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Opening hand of $7 Spin & Go on PokerStars. Both opponents unfamiliar.

For those unfamiliar with the format, you play a winner take all tournament, starting at 10/20 blinds with 500 chip starting stacks.

Preflop - 3 players, Pot: 30 (1.5 BB)

You are dealt Q♣9⋄ on the button, and open with a min-raise to 40.

SB and BB both call.

Flop - 9♣6⋄2♥ - 3 players, Pot: 120 (6 BB)

SB donk leads for 80.

BB calls.

There is now 280 (14 BB) in the pot; you face an 80 bet with 460 behind.

How do you play the hand from here?

  • You will never "hit the long-term" playing roulette&go, so do whatever you have the most fun with! – David Aug 5 at 7:20
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    @David Not sure what you mean by "hit the long term" in this case. To be sure, it is unlikely that you'll hit the largest multipliers unless you are playing insane volumes, but one can still be quite profitable without them. And the correct (in the sense of EV-maximizing) play of any individual hand is distinct from any long- or short-term considerations. – Confused-cius Aug 5 at 16:38
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It is an interesting spot for sure. It is hard to say exactly what range the SB and BB have here. Is SB just betting hands like Td8d? Could BB have 87 or would he raise? It is impossible to say. One thing we do know however is that their ranges pre-flop are probably very wide and that there are some pretty random players in the spin & go pool. Some crazy players might even call a shove with 87 or even T8. You shouldn't be hero folding much in my opinion. Sure they can have A9 and K9, 66 and 22, 96s and 62s, but this is not too many hands. I think it is very much possible they show up with weaker nines, a six or straight draws a lot of the time. They might even have backdoor flush draw with a suited ace every once in a while.

But let's think about our range. How high up are we in our range? We very well might have a 40% opening range here right? I am not a spin & go expert, but that seems rather reasonable. Better hands than Q9 are 99+, A9, K9 and 96s. That's it. Not at all many hands. So from a GTO perspective folding is off the table here. Also what is very nice is that you don't block any possible straight draws. For this reason Q9 is a lot better than T9, not only for being the stronger hand. So I think we definitely have to continue here. Question is, should we call or shove? I'd like to loosely discuss my entire game plan here. Here is what I would do:

I'd call and slowplay with hands that are much stronger than Q9. With these hands I can still call all-ins on many or all turn cards. Maybe KK+ and 99. I would slowplay 99, because I block too many value hands. I'd slowplay the overpairs, because I don't want always want to fold out weak straight draws that might bluff sometimes. I'd also call with some weaker nines, preferably with a backdoor flush draw and sometimes with A6 and 87. With these hands I don't always want to get it in. Let's see what develops on the turn. I have position, maybe I improve or maybe it checks around. If I don't improve and we see a large bet we can just fold. I have a nice balanced range like this.

I'd shove with 66 and 22. I don't block any 9x and I need some strong hands to shove. I'd also shove with hands that are strong but are tough to play on turns, like QQ-TT. We shove these overpairs because they are vulnerable, never block any nines and block straight draws (mainly TT). So they are heavily weighted towards value here. Better shove and get called by a nine before things turn ugly for us and/or a nine gets scared. I'd also shove with A9, K9, Q9 and J9. These hands are close between calling or shoving, but I certainly think we are ahead often enough and there aren't many good turns. It is hard facing a turn shove and a very big mistake if we'd fold to a straight draw or a weaker nine. As for bluffs I would exploitatively pick only a few number of bluffs, as I feel like we are getting called often here. Maybe shove 87 without the backdoor flush draw and call with it.

This game plan is just a suggestion. You can slowplay more or less depending on how you think your opponents would act. What ended up happening? I'm quiet curious.

So in short I would shove. There is a ton of chips out there already. Q9 is high up in your range and strong enough. Calling is not great because there aren't many good turns and it is hard to play against turn barrels.

