The psychology of NL cash games

Saturday, February 9, 2008 8:38 | Filled in poker

NL cash games are such a completely different mindset than the other forms of poker that I play most often. In limit poker, the best players aggressively pursue very small edges. As a result, the things we do sometimes look insane to the outside observer. One of the very worst things that you can do as a limit player is to imagine the worst case hand that the other guy can hold. On the forum, we call it “monsters under the bed” syndrome. You can’t be that worried about the big hand the other guy might hold when you have a medium strong hand because you can’t ever lose that much when he does. If the pot has ten bets in it on the river, you have to bet pretty many hands because the worst case is you lose two bets, so you just need to get called twice as often as you get sandbagged. In NL, you have to be very careful because the penalty for betting could be getting raised for your whole stack. Pushing hard with medium strength hands is rare. At the relatively modest level I’m playing ($400 NL), there are often long, long stretches of time without any big pots and then one or two monster pots and then long periods of quiet. There seem to be two main types of players, those who play relatively few hands (usually on a bunch of tables) and wait to hit big. They usually make one or maybe two continuation bets with their overpairs and trap with their sets. Once the pots get big, they are capable of big bluffs, but usually they don’t contest the smaller pots. A lot of these guys love the small blocking/probe bets, especially on the flop and turn. The other main school are fewer in number, but much more interesting. They play a ton more flops, especially in position and they thrive on the pots that no one else wants to pick up. They look for signs that a board is scary or people are weak and try to claim all the orphan pots. They float the pre-flop raisers who make one c-bet and give up a lot. They bluff raise scare cards and I think they are making more money on average than the other guys. I’m more of a guy from the former camp, but I have a few elements of the second style in my soul. I don’t play so many pots and I don’t steal as many pots, but I try to find spots to get more than my share of the big ones. I’d love to watch a true LAG play NL ring. From what I have seen so far, he could do pretty well if he knew how to smell out the traps.  It also plays a lot differently than MTT poker, where you see a lot more aggression, especially pre-flop.  I suspect that the bigger games play more aggressively.

I played for two hours (more or less) last night and did pretty well. My biggest hand was flopping bottom set against top two pair, which pretty much played itself (all in on the flop, quads on the turn). I also won a big pot with top two against an overpair. This hand was my biggest loser, which I think I misplayed in hindsight:

PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $4 BB (9 handed)
saw flop|saw showdown
SB ($414)
BB ($439)
UTG ($84)
UTG+1 ($82.05)
MP1 ($543)
MP2 ($897.60)
MP3 ($936.45)
CO ($287.20)
Hero – Button ($422)

Preflop: Hero is Button with , .
1 fold, UTG+1 calls $4, 3 folds, CO calls $4, Hero calls $4, SB completes, BB checks.
In position on a limped hand, I like to see flops. Maybe unwise with such a weak hand.

Flop: ($20) , , (5 players)
SB checks, BB bets $12, UTG+1 folds, CO calls $12, Button raises to $56, SB folds, BB raises to $180, CO folds, Button raises to $418, BB calls $238.
I think the first raise is manditory, but the push might have been wrong? Maybe I can push a non-spade turn and fold some hands? But I can’t fold to a spade, can I? Maybe I was fated to get stacked regardless. As it turns out, with , he has a massive draw and is a favorite on the flop.

Turn: ($868) (2 players)
I’m temporarily a big favorite now!

River: ($868) (2 players)
Toast!

Final Pot: $868
Results below:
BB has Js Ks (flush, king high).
Hero has Tc Qh (two pair, queens and tens).
Outcome: BB wins $868.

This next hand was actually my favorite hand of the session. I felt like I really smelled out what was going on very well here and extracted the most value from my read. This guy was of the tight, trappy school which should have made his move more effective. Either I’m a calling station or have good instincts. Since it is my blog, I won’t show you the hands where I look stupid and I’ll say it is the latter.

PokerStars No-Limit Hold’em, $4 BB (8 handed)

saw flop|saw showdown
MP2 ($409.40)
CO ($684.70)
Hero – Button ($495.20)
SB ($396)
BB ($400)
UTG ($395.60)
UTG+1 ($244.50)
MP1 ($122.70)

Preflop: Hero is Button with , .
1 fold, UTG+1 raises to $12, MP1 calls $12, 2 folds, Hero calls $12, 2 folds.
UTG+1 had been getting a bit frisky with his raises, plus I had position

Flop: ($42) , , (3 players)
UTG+1 checks, MP1 checks, Button bets $24, UTG+1 calls $24, MP1 folds.
I probably should have bet a bit bigger, but I figured him for overcards here.

Turn: ($90) (2 players)
UTG+1 bets $40, Hero calls $40.
This bet threw me for a loop. It didn’t make any sense to me. If he just caught a set, he is going to try to check-raise me (or maybe bet more). If he is bluffing, which seemed likely, he is hoping to get raised and fold if I am strong. If he has QJ or KQ, he probably just check-calls. Nothing but a bluff made sense to me, so I called.

River: ($170) (2 players)
UTG+1 bets $80, Hero calls $80.
Nothing really changed. No way to raise here, so call or fold.

Final Pot: $330
Results in white below:
UTG+1 has As 7d (one pair, sevens).
Hero has 8c 8s (one pair, eights).
Outcome: Hero wins $330.

“nc” says he. I love when they say that!

So, at the end of the day, I was up $475 and I am now sitting on 3,333 VPPs and I’m one third of the way to my monthly 10k VPP goal and am comfortably on pace. I’ll probably stick with my NL experiment for a few days until I lose too many big pots or the big limit game looks too juicy to resist.

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2 Comments to The psychology of NL cash games

  1. Toro says:

    February 10th, 2008 at 3:36 am

    What do you think of a min raise on the turn? I think you played it pretty well and you’ll see AK here a lot. It doesn’t make sense for him to slowplay the set on the flop cause with 2 guys behind and a flush draw out there he’d want to bet and not put himself in a precarious position if it checks through (or someone bets) and the turn is another heart. Occasionally you might run into JJ/TT here that decides you’re bluffing but probably not too often. Also the river bet is way too small if he has a big hand here, you’re pretty obviously coming along for the ride so he’s trying the ‘Weak=strong’ bluff on the river which to me rarely makes sense. Anyway nice hand.

  2. Nsidestrate says:

    February 10th, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    A turn raise would probably get him off a lot of hands with outs that he has there, so that might be better. My way encourages a river bluff, but lets him get there too often. If he bets bigger on the river, I have a tougher decision. The flat call on the turn makes my hand look a lot like a flush draw that stabbed the flop as a semi-bluff.

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