority, I really am not sure), I was somewhat reluctant to post an answer to this preposterous idea. But, as I realized nobody else shall do it, I decided to post the following:

Re: extremely loose games?
Posted By: Izmet Fekali
Date: Thursday, 23 September 1999, at 10:32 a.m.
In Response To: Re: extremely loose games? (natedogg)

Sonuvabitch Natedogg writes:
>Loose, low limit games may not be beatable. There is some
>debate on this. Between the rake or time charges, and the
>high variance, you simply can't bank on being a winning
>player, even if you are the "best" player at the table.

Loose, low limit games are very beatable, unless the rake is proportionally astronomic. My live play experience and computer (Turbo) research show they can be very profitable.

As fish make many mistakes, it is only logical that a good player must have the best of it. There is no doubt about it. The only issues are: Can he beat the rake, can he withstand the variance and can he pinpoint the correct strategy?I'll try to address them separately.

Please note that an argument is often made that the fish play nearly correctly in such games (= they call a lot) and their mistakes are therefore not that great for the game to be beatable. True, good pot odds postflop dictate to chase often with dubious holdings and this is an example of a strategy nailed down pat by the fish. "Good" players, used to "normal and sane" games (having no clue about this simple concept), usually adopt "good laydowns" strategy which simply costs them money.

But of course, fish do not play correctly on their EVERY move. It only looks like they are, as they often correctly (or with minimum -EV) chase big pots to the river. The thing is, some of the mistakes they make are HUGE and cannot be compensated by playing correctly the rest of the time.

1. The rake

My loose games experience comes from regularly playing with 5% rake capped at 25 big bets, 7 to 12 handed hold'em, typically 5 or more players seeing the flop with not much capping preflop. This kind of rake in this kind of game is extremely beatable and a smart player's EV per hand can be unusually high. The game is somewhat slower than normal (about 25-28 hands per hour), of course, but I still find the hourly rate to be considerably higher than the widely accepted norm. My Turbo sims show it can approach 3 big bets per hour (even with a slow game), my real life experience (about 900 hours of play in the game with almost the same lineup) seems to confirm that.

With a 5% rake, big pots and lots of unpredictable gamb00lers, it becomes obvious that selective and tight preflop play is called for in these kind of games.

2. The variance

The variance in these kind of games is extremely high, due solely to big pots. Tight play does *not* provide a solution to this problem, although it somewhat tones it down. The obvious answer is a big enough bankroll. Do NOT adopt any strategies designed to reduce variance!

3. The strategy

The best strategy in loosest games is to maximize fish mistakes, build big pots when having the best of it and get the hell out preflop when in marginal situations. As the fish are often calling correctly postflop (good pot odds), it is imperative to hit them with raises when they are not. The time to do it is usually preflop, where they are apt to call with anything. If there is a reasonable chance that your hand is best, you should raise and reraise right there to destroy the implied fish odds. This is the time to maximize their mistakes. Sure, they will try to offset this with correctly chasing postflop, but to no avail. Big mistakes preflop cannot be compensated in any way. Please note that fish very often chase incorrectly too, a good example is when they try to hit a set with their small pairs all the way to the river. This is another reason to raise liberally when having a reasonable chance to collect.

To put it simply, as fish are conditioned to call, it is necessary to exploit this tendency by raising (building the pot) in situations when them calling is profitable for you. The value of raising to knock people out greatly diminishes in such a game. A good example of smart raising is with flush/straight draws and many potential callers. You do *not* want them to fold. And they won't. See my loose games FAQ for more info on this "Ram and Jam" concept.

Please note that S&M put a lot more value in eliminating the competition in loose games than I do. You might want to check their views on loose games in their new edition of HPfAP.

Starting hands selection is crucial and somewhat different from "normal" (oh, that eternal "what is normal" question again... is it normal for me to prefer sheep over women? They keep telling me it's not... I dunno.). Suited aces are keepers in any position, raisers in late position. Play looser with suited kings and queens, don't fold small pairs. Raise liberally with big unsuited likely-to-be-best hands (again, you might want to consult S&M on this as they recommend the opposite here). Raise the goddamn limpers late with suited connectors from 65s up. Build pots with pairs like 77 and up. BTW, this seems illogical as overcards are bound to fall and pair somebody, but as Abdul points out (and he was first to do so), these hands win more than their fair share and should, therefore, raise early.

With many in, jam preflop with hands like T9s, JJ or ATs even if one opponent shows you pocket aces! This concept is fairly unknown, but quite powerful. It is profitable to get more money in even with an obvious second best hand, as the best two hands are BOTH profiting from the fish calling incorrectly, the best hand, of course, profiting the most. Granted, it is a high variance play, and you might want to avoid it (you wimp, you!).

Stay away from unsuited connectors lower than ten, they are losers in ANY game. 98o is a greatly overrated hand and can't earn much outside the blinds even when playing with idiots. You are not much wrong to muck it for one bet on the button even. Hands like offsuit bare aces and kings, bare suited hands like J5s or 96s and second best offsuit hands like QT, JT, Q9 are suicidal trash in early position, maybe breakeven in late position. If you find yourself calling raises with JTo, K9o or A7o, it is time to realize you have joined fish ranks. Muck with a vengeance! If you have to, this is the time to aim for the dealer's forehead.