  • We are probably raising way more than 40% unless we are mixing a ton of limps into our preflop strategy – David Aug 5 at 7:22
  • Really? Very well could be. As I said I am not an expert. How much would you raise if you aren't mixing in limps? – Raymond Timmermans Aug 5 at 9:42
  • I don't really know roulete&gos, but in heads-up, before players started to mix-in limps, close teo 80-90% was raised form the SB. I don't expect the difference to be that big – David Aug 5 at 9:53
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    @David The difference with HU is big yes, as you raise in two not one player. If you raise this sizing you probably raise roughly 50%, 55% of your btns maximum. At 50% you can already be profitably 3-bet with 10 to 15% of hands and be called very wide on the BB. 40% is reasonable although tight given the sizing. – Arthur Havlicek Aug 5 at 14:47
  • I don't agree with a crucial point of your reasoning where "the turn is going to be difficult hence we raise". Well if you're not good on turn you're not better vs what calls you on flop, so ? – Arthur Havlicek Aug 5 at 14:50
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Although our hand is very decent and probably good enough to stackoff in most cases, the fact the pot is multiway and there is a donk + a call calls for caution. We're in bad shape if one of these guys found a better top pair, a set or a small overpair.

We're good enough to call. However if both players are willing to go for stacks one of them certainly has us. We can probably figure this out before being all-in thanks to having the position in this pot.

Possible scenarios on turn:

  • SB leads again, BB calls again -> we're certainly beat, we fold
  • SB leads again, BB folds -> we jam fingers crossed
  • SB checks, BB leads -> Meh, we jam fingers crossed, but we can also fold I believe
  • Both checks -> We're happy to either check or jam and win the pot often

IMHO this plan allow us to minesweep some possible setups and that is overall more valuable than protecting against unlikely raw overcards.

A note about overcards

It is important to note that because the board is dry and because straight draws are very few combos, and because our kicker is an overcard, even if a turn is likely to be an overcard it is unlikely to have hit our opponent's hands - they most likely have a pair already. Most turns are actually good for our hand. A King would actually mean fewer chances to be beat by kicker.

A note about value

There are always two questions to answer when raising, that are whether or not we value worse hands, and whether or not we make fold hands that have equity against us. The equity gain is low in this scenario where a turn is at most 12% equity for a player for an unlikely holding. So the question is can we get called by worse ?

If we consider players to pay all their nines here, we're flipping behind a single player and we're dead against two - so essentially, even if a player is indeed paying worse, we're not making value as much as we value cut ourselves. Worst case scenario would be if a good player would select his kickers before paying, in which case we would value cut ourselves quite simply.

TL;DR: it's our best interest to simply call here.

  • There is a load of chips already out there. I don't mind to get it in flipping after a shove. – Raymond Timmermans Aug 6 at 10:03
  • @RaymondTimmermans Calling also plays for the dead money, so I don't understand how pot size plays for shove if we're borderline beat when called. It could be an argument that both are too close to matter, but I don't think that is the case here where we have roughly a pot size left after call. – Arthur Havlicek Aug 6 at 11:29
  • I updated the simulations to take sets into account. – Arthur Havlicek Aug 6 at 11:34
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Having left a bit of time for responses, I'll post my own thinking and the result of the hand. Expanding on how my thinking went live at the table, we have ...

Opponents' ranges

Both are unknown, but I don't want to treat them as absolute knuckle-draggers until given reason to do so.

SB is the more difficult to range -- I don't really expect a good player to have much of a flatting range here; most hands you'd want to continue with play better as a three-bet. But whatever the situation, I'd be surprised if he's playing more than 20% to 25% of hands in this spot -- even recreational players have hoisted in the importance of position.

BB's range could be quite wide -- he's getting 5 to 1 on a call closing the action, so it's fairly reasonable to call with a wide range of speculative hands and hope to be blessed with a favourable flop. He could easily be continuing with 60%+ of hands here, probably including any two suited.

In both players' cases, I'd expect the ranges to be somewhat capped -- while some players might get fancy and flat AA from time to time, KK-JJ and AK are likely three-bet here, and the BB has a good opportunity for resteal jams with small pocket pairs, suited aces, etc., in addition to the usual value range.

Before the flop, I'd figure that the SB's range is in the lead, with me second, and BB third.

On the flop

When the flop comes 9 high and rainbow, we're likely more compressed -- SB isn't as far ahead, and BB isn't as far behind. Depending on how SB plays his big pocket pairs (are they in his range, or does he 3-bet those), I may even have moved slightly into the lead.

