Aug 21 2008

#2: Those very first two hands

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Watch the players’ chat before the very first hand of the game. You know fireworks will erupt if someone says "I’m all in, who’s with me?" If you’re in late position or in the blinds, say "sure, why not, it’s just play chips!" Your response may goad some of the players in front of you to shoot craps.

Only the rarest of games plays out conservatively from the start. I think very carefully before playing either the very first hand or second hand in any ULBPC event. The very first and/or second hand will routinely unfold in one of four ways:

Six players go all in on the very first hand

"I pro­pose a new word for players who go all in pre-flop. ‘Slappy.’ They are obvi­ously slap-happy." – Poker­Stars player Rhien "Lermi" Gundlach

  1. Most players limp until it gets to the button/blinds. Someone in middle position might make the minimum raise, which will be ignored. "If he had a strong enough hand to raise, he would have raised stronger, and besides, Q6 offsuit is my favorite speculative holding." Usually either the button or the BB pushes all in, perhaps thinking six limpers will fold. "Oooh, he must have a monster." But those who limped will often call. "If my hand is worth 20 chips, it’s certainly worth calling a bluff raise. If I win, I’ll be the chip leader, and if I lose, it’ll only be because he got lucky against me, and hey, there’s always the next game." The original all in typically squares off against 2-5 callers with a complete splatter of hands. It literally turns into a crap shoot.
  2. A few people limp until someone in middle position pushes all in. A few people fold until it gets across the table, at which point someone calls. One of the blinds may or may not get involved. The overwhelming majority of these people turn over muck — the 1500-chip bet is an outrageous bluff to steal 70-90 chips, the other guy thinks his offsuit Motown is probably the strongest hand at the table that can stand up to a bully, and the blind risks everything to defend his 10-20 chips. It literally turns into a crap shoot.
  3. One of the first three players bets 11-17xBB, putting limpers to the only real test that exists during the first two hands of a ULBPC event. It’s no longer a simple decision to shoot craps — the opponents must decide if their hand will connect with the flop. More often than not, though, one or more limpers will call, especially the small blind who will risk 21-33 times the amount he could simply walk away from. In some cases an opponent will realize this is an all-in-or-fold decision, and he might just go all in with any two cards. Once that guy goes all in, other players may call (this is a certainty if they’ve already called your raise). It literally turns into a crap shoot.
  4. Most players limp in. The BB makes the minimum raise and five limpers call it. The flop comes with 280 in the pot. (In some cases the BB makes a 5x raise, signaling "I’ve got a legit hand and I’m making a legit raise, so you better not tangle with me!" and half of the time it will convince one of the first two limpers to fold; everyone else will call.) After the flop or maybe after the turn, the first guy checks because he hopes to trap someone with his top pair. The second guy bets the pot with bottom two pair. He gets raised by a guy with top/bottom pair. They both get raised by a guy with middle trips. Another guy goes all in with a draw to the nut flush. The guy behind him calls with a draw to the third-nut flush. The final guy calls all in because the pot is huge and, hey, you never know what the final two cards might bring. The guy with top pair thinks "there can’t possibly be that many top pairs out there, so someone is obviously bluffing" and he calls all in. It literally turns into a crap shoot.

During the criti­cal first two hands of any ULBPC event, con­ser­va­tive players should dis­card muck and spec­u­la­tive hands; call for up to 9xBB with "counter-Sklansky" hands; and fold if it turns into a crap shoot. Loose players should dis­card muck; limp for up to 2xBB with spec­u­la­tive hands; call for up to 17xBB with "counter-Sklansky" hands; and fold if it turns into a crap shoot.

In one all-too-typical example, the gun limped on the first hand with pocket 5s; three players folded; a suited QT limped; big slick pushed all in; a suited K3 called in the cutoff, making him a serious underdog; pocket 8s called on the button, getting only 2:1 (with a theoretical max of just 6:1 when he really needs better than 7:1); the SB folded; the BB called with a suited A7, burning the cutoff’s flush draw; pocket 5s called for the wrong price; and QT called with two live cards but with two underspades plus one overspade in other players’ hands. The button won with quad 8s on the turn & river. On the bright side, it’s now the second hand of the game and the survivors stand one player away from the bubble.

After those fateful first two hands

It’s rare to get into the money during the first orbit. It doesn’t happen very often, but the action might continue unabated until half of the players bust in the first orbit. A little more often, though, you’ll make it into the money in less than ten minutes. (Check out this amazing six-minute video for a laugh.) Usually, though, the survivors will settle down. The average player will see 40-67% of the flops and at least two players will show down at the river more than half of the time. The majority of games get down to the bubble by the third round. Sometimes you’ll reach the bubble by the second round, and occasionally you’ll reach the bubble by the end of the first round.

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