Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pre-flop Moves: The Isolation Play

I've just recently started reading Mitchell Cogert's Tournament Poker: 101 Winning Moves. Mitchell is a great guy and is readily accessible. His blog The Razz Challange is a good read and discusses lots of topics about playing poker. The blog isn't as much about razz any more as it is poker in general.

This is a really interesting book to read. So far, it has been very short sections that highlight possible plays you can make in some different situations.

I've been taking my time to really read it slow and think through each play to see how I can add/remember it during play and figure out if there other ideas I should be considering when I do them.

He talks from the idea that people at the table don't embrace risk like they should. His perspective is you should accumulate chips during the early stages of a tournament. This isn't always my strategy, but I am very familiar with it. The book hasn't so far got much into optimizing these plays vs individualy opponents. I think I'd like a bit more discussion about what to consider in your opponent before making some of these moves.

As I've been reading, certain moves have captured my attention. While I'm not a big fan of the idea that with certain cards in certain positions you should make move X, I do like to have many moves at my disposal.

The first move I really thought a lot about was in the section "Pre-flop Moves: The Isolation Play", page 23.

6. In the middle to late stages of a tournament, use the isolation play with small to middle pocket pairs.
He describes the play correctly as
"..a wager so big that it gets the other players to fold so you can be heads up against one opponent."
So far so good. That's how I use the play. It's very important that you do this move to freeze out the rest of the table. I do it to protect my hand, but it also important to use it when you want to limit the size of the pot.

He goes on to explain:
"...you need to make a large enough bet to force the other players to fold."
Yes, your object is get your opponents to fold, but more importantly, it's important to understand that in order for this to work, your opponents MUST fold. Remember, you are doing this move to protect a weakish hand. Small and medium pairs are usually facing at least a coin flip.

For me, personally, it's very important to use this in a situation when the opponent you are trying to isolate has a stack worth grabbing in a move that has a bit more risk to it. Too short a stack and you are wagering too much if the folds don't happen and too big, your stack is in danger from the move itself. Remember, you are hopefully only in a coin flip situation.

I think his first situation really highlights the risks of this move:
"You have 8♠8♣ in middle position. It is late in the tournament. The blinds are $3,000/$6,000. You have $100,000. A player in early position with $20,000 moves all-in. A second player, with $120,000 calls this raise. What should you do?"
He hypothesizes that "...you don't want to call and face both opponents and since the second guy didn't re-raise, you can assume that his hand is not strong." His solution, move all-in.

This is where I think the situation is unsettled and the move of all-in needs to be seriously considered as just one option.

I personally feel that realistically, you are deciding to either shove or fold. Yes, I said fold.

The shove is by a player that is undoubtedly very short in relation to the blinds. His shove is only for ~3.3 BB's. A standard raise. Not really a big enough raise to narrow down the hands that another early position raiser would call with. I would suggest that this is an excellent situation for hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK to just smooth call and let in a bit more action or better yet, trap an isolationist.

This original raise is probably big enough to push truly marginal and speculative hands out. But most people at the table know that this guy is shoving with anything pretty. Blackjack hands and almost any pocket pair. Especially from early position.

So, we've got almost any two pretty cards, which boil down to we are surely a coin flip -> 4:1 underdog with an over pair. An isolation and capping this pot at $20,000 is ideal, this does represnt 20% of our stack, but before we go shoving our tournament into the middle, we have to make sure that the other player, who has us covered, will fold.

If I'm positive that this guy will fold to my shove...all my chips go in. If there is reasonably possibility that this guy is gonna call me too, I have to fold. I have a marginal hand versus what very well could be two coin flips. It's hard enough to win one.

How do I know he will fold? You don't, but you do know what he will fold. It's very important to understand this other caller. Know his temperament and style of play. Know what hands he would just smooth call with in a situation like this. Is he capable of trapping with a big hand? 

Am I willing to become a shorter stack in the event I lose? I'll only have $80,000 left if I lose. How long until the blinds move up? What is the next blind level? I could easily go from comfortable to very short myself.

Am I wrong? Do you think this is an easy shove?

So far, I've enjoyed this book because of the way it makes me think about the plays. Thinking about them really helps us understand and incorporate them in our game. It also helps us rehearse them in our minds. I'll keep you posted as I read this about situations that catch my eye. Have you read it yet?


Mitchell said...

Excellent points!

As the author of the book, over 80% of the plays are taken from reviewing about 10 years of the literature from poker authors and pros.

It is the only reference book for no limit poker tournaments.

The isolation play is a move that I recall being a play recommended by a poker pro. I can not recall which pro.

(FYI: The first version of the book referenced every source for the moves. Unfortunately, an attorney told me I couldn't do that and I had to rewrite the entire book. Doh!!)

Thanks again for mentioning my book!