Can my opponents have sets? Difficult to say. Were I in either of their positions, any of my pocket pairs would have been 3-bet for value or jammed as resteals. Then again, I'd (almost) never flat from the small blind, so it seems likely they're a little more passive than I am. If they're going to have sets, I'm going to guess 66 as a decent candidate for having been flatted.

BB can have two pairs, but SB is unlikely to be playing wide enough to have 96s in his range. Similarly, for the open-ended straight draws with 87, and the various pair plus gutshot combos -- they're almost certainly in BB's range, but not necessarily in SB's range.

So when SB leads on this board, I think it's unlikely that it's a drawing hand / semi-bluff; it's either value or "air" in the form of random overcards, likely with backdoor flush draws. BB's call certainly complicates things; slowplaying his monsters is certainly a reasonable play on his part, but, at the same time, he also has far more drawing combos / pair with gutshots that might want to hang around for one bet hoping for a fortunate turn.

What's my continuing range?

With this board, Q9o sits somewhere around the top 15% of my hands. (99, 66, 22, 96s, AA-TT, A9, K9 are better). How wide am I calling here? Would I call with 87s? Yes, I think so. Well that sat about 33% in my range in terms of equity (before the betting), in about the same ballpark as hands like A2o and AKs with backdoor flush draws. Regardless of how sticky I want to get with some of these marginal hands, I think it's pretty clear I'm continuing.

Now, what's the structure of my continuing range?

If I call here, the pot will be 360 chips (18 BB), and we'll all have 380 stacks -- effectively a pot-sized bet left over. It seems likely that a good fraction of turns will see one or both opponents going all in.

Given the pot-size relative to stacks, I don't think there's any raise sizing other than all-in which makes sense -- even a min-raise click back to 160 just bloats the pot and prices us in to call off on the river.

Do I have a shoving range on this board? Most definitely. I'd argue that a hand like 96s is a perfect shove hand -- it blocks a large amount of opponents' value ranges, and doesn't have the same redrawing potential as sets against the straight when it comes it. Shoving 96s laser targets the draws and makes them pay the highest possible price while we're still ahead. It's only two combos, but hey, we have to start somewhere ... :)

So I have to sort my range into three buckets: hands I want to call twice with (or call, then bet when checked to), hands I only want to call once with, and hands I shove.

Broadly speaking, in GTO ranges in these scenarios, the strongest and weakest hands are called, and the intermediate strength hands are shoved. Blockers and other considerations make the boundaries between strong, intermediate, and weak somewhat "fuzzy", but it's a good rule of thumb.

99 is obviously the prototypical call/call(bet) hand.

Something like 77 would be a good example of a call/check(fold) hand.

Now, working in from these two extremes, where do my Q9 hands sit? Kind of in that awkward middle regime ...

Raymond's analysis follows a similar line to mine, and concludes that Q9o likely resides in the shoving range. Arthur, however, correctly points out that when we shove we are sacrificing the opportunity to utilize our positional advantage on the turn to leverage the additional information in the form of the actual turn card, and the betting action of our two opponents.

I think the crux of the matter lies in the need to have balanced ranges for each of our possible actions. We're trying to optimize our EV for our entire range, not just for a single hand.

Think about the classic polar versus bluff-catcher scenario -- sure, my bluffs win a bit now and then when I do get someone to fold better, but the real money is made when the bluff catchers are "forced" to pay off my value hands. Though not quite as extreme in this case, it's a similar concept -- we're not necessarily trying to get A9 to fold, we're trying to give A9 a reason to call and pay off our 66 / 96s / JJ / TT, etc. Once we decide we're going to have a shoving range, then we need a decent number of combos to balance it.

So what happened?

Obviously, in real time at the (virtual) felt, my thinking wasn't quite as nuanced, but I came to the conclusion that Q9o likely belonged in my shoving range.

I shove. SB calls. BB folds.

SB has A9o, and the turn and river fail to bring me one of my three outs. One hand in, and I'm all done. :(

No happy ending here, but an interesting situation that I'm still pondering. If ever I end up springing for a solver, this will almost certainly be one of the hands I'll want to explore first.

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