Generally, you cannot go wrong with keeping the Fekali principle in mind: "Big hands should bet early, little hands will bet late." meaning that drawing hands will torture big pairs late in the hand and therefore should be charged early for the privilege. For a more detailed explanation, see my rgp post on this.

Of course, the above is only the tip of the iceberg and I typed this off the top of my head. Please forgive the generalizations as delving into details probably requires a dedicated book. I feel the loose games section in HPfAP in inadequate or at least incomplete.

>... Nine out of ten times, when I supposedly have the "best of it",
>I end up getting the worst of it. The "fish" have been running
>great in the Bay Area this year! I've never, ever, sat down at a
>table where the "good" players were winning all the money from the
>bad players. I've seen the reverse plenty of times however.

It is impossible for a good player to win ALL the money from the bad players. However, it is quite possible to bust SOME of them. As it is quite possible to get busted. I've had it both ways. But funnily enough, it happened to me only once. Not so with the fish.

>Low limit loose California hold'em is an extremely high variance
>game. In fact, I believe the variance is so high that if you have
>the bankroll to handle it, you should play higher limits.

You should be hanged by your nostrils for giving this kind of advice. Playing higher limits requires good knowledge of the game, wit, thinking, alertness, feel and creativeness. Lower limits are much easier to beat with a correct, but somewhat simple strategy. When playing correctly against fish the potential losses will be caused mostly by bad luck, whereas against skilled opponents the correct strategy is often not easy to come by. If we add a possibility of a bad run, results can be disastrous with more money at stake.

>You will need to play three or four thousand hours of low limit to
>justifiably believe that your results are independent of the swings
>common at that level.

Oh so true. That's why I played lots of loose hold'em in the virtual Turbo world. No tells, no fun, no social interactions, no cocktail waitresses, no fine beverages, no doobie smoking. But, no bad beat stories to listen to, either. True, Turbo is crude, but it's the best research tool to date. I find it reasonably reliable in all but extreme cases.

Thanks for your time, gotta run, there's a nice hairy girly coming over tonight. It's the best thing happening to me since my favorite pet was killed by a hit and run driver (yes, a sheep). This poker thing is killing my social life.

Izmet Fekali
Burek Experts Ltd.
Catering the World since 1389!

There was no reply on 2+2 Forum to my post. However, there was some doubt about above concepts in the community. Here is my reply regarding jamming preflop in loosest games. I'm presenting this post in original Usenet format

Date: Sun, 26 Sep 99 15:34:17 MET
From: (Izmet Fekali)
Subject: Re: Are extremely loose games beatable? (a 2+2 debate)
X-Newsreader: RadicalNews (TM) 1.0 Beta 1(i)

In <> "Chris K." wrote:
> Izmet Fekali wrote:
> > > >With many in, jam preflop with hands like T9s, JJ or ATs even if
> > > >one opponent shows you pocket aces!
> > >
> > > With all due respect: this is nonsense.
> >
> > Care to elaborate?
> Three reasons to raise.
> 1. To eliminate opponants and increase our chances of winning.
> 2. To build a bigger pot should we hit our draw, providing that we
> are experiencing postitive expectation anyway.
> 3. We are ahead and are *Taxing* the mediocre draws.
> In a pot pre-flop with nobody likely to fold to a raise and re-raise
> (I.E. California low limit holdem) Does raising with a hand like
> T9s JJ or ATs against a known player with AA increase your
> expectation? Does it eliminate any other players and increase
> our chances of winning? Are we ahead and taxing the mediocre
> draws? Maybe, no, and no.

I'm glad at least somebody is willing to tackle this subject. OK, let's debate then.

First, let me make something clear. I used the words "even if one opponent shows you pocket aces" to illustrate the point, NOT to provide some lunatic strategy against aces. If one of the opponents indeed has aces, ramming and jamming preflop with said hands and many opponents becomes marginal, but still correct. Again, my point is as follows:

With enough opponents calling raises preflop, profits will be (disproportionaly) split between two best hands.

Let's take a look at somewhat extreme example of JJ against AA and six loonies calling all preflop raises (remember, we are talking loose here). Let me say it right here: if a player raises UTG and shows me pocket aces before I get the chance to act, my JJ will be hitting the muck with enviable velocity. Granted, aces are a bit like Doug Grant: stay away, live another day.

But let's say I don't know (yet) I'm against rockets raising UTG. There are two callers, and I reraise with my jacks. Lo and behold, there are four more callers (including the blinds) behind. I think to myself, this is gonna be interesting, thank you Allah for bringing food to the table, thank you for knowing I'm especially fond of fish.

Now the original UTG raiser reraises again and shows me his aces. I'm not particularly happy seeing those friggin' alphabet starters, but as I am certain nobody is folding at this point (I can see mouths watering all over the table at the prospect of a gigantic pot), I make it five bets immediately with my jacks and everybody calls (California players please note five bets cap is standard in posh Vegas joints).

I say it's an immediate +EV move.

According to my sims, against aces and six more opponents, pocket jacks will win a little less than 15% of the time, and the aces will win about 38% of the time. If the game is $20-40, there is now $800 in the pot. I have a 15% equity in this pot ($120) for a cost of $100. This of course translates to $20 immediate profit (hey, I know it's not much, but it wasn't me dealing those damn aces to that pathetic turd juggler).

Now imagine being against AKs (especially when not in suit with one of your jacks) in this situation instead of aces. I have a whooping 24% equity then, for a $92 immediate profit in the above situation. Now this is not peanuts anymore. You are therefore advised by simple and modest Izmet Fekali here to jam your heart out in similar situations when the bankroll size is not an issue. Remember, it's the number of callers that's important, NOT just having the best hand.

Granted, variance goes thru the roof here, but I always wrongly assume everybody is loaded bankroll-wise as I am (I've been flipping burgers in Ljubljana for some time now and it seems quite lucrative to greedy ol' me).

> Out of the 3 hands you mentioned, JJ being the best ... you are
> about a 4.5 - 1 dog against the Aces. And you might be a favorite
> against the rest of each individual player, but the combined odds
> against the field would probably put you at about (guessing) a
> 6-1 or 7-1 dog against the field (including the AA). The T9s
> and ATs probably don't make the cut and may make the
> situation negative -- Thus making the pre-flop raise unsound.

Funny enough, JJ is not the best hand out of the three mentioned when against aces. The honors go to T9s as this hand will win about 16.5% of the time in this situation according to my sims. I didn't bother to do sims with ATs as this hand would indeed do poorly against aces (I roughly estimate about 10% win). But nevertheless, jamming with this hand would still be correct if there were enough (let's say ten) opponents calling the raises. Again, it's the concept that's important, not particular hand situations.
Maybe it is fair to mention that some of world's best limit players are quite aware of this concept. I first stumbled upon it this summer in Bellagio when Abdul limped UTG with T9s (in a $30-60 game) and then subsequently jammed the pot against my pocket queens when five other optimistic players showed propensity for calling all raises. Sadly enough, that (humongous) pot failed to find the way home and made the day for another player. I felt the urge to pluck his eyes out when watching him rack that mountain of chips.
Another quick semi-related note: as it was obvious at the table that I and Abdul knew each other, there was plenty of reason to suspect collusion on our part, raising wild preflop like that. He was smart enough to show his hand to a fellow rgp-er Sergeant Rock (smartly folding in the blind) before mucking on the flop to avoid any kind of accusations. You are advised to do the same when jamming like this.

> On the plus side, should you flop a good draw, you will have good
> pot odds to draw to. You hope that what you give away pre-flop,
> you make up + some post flop.

This is true, of course. But, please be aware I'm talking about getting +EV preflop, not sacrificing it.

> Now the best part, a hand like T9s against 8 players who acted
> and decided to put their money in (in other words they are not 8
> random hands ala computer simulation) has a good chance
> of drawing dead to the flush. Lets say 1 time in 5. So it maybe
> a negative expectation call anyway, but can be overcome by
> post flop play. If you raise -- you increase your negative
> expectation thus you lose some by raising. You trade a little
> EV for a bigger pot, which I guess is acceptable.

We are talking extremely loose games here, where opponents are not sane and their hands are close to random. There is no such thing as six sane two-or-three-bet-cold-callers. Even if their holdings are somewhat rational, the concept of jamming with the second best hand still holds water.

True, drawing dead is a possibility. Still, on average, T9s will win more than fair share here and can profitably jam.
> The real plus for these types of hands is in medium 4 way action
> where your raising for the unspoken 4th reason to raise:
> 4. Raise for deceptive purposes where it may cause your
> opponants to make critical mistakes in the later, more
> expensive rounds. I.E Give you a free draw to beat them.

This is just a bonus, a very nice one though.

> Which rarely happens in 9-way action pots.
> Anyway ... Questions for the math and statistic weenies.
> How do you calculate the combined odds of you versus the
> field? For instance: You have JJ and are against AA -- which
> makes you about a 4.5-1 dog against the AA, but you inturn are
> a 4.5-1 favorite against 1 player, and 5-1 favorite against
> another and a 1.5-1 favorite against a another.
> Lets say
> Player 1: AA
> Player 2: KQs
> Player 3: 88
> Player 4: JJ (you)
> Player 5: T9s

I am quite good with numbers, as I used to work in a license plate factory and had numbers coming out of my ass. But, this kind of math sends shivers down my spine and I prefer to fire up Turbo, sit back, light a doobie and think pure thoughts while waiting for results.

> Chris K.
> ---
> *veni, vedi, velcro*
> "I came, I saw, I stuck around."

It's "Veni, vidi, velcro." Stalking those short skirted students after their Latin class was my favorite pastime some time ago.

Izmet Fekali
Burek Experts Ltd.
Catering the World since 1